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Lessons in Betrayal: I Discovered My Husband’s Affair While I Was Recovering From a Brain Infection

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Lessons in Betrayal: I Discovered My Husband’s Affair While I Was Recovering From a Brain Infection
6 min read | Mar 2022

Lessons in Betrayal: I Discovered My Husband’s Affair While I Was Recovering From a Brain Infection

And, perhaps worst of all, it was with an 18-year-old student.

Willow / Millennial / Progressive / Teacher

I scrolled through the text messages, each one more explicit than the last, as my husband played computer games in his study next door. As married teachers, we often answered each other’s phones, looking for school emails or gossip. 

I can’t wait to hold you in my arms again.

When can you get away next?

The text messages were playful, detailing sexual acts and hinting at past escapades. Cutesy nicknames popped up among allusions to trysts and inside jokes. 

They were exactly the kind of messages my husband and I would send each other.

Except they weren’t between my husband and me. They were between my husband and an 18-year-old female student at the high school where he taught.

My heart thudded to a stop as I sat on the couch, gripping my husband’s phone. After a few minutes, the distant rumble of computer game gunfire drifting from his office stopped. My husband stepped out, smiled, then reached out to touch my cheek. I swatted his hand away and glared at him. His eyes met mine, then traveled to the phone in my hand. Understanding flashed across his face, followed by anger. Before I could speak, he grabbed his car keys from the table by the door, then stalked to the garage.

Two hours later, I heard the garage door open and his car pull in. The door connecting the garage to the house swung open. I waited in the bedroom, fists clenched at my side. 

“I know about her,” I snapped when he walked into the bedroom.

“About who?”

He denied it at first. But the proof blinked up at us both from the screen in my hand.

“You’re not dumb. I knew you’d find out eventually,” he finally said.

“But a student?!” I asked.

“I knew that’s what you'd be most upset about,” he said.

“”

I Discovered the Affair While Battling a Brain Infection

My husband’s affair began eight months after I became suddenly ill with a severe brain infection. Within a month, my mind devolved to the level of a small child’s. I couldn’t walk, dress myself, read anything longer than a sentence or have simple conversations. Delusions and psychosis sprang from my broken mind, twisting reality like images in a funhouse mirror.

It would be half a year before I finally shuffled to the living room couch after a month of trying every day for weeks. It would be eight months before my first solo drive to the pharmacy. It would be three years before the part of my brain that controlled memory and decision-making recovered enough to allow me to teach full-time or make life decisions. But in those first six months, I lay like a lump in bed, suspended between life and death.

By the time I discovered my husband’s infidelity, I'd been sick for eight months. I'd started relearning to walk. I could read and write short articles, and some of my memories had returned. But I struggled every day with severe depression and psychosis because of chemical changes in my brain. My mind hadn’t recovered from my illness, and I was gullible like a child. It wouldn't have been difficult for someone to convince me that mermaids existed or that pigs really could fly.

After I discovered the affair, my husband spoke to the girl privately. There would be no more sex, he told her. 

“But can I still see and talk to you?” he told me she had asked. She didn’t come from a family that supported her goals and ambitions. My husband helped her with her college applications and encouraged her to aim for a top-tier school. Years after my recovery, I would recognize his actions as “grooming,” or earning a child’s trust with the intent of abusing them. But at the time, I saw a lonely girl who needed adults who believed in her. I was determined that speaking unkind words to a teenager would not be one more unhinged behavior to remember when I healed and the psychosis subsided. 

The student spent the next three months in our hometown before leaving the state for college. When she asked to see my husband, I reluctantly accompanied him to restaurants or outdoor parks. The fatigue and pain of my illness confined me to bed for 12 hours or more each day and left me feeling as if I was wading through quicksand the other 12 hours. I couldn’t walk long distances without stopping to rest. “Brain burnout” left me tongue-tied and foggy after a few hours in the deafening sound and light of the world outside. Despite his promises and despite my best efforts to monitor them, my husband and his student always seemed to find opportunities to meet behind my back. I hated feeling like I was constantly babysitting a grown man.

I Felt Increasingly Unsafe With My Husband

My husband would continue texting this student suggestive messages, hooking up with her off-campus in his car and inviting her back to our house when he knew I wouldn’t be home. During this time, I frequently jerked awake in the middle of the night, picturing news crews trampling the grass on our front lawn. In nightmare after nightmare, he was fired and I lost my health insurance. When I woke up, the nightmare was still there waiting for me.

I confided in a friend, who called Child Protective Services anonymously. Citing no clear evidence of abuse, CPS declined to intervene. When my friend called the local police precinct, they gave a similar answer.

Over the next several months before the high school girl left for college, my husband’s behavior grew increasingly erratic and childlike. He began to come home from work with an expression I didn’t recognize on his face but grew to fear. I sat motionless on the couch as he screamed at me for “trying to control” him. He ripped the doors off the pantry, punched walls and slammed my set of weights into a wire shelf so hard that the metal twisted. On his 30th birthday, I lay in bed with a virus that my pulverized immune system couldn't fight off. My husband had caught the flu from the high school girl, then passed it on to me. Pain radiated throughout my body. I didn’t leave my bed for days, eating just a bag of figs because my husband often forgot to feed me. I genuinely thought I was going to die. My husband spent his birthday at a cafe with four of his high school students, including the girl, playing a card game called Dirty Minds. 

My husband didn’t argue when I demanded we go to marriage counseling. 

“He may not have hit you,” the marriage counselor said when I told her, “but you’re acting like a battered woman.” She suggested I pack up my things and leave—an impossible task I was not physically strong enough to do nor mentally capable of organizing. Her comments felt like a door closing between me and safety. I became even more determined to recover.

“”

As an Educator, I Hate That I Was Unable to Protect This Student From My Husband

I don’t remember when I discovered my husband had used money from our joint account to purchase a plane ticket to visit the student, now a freshman at a college hundreds of miles away. I saw the excited text messages and string of emojis she sent him when he suggested the trip. I simply remember the jolt of electricity shooting through my veins, followed by the sudden realization that I would never be safe in this relationship.

A year and a half after I discovered my husband’s affair, I finally grew mentally and physically strong enough to leave him. I returned to a heavier work schedule when I was well enough, then moved into an apartment.

The student with whom my husband was involved, now suffering from depression, reported him to the school district. My ex was asked to resign and forfeit his teaching license. Had his victim not yet been 18, he would have gone to jail. 

For years after my separation from my husband, I struggled with depression and with my identity as an educator. Teachers are taught to sacrifice endlessly for our students. Almost all teachers buy classroom supplies with their own money and work far more hours than they're paid. Any teacher would step in front of a bullet for their students. I felt deep shame at not being able to protect the student my ex-husband hurt. Had I been healthy, leaving my husband and reporting him would have been a no-brainer. But trapped in a broken body and mind, even walking wasn't simple.

Most people never quite return to normal after brain injury. I still have trouble remembering dates and events from my life before my brain infection. The pain of not being able to stop my husband from hurting a student will be one more thing I’ll always struggle with.

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