"Can I help you?" the salesgirl at Victoria's Secret inquired with a friendly smile.
"Yes," I answered awkwardly, avoiding her eyes. As I did, I caught my own in a nearby mirror. I barely recognized myself. Then, with sudden resolve, I turned and faced her.
I can do this.
"I'm looking for lingerie," I mechanically proclaimed.
My discomfort was obvious. Never before had I bought myself something so... lascivious.
As fate would have it, that day would be no exception.
"Do you have something specific in mind?" the bright-eyed young woman pressed on with overemphasized cheeriness. She must have assumed I was shopping for a romantic night planned for me by my loving husband or doting boyfriend.
"Yes," I continued with the deliberateness of a woman on a mission. "It's red satin with black lace trim. High above the knee."
"Oh, yes!" she squealed with delight, confident she knew exactly the piece to which I referred.
Was that because she'd recently sold one just like it to another customer before me? I wondered. As quickly as it had entered, I pushed the thought from my mind.
Focus. Just focus.
"It's right over here!" the salesgirl pointed excitedly, ushering me over to the wall where that now familiar nightie hung triumphantly in the open. "Would you like a to try it on?"
I shook my head. No, that wouldn't be necessary. After all, I wasn't buying it for me. I was buying it for someone else. And I already knew her size.
My husband's open suitcase had sat on the floor of our master bedroom where it always did while he was home, waiting to be unpacked after weeks, sometimes even a couple of months, spent away. Business trips I used to call them. Instead of admitting what they were -- a geographical separation -- with him working on one side of the world and me living on the other.
A strain on our marriage no doubt. But when we agreed to this plan, we likened ourselves to military couples that spend long periods away from one another while still remaining committed.
Yet somehow during these "furloughs" home, my husband's suitcase would never be unpacked. Instead, only its contents rotated, and preparation made for the next "business trip," surely a statement -- his -- that our house was no longer home base.
During this last visit, the one that would mark the end of our marriage, I had walked past his open suitcase for days, annoyed as I always was that not only had he not unpacked it, but that he hadn't even moved it into our walk-in closet.
Unlike those other visits, right before this one my husband had announced that he was "done with our marriage," leaving me to question whether or not he had already met someone else. My husband vehemently denied any such involvement, and I chose to believe him. Never before did I have a reason not to.
But on that particular evening, the appearance of his suitcase struck me as odd. Initially, I couldn't quite place my finger on why. It was only when I walked past it for what was probably the hundredth time that week that I stopped dead in my tracks.
My husband was never one for neatness, and I suddenly realized what was different; the cover, though left unzipped, was now closed. I don't know what made me look inside. I never had in the past. As I lifted the top, I noticed the familiar pink striped bag shoved haphazardly among his clothing, inside -- you guessed it -- a red satin nightie with black lace trim.
Born a fair-skinned strawberry blonde, my entire life I was told that red is not my color. As a baby, my mother dressed me almost entirely in demure pinks and soft greens. And for most of my adult life I abided by that same tradition. The lingerie I held in my trembling hands was not intended for me.
With the vengeance of a woman scorned, I instinctively grabbed for my scissors and cut into the fabric, the sound of each breaking thread mimicking the sound of the life I knew being torn to shreds. When I was done, I carefully wrapped the defiled nightie back in its tissue paper, placed it in the bag, and returned the bag to the suitcase, no one ever the wiser. I imagined my husband's mistress excitedly opening her gift, this gesture of romantic love, only to discover that it had been destroyed.
The next morning I confessed my sin.
"You know," my husband stoically advised with the tutelage of a sage, "I'm only going to buy her another one."
And that's when I said it. "I'll do it."
Surely you must be wondering, what self-respecting woman would buy her husband's mistress lingerie?
I argue, one who is.
For many years I lived with a man who didn't value me. And for equally as long I accepted far less -- less attention, less respect, and less love -- than what I was deserving. In the moment when I became a scorned wife, I graduated from the class in which my husband had for years instructed me.
More than three years have passed since I made that purchase. Though I've told this story countless times since then and to different audiences, each time I do I'm met with the same incredulous stares because, at first, no one understands. But, contrary to popular opinion, my self-respect was not lost at Victoria's Secret that morning. In fact, exactly the opposite was true.
Within days I retained an attorney. And despite my husband and I briefly trying to reconcile three months later -- albeit half-heartedly -- I already knew the end had come and welcomed it.
That torn nightie still sits in my lingerie drawer among all that I bought for myself afterward, a reminder that from ugliness can come beauty and from weakness incredible strength. Not to mention, a newfound love for lingerie and the color red.
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