Cheating – The Adulterer of Oz

Thomas Stewart

You are a cheater. Say it. You – are – a – cheater. You cheated. You did. You don’t deny it, you think about it every day. When you wake, shower, eat, you feel that weight, like a boot pressing down onto you, guilt. You did it and you have to live with it. It becomes a scar, a definition. You did a bad thing. You can tell people the story, explain why, but all they may hear is cheat and you can’t move away from that. You crash and burn and obliterate others.

You could tell them your relationship was at an end. Tell them that he pushed you and you pushed him and your relationship became a game of cat and mouse. You could tell them you were drunk – no, wasted – and all you remember is kissing the other day, then waking up. You wake up out of blackness and enter the darkness. Because when you see this naked guy, the guy who’s not your boyfriend, the world comes down. And the only thing to do is to confess because the secret is just as bad as the darkness and the cheating is a certificate of the end.

And it does end. You are left alone in a burning Oz, fires you created with nobody to help you put them out. Alone. Alone and in the darkness, with no Tin Man, no life-jackets. You exist in a world of your own doing with guilt sapping you. And when you think you’re healed, it zaps it all out again.

But time is the best healer and wounds slowly heal – albeit with salt – and the cheating – the blip, the mistake, the moment – is buried. Along the way, down the yellow brick road, you meet others. One cheats continuously, he says it’s his new year’s resolution to stop doing it. Another cheats with someone whom he loves, ends his relationship due to this and says it’s for the best that nobody finds out. One does it to experience more. “We met young,” he says, “I’m just living out some of my fantasies.” Fantasies he cannot get from one. Excuses and justifications, all of which, you ask, protect…whom?

Questions become the very basis of your existence. Before it was black and white but now you live in the grey. Before, doing something with another was cheating. Sex, yes. Kissing, yes. Dirty messages, yes. Anything and everything, yes. Secrets, of course. Now you find yourself torn.

One day, the man you betrayed returns. It’s been two years. He’s moved on. Happy. With someone else. You are alone, by choice, as you decided to figure yourself out rather than have someone infect your conclusions. And as you talk to him, typing away with buttery fingers, clammy throat and wet brow, you wonder if your indiscretion has become a trademark on his life too. You don’t ask. Why open and see the worms?

The more you talk, the more avenues you both take and he says he has a story to tell and the story involves another guy – not his boyfriend – and a shower. His comments are those of extreme elation and lust. “What do you think?” he poses. And your instant reaction is confusion – why after all this time tell a story resembling a porno?

Then comes a misguided sense of arousal. Then you think maybe, just maybe, your mistake is now justified. Forgiveness in the face of betrayal. Two minuses become a plus. But the thought leads to a taste of hypocrisy, a bitter taste, it’s cruel and cold. Human nature, perhaps? His desires pushed to the front and there to do with as you see fit? There is no judgment here because in his eyes you’re still that guy that cheated on him, to him you can’t judge, you have no voice, you lost your ticket two years ago. And with this joint secret – an unwanted one – comes the drumming realisation of his own infidelity. Finally, a confused clap comes, that of what is adultery? Your mind now battered and confused.

The conversation ends and he’s gone, until a few photos of his acted arousal are shown, his desire to swap sex stories encouraged, all the while you think: what is cheating? You think back to the others, to the yellow brick road, to the excuses. “Window shopping.” “Looking not touching.” “It’s essentially porn.” But is it, you ask? Isn’t porn a fantasy? Watching those you can’t have? But by that logic isn’t doing that – swapping videos and images and stories – another form of pornography?

You think not. You think cheating is something you wouldn’t want to tell your partner and as your ex-partner goes offline you know he won’t tell his current. The story was about secrecy, taboos, the want for the not being able to have. It was excitement and out of bounds, something he would never get in a relationship. It was envy and injustice.

You stand up. Walk away from the computer. Go over to the mirror. You see yourself, not as he sees you, but as you see you. Changed. Different. Developed? A returned Dorothy, coming back from the yellow brick road, the burnt Oz. A vision of yourself but not what others can see. Behind the curtain, the Wizard, the truth. Behind the curtain, the murky grey. Not everything is answered, maybe, in fact, there are more questions than before. Because you stand and you look, water on your hands, straw in your hair, a question mumbler, answer demander. Those answers are behind the curtain and when you pull it back you get a whole set of new ones.

About Thomas Stewart

Thomas Stewart is an English graduate and currently on the MA in Writing program at the University of Warwick. He is Culture Journalist and Contributing Writer for other publications. He enjoys suburban literature, folk music, curry, chick-flicks, Mojitos, books, watches and poetry.