Sandra *, 48, led exactly the life she wanted: a beautiful apartment in an old building, a generous husband, two well-rounded children. Then she came.
It was Katrin's daughter's graduation ceremony. A picnic on the riverside, bottled beer, plus the intimate togetherness of our clique. My husband David left at some point, and the new high school graduates moved on to a club. As so often, I was one of the last guests. Just like Katrin, my longtime neighbor and friend. We sat in the grass, a little to one side, shared a last drink, were cheerful and melancholy at the same time.
Suddenly she looked at me strangely. "I think you're really great for a long time," she said softly. I pretended not to know what she was talking about. "I want to kiss you," she said, "only once." Then she leaned over to me. A moment like in the cinema. When I think back to that first kiss today, it was harmless, almost sisterly. And at the same time like a curtain that is pulled a little to the side and behind which something completely unexpected is waiting.
Up until that evening my life had been more conventional. I met David in my mid-twenties, got pregnant quickly, had our daughter Nina and our son Finn in quick succession and finally moved into our own house. The fact that I was also attracted to women didn't play a role in my everyday life – there had been two or three party smooches before David, nothing serious. Even when I got to know Katrin better in a mothers' group, it didn't sparkle. I had noticed that she was into women and found that very exciting, but no longer.
I was happy with my life
There were ups and downs in my marriage, sex had become rare and unsatisfactory, and I lacked attention. Again: which long-term relationship has been perfect? I heard something similar from my friends. And finally, I had many reasons to stay with David. He was a loving father, I felt safe, and: He had the better-paying job, ensured a certain standard of living, gave me freedom. That I ultimately lied in my pocket, that all of this might make me happy, but not happy – I only understood in the days after that Abi party, when I took my smartphone out of my pocket every five minutes to see whether Katrin had written.
I felt as if I had been standing at the front of a springboard for days and weeks without knowing what was in the pool below me
She had. And the coming weeks and months were heaven and hell at the same time. Step by step I gave up my resistance and she gave up her reluctance. Soon we were lovers, in words and deeds. We met in the mornings when the children were at school, we rented hotel rooms – the classic ingredients of an affair. The constant bittersweet excitement of doing something forbidden – they too had a relationship at the time, if nothing permanent.
Sometimes I wanted to run away with her, sometimes I implored her not to change our arrangement, especially because of my children. A breakup is bad enough – but how would you, your friends, our clique react if two women came out as a couple? Would we make a mockery of half the city? I could barely sleep, had dark daydreams in which Nina and Finn blocked my cell phone number, cut off contact with me. Followed by visions in which we all lived together in a blissful hippie commune. I felt as if I had been standing at the front of a diving board for days and weeks without knowing what was in the pool below me: warm water, cold water – or none at all.
He acted as if he hadn't noticed anything
David didn't seem to have a clue. "Did you lose weight?" Was his only question. By then I had already lost ten pounds because I couldn't eat anything, from being in love and from despair. "If I break up with my girlfriend, could I have you?", Katrin asked me. No, I claimed, even though everything in me was screaming "Yeah, yeah". David once watched us greet each other at a friend's birthday party, and suddenly I thought: Now he's noticed something, the way we look, touch, hug! I felt panic and relief at the same time, thought, now he's making a scene for us and making the decision for me. Instead, he pretended not to notice. I think he wanted to keep our life together at all costs. Maybe he loved that more than me as a person.
Today I lead a more self-determined life
In the end, he did help me nail my head, albeit inadvertently. "Who actually knows about you and Katrin?" He asked casually one evening when we were cleaning up the kitchen. I didn't even deny it, but I strongly disagreed: "Oh, so you only care what the neighbors think?" Suddenly Finn stood in the doorway, very pale, and looked between me and David. At that moment I knew: there is no going back. It was like David had finally pushed me off that damn stepping stone.
"Okay," I said, "the four of us need to talk. First thing in the morning." During the night I never closed my eyes, the next morning I bought bread rolls for everyone and thought: This is the last time we will have breakfast together. It was like standing next to me, like watching another person. There they all sat in their pajamas on the sofa, only I was dressed. Everyone was crying. And suddenly I was very calm and clear. What would have been the alternative – heroically renouncing, suppressing it and thereby not only hurting me and Katrin, but everyone involved? Nina, then 17, finally got to the point: "Mom, you should be happy too." Finally David inserted a DVD, the four of us lay on the sofa and watched a few episodes of "Breaking Bad". Actually completely absurd. But apparently we all needed that last family moment.
That was a year and a half ago. It was anything but a walk, but I haven't regretted a day of it. Katrin and I live together in her apartment, more modest but self-determined. Our daughters are out of the house, Finn commutes between David and me. It's not that I think my past life was a mistake. Or would be a completely different person today. But I've changed: I'm prouder, more confident, and less dependent.
* Name changed by the editor