‘An alert popped up from a woman named Dani. When I confronted him, he dropped the bomb. Dani was a man.’: Woman feels guilt over ex-husband’s infidelity and suicide

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“I met my first husband while we were still in high school. Young and in love, we were convinced we would be together forever. We had plans for our future, plans to have a family and grow old together. He was going to go to medical school and my plan was to be a teacher. We both wanted to help people, to change the world. In 1995, we eloped to Reno, got married in a little chapel, and promised to love each other forever. I was head over heels in love. I was certain he was the love of my life. I made vows to stick with him, no matter what. We were young. He was 18, I was barely 19. We didn’t have jobs because we had just finished high school, so we stayed with his parents while we tried to sort everything out. We ended up moving to another state about two years after we got married, and bought a little coffee shop and bakery with an inheritance from his grandparents. It was our dream come true. We were both passionate about coffee and helping other people, and so we poured our heart and soul into the business. We both made new friends in our little town, and in hindsight, I can see the point when I started to develop ‘tunnel vision’ – only wanting to see the good in everything, even though there were things happening that were far from good.

My husband started spending more and more time away from the business, saying he was volunteering or going to purchase supplies for the shop. Eventually, I started getting suspicious. In hindsight, I should have seen the writing on the wall, but I just couldn’t bear to think that our fairy tale was starting to develop cracks. Charles had started living a double-life, and everything was about to come unraveled.

One night, I was checking email and an alert popped up on the computer. It was from another woman named Dani who had some very explicit messages for my husband. I was shocked. I confronted him later that evening, and he confessed everything. I asked him why he would cheat, why he would seek out another woman, and that’s when he dropped the bomb. Dani wasn’t a woman, he was a man. Charles confessed that for years, he felt attracted to men and he thought that getting married to me would make him normal, would take away his desire. But he explained that it was part of him, and he wanted me to stay. He said he would work through it, that he would try to ‘fix it,’ and that he loved me. I debated at that moment what I should do. This was April of 2000. I was confused and scared, but I had made vows and hoped his promise of wanting to try to make things work was real.

Things started going downhill after our discussion. He admitted that he was still seeing Dani. I was so frustrated, I didn’t know what to do. I stayed for several months, finally making the decision to leave in July after he started becoming physically violent. He apologized for trying to hurt me and said he had started using drugs and blamed his behavior on that. I was terrified and devastated. I had tried to help him, even involving his parents with a plea for help, which was unsuccessful. It was at this time I found out my mom was dying, and I decided to return back to my home state to care for her. I told Charles I was moving back. He was seeing Dani on a regular basis and I knew there was nothing more I could do to save our marriage. He had made his decision. As much as I loved him and as rejected as I felt, I knew leaving was the right thing to do.

I moved back home and filed for divorce. It was finalized a few months later. Charles and I kept in touch now and then, mainly through email or a quick text. I knew he was still struggling with drug and alcohol addiction, and as far as I knew, he and Dani had broken up. In 2008, I married my second husband, James, and we have been together for 12 years. James is amazing. He is a wonderful husband and father. We have four children together, and I couldn’t be happier. In March of 2016, I gave birth to our daughter. After three boys, we were over the moon to finally have our girl. I was sitting on the couch holding her when I received a message from a friend through Facebook, asking me if I had heard what happened to Charles. I replied that I hadn’t and asked if everything was okay. I had talked to him about a year earlier to see how he was doing and everything seemed to be going well for him. My friend told me that Charles had been found in the woods by a hiker and that he was dead. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.

On what would have been the week of our 21st wedding anniversary, he walked into the woods and slit his wrists, committing suicide. I cried tears for Charles, for our marriage that was lost all those years ago, that I couldn’t help him, that I couldn’t save him. I knew he had battled with depression for several years. I blamed myself. I felt such shame for not doing more. I reached out to his parents after he passed and offered my condolences. I like to think that conversation was healing for all of us, as we shared stories and tried to make sense of what happened.

Four years later, I still have guilt about what happened. I wondered if I stayed, if things would have been different. If I could have helped him, if I could have saved him. James has helped me come to terms with a lot of what happened. I know now that staying with Charles was not the answer. Even though he had a lot of support around him before he died, he still felt helpless and felt that suicide was the only way out. I wish he would have reached out, given a cry for help. He had no idea how much his life meant to everyone who cared for him. I miss him every day.”

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