The first hint that Julie Metz's husband was a cheater came at his own funeral.
Cathy, a gaunt churchgoing friend, draped her body over the man's corpse and sobbed.
The woman was an everyday fixture in Ms. Metz's life: Their daughters were best friends, and Cathy had even thoughtfully recommended her own marriage counsellor to the couple.
It would be another seven months before Ms. Metz learned that Cathy had a turbulent, three-year affair with her 44-year-old husband, Gordon Lee Churchwell, who died of a pulmonary embolism - and that she was one of at least six mistresses he'd kept during their 14-year marriage.
The discovery came when family friends were sorting through the late husband's paperwork and found piles of illicit e-mails.
There was Cathy; Mandy, a bisexual ad executive; Christina, a recently widowed knitter; Alicia, an Argentine university student; and Eliana, a liberal woman who "rode a turd wave" of New Age dialogue - and got to know Mr. Churchwell's "inner reality" when she tied him up during sex.
Ms. Metz decided to track the mistresses down, one by one. She recounts her experience in Perfection: A Memoir of Betrayal and Renewal. Ms. Metz spoke with The Globe and Mail from Brooklyn, N.Y., where she lives with her partner and 12-year-old daughter.
You discovered your husband's infidelities because he catalogued them in an e-mail to one of his mistresses and failed to delete it.
From clues in that e-mail, I was able to identify who it was I needed to find. I had my husband's address book and I went through it looking for names of women that I personally didn't know but who lived in the right neck of the woods. At the same time I was reading through his diary and as I did that, I made other connections. At the time I was discovering this, every day was a fresh outrage. This went on for weeks.
As you got each one on the phone, you let the profanities rip. But you ended up forming very different rapports with the women. Who got your mercy?
This woman Ellen in my town, she was in tears in minutes. [Ms. Metz's husband seduced her at the gym.]It was also clear that she had done immediate corrective work. They'd slept together twice and she told her husband and was off to a marriage counsellor. These encounters had obviously caused her an enormous amount of pain. … [My husband]seemed to have a knack for finding women who were in very vulnerable periods. There was even a theme: Christina and Ellen both had mothers who were dying.
Cathy did not earn your sympathy. You reamed her out in person and launched into a days-long phone campaign. On Day 4, she hung up on you. You write that you were relieved. Why?
These conversations with her felt very poisonous; it was becoming kind of obsessive. It was a relief when she hung up on me because I wouldn't have to talk to her any more. On the other hand, there were many questions that I never had answered. … [Cathy and my husband]had used the children as a remarkably effective cover. Sometimes I had the kids: I was babysitting while they were together. It happened so organically, back and forth, that I wasn't really paying attention. I was the mom and I was working. This woman never felt threatening to me.
Another one, Mandy, actually deigned to chalk it up to 9/11: She said your husband comforted her after she witnessed the terrorist attacks from her apartment in [New York's]Battery Park.
She lied to me that they didn't have sex. It was her unwillingness to be honest with me, in the face of all evidence to the contrary, that pissed me off.
You were most nervous about Eliana, but you ended up becoming close and still e-mail today. That's surprising.
I feel like we both did a lot of work because of our correspondence. I think she understood certain things about long-term, committed relationships that she hadn't understood, and I got to understand a lot more about my husband.
What did you get out of it?
This is a journey and I learned that you can get a surprising amount of wisdom from very unexpected situations. I had created a bubble around myself when I was married and now I was forcing myself to look. I had gone into the marriage with an open heart, I had been a very faithful wife, I'd played by all the rules. But I hadn't really been paying attention in the sense of looking at the real details of my life and allowing myself to see the darker side. Now I felt like I needed to look, to look at everything, even the stuff that's very painful.
How did you feel when you realized you'd married a pathological person?
During that week or two [of investigating] I felt like my entire marriage was just a fraud and that there was nothing there at all. Over time, I came to see that he was a person who was able to compartmentalize his life, and that there are actually a lot of people who do this.
Is it a male trait?
I wouldn't say that. Cathy was that type. I don't think it's a happy person, but it's a type of person who's able to box up certain parts of their lives and keep them separate. That's the type of person who can say, "You want to have dinner tonight?" and "I miss my wife" from one sentence to the next. That's the kind of person who can have an afternoon tryst and then come home and cook dinner for their wife and help their kid with their homework and by all appearances be a husband. Over time, what I started to see was the tragic nature of it. When you live like that, you can tell yourself that your life is just one big adventure but the reality is you're fragmenting yourself into different pieces, none of which is any real good to you. You're not living authentically in any of those boxes.
That brings to mind your Valentine's Day in 2002, when your husband gave you flowers and a poem. The same day, he e-mailed Mandy a vulgar Valentine's note, then copied, pasted and sent it to Cathy too.
In any of the time we were together in 16 years, he had never spoken to me in any vulgar or crude way. I was his wife. Either we were fighting like the dickens or he was very romantic. Finding those e-mails was excruciatingly painful, but it was also a real mind opener. He could be all these different men to all these different kinds of women.
As part of this investigation, you got access to your husband's therapist. How?
Only because he died, and only because I was the executor of his estate was I granted access, and I had to come down with a piece of paper to prove it. A divorced wife would not be able to do this, and not even all widows could do it if you were not named as the executor.
She diagnosed your husband with narcissistic personality disorder. Did your husband's needy directives to his mistresses make you feel at all sorry for them?
I felt sorry for everyone. It wasn't a linear path marching forward toward forgiveness. You take two steps forward and two steps back and there are definitely painful days that continued on for some time. I quickly was coming to a place of feeling sorry for these women, that they had been taken in, and also sorry for him that his life was so out of control. The e-mails he exchanged with Eliana just two days before his death show how full of anxiety and inner turmoil he was.
Your husband's edict was that life is about risks and adventure. So why get married, settle down and have a kid?
Indeed. He wanted all of it. I was a pretty nice wife. He loved me, he loved the idea of having a wife and he loved his child, but he also wanted to do this other stuff.