The shock of the breakup was so sudden, so extreme, that normal behavior would have seemed inappropriate.
The events that lead up to it should have left clues, but they didn’t register: The bank letters addressed in his name that I didn’t open because I’d learned that it was, apparently, none of my business how he kept missing the payments on the credit cards; the time he spent at the local pub which was natural for a hard working man, to need time away from our three young children after a long day on the factory floor; I, remote and oblivious to the inebriated courting dance played out across the bar room tables with the publican’s girlfriend, while I breastfed on the move, trying in vain to create a comfortable calm space for their tired father to return home to each night, rambling on when he finally did deposit himself on the sofa allowing my words to drift past like distant lights. I was unaware in my lactating, nappy changing, 10- cups- of- cold- tea- littering-every-mantlepiece-daily-life, that a monologue does not constitute a conversation; waffling on about the latest gleaning from Radio 4 heard only in snippets due to the constant interruptions from child no 1, 2 or 3 – the eldest only just having turned 6, and the youngest just having finally decided to move under his own steam.
I had learned over the 10 years to listen to the tales of door manufacturing, details that after a day with the children, seemed quite fascinating, but to mind my own business when it came to more esoteric concerns such as what dreams were held for the future, what adventures lay ahead, until the future became a place I felt in no hurry to get to. Which is why I now thank god that it was so abruptly pillaged.
And then one night it all exploded. The infidelity. The shame. The utter confusion. The end.
My response was not normal behaviour. I forced myself to return to the Pub where the young woman who had stolen what I had mistaken for my life – then promptly returned the goods, spoiled – would scuttle upstairs as I took courage from a friend at my side, refusing to use the other perfectly good pubs in the village when I could show my resilience by using this one. I did not scream or rail at her – but instead made it plain that she had ‘done me a favour’ and pretended to ignore the agony of guilt that tortured her every time I walked into her domain.
Nine and a half years later, I’m dancing with my friends at a local hooley. Love and pain and joy has moulded my spirit and form these last years in such a way that it is now impossible for me to regret any of it, even the parts that caused all that agony of 9 and a half years ago. Forgiveness foiled by a lack of forgetting, yet a shift in consciousness that made the person I had once been seem like a stranger to me.
And now there she stood in front of me. Breathing a little too heavily for someone who had been standing still for an hour building up the courage to come up and stand before me. I stopped dancing, and recognised immediately the lost girl who had come so close to taking everything I had – which at the time did seem like everything. Physically she had taken him, and had been about to run away and marry him, leaving me with my name not on the mortgage and no marital bonds to protect my interests, with three small children living in a house that, with one swift secret runaway to Gretna Green, she would have then owned half of. But luckily, as I suppose it was luck, my children’s father confessed his hidden debts, the gnawing canker of which was eating at his mind and spirit until running away to Scotland had actually seemed a good idea.
But that night 9 and a half years ago he had confessed his debt, first to her, and then later to me. Unloaded it as if it were a terrible curse, and yet it was the performance around it that had caused the real injury. And she had decided swiftly that he should return home, and she returned to the bed of her partner as if nothing had happened. But it had happened, and I was never one to stick my head in the sand or put on dark glasses when the truth was glaring me in the eyes like the eruption of an exploding supa nova.
“I’ve been watching you for an hour” she said, her voice trembling, out of sorts with the joyous dancing of adults and children that surrounded us. “I was too afraid to come up to you”.
‘Afraid’ I thought. It seemed odd. After all these years of working through the anger, the hatred, the indignation. She was the one who was afraid? We had not ended our relationship on angry terms. “He’s yours if you want him” I had told her that night before I moved out to begin my new life. “Just make up your mind. He’s losing the plot and I need him to keep his head together. We have to sell the house for debts. Debts I didn’t know we had.” And neither had she known, for if she had perhaps the incentive for that illicit temporary love would have remained a bar-room daydream. Before the mountain of loans and unpaid credit cards were laid out on the table, one night it seemed she had all that she so wanted. The package was meant to include a house, and children ready made and no doubt more to come. It is not unusual for a woman longing for what she has not got, to try to substitute herself for a woman who does have what she wants.
And yet ironically, in the destruction that followed, I found slowly over the years that my precious treasures were not attached to any bricks and mortar, nor pension plan, nor sharing a bed with my children’s father. I had gained, not lost, over those years.
Without a second thought, I hugged her, and immediately shouted in her ear above the roar of the band “It’s all water under the bridge”.
“You look amazing” she said. She must have expected my nearly 49 years to have left me more scarred. “I’m happy!” I roared, and carried on dancing. And I meant it. There was no fakery here. There was no need to forgive either. I had acceptance, and that was doing the job nicely thank you.
I was driving home later that night so alcohol can not be blamed for my actions. I read once that “happiness is the best revenge”, and I remember years ago longing for that revenge to come to pass – and now it had. And yet something nagged at me over the following days. Why after all this time, would she be so afraid to come and say hello? I had given her no reason to feel that fear. It had all been most amicable – and my true rage and pain had found other ways to express itself over the ensuing years.
It bothered me, that she should be carrying that unease for so many years, while I had shed mine. It gave me no pleasure, to see no tangible sign of her having attained those treasures that must have seemed within her grasp, which I had kept in the bank with added interest despite the destruction of my world as I knew it. A sense of annoying arrogance nibbled. And then I remembered something.
All those years of wondering why. Of wondering how I could have loved a man who so easily seemed to transfer his love – temporarily – to another. Why she had crept into my house when I was out, to be with him, the children asleep upstairs. Why such sacrilege? Why me?
But learning to leave the victim’s soft mink-lined slippers at the temple door, and walk barefoot instead as the creator of my own life, responsible not for all the events that befall me, but at least for the way I respond to them, this had led me to many teachers. And one recent workshop had offered a real gem.
When wondering about an ex partner, or any other person who tramples on your heart, remember this mantra as you go around in circles making up stories about how they think or feel, or what motives them:
“I don’t know”.
Because we don’t know. We can create a thousand theories but really, we just don’t know why another person thinks or feels or acts the way they do. Because they are not us.
I hope that the trembling woman, now in her forties, who seemed partly relieved, partly unnerved by my reaction to her appearance after all these years, will not let the past hold her back from her future. But the fact is, I don’t know, and the truth is, it’s just none of my business.
Suzy is the inventor of Divorce in a Box – a Travel Guide for stay out of court Divorce, which includes over £500 of complementary access to skilled professional advice, with a focus on collaborative parenting. Available in USA from www.divorceinabox.us, and in UK from www.sosdivorceinabox.com