An Interlude: Guilt

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‘You don’t say anything about guilt.’ commented a friend of mine on reading my last post.

It’s true, I didn’t. In that moment, I didn’t feel any.

It felt so right, joyous and life affirming to love him and to express that physically just felt natural.  It never crossed my mind that something that felt so natural could possibly be something I would be ashamed of or guilty about.

I don’t mean to say I felt no guilt about the relationship.  Oh boy did I ever feel guilt.  But I never felt guilty about love and a natural expression of love.  I felt guilty about dishonesty, about not telling Jack.  I felt guilty about hurting him – that I wasn’t brave enough to tell him I wanted to leave him and that I used the relationship I had just started with Eadmund as a catalyst to force me to leave him.

I have come to realise that, unlike a lot of even my dearest friends, I have scant regard for social constraints.  If they don’t make sense to me, then I don’t hold with them.  I value kindness, honesty and being caring to other people.  Where I’ve failed to do that, even in difficult circumstances, I feel ashamed.

‘You don’t need to worry, Anne,’ Nia once told me, as she, Jack and I shared copious bottles of wine and she insisted on him giving her a hug, as she did with many of her male friends once she’d had a few, ‘I wouldn’t ever do anything with someone else’s boyfriend.’

On the other hand, as I was finding out, I would.  I was engaged to a nice man, I was in what Hollywood would undoubtedly call a ‘love triangle’ with Eadmund and Isla and in addition to that, my boyfriend (as opposed to my fiance you understand) was married and I never for a minute doubted that loving Eadmund and sleeping with him was the right thing to do.

In part, of course, I was in exceptional amounts of denial about my actions and their repercussions still and the realisation of what I’d done was yet to hit me.  But even when the realisation and the guilt did come, it was hurting people that made me feel terrible.  It wasn’t loving someone.

Love is a joyous feeling.  It’s a positive feeling.  It is a huge power for change and change, of course can bring disruption and upset. We all have to deal with the consequences of that disruption.  But love is never something to regret.  It’s the single most life affirming emotion we are capable of.  It’s entirely natural.  We are biologically programmed to feel it.  Nature would not give us an emotion like that and intend for us to feel bad about it.

Guilt on the other hand is almost exclusively negative.  Allowed to develop, grow and take over, it festers and destroys people.  Its function as far as I can see is to prompt us to realise that another time perhaps we should do things differently, in a more honest or kind manner.  Beyond that it has ceased to serve its useful purpose and we should step back from it and all it entails.

It’s easy to say that now of course.  It’s only taken me 14 years to get this rational about it.

One of the reasons I didn’t feel guilt at the time, denial aside, is that I’m not and never have been, religious.  I went to church at Christmas and Easter to sing nice hymns, smell the incense and because the vicar handed out satsumas or Cadbury’s Creme Eggs.  In some families it’s the done thing to be seen to go to church every week which is as much social conditioning and a way of social climbing as it is moral or religious impulse.  My mother used to worry sometimes that we didn’t attend church often enough, my atheist father didn’t give a damn.

I don’t want the trappings of what society deems a successful life.  I never wanted the career in the city, the Oxbridge degree, the flash house in the country with its media room and gym in the basement.  I want the things that will make me happy.  I want to hang out with people not because they will advance my career but because I enjoy their company, they make me think about things in a different light and above all they make me laugh!

I also don’t look at social convention and accept it.  If someone tells me I ought to do something, I immediately want to know why and usually want to do the exact opposite.  I thought, I would never have sex with ‘someone else’s’ man until I did.  Then I realised we are all sentient beings with the possibility of choice.  We act, we take responsibility for our actions and we cope with the repercussions.  If we are brave and realise what we want to do might hurt someone else if we do it secretly then we confront them, explain and ask permission.  If we’re lucky they will realise they don’t have a right to own our actions any more than we have a right to own theirs.  I’ve been ‘cheated on’ as much as I’ve cheated and what hurt was being made the victim, being lied to, being disrespected because of someone else’s cowardice.  I’ve been that coward and it was the dishonesty and hurt and making someone else the victim that made me feel guilty.

So no, as I lay in Eadmund’s arms, I didn’t feel guilty.  I knew we were both in so much trouble, but I didn’t feel guilt.

I hadn’t hurt anyone.

Yet.

Not Quite Sleeping Together

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Not even Isla’s news stopped me.  It might have been a day or two until the next time Eadmund and I found ourselves alone together but I doubt it was even as long as a week.

The kisses became more passionate.  The arms wandered. It was a bit like the teenage fumblings I’d never had, in one way, because for all that we both evidently found the encounters breathtakingly erotic, it remained quite innocently chaste.  All clothes stayed firmly on although shirts and t shirts were untucked from trousers.  Even now, it makes me smile to remember how thrilling it was to just feel the skin of his chest with my fingertips and to feel his hands on the small of my back.  Back home, I was still having sex with my fiancé; full foreplay and penetrative sex with earnest attention that I should have an orgasm and yet it felt disconnected and predictable.  These strangely chaste yet passionate encounters were more fulfilling.

‘Be careful not to confuse the thrill of the secrecy with sexual chemistry,’ Eadmund warned me, ‘I’ve had affairs before,’ and he smiled ironically in acknowledgement of work gossip, ‘Oh so many affairs,’ in a mock world weary tone, ‘and the sneaking around gives an urgency and excitement of its own.  It’s easy to confuse the two.’

He didn’t want to sleep with me, he said.  Behind the hugs to co-workers, never mind what had happened with Isla and was happening now with me, he had spent years looking for emotional reassurance, support and love that his marriage wasn’t able to supply.  The need had driven him and at times it got him in deeper than he realised.  It felt warm and fulfilling until they had sex.  Once that was over, he would realise it was wrong and that he wanted to be somewhere else.

‘I don’t want to feel like that with you,’ he said, ‘Actually I think there’s a good chance I won’t feel like that with you, but that raises a whole other set of questions and you have a fiancé.’

Things were still going on with Isla too.  He told me each time anything happened.

‘I’m not looking for it with her anymore,’ he explained, ‘Don’t get me wrong, in the past I have been.  Not now.  I think for some reason she still wants something from me and for me it’s a bit like a habit I’m trying to break.’

Each time it was a dagger to the heart but each time I got better at not letting it shake my confidence in the relationship we had with each other.  I didn’t like it but we had never agreed that we were having a relationship with each other and as such there was no reason to ask for exclusivity.  Besides, I still had Jack.

I wanted to take it further.  Knowing how much I enjoyed the encounters we did have, I knew that we would be sexually compatible.  My sex life with Jack had always been good enough.  We had very close moments and we’d tried out all sorts of positions, techniques, toys and saucy underwear.  Judged by the standards of Cosmopolitan magazine and girl chat with my friends, I’d always thought we had a great sex life.  Besides, most women didn’t have an orgasm from sex did they?  Pretty much all women liked the foreplay best. And yet… and yet… there was a bit of me that wanted that Mills and Boon, From Here to Eternity style passionate sex where it doesn’t take vibrators and toys to get you off.  I wanted to feel it just from the thrill of our shared sexual energy.  The electric charge I got from the touch of his skin made me think that, with Eadmund, this might happen.

We talked about it.  I reasoned.  I persuaded.  I was as eloquent as I have ever been in arguing my case and trying to make him see my point of view.  I couldn’t win.  I couldn’t make him do what I wanted.  He kept to his original point of view.  Either it would spoil everything because it would make him regret something that was, at the moment, giving him comfort and warmth or it would kick open a whole hornet nest because it could mean we should have a relationship.

Needless to say, this made me only want it more and want him more.  I couldn’t argue him round as I could Jack.  He stuck to his own views.  I knew already from our talks on all manner of things that he listened to my point of view, thought I was insightful and respected my opinions.  It wasn’t a matter of disrespect that kept him from agreeing with me.  He felt he was right.

And of course there was the undeniable charge between us.  I don’t know if I was a slave to my hormones but I was awash with anticipation for something that with each kiss, I felt more and more sure would be amazing.  The idea of not experiencing it was almost more than I could bear.

Into this hotbed, came my best friend from school days, Elena and her husband, also called Jack.  They were having a holiday in London and staying with us.  I had it all planned.  We had a birthday party to go to first and then we would get the tube up to Camden to go clubbing.  The following day we’d go back to Camden and meet up with one of their friends in the World’s End pub.  I outlined my plan to Jack and assumed he would come clubbing in Camden with us.  To me, it was only the hospitable thing to do.

‘I don’t want to go to a goth club,’ he told me grumpily, ‘I’m not coming.’

I couldn’t persuade him.  Rather than making me respect his point of view, it just made me angry.  I felt he was being rude to my best friend and her husband.  I was getting it out of proportion as Elena and her Jack didn’t mind in the slightest, but it rankled.  So the following day I was even more rude because ‘I had to go into the office just for a bit.  I had to go round the Food Market and talk to the stallholders.’

I did usually do this every Saturday.  Eadmund and I would do the rounds and talk to everyone.  How was trade going?  How were the facilities?  Had setting up the stand gone ok?  Any issues?  It was no problem for me to skip a week.  He’d happily do it without me.  But after Jack had been in a mood and been rude to my friends I thought, sod him.  I knew if I went to the Market there would be another moment where Eadmund and I would find ourselves alone and that things would happen.  I didn’t care.

I came back via Covent Garden market where some of the our Market regulars were taking part in a new annual Fair.  I chatted to them and bought chocolate then headed up to Camden.  I found Elena, her Jack, a friend of theirs from University and Jack all in a group several pints down and proceeded to catch up.  Life was getting too complicated and the simplest thing to do at this stage was to blot it out.

‘Jack and I were remembering that holiday the other day,’ Elena said to me recently as we both laughed over what an exceptionally alcoholic Saturday it turned out to be.

‘He said, “In retrospect, we should have guessed that something was wrong.  We were drinking lots because we were on holiday but I think they were drinking to escape.”’

At work, my responsibilities increased.  The wholesale manager left with a month’s notice which was in line with his contract but didn’t leave much time to find a replacement.  The sales drive was taken on by Jacob.  The admin and fulfilment was taken on by me.  I was the most experienced member of staff in wholesale at the time.  Ironically the mail order manager had also left and Isla took on running the department.  Two departments, with new managers and each requiring a bit of an overhaul.  Eadmund ended up spending a lot of time checking in with both of us and we both were working together in a tiny office.  You would think that there would be all sorts of tension: competition between Isla and me (and there was an element of that), unease for him as two women with which he was engaging in varying degrees of sexual activity were in close proximity.  There must have been tension and an edge on occasion but Isla and I were still friends.  We still talked about things.  We were both scared of the impending Christmas and the new challenge facing us both.  We looked out for each other.

I started to miss it if he wasn’t there.   December came round and he was based in Covent Garden.  Supervision of me and Isla became Jacob’s responsibility. Eadmund had to work on the shop.  The days dragged.  I missed him.  I found myself making excuses to head up to Covent Garden when my shift ended so I could snatch a moment with him.

‘You’re a very passionate person,’ Eadmund told me as we broke away from kissing on the rickety staircase that lead from his office to the shop, ’I don’t think you even realise.  Hasn’t anyone told you before?’

No one had. Jack said I was kind.  I was a good girl.  He thought that I hadn’t rebelled as a teenager, that I was conventional and straight forward.  I loved the idea that I was passionate.  I felt like a movie heroine.

Christmas came and went.  Jack and I were apart again. I was at home in Marple and preoccupied by memories of kissing Eadmund.  At the least appropriate moments, the memory of his lips on mine, the taste of his mouth, the electric charge as my fingers touched his skin would intrude into my mind and I could think of nothing else.  For a moment I would be absolutely lost to the outside world.

With the winter months of January and February came the usual Christmas comedown. Against all odds Isla and I had both done well at very little notice.  We were both still engaged in ‘not quite relationships’ with Eadmund.  As usual in the cheese shop, everyone was low on energy.  This included Eadmund.  The shock of Cloe and Rupert had worn off, but dealing with it day to day was still difficult. The person he emotionally connected with most was me, but I was marrying someone else.  We were emphatically not going to have a relationship.

The business was moving its office to a new space just round the corner from the South London shop.  The new office was empty, waiting for us to move in.  It was a new project and I felt uneasy about not being part of it.  We had another of our talks down the pub.  He was quiet, subdued, unhappy and I couldn’t work out why or make it better by talking.  We left the pub and he took me up to the new office space.  As usual we held each other.  We kissed each other.  Normally it would be left at that.  On this occasion, though, he took my hand and lead me to the back room which looked out on the roofs between the trainlines in and out of London Bridge Station.  We lay down on the coat that he spread on the floor.  He tasted of roll up cigarettes and IPA.  We were more measured and slow than usual and for the first time, we actually made love.

The minute I felt him inside me, I felt secure, loved and that, at last, I was home.

‘I don’t want to be anywhere else,’ he whispered to me as we lay together afterwards.

The hornet nest was kicked right open.