Fallout

I broke up with Jack, as I wrote before, on a busy Saturday in May with a bustling food market all around us.  I vanished from my shop shift and spent the day in our offices, upstairs in a fairly molten state.

After crying all day in the office on my own, I finally made the call to my mum and told her the wedding was off.

‘You’ve been having an affair?’ My mum was angry and disappointed, ‘I did not bring you up to behave like that.’

My dad sounded concerned, gentle, worried.  I explained that although I hadn’t said anything, things weren’t right with Jack.

‘I’ve always thought that he didn’t quite have enough of a spark for you,’ he admitted.

I didn’t feel I deserved kindness.  It made me start crying all over again.

‘Eadmund feels like home.’ I managed to choke before I couldn’t speak any more.

My friends dropped everything.  Nia and Helena, my friends since school, drew lots over who should look after me and who should look after Jack.  Helena drew Jack, grabbed her purse and a bottle of wine and headed for the flat I would no longer live in.  Nia came with her, grabbed a change of clothes and some things she thought would be important to me and returned home.  She arranged for Maelle to meet me at London Bridge Station and stay with me until she could get there.  Before I could even ask, they had decided they would take me in.

Eadmund had been spending the day out of London.  I had rung him earlier to tell him what I’d done.  As soon as he could, he had driven back to see me.  Before I went to meet Maelle, he hugged me, took me to the pub and bought me a pint.  With masterfully inappropriate timing, as I waited for him to be served at the bar, a CAMRA Real Ale bore complete with dandruff beard, shorts, socks and sandals decided to chat me up.  I was way to shell shocked to manage to politely decline his attentions but luckily Eadmund showed up and he got the message.  We sat on bar stools and I contemplated my glass, concentrating on it as if my life depended on it.

pint-of-beer

‘I know you feel terrible right now,’ Eadmund said, touching my arm.  I looked up at him.  His eyes were shining and soft.  In a world full of anger, shock, sadness, disappointment and guilt, he was an oasis of happiness.  ‘It will pass.  And I may be the only one, but I’m really happy you’re not getting married.’

I learned over the next few days, that most people I worked with, thought I was right to call off the wedding.  The cracks in our relationship that I had been blind to were obvious to them.  Even more surprising was that my friends outside work agreed too.

‘The thing is, Anne,’ Nia told me, ‘You and Jack are both nice people but you’d started to bring out the worst in each other.’

Even Isla, though she couldn’t be empathetic or sympathetic, said.

‘You did the right thing.  If you can be in a relationship with someone else at the same time, you definitely shouldn’t be getting married.’

I was relieved to hear her say it but the contained tone in which she did so was a dagger to my heart.  Belated guilt for everything was washing over me in waves; guilt about Jack who was hurt, angry and heart broken; guilt about Isla whose friendship I had brushed aside because I was too preoccupied with Eadmund choosing me over her; guilt about my mother toying with her emotions by giving her the news of our impending wedding with all its celebrations and joys then snatching it away from her again – her happy and proud face in the wedding dress shop haunted me for over ten years afterwards; guilt about my sister who I had abandoned when she needed family.

I really needed a friend who understood why I had fallen for Eadmund, why he had affected me so much and why I loved him so much.  Only one person I knew understood that, but I’d hurt her too badly for her to be my friend anymore.  I missed her so much it hurt.

The Secret Relationship

Now that we were in a relationship, we needed to regularly set time aside to be together.  Eadmund was clear that for the relationship to work out, we couldn’t just seize the moment the way we had been doing.  We would have specific nights to spend together.  Conscious that he had much more experience at managing relationships (secret ones too) than me, I was happy to go along with whatever he suggested.

‘I don’t just want to be in a pub or restaurant with you either,’ he carried on, ‘We need to be alone together.’

But where?  He didn’t want to be at his house with his children.  He felt they had enough to deal with that their mum had a boyfriend.  He didn’t want to spring on them that Dad also had a girlfriend.  They were scared that their parents would divorce as it was.  Obviously we couldn’t be together at my house either.  Jack would be there.

Eadmund had an idea.  The building he rented for the shop in South London came with 2 floors upstairs that Jacob had used as a flat when he separated from his wife.  Things had now moved on, however.   He had a new girlfriend and as the flat above the shop had been warehouse cool and atmospheric but a bit basic, they were living in her flat at the moment while they got some cash together to make the shop flat more easily inhabitable.  It was empty.  I wouldn’t have dared ask Jacob something like that but Eadmund reassured me that he and Jacob knew each other well enough that he could ask the favour.  Jacob agreed.

I told Jack that I had agreed to work late on certain days and wouldn’t be home to eat.  Eadmund and I met up after work, went up to Jacob’s flat, ate a picnic meal, made love and lay for hours in bed together talking, touching, kissing and inevitably making love again.  At the end of the evening, he drove me home, parked a couple of blocks away from my house so it would look like I was walking home from the bus stop and with one last kiss, we’d say good night.  I would go home and get into bed with my fiancé.  Often, in the interests of fairness, I felt I ought to make love to him too.  The contrast between the two broke my heart.

Jack loved snowboarding.  He had discovered a passion for it a few years ago and every year he went to the Alps for a couple of weeks break to snowboard to his heart’s content.  I had tried it.  He won a week’s snowboarding holiday in a magazine competition.  I got to learn to snowboard a little in a lovely Swiss village called Scuol which also had an amazing spa.  I loved the village, I loved the mountains but I hated snowboarding.  So Jack’s snowboarding holidays were alone time for him.  He liked that too.  Most years could only afford to holiday in France or Switzerland.  This year he had saved up and was going to Lake Tahoe.  He was also going to be away for an extra week as it was a special trip.

Eadmund had recently got in touch with a branch of his family in Uruguay where his father had been born.  His father had been sent to school in Edinburgh but then war broke out and his aunt stayed in Uruguay.  As a result, she had married a local farmer and stayed in South America whereas Eadmund’s father became a surgeon, met his mother and moved to Hong Kong.  Eadmund’s big sister had arranged a three week trip to Uruguay to visit their cousins.

From being very busy balancing two men in my life, all of a sudden I had three weeks alone.  I didn’t know what to do with myself, it was so long since I’d had time by myself.  I thought I would miss both of them, but I didn’t.  I just missed Eadmund.

We emailed and I got in to work early so that with the time difference, we could speak on the phone privately.  His holiday had a big emotional impact, reconnecting with family he had never seen.  With each new discovery of his family and each crazy coincidence that resonated with his life (his Uruguay family were dairy farmers and he had never realised this before), he wanted to talk to me about how it made him feel.

Jack didn’t ring me from his holiday.  This was pretty normal behaviour for us.

When both men were back in the UK, I felt that something had changed.  I had realised that I didn’t care enough about Jack.  Especially not for someone who was planning to get married to him.

‘You can always separate to get some space and perspective,’  Eadmund said when I had admitted my misgivings, ‘It doesn’t have to mean you’re splitting up permanently.  Relationships are what you make of them.  There aren’t rules.’

That idea comforted me.  We could separate without it being the end.  But by now we’d started planning the wedding.  The momentary sense of freedom I felt disappeared.  The walls started closing in again.  I couldn’t leave Jack now.  My parents had spent money on marquees.  We’d ordered material to make a dress.  I had never understood how people could get so caught up in wedding planning that they went ahead with a loveless marriage.  All of a sudden, I did.  The event gains a momentum of its own.  My mother and I went shopping for dresses.  I tried on a whole range of styles in white and ivory.  I opened the curtains to my changing cubicle for her to look and give an opinion.

‘Oh Anne.’

Her eyes filled up with tears.  She looked so happy and proud.

I couldn’t let her down.  I couldn’t let everyone down.  I would just have to marry him.  Even if I didn’t love him.  I couldn’t disappoint them all.

One night as Eadmund and I lay in bed together, breathing in each other’s scent and luxuriating in tingle of electricity we experienced when our bodies touched skin to skin, my newly acquired mobile phone rang.  I had turned it off earlier that evening so we could have time to ourselves and only just switched it back on again.

With a shock I realised that I had multiple missed calls from my mother and from Jack.  I answered the phone,

‘Where have you been?  We’ve been calling all evening.’  My mother’s voice was worried.

‘In the pub,’ I lied, ‘Sorry, it was noisy and I didn’t hear the phone.  I’ve just gone outside.’

‘It’s very quiet,’ she sounded utterly unconvinced by my story, ‘Are you really outside a pub?  Your voice sounds strained.  Are you lying?’

‘No, no!  It is surprisingly quiet but I am outside the pub.  What’s happened?’

My sister was in her final year of university.  She had been doing final exams.  A paper she should have found easy and expected to get good marks on had gone extremely badly.  Her watch had stopped.  She thought she had plenty of time left for her final essay when in fact she only had twenty minutes.   All the stress and exhaustion of revision and exams combined and, though she had made it to the end of the paper, she left the building in tears.

She’d rung my home and I wasn’t there.  She rang my mum and wept on the phone to her.  My mum had been trying to get hold of me so I could meet her and look after her.  Jack had been ringing me for the same reason.  My sister almost never got upset.  She was resourceful, sensible, practical and nearly always sunny.  The one time she really needed me to make her feel better, I had been in bed, with a married man, cheating on my fiancé.  I felt like the lowest of the low.

I had to repeat the same lie to Jack who had by then become worried that I was in trouble and that was why I didn’t answer the phone.  I managed to convince him but I felt like a murderer.  Coupled with the growing realisation that I no longer loved him, the guilt spurred me on to make a decision.  I couldn’t do this anymore.

Two days later, in spite of the wedding, the money, the disappointment to friends and family, I split up with him.

shattered-glass

Losing Isla

On one level, I had what I had dreamed of for years.  Eadmund and I were together.  But the cost was yet to be experienced.  Naturally Jack would become collateral damage but first in the firing line was Isla.

It was not her fault, nor mine, that we ended up in a bizarre competition together.

We had been friends.  When she started work, I quickly learned that she grew up in a town just over the hills from me in Marple.  We were from very similar beginnings.  She had gone to university in Manchester.  We had even been to the same clubs.  She too arrived at the cheese shop and was shell-shocked by all that she unexpectedly had to learn.

With Isla, I had a manager who could be a friend.  And she became a good friend.  Before her marriage hit the rocks, Jack and I used to go out with her and her husband in Shoreditch.  Afterwards, she and I used to meet up every week for excessive red wine drinking and gossip.  Yes there was Eadmund gossip exchanged (and in retrospect this would be around the time she was getting close to him and really needed to talk it out too) but I also learned a lot about her as she did about me.

When things started getting complicated and also competitive over Eadmund, we didn’t withdraw from each other.  In fact we needed each other more than ever.

We spent time together.  We talked about what we had both done, the effort of secrecy, the way it made us feel towards each other.  After long heart to hearts, lubricated by gin and tonic or red wine, we cuddled publically in the pub, on the tube escalators, saying goodbye at the end of the night.  I went home with her.  For comfort, rather than anything sexual, we slept in the same bed.

‘At least it’s a work tradition,’ Fi giggled as we settled into her bed (fully clothed) and alluding to Adrienne (her friend before she had joined the company) and Erin the former retail manager’s lesbian fling,

I giggled too.  We slept in spoon position.

It will come as no surprise to learn that this closeness couldn’t last.  The competition got in the way.  We both were drawn to him more and more.  Inevitably we respected our friendship less and less.  Eventually, and after he had first chosen her then rejected her, Isla and I had our last heart to heart.

‘I have to cut off from you both.  You and him.  I’ve tried to stay open, but I can’t do it anymore.’

She tried to warn me that once cut out we could never be so close again but I couldn’t comprehend it.  Besides, part of our relationship up to then had been a mentor-student one.  She, being the manager, had been the mentor.  As is often the case with this sort of relationship, the dynamic relied on me being inferior, immature and subservient, as much as the friendship thrived on a mutual acknowledgement of origins and experience and humour.  With the Food Market development job and then even more with my relationship with Eadmund, I was growing up already.  This is always a threat to a mentor relationship.  The mentored needs the mentor less and less and listens to what they have to say less and less.  In some ways Isla and I had to grow apart for me to be independent but I didn’t have to hurt her like this.  The Eadmund factor really complicated things.

But I loved him so much already that no one else mattered.  Not Jack.  Not my family.  Not Isla.

It is to her eternal credit that a year or so later, when I really needed a friend, she recognised that and softened her defences to let me in again.  When she invited me to her wedding a few years ago, I was touched more than I could say.  I am not really in contact with Eadmund these days.  Life has moved on too much between us, or perhaps it hasn’t moved on enough yet.  I am, however, still friends with Isla.

She is an exceptional person.

odyssey2

The Kiss

The Kiss 1901-4 by Auguste Rodin 1840-1917

In 1999, after years as, ostensibly, the patient partner to a philandering husband, Eadmund’s wife Cloe met someone.

He was a customer in her shop, prone to outspoken declarations and intensity.  He was a fashion designer who at the time was considered an up and coming talent.  He asked her to model for his latest collection.  She was approaching 50 years old at the time and thought he was taking the piss.  She even rang up Eadmund and his best friend Joe to ask if they’d put him up to it as a practical joke.

They hadn’t.  Rupert Wallace Black was deadly serious.  He thought the world of her.  She was his muse.  She is and was an immensely elegant, striking and stylish woman.   The show apparently was quite something.  Their kids were partly disturbed and partly deeply impressed that mum was a model.  The elder two were approaching their teens and just trying to forge their own ideas of style, dress and image.  Having a mum who was a model, even if you did go to private school in Holland Park, did make her very different from the other kids’ mums.  But in what a cool way!  Cloe was in love and happy as she hadn’t been for too many years.  She blossomed.

Eadmund wasn’t exactly heart broken, it had hardly been the perfect marriage after all, but this change in their situation was big and frightening and hard.  He was shocked to the core and big questions like divorce had, of course, raised their head.  He lost half a stone in a week and took up smoking again.  At work, his best friends rallied round:  Jacob, who it always appeared he saw as ‘heir apparent’, Adam the American, Joe who was best friend of both him and Cloe and also Isla.  Isla was an open, warm and caring person.  I never realised that she and Eadmund had been all that close as friends, but she looked out for him, gave him supportive hugs and chatted with him in the pub as he poured his heart out.

‘He’s got so skinny, don’t you think?’ She said on one of our pub evenings together, ‘I just feel so sorry for him.’

I concurred.  The word on the shop floor had always been that he’d been a ‘naughty boy’.  There hadn’t just been Catherine, there had been others too.  Either he’d never been told not to dip his quill in the office ink or he just hadn’t listened.  Consequently no one felt that there was any aggrieved innocence about his reaction to Cloe’s new relationship.  No one condemned her either, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t feel jealous, hurt and afraid.  As his colleagues and friends, how could we not feel for someone who was so obviously hurting?

A couple of years earlier, the person who had started him in business and always been a huge influence on his life had died in a car crash.  A shockwave ran through the company at the time,

‘Did you hear? How is Eadmund taking it?’

He seemed to put a brave face on it.  I met him downstairs in the staff kitchen.  He was on the phone.  I was making coffee.  He was talking about the funeral.  Every one of my nerve endings was alert to his presence and proximity to me which was a fairly common reaction of mine by then.  This time, I also felt waves of compassion.  I wanted to help.

‘You have made me feel so much better when I was miserable,’ I thought, ‘You are always ready to give someone a hug.  Who do you have to hug you better?’

But he was on the phone.  I finished making my coffee and returned upstairs to my desk.

The memory remained with me.  Now that he was hurting again, this time I was going to do something to help.  We started going to the pub after work to talk.  I opened up about my relationship with Jack and whether I should be getting married.  Now that it was a done deal, I was starting to doubt.  He told me about Cloe’s boyfriend.

‘So my wife is sleeping with the man who’s sleeping with Kate Moss’

This was a rumour at the time and frankly may not have been true.  If he was, he dumped her for Cloe pretty sharpish.

We talked about commitment, loss, fidelity, monogamy.  He talked about letting people be free, about how the feeling of allowing her to go to someone else had its own bittersweet beauty.  He could see her grow and open up to the world in happiness and he couldn’t help feeling very happy for her.  It was absolutely right for her to follow this relationship and not stay within monogamous confines.  She had his blessing.  In fact, he had even encouraged her and persuaded her to go for it.  And yet, it also hurt.  Some days he almost felt elated just seeing how happy she was and setting her free.  Some days he felt inward looking, scared, jealous and vindictive.  It was a horrible, mean feeling.

I loved the way he talked about relationships and freedom.  I couldn’t quite conceive of not feeling distraught and jealous if your partner wanted to be with someone else.  I wanted to be that open-minded.  I wanted to have that expansive feeling myself.  My own relationship felt confined, predictable, conventional and a little claustrophobic.

From talking, a closeness and warmth developed very quickly.  I told him he needed a hug and did it.  It began to become a daily thing.  I had initiated it and I was far too embarrassed and self-conscious to do so publically but it continued to be a private thing, which, in turn, lent it piquancy.  The hugs became longer, tighter, more charged with emotion.  We always stood very still, close and I think I even held my breath.

‘You just held me so tight, for so long,’ he reminisced years later, ‘It steadied me. I think it saved me.’

But in time, it did more than that.  Standing as close as we did, my head resting on his chest, I was able to feel the shape of his body all the way down mine.  The day he found it sexual, I could tell.  Neither of us alluded to it but things had changed.

If I had truly loved my fiancé, if I had truly appreciated the partnership of marriage that I was about to enter into, I would have stopped and talked to Jack.  But I didn’t.  I wanted to see where it would end.

A few days later, we hugged as usual, but this time he gently turned my face up to him, looked softly down at me and kissed me.

Christmas

Christmas_wreaths_1

In the cheese retail world, Christmas is a big deal.

‘We will take more money in the week before Christmas’ Eadmund told the assembled new mongers as part of a special Christmas training session, ‘Than in the whole of July and August put together.’

We’d be asked to work longer hours and more shifts than usual and we would be depended on.  We were to look after ourselves and be on time because with the extra pressure it would be easy to get ill.

What were we about to go through?

‘Christmas is fun too though,’ I was told, ‘People who normally work in the office like Eadmund and Catherine and Jacob are on the shop all the time which makes it a bit of a party atmosphere.’

‘We have a competition about who can sell the most sides of smoked salmon.  Oh yes, we sell smoked salmon and it is the best smoked salmon you will ever have in your life.’

It actually is, incidentally.

Turns out they weren’t exaggerating.  It was as full on, intense, exhausting and exhilarating as they said.  I had never seen so many people queuing up just to buy cheese.  In the rain even.  They waited from twenty minutes to half an hour and the queue stretched all the way past the clothes shop next door and further down the street.  They clothes shop even had to put out an A board to remind our queue to leave their doorway accessible for their own customers.

It was a baptism of fire but addictively enjoyable too.

After waiting patiently for half an hour, we had to give our customers the very best service of our lives; be more welcoming, friendly and helpful than ever.  In the pursuit of being ever better, it generated energy.  There were eight of us packed behind the tiny counter – you couldn’t afford to be shy as arms, legs and torsos jostled past you on all sides.  It was like a complicated dance to keep out of each other’s way but somehow it worked.

It was also my first experience of working with Eadmund.  He was positive, joking, encouraging.  He made everyone up their game.  We worked non-stop and he made it fun.  He created systems where we were too tired and busy to know how to make order out of chaos.  He looked out for us, making each person take 5 minutes for a coffee and a sit down when we looked like we were flagging or getting stressed out.  At the end of the week, he bought everyone champagne because we’d smashed sales targets.  In the tactile atmosphere, with so many people squeezed into a small space, he gave bear hugs that seemed entirely natural, lifted your exhausted spirits and made you feel like trying even harder.  And most importantly he said a heartfelt, genuine thank you for all our hard work.  I felt valued and important.  I learned so much, I had just packed a lifetime’s experience into one week.

Oh yes, and I won the smoked salmon challenge.  It might have been cheating that I also bought one myself.  My prize?  Another side of salmon.  Get in!

At home, my friends and boyfriend hardly saw me.  It was as if I’d disappeared for a month.  I got in late, ate and slept but otherwise I was at work.  It meant that January was an odd month.  Last thing Christmas Eve I’d headed back to Marple for rest, recovery and roast goose.  After Christmas, I headed back to London, reflecting a little ruefully that a 4 weeks per year holiday allowance is a shock to the system when you’ve been used to school and university holidays.  I was still tired.  I missed the energy and the fun of the pre-Christmas work.  I missed the extra boost and special feeling of having Eadmund and the gang on the shop floor with us.  At home, with little energy and coming down from my Christmas adrenaline high, I had to re-build a relationship with my rather shell-shocked boyfriend who was feeling severely neglected.  It was hard work.

The following Christmas, was even more intense.  By this time, I’d decided to take on a bit of administrative responsibility.  Catherine had left the company.  Eadmund was more present in the business and as ever, life seemed more fun when he was around.  He was around a lot more, in fact, because Erin, the retail manager, had also left and before her replacement, Isla could start work.  Consequently it was left to Eadmund among others to instil in her the ethos of the company: honesty at all times with customers and the mission and vocation to preserve, encourage and develop what was left of Britain’s artisan, farmhouse cheese industry.

As autumn rolled around , I was entrusted with the staff rota.  It was not a natural fit.  Trying to make the Christmas shift patterns requested by the department managers fit to the number of staff available was impossible and I was sinking under the weight of it.  I had already put myself down for so many shifts to fill the gaps that I was working 6 and 7 day weeks and it was only the end of October.  I was spending 12 hours a day on my rota admin days trying my best to make it fit.

Isla, as shop manager, refused to accept my compromises.  It was her first Christmas and the pressure was on her to deliver an organised shop that was well staffed enough to get the sales.

She, Eadmund and I sat down and thrashed it out together.  He and I had worked on it for a day beforehand and where I felt like an abject failure, he was kind and helpful and most importantly, with the benefit of many years’ experience, he knew we’d find a way to compromise.  He managed to find solutions where I hadn’t been able to and supported some of the ones I had found.  He didn’t think I’d been a failure; just that it was a damn difficult job.  I almost wept with relief.

The three of us then worked at it solidly, well into the night.  At about 9pm after 12 hours we hit the single malt whisky Eadmund kept by his desk, a present from a Scottish cheesemonger.  We didn’t hit it hard but just enough to give the evening a slightly warm glow.  Later, we tottered off into the night, not reeling from alcohol but from yet another mind bending 14 hour day with the satisfaction of knowing we’d finally sorted it.

That year I disappeared from my boyfriend for 2 months.

The Break Up

Borough Market

It was the third weekend of May 2000 and I was in our newly acquired offices, sitting at what was going to be my desk and crying my eyes out.

As the person responsible for managing development of the burgeoning Borough Market, under the auspices of my cheese shop employers, I was supposed to be working a busy Saturday as the monthly market rolled around.  I’d got in bright and early for a 6 o’clock start.  We had set up an immense display of cheese, the shelves of the shop were brimming over with chutneys, pickles and condiments, outside on the cobbles a veritable harvest festival display of bread beckoned people in off the streets.   The shop looked fantastic, it was buzzing with happy shoppers and I had a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach that wouldn’t go away.  So  I had rung my fiancé and told him that that not only could I not marry him, but I’d actually been in a relationship with my boss, for the past eight months.

‘You are not breaking up with me over the phone!’ he told me, ‘I’ll come in.’

To be honest it was a bit of a waste of his time.  He was never going to change my mind.  He came.  We talked.  I agreed that I wouldn’t go back to our flat that evening and he left.

It wasn’t that long before I became aware that I wasn’t alone anymore.  Jacob, one of my managers who was also a friend, had come in.   He was a bit surprised.  I have no idea what I looked like – vaguely molten I expect.  I just about sobbed out that I’d called off the wedding and he left as well.

I didn’t get any more work done that day.