Lazy Sundays

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Eadmund’s room had french windows at the end of it that lead onto a small balcony on which he had huge terracotta pots full of plants.  In nearly all weathers, we left a window open to let in the cool and surprisingly fresh air from outside, as we slept at night.

Beyond the balcony was one of those hidden gardens like a secret courtyard, that Victorian areas of London reveal only to local residents.  The outsiders see immense white, ornate and elegant homes rising up from the pavement in squares and don’t realise that, behind the stucco facades, lies a tranquil oasis of green grass and trees.  A piece of calm amidst the bustle of the city.

Weekdays were heralded with the ringing of the alarm clock, putting on the radio to let the Today programme slowly seep into our consciousness before it was time to shower, dress and get to work.  Saturdays too were busy.  There was shopping to do, lunch to cook for the kids, errands to run and housework to do.  Cloe worked six days a week.  We tried to make sure that she would come home to a tidy house, a delicious meal and a well-stocked larder and fridge.

Sundays, on the other hand, were a day on which everyone could rest.  Always the early riser, Eadmund would wake first.  We slept touching each other, even if, on the hottest summer days it was only my leg draped over his.  As he woke, he would move closer to me, even half asleep, I moved in to put my arms around him.  Inevitably we would touch, stroke, hold, kiss and make love.  Then he would get up, make cups of tea for everyone in the house and come back to bed to bring me tea and toast.

Tea would be drunk in the quiet of the sleeping house, half asleep myself and nuzzled in his arms as we listened to the radio or music and he made more progress on completing a crossword puzzle.  Dozing though I was, I would still attempt to answer the clues.  Then it would be time to get up, shower and greet the day.  Often the first to come downstairs, we began the ritual of preparing breakfast.  Cutting bananas, mangoes and papaya into chunks, squeezing lime juice over them fruit as it was arranged on an oval platter, skewering the odd piece of fruit with bamboo satay sticks and placing it in pride of place on the table, was the first job.

Next it was time to make toast and plenty of it.  Some would be buttered hot and garnished with Marmite, other pieces in their butter drenched glory would form the base on which the cooked breakfast was served.  Bacon sizzled gently in a cast iron frying pan, slowly caramelising as its fat rendered down and became crisp and golden.  Eggs were beaten with knobs of cold butter which later melted to make the scrambled eggs we made, yieldingly creamy and gloriously rich.  Cherry tomatoes, almost confit-cooked in olive oil, garlic, ginger or galangal and coriander slowly heating to soft, aromatic sweetness.

Orange juice was freshly squeezed and, when she came downstairs, enticed by the smells of cooking and refreshed from a good night’s sleep following a gruelling week at work, Cloe set to making filter coffees for us all.  Sometimes she had brought home ready ground coffee from work.  At other times she ground the beans from scratch.  She filled the filter cones generously with coffee following the advice she gave to staff and customers alike daily which was that you can always dilute strong coffee with water, but if you make coffee too weak and watery there’s no way to make it right again.  The kettle just off the boil and allowed to cool slightly, she poured a little water over the grains to let them moisten and swell and then, before they could cool down or dry out, she filled the entire cone with water and let it drain through, taking the aromatic rich and eye-opening coffee goodness with it.  With an expert eye, she added just the right amount of milk for each person, remembering their preferences perfectly. It was, as Agent Cooper used to say in Twin Peaks a damned fine cup of coffee.

Breakfast served, we added condiments; chinese chilli and garlic sauce, indian green coriander chutney (both of which were a revelation with scrambled eggs) and tucked in.

With no sense of rush we carried on about the rest of our day’s business.  Watering plants, perhaps walking along Regents canal, a trip to Portobello Market or to some local shops.  Cloe revelled in her day off, sometimes luxuriating in being able to have a long and relaxing bath and not feeling the need to get changed out of her nightgown and dressing gown until the middle of the afternoon and yet as was her wont, carrying the look off with her usual aplomb.  Eadmund often had to travel out of London to visit farms and select cheese the following day so he would prepare for the busy week, packing his case, perhaps doing a bit of meditation or Tai Chi, pottering around the house, putting his things in order.  The kids had friends to meet up with or homework to do.  During the afternoon we all did separate things returning together for the evening when a proper, unhurried family meal would be prepared.  This might be a gloriously roasted rib of beef, chicken cooked in the French style (Cloe’s influence naturally) with lashings of butter and its cavity stuffed with whole lemons and a bunch of thyme.  Or it might be oven baked fish or gloriously enormous prawns bought the day before at the market near both Cloe & Eadmund’s shops.  Or dived scallops with a sweet chilli sauce that used to be a signature dish at Peter Gordon’s Sugar Club Restaurant.  The latter was a particular treat as it was one of Cloe’s favourite dishes.  Friends might be invited round or might not.

The sun set.  The air from the garden cooled.  Aperitifs were prepared: chilled Cremant de Bourogne or expertly mixed Gin and Tonics (the secret was a splash of fizzy mineral water at the end and lemon, never lime).  Wine uncorked.  The table set.  Eadmund would get one of the kids, but usually his daughter, to choose appropriate music.  ‘Something mellow but not too spacey.’

Rupert might join us, or again he might not.  We could be a group of five, six or up to sixteen depending on how many people had been invited over.  The meal, conversation around the table and a sense of relaxation at the end of a productive but peaceful day coming to a close, we might all retire upstairs with bowls of ice cream or whatever delicious pudding Cloe had concocted for us all to watch a film.

Eventually those who rose early would head to bed.  As the film finished, the others would follow, chorusing good nights if it wasn’t too late.

Night fell.  The house slept.

Sunshine, cicadas, hopes and dreams

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It was the middle of July.

I had flown out from Gatwick to Skiathos to join Eadmund’s family for their annual holiday on mainland Greece.

To be invited to join them was an honour that had not been mine until we’d been together for about four years.  To say I was looking forward to it would be an understatement.

He met me at the airport.  We waited for their local taxi boat to take us back to the mainland.  It was baking hot and we spent lunchtime by the sea, basking in warm waters but in the shade to avoid sunburn quite so early on in my holiday.

Skimming over the waves, the sunlight glinting off them and all around me warmth and blue sea and sky, we made our way to their house by the sea and its jetty where his daughter sat sunbathing and reading.  As we clambered out of the little boat and manoeuvered my suitcase up onto the wooden boards, she greeted me with a hug and:

‘Welcome to Pelion!’

The family holiday had been sacrosanct.  With all the changes to the family dynamic, this one last vestige of the past had been preserved.  For a month, whatever might have changed back in London, they were all together as a five once more.  Until this year.  Rupert had already been with them for a week before my arrival.  I had my own annual holiday in Italy to attend.  As Cloe had wanted him to join the family this year, the invitation had also been extended to me.

It was an intoxicating week.  The weather was a little stormy for the first couple of days and we lit wood fires indoors and cooked.  Soon it became warmer and clearer.  We barbequed on their little private cove.  We took the boat down the coast to find tiny and beautiful chapels glittering with gold and frescoes.  We walked inland high above the sea amongst olives and pine trees.  We ate at their favourite restaurant walking there and then after a quick walk to the coast, swimming around the headland to the house again.  There were fireflies at night, glowing greenish white.  The sea had a beautiful phosphoresence as we swam in the dark.  We visited a bay littered with green agates.  We dived beneath rock arches under water.  We jumped off high staggered rocks into the sea.  We even visited a series of caves, blacker than any night with a tiny white beach at the end and pungently smelling of guano.

By night, Eadmund and I slept outside on the balcony, the sea breezes caressing our skin as we slept.  The gentle roar of the wind in the pine trees proving an effective lullaby.  We awoke with the dawn and watched the world turn from dark to silvery light and brighten into gold.  Then, fortified by cups of tea, we ran down to the beach to swim out into the bay and bask in the morning light and the cool, cool water.  We breakfasted on thick tangy yoghurt and rich treacly thyme honey with the most succulent fresh peaches.  We spent most of the day in and out of the water.

After lunch as the sound of the cicadas reached their loudest, we lay down to siesta together.  The house was silent with sleeping people avoiding the heat of the day.  We were outside, hardly private, and yet in the heat and stickyness of the middle of the day, lying skin on skin, langorous and languid touching became more sexually charged.  Relaxed with the freedom of being on holiday, in the sunshine and basking in warmth, we both experimented with things we had never tried before and felt more unified, more trusting and closer than ever because of it.

Intoxicated with love and sex and summer, we talked about our future.  It was no secret that a big stumbling block between us was the loud and insistent ticking of my biological clock.  The more in love with him I fell, the more every atom of my being wanted to carry his children.  It filled my heart and womb as we made love.  But he had been clear from the start.  He already had three children.  He was sensible of how much of his time, energy and freedom they had taken and he didn’t begrudge them a second of it.  But he didn’t want any more.  He didn’t want to start the whole process again just as he was getting glimpses of the freedom that beckons as your teenage children approach the time when they might leave home.

‘It’s the hardest and most rewarding thing I have ever done,’ he had told me in our early days,’I wouldn’t take it back for the world, but I’m glad to be where I am now, as they are growing up.  I can see myself getting a little bit of my time and my life back.  I don’t want to go back into giving that all up a second time.’

My hopes dashed, I had wept bitterly over this and my heart broke time and time again.  When everything between us felt so overwhelmingly right, how could he not share this dream with me?  How could he not see that this time, with me, it would be different, easier, that I would make it easier for him, sensible that he had already given the past twenty years to raising a family with Cloe.

But for all that I argued, persuaded, cajoled and begged, he was adamant.

Yet under the Grecian sun, lying in each others arms, sated and warmed, in hushed whispers, we approached the subject again.

‘I’m making no promises,’ he told me, ‘but I have never felt so close to someone as I do to you.  I’ve never felt a relationship to be as effortless as it is with you.  I know how much it means to you.  I will really and truly think hard about if I can go through being a father again.’

The sun had never shone brighter.  There had never been more beautiful music than the sound of the sea, the cicadas and the wind in the pine trees,  The whole glittering and brilliant little cove on which we holidayed took on a magical air as if it were the setting of a fairytale.  For a brief moment, it seemed that I might really be able to have it all: the man I adored, the passionate yet effortless relationship of my dreams and his baby too.

Years later, post break up, I took myself to the cinema to see Mamma Mia.  It promised to have sunshine, seaside, silly music and be camp and unrestrained.  I was depressed.  It should be a tonic, I thought.  As soon as the titles finished and the introduction of the first song began, I realised with a pang like a knife to the heart that the beautiful scenery I saw on screen was exactly the same as this magical place of my holiday, the place in which I had been the happiest I had been in my entire life.  The lump that rose in my throat threatened to choke me.  My shoulders shook with suppressed sobs as the music rose in happy, life affirming cadences.  I was in a cinema full of people who were laughing, sharing drinks and popcorn. This wasn’t a weepy movie.  There was no way I could give way to the tidal wave of emotion that I felt.  So I sucked it in, suppressed it and although trembling for ever minute that the film lasted, I got to the end and survived the bus journey home without giving the heartbreaking grief free reign.

The house was empty when I got home.  I was destined to be on my own again.  I turned round, grabbed my purse and headed up the road to the off licence.  I bought a 750ml bottle of gin and enough tonic water to match it.  I spent the rest of the evening drinking the whole lot and crying my eyes out as I mourned what could have been.

Knives and Self Image

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‘Holy shit,’ my friend commented when I posted a link to the last blog entry in our Facebook group, ‘More exploration around the cutting is needed.’

I did rather refer to it in about three sentences.

The thing is I always felt a bit embarrassed about referring to it as cutting.  I mean it was hardly life threatening and it most certainly wasn’t done with anything serious like a razor blade which always seemed like it would be just too darn painful.  It was more like extreme scratching.  But in that it involved a state of distress, my own body and metal implements causing it to bleed (although not always), I suppose it does count.

I used to do it in moments of such extreme tension, frustratedness or utterly wretched distress when I was at my wits end what else to do or how I could ever feel better.  The sort of stomach-churning mixture of anger and hurt that clenches up your entire abdomen and makes you buckle over at the waist as if you’re trying to vomit out the hurt somehow.  Doubled over, my mind would be whirling; internally howling at me like my very own Banshee.  By taking a sharp ended pair of scissors or a paring knife and scoring a line down my arm or across my stomach, the shock of the sudden pain took away the internal screaming.  Like a self administered slap around the face to a someone who is hysterical.  Because I had been hysterical.  Just not out loud.

With the shock and the feeling of pain transferred to a localised spot, I’d feel calm again.  Tired even.  Then, because I am basically quite sensible when not in extremis, I would make sure that any cuts or grazes were washed properly and annointed with antiseptic cream if I had any.

For as long as it took to heal, I’d have to be careful about what I wore.  I didn’t want to raise the issue and have questions asked.  In fact, as I did it more often, I’d take that into consideration when deciding where to cut.  Where won’t it show?  What will work best with my wardrobe?

A popular site to attack was across my stomach.  It’s a part of my body I never loved.  Or the top of my arms.  On the day I discovered the emails which told me the truth about Eadmund’s affair, I cut down the skin of my breasts, stomach and arms,  I had to wear high necked tops for weeks.  But that was the last time I did it.

When I was younger, when she was tense, my mother used to bite into her fist.  I remember her doing it one time when, thanks to my father’s terrible sense of timekeeping, we were setting off desperately late to go to the theatre…in Bradford.  We made it with seconds to spare and she was wound up like a spring as he drove at approaching a hundred miles an hour down the motorway.  I wasn’t aware of the speed we were going, nor was I hugely aware of how long it should take us to get to Bradford and how long we had lef,t now that he’d made us late.  I was still at the age where I confidently assumed the grown ups had it under control.  I did notice the big bruised indentations on my Mum’s fingers and I remember that I asked her to stop, which, when she had calmed down a little more, she did.

You learn by example and great parents though mine were, no one is perfect.  As a frustrated teen, I used to find that biting down hard onto a thumb or finger did help release tension.  When I’d stopped biting my nails so that they grew long enough, digging them into my skin until I broke it had the same effect. When I hit the self loathing, no one is ever going to find me attractive age, it was a natural progression to scratching the sharp point of a pair of nail scissors down parts of my body I knew would be hidden from the family.  I stopped, grew out of it but would come back to it periodically when the pain of emotion needed a physical release.

Of course, in those early and secretive days with Eadmund, my entire evaluation of myself, my place in the world and moral structures as I had assumed them were falling into pieces as I realised I that my moral compass’s due north is not the same as most people’s. I hadn’t forgiven myself for causing hurt.  I didn’t like myself for having done so.  And in being someone’s secret rather than the person they acknowledged proudly to the world, I was perpetuating my own lack of self worth and feeding my self loathing.

Self image and self loathing are a big part of it.  You have to hate yourself in order to inflict pain on yourself.  Ironically, I don’t actually like pain.  I can put up with it when it happens but I don’t go looking for it normally.  It doesn’t thrill me sexually either.  Jack and I, in our early days had gone through a checklist of trying out most sexual possibilities which covered going through every position in both volumes of The Joy of Sex (despite chuckling over the very 70s illustrations) to shaving to bondage to light pain.  It did absolutely nothing for me in that context.

In terms of why I did it and why it worked, it was very much the slap around the face to the hysteric.  I didn’t neccessarily realise at the time that I was hysterical because it was all internalised.  I was often absolutely silent except for breathing – hyperventilating.

Cutting / Scratching my arms was handy because they were easy to access.  What was less easy was hiding it later.  Cutting my stomach would happen because it was the seat of everything I hated about my appearance and coincidentally the clenched diaphragm in my hunched-over state of distress was there too.  Sometimes in the back of my head, when I was that upset, I would imagine that if I could just cut myself open, perhaps I could reach in and straighten out the clenched and tensed up internal organs inside my abdomen that were the physical manifestation of the hurt, frustration and anger I was feeling and then I would feel relief.  Sometimes I visualised a hand reaching into my chest and pulling out my heart, like in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and the fucked-up thing was, the idea of removing my heart from my body made me feel better.

My issue with my stomach has been there ever since I entered puberty.  Just before I started to grow breasts and have periods, which happened when I was twelve, I put on a lot of weight.  I suddenly weighed about two stone more than any of my friends, even the ones who were taller than me.  Obviously it didn’t happen overnight. My dad had taken a sabbatical from his job at the University and we spent three months in Italy during which time I became permanently ravenously hungry.  I ate a lot of pasta to gain those two stone.  But I did come back from holiday looking like a small barrel.  Then, almost equally quickly, I began to redistribute the fat stores, developed a waist, breasts and hips and needed to be bought a bra.  I loved developing a woman’s shape.  I felt grown up and powerful and glamorous although I most certainly didn’t look it yet – my idea of fashion still involved knee high socks in a completely non ironic way.  But I still felt that my stomach made me look fat.

In vain, my Mum told me I had a lovely figure and that it was much better than hers had been.  I liked my curves…except one.

As I got older, I somehow managed to make friends with taller, thinner girls.  When we changed for sports or swimming lessons, I knew that my stomach stuck out, where theirs lay flat.  When my friends and I started to act out our extremely amateur theatrical ambitions, again in the changing rooms I sneaked a look to my left and right and there again was confirmation.  They had flat stomachs.  I didn’t.

I have an overly flexible lower back that curves in and is naturally a little concave rather than dead straightave.  I also have lazy abdominal muscles.  It might have helped if I’d known that at the time.  Mind you, I’m not so sure that knowing the biology of it would neccessarily have helped me much with the psychology of it.  It looked different and it stuck out.

When I went to university, I managed to put on nine pounds.  I felt enormous.  I didn’t realise it’s pretty common to put on weight when you leave home.  I just thought I must be a pig.  I went on stupid diets of meal replacement milkshakes that I had first tried in my late teens and a particularly ill-advised detox cleanse which left my blood sugar so low I woke up to find the room spinning and spinning before my eyes.  I lurched to the university nurse who told me to not be so stupid and go eat a sandwich.  Ever conscious of what a fat pig I was, I bought one from the diet range all the same.

It was a boost to the ego that Jack found me attractive of course, but he warned me that he didn’t go for fat girls.  If I put on a lot of weight, he wouldn’t still find me attractive regardless.

In the end it was Eadmund who told me he loved every inch of my body whatever size or weight it was.  When I still hated my stomach, he loved it.  It wasn’t flat.  Neither was his and he’d never cared.  He positively loved the curving shape of mine.

‘You aren’t flabby.  You aren’t small but you’re taut and powerful.’

When we were in bed together, he would whisper to me how strong I felt as I moved on him and with him inside me.  He told me how controlled and powerful my hips felt, moving up and down on him.  He marveled over every curve of my body above him.  And then he’d say the same thing after orgasm too.  Gradually, over the course of our seven years together, it began to sink in.  Part of me felt that he was the only man in the world who would ever feel that way about the shape that I am.  But part of me began to believe that I really was attractive.

Cutting myself was about more than just my body.  It was a response to hysteria and feelings of self negation brought on by a challenging set of circumstances which I wasn’t entirely equal to.  Already existing feelings that I wasn’t good enough, insecurities about my body and about my abilities were magnified by being his secret girlfriend – not good enough to admit to the children.  But if I hadn’t hated my body at times, I would not have felt a release by hurting it.  Confirming in that moment that it really was hateful and deserved pain even as the shock of the pain brought on a sense of calm.  Being in a relationship with Eadmund was hurting my sense of self very badly on both emotional and physical levels.  And yet at the same time, he told me I was amazing.  He told me I was beautiful.

After telling the children what was really going on and when we could finally be open about what we were to each other, I could finally begin to listen properly to all the positive things he kept telling me.  And in the end I started to believe him.

Secrets, Self Medication and Happy Families

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It wasn’t only Rupert that found it difficult to cope with time limitations.  In the early days of our relationship when Eadmund and I were still keeping it secret, it had been one of the many things that had brought me to rock bottom.

Looking back at the situation with the benefit of hindsight, I am not sure I would chose to structure the relationship differently.  I still like the idea of being limitless and of freedom.  I like that it removes guilt and insecurity from your interactions with other people and promotes openness.  Or it does if you handle it right.

What I know now is how much communication and work this sort of relationship needs.  I also know that it was a big ask of myself, inexperienced and naïve as I was then, to take this on at the same time as processing enormous amounts of guilt and then to keep the relationship a secret from kids, friends and co-workers into the bargain.

While we were extremely well matched to each other in many ways, Eadmund and I did process emotion differently.  He would react immediately, talk it through and be back on track quickly.  I would need more time.  My initial reaction would be shock, then once that was over, I would need to take my time as new thoughts and opinions became liberated and could be brought up for discussion.  If we argued, I always needed twenty four hours longer than him before I was back on an even keel emotionally.  It meant that I wasn’t able to bounce back from the cancelled wedding, the disapproval, hurting Isla.  It took time.

Time was one of the things we only had in short supply.  Not only did we need to take time to be together, but he also had to allocate time for Cloe, his children, his friends and for the business.  It needed him too.  The difference of maturity and experience showed.  Going into the relationship, he realised how much he would have to partition his time.  He had practical experience of juggling different people who all needed to spend time with him. He understood that as owner of the business, he was responsible for it, cared about it and that it absorbed his time and emotional energy.  I was hardly a clocking in-clocking out employee but, at the end of the day, I could leave the job at home.  My perspective and attachment to work, extreme though it was by most people’s standards was barely a tenth of the intensity of his.   I thought I understood all of this before going into the relationship but I only understood in theory.  When it came to the practical implications of it, I didn’t have a clue.

I needed time to do a lot of talking.  He did his best to make enough time for me but it could never have been enough.  I was using him as an unofficial counsellor.  It was too much pressure to put on a partner.  If I were to go through it again, I’d be right off to see a shrink, quick smart.  I now know that the benefit of seeing a counsellor is that they can listen without being affected emotionally by what you have to say.  They can advise, empathise and help you negotiate the minefield that is your own emotions and you never need feel a burden, not least because you are usually paying handsomely for the service.

It would also have meant that Eadmund wasn’t expected to be responsible for my mental health and emotional happiness.  I wasn’t in a place where I could take that responsibility for myself.  I had never considered emotion in that sort of way before either; that I was in control of my own happiness.  I didn’t know how to do it.  Eadmund tried his best to talk to me and teach me.  That he managed to help me learn as much as he did is impressive.  With each new day, I learned more about my own capabilities and strengths.  Sometimes these discoveries were hard won at the end of gut-wrenching weeping or catatonic depression.  At other times they came more easily.

Our early days after I left Jack, moved out of Nia and Helena’s and into a flat closer to Eadmund were a period of heightened emotion.  The highs were ecstatic.  The sun shone brighter.  The world seemed more new, exciting and beautiful than ever before.  Love had never felt more intense and all consuming.  Sex had never been so much an expression of love with every atom of my body and consequently was instinctively tantric and absolutely mind blowing.  I felt electric, alive and amazing.

But when the lows came, I had many demons to face.  When he couldn’t make time for me, the wretchedness was bottomless.  I was experiencing debilitating guilt and reassessing myself.  I thought I had been a simple, uncomplicated good girl and was now… what… a bad person?  I had hurt people.  For the first time in my life, I had really hurt people.   Sometimes I felt that life was stretching me, teaching me and that every day I was growing stronger, better, more of the sort of person I wanted to be.  Other times I wasn’t sure I liked myself anymore.  Certainly I was having trouble forgiving myself for the hurt I’d caused.

On top of that, I felt too immature to prove a good partner.  Maybe Eadmund should have chosen Isla after all.  I didn’t always notice when he needed to be alone with his kids.  I didn’t spot the signs.  With tension over this already heightened because of the way Rupert behaved, I felt under intense scrutiny and intense pressure to be the perfect and understanding supportive role to Eadmund and to the children.  Some of this pressure came from Eadmund driven sometimes to distraction by frustration at the way Cloe couldn’t reign Rupert in and the way it was hurting his daughter.  Most of it came from myself.  I loved this man.  I thought he was amazing.  I wanted to be perfect.  I wanted to lighten his load not add to it.  I wanted to make his children happy that I had come to stay for the weekend, not want me out of the way so they could spend time with Dad.  But I didn’t know his children as well as he did.  Sometimes, because they were polite and well brought up and kindly, it seemed to me that they were happy I was there.  I desperately wanted them to like me.  They didn’t know I was their dad’s girlfriend yet but I had already fallen in love with them too.

‘But don’t you think,’ he asked, ‘That maybe even though they like you, they would prefer to be on their own with me sometimes?  Of course they aren’t going to come out with it.  They’re only eight and twelve.  You need to be one step ahead of them.  You’re the adult.’

I was confused.  I thought things had been going well.  I hadn’t thought one step ahead.  He was already thinking about the week ahead, preparing them for school and the need for them to have a quiet Sunday afternoon relaxing before the week started.  I was just thinking that I had enjoyed spending Saturday night and Sunday morning with them so far and wondering what we might all do next.  His youngest son had just asked me to make lunch with him.  We liked cooking together.  Last time, we’d come up with a particularly tasty take on potato salad involving yoghurt and Indian green coriander relish.  The time before we’d re-invented spaghetti carbonara by adding ricotta in place of cream and letting the sauce sit in the pan picking up all the tasty caramelised bits on the bottom of the pan after frying the bacon slowly to perfect cripsness.  The sauce ended up being a funny brown colour but it tasted great.

‘It’s not that they don’t enjoy you being here,’ he carried on, ‘but the dynamic is different when you are around.  It isn’t their normal family dynamic and they need that.  I wish you would see that more.  I wish I didn’t always have to bring it up.  It makes me into the aggressor and it makes me always having to force a confrontation, they you are upset.  I hate feeling like this.’

I packed my overnight bag wordlessly and got ready to leave.  I couldn’t manage a cheery goodbye to the kids so I was hoping to slope off quietly and he could explain to them I’d had to get home.  But my fellow lunch-maker, Kester, caught me in the hall just as I was leaving,

‘But we’re going to make lunch!  You can’t go!  We always make great lunches!’

My heart practically broke on the spot.  I was going, although I didn’t want to, because his father thought it was better for the kids that I did, yet here was the youngest, asking me to stay and disappointed in me because I was leaving.  I just about managed to raise a jolly tone and promise we’d cook again next weekend.  I think I made some excuse about having to get home and do some shopping to get ready for a busy week at work, when what I wanted was to howl,

‘It’s not my fault!  Your dad wants me to go! I want me to stay and make lunch too!’

I gave him the best smile I could muster and promised we’d see each other again soon.  Then, with him happy again, I left the house and wept openly and without stopping the entire way home.  It was London, a sunny Sunday and a moneyed residential area.  There were people and families all around who could see me and I didn’t care one iota.  It being London, of course, they all looked the other way and pretended they hadn’t noticed.

It was wretchedly painful for me, when this happened, but it also made Eadmund feel like a murderer each time he had to point out that perhaps I should leave them alone.  He was in a quandary.  The naturalness and ease with which I connected to him emotionally was one of the fundamental reasons he loved me and yet I hadn’t learned to control it.  It overspilled into family time, work time, time that he needed to spend with Cloe.  Not even remotely to the extent that Rupert did, but we were all supersensitive to the dynamic because he was so extreme.  Eadmund was overly paranoid about upsetting the kids (who after all still had not been told we were a couple).  I was overly paranoid about being compared to Rupert the effect of whose behaviour, I had witnessed first hand.

I became self-conscious, unsure of how to behave or who I was anymore.  It felt as though, if I wanted to be with him, I had to become something else.  We connected to each other so instinctively, so effortlessly and so joyously when we were alone together with no pressures on our behaviour, no one else to worry about and no secrets to keep.  If felt fundamentally wrong and unbelievably unnatural to try and behave in any other way.  And I didn’t monopolise his attention.  I didn’t take over the conversatons so no one else could get a word in.  I wasn’t nervously intense.  I was quiet.  I listened.  I let him and his children talk and offered my opinions at what I felt were appropriate intervals.  I was calm and happy because I was with him and by being so, I helped him create a relaxing and homely environment for everyone.  Or at least my instincts told me I did.

Alone together, on our mid week ‘date nights’ when he stayed at my flat, we related as happily and uncomplicatedly as ever.  Left on my own, when he went back to the family and I wasn’t invited, I was at the mercy of the tornado that was my own whirling thoughts, guilt, grief and self doubts.  The skies darkened.

In the final months of our relationship, Jack and I had both started drinking more.  Drinking to forget, to find it easier to talk to each other, for courage to face up to the things we were avoiding.  Now, when I was alone, I carried on.  Having had insomniac episodes before, I was afraid that the fear, guilt and insecurity would mean endless, tortured, sleepless nights.  Drinking to pass out was one way to make sure this didn’t happen.

Alcohol, of course, is a depressant.  Self-medicating with it would only ever be effective in the short term.  In the long run, it made the dark emotions worse.  At moments of heightened distress, I began to cut myself; somewhere that people wouldn’t see of course and never all that deep but with long red scratched wheals down my upper arms or stomach inflicted with the end of a pair of scissors or a kitchen knife.  The shock of sudden physical pain cleared the emotional pain and restored a moment of calm.  I knew it was fucked up, but it helped.

Commuting in and out of work, I began to experience panic attacks on a crowded tube.  Claustrophobia, the walls caving in, needing to shrink away from people, I could feel myself receding down a dark tunnel into the back of my head, the sounds of the outside world dimming as all I could hear were the blood rushing in my ears and my own shuddering breaths, as my field of vision narrowed to two small circles in front of me and spots swam before my eyes.

I had wanted a challenge and an adventure, but so much had changed in so short a space of time, I was falling, falling like Alice down the rabbit hole and I didn’t know when I would land.

As it turned out, my landing was Eadmund’s affair.  For all that was wrong about the way he went about it, it was the catalyst that made us finally admit to the children that we were together.  All of a sudden, the whole situation was less pressured.

In the family home, of course Anne would be round at weekends.  The children didn’t need to wonder why Dad’s new friend got to sleep over (in a different room) and what this might mean – they knew.  With the clarity of knowing we were in a relationship, they didn’t need to wonder if Dad was ok now that Mum had a boyfriend.  Ironically, considering the fears on their behalf that had lead to us keeping it secret, it also took away some of the fear that the parents might divorce.  Mum had a boyfriend and Dad had a girlfriend and yet neither of them had left home.  Perhaps it would all be ok after all.

For me, while I had to deal with hurt,betrayal and with rebuilding trust and this was no small matter at the same time I was also acknowledged and validated.  I wasn’t a dirty secret any more,  I was officially part of the extended family and accepted.  Keeping it secret had added stress, judgement, erosion of self esteem and self image, feelings of abandonment and inadequacy to what was already a complicated situation: integrating myself into a family group without alienating or trying to compete with the children’s mother.

There were still seven of us whose feelings and emotions needed to be managed and catered for as we steered our way through the somewhat choppy waters of life in our extended family and seemingly without a map to guide us but, at least, now, we all knew we were an extended family.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.  Secrecy corrodes.

Interlude: Happiness

hummingbird-happiness-living-color-photography-lorraine-lynch

When I explain the twists and turns of my relationship with Eadmund, most people reach this point with:

‘What the hell?’

It is very hard to read the scenario in a different way from ‘innocent abroad, used and abused by self-indulgent older man’.  But it wasn’t like that.  In order to see it that way, you’d have to assume that I was a victim.  I am nobody’s victim.

I am quiet.  I am still relatively shy in large groups of people.  At the time I most certainly was pretty inexperienced and naïve.  I am also strong willed, although not unreasonable.  I know my own mind.  I am stubborn as an ox and because when I make my mind up on something, I will have thought about it thoroughly, I am often sure I’m right.  As Isla once told me (in a work context on this occasion),

‘A loud personality isn’t necessarily a strong personality.  You are a strong personality.’

And without apologising for Eadmund, I was far from easy to be with during the secretive, guilt ridden early days.  I don’t feel guilty about that anymore.  I did a bit at the time.  What I wish I had known then was that my happiness is my own responsibility and it’s in my own power to create it.

One of the things Eadmund and I did talk about was happiness.  He is lucky enough to be able to bounce back quickly, even in extreme circumstances.  In his early twenties, he had a serious girlfriend who he thought he was going to marry but who slept with his best friend.  They sat him down to explain and to tell him they wanted to be together. He didn’t see a problem with it.  He loved her, he loved his best friend, they all loved each other why shouldn’t they be together?  Then she had to break it to him.  They wanted to be together without him.  He was heartbroken.  And yet, the following morning, whilst doing the washing up, he found himself singing.  It still took time to process the rejection and hurt but a mere twenty four hours later he had a sign that he was going to be ok.  Over the years, he developed this ability and took the decision to cultivate happiness and take responsibility for his own enjoyment of life.

I don’t bounce back that easily but even in the blackest times of my life, I’ve been able to smile at little things like spring blossom, a sunny day, or laugh if someone cracks a joke.  My problem back then was that I didn’t appreciate or value those little things enough.  I was a hopeless romantic and escapist, forever living out dreams in my head.  My favourite film, ‘Desperately Seeking Susan’ in which Rosanna Arquette, trapped in a going nowhere marriage escapes to New York and ultimately ends up living a bohemian life with Aidan Quinn, was a classic story of a romantic escape.  In leaving a conventional life with Jack, I felt my horizons opening up and in my romantic mind, I was the heroine in my own movie.  Set against what felt like an epic love story, the little things that briefly lift your soul didn’t seem so important.  I know now it’s the accumulation of those things and being open to seeing them and prioritising them that tips the balance from sadness into being happy.

The soaring highs of being in love, while amazing and exhilarating were really just an adrenaline rush.  Happiness is something else.  It’s in the little things, it’s how you see the world and most important of all, it’s a choice.

Addictive, ecstatic highs of love are amazing.  I don’t regret a single one of them.  But like a roller coaster, it’s just a ride.  I had the beginnings of an idea of how to choose to be happy, but as with many emotions going on in my life at this point I didn’t know how to balance them.

Part of the issue is that, women are educated, without realising it, to cater to other people.  The traditional role of wife and mother is selfless, nurturing and caring.  I was brought up with a father who wanted me to know my own mind and argue my case.  I went to a school founded on the principles that women should not be educated in the traditional feminine subjects but allowed to learn maths, sciences and physical education.  This was pretty radical in the 1890s when it was founded and they maintained their attitude to educating women to believe there were no gender-defined career boundaries.  I have in many ways had quite progressive influences in my life and was hardly the downtrodden female, but I still had not learned that putting myself first isn’t a selfish act.  In fact, it’s the reverse because if you aren’t in control of your own happiness, you can’t support, love and nurture someone else properly.

While I was displaying classic implosion behaviour, drinking, self-harming, spiralling into depression, I was needy.  I didn’t mean to be, but by not taking control of my own life, I exerted emotional blackmail on the very person I wanted to nurture.

Within that relationship he hurt me, of course, and in turn, I hurt him.  People do.  Beyond that, life, circumstances and the repercussions of my own actions hurt me. There was too much for me to cope with and it was an extreme situation but my happiness was too heavy a burden to place on someone who loved me.  It was not his responsibility.  He could contribute, help and love me but the choice to be happy was mine.  At the time, I couldn’t understand that I had a choice and that while I might feel guilt, I could still permit myself to be happy.  I wasn’t a bad person.  I wasn’t unlovable.  I got some things wrong and it hurt people but I was still worthy of love.

If I couldn’t do understand how to get to that realisation, alone, I could also choose to talk to someone professional to help me clear through my confusion in a space without judgement.  I could choose, with the benefit of clarity, to let my friends and family into my emotional life and not care if they found it unconventional and down-right weird; not even care if they disapproved as the more I could talk, the more they would get used to the idea.  I did none of those things.  I was confused and didn’t understand that I had the right to choose happiness and the ability to create it.

The best lesson learned from this time, even better than our relationship finally being publically acknowledged, is that I have the right, power and choice to be happy.

It isn’t a mystical state that is visited upon me.  It’s something I can create for myself.

And I do.

And I will.