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.

Just the 4 of us: Rupert

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Cloe’s boyfriend was a fashion designer.  I say was because he was her boyfriend.  He still is a fashion designer.

He had a lot going for him: talent, a wonderful sense of visuals, imagination, creativity, enthusiasm and when free from his insecurities and demons, a caring and open-hearted man.  When she met him, he was feted as the next big thing, but finding fashion an unstable world after his regimented time in the army.  He had liked that in the army there was discipline and you had decisions made for you.  He had also rebelled from it too by his choice of career after leaving.  It couldn’t have been more different.

It is hard to write about someone that isn’t yourself.  I don’t feel I have permission.  It isn’t my story.  So I’m not trying to tell his story except in the way it appeared to me, as my part of our foursome.  Why tell it at all?  To understand some of the stresses Eadmund and Cloe were under.  To understand the stresses I was under.  He was complex, interesting and troubled.  He was a force of energy and intensity that it appeared he didn’t quite know how to control nor perhaps always want to control.  As such, he could be challenging to live with.  And we all lived with him in our own way.

In the first instance, he fell hard for Cloe.  I never asked but I got the impression that theirs was a passionate, dramatic relationship.  How amazing for a woman who had always seen herself as unattractive, to suddenly find herself centre-stage in her own drama.  She blossomed under his attention and adoration.

But, of course, there was a flip side.  He could be so absorbed in he,r that he wasn’t aware he was monopolising her time.  When he came round to the family house, he took over her conversation.  Even talking to someone else, his every comment was for her benefit.  Her children wanted to be his friend.  Not only was he important to Mum, but he was also a source of seriously stylish clothes which was a definite plus.  I think he surprised himself with how much he enjoyed their company, but even when chatting to them, he would still look across the room for her approval.

His obsessive nature and ability to take over the environment upset people.  Cloe & Eadmund’s daughter was upset that she didn’t get as much time with her mother anymore – even when her Mum was home.  It was suggested to Cloe, by Eadmund who could see his little girl’s face fall each time Mum’s attention was dragged away, that maybe Rupert’s time in the family home should be limited until the kids were more comfortable with the situation.

Rupert, while he may not have even been confronted about this, noticed when his time with Cloe began to be restricted.  His nature was addictive.  He needed her.  And so he rang her all the time.  When she was at work, he would call her mobile several times a day.  At home, having worked a long day, he carried on calling her.  Her children, home from school, wanting to chat to Mum about their day, found it unsettling that she kept being dragged off to the phone.  Meals didn’t get cooked until 10pm because she was tied up with hours of intense phone calls.  Then he would continue into the night after everyone else had gone to sleep, into the early hours of the morning.  She knew he wasn’t emotionally stable.  He’d been sectioned in the past, over a suicide attempt.  She was afraid of him relapsing and what he might do.  So she couldn’t refuse to answer when he called.  Every night, she promised to call him back again after bedtime.

At the same time, she had been clear with him from the start.  She had three children.  When their youngest was older, she might be more free to live with him or to spend more time with him but her youngest was still only eight.  She was needed at home.  I am sure Rupert didn’t protest at this, but he couldn’t do without her when the theory became reality.

Without her, he began to turn back to drugs and alcohol.  He reconnected with friends that did the same.  An all night party would medicate against missing her I suppose.  I was doing something similar before I hit rock bottom.

Before meeting her he had had a reputation as a dangerous, bad boy of design.  He courted the reputation – playing up to the self destructive artist with a death wish.  It may even have been thrilling for Cloe in the beginning.  But it was one thing for him to be unpredictable with her, another thing entirely for it to intrude into her kids world.  Cloe didn’t approve of drugs and she didn’t want her kids exposed to them at the ages of 14, 12 and 8.

Drugs, alcohol, lack of self control and an intense and addictive personality.  You know where this is heading, right?

She didn’t feel able to bring him into her home, as he became less and less predictable but she arranged weekends away with him to Paris.  They would walk and walk all day around side streets, quirky shops, flea markets, pausing to sit in cafes and then walk again.  It relaxed him.  The physical activity gave him a vent for his nervous energy as the flea markets gave him visual and aesthetic stimulus.  But as he drank more and took more drugs, their romantic getaways became listless as, worn out by a permanent hangover, he had no energy anymore.  He’d give up drinking for a few weeks but then he blew it again after a quarrel, or if she didn’t give him with enough time and attention.

She didn’t enjoy spending time with his party friends.  It wasn’t compatible with her life as a mother and it highlighted their age difference.  Rupert was in his mid thirties whereas Cloe had turned fifty.  He still considered himself a bright young thing, where she considered herself a mature woman.  I can imagine that it made her uneasy.

Years later, I met one of Rupert’s friends in completely different circumstances. My former flatmate Carina, having graduated as a shoe designer and worked for several years in Italy, had decided it was time for a change and moved to Paris.  One of her old contacts from Italy worked there as well and, as I happened to be visiting, we all went out for a meal.  He was frivolous, chatty, camp, self projecting for all he was worth and hugely entertaining.  Out of the blue, he mentioned Rupert.

‘Oh God, did you know his girlfriend, that Cloe?’ he exclaimed, when I asked how he knew him and explained my role in the foursome, ‘She was so snooty and aloof.’  He put on a semi-pretentious voice, ‘Oh I’m his mu-use.  I’m above you all!’

It wasn’t like that, of course.  Cloe was actually quite shy when out of her comfort zone and, in a crowd of coked-up self-proclaimed bright young things, she would really have been out of her comfort zone.  I’d already heard tales from Carina about her friend’s epic party exploits and heard her suggest that he’d been doing it so long, that it was a habit he couldn’t control.  While I was visiting, I was witness to a glimpse of this.  We all met for dinner on the Isle de la Cite.  He and their boss were already in the restaurant and were in high spirits, squawking and giggling together like best friends despite him only having known her for a fortnight at that stage.  Throughout dinner, they became ever more theatrical and expressive.  They seemed to have to leave the table several times where the rest of us didn;t.  In the end, with a flamboyant arm gesture that unfortunately coincided with a full bottle of red wine, Carina’s boss managed to utterly drench me.  Then they decided to go clubbing. Carina, more alert to the signs than I was, decided we both had to get home and made our excuses.   His parting shot was to stick his head in my cleavage as his boyfriend behind him shouted,

‘Stop it Angel!  You’re not straight!’

Then he headed into the Parisian night.

He was great fun but exactly the sort of person Cloe wouldn’t have wanted her kids to meet.

Relationship stress wasn’t the only thing Rupert may have been escaping from.  He struggled with the nuts and bolts of running a business.  Making sales, keeping accounts, placing orders on schedule, working to a deadline; in short, the boring and procedural aspects of the fashion business, were things he couldn’t or wouldn’t do.  Cloe, being highly organised, capable and having also run her own business for years, stepped in to keep the show on the road.  When he needed to move to cheaper accomodation, she rented him an apartment in a rickety old block in Covent Garden, above the cheese shop, that she and Eadmund owned. I rented a flat there too, for a while, which I sublet first to a school friend and then to my sister.  The building was like going back in time – a little corner of Victorian tenement-style dwelling, that looked down on Central London.  It was close to where Cloe worked.  They could see each other easily without the kids and he was even more indebted to her than ever.  She was his muse, she had found him somewhere to live and she’d saved his business.

Trying to establish some orde,r in the business of someone who enjoyed the anarchy of chaos, must have been extremely hard work.  In the run up to each collection, they would work 24/7 sewing clothes with a couple of assistants, re-modelling things, re-designing things right up until the last minute.  He created individual pieces outside of the show times but it was always a last-minute, frenetic rush.  Sometimes, to blow of steam, he went out and got wrecked, then came home and ripped up all the things he’d been working so hard to make.

As time went on, Rupert became angry, aggressive and depressive when he partied.  He began not to be thrillingly dangerous, but actually dangerous.  Cloe was afraid of him, but with his business dependent on her now, even when she had to end the relationship, she couldn’t leave him.  No longer her boyfriend, he didn’t even try to restrain the drugs and alcohol.  If he wasn’t in a fit state to work, she just left him to it until he could be productive again. He fliirted with and slept with star-struck girls, who were impressed that he was in fashion.  He paraded them in front of Cloe.

Rupert began to be violent.  He scared the other inhabitants of the flats above the cheese shop, most of whom worked there.  In drug fuelled rages, he rampaged up and down the central staircase threatening other people.  One of his girfriends was pregnant.  He threw her down the stairs.

Through all this, Cloe still helped him with his business and was his landlord.  He depended on her, he owed her his business, she inspired him and she had rejected him.  He loved and hated her.  Eventually, a company offered to take on his business.  In return for majority share in his own name and label, they would handle cashflow, provide him with back up in marketing, buying and general administration.  In some ways it was selling out but they could turn his business into a profit making one.  They could move on from each other.

It was hard for him to move on.  I think he managed eventually but not before he too, hit rock bottom.

He and the girlfriend had a baby.  This didn’t stop his drugs and alcohol.  It was a shock when I read, in the local paper, that he was in court for domestic violence; attacking his girlfriend while she was breastfeeding and in front of a team of assistants who were trying to restrain him.  A shock, because you hoped it would never have got to this, for all of their sakes and a grim sense that, perhaps, you could have predicted it after all.  I am not in touch with him, of course.  We weren’t all that close even when we were in the foursome.  However, before writing this, I did put his name into Google and crossed my fingers that I might find out good news.  There wasn’t much information but it appears that, on the testimony of his girlfriend who had told the court he was an affectionate, loving father when he was sober but had a Jekyll and Hyde personality around alcohol, the judge gave him a suspended sentence on the condition he went into rehab.  He seems to be designing still today.  He even has a Twitter account which he most definitely doesn’t write himself, but it appears that the business is functioning and that must mean that he is functioning again too.

It’s a relief and I hope it means he’s ok.  He was hard to live with.  He caused us all pain, stress and complications in our dealings with one another as we all tried to relate in an extended family.  It was due to his nature that we were all trying to cope with even more dysfunction than your average open relationship with teenage kids.  But it wasn’t contrived.  He couldn’t be any other way.  Besides, everyone deserves to be happy.  That includes the mother of Rupert’s baby, their son and it also includes him.

The Choice

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After we’d finally made love, Eadmund decided, with Cloe’s blessing, that he should choose someone with whom he would settle and commit to having a proper public relationship.

He talked to everyone he trusted most about it.  He made his decision.  Isla.

I shouldn’t have been expecting anything else.  I was engaged, for Christ’s sake!  With Isla he could be open and public.  With me it would have to be a secret, sneaking around.  These were all valid reasons for not choosing me, but it killed me.

Isla was so happy.  After hiding their previous fling and then the current situation from everyone including his wife, she could be open at last.  In her new role at work, she was not only employed by the cheese shop but also by Cloe’s company.  The decision made, she had to go to a meeting with Cloe that afternoon.

‘I was so relieved,’ she told me as we were packing up to leave work, ‘I was off to a meeting with the wife of my boyfriend.  She never knew about us before.  I was so scared… but she gave me a big hug when I got there and said, ‘It’s ok, Isla.  It’s ok.’’’

I sympathised.  I tried to be appreciative but I was dying inside.  He should have chosen me!

We understood each other.  We got on well together.  We were compatible on so many levels.

Why had he not chosen me?

Eadmund could tell I was devastated.

‘If it’s any consolation,’ he said, ‘Joe thinks I made the wrong choice.  He thinks I should have chosen you. But I think it’s better this way.’

He was trying to make things easier for me.  I was, after all, engaged, a fact I had conveniently neglected to remember.  This way, I didn’t have to choose.  I could go back to my boyfriend with no second thought.  What he didn’t know was that made me feel like my dreams had come to an end.

‘I do care a lot about you,’ he continued, packing papers into a satchel to carry home, ‘It isn’t completely clear.  The thing is, I love you…’

He coughed, realising the impact of what he’d just said and immediately tried to back track, ‘Um that is, I think I do… in as much as one can say that of course.  Ahem and shares can go down as well as up.’

By choosing Isla he had been trying to take the simpler path for him but also for me.  By blurting out that he loved me, he had just made things much more complicated again.  But he’d said it.  It was out there.  He loved me.  Of course I loved him too.  I had done for years.

I spent the rest of the weekend at a friend’s house.  We drank wine and chatted then the following day we watched blockbusters on DVD.  I watched Titanic and have never identified more deeply with over-emotional issues of love, loss and separation.  I was quiet.  I think I got away with disguising my emotions as a hangover, which I did also have, but inside I was resigning myself to a slow death.

The next day we saw each other again. I told him I couldn’t bear it.

He told me it was a more sensible choice. I didn’t care.

Joe had said I was right for him.  His own best friend said I was right for him.  He loved me.  He too, thought that I was right for him.

To be in a relationship with someone he didn’t love when he loved me was wrong, not only on my account.  It wasn’t fair on Isla.

This time I convinced him.  Despite my fiancé, Isla and the toll it would inevitably take on me, we were officially in a relationship.

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.

Beyond the point of no return

When we talked about it in later years, he didn’t understand why I was so shocked.  It was a measure of how far in denial of reality I must have been, but it did come as a massive shock.  It was a line in the sand.  Before that kiss, I could kid myself that it was all in my head; that nothing was going on really.  After the kiss, I had to face facts.

I did talk to him.  I said something ineffectual about having a fiancé and how he shouldn’t have done it.  We shouldn’t do it again.  I went on holiday to Nice with my mother for a long weekend and it was at the back of my mind all the time.  I could still feel his lips on me.  The scent and taste of him returned to me so vividly it was as if he was still kissing me.  I replayed it in my mind like a movie.  I didn’t say a word to Jack.

I did talk to Isla.  I told her over the phone and tried to laugh it off as if it wasn’t serious.  Her response was brief and in a tight voice:

‘He should not have done that.’

‘It’s my fault too,’ I admitted, ‘I’ve been warned what he’s like but I’ll be more careful in future.’

‘He should not have done that.’

The hugs didn’t stop.  Why I thought kissing wouldn’t happen again if the hugs continued, I don’t know, but I suspect it had less to do with reality than it did with how very much I wanted to feel him close to me again.  And of course we kissed again and this time I kissed him back.

The following day, Isla took me for a walk before work.  She needed to talk to me about something.  She needed a minute to work up to it and I remember talking about something inconsequential to fill in the silence until she came out with it.

‘He should not have done that, because he’s also doing it with me.’

It took a minute to sink in but my blood drained down into my boots.

‘You weren’t expecting that were you?’ she sounded kind and amused.  My jaw must have been hanging open.

‘I’m actually surprised you didn’t notice something was going on a couple of years ago,’ she continued, ‘I thought you must be able to tell.’

Her marriage had been on the rocks.  She went to explain to him why she was being a bit flaky at work and they began talking.  He was supportive and kind when she needed a shoulder to cry on.  Needless to say there was hugging.  There was kissing.  There had been other things but surprisingly, although they had done everything but, there had not been sex as we’d traditionally define it.  It had run its course and they had gone back to being friends and co-workers again, but then, when he was hurt and vulnerable, she couldn’t help feeling the old emotions stir up again and the hugs had become kisses and more.

I sleep-walked through the day, numb.  I was devastated.  He hadn’t told me.  She hadn’t told me.  I felt childish and stupid.  An interloper.

‘Why didn’t you tell me before?’  I asked him.  We were both alone working in the same, small office.

‘I didn’t think of it.  The thing with Isla was over years ago, really.  If anything, I thought she would have said.’

This reverberated in my head and heart all day along with something Isla had said before we went back in to work.

‘I had to tell you, so you don’t get started on anything.  You’re going to get married.  You don’t want to be in an affair with a married man while you’re planning a wedding.’

She was right of course, this was the get out clause that would let me go back to Jack with no harm done.  He was my fiancé after all.  He was going to marry me and provide me with a future, family and stability.  Given that we were engaged, he should have been the one I loved more.  I should have been relieved and happy that I could get myself out this situation and settle down with him.  Why, then, did it feel like a prison sentence?

I went home and told Jack I was exhausted from work (an all too believable excuse) and would be going to bed without eating that evening.  He stayed up and watched tv.  I cried myself to sleep as quietly as I could.