Loss, Love, Emotion, Nationality

The Dolomites, last August

The Dolomites, last August

A friend of mine died today.

He had had a good enough innings as they say.  He was in his eighties, I think.  To be honest I never knew his age exactly.  He had seemed timeless.  I hadn’t known him all that long either and as he was Italian and I’m not there as much as I am in the UK, it’s a while since I last saw him.  But something about his irrepressible spirit, love of life and just plain heart on sleeve Italianness had touched my buttoned up English heart.

I have been very lucky in that I feel to have a dual nationality.  I’ve had parallel lives.  I’ve grown up in the UK with a lovely family and great friends.  Then, every summer, we all piled into our car and spent the best part of the summer school holidays in Italy, in the Abruzzo.  Consequently I also have a lovely Italian family to match my English one: the family my parents befriended out there who have known my parents since before I was born and have watched me grow up.  I have great friends there too.  And finally, although it’s taken a decade or so to reconcile, I consider myself not only my own mixture of Cheshire / Scottish / Yorkshire but an honorary Abruzzese too.  I may not have the Italian temperament, but I will always consider it home and when I leave, I take it with me in my heart.

A few years ago, having spent many years fascinated by the nearest peaks of the Appenines to our Abruzzese home, we joined our local section of the Club Alpino Italiano which is where we met Mino.  Mino was one of the founding members of the local section and a passionate mountaineer.  We knew him in his later years when he could no longer scale the highest peaks and when his declining energy levels meant that he was happy just accompanying his wife Giulia on the lower slopes, having given up on the head spinning views for the less elevated pleasures of woodland, alpine flowers and collecting mushrooms.  Some people might regret no longer being able to scale the peaks, but Mino always seemed content.  While he may not have reached the summit, he would glory in telling us of the amazing plate of tagliatelle and funghi porcini he ate while we were punishing our bodies up the mountain.

Over the summer, my Dad broke his elbow quite impressively when the brakes on his bike seized up sending him flying over the handlebars as he tried to gently slow down and ended up crashing to a halt.  What should have been a piece of solid bone on his x ray, looked like a jigsaw puzzle.  He was operated on and healed up but not in time to join the CAI group on their annual away trip which, this year, was to the Dolomites.  Someone had to take my parents place so I manned up and took one for the team.

To say it was magical would be to understate it considerably.  The mountains were beautiful, beyond what I’d seen before – changing subtly as the sun rose and then set.  The colours, the light and shade, the shapes of the rocks all infinitessimally changing every time you looked up.  I took millions of photographs.

I also spent a week with the whole group of Italians that, until then, I had only really spent time on a once a week basis at the most frequent.  Being Italian and perhaps above that, being Abruzzese, they welcomed me in with open arms.  They were surprised that I didn’t talk more.  I am, after all, English by birth and shy by nature, but they soon took that in their stride,, discovering that in one on one situations where I had more time to try and express myself in a language I speak pretty well but which is by no means as fluent as my native one, I could hold my own in conversation.  They joked with me.  The included me in their banter.  They made me feel one of their own.  Yes, there would be the usual curious questions trying to ascertain what it was like to be British: the weather, the Royal family and what do we eat over in God forsaken England where there’s no pasta con fagioli and a nice bicchiere of Montelpulciano d’Abruzzo to wash it down with.  But that’s just a way of expressing interest in where you come from.  At heart there was always the feeling that we had things in common, we were the same underneath that cultural stuff.  I was welcomed.

Mino was one of the jokers of the group.  In his prime he had been a charismatic leader, I could tell.  Now he was the adopted grandfather of the party.  He couldn’t walk up to the highest summits in the Dolomites either but after a longstanding love affair with the area, he certainly wasn’t going to miss an opportunity to visit them again.  He greeted me every morning at breakfast solicitously enquiring if I was enjoying this part of Italy, if I had liked the excursion yesterday, if I was looking forward to today’s excursion.  He joked with me and with the others.  He bantered.  He made it fun.

In Abruzzo they instinctively welcome you.  Until the 1950s they were a region with medieval seeming poverty: children running around in ragged clothes without shoes, food on the table because they kept chickens and rabbits and grew their own vegetables in their market garden or orto.  The only things they might buy in would be flour for bread or pasta.  Everything else; the bottled tomato passata that lasted them through the winter, the dried borlotti beans, the peppers, aubergines and courgettes which were eaten fresh through summer and pickled for the winter, all came from the orto.  And not only do they welcome you, they do so with an almost medieval hospitality.  In an attempt to impress and provide a suitable welcome, you will be invited to a lunch of six or seven courses and at least three types of meat (meat having been, in the past, the most valuable food they could provide for a visitor of course). All of this happens so naturally and without conscious effort that it washes over you like a warm wave of friendliness.  You can’t help but respond with affection.  It’s not like the more restrained friendship that an English person might give.  There is no irony.  There is none of the saying one thing politely but meaning the exact opposite that I actually love the twisted nature of in the English character.  It’s in your face, heart on sleeve and honest.  It’s almost childlike and yet I don’t mean that patronisingly.  And so you respond to it as you would to a child that welcomes you and wants to be your friend.  You love them.

Mino’s best friend at CAI and the founder member of the section, posted on Facebook, the sad news that Mino was now scaling the final and highest summits.  The outpouring of sadness and commiseration was immediate.  In posting their thoughts and best wishes, they didn’t hold back.  None of that English reserve that says

‘Oh I never know what to say at times like this so I’d better not say anything at all.’

They were sad, they would miss him, they were glad to have known him and they just said so.  So I did too.  I mustered my best Italian and the resources of Google translate.  I checked other comments to make sure I was copying their idioms in the hopes of not detracting from what I wanted to say by clumsy use of language and I wrote that I was sad to hear the news, would always have lovely memories of times spent in the mountains with him and that my life was richer for having known him.

After doing a walk (there is one every week in the season from March to October), the CAI group put together a semi film of photographic stills set to music.  It is sometimes appalling Italian ballad music, sometimes strangely inappropriate English music which only demonstrates that they haven’t quite understood the lyrics.  If I were feeling cynical, I could laugh at so much about it: the rather enthusiastic but extremely novice use of either photoshop or powerpoint to put the images together, the emotionally theatrical music,  But it is all done with the intention of communicating a love of the walk, the scenery, the mountains and the enthusiasm they all have.  So once more, you can’t help but respond emotionally, even while your critical and cynical brain notes the idiosyncracies of it. And so, of course, they have put together a film of photos of Mino, to say farewell.  Memories of a good friend, enjoying his life, set to some Italian pop ballad that I’ve never heard before sung by a gravel voiced singer.  The film is honest, unsophisticated, openly emotional and yet also dignified.  It ends, exhorting us all to seize the day: Carpe Diem.  Needless to say it has reduced me to tears every time.

I didn’t know him for very long and I didn’t see him all that often, but I will miss Mino very much, I find and I am truly glad that I knew him.  I have only just realised how much, but he touched my life and made it better in his own small way.

My other Italian friends knew him better and feel this more keenly.  Unlike me, who usually mourns and grieves the loss of someone by bottling it up until it eats away because I don’t understand the emotional response well enough to give vent to it at the right time or even know how to express it, they are wearing their hearts on their sleeves.  They are sad, they know they are and in their emotional eloquence, they are expressing that sadness immediately, openly, honestly and without shame or embarrassment. I can’t help feeling that if I could learn to be a bit more like them, I would be a healthier person.  I hope, perhaps, that being part of their group will give me chance to learn how to do that better in future.

Grazie Mino e Ciao.

Mino & Giulia

(Saying Goodbye the Abruzzese Way).

Lazy Sundays

twin-peaks-coffee

 

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

pelion-greece1

 

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.

Just the 4 of us: Cloe

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Eadmund’s wife impressed everyone with a sense of poise, elegance and style.  She was striking, tall, deep voiced and had an intensity about her.  When she was happy, she shone.  When she was sad it was impossible to ignore.

She had not had an easy upbringing.  Her parents had been struggling with their own relationship.  They divorced at a time when divorce had a huge stigma attached to it.  Cloe’s mother, a formidable French woman with most defined views that she wasn’t afraid of voicing, was the sort of person you respect immensely, but was about the furthest from natural earth mother that it’s possible to be.  Cloe’s father, who never quite lived up to her expectations, was a subdued man whose proudest moment in life had been his involvement in the D Day landings and for whom the adrenaline rush, responsibility and feeling of mission the war experience provided him, had never been recaptured in civilian life.  He used to recreate this when playing with Cloe as a young girl, making her crawl, army-style, along the ground and it was their way of trying to be close.  All the while, her mother would be looking on and giving the impression that her husband disappointed her… and that her daughter did too.  Years later, after his death, when she spent time with his new wife and second family, Cloe was shocked to find the distant and quiet man she remembered had been the centre of a happy family life.  Having felt there was no real relationship between them for her to pursue, it cost her no small amount of heartache to realise that under different circumstances he could have been a very different father to the one she remembered had she only reached out to him in time.

Cloe learned stoicism, to suppress emotion and the British stiff upper lip from watching her parents; ironic as she is half French.  She was insecure, feeling she never measured up to her mother’s hopes.  She was conscious of a rich, cultural, french legacy in her family which she sought to reproduce and cherish, particularly in her cooking, in the antiques she collected and her sense of style.  She was interested in art, history and learning but never got the chance to pursue it, having to work as soon as she finished school.  She is a highly intelligent woman who did not have the chance to study and because of that, she felt insecure about her intellect as well.  She had no idea of how strikingly attractive she was.  Her mother had not done the usual mother’s job of telling their little girl how beautiful they are and, caught up in her own world, her busy world, she didn’t notice the effect she had on people around her.  Which only made how attractive she was even more potent.

She had more than looks.  She may not have realised it but she was formidably intelligent with an artist’s eye for colours, shapes, interior design.  She loved fashion and since meeting Rupert was really coming into her own experimenting with an edgier look, enjoying her looks, her body and clothes more than she had ever done before.

It’s not a good idea to compare yourself against someone like Cloe, but of course I did.  Every woman at the cheese shop or her own business did and we all felt inferior but in particular she and I could not have been more different.  Where she was tall, dark and willowy, I was short, blond and plump.  Where she was elegance personified, I would be the one who had spilled coffee down my top.  She could charm a room of people when she switched on her charm.  I was tongue tied in groups of more than about four.

We got on well.  We helped each other out.  We shared jokes.  As a three, Eadmund, Cloe and I would talk about things that bothered her or him; how to cope with insecurities the kids were having, domestic problems, dealing with Rupert’s increasingly erratic behaviour and we listened to and respected our different opinions but at the end of the day Cloe and I were very different people.  It was interesting and educational to listen to points of view that were different to mine.  I liked that it stretched me to see the value in them even when I didn’t agree and, for the sake of everyone’s harmony, we put aside any differences in order to maintain a unified extended family.  Initially, when Eadmund still wanted to keep our relationship secret, she helped cover for him with the kids so that he could take a night out from being at home and stay with me.  She invited me over at weekends so I could be with him and with the family.

At that time, she was open about her relationship, where I was hidden, secret and disempowered.  She was very generous, but it’s easier to be generous when fortune is smiling on you.  As the mother, head of the family and instigator of the relationship that had lead to them finally opening up their marriage, not to mention glowing from the boost to her self esteem the relationship was giving her, she was in a great place to be kind to me.  It’s not that I didn’t appreciate it.  She didn’t have to make things easy for me and I appreciate that she tried to help me and to make our relationship easier at a time when I was struggling, but the fact that I felt subordinate, made me resent her.  I’m not proud of that.  It wasn’t her fault.  It was a result of the situation and not in response to anything she had done.  But I was resentful.

When I stayed at their house at the weekend, I was put in the makeshift guest room.  The kids who were adjusting to a new family set up would sometimes want to sleep with Mum or Dad for security.  I tried hard not to be jealous of them sleeping with Dad.  Of course if they wanted to revert to childhood and sleep in a parent’s bed, I wasn’t going to protest, but I needed security and reassurance at the time too.  I wished with all my heart that I could sleep in his bed, just for comfort, but as the dirty secret, that could never happen.    On a couple of nights when she was feeling out of her depth with Rupert, Cloe slept in Eadmund’s bed for old time’s sake too.  She looked grateful as we said good night and I went to my guest room, alone.  I knew in my heart of hearts that there was nothing physical or sexual between them anymore but I still had nightmares all night that, for comfort, they slept together again; that she could still get pregnant; that she did and that as the entire family welcomed a new baby with joy and relief, I had to cope with feelings of loss, betrayal and devastation by myself with none of their children understanding why I was so hurt.  With everything else I was trying to cope with at this time, I knew this would send me over the edge, if it had happened.  The following morning, embarrassed that I couldn’t handle it better, I asked Eadmund if it would be ok that he could be supportive and comforting to Cloe in a different way next time.

Yet this was the woman who, on the day I should have got married, bought me a beautiful and impeccably tasteful posy of golden cream roses tipped with delicate pink, because she knew I would be feeling sad and wistful.

This was the woman who, the day after Eadmund confessed his affair, found me looking desolate in the kitchen of our shared offices at work and enveloped me in the warmest hug as I cried and cried and cried.  He heard the sounds and came looking to help, but she closed the door in his face, which actually was exactly what I wanted.  As the wronged wife, she understood exactly how I felt and knew just what to say to help me get through the day.  A perfect mixture of sympathy and pragmatism without casting blame anywhere.

She was also the woman who even early on in our relationship when I was still a secret, told Eadmund that as soon as he was ready, she would be happy to let me live in the family home.  This was a privilege she didn’t afford to her own boyfriend and I was honoured.  I was also gutted that he didn’t accept.  Later on, when everything was in the open, she happily accepted my presence in her home, cooking in her kitchen, looking after her children, sleeping with her husband.  Like I say, extremely generous.

Why weren’t we friends?  We certainly shared a huge and life changing experience together and there will always be a bond because of that.  We are more like friends now when we meet.  We are happy to see each other and we’ll chat and catch up.  We’ll never be really close and we don’t keep in touch though.  It’s the differences that mean we aren’t closer.  Knowing we saw the world in different ways meant we found each other interesting but there was always a wariness and lack of trust because we knew the other one wouldn’t understand our point of view without explanation.  We couldn’t relax and know that at the most basic of levels we would be accepted.

But we’d both had to work with people who weren’t kindred spirits before.  We both understood how to be part of a team in order to achieve a goal.  We were co-operating flatmates.  And for a while, it worked pretty well.

 

It’s not an Open Relationship When it’s Cheating

cheating

If we had no hold on each other, if we were together by choice and free to love other people too, why, after Eadmund admitted to his fling, was I feeling so betrayed and angry?  He seemed to feel it was entirely permissable under the terms of what we had agreed but it didn’t feel right to me.

At the time and with no other ideas of how to conduct a relationship, I just assumed the whole open thing wasn’t for me, that I’d agreed to something I couldn’t fulfill and that I had no right to be feeling the way I did.  Now, I think differently.

The sort of relationship Eadmund described, the sort I agreed to, would not, if we had managed to communicate, have unfolded like this.  He would have met someone, sure.  He would have felt an attraction.  He might even have wanted to take it to a sexual relationship.  But he would have told me at every stage how he felt, what he wanted.  We would have had the chance to talk.  If it was going to hurt me and hurt us, we would have acted accordingly, leaving me feeling part of the discussion and not presented with a fait accompli.

Something about the story of them meeting on the buying trip bugged me.  The shock, anger and rejection died down in the main.  Life moved on.  The happiness and relief that we were at last being open about our relationship in front of his children and therefore in front of everyone was more than enough compensation.  But something still didn’t seem right and I was really struggling to make sense of it.  How could he meet someone and in so short a time be ready to sleep with them?  He had taken so long to make love to me.  He had been so cautious about approaching it.  It seemed out of character.  It made her seem as if she must be some superbeing, irresistible.  Yet he told me that he found me more attractive.  He didn’t love her.  He said he enjoyed my company more. He didn’t intend to carry on any relationship with her from now on.  Did she have an amazingly strong and individual personality that had transfixed him?  Not really.

Something didn’t add up.

One day before I set off for work, I noticed his computer was still on.  His email programme was open.  I didn’t have to leave straight away and there was no one else in the house.  Curiosity overcame me and with a sense of shame at the fact I was prying through personal things, I clicked on his email archive.  It wasn’t at all hard to find the emails.  He kept all correspondence neatly filed with a folder labelled with the sender’s name.  I found the folder for their correspondence and opened it.

As I read the emails, the story unfolded.  They had met months before at a fair in Italy.  They felt a connection at the time and kept in touch.  The emails carried on for five months, their tone becoming longing, romantic.  I recognised phrases he had used to me in the beginning.

‘I know we’re apart but you feel so close to me tonight, it’s almost as if I can smell you.’

Numbly, I read on.  I was distantly aware of a strange sound.  Whimpering.  Animal.  In pain.  It took a few seconds to realise the sound was me.

It was another visceral sensation of pain but at least it made sense now.  Yes, if I’d imagined him having a relationship with someone else, there would be a meeting, a courting period, consummation.

I admitted, later, to having read his emails.  I confronted him with what I’d found out.  On this occasion, he crumpled, ashamed.  He had meant to be brave, to talk to me if he found himself attracted to someone else.  He had meant to be open, to be honest, to be free.

‘Instead, I reverted to old habits.  I went back to sneaking around and being dishonest like I used to.  I talked this big talk about freedom and honesty and then I didn’t live up to it.’

At the time, I was relieved to have things out in the open.  We weren’t trying to keep a secret any more.  We were more open, we were happier with each other, communication was better again.  Finding the emails when I did was a huge step in being able to move on and rebuild trust with him.

But there, if you press me to it, is the difference between non monogamy and cheating.  An open relationship should be just that, open.  It should respect the needs of both people.  It shouldn’t be about compartmentalising love and hiding it away in boxes.  During the better moments of the Anne, Eadmund, Isla triangle, I had had a glimpse of how things could work.  When we all talked, we understood each other, we were close, we supported each other, we looked out for each other.  It’s not that ego and competition didn’t intrude, it certainly did.  We weren’t open enough to try and confront and deal with that.  He didn’t categorise either as an actual relationship although frankly he was kidding himself.  I was hurt from not knowing about their relationship until too late and it put me in the role of victim which made me fight back.  Isla was hurt about finding out about mine with him when her own with him had just been re-kindled.  She fought back too.  Again there had been lies, secrecy, hiding things.  But Isla and I did talk.  We supported each other.  The three of us talked less, but we did do so.  When we did, when we understood each other and when we were open with each other, there was a nurturing sense of love, support and community.

It wasn’t a successfully open relationship with honest open communication but new, strange and scary as it was at the time, this was where I first got a glimpse of how it could work.  Including other people doesn’t have to mean deceit, betrayal, pain.  It doesn’t have to have a victim who gets hurt.  It can also create a close knit group and increase the love, caring and support.

Cheating is a whole lot different.

Interlude: Secrecy

secrecy

Here and now, in the present, I am giving internet dating yet another go.  It doesn’t always click with me.  If you are used to going with your gut instinct, to suddenly choose someone based on a load of facts figures and a theoretical percentage compatibility feels a bit like doing your monthly supermarket delivery order.  I’d like one male, open-minded, sexually adventurous but not into pain thanks or blindfolds, who likes to talk about issues, politics and ideas and doesn’t end his messages with lol.  Pick up in aisle 3.

What it does do, though, is get you to think about who you’re well matched with.  What bits of your personality do you want to be able to develop and share.  What things are you just not prepared to accept.  Luckily, I’m pretty open minded and liberal myself but today I had a message from someone that did make me stop and think.

‘Hi

Write back if you feel you can.

Ax’

I’m intrigued, not least because we apparently share an initial.  It’s the little things that make you decide to write to somone in an impersonal setting like the internet.  He hasn’t uploaded a photo but I check out his profile to see what he’s like.  Apparently based on having answered many many questions on sex, morality, religion, love and other issues besides, we’re compatible.  I read the paragraph everyone writes as a summary of themselves:

‘Naughty…adventurous,,,no inhibitions,’ He begins.  And then

‘OK, I am married and being secretive so any ethical minded creatures should probably report me somewhere…’

He concludes that he’s looking for someone open minded and casual.

And there’s the deal breaker.  No, not because, after previous experience I’ve decided never to get involved with a married man again.  If it’s ok by his wife again then I’d never say never.  The deal breaker is secrecy.

After my own experiences of being secretive or uncomfortable about a relationship, I have made a promise to myself that I am never doing that again.  Eadmund’s affair actually ended up being a catalyst for change, but on balance I would far rather the change had happened in a way that didn’t involve me being lied to.  It was the state of mind I managed to get myself into by trying to keep the relationship a badly kept secret that I will never put myself through again.

I’m a terrible liar.  I hate doing it.  I’m not very believable.  I recently read a quote from Mark Twain that said

‘If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.’

I couldn’t put it better myself.  So as the person trying to keep a secret, you not only have to behave in a way that feels deeply unnatural and seems to negate yourself and your presence, you are also always under the stress of remembering who you’ve told what to.  It’s exhausting and unneccessary.  In contrast to the freedom of relationship we were trying to achieve, we had created ourselves another prison far worse than the claustrophobia of my impending marriage to Jack. I wanted to feel limitless and on occasions I still did, when we were alone together and could stop looking over our shoulders.  But most of the time, when we were at work, or at his home those moments were snatched and furtive.  The walls were closing in again on us both.

I also found that by keeping the secret and having to behave as if the whole company didn’t know I was in a relationship with Eadmund, I cut myself off from my friends.  I couldn’t talk to them and because they were aware there was a big area of my life that was off limits, they avoided socialising with me or talking to me.  It was very lonely and it wasn’t until later, when things were out in the open that one of my colleagues finally said to me

‘As long as you’re happy we don’t care what you’re doing and who with.  It makes people uneasy if you won’t talk about it though.  We don’t want to say the wrong thing.’

Then a few years later, ironically as I split up from Eadmund, my sister got involved with someone who she had met through work.  They too decided to keep their relationship a secret.

‘It’s not like it’s a big secret,’ she told me when I asked her why we needed to pretend they weren’t together, ‘I just don’t want to be gossipped about.  It’s none of their business.’

Again, not something you’d think would be a big deal, just being discreet so that the workplace rumour mill doesn’t take off but from a different viewpoint, this time, I observed how corrosive secrecy is.  It starts as a little act of being discreet and then through the stress of not telling it how it is, openly and honestly, you create relationship problems for yourself, you argue and can’t admit to anyone that you know why your eyes are puffy, red and swollen.  People around you withdraw because they don’t know what to say or what to do.  They don’t understand, when as far as they can see it’s a good thing that you are in a relationship with the guy, why they can’t admit to people that they know about it.  Just as people pulled away from me, I found myself avoiding Gia and her boyfriend because I didn’t want the hassle and stress of their secret.  The early years of their relationship were a bit tortured.  He’s a great guy but he’s not easy to be with.  He’s force of energy which when he’s good is very. very good and when he’s bad is horrid.  She could have done with more support before she hit her rock bottom.  If she’d had it, hitting rock bottom could have been avoided.  But the secrecy made us not know how to act or what to say.  It made me keep my own counsel and keep away from her.  I wasn’t the only one.  I’d run into one of their mutual friends around the Food Market on occasions and we’d let out some of the tension of the situation by royally taking the piss.  It was a huge relief to be able to just laugh about it.

So now I’ve seen it from the point of view of someone keeping the secret and from the point of view of the friend forced into secrecy and not really understanding why it is neccessary.  I’m not going there again.  I feel it very strongly that whatever relationship I go into next, absolute honesty and openness has to be the cornerstone.

My reply to A was easy to write:

‘Hi

Thanks for your message and what a conundrum you present.  You sound like a fun guy to get to know and I’ve been in an open relationship before and been in one with a married man so there are no judgements here but the need for secrecy is a deal breaker.  If your wife agreed to it and it was all above board, I’d probably be interested but I’ve been someone’s secret before and it did bad things to my psyche.  Sorry and Good luck.’

 

Rock Bottom

‘I don’t want the kids to know about us,’ Eadmund explained, ‘they’re already upset and unsure about how Mum having a boyfriend affects their family and their world.  I can’t spring something else on them.’

I wasn’t a parent but my instinct was that it was absolutely right to put the kids’ happiness first.  I believed in it as passionately as a religious devotee.  Of course, if that was what was best for them, we would have to keep our relationship secret from them.  Their family was changing fast.  Of course we should introduce it gradually.

It didn’t seem such a big thing, keeping it under wraps for the sake of the kids, but I hadn’t appreciated how one secret in one area of your life spreads.  We couldn’t be affectionate in public in case someone saw.  We couldn’t be affectionate at work because it was unprofessional and also because everyone at work also knew his kids.  I couldn’t openly talk about our relationship at work because although everyone knew, in order to keep the secret for the kids sake, it had to remain unspoken as to exactly what was going on.  I could spend time getting to know his kids at his house and, in theory, this was time that I was spending with him, but we had to behave in a way that would just make them think we were friends.

There was already a lot of secret keeping in my life as it was.  My friends and family didn’t know we were in an open relationship.  They didn’t know I’d hurt a good friend over a man.  I hadn’t told them how much I was struggling to hold it together.  They didn’t know about solitary binge drinking or panic attacks or the cutting.  I don’t for one minute think I am a good enough actress to have convinced them that everything was perfect all the time but that’s not really the issue.  The thing about keeping a secret is how it makes you feel, the insecurity and shame, not whether you’ve actually convinced anyone.

Although in theory we were only keeping our relationship from the kids, we ended up not admitting publically to most of the people we interacted with.  There wasn’t an area in my life that wasn’t complicated.  I couldn’t talk to people at work, I was keeping secrets from my friends and family.  I needed the reassurance of physical contact but I had to keep my hands firmly by my sides when his family were there.

Implosion

Basically, I imploded.

I was a millstone around Eadmund’s neck.  The situation wasn’t easy for him either: balancing his time, trying to be there for everyone who needed him, knowing he was failing.  Cloe’s nervously intense boyfriend was rocking the boat at home and upsetting the kids with the addictive nature of his attraction to her.  Eadmund couldn’t keep the kids happy and now he couldn’t keep me happy either.   He started to look for a way out.  There was a winter of obsessive computer game playing by way of withdrawing from the family and from me and then following that a bombshell on his return from a buying trip to Ireland.

‘While I was away, I had a short affair with a cheesemaker I met.’

I crumpled.  As usual with me, the first emotion was shock, the by now familiar sense of the blood draining from my head as I ran through the usual questions.  Who was she?  When had they met?  When did they sleep together?  This was followed by hopelessness, anger and rejection so visceral it was like a white hot knife tearing through my torso.  Through it all he was kind, gentle, patient.  He apologised for not having told me before it happened but he didn’t feel any guilt.  We didn’t have any hold on each other after all.  We were free.   Hours later, with no tears left and anger spent, I reached out to pull him to me.

‘I didn’t think you’d want me to touch you.’

I couldn’t talk.  I don’t think I replied.  I needed contact, a tangible reminder that he loved me.

The following day, watching tv with his children and sitting on the sofa, he put his arms around me.  In public, without shame, he made the first move to acknowledging to them that he loved me.  That night, for the first time, I slept in his bed with him.  The secret was out.

Interlude: Loneliness

I was living in a city with a population of eight million.

I had caring friends who gave me a place to live for as long as I needed, helped me move my belongings out of the Jack’s flat and now I lived on my own, who I still met up with about once a week.

I had a partner who loved me, who I saw each day at work, whose house I stayed at every weekend, being domestic, pottering with him and the kids.

And yet I was very lonely.

Loneliness isn’t company or how many people you know.  I have felt more alone in the middle of a city than I do in absolute wilderness.  It’s a reflection of how understood you feel.

My friends who I had known since pre-teens had all ably demonstrated that they cared about me.  They also showed me that they worried about me.

‘But you are happy,’ they repeated as a refrain.

They thought the set up was weird.  Which it was.  But they saw that as a bad thing.  I don’t mean that they judged me.  They just couldn’t understand why I would settle for sharing ‘my’ man.

Our ideas of relationships as we grew up were based around strong heroines busting balls in the corporate world and taking no crap from any man or the counterpoint, subservient, dutiful Stand-by-your-Man Tammy Wynettes.  It was the 80s.  We’d all watched a lot of Dallas and Dynasty. None of us wanted to be Krystle Carrington when you could be Alexis Colby.

They saw relationships with men as an arena in which the woman had to stand up for her rights.  She had to respect herself enough to accept only what was her due which was complete commitment, adoration and a promise to get married to you.  The fact that I was in a relationship with someone who was not leaving his wife for me and already had three children seemed to them to be a serious retrograde step.

They wanted the white picket fence, the good man as a husband.  They wanted the security and the commitment.  Apparently, I no longer did.

We’d known each other since we were about 8 years old.  We’d gone through adolescence together.  We’d fretted over boys, worries about our changing bodies and whether periods would hurt.  We’d earnestly talked about morality.  We’d never sleep with a friend’s man.  We’d always respect her territory where boyfriends were concerned.  We’d never sleep with a married man.  That was wrong.  But largely we had contempt for him for not keeping is vows, he should know better.

It was simple and black and white.  Real life is lived in shades of grey.

I had embarked down a path they didn’t want to follow me on.  When we talked now, they would listen to my point of view, interested but without the slightest hint they would ever want to do what I was doing.  I couldn’t explain the concept that I was trying to adjust to that your boyfriend wasn’t YOUR boyfriend but was a person with whom you chose to spend time, who you loved and who was free to go wherever he wished.  They thought I should expect promises.  Together forever.  Forsaking all others until death do you part.  I was struggling myself with the idea that in this relationship there weren’t comforting certainties.  I was brought up to expect those things too and I was making a big break from them in favour of freedom, the idea of open horizons, endless possibilities, living without limits.

I had assumed I would always stay conventional, provincial and uncontroversial.  I hadn’t been happy with that idea.  Now the very last thing I was was uncontroversial.  But in being so, I had very few people who understood my choice.  Eadmund did.  Cloe did.  Joe did.  Everyone else tolerated it and my unease at being able to explain these newly forming ideas and share them with my friends made them uneasy about approaching the subject.  And so we talked less and I cut myself off more.

Guilt.  Feeling misunderstood and having to explain myself.  Feeling I had no right to the friendship of my colleagues who might have been more likely to understand.  Fear of insomnia.  Self destructive cutting and drinking that then needed to be hidden from everyone.

It snowballed.  I was surrounded by people.  I had friends and family who loved me.  But no one who really understood my choices or understood how hard it was to change my life so much. I needed someone to appreciate my emotional journey, understand what I was hoping for and to support me as I struggled with it.  But in order to do that, they would have had to understand it.

Yes, in the middle of eight million people, I was very alone.

download

Sometimes Freedom is too much

5

He chose me.  I chose him.  It was a little naïve but I assumed that, whatever had gone on before now meant we were exclusive… apart from his wife of course.

Eadmund didn’t.

Don’t get me wrong, he didn’t have any intention of finding someone else right then, nor did he think I was looking for someone either.  The important thing was that we should both feel free to do so as and when we wanted.  The key concept here was freedom.

He and Cloe got married because she was pregnant.  He made a commitment to be her partner and parent with her but he knew he would always be available to connections with other people.

‘I meet a lot of people,’ he explained, ‘and I’m very open to people.  I make friends very quickly and I am attracted to all sorts of people a lot of the time.  I don’t necessarily act on it, but the attraction is there.’

He sought out people in his life with a certain vitality, who could energise him but ground him.  Not necessarily for sex or a romantic relationship but to have that sustaining, enlivening force in his life as much as possible.

‘It’s all about energy,’ he continued, ‘and energy needs freedom to survive.’

When he got married, this idea wasn’t yet fully developed.  He hadn’t been able to voice it but he realised over time that the structure of marriage couldn’t accommodate his nature.  He hadn’t been able to talk to Cloe about this, so many years of sneaking around and secret affairs had followed.  He hated the lying but their communication was strained since the death of their first son.  Different ways of grieving can force a couple apart and in their case it did.  They continued trying to make the marriage work and parent the three children they went on to have, but knowing as they now did how differently they experienced emotion, the trust in each other’s ability to understand, support and provide the emotional resources they needed, had gone.  Without that trust, communication suffered.

He wasn’t sure if in the past, Cloe would have understood the sort of relationship he wanted without seeing it as rejection.  She did understand now, of course.

‘I so admire the honesty with which Cloe has gone about her relationship with Rupert,’ he ended, ‘She was afraid to begin with but she’s really taken it to heart.  There’s something brave, clean and liberating about how she’s conducting her life and that’s quite amazing.  That’s the way I want us to live.’

He had an idea that he was not the person I would spend the rest of my life with.

‘I seem to be the in-between boyfriend.  The one with whom you learn a lot and then move on to meet ‘The One’ and I’m ok with that.  Cloe has gone on to find Rupert.  Catherine went on to find someone who suits her better than I did.  It’s ok.’

He saw a pattern.  With the age gap between us, he felt that I would meet someone else who would give me stability, a family; someone closer to my own age.  I shouldn’t feel, just because we were together that I couldn’t find this person.

‘Just tell me about it before something happens, that’s the only stipulation.  Otherwise, you’re free.’

I didn’t quite know how I felt about this.

I loved the idea of liberty and that we were together by choice rather than need or because of social norms and expectations.  I had felt trapped in my relationship with Jack.  I wanted to spread my wings and feel that life didn’t have limits.   One of the things I loved about Eadmund was how his ideas made me challenge and question my inherited and assumed values.

On the other hand, when we’d talked about this before, I hadn’t just cancelled my wedding, upset the apple cart and disturbed my family and friends.  My oldest friends were unconvinced by our relationship as it was.  They saw me as ‘the mistress’; the one who would always get the fuzzy end of the lollipop.  They thought he was taking advantage of me.  They even thought there was something suspect about the age difference.  Frankly they thought I was mad to get involved with a married man.  The night she took me in, Nia said,

‘Look we’ve all done it, Anne.  Helena got off with her boss too.  It’s only natural to be impressed by the authority. He’s the one who should know better.’

She meant it sympathetically but she didn’t realise that I did not see this as a relationship in which I was taken advantage of.  It was one in which someone thought I was utterly amazing just for being myself.  I felt loved, nurtured, appreciated like I hadn’t done in years.  It pained me that this wasn’t obvious to everyone.  I had to show them.

I was very immature at the time.  Less so than I had been a year ago, but I think people still tended to think they needed to take care of me.  In actual fact I had more inner steel than my outward appearance suggested and was a lot stronger than I seemed, something that only Eadmund appeared to see and appreciate.  To them, I was an innocent and Eadmund should have restrained himself.  They didn’t see me as an active participant in these events in my own life.  I had done things that they disapproved of but they didn’t want to condemn me.  Reconciling that I could be kind, supportive and a good friend and yet that I had kept a big secret from them and broken the moral code of getting involved with someone else’s man meant that rather than seeing me as someone they could criticise, the disapproval was displaced onto him.

I wasn’t quite sure what they would make of an open relationship.  I was pretty sure they wouldn’t approve.  I hadn’t admitted the Eadmund, Isla and Anne triangle, never mind that during that period he’d been going out with an ex-girlfriend who had also slept with him.  I thought if they knew, they’d have me sectioned.

The other problem was that at the moment I did need him.  At work, after losing Isla as a confidante, I felt isolated.  The guilt made me stay away from the work friends we had both had in common.  She needed them more than me.  I didn’t deserve them.

‘Are you sure you’re ok?’ the lovely Australian Kathleen asked me, ‘Are you sure you don’t want a lick and a sniff?’ (It was an in joke about inappropriate puppyish workplace touching).

I told her I was fine.  Being the baby of her family, her self-appointed role throughout life was to try to make people happy.  She was great at it.  I knew she was just what Isla needed right now and I turned down her offer of support so she could have her all to herself.  In my mind, I had made my choices, now my punishment was to have to cope with the consequences on my own.

My friends from outside work didn’t understand what I was doing, although they had ably demonstrated that they cared about me.  My family, were struggling to accept this relationship.  No one apart from Eadmund really understood.  I felt alone.  I wasn’t secure enough to cope easily with the idea he might want someone else.

He was sure I would meet someone, but I didn’t have that confidence.  Unlike him, I didn’t meet people all that often or make new friends easily.  There is a reason that most of my best friends are people I have known since childhood.  I wasn’t attracted to a lot of people.

Perhaps to guard against that, I found myself looking at strangers, sizing up whether I would find them attractive or not.  Each time I met someone new, I wondered if they would find me attractive… if I could find them attractive.  I couldn’t, of course, not with that self-inflicted pressure.  Besides, I didn’t want anyone else at that besotted stage.  I only had eyes for him.

But, on the other hand, I wanted this adventure.  I wanted to challenge myself, to grow, to discover my inner strength.  I was having nightmares in which I found myself still trapped in my relationship with Jack.  I wanted freedom.

So I agreed.  We were together by choice.  We were free.

Fallout

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

pint-of-beer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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