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.