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.

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.

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.