Being on time

Today I went to the children’s Christmas show at school. I was one of the first to seat myself in the audience, so I got one of the best seats. I was able to chat with a few other parents and think how lovely it is that I have settled here enough to get to know people a bit.

It’s always a bit of a shock when one moment everything seems normal, and the next I’m blindsided by a realisation of how it never was normal before. Honestly, if it can happen at such a mundane moment, I can’t predict when it’ll hit me. Recent examples: sitting with a group of people and seeing a man include his wife in a conversation and bring her up to speed. And suddenly I was hit by the thought: H never did that for me. Never. A friend talking about shopping on her own and saying she wished her husband could have gone with her. Pow: That thought had not even occurred to me, that a man and a woman would just spend time together like that. And enjoy it.

So back to this afternoon. The thing is, H strongly resisted being on time. He wanted to be late, at some level, to signal to everyone that he was a very important man and that he was squeezing this event in to a demanding schedule. Likewise, getting to know people in a community. He would single out a few people who seemed prestigious; the others he could be charming to, but ultimately they were beneath him and not worth any investment to get to know. Even at church, most of the members were just written off like that. There were maybe two people in the church that he showed any interest in. The rest were casually dismissed.

The flipside of having these unexpected realisations in the most normal of circumstances is that I have so much to appreciate about my life now that I am away from him. I can arrive at a school production relaxed and excited. I can talk to friends and get to know them. I can spend time doing what I want to do. It is hard to believe to leave someone after over ten years of marriage and six months later to have had no regrets. But these little moments, hard as they are, make me feel so much more alive.

A weekend while we were dating

We went to stay with a friend. A friend of H-to-be’s, of course. I was a bit between friends at the time, having had some problems with identity and self-esteem over the previous few years. One of the first benefits I felt of dating H-to-be was that I gained a set of ready-made friends.

He had a lovely characterful house, which we looked round; we caught up on his news and had a delicious home-cooked meal. Then we sat down with a bottle of wine and chatted. It was cosy; I was happy – I felt a part of things. I didn’t contribute to the conversation much, but I was often like that and preferred it that way. I suppose I’d been quite isolated: I certainly remember that I felt uncomfortable with most people. This evening, I felt comfortable: I could watch how other people lived their normal lives, without feeling voyeuristic. Perhaps I could learn a thing or two about people that might help me work my way back to having friendships of my own.

How does that make me sound? A bit angsty, or even very strange?! I was only in my early 20s, and had had only two solid friendships since I was 12. I was definitely not in a good place for a relationship, as you may well have deduced yourself.

Anyway, the conversation turned, as conversations do. H-to-be was asked about his ex-girlfriend, and he spoke at length about splitting up with her and specifically how great it was to have a “goodbye shag”. He recommended it to us as a great thing to do if we ever got the chance. She was always great at sex, anyway – he’d told me that.

But, it having been a long-distance relationship, by the time he’d broken it off with her, he’d already been going out with me: although I only discovered that after the event. And we had decided, right at the beginning, that we weren’t going to have sex until marriage, because we both felt (or so I believed) that having slept with our previous partners hadn’t been the right thing to do.

And now here I was, being told what a great shag he’d had while I was back in the UK never dreaming he’d be anything but faithful. I found it hard to take and stomped off to bed soon after. He did come in to see what was wrong, but couldn’t see my problem. Sure, the timeline had got a bit knotted, but effectively he’d been finishing off something that had ended before he got together with me. It’s just that he hadn’t been able to do it at the right time. But it was good fun, he didn’t seem to want to stop saying. It meant nothing, but it was good fun. Hey, it was just sex.

That was one of the two times I can remember getting close to ending the relationship. In the car going back home the next day, I just wanted to be on my own, not trapped there sitting next to him. He was sorry, he said, if he’d upsetted me: he wasn’t sure why I was upset, but he didn’t want to be the person who’d upset me. And then he encouraged me to move on now: that was over, let’s put it behind us. So I gave myself a mental shake, pulled myself together, put the incident to the back of my mind and moved on to other things.

I felt like I’d lost my moment to split up with him. And I felt that if I split up with him after that car ride, or the next day, it’d be unreasonable of me. Unforgiving.

In fact, I buried the incident in my mind so well that I forgot all about it. In a very confused few months a year ago, when I tried to think about what was wrong with my marriage, but found my mind slipping over the surface of my memories, unable to reach down into them and pull any up to look at, an incident like this would suddenly surface and I’d feel physically jolted. Oh yes, that! How could I have forgotten that?!

How did I forget it? Partly, it was an attempt at forgiveness: moving on, not being bitter. I suppose it would have been a healthier form of forgiveness to accept the past rather than try to bury it. Partly, too, it was confusion. I felt hurt by what happened that evening, but H-to-be told me that that was my problem and that there had been nothing wrong in what he did. He told me that a lot, and whenever he did, I tried to believe him, because he seemed a lot more clued up about life than I was.

Even now, I’m not sure whether I was making a fuss about not much. But now, I am looking at the incident square on, not running away from it. And I am listening to my feelings about it: I felt hurt. That’s enough for me now. Maybe other people wouldn’t let something like that bother them. But I am who I am.

I am who I am. I’m almost welling up just writing that. For years, “I” was being eroded, reshaped into “H’s wife and the mother of his children.”

But inside, a tiny seed of me was still there. And now it’s growing back.

I realised the other day that I’m not fearful any more.

To be honest, I hadn’t thought I was before. H wasn’t really aggressive; it took a long time for me to realise that I was “walking on eggshells” round him. I did: I changed the way I behaved in order to avoid a confrontation; I thought very carefully about how to phrase things so that he wouldn’t get offended or dismissive. I don’t know; is that normal? Maybe it is. My other fears were constant ones of my own failure and inadequacy. I worried every day about the DCs coming home from school; I got nervous as the time approached. Weekends I worried about usually from Wednesday onwards. How to fill them, how to minimise grumbling; what to do that the DCs might think of as fun. I felt H’s lack of support keenly, because I knew this was something he did better, but he wouldn’t do it. If we had people coming round, he would plan a great weekend. If we didn’t, he would be almost totally absent. He’d maybe wander through the room on the way to the kettle and join in for five minutes, but no more. If I planned something with the DCs that he liked the sound of, he’d criticise my thoughtlessness at planning it at a time he couldn’t be free. A time a few hours away when he would be free to spend time with us would suddenly open up: he’d tell me it had always been there, although he’d never spoken of it before.

Now I don’t have every weekend with the DCs, but I don’t think that’s the reason I’m more relaxed. Could it be that I am just detached from the constant negativity that I tried so hard to ignore, I didn’t realise it was having an impact on me?

I’m also more absorbed in day-to-day life. I am making plans: ways to fill weekends, ways to fill afternoons, Christmas preparations, little things to buy for the house when I can. Before, I made no plans, because I had no control. Why would I think about homely touches to the house, when it was my fault that we bought the wrong colour for the walls, for example? I thought about life after death a lot and wondered how not to wish my life away.

I am even less of a lone parent than I was before! And in the time when XH has the DCs, I have time to rest, to do what I want to do. This caught me by surprise initially and it took a little while to work out what I wanted to do with the time I suddenly had. I was not supposed to need rest, before. If I sat down with a book for five minutes, it was questioned – even if it was the Bible. This, in a supposedly Christian marriage.

Only weeks after moving out, I can’t believe how much easier my life is.

The birthday before I got married

It was a bit of a whirlwind romance, so there was only one birthday when we were together but not married.

I had no plans for the day, so he suggested I should go out with his cousin for lunch and a film. Well, she’s nice enough and the film was ok, but it wasn’t what I would’ve chosen. Then again, what would I have chosen? And would I have enjoyed it any more? I didn’t really feel competent leading my own life, so I didn’t feel confident to say, “No thanks, I don’t fancy it.” There would’ve been an argument and I’d’ve looked foolish.

Then back to his. I was settled in the front room with a book as friends started arriving. They all went through to the kitchen, but I wasn’t allowed to join them. He was stressed and needed help. It was obvious what was going on; I have a feeling he even told me he was organising a surprise party for me. Where exactly the surprise was in that, I don’t know, but it did get boring waiting – and worse, I felt left out and rather superfluous.

Eventually, we decamped to someone else’s house for the actual party. Most people drifted out to join H-to-be in the garden; I got stuck in the kitchen with someone who talked endlessly. Then again, I could think of nothing to say myself, so what did I expect?

There must’ve been more to the party than that, but I can’t for the life of me remember what, only that his cousin had sharp words with him for treating me badly; and then later she spoke to me about how he’d been behaving, said I didn’t deserve it, reassured me and made me feel I was worth more. As I say, I don’t remember what had happened to prompt that conversation, but I have a vivid memory of feeling that if I left him, I’d miss his family more than I’d miss him.

Actually, it’s worse than that, if I’m honest.

I think I may have thought that it’d be worth marrying him just to be able to keep in touch with his family.

What a screw-up.

Why did I say yes?

That’s what I’m wondering tonight.

I must have had such low self-esteem. I mean, the man who asked me to marry him was the same man who put his arms round other women in public, resting his chin on their shoulders, far more often than he ever did with me. And yet, those favoured women said, “Oh, it’s just how he is,” and commented on how right together we were.

And I listened to them.

I started this blog over a year ago, but it quickly fell into disuse and has been sitting, abandoned, since then, unseen except I suppose for the occasional visitor, who presumably cast an eye over the long-gone dates and moved on. I wanted to write: I enjoy it, but the real reason for naming my blog as I did was something I could only touch on at the time – my husband.

I’ll call him H, when I’m referring to him in the past, and XH when I’m talking about him now. Yes, recently we separated. I have done a lot of processing and still have much more to do, I suspect. Hence the blog resurrection. Maybe some of it will be helpful to somebody else.

Welcome to my world.