A Guest Blog from an Anonymous CheltenhamMaman
I’d opened my daughters book bag, the same way I did every day that afternoon. It had the usual reading record, the Biff and Chip book, and some letter about another bake sale I wouldn’t get round to baking for.
Behind, sat a wadge of paper, the scrap type they let the children draw on in after school club. There were maybe 15 sheets in all and on each and everyone, in the unmistakable crayoned scrawl of my 4 year old, was the face of a young girl, with short blonde hair with tears pouring down her cheeks.
It was her self portrait, her broken heart, in crushing illustration staring back at me. Fifteen times. She was the child in the middle of a divorce & she was broken.
I felt the already over stretched emotional elastic band within me finally snap. The very last nerve ending, already so frayed fizzle out to nothingness, like the ends of a rope burnt short with a lighter.
It had been 7 months since my husband had moved out. He’d left one day in October and I remember the noise of his feet on the gravel as he walked away.
In reality he had gone long before. Years before. He’d had affair with a woman at work when I was pregnant and we never really recovered.
She’d emailed me the day before my 30th birthday, to tell me she’d been sleeping with him for months. That’s when the first batch of nerve endings died.
The baby was born five months later, with a soup of health issues. I was convinced it was a result of the stress and heart ache I’d carried throughout my pregnancy.
With every hospital admission she endured, every consultant she saw, every ounce of weight she lost, my heart inched away from him.
I remember sitting up all night in a stiff winged back chair at Gloucester Royal on one of the nights she’d been taken in by ambulance. I waited all night for him to call us, to check she was ok, to check I was ok.
Instead he’d retreated into himself and thought that ignoring the situation, ignoring us would somehow make it go away. It was his way of coping with life, with guilt I’d later realise.
More of my nerve endings died that night as it became clear that I was truly alone. I was crushed.
Deception saturated our marriage in the final years. It infiltrated every breath, every word. Mostly about money and where it had gone. I couldn’t earn it as quickly as his mounting debt could consume it.
I’d been drilled since a child to always “play with a straight bat”, and every lie, every ‘hidden’ bailiffs letter I found, carved a little deeper into my soul, disconnecting the nerve endings, the love.
For the last 2 years of our “relationship” we lived in relative isolation, inhabiting the same 4 walls, rarely speaking, never connecting. Never wanting to face what we both knew was coming.
We’d converse to cover the practical, who was collecting from ballet & what we needed from the supermarket, but spiritually and emotionally we were as disconnected as two perfect strangers.
I’d confided in no one that my marriage was in crisis. Really, that it had been in crisis from the very start.
I lived in crippling fear that I’d be exposed as a failure, that my perfect life, my Facebook, Instagram filtered life would be exposed for what it was, a crushingly isolated existence devoid of love & tenderness.
By the end, we didn’t speak at all. Both so hurt and wounded by the failure we would have to one day voice, that silence seemed a better option.
When the conversation finally came, we cried. Both of us. Tears carved deep into our faces, ran down cheeks we’d once held tenderly in each other’s hands.
We sat the children down and told them. The look of desperation and pleading in their eyes keeps me awake sometimes even now.
But together we had made the decision and a part of me drew comfort in that.
We’d both been mature enough to recognise the end had finally come and had acted on it. There were no third parties involved we’d agreed. We were going to be grown ups, we’d honour our responsibilities and separate amicably.
He left the next day. He didn’t take anything with him. Not one photograph, one outfit, nothing at all.
I found out later, 6 short weeks later that he was living with a new woman in Cheltenham, with her two children. He ceased making any financial contribution to our family, pouring all his focus into making his new relationship work where ours had failed.
He had simply closed the door on our life and started a new one. His clothes still hung in the wardrobe, his shoes by the door, shower gel in the bathroom. He said he didn’t want any of it.
The dawning realisation that it had probably been going on for a while stunned me. He’d walked out on our life for a new husband/father role in hers.
For the first time in my life I felt real hate. The vitriol turned my stomach and scarred my soul. I felt duped and humiliated.
I struggled to breathe through the dark weeks that followed. The children’s sadness pressed hard on my lungs & anxiety exhausted my days.
Friends would tell me they’d seen Tom taking his girlfriends children to school, the four of them at parties whilst my own girls wept in my bed for their absent father.
I don’t remember with any real clarity what happened over the next few months, just the overwhelming memory of the searing pain and my feelings shutting down one by one.
Even the anger towards him subsided into nothingness after a while. I had nothing left. Devoid of feeling I couldn’t be hurt anymore.
I walked zombie-like through the flash bulb exposure of sharing our miserable news. Stripped naked I stood in front of a steady stream of family, friends, co workers, doctors, child therapists, teachers, mortgage advisors, and headmasters and explained our position, our failure, my failure. I don’t think I have ever felt so vulnerable or exposed in my entire life.
In a daze, I began the legal process; the sterile, impersonal detangling of an eight year marriage. I remember sitting at work knowing my Decree Nisi was being heard in court.
A judge I’d never meet in a court I’d never attend would stamp that my family could legally dismantle. He’d say my children’s names and agree where they’d live and I wouldn’t hear it. The familiar pressing on my lungs returned. The last cluster of nerves damaged and dying.
We limped through birthdays and Christmases, parents evenings, sports days & access hand overs. I told the children unrelentingly that their father was brilliant. He had been once but I didn’t recognise the man he was now. I’d been brilliant once too. But I didn’t see that either.
We spoke only to exchange information our solicitors needed and to arrange time for him to see the children. We were cold & discourteous to each other, said things we shouldn’t have. I think we both hoped the other would just disappear.
On the 8th December 2015 my solicitor emailed me. “It’s all through. You’re officially divorced”.
The final seal on our joint failings had been stamped. I cried a little; mostly at the thought that my girls history had now been written in ink, it was real. Their parents had divorced when they were small, they were children of divorce.
I had reached the bottom. The only way was up.
Tom and I took baby steps together. The completion of the paper work bought a new calm. We spoke more, we grieved less. Our anger turned to dialogue, to acceptance.
That Christmas, we celebrated as a four again. Only for a few hours, and only for the children but we did it.
I felt something again, something like hope, optimism, that maybe we could do this.
And the healing began.
The nerves that I had thought were long dead were regenerating into new form, slowly, one by one.
The children were stabilising, I was too and Tom and I were redefining our selves as co-parents, perhaps even friends. The decimation and devastation had ceased, and a new normal was carving a path.
Old friends that had wrapped themselves around me so tightly through the darkness, walked me slowly towards acceptance and calm.
And new people entered my life. Women who were going through exactly the same, men who’d left, broken children, single parenthood. And we grieved and healed together.
People who’d never known me in the dark sad days came into my life too. New connections that gently sewed my self esteem and self doubt into self belief.
Two years on and I feel older, the scars are fading fast now and I am content.
Of course there are nerve exposing moments but I am learning to medicate them with new life, new people, new experiences, new pathways.
And as for my girls, they are as loving and happy as can be. They are settled in a routine that has stabilised all of us. Their father and I are friends and it has made their path easier.
At the end of this term, the artwork came home again. Just one picture this time, a small blonde girl and her sister smiling, mum on one side, dad on the other.
“It’s us mummy” she says, “and you and daddy, all playing nicely together in the park”.
I wished I’d known that this moment would eventually come, because it did and it was sensational. And I felt every moment of it.
About the Blogger
This CheltenhamMaman has requested to remain anonymous.