Oldest Daughter was amazing.
I told her the truth about what I’d found. She told me that her Dad’s first affair was one of her oldest memories. I explained that after what had happened that I couldn’t see how I could trust him again or how we could stay together, but that I wanted to get through Christmas for the sake of the kids. She hugged me and reassured me that, as long as she and the others had me, they’d be fine.
So I tried to get on with Christmas. I bought and wrapped presents and arranged family visits. I did everything I usually did, but all the time I was conscious of how hurt Oldest Daughter was and of how distant and disengaged E was. I wrote Christmas cards painfully aware that this was the last time I would ever write all six of our names together.
I couldn’t face any pre-Christmas social engagements. I cancelled going to a party that I’d been looking forward to for ages (it had a vodka luge for goodness sake – I’ve never tried one of those), because I just couldn’t spend an evening, with E for company, pretending that I was happy and fine when all the time I felt like my whole life was falling to pieces.
I was completely financially dependent upon E. Back when we’d had Oldest Daughter, we’d been at the same level career wise – we’d both been in demanding professions that meant we needed to work 12-14 hour days as standard and weekends when needed, and, even with paid childcare, both of us couldn’t continue to work at that pace, so I gave up work for the time being (I don’t recall it ever being a permanent decision, but over the years, it just became the way things were). Over the next 18 years, I’d done a little freelance work (I was a writer/editor), but only as and when it fitted in with the kids. In the meantime, E’s career went from strength to strength. Supported by me, and completely unfettered by the need to take any responsibility for childcare for his four children, he was able to build a successful career whilst I stayed at home, looked after the children, washed and ironed his clothes, cleaned our house and made his life as easy as possible.
I missed my career, but, given that we had four children, and the level that he was working at, I knew that I would really struggle to resume the kind of work that I was doing before – in fact, I knew realistically, given I would be the one who’d have to take responsibility and time off for the kids if they were ill etc, that the only kind of job I could take on would be relatively undemanding, junior and unsatisfying. So, eventually, because E was now earning enough to support us, I decided to stay home and worry about resuming my career when the kids were older. To make up for the lack of intellectual challenge, I studied, gaining an MA in Eighteenth Century Literature, a Post-Graduate Certificate in Philosophy and starting a second MA (in Shakespeare and Theatre) with a view to doing a PhD (a long-treasured ambition of mine has been to be a Doctor of English – I always thought that sounded SO cool). Over the last couple of years, I’d picked up a freelance contract with a magazine and was beginning to try and build up a freelance business, but it was very early days and I still wasn’t earning much.
We also weren’t married. We’d been together for 25 years, but I’d never felt the need or the desire to marry. I used to joke that we’d ‘have’ to get married at some point to give me some legal protection if anything happened to E. I always thought that marriage was an amazing thing for people who wanted to be married, but I was very much the champion of the Happily Unmarried. I believed (I still believe) that there’s no need to be married if it’s not your thing and if you love and trust your partner. Sadly, my trust was terribly misplaced.
Previously a source of pride and defiance – not getting married was literally the only remotely rebellious/non-conformist thing I’d ever done, (not done) in my life – not being married was now a massive source of anxiety. I knew that, even though we’d been together for so long and had four children together, I had absolutely no legal protection in the event that we split up. He’d obviously have a legal responsibility to support the children, and we owned 50% of the house each (but we had such a massive mortgage, that my share of the house’s equity would barely buy me a bedsit, which, added to the fact I could not now earn enough to get a mortgage in my own right, meant very little) but that was it.
I had little earning capacity, no pension, no financial provision at all for the future. All of a sudden my whole life was unstable and precarious. All that I’d done over all of those years, all that I’d sacrificed, to bring up the kids and support E, was worth nothing. I had no security. Financially, I had nothing. In fact, I had less than nothing – I’d taken out a massive loan to tide us over a few months ago (whilst we were waiting for the legal settlement). Because E had so much credit card debt, we’d decided to pay this off with the first legal settlement payment and clear my loan next year (the settlement was paid in two instalments).
I couldn’t sleep. I was now drinking every night. This was helping to numb everything for a few hours and ensuring that I crashed out when I went to bed, but I’d wake up at 1am and was then paralysed by crippling anxiety about what would happen next and would fret and panic the hours away until I got up at 5am. My lovely friends tried to reassure me that I had to end things with E, but to me whatever happened now was the worst-case scenario. It was like asking me to crash my car into the central reservation to avoid hitting another vehicle. In terms of hurting other people, hitting the central reservation was probably best, but in terms of personal loss and damage both options were disastrous for me.
Somehow, despite a creeping anxiety and sense of hopelessness, I held it together. I had to – I had four chidren to look after. The fact that E was so rarely home (too busy with P) made this easier, but on the occasions he was there, I was struck again and again by the awfulness of what he’d done and was still doing. I saw him with new eyes – I knew what he was doing, what he was saying, and yet he was coming home and acting like everything was ok. I have many faults (as I’m sure E had told his many girlfriends over the years), but dishonesty has never been one of them. His reality was so distorted. He was constantly lying, to me, about me to P, to the kids. I wondered if he had any conception of what the truth was anymore. I was even beginning to doubt my own perception of what was going on around me. I’ve never been able to lie, at least not to people who I love or care about, and I just couldn’t get my head round the fact that the last ten years (at least) of my life had been one massive lie.
Then, one Sunday before Christmas, after I’d spent the weekend decorating the tree with the kids, making Sunday lunch and trying my hardest to create a lovely family day, we decided to watch Love Actually. The scenes where Emma Thompson discovered Alan Rickman’s flirtation with infidelity, were just too much for me, and fuelled by two bottles of wine I confronted E with (some of) what I knew.