“The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.”
– L P Hartley, The Go Between
Yesterday I finally did something that I haven’t been able to face doing since E left. I started re-reading the letters and emails that I had found (and I had written myself) when I discovered E’s first affair ten years ago. I don’t remember why I kept them. I thought they’d been thrown away, but I found them in a box of pre-Singapore things from our old house in the garage not long after E left.
These letters and emails were written ten years ago, but my words to E and his words to K and to B (his ‘friend’ in Croatia) broke my heart all over again.
I found one letter that I had written, which asked E again and again why he’d done what he’d done and went through every single thing that I thought might have caused it. In the midst of this letter one paragraph in particular stood out:
“The thing is, I’ve now I’ve been forced into thinking about what starting again on my own would be like and have been contemplating the reality of that situation and its alternatives and I’ve realised that the really risky situation is taking you back. What if you do the same thing again a few years down the line? I will have wasted more years – years when I could have found a new relationship with someone who would really love me. I’d have to deal with four heart-broken children, and it would be even more difficult when they are older. At the moment, Oldest Daughter is the only one who is badly affected by this. Youngest Daughter and Oldest Son are upset and confused, but they are young enough for just me being at home to become normal to them. Youngest Son won’t know any different – but a few years down the line the hurt would be even worse for all of them. Starting again, going it alone, would be hard, but maybe it’s the most honest and least risky thing to do?”
It was years ago. I’d got over it, (or at least I’d decided to move on from it), years ago. Or at least I thought I had. Re-reading those words, I was struck not only by how utterly, and devastatingly, prophetic they were, and how I had predicted exactly the situation I now found myself in, but also by how the memories they brought back were powerful enough to hurt me all over again.
In so many ways Past Me is lost to me – the person I was ten years ago both is and is not me. I am made of so many more memories and experiences than I was ten years ago, and those memories and experiences have sharpened some edges and softened others, they’ve changed some things about me and entrenched others, they’ve made me a little bit wiser, but also a little bit sadder. I see pictures of Past Me ten, fifteen, twenty or more, years ago and I wonder who that person was. I wonder what she’s thinking and feeling at that moment in time. I watch family video recordings of Christmases and birthdays and I see her talking and laughing and I realise that she is a stranger. I want to reach out to and into her, I want to feel what it was like to be Me all those years ago. But she’s lost, she’s another person. All I can do now is interpret her. It’s a strangely distressing and disorienting experience.
I realised that Past Me had seen him for what he was ten years ago, and it was suddenly crystal clear that he hadn’t changed one iota and that he had never had any intention of try to change. Despite all his promises, he had never had any intention of being faithful.
I wanted to go back in time and tell Past Me that she was right, that it was ok to let him go, that the kids would be ok, that she would be ok if she did. Past Me was 38 – she could have done so much, made so much for myself and the kids with those ten years. I wasn’t bitter, but I was so, so heartbroken for Past Me and the years she was about to throw away. She had made the decision to take E back with a full heart and with hope for their future. Past Me knew the risk she was taking, but I think she honestly thought that this affair was a one-off. Everyone she spoke to warned her that he wouldn’t change, but, despite knowing this, she still took the risk for the sake of the kids and for her and E.
I was so angry on behalf of Past Me and the fact that she’d take such a huge risk with her life and her sense of self, for someone who was so utterly undeserving of her. But I began to feel something else too. The other thing I began to feel was an searingly intense dislike for E.
Now, I know this might sound bizarre, but among the welter of emotions I’d felt for and about E, never in the last ten years had I felt such dislike and such complete and utter disdain. I’d felt terribly terrible sadness, I’d felt tearing pain and hurt. I’d felt bewilderment, confusion, panic, anxiety and fear. I’d felt scorn. I’d felt pity. I’d even felt a fleeting amusement at how utterly ridiculous a middle-aged man chasing much younger woman must look. But this was the first time I’d felt real dislike. This was the first time I realised what a truly and shockingly despicable person he is.
When I read what he’d written to K and B, my anger increased. Our minds protect us by softening and shading difficult memories, I had relegated some of my most painful ones to the very deepest corners of my recollections. I’d forgotten how complete his betrayal was. I’d forgotten that, even after I’d taken him back, he kept pursuing K and trying to resume their affair for months. I’d forgotten that after I’d emailed K and B expressing my feelings about their roles in what had happened, that he’d emailed them both apologising for the embarrassment I’d caused them, saying ‘as you can see she needed to get some things off her chest‘. The more I read, the more I thought ‘how fucking dare you?, Who the fuck do you think you are?’ (in fact, I probably thought everything my Mum said on *that* night). The more I read, the happier I was that I was free of him, that he would never be a meaningful part of my life again.
I said at the beginning of this blog that the evidence for most of E’s betrayals will be on his phone. The emails and pictures I found on his laptop were ghosts, traces, echoes of something more substantial. His betrayal of me with Forum Post Woman, O and P will have been just as despicable and just as complete as the letters from 2008, in fact. given that he had more experience and was gaining confidence (and let’s face it. confidence was never something E lacked in the first place) he probably conducted his subsequent affairs with more flamboyance and even less respect for me (if that’s even possible) than when he conducted his first one.
Anger and dislike are probably a good thing (if I accept them as a natural result of what happened and don’t let them consume me). I guess feeling this way is just another step along the path of accepting what’s happened and understanding where and who I am now.
I like to think that Past Me would smile at me and give me a gentle push along this new path. I can’t condemn the decision she made in 2008 – she thought she was doing the right thing – but I can learn from her.
I owe it to Past Me to learn from her and move forwards. Thanks to Past Me’s experiences and memories, I was much better able to cope when E finally left. I owe it to both of us to enjoy, to relish, to make the most of every previous moment, of being free of E.