As August headed into September, Oldest Daugher and I began to plan for what she’d need when she went up to University. The dining room table began to be heaped with ‘essentials’ – throw covers, cushions, tea light holders, vodka – there wasn’t a single book yet, but I was hoping that they’d soon follow.
In the absence of a car (E’s appropriation of our family car was apparently now a permanent thing, although I’m still not sure why he and P need a seven-seater car for the two of them in London?) and in the light of the fact that Oldest Daughter still didn’t really want anything to do with her Dad, my Dad had offered to drive us there. Until now we’d done long journeys anywhere by train, but by the look of the dining room table, Oldest Daughter would potentially need a small truck to get her to University.
I was still waiting to hear from E regarding if, and how much, he was prepared to contribute towards Oldest Daughter’s funds at University. She had a student loan, but once her accomodation etc had been paid she wouldn’t have a lot left for the rest of the academic year. Because of her back problems she couldn’t commit to a part-time job (most employers aren’t keen on employees who call in sick regularly), and whilst I was sure she could survive on what was left of her loan and her overdraft facility, it would’t buy many books (or much vodka). I think it was reasonable to ask her Dad if he could help contribute towards sending her a little extra each month. I’d emailed him several times and, true to form, he’d ignored every single email I’d sent.
However, the money would soon be pushed to the back of my mind, when another devastating grenade was lobbed in our direction.
One early September afternoon I got a text from Oldest Daughter. It just said “any reason P has changed her name?” The photograph she’d attached was P’s weird dominatrix-y LinkedIn profile picture, but now her surname was the same as E’s.
I’m not sure how I got through that day at work, but the shock was incredible. It was like a hard slap in the face. As I’ve mentioned before, E and I hadn’t married because I wasn’t religious and had felt no need to make a public committment. However, for 25 years, I had always described us as ‘happily unmarried’. I’d been so proud of the fact that we’d bucked the statistics and had a succesful long-term relationship without being married. E knew how important this was to me. He must have known how much this would hurt me. If nothing else he must have known how much it would hurt the kids.
Seeing how deeply upset my kids were hurt me far more than anything E had done so far. My children loved their Dad and still considered themselves an important part of his life. It was utterly incomprehensible to them how he could do something as vital, as important, as life changing, as getting married, not only before they’d even met P, but without telling them anything about it. I think they could perhaps have understood him getting married quietly and then telling them afterwards, but to do it this way, to not tell them, and then for them to find out because of an internet search? It was not only unbelievably selfish and nasty, it was also incredibly cruel.
Not only that, but he was now ignoring absolutely everyone. He hadn’t said anything his family. His sister and parents knew nothing about it. I had texted him, Oldest Daugher and Youngest Daughter had texted him, even his sister had texted him, and not one of us had received a reply. In fact, the only thing that had happened as an immediate result of Oldest Daughter’s discovery was that P went to the trouble of removing her picture from google searches. So E ignored everyone whilst P quite literally hid.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen Oldest Daughter so upset. Until now, whilst she’d made it clear that she thought what her Dad had done to me was despicable, she had been pretty calm about everything. This made her really angry. This was the first time she had really cried about what had happened. She felt that P had stolen her Dad, stolen her life and now had stolen her name. She left that the man she had loved so much when she was a child just didn’t exist anymore. Above all she knew that her relationship with her Dad would never, ever, be the same again. It’s hard to describe how devastated she was but it was like watching her deal with a bereavement, she’d lost something very precious and she knew that whilst she would never ‘disown’ her father, he wasn’t the Dad she thought she’d known all her life. It was the beginning of a process by which, as she said to me recently, she began to accept that her Dad was ‘just not a very good person’.
Youngest Daughter’s reaction was one of absolute, pure, white-hot fury. Even though she’d had the trickiest relationship with her Dad, she was the probably one who craved his love and approval most. She was so very angry. If E’s actions had hurt his relationship with Oldest Daughter, it looked like they had irrevocably damaged what was left of relationship with Youngest Daughter. From that day on, I sensed that Youngest Daughter was just not ok anymore. This news, and her father’s refusal to acknowledge it, set her on a path which would come to a head one devastating day in February. She was utterly lost in a sea of confusing emotions that she’s still struggling to deal with.
The boys were a little more sanguine about things, although they were equally confused and hurt. From that moment on, after every afternoon spent with their Dad they would report back to their sisters: “Nope, not wearing a wedding ring”, “Nope, didn’t say if he was married” (to which Youngest Son would occasionally add; “Yep, and still a Dickhead”). They just didn’t feel like they could ask him if he had got married – when he was with them he kept on acting like nothing had changed, and they didn’t want to make things uncomfortable or difficult.
I watched Oldest Son carefully – he always reacted to everything so calmly. Part of me wished I could have his inner peacefulness, part of me worried that he was churning up inside but wouldn’t talk. But. whilst he didn’t every really talk about the issue at hand – how he felt about his Dad getting married without telling him – he did come down every evening, when the others were in their rooms and spend some time just quietly chatting with me about his day, his friends, and the things that interested him. I think perhaps in those quiet times together, we both gained a sense of calm and whilst we never talked about anything to do with his Dad, I think he felt reassured that I was there for him and that everything was ok.
Predictably, Youngest Son initially reacted with humour. I think his first words on the subject were “What a Dickhead!” He then grinned and hugged me but he was also struggling to process this latest news – his hug went on a little too long and he was quieter and a little bit more anxious about seeing his Dad from that day on. I think of all my children, Youngest Son had always found it easiest to separate the Dad he loved from the Dad who had caused so much hurt to his Mum, but this time he, and his brother and sisters had been hurt and I think he began to look at his Dad with new eyes. He’d always hero-worshipped E, and been able to laugh at his flaws, I think this was the point when he began to feel that those flaws were not so funny after all.
My head was spinning. I wondered who the fuck was a guest at their wedding, and, given the fact E had told nobody, who on earth had witnessed it? Was it colleagues? Was it friends (did they have any friends?)? Was it a bemused road sweeper, dragged off the streets, standing behind them in hi-vis and wondering if the fit bird was marrying the old bloke for a bet? Did E wear a suit? Did P wear a white dress? Was there a cake? Photographs? Was it a celebration? Surely weddings are supposed to be celebrations? Maybe they’d invited her family? Did they think it was a wildly romantic thing to do? Did they give a single thought to how E’s children would feel? What kind of wedding is so secret that you can’t tell your own kids? What kind of person is so embarrassed (or ashamed) by their wedding that they won’t admit it? What next? A baby, presumably…
On top of that, if he was married (he refused to confirm or deny this to anyone) it changed absolutely everything for me from a financial point of view. Given his lack of financial acumen, I had never expected (or wanted) a thing from him. It would probably have been fair and decent for him to reach a support agreement with me, given the circumstances of our relationship, but I was beyond expecting ‘fair’ or ‘decent’ from him by now. I was really worried for the kids though. I wasn’t expecting there to be a huge amount for the kids to inherit, but now he was married they wouldn’t get a thing. Most worrying for me was our joint ownership of our house – I had no idea how this would be affected in the event that anything happened to him.
And so began a game that we would play for the next six months. It was called “Is E married?”