This year’s May Bank Holiday weekend marked something very special for me.
In terms of what I did, there wasn’t anything particularly new, but in terms of how it felt, it was completely different. For the first time since E left, I felt that my family was entirely complete and very happy without him.
E didn’t see the boys (again), so they were home with me for all three days. On Saturday I cleaned the house from top to bottom, cleaned out the pets (we are home to a small menagerie, comprising four cats, three rabbits, two hamsters and two fish) and tackled the front garden – which meant weeding out the plants that had spent the last 18 months reaching out from our garden into the road. The boys pitched in and helped – Oldest Son mowed the back garden lawn whilst Youngest Son helped me with the weeding and got busy with the secateurs – enthusiastically chopping at a few bushes (hopefully they’ll recover). My lovely neighbour also helped and mowed the front lawn with his petrol mower (the grass was so long it was threatening to break my poor little electric mower). In the meantime, Youngest Daughter (having admired our handiwork in the front garden for a suitable period of time), played her guitar and sang in between revising for her upcoming GCSEs.
On Sunday I did the accounts, changed the beds, packed away the Tesco delivery and welcomed a Mummy cat and her four, three-day old, kittens (we foster for the RSPCA). I still love the way my kids react when we get foster cats – they love the cats and kittens and are all so gentle and caring with them – Oldest Son is something of a cat-whisperer and he immediately spent an hour or so with them and came downstairs later reporting that Mum cat purrs every time she sees him and was now perfectly happy for him to hold the kittens. Youngest Daughter started applying for a job (this was more stressful than it sounds, due to our internet connection twatting about all weekend – meaning that in the end she had to fill in the laborious online form no less than three times over two days). Then in the evening, we used the gas barbeque for the first time since E left. This had always been one of the *Things That Only E Knew How To Do* (along with using the drill to make holes in walls and assembling flat packs). Oldest Son and I worked out how to attach the gas cylinder and get everything working (it’s really not rocket science, but E always gave me the impression it was, which was why I’d never attempted it). We had sausages and burgers and then we made our first ever smores. Then, as the evening cooled, we lit the chiminea, the boys melted marshmallows over it and we all sat around admiring the flames.
On Monday, I decided to tackle the weeds in the back garden. E and I had never been gardeners, but it has always been something I’d love to be able to do. E was pretty good at mowing the lawns, but he rarely did much else, it was always me who trimmed and cleared bushes (E would then do the multiple tip trips to get rid of the debris I’d accumulated). Whilst I’d applied weed killer to the ‘flower’ beds in the past, I’ve never ever sat and weeded by hand and turned the soil over so that it’s ready for planting. Well, yesterday that changed. I spent nearly five hours slowly working my way through the ‘flower’ beds (preparing them for actual flowers at some point). It was hard work, the sun was blazing, and my legs and arms are now scratched to buggery (I also ache in places I didn’t know had muscles), but I loved every minute of it. There was something very therapeutic and deeply satisfying about working with the soil. As I worked in the peace of the garden, surrounded by birdsong, the sound of the neighbour’s kids playing in their garden and the occasional howl of irritation from Youngest Daughter’s room about ‘Virgin Fucking Media’, I was able to just be quiet and calm and appreciate how lovely life can be.
Later that afternoon, Oldest Son and I watered the lawn (with actual lawn food – there’s no stopping us now) and I made a couple of things for us to eat for the rest of the week. The household was then interrupted by yet more screaming from Youngest Daughter, this time though it was of the good variety – she’d got an interview for the job she’d applied for. She was so incredibly happy, she’s had a few knocks to her confidence recently and this was just the boost she needed.
We finished the day off by clearing the rubbish from the side of the house, ready for a tip trip. Then, whilst Youngest Daughter called Oldest Daughter to tell her all about her upcoming interview, I spent about half an hour walking from the front garden, through the house and then into the back garden thinking how lovely everything looked and reflecting on what an absolutely gorgeous weekend we’d had.
I realised that I hadn’t felt this content and happy since long before E left. It brought home to me how very unhappy E had made me during the four years after he’d returned from Singapore. I don’t know exactly when it happened, because these things are so gradual that they’re imperceptible, but he’d distanced himself from doing things with me, which meant he’d distanced himself from doing things as a family. I think I’d initially put his distance down to his adjusting to being back from Singapore, but before I knew it, it had become normal. I’d be doing things, and he’d be sat staring at his laptop in the dining room, or I’d be in the living room and he’d take his glass of wine, along with his phone, and sit in the garden alone. Rather like his post-leaving silence, he did it in such a way that I felt stupid and paranoid challenging it and so his behaviour continued (presumably he used the distance he was creating to justify his affairs and as proof that we weren’t close any more).
The thing is, I can see now that E had become a miserable, moody, slightly petulant and sulky presence in our home, and this weekend I realised how deeply peaceful and happy it was without him there. The kind of weekend I’d just had was the kind of weekend I’d been desperately trying to get E to be part of for years and he’d resisted it with every bone in his body. I know it sounds stupid, but I suddenly realised how unhappy and insecure E’s behaviour had made me feel and how long it had made me feel that way. I’d spent so much time blaming myself, blaming adjusting to life in the UK or blaming work stress for E’s behaviour, that I had never actually blamed E for it. I’d also never even questioned the fact that I blamed myself for it. All of a sudden I realised how wonderful it was to be totally free of him. At the same time I also saw how much happier the kids were now and how naturally we came together as a group to enjoy each other’s company.
As I drifted off to sleep on Monday night – to the sounds of Youngest Daughter happily chatting to her friends about her interview and the high-pitched squeaks of four-day old kittens (they’re currently living in my en-suite) – I mused on what a perfect weekend it had been and how lovely life without E is. I felt truly and deeply content and I realised that the new normal I’d been so worried about 18 months ago was now our new happy.