Watching Youngest Son watch the football the other night, made me realise two things; firstly how much has changed, secondly how little has changed, since E left us.
Whilst the kids and I have experienced a seismic shift emotionally, and in terms of our family dynamic, the fact is that in terms of our environment and our day-to-day lives very little has changed.
E moved into a whole new life, without so much as a backward glance, and left us very much behind. He got married and he moved into a new home and when he did so, he took no photographs of his kids and no little mementos of them with him. Every Christmas, Birthday and Father’s Day, we would get him something nice like expensive aftershave and then something silly, like a little record player for playing his 80’s singles, a huge wine glass that would take a whole bottle of wine, a ‘wine bell’ or “WTAF!” post-it notes. We bought him loads of little things like that, silly things that reflected the humour, laughter and love of day-to-day family life – and he left them all behind. He took his clothes and his toiletries, but he took nothing of his life.
E is now married to a woman his kids have never met and living in a flat that his kids have never seen. He lives in a world that those of us he has left behind know nothing about and which will contain no real traces of his children. I suppose he might have printed off a picture of the children from his phone to frame, but his new home won’t contain any of the occasionally frustrating but homely day-to-day stuff that indicates a family lives there – the unfinished homework, the unwashed packed lunch boxes, the biscuit crumbs, the toothpaste in the sink, the carelessly thrown damp towels and the bin that no-one remembers to empty before it overflows. His life with P might be full of very satisfying mutual admiration, but there is no kids’ laughter over parental inability to dab or floss, no amused teenage explanations re memes and You-tubers, and no bickering over whose turn it is to go on the X-box. His phone won’t be bombarded with texts every Friday asking for crisps or chocolate or fizzy drinks. He’ll never be part of the jokes, moans and laughter that the kids and I share. He’ll never be part of the family he created again. His life is now free of all of that. I’m guessing he prefers it that way, and that life with P is more than enough compensation for what he’s lost, but the kids and I can’t begin imagine what his life is like now because it’s so alien to us.
Whilst E’s life is now a totally new one, with little or no trace of his previous one, the kids and I are very much living our new lives in the heart of our old one. We might now be a five, not a six, I might now be trying to be both Mum and Dad to the kids (just last night Youngest Son and Youngest Daughter debated how to amalgamate the two names and if they should now call me ‘Mad’ or ‘Dum’), our whole world might have changed, but our day-to-day life is almost exactly the same as it was when we shared it with E.
Obviously, in many ways this is deliberate. It was essential to keep things as normal as possible to provide stability for the children during what was (and sometimes still is) an absolutely awful time for them. I deliberately kept things as normal as possible. So they’re still at the same schools, they still have the same routines and we still live in the same house. Whilst this is all great for the kids, it can be quite hard for me. It’s difficult to be living in the house that I thought E and I would grow old in together. I feel fresh hurt when I look at the amount of work that needs doing to the house and know that I’ll probably have to sell it before I can realise any of the plans I that I thought we had for it. Also, because my home environment is the same, there are moments when I forget how much has changed and catch myself planning a family trip to the place we always went to in Norfolk, cooking a meal for six, or leaving the front door unlocked because I’m expecting E home. When they happen I feel fresh grief and disbelief over what’s happened.
I would absolutely love to be able to erase E from my life in the same way that he has erased me from his. I don’t want to be reminded of him and our relationship every day. Whilst I try really hard not to feel anger or regret, in unguarded moments, I do feel quite resentful about the fact that E spent ten years being unfaithful and as if I threw away ten good years of my life on him (ten whole years where I could have been making myself a new life). I now want a life with as little of him as possible in it. The problem is, of course, that like it or not, I’m financially dependent upon him (and will be for some time) and we have four children together which means we will always have to be in touch. But I am looking for a way to make my life as much ‘mine’ and as little to do with him as possible.
So far all I’ve done is remove all the pictures of him from around the house (and put them in a box in case the kids want them), moved the furniture around and added a few new throws, cushions and other personal touches. I also cleared his books and things from the garage and left them for him to take back to his new home, but apart from that nothing much has changed at home. The thing is that, even though I’ve removed as much of him from the house as I can, everything there is stuff we chose together. The house still has the furniture that E and I chose, and the kids and I still watch the TV (expensive at the time, outdated now) that we invested in the year before we went to Singapore. The cupboards and drawers are still stocked with the cups, plates and cutlery that E and I bought. Everything I touch is something I once shared with him, and that can be really hard. It would be so much easier if, like him, I had a brand new life to move into and start again with.
I guess over the next few years I’ll paint and redecorate and gradually replace things, and the house will eventually become ours and a place with no trace of E. In the end our life will become as unrecognisable to E as his is to us, but I just have to accept that it’s going to take us longer than it took him.