Since E left, I’ve come to realise that some anniversaries hurt more than others. I was expecting to feel rubbish on 22nd November. 22nd November 1991 was the day that E and I had become an official couple – after flirting and snogging a few days earlier, and after watching me ‘dance’ (I’m not one of nature’s dancers – ‘hurl myself around the stage’ is probably a better description of what I was doing that evening) at the Student Union in a charity night for Children in Need, we decided to ‘go out’ with each other. 25 years later, it was the day I opened his laptop and discovered the extent of his betrayal. But, despite the fact that every second of that evening is burned into my consciousness, 22nd November passed without a hitch this year. Today, however, has really bothered me.
Six years ago today, E came home from Singapore for Christmas.
That day, it snowed for the first time that winter – the first snow we’d seen for nearly three years – and we were all woken at 5.45am by 9 year old Oldest Son’s excited scream of “SNOW!!”. Before they went to school the youngest three kids had built snowmen, made snow angels and got through one set of gloves and a close to pint of hot chocolate each and we’d all laughed at the cat that we brought home from Singapore’s mild horror at experiencing snow for the first time – All of us commenting that that might be how E reacted when he got back too.
We’d decorated the house we were renting for Christmas a couple of days before, in E’s honour, and, with the snow outside, everything felt cosy and welcoming. I couldn’t wait to be a family again. By the time the kids got home from school they were pretty much at fever pitch, and by 7pm I was threatening them with bed and not being allowed to wait up until E got home if they didn’t calm down. Youngest Son, who was just six, and exhausted by his early start, plus a day at school, crashed out by 8pm. But, when E’s cab pulled into the driveway at 10pm, all four kids, even sensible Oldest Daughter, ran, barefoot, into the snow, to greet him. Youngest Son then spent the rest of the night attached, limpet like, to his Dad, it felt like he’d never let him go.
The kids and I had been in the UK on our own for five months. We were ok, but we’d missed E horribly, and we were still adjusting to life back in England (we still get homesick for Singapore to this day). E had stayed on because he hadn’t paid his taxes (well, he had in the end, he’d got a last minute loan to pay them off, but, as he’d agreed with his Company to stay on, he couldn’t renegotiate – or so he told me at the time – I now doubt every word he every spoke to me). E had been living as a lodger, in a single bedroom of an HDB block flat (it was a very nice HDB block, in central Singapore, but we still felt that being a lodger must have been tough after living out there in a lovely condo with this family for two years) so we’d done everything we could to make his homecoming special.
There was a hard frost that winter and the trees and hedgerows stayed white for weeks, glittering under clear blue skies in the cold winter air. Our little corner of the UK was a wintry, sparkling, contrast to the tropical lushness of Singapore. Everything looked so perfect and so pretty.
This homecoming was originally planned to be for good, but just a few weeks before he was due to come back, E had called me to say that his Company wanted him to stay on for another six months, and that they’d offered him very generous terms (including a trip out there for the kids and I) to do so. As we were in debt (again), and with the tantalising prospect of a family a Singapore trip being waved in front of me, I’d agreed to him staying on (again, I now wonder how true this all was, I now wonder if wanted a few more months with O and lied about everything just to be able to stay there a bit longer).
He was only going to be home for three weeks and the kids wanted to make the most of every moment they had with their Dad. In the five months we’d been home Youngest Son had gone from being very much *my* child, to hero worshipping his dad. Whenever anything went wrong it was my fault or because ‘Daddy isn’t here’. Whenever anything went right, he wanted to tell his dad. Having his dad home was particularly precious to him, but all four of the children were over the moon to have him home. Singapore had bonded us as a family and it didn’t feel right to any of us only being a ‘five’, we were a ‘six’ and that was how things were supposed to be.
I wanted to make the most of every moment we had together as a family, so I’d planned a big family Christmas. I was also looking forward to spending some time with E – he was my best friend and I wanted to share what the kids and I had done in the months he’d been away and just be a couple again.
I don’t know for sure, if he was seeing O by now (he certainly was by the time the kids and I visited the following Easter) but I found out later that he’d spent some of his time this Christmas seeing Forum Post Woman (he met her at least twice that Christmas) and then on the day he returned to Singapore, whilst the kids and I were feeling the sadness of being five, not six, again, he was posting about his relationship with her on the Men’s Health Forum pages.
The gulf between the kids and my experience of Christmas 2012 and E’s experience of it is as vast as the difference between the silvery frost of the UK and the green humidity of the tropics that E had left behind that year, but I’ve kind of got used to re-evaluating every aspect of my relationship with and memories of E, in the light of what he was actually doing and saying. I’m used to the concept that, actually, I didn’t know him at all, and I was probably wrong about everything about him. However, it’s the contrast between that day, with all its light, laughter and optimism, and the dark heaviness of how I feel today that hurts.
I was awake at 5.45am today too. But this time, instead of listening to my excited son shout about snow, I was lying in bed, staring at the ceiling, dreading what today would bring. Whereas six years ago I was as enthusiastic about life as my children, today I had to take a deep breath and force myself to get up and face the day. Six years ago, as I watched my children run through the snow, in their bare feet to hug their dad, it would never have occurred to me that that same man would deliberately leave me unable to buy food or Christmas gifts for those same children just a few years later.
I know that life can take unexpected twists and turns, but the one thing that strikes me, on the anniversary of what was one of the happiest days of our life as a family, is how utterly wrong I was about E. When I compare the Youngest Daughter of 2012, who was so excited that her dad was coming home that she could barely speak, with the 16 year old who confronted her dad online last Friday, or contrast the sad anger of this week’s Youngest Son as he texted his dad to ask him to please send us some money, with the adoration of the six year old who couldn’t wait to have his dad back, the differences both in family circumstance, and in terms of ‘who’ E actually is, are so extreme that they seem barely possible.
I know things will get better, and I know we’ll all be ok. I also know that, thanks to a generous limit on my credit card and the kindness of my family and friends, I’ll be able to provide food and gifts for my children this month, but I don’t think I will ever be able to understand how I could be so entirely wrong about someone, how I could so completely overestimate someone’s capacity for basic decency.
What makes me saddest of all, though, is not my memories, but my children’s. That magical, snowy, December day should be a special family memory. But I wonder if for them, as for me, it will be superseded, or tainted, by memories of the man their dad turned out to be.
Perhaps even sadder, is the fact that I also wonder if E remembers that day at all.