Like most children, when I was little I was irrationally scared of ‘monsters’. My personal demons were the monster under the bed, the Cybermen, the Sandman (horrific concept), and (bizarre, I know) the Roman Emperor Nero
I can’t remember how I learned about Nero – it may well have been because I was aware of the TV series I Claudius, not that my parents would have let me watch it, but I guess you absorb things when you’re little – and I regarded the image of him playing his fiddle whilst Rome burned, with a mixture of horror and grim fascination. I didn’t understand how someone could be so solipsistic, so arrogant, so utterly self-absorbed that they could not comprehend the world around them in the same terms as everyone else.
In fact, rather like the monster under the bed, and the Cybermen (I’m holding judgment on the Sandman – he still creeps me out a bit) the Nero that fiddled while Rome burned didn’t exist (historical record suggests that he was actually some 35 miles away when the fire started and on learning of it, he returned to Rome and began relief measures), and, like the monster under the bed, until recently, the spectre of Nero had vanished from my adult consciousness. However, since November last year a Nero-shaped shadow has been cast over my life again.
Of course, I’m not suggesting for one moment that E is an insane, murdering, egotistical, cheating, monster who (according to one theory), may actually be the Antichrist (although, in my darkest moments, I must admit, I have considered the similarities with bleak amusement), but E’s actions have meant that the horror I felt at the image of Nero ignoring everything whilst flames consumed innocent people’s lives, has haunted me afresh recently.
I’m watching what E’s doing with the same mix of horror and fascination with which I learned about Nero. It’s incomprehensible, and slightly unreal, to me that someone can act in such a massively contemptible way. Worse still is the fact that this is deliberate – E knows that the kids and I are in trouble, he knows that we’re struggling and he is wilfully ignoring the distress we’re in. Like Nero playing his fiddle, it seems that E just doesn’t care.
In fact, disturbingly, in some ways (again, not the psychotic murder-y stuff), E may be worse than Nero. At least Nero didn’t light the fire that set Rome ablaze. E, on the other hand, has not only lit the fire but he’s thrown the kids and I into the flames. He’s not paid any child maintenance for four months out of the last five (and, I’m guessing has no intention of doing so until the CMS started taking it directly from his salary – up to six months from now) and in doing so he has forced me into debt, and put me in a situation where I am going to be left with no choice but to default on our mortgage and not pay fuel and other household bills just so that I can feed our kids.
On top of that, his actions are directly affecting my ability to house myself and our kids going forward. I can only assume that E is withholding money for as long as he can because he wants to force me to sell the house (although, I’ve never said I won’t sell, and the fact that he won’t communicate with me at all means that I have no idea of how to reach an agreement with him over what to do). The problem is that the damage that his defaulting on the secured loan and forcing me into defaulting on our mortgage will do to my credit record (and his, there is a tiny upside to this), will mean that not only can I not get another mortgage, but that I probably won’t be able to get a rental contract either, because, last time I checked, Letting Agencies run credit checks. I’m looking at the very real possibility that I might not be able to find us anywhere to live when my house is eventually sold.
I must admit, as a result of what’s happening, I’ve found a little comfort, and a fair bit of amusement, in comparing my Ex to the monstrous Roman Emperor (especially when I unearthed pictures of a young Christopher Biggins playing him in I Claudius – these led to much mirth here at He-Total HQ – there is a certain gingery resemblance to E), until, to my horror, I realised, that I also may have something in common with Nero.
I realised that there is another way to look at that iconic image. In some ways it suggests the actions of a person helpless to change the situation that surrounds him; so instead, he is carrying on as normal, even as his world is literally falling apart. What else can he do? There’s a comfort in normality. Getting on with things is a way of coping. There’s a reassurance in the day-to-day.
Thanks to the generosity of family and friends, and some – frankly dazzling – financial jiggery-pokery on my part, I have been able to manage financially despite E refusing to pay any maintenance for four out of five months. However, things will shortly reach crisis point – I’ll start building arrears and the cupboards and the freezer will gradually empty.
I’m now getting regular messages from friends and family asking if I’m ok, asking how the kids are, asking what I’m going to do and fretting about how I’m going to cope financially. Everyone around me is worried and concerned, sometimes people even sound panicked, but somehow I’m still carrying on like normal. When I reply saying ‘I’m fine’, I mean it – I really am. I am fine, I am sleeping at night, I am still buying food when I need it and still paying my bills on time. Everyone is worried except me.
I feel like I’m in the middle of a kind of eerie silence, with the distant snap of fire somewhere out of sight. What will happen if E continues to withhold child maintenance remains incomprehensible. I can’t panic – partly because it feels like it’s happening to someone else, but also because it won’t change anything. I ‘know’ what is happening, but I still can’t quite comprehend it. I don’t quite understand it. I don’t know how to act in this situation and so I act like everything is normal. It still feels like everything is normal.
Sometimes, in an unguarded moment or in the deadly silence of 3am, I can feel the fear creeping through my veins, but even then my rational brain shuts it off – it can see the flames flickering on the horizon, but it can’t do anything about them, so instead it fiddles while Rome burns.
When I was a child I was scared of the monsters under the bed, but recently I’ve begun to realise that, sometimes, the people we trust most are the thing we really need to fear. I’m now at a point where things are so rubbish, that there’s no point in getting stressed about it. Scarlett O’Hara like, I’ll think about it tomorrow (I’d rather be a Scarlett than a Nero anyway). I think this is partly because there is absolutely nothing I can do about it. I can’t make E pay the maintenance he owes me any more than I can make him a decent, faithful, person. I can’t change what he’s doing now, any more than I can change what he’s done in the past. E is not a good person. I have to accept that. I can’t change him. I’ve done everything I can (I’ve spoken to every lender and utility provider I have, they all know what’s coming). I think if there was something more I could or should do, I’d be more worried, but as it is, I’ll have to deal with things as they happen. I’m strangely calm. The monster doesn’t frighten me anymore. What will be will be, and I will deal with it.
In the meantime, whilst I wait, could somebody pass me my fiddle.