One of my favourite Shakespeare plays is Titus Andronicus. It’s a blood soaked, slightly traumatic, play full of decapitated heads and lopped-off hands, and at its centre is Titus’ daughter Lavinia. Raped and then deprived of her hands and her tongue so that she can’t tell anyone who abused her (it takes until the end of the play for her to figure out she can hold a big stick in her stumps and write the names of the offenders on the ground), the play’s gruesome conclusion (her rapists are killed and then baked into a pie which is served to their murderous mother – who was behind the assault) pivots on her plight. In his grief on seeing his mutilated daughter Titus laments that she is “as far from help as limbo is from bliss.” This line, with its invocation of limbo has haunted me recently.
Until a month or so ago, I’d thought of limbo as a kind of benign construct. Close enough to hell to make you glad you’re not there and close enough to heaven to make you feel that, even if you didn’t pass the exam of life with an A star, you managed a good B. No torture, no pain, no fear. I thought it was kind of ok. In Dante’s version of it, there were even some fairly cool people living there (Virgil, Homer, Aristotle, Plato, Socrates), so I figured I’d at least be able to have a decent conversation if I ended up there.
However, Titus’ understanding of it as far from bliss, made me see it in another way. I’m not religious, so I don’t aspire to a heaven, but if you believe in heaven and hell, then limbo is a devastating place to be – one where, for eternity, you can glimpse salvation but not attain it. You might not be being poked in the arse by Satan’s trident, and enduring the searing flames of hell, but, if you aspire to heaven, you might as well be. Limbo is an eternity of nothing changing, nothing moving, of always being aware of the thing you want most, but never being able to achieve it.
Until now, I never understood why limbo was seen as part of hell, but all of a sudden, being in a kind of limbo at the moment, I finally get it.
When things were bad, for example, when E initially left and I was dealing with my own personal heartbreak and four devastated kids, I felt that they were hellish, but there was a kind of comfort in and purpose to ‘doing something’, those early months were spent looking for a job, looking after the kids, making sure everyone was ok. I was busy, I was achieving something. Then, when E withdrew his financial support last November, again, whilst I was angry and frightened re what would happen financially, I was still able to do something. I contacted the CMS, I contacted a lawyer, I made financial plans, I wrote letters and made phone calls. The CMS kept me busy for months – I had to make weekly calls to them to chase them and find out what was happening. When E defaulted on the Secured Loan, my weekly phone calls increased to include updating them, I was doing something, I had some measure of control over what was happening. Even to the point where after trying mediation, I was able to sign the forms to send to court, I felt that I was doing something constructive, that I was being proactive. I had a goal in my mind (a safe home and financial security for the kids and I) and I was focused on that.
Over the last few weeks though, things have slowed and stopped. I still have the goal, but, like those trapped in purgatory, I can only glimpse it. It seems so unattainable at the moment that it might as well be years away. I have to wait for a court date (this could take four months). I have to wait for the CMS to start taking money directly from E’s salary (this could take two to three months). I have to wait to hear from StepChange if they will accept my application for a TPP – and then will have to deal with creditors who are less than happy with my situation. Even if the court gives me authorisation to sell the house, I then have to wait for it to sell (assuming the Secured Loan and Mortgage companies will give me this space – the Secured Loan company have made it clear that this is not guaranteed) and hope that once the legal fees (mine and the Secured Loan company’s), and interest (Secured Loan company) have been deducted, that the court awards me enough money to start afresh. I then have to try and find a home for the kids and I to rent – with a knackered credit record which will make the credit score all estate agents run less than impressive, and will probably mean that some landlords won’t even consider me.
The waiting, and the thought of what comes after the waiting, is exhausting. I don’t want to get up in the morning. This isn’t the ‘can’t face the world’ not getting up that I experienced when my depression was bad, it’s a bone-tired weariness. It’s not being scared about what the day will bring, it’s knowing that nothing will change.
Winston Churchill famously said, ‘when you’re going through hell, keep going’. Keeping going – moving forward – is a positive thing that keeps hope high. Not being able to move forward, being stuck, being in limbo, is draining and energy sapping. It means I dread weekends. At least in the week I have work, which is busy and lively and keeps my mind off everything. At weekends, I have no choice but to think about what’s happening. At weekends, whilst I clean and declutter, in the hopes of making the house look better for a potential sale, and reconcile the accounts I now do daily, I’m alone with what’s not happening and the sense of how long it will take to resolve things can be overwhelming.
As I’m sure E would confirm, I’m impatient. I’m not very good at playing the long game. I don’t mind waiting – if I can see what I’m aiming for is there – but generally, I like to get things done and if I make up my mind about something, I like to get on with it. I also hate debt. Being forced into waiting like this, whilst my financial situation crumbles around me, with no end in sight, is a kind of torture, a kind of hell. At least, I guess, unlike Dante and Titus who saw limbo as a place where bliss was unattainable, I do have an end in sight (even if that end is potentially months or even a year away) and I do have a chance to obtain my goal of a safe home for the kids and I. I’m just going to have to learn to be patient.
Incidentally, in the end, having cooked her torturers, Titus decided that death was better for Lavinia than being in her own personal, helpless, limbo. If my Dad is reading this – I’m all good, honestly…