July 2020 was a month in which everything in my life changed. By the end of July, I had moved to a new house, and started a whole new life. By the end of July, my priorities had shifted forever. By the end of July, my beautiful Mum, my anchor, my safety, the person my life was shaped by, had died.
By mid-June my parents and I had come up with a Plan. E wouldn’t communicate re the sale or honour his original agreement re the equity split. I was in an impossible position. We worked out that, if I wasn’t paying the mortgages, I could afford to pay rent. It was clear that E wouldn’t communicate re the sale, so, they’d persuaded me to give into the inevitable and let the house be repossessed so that I could move on. I’d written to the mortgage companies and agree to let them repossess the house and I’d told them I’d be out by the end of July. It wouldn’t be great, I’d still have debts, but I had to let go, I had to accept that I couldn’t keep the house and that E wouldn’t agree to sell on fair terms.
The reason E and I hadn’t reached an agreement on the house sale because E was insisting that (despite earning around five times as much as me) he wanted 50% of the sale equity. I’d asked for more than 50% of it because I wanted to ensure the kids’ future, I wanted to make sure that I could provide for them and myself. In the 25 years E and I had been together, I’d given up my career to look after our kids, and as a result my earning capacity was severely reduced. As we hadn’t been married, I had no pension entitlement and no right to any financial support from E at all – and there was clearly no way he would ever do the honourable thing and provide this voluntarily. Let’s face it, he was already refusing to support his daughters because, as they weren’t receiving child benefit, he had no legal obligation to do so, so there was no way he would ever help me, however morally ‘right’ that was. Under the circumstances getting more than 50% of the house sale equity was literally my only hope, my only chance of ever having anything for the kids. The reason I’d decided to agree to the repossession was because whilst 50% would clear my debts, it would leave nothing for my children. As the kids were the whole point of everything, and as I’d end up with nothing financially and a wrecked credit record no matter what happened, repossession seemed like a reasonable option. I suppose, with hindsight it was also kind of petty on my part – “if I can’t have anything, you can’t either” – but it seemed like the only option open to me. It was the only way I felt I had left to stand up to E’s bullying.
Also, at this point, by a sheer miracle, I’d found a house to rent. No Letting Agency would touch me. Not only was my credit record now ruined by the mortgage defaults and debts, but I had undertaken a debt management plan (ironically, atthe insistence of the mortgage companies) which, as one particularly superior Lettings Agent delighted in informing me, before hanging up on me, meant an ‘automatic decline’ for rental with them. But, on the recommendation of friends, someone had very kindly agreed to let me rent their house for a year. So, I was trying to pack up my house, arrange removals and clear 25 years of extraneous ‘stuff’ into skips, so I could move to a much smaller house at the end of July. This was what I thought July would involve. But, at the beginning of July, I got the call I had been dreading – my Mum was ill, and this time she wouldn’t get better.
I’ve written in more detail about what happened with my Mum, but I’ve not published it yet, I think it’s too soon (and because it involves my Dad, my sister and my wider family, I want them to be happy with what I write and ready for it to be public), but, briefly, I spent the first two weeks of July in Surrey with Mum in her in her last days. It was beautiful, it was strange, it was terrible, it was utterly heart-breaking, and I won’t ever be the same again. Those two weeks were a strange blur where life centred around death, and now feels like one long day, an unreality of reality, a period of time that lasted forever, and lasted for seconds. Too long and too short. Two weeks that changed everything.
E knew what was happening of course (Oldest Daughter had told him). His texts to Oldest Daughter on the subject were coldly disinterested and inevitably all about him – he asked her to pass on ‘his best wishes’, but then added a caveat suggesting that his best wishes might not be welcome – as if anyone cared what he thought or if he sent any kind of wishes at all. His best wishes, or otherwise, were of no concern to anyone (although, I’m guessing my Mum might have had a suitably feisty riposte if she’d been aware of his message). I’d had to leave the boys home-alone (with my amazing neighbour keeping a watchful eye), Oldest Daughter was in Durham, Youngest Daughter was at home with the baby. They all needed me, but I wasn’t there. This should have been a moment for E to step up and be a Dad to his kids, to make sure they were ok, but, inevitably, he didn’t.
To be fair, he was distracted. His daughter was born early in the month, so, instead of checking his older kids were ok, he just sent them pictures of his baby. I guess it was because he was happy and proud of his new baby, but it definitely sent mu children a clear message about his priorities.
However, happiness and distraction over his new baby didn’t stop him sending one of the most petulant and unpleasant emails I’ve ever read from him (and that’s going some). On 10th July, less than a week after his daughter was born, and the day before my Mum died, he emailed my lawyer. The basic tone of the email was “poor me, I’m the victim here, I was the one who asked to sell the house in the first place, I have debts as a result of this too so none of this is my fault, I’m not delaying anything, it’s all J’s fault”. I read this with disbelief. I’d been trying to sort something out regarding the house sale for nearly three years, I’d survived (just) without child maintenance for a year, I’d accepted a verbal agreement (actually, more than that, he signed a piece of paper saying it was agreed, which is why the court gave him more time to come back to them) at court in good faith – an agreement that he immediately reneged on, I’d sold the house despite his not agreeing to anything legally. I had done literally everything I could, but this email was blaming me for everything. I tried to find an excuse for him (perception is all – is this really how he sees things? My Mum is dying, surely he wouldn’t send this on purpose, not today, not now?). But I had to accept that his timing was deliberate – he knew exactly what the situation was with my Mum that day (Oldest Daughter had told him), he knew what he was doing. As I read his email, I could hear my Mum struggling to breathe upstairs, I could hear someone crying softly in the whispered hush of the house, my kids were texting me asking how their Grandma was, they needed me, my family needed me, I needed my Mum and knew I was losing her, and E had chosen to make his first contact about the house sale for months knowing this was happening. It was a terrible and cruel thing to do. Fortunately, at the time, I was so punch drunk because of everything that was happening, that it felt like just another thump on a wound site that was so numb, I couldn’t feel it on an emotional level. But the logical part of my brain couldn’t quite believe (still can’t quite believe) that he’d chosen to do this on this day, at this moment. The self-importance, the lack of basic humanity was (still is) mind-blowing.
My Mum passed away the following morning, and whilst I remember every second of that morning, every second of that day, I don’t really remember the next week so at all. I know I went home, I know I went back to work, I know I messaged my Dad and my sister about Mum’s funeral, I know my children were devastated. I can’t tell you any details about what we did though. It was an odd kind of limbo, an otherworld between death and funeral, where everything looked normal, but everything had changed. Robot-like I was packing our entire lives into boxes, emptying our house. Our home was rapidly becoming a shell, its increasing emptiness an echo of how I felt inside. I was kind of sleepwalking through the days.
Then, on 19th July, I had a call from Oldest Daughter. A few months before, she’d been accepted into Oxford University to do her master’s degree, and as I think I’ve mentioned, I needed to find the money to pay for her tuition fees for this. When I’d agreed to let the house be repossessed, I knew I might end up with nothing, but I’d hoped that, by October (when the course was due to start), I’d be able to find a way to help her financially. However, it turned out that she needed the funds within weeks, more importantly, she needed proof that she had the funds within days. We were literally looking at a situation where she could lose her hard won place at Oxford.
Oldest Daughter’s call woke me from my lethargy and crystallised everything in my mind. With sudden clarity, I saw that the only reason I’d fought E re the house sale in the first place was for our kids. If I stuck to my guns now, if I let the house be repossessed with no sale agreement, Oldest Daughter would lose her place at Oxford, and if there was any way at all that I could stop that then I would. I realised that my kids would never get what was ‘fair’ from E and that the only way to get them anything at all, however small, was to give up the fight. My Mum had just died and suddenly, things that had seemed so important just a few weeks ago, didn’t matter anymore. I didn’t want to fight anymore. I realised, probably far too late, that some battles, some people, are just not worth fighting.
I expected it to be hard, but in the end, giving E what he wanted, giving up what I’d been fighting for, for three years, was actually the easiest thing I’ve ever done I’d finally realised that there was no point in fighting someone who cared more about himself than he did about his children. I agreed to let E have his 50%, to take his victory, to ‘win’, to get what he’d wanted all along, with no further obligation to me or our kids. I did manage to get him to agree to pay 50% of Oldest Daughter’s tuition fees, and to pay the child maintenance arrears that he owed me, so I actually got far more than I thought I’d ever get. I certainly got more than E ever intended to give, so if we’re counting victories (we’re really not), I guess that’s one for me? But, at the end of the day, I’d done the best possible thing I could for my children and that was all that mattered. I suppose, with hindsight, when I look at what E put me through because I didn’t sell the house on his terms immediately, I wish I’d given in earlier, but I have to remind myself that I didn’t give in before because I was hoping that E would do the right thing for his kids. I know now that, at the end of the day, only one of us was ever going to do that.
In the end, I didn’t get what the kids deserved financially but E has to live with that, not me. What’s essential is that I know, and (far more importantly) my children know, that I did my best, that I tried my hardest. Most important of all is that my Mum would have been proud of me.
As we reached the end of July, a whole new world beckoned – the house sale was agreed, my new tenancy began on 31st July, the 50% of the equity I would receive, plus the maintenance arrears, would let me clear my debts, and I could pay Oldest Daughter’s tuition fees. Somehow, I’d done it. A month I thought would end with more uncertainty had ended with freedom.
I just wish my Mum was still here to see it. I wish I could call her and laugh and tell her that I’m fine now. I want to shout like a child: “Look at me Mum! Look at ME! I’m doing it! I’m doing it all on my own!”. But I can’t. July gave so much and it took so much. What it gave, was, in the end, amazing. What it took was irreplaceable. All I can do now is ensure that I seize the opportunity that July gave me with both hands, and try to make an amazing new life for the kids and I.
I love you Mum. x