Life works in mysterious ways. Just when we think the cards are on our side.
Reality is flung upon the table and smacks the cards right out of our grasp. One by one they fly into the oblivion; the future that was there for us to see, no longer.
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“All I want for Christmas… is a divorce!”
A week before Christmas, I experienced what I can only describe as a breakdown. No. Not the type of breakdown that leaves you waving your arms despairingly on the roadside. I’m talking about the type of breakdown that has you weeping behind the wheel as a Christmas song blasts cheerfully through your stereo. And when I say weeping, I mean blubbering like a baby; mouth wide open and bubbling from the nose. That’s right, as Mariah continued to belt out my once Christmas favourite, there was no stopping the floodgates that had become my eyes. Meanwhile, onlookers gazed at me, wondering who had stolen my Christmas cheer, or more likely, questioning who this crazy lady was sobbing inconsolably to the blaring Christmas classic.
Was this what rock bottom felt like?
As the bells continued to jiggle resonant of better times, a pang of realisation stabbed me straight through the heart.
The truth was; I couldn’t remember the last time I felt so lost. So unhappy. So empty inside.
I had reached a crossroads. The signposts were clear to see; one was labelled “STAY” and the other labelled “GO”. Simple, huh? Surely you’d put your foot to the pedal and go? But why was this decision so heart-wrenching? Why could I not bring myself to move forwards? Why was I so determined to stay “stuck”?
I am, of course, talking about my marriage.
My husband and I hadn’t been getting on for some time. We had grown apart. We had tried just about everything to salvage the remnants of our fraying relationship but to no avail. We became strangers who glided in and out of each other’s lives. Strangers who couldn’t connect with one another; who, at times, really disliked each other; who, at other times, couldn’t bear to be in the same room as one another. And, dare I say it, sometimes even fantasised about strangling the life out of each other. And yet, we both pondered – with aching hearts – how this came to be? How do two people, who once loved the bones of each other, reach such a point of desperation?
I wanted to fix things. I wanted answers. I wanted to know why things had changed; why we no longer looked at each other with nothing but admiration. These were the questions that kept me awake at night. Questions that clouded my every thought; that consumed my every waking moment. I was plagued by questions that I would probably never know the answers to. Questions I had tried, relentlessly, to fish out of my husband’s reluctant body. But yet, every time I tried to share my anxieties, he would retreat back to his shell. Our problems, swept under a rug; a rug we’d end up tripping over and asking ourselves, yet again, why we were on our hands and knees, struggling to get back up.
We became “stuck” in a repetitive cycle of destruction. Each time the record trundled on, we would become a little more broken. And, there comes a time when the vinyl becomes so worn it can no longer go on. The song plays its last heart-rending tune and then halts.
Was this the end? And if it was; why did this thought terrify me? Why did it paralyse me with fear?
“We fear beginnings; we fear endings; We fear changing; We fear staying “stuck” – Susan Jeffers.
As I sat at the traffic lights with tear-soaked eyes, I pondered whether I should continue driving in the same arduous circles, chasing something that may never come to fruition or whether I should push the pedal to the metal and take a risk.
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“It’s the most wonderful time of the year.”
Christmas was only a day away and yet melancholy still hung in the air.
Desperate and out of ideas, I decided to write my husband a heartfelt letter. I didn’t want any bad feelings on what was supposed to be a joyful occasion, so I placed the ‘olive branch’ upon the kitchen counter and snuck off to bed. It was a “let’s wipe the slate clean” gesture that, yet again, was pushed to the side, unheeded.
My heart slumped upon the floor.
My marriage was over and there was no saving it.
Come Christmas day, the only present waiting for me, was a box of silent-treatment and bottle of bad feeling.
My head became infested by toxic thoughts…
How could he be so cold?
So dead inside?
I was angry. I could feel my blood boiling under my skin. I was a hot-pot on the verge of explosion, grappling to keep its raging bubbles of fury under control.
As the kids opened their presents with animated smiles, oblivious to the tension that prowled around them, I pulled on my mask and smiled with them. A stark contrast to the unhappiness clawing from within. I caught sight of my husband; his face, emotionless. Present, but barely there. And I quietly thought, “This isn’t the clean slate I had in mind!”
But what did I expect? I mean, did I honestly think a letter would paper over the cracks? Did I truly believe that we’d wake up in the morning and be in love with each other again?
I was in denial and I knew it. And yet, I tried to grab onto every piece of hope I thought we had left.
The slight touch of his hand across my back. That evening he made an effort because it was my birthday. The occasional text message to say he missed me. I held onto those fragments of fleeting happiness with all my might.
Hope was all I had because the reality was too unbearable.
But was it?
After experiencing, quite possibly, the worst Christmas day I had ever experienced; I questioned…
“What could be worse than this?”
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“Merry F***ing Christmas!”
The thing about hot-pots is that if you don’t turn down the heat, they are going to…
And that is exactly what I did…
All over my husband, while he stood in disbelief that this was actually happening … ON CHRISTMAS DAY! “Hold yourself together, it’s Christmas!” He snapped, as he wiped off the remains of my eruption. I was empty. I had nothing left to give. And although my eyes bulged with impending sadness, the tears failed to fall
After putting on a charade for everyone in the morning, it was time to move our ‘circus de pretence’ to a new location – The in-Laws. Oh, how they’d wallow in our misery if only we’d dare show our true sorry selves.
It’s fair to say that my relationship with my in-laws isn’t the greatest. I’ve always found my mother-in-law incredibly cold. An ice maiden, who would quite simply tell me to…
“PULL YOURSELF TOGETHER!”
Maybe she is right? I mean, you wouldn’t catch her weeping into her laundry.
As Christmas proceeded, I realised It wasn’t just a ‘silent night’ or a ‘silent morning’… it was turning into a silent “ENTIRE DAY!”
My husband is amazing at this game. I mean, I usually crack up after an hour or so, but he could literally spend the rest of his entire life sulking. This was a game I wasn’t going to win, but thought I may as well participate in any way. To be a good sport and all.
The car journey was, yep, you guessed it… silent. That was until my husband realised he had forgotten something really important. He cursed loudly and made a swift U-turn in the road. We then experienced his borderline erratic driving as he noticed that we were running an hour or so behind schedule. We remained in silence but quietly thought…
“PLEASE DON’T LET US DIE TODAY!”
Unfortunately, the winding roads didn’t agree with my son and he ‘projectile-vomited’ over pretty much everything and everyone. Remarkably, we got back in one piece … covered in sick but in one piece.
“I’ll stay at home with Alex” I pleaded. The thought of going to my in-laws for Christmas was about as appealing as getting back into that vomit-reeking car. My husband gave me the look, and I was dragged, once again, with my heels in the ground. Silent car ride “Take Two”, and I must say, it was just as joyous as the first round.
We arrived at the in-laws approximately 1 hour late, but rather than being scolded like disobedient school kids we were warmly welcomed by ‘happy smiley people’ in the full swing of festivities. Some might say, it was the picture book Christmas with all the trimmings. However, as joy hung around us like the impeccably placed garland, we stood barely able to force a smile. The place might have looked every inch the Christmas grotto, but all I wanted to do was destroy it. A crazy lady hurling her 5 foot 3 self at a tree twofold her size; an image better off playing in my head, but one I had to restrain myself from reenacting for real. I mean, a Christmas ornament knocked out of place would have sent my mother-in-law over the edge. Picture perfect, remember? Everyone smile for the camera!
We ate Christmas dinner together, pulled crackers and told lame jokes. Your standard Christmas, really, only we didn’t utter a word to each other. You could cut the tension with a knife, but fortunately for us, everyone was too preoccupied knocking back the wine to notice the ‘death-stare exchanges’ over the table. Awkwardly, we were then assigned washing-up duty together. Again, the silence continued.
After a game of who could slam the crockery down the hardest, we pulled our masks on, yet again, and opened presents with our most cogent smiles.
My Fraudulent self: Awww, lounge pants. They are lovely!
My Authentic self: *GASP* You think I’m a slob!
Here I sat, bloated from overindulgence, surrounded by this Christmas cabaret I wanted no part of. I needed to GET AWAY.
I needed to ESCAPE!
“I’m leaving!” I snapped. My husband looked at me in horror. “You haven’t spoken to me all day, I’m leaving!” I continued, an agitation growing in my voice. The hot-pot was beginning to rattle once again and I needed to make a swift exit. “Well, you can’t! There’s not enough petrol!” He snapped.
And that was the end of that.
I may have broken his silence (temporarily) but I was stuck. With nowhere to run and nowhere to hide…I was STUCK in the middle of nowhere. I considered breaking out of a window and playing my chances at hitchhiking my way home, but then I looked back at my children – oblivious and as happy as lambs.
But I wasn’t done yet. The bubbles of rage had returned, I could feel them boiling up inside me, begging to be released.
And holy shit! My husband broke his silence. For the first time in months, I saw passion in his eyes. He was angry, really fucking angry. I was angry too.
And there it was ….
Christmas day, and we were at each others throats in an upstairs bedroom, finger pointing and on the verge of breaking point. Emotions were poured, tears were shed, and miraculously, a weight was lifted. As we closed the door on our crazy anger-fuelled outpours, I felt like our marriage was salvable. Perhaps there was hope for us yet?
That night we watched a film together in bed and vowed to start over.
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A new year, a new start… a new set of problems?
Let’s just say, my New Year didn’t exactly start with a bang. More of a sizzle that plummeted straight back to the ground, where it took its last breath and then died.
I took a few sips of my champagne and sighed deeply…
What am I going to do?
My husband and I were stuck between a rock and hard place. We were both unhappy, but couldn’t imagine a life without each other. We were both lost, but couldn’t find a way out of this repetitive loop. We both wanted to make things work, but we had no idea how.
We caught a bad case of “Maybe things will be better when…” Only “when” never seemed to arrive and we were, yet again, left chasing rainbows. It took us a long time to realise that happiness wasn’t going to arrive gift-wrapped at our doorstep, nor was it something we could chase into the horizons. It was something we had to work for.
One day I caught a glimpse of my sorry self in the mirror. My eyes puffy from yesterday’s tears. It was at this point when I realised…
“Things need to change!”
On the 3rd of January, as my husband packed to go back to Coventry, I suggested that we should have a temporary separation. Although the thought pained us inside, we both knew that this would be the best thing. It would give us time to find ourselves and think about what we truly wanted.
For a while, the darkness descended. I busied myself. I bought self-help books by the dozen and talked to as many people as I could. I listened to music, I took bubble baths and invited friends over. A continuous string of busyness that kept me too occupied to “think”.
The house was spotless, I could do as I pleased and yet there was no hiding the emptiness in my heart. An emptiness yearning to be filled by one person only – my husband. I stopped, and I allowed myself to think about a life without him. The truth was, I didn’t want to live my life without him. I loved him and wanted nothing more than to be together.
A few days ago, I reversed into a car. “Clunk!” A sound that made my heart slump into the pit of my stomach. With adrenaline running through my veins, I did what I do best…
I ran away from my problems.
That’s right, I put my foot down on the accelerator and drove away as fast as I could. (Two ‘hit and runs’ in the past two years. Does this make me a badass?) Guilt hung over my shoulders like a storm cloud fit to burst. Scenarios began to run wildly through my head. Did anyone see me? Will I get caught? Will I find a note tucked in my windscreen wiper? Will there be a knock at my door? The guilt ate me up for a while, but then time went on, and the dark cloud faded.
My little accident got me thinking; We all make mistakes. We all go through bad times. There are also times when we do things that we shouldn’t. Times when we run away from our problems because we can’t bear to face them. Does this mean we are doomed for the rest of eternity? Of course not. Time passes and old wounds heal. My husband and I might be surrounded by rubble now, but this doesn’t mean that we will always be consumed by darkness.
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And Let there be light!
So, it wasn’t quite the Christmas I had envisaged. The worst I had ever experienced, in fact. A rollercoaster, some might say. But as I tore down the Christmas tree and robbed it of its decorations, I was reminded that relationships don’t come perfectly gift-wrapped. They are creased and rough around the edges.
I don’t know what the future holds. Maybe things will work out, maybe they won’t. But one thing is for certain; Rather than worrying about what will or might not be, I’ll be embracing the uncertainty of the unknown; be it happiness, togetherness, brokenness or a knock at the door.
And whatever happens, I know I will be just fine.
“When nothing is sure, everything is possible!” – Margaret Drabble.