I see them every morning as I drive to work. Walking along the road together, side by side. Heading to the shop to pick up the newspaper. An unremarkable scene, some might say. To me, it’s extraordinary.
I’ve tried to write this so many times. It never feels right. But I can’t stop thinking about the elderly couple and their daily routine. So I guess that’s a good place to start.
I don’t know much about their lives. What I do know is that they have each other.
A couple of months ago my marriage fell apart. I begged him to stay. But the answer was no.
My life was completely and utterly interwoven with his, and it came as a massive shock. Memories abound. The bench by the riverbank where we got engaged. Friday night takeaways. The park where we’d sip coffees and plan our day.
Clothes steadily disappear from the wardrobe, hastily shoved into a rucksack when he thinks I’m not looking. Then there’s the stack of letters, flip-flopping onto the mat. Mortgage statements, council tax bills, insurance. Years of our lives boiled down to business transactions.
Spring has well and truly sprung. The nights are lighter, buds bloom on the big tree at the back of the house, the sun shines more brightly than before. Cars whizz past, children make their way to school and my neighbour tends to her garden. Life goes on. I’m angry.
Please return, winter. The bleak, bitterly cold nights where I can hide myself away, devouring the darkness as I sit in the bath while the candle flickers. Pretending it isn’t happening.
The summer furniture is still in the garden. Stationary relics, they remain frozen like a game of musical statues. Haunting symbols of a happier time. The music stopped a long time ago. I can’t touch them. I can barely look at them. What a difference a year makes. Wolfing down fish and chips al fresco as the sun set, our faces still smothered in suntan lotion. That’s when it was still alright. Or maybe it wasn’t. When did it stop being alright?
Sleep is my saviour. God speed. I close my eyes and drift away. But it’s short-lived, snatched from me as the first light trickles through the curtains. Another day has dawned. He’s not coming back.
My son brings solace. The love of my life. A wonderful, glorious little boy who fills my heart with joy, pride and wonder. But it’s coupled with overwhelming worry. He’s done nothing wrong. He’s just a child with his whole life ahead of him.
The guilt consumes me during the day and engulfs me at night. Was it all my fault? Why didn’t I realise this was coming? Why didn’t I act sooner? Am I an awful person? Why couldn’t I make him happy?
I’ve started cooking. For those who know me, this will come as a massive shock. Then there’s the podcasts, Netflix’s entire back catalogue, half-hearted attempts at yoga and the occasional glass of wine. Nothing really helps. Apart from writing, I guess.
It wasn’t meant to be this way. As a child of divorced parents, it would never happen to me. No way. I wouldn’t let it. I was different. I meant my vows, but what do you do when someone decides they no longer love you? Was the relationship unsalvageable anyway? The questions come thick and fast, swirling around my head in a super-charged spin.
There’s the shame. The feeling of complete failure. I couldn’t hold my marriage together. The one thing I held sacred, the one thing that was unshakeable, my constant, my rock, the person I could rely on. It’s all been ripped apart and discarded like a piece of dirt. Run over by a massive truck at high-speed, leaving tiny specks of dust in its wake.
I can’t clear out my son’s baby clothes. I can’t think too long about the photos on the walls. The bed is bigger. The weekly shop is smaller. My heart is broken. I don’t know who I am anymore. Maybe I never did.
The loneliness is shit. They say it’s like a bereavement. Do people see me and know? Do they tell each other behind my back that they saw it coming? Are they sympathetic or do they just think I should get a grip, pull on my big girl pants and man up? I know I’ll need to do that soon.
Of course it’s not all bad. With trauma comes humility, an increased capacity for compassion, and a heightened awareness of the fickleness, fragility and unpredictability of life. I’m trying to be kinder to people, to not sweat the small stuff, to remember what really matters. It’s so easy to hurtle along at a hundred miles an hour, forgetting who you are and what you stand for. When you’re faced with a life-changing event, being able to get through the day and take joy in your family and friends is enough. In fact, it’s so much more than enough. It’s everything.
So, for now, I function. Minute by minute at times. Nothing will ever be the same again. But I do have faith. Faith that it will get better. Faith that I will get through it. And faith that even though it doesn’t feel like it, I’m already starting to pick up the pieces.
“All endings are also beginnings. We just don’t know it at the time.”