My bedroom taunts me.
It is at once my sanctuary, the place where I spend most of my time hiding from the world now, and my torture chamber, with the empty wardrobe and drawers where Tom kept his clothes staring at me, and the big double bed with just me in it, feeling as dwarfed by the size of it as my Dad in his last days.
I come home from work each day, grateful to have survived another twenty-four hours without breaking apart and being discovered a sobbing wreck in a toilet cubicle, grab some coffee and whatever is to hand in the fridge, whether beyond its sell by date makes no difference, and crawl up the stairs to tear off my clothes and creep into my haven under the duvet. On good days I put on the TV and spend my evening eating yogurt and watching whatever crap appears - I don't have the energy to change the channel even if I could find the remote control - and on bad days I just curl up and cry all evening. I didn't know it was possible to produce so many tears, or to feel such unutterable misery.
I haven't told anyone about Tom leaving. Not even Mary. Oh, I know she'd be sympathetic, but that would make it worse. I would have to tell her I was OK, that I was learning to live without him, that I don't need him, or any man, in my life. And that would be a lie. Alternatively I would have to let her see the mess I have become. I know I would break down, howl with the sheer horror of it all, weep till my eyes feel like they're bleeding, let her see the black hollow in the centre of my being. And I'm not ready for any other human to see that. Nor will I share the panic attacks that leave me shaking uncontrollably, fearing even to live, unable to see any form of a future that doesn't consist of hiding in bed away from the world. How will I face the world ever again? I can never trust anyone now. The person I trusted to help me out of any possible disaster is the very person who has created the disaster I need help to face.
So I lie here day after day, all day at weekends, alone. Eventually I will retire from work - or be sacked because I will fail to hold it together and will be seen as a liability: a deadly sin in my company; I will lose my only, albeit temporary, escape from this pain, and I will spend all day every day in bed, venturing out only to get some essential shopping to stop myself starving. Yet why not just starve myself and get the pain over with?
I do eat a normal lunch at work because somehow that environment helps me to feel more ordinary and I am trying to keep up the pretence of nothing being wrong. People would notice if I didn't appear in the staff restaurant as usual, or if I faced the cashier with no more than a strong coffee and a plum on my tray. So I tell myself that lunch keeps me going and I don't need to eat at home. I haven't been to the supermarket since Tom left; the furthest I’ve been is the corner shop on the way home from work for milk or bread. No newspapers - what do I care what is going on in the world outside?
Stupidly, the only person I actually want to contact me is Tom. Why do I still crave contact with the man who has rejected me and caused the pain I’m feeling? I suppose a tiny part of me hopes or even expects him to ring to say he's changed his mind, wants to come home. I have daydreams in which he turns up at the front door pleading with me to take him back, saying he doesn't know what he ever saw in that bitch.
In my dream, of course, I stand there strong and unflappable, and tell him that I'll have to think it over, to call me tomorrow and perhaps I'll consider it. If he shows me how remorseful he is for putting me through this agony of course. And he turns up next day with a huge bouquet and a diamond ring, begging for forgiveness. I take the gifts and haughtily inform him that it will take more than a diamond and some flowers to make me trust him again, and I shut the door in his face. He then bombards me with flowers, gifts and cards all apologising in various ways until I eventually relent, and he's so grateful to me that he books us a surprise holiday, which is variously an African safari, a world cruise or a trip across America a la Kerouac in On The Road, except we’d be staying in five star hotels all the way.
In reality, should he turn up asking me to take him back I suspect I would disgrace myself totally by throwing my arms around his neck, bursting into tears and thanking him for reconsidering.
Not that I’ve had the chance. Communication has been limited to four texts, one asking me to forward his post to his new slut's - I mean girlfriend's - house, and even giving me the address. Like I don't know it! I've been round there for coffee and girly chats so many times - hell, I've been there to comfort her when some man's broken her heart - again. And as for the word girlfriend, can you qualify for that at thirty six years old? With three kids and piles of failed relationships behind you? And does a man of forty need a girlfriend? Assuming he's not a paedophile that is. Quite apart from the fact that we're talking about a married man. Who should only need a wife. But he has rejected that option: has turned his back on the legally and socially consecrated relationship he has built up over ten long years.
Language hasn't really defined a term for a partner who isn't your wife but is too old to be a girlfriend. Other than partner, which sounds like a business deal. Which I wish it were. There is the term mistress, which I suppose fits this situation, but that sounds too nice. So I think I'll just settle for slut. That's how I described her to Tom in my reply to his first text - 'Yes, I’ll send your post to the slut's house'. And he had the cheek to text back – his second text: 'That's not very nice'.
And leaving me for her is?
The third text was even more infuriating. About a week after he left, he texted: 'R U OK?'
Now Tom is an English graduate who has always prided himself on his use of language - his pure academic degree is, I have been told many times, superior to my vocational degree in Business and Management. He always uses good English in emails and even texts. He once criticised me for texting him 'C U @ 5'. I was in a meeting, for God's sake, and had to hide the phone under the desk and send the text quickly and surreptitiously. But he still complained about my abbreviated text language. And now here he was texting 'R U OK?'
Clearly I no longer merit complete English words. I debated whether to ignore it or text back 'S I M' or even 'S I M - now FUCK OFF'. Went for the third option: texted back 'What do you think?' He didn't reply.
As for the fourth text, that arrived today. He texted: 'Hope everything's well with you. Sorry about everything. Wish you well'.
I really don't know how to react to that one. I received it at work and closed it, then carried on with my work as quickly as I could before I could let it get to me. Lucy at the next desk looked up when the phone beeped, so I just forced a smile and said 'From Tom'. Her response was at once completely inappropriate to the situation and understandable given she had no idea there was a problem with our marriage. She went 'Ahh' in a lovey-dovey voice that indicated an assumption that the text was itself lovey-dovey, and that she was a bit envious of me getting a text from my husband during the working day, when she's dating a bloke who turns up for a date when – or rather if - he feels like it. I have no idea how, or why, she puts up with him: she deserves so much better.
Now I've re-opened the latest text from Tom and am just staring at it, trying to make sense of it. Of it all.
First, he has repeated two words within the text: not like him at all. Tom chooses language very carefully and even in texts he rarely repeats himself. So he sent this when perhaps, he was feeling emotional. Regretful maybe? Unhappy with the slut? Wishing he was back with me? After all, he does wish me well. And he says he's sorry for everything.
But if he was truly regretful, he would come home wouldn't he? Perhaps he doesn't think I'll have him back. Perhaps he fears he's lost me for good. Perhaps the hoping everything's well with me means he wants to know if I am happy without him, whether I've moved on.
Before I know it I have, for the first time in two weeks, positively acted on my thoughts. My phone is in my hand and I'm calling Tom's number.
The phone rings a few times before I hear a worried voice on the line.
'Hazel? What's wrong?'
I want to say, to sob, at the sound of his voice, 'Everything's wrong. Come home'.
But I don't. I hold myself together, and reply, as calmly as I can: 'I got your text'.
'And?' slightly gruff, a bit confused-sounding.
'Well, you asked if I was OK. So I thought you might want to talk.'
Now I feel bewildered. This is not what I had anticipated. Except, I am gradually realizing, I acted before I had time to anticipate anything. Should have thought it through.
'I said I hoped all was well with you. Is it?' I now detect a note of impatience in his voice.
'Um, yes, it's fine. How are you?'
'I'm fine too. More than fine. I'm really happy. You know, I think this is the best thing for both of us. A new start. We had been coasting along together for too long really, hadn't we?'
This is not the way the conversation was supposed to go, but I hear myself saying 'I suppose so. I'm glad you're happy'.
'Thanks. Julie's good too. Well, must go - she's just serving up dinner. Talk later.'
And the phone clicks off.
Oh good. He's happy. Julie's good. And they're about to sit down to a cosy dinner together.
Just what I needed to know.
I curl up under the duvet, my coffee cold and untouched, and sob.
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