In films, when people’s marriages end and they get divorced, it seems to be a short, sharp, dramatic affair. She catches him cheating with his secretary, say. Terrible, terrible rows. Bitterness and recriminations all round. Terrible, terrible divorce. Loads of screaming and shouting. Then they never see each other again and Good Riddance.
It wasn’t really like that for me. I left, after anguishing, and after twenty-two years of knowing I needed to. There wasn’t that much anger, from what I can remember, just conversations and negotiations. Long, patient, sad negotiations. A second try and a second failure. More negotiations, this time long, weary and patient. Eventually, my solicitors, his solicitors, paperwork, more weariness, more sadness.
I remember particularly the List you are forced, or at that time were forced, to make out when petitioning for divorce on grounds of unreasonable behaviour – the only option open to me. I couldn’t think how to explain it; didn’t even want to explain it, really. Twenty-two years of shared experience and shared unhappiness somehow wouldn’t resolve themselves into twenty-two neat bullet points.
Does he squeeze the toothpaste tube in the middle, for example, asked the solicitor. That’s always irritating. I couldn’t remember whether he did or not, and didn’t really care. In the end I was forced to come up with this list of invented, exaggerated, petty but passable examples of his Unreasonableness. It would have been easier to make a list of my own faults.
I knew his solicitors would be posting him a copy of the List and I was thinking, that’s it. When the list arrives he will hate me. There’ll be no more popping over to his (that was formerly our) house for a pot of his over-strong tea; no more saying hello to the cats and finding out how he’s getting on. No more strange half-evenings by the fire, half at home, half not; talking, but mostly not; half safe again, half never-again-safe. Just drinking over-strong tea, not pulling the curtains and watching the garden get dark. No more running to him in a panic when I mislay my credit card wallet or don’t know what’s wrong with the car. We’ll need to stop talking to each other, which will please my solicitor who finds the whole pots-of-tea/comparing notes thing confusing. Once he gets that list…
Time went on and he still didn’t mention that List. Eventually I couldn’t bear the suspense any longer and asked him about it. Oh that, he said. It arrived weeks ago. Load of old rubbish! It was never mentioned again.
Since then we have stayed in touch, but less and less. He found someone else, sold the house that we had lived in, moved on. I ran through a few more lovers. None of them were him. I’m one of those strange people, I suppose – like baby ducks imprinted on their mother – once a wife always a wife, even when not one. Always true, after my untruthful, unfaithful, unreliable fashion. Nowadays he calls me once or twice a year. They have Skype, I gather. I think how old his voice is sounding now and no doubt he’s thinking the same about me. Probably best without the visuals!
He tells me in detail about the work they’re having done on the roof, his skirmishes with the builders; he complains of the perfidy of bank managers. I tell him very little: it used to be impossible to get a word in edgewise in any case but he listens better nowadays than he used to do. We compare elderly parents – his, mine and his partner’s – living and dead. Well, all but one dead now. And numbers of cats – ten for him right now and twelve for me. That’s one little contest I’m winning, at least for a while. Whatever ailment I have, he’ll have had the same but worse, far worse, and longer. I post him birthday and Christmas cards, usually with cats on them, which I spend some time selecting. His new lady sends me e-Christmas and e-Easter cards from them both – those things in emails that start doing stuff when you click on them, and go on interminably. I must admit I delete them. A card is not a card unless made of card. IMHO.
But I am glad to hear his voice on the phone every so often, if only to confirm that he’s still in the land of the living. Sometimes I wonder whether anyone will let me know, when one day he no longer is. I suppose they probably will. Unless, of course, it’s me that Goes Under the Bus; can’t take it for granted that being nine years younger will mean living nine years longer. In that case I wonder whether anyone will think to tell him – that I’m Under the Bus. And I sometimes wonder whether death will constitute any greater change in our relationship than divorce did, if what we now have can be called a relationship. Once connected – to anyone, in this way – come hell or high water you tend to stay connected. IMHO.