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1. The wife
It’s 11pm, the radio has just announced the next hour; the third in a row since he promised to be home. I wish I could tell myself that it’s just a one-off, that there’s going to be some reasonable explanation, but I don’t think I can lie to myself for much longer. My friends keep telling me I’m being over-sensitive, paranoid, that I always did have a wild, over-active imagination. At first I manage to humour them, laugh along and agree that maybe I am letting my imagination run away with me, but just lately, the joke seems to be wearing thin.
I know something is wrong.
My instincts seem to be sharpening, my hackles up.
He never was very good at lying.
We’ve been married for eight years now; got together three years before that. I was only 21, fresh-faced and unsure about how to be in the world or how to be with men. But he made me feel comfortable, he was charming, my friends liked him, I liked his friends, and even my parents approved.
He is ten years older than me and seemed to know more about the world, about relationships, about everything, than me. But then I finished my education, got a career, started earning my own money. It was an even playing field, but I always had the slight advantage of youth. His friends envied him. Some of them even tried their luck with me, on the sly. But I’ve only ever been interested in one person, and that’s him. Loyalty is one of my strong points. I value it. But now I am beginning to wonder if it has blinded me to what is happening right under my nose.
11.02. Pointlessly, I check my ‘phone again. I’ve already been through the ridiculous excuses, ready to deflect them, disarm their power over me.
‘I lost my ‘phone,’
‘I left my ‘phone at the office,’
‘Silly me, I didn’t charge it up this morning so it died half way through texting you,’
‘We’ve been married for eight years now, we don’t have to give each other a running commentary any more, do we?’
‘You’re over reacting as usual,’
‘It’s just in your silly little head.....’
I wonder which one he will pick this time.
And I wonder which line I will take.
The definition of insanity is repeating the same behaviour over and over again and expecting a different outcome.
Maybe tonight will give us both an outcome we don’t expect.
The signs have, I suppose, been there for a while. But hindsight is always 20/20. While you are in the thick of a situation it’s impossible to see it for what it really is. You want to believe everything is all right, that life can follow suit, carry on in the same vein, that our train is just running on its familiar, worn old tracks. Even if we get derailed, we have always managed to get back on the straight and narrow. Our friends and family have always supported us through our various differences and arguments.... ‘Ah, but you two are made for each other!’ This is the slogan of our relationship, the banner that pops up in my mind every time I consider shaking things up, changing our routine, saying the words ‘I think we need to change...... I think I need a break.’
I’ve never quite plucked up the courage to say the words, or even form them in my mouth. My motivation has been fear. Loyalty. Love of routine. Questions have run through my mind like ‘What will I do for money?’ ‘Do I even know who I am without him?’ ‘What will my family think?’ Suddenly, it’s not just me I’m considering. Story of my life, I suppose.......
So I kept quiet, despite the nagging doubts. Then he has a sudden phase of working late. Recession, credit-crunch, cutting back on staff, unpaid overtime, but he’ll get time off in lieu, whenever we can agree on where to take our holidays. ‘Phones when he is on his way home; ‘Don’t worry about cooking, I’ll just get some chips.’ Smells of cigarette smoke, cheap perfume, the faint whiff of alcohol. With this surge in working hours, leaving me free to while away the hours after work concocting all kinds of scenarios in my head and calling friends to bring me back to earth, comes a renewed interest in smart clothes and expensive presents for me. ‘You deserve it,’ he says each time, giving me a sober peck on the cheek. ‘You’re so patient with me.’
Now it’s 11.09. Should I call my best friend, see what she thinks? Suppose it’s a bit late unless it’s an emergency. Mum and dad? They’ll either be in bed or start panicking that he’s dead and force me to ring the police and all the hospitals. I think I’m past all the melodrama and denial. This is a simple case of a husband playing away. I have woken up and taken off my rose-tinted spectacles. When he does come home, he might not get the outcome he expects.