Sunday, 14 October 2012

The Ex

It is bucketing down. Actually I don’t know if that is the right phrase for this amount of rain. In fact there are no words. I am hurrying down the deserted high street, battling with my useless, cheap and now damn it, broken stupid umbrella! I throw it in the general direction of the bin I just passed even though I know that it will miss by a mile. I am too angry and frustrated to care about littering right now and my children are not here to witness my hypocrisy so I don’t give a rats tail about it! The electric ran out just as I was trying to get the children ready for school this morning. They ate cold cereal in a huff because of course they both wanted toast seeing that I couldn’t possibly make it and they screamed when they had to wash in cold water (because my GAS boiler WOULD NOT WORK WITHOUT THE ELECTRIC! Why??) They both went to school tearful, which made me feel like the worst Mum in the whole world. So after already being soaked taking them to school, I had no choice but to trek a further 10 minutes in the opposite direction from home to the only shop in my area that tops up gas and electric keys. The rain steadily got harder, the wind picked up and now I am shivering as the freezing cold droplets have penetrated my clothing and I am soaked right down to my tatty greying underwear.

As I cross the small road leading in to a close, a car which by the way was travelling a bit too fast in this small area stops dead in front of me. It is not often cars stop to let me cross a road in any weather so I put my hand up and yell ‘thanks’ before stepping forward. I cannot see the car much through the rain which is streaming down my face. It just looks shiny, expensive and dark. I am actually shuddering and the wind is whipping my hair in to my face, but at least it doesn’t look frizzy now I muse to myself sarcastically. So I put my foot down in to the road and the car starts honking its horn at me. “What?” I scream as I jump back with a fright, turning wildly towards the vehicle. “You were letting me cross” I add bewildered. My heart is pumping and I am more than a little shocked. I stare at the car unseeing until I hear a familiar voice call “It’s me Tracy, get in” the passenger door swings open but I do not move. I am rooted to the spot with my mouth flapping open like an idiot. I can taste the rain. Now a head that I also recognise to be that of my ex, not my ex, THE ex, pokes out of the driver’s window and yells sternly “come on! Get in! You are soaked!” I really, really am. I nod.

Without thinking, because I cannot allow my brain to register what I am doing for fear of it jumping out of my head and slapping me, I get in to the car. I have not seen Steven for at least 11 years, but of course the first time we do clap eyes on each other it has to be a day when I am soaked, spotty and have blatantly been crying. I turn to thank him, say hi-whatever and immediately register that he is gorgeous, far more so than I remember. His jet black hair which was always cropped quite short is now grown out and spiked on top, and shaven at the back. Even though the rain has flattened it a little it still looks great. His chestnut eyes shine as he smiles at me. I want to say warmly, but honestly, there is a hint of mockery in it. “Do you need a lift” he is offering as he broadens his smile.
“Yes please. I’m going home.”
“Where do you live these days” he asks casually.
“Same place” I answer. Yes the same house we lived in together for three years. The house we decorated together, although I have re-decorated since then. For starters the ‘games room’ we once fitted out full of ‘boys toys’ such as pinball machines and a juke box is now the bedroom that my children share.
“Wow really?” he asks with genuine amazement “that must be crowded with kids!” Well he has kept up with the news then, sort of. I know nothing about his life now I realise as he pulls off, too fast, again. I take a sneaky sideways glance at him as I ponder the fact that I know nothing about his current life what so ever. I know nothing about the last 11 years of his life. He is as handsomely clean cut as always, he has filled out a little, in a good, manly way. He looks as though he is living well. Very well if his designer black jeans and cashmere grey jumper and of course flash motor are anything to go by. I feel like a crumpled heap in my cheapest on the high street clothes, which have seen better days. It is crazy though that this man, who’s body I have kissed every inch of, who I woke up to every morning and kissed sweet dreams to every night for about 5 years, has a whole life that I know not one thing about. The strange thing is that after I got over the initial upset of the failed relationship I rarely thought about him. I met the father of my children, was blissfully happy for a while. We had children; I was still working part-time as an administrator for the family courts. Life was busy and he never crossed my mind. Then life got bad, and suddenly I found memories of Steven and ‘what ifs’ creeping in. Life has been bad for a long time now, so you can imagine what my lonely and lost imagination had built him in to. And now here he is, in the flesh. I can smell him, which I realise is another thing I had forgotten, his delicious musky scent. I feel like an idiot and am battling the urge to either scream or cry! I feel more than a little stupid and don’t understand myself at all.

The short drive to my house is a very silent awkward one. I wish I hadn’t accepted the lift because I feel so out of place in this car and I am very aware that I have soaked the seat. As he pulls up in my driveway I feel compelled to apologise for that fact and he smirks at me in an awkward, blank way, which indicates that he doesn’t get why this bothers me.

“So, um, thanks then” I mutter trying to end this, “um, do you want a coffee” I extend this offer because I am kind and it is a habit, but I cannot tell you the relief I feel when he declines, not least because the house is a mess, but also because I need a hot bath and to put on some dry clothes. My hands are shaking as I try to undo my seatbelt, I would like to say from the cold but actually I am stupidly nervous and that seems to be the overriding factor here. I start panicking thinking that he might try to help, and then our hands might touch but then hear the click that indicates my success and relief washes over me.

Steve still has his hands on the steering wheel even though I notice that he has cut the engine. He is staring at the house so intently that I know he is not seeing what is before him now at this moment; he is seeing the house of before, 11 years ago. He is seeing the memories we share, and his face is set in an expression that indicates they are not the early, happy memories either. His jaw is ridged, his plum lips are turned down and he is frowning. Our relationship ended before we were ready. There was still love between us despite that fact we knew that we were not meant to be, that we couldn’t make it. We were hurting one another, arguing day and night, over anything, everything and of course nothing. The landlord even wrote to us right at the end saying we would be kicked out if we didn’t stop the shouting matches at all hours, and that letter forced me to accept that it had to end. It was me who pulled the plug. I ended it. I simply showed him the letter and pointed out that one of us had to leave, forever. That night sticks in my mind whenever I feel crap, which is often lately. I remember the words we screamed at each other, all of the nasty and cruel things we said. I remember the crying that we both did, and the pleading he did trying to persuade me that we would be o.k and should move, and the pleading I did for him to accept it and let me be. Then I remember him smashing everything he could break, and me shaking, wondering if he would put his hands to me next. He didn’t, ever, but in that moment I would not have placed a bet on it. I saw that he had real violent capabilities in him, and although he never had hit me, I could never say that he never would. I remember offering to leave, and then later, pleading with him to let me leave. But then he just stormed out. I waited all night for him to return, frozen in panic I could not go. He had smashed both of our mobiles and the house phone so I couldn’t call anyone. I sat in that house, in the darkness, surrounded by all of our broken processions and wept for the whole night. Whenever I think of, or read the words lonely, or desolate I picture myself that night. There I was curled up in to a ball behind the sofa, crying, alone and out of reach. Not knowing where he was or what he was doing. I was frightened for him, frightened of him and just plain frightened. All night. I eventually fell asleep and woke up shivering from the cold. Isn’t it odd that the very last time I saw him I was shivering and now here I am, sat in his car doing the same thing again. Life can be very strange.

“Why did you stay here?” he asks without turning to face me. I consider his question. I have never done this before. “I had nowhere else to go” I answer bluntly, truthfully. My Mother had died and I never knew my father. I was an only child as was my Mum, and my Grandparents had died long ago. I wasn’t able to run back to my mother like I presumed he had, that was where I sent the few possessions he had left after his rampage at least. “I just assumed you had left” he continues, “Obviously I knew you were still in the area. But”. He suddenly shakes his head and then is silent. I really don’t know what to say or do now. I really, really want to get out of this car now. The memories, my soaked clothes and his, his....intensity do not make for comfort. I want to run.

“I left London” he accuses, “I am only back to visit my Mum”.
“How is your Mum” I enquire cordially “I see her from time to time but haven’t for ages”. I can see him take this in, the fact that his Mum and I still exchange hellos, but he doesn’t comment he just confirms that she is fine. The whole family are fine. His Brother is married with two children now. I am so happy, John and Louise were a lovely couple even back then and it is heart warming to know that they have made it. Louise and I were very close for a while but we never spoke after Steven and I split up. That friendship was a massive loss to me; still I understand how hard it must have been. I try not to be bitter.

I want to end it here and go. I reach for the door when he suddenly asks me about my children, “So you have two children?” I nod. “How old are they?”
“Jayden is 9 and Sophie is 5, she just started school” I offer.
Steven nods as he takes this in. I know he is realising that I really didn’t let the grass grow after we split up. Little does he know that I met their dad while on a bender trying to forget him! He was meant to be my ‘rebound fling’ but then we fell in love. Moved in together really fast and well, the rest is obvious. We didn’t marry, I kept waiting for him to ask, but he just didn’t.
“What about their father or fathers?” he asks. I feel insulted. I shouldn’t but I just do.

I want to tell him the truth. We have split up because he cheated on me four times! I want to tell him that I threw that lying piece of rubbish out the door and that I only see or speak to him every other Saturday when he takes his kids out for the day. He refuses to have them over night because he doesn’t want me to have a life in case I meet someone else and move on, just like he has. He is a selfish idiot. But I have some pride so I just mutter that he is fine and leave it there. I can feel the bile rise up in my throat as I enquire about his love life even though I don’t want to know, but it only seems polite. Apparently Steve lives with Abbey and another female house mate. They have been together for three years. They live in Wales, she is Welsh. Steve runs his own plumbing company and she works for him. They are happy. I am glad. I am a tiny bit jealous because life worked out well for him, and me? Well, you know, at least I have my kids.

“Do you still work for the family courts?” he asks with genuine interest.
“No”, I inform him and then lie that I was made redundant two years ago. Actually I was sacked two years ago after my relationship broke down. I took weeks off work comforting the children and trying to pick my shattered heart up off of the floor and piece it back together again, and you know generally trying to put our lives back together. My managers were initially very understanding about that, but then the kids took it in turn to catch chicken pox. Then suddenly I was not wanted and was basically driven out of my beloved job of 15 years. I had no energy or will to fight it so I allowed it to happen. I realise that I am not selling myself very well to my ex. I am making no effort to impress him. I don’t mention that I am doing voluntary work at the nursery my children used to attend and neither do I mention that I am applying for a post as a teaching assistant in another school. I don’t understand why not, do I just want him to be relieved to be shot of this looser or what?
It’s no wonder that we fall back in to an awkward silence again. I can’t speak because I am afraid to cry if I open my mouth. Likewise I cannot look at him for the same reasons. So it is left to Steven to break the silence, “sorry to hear you are having a hard time work wise”, he doesn’t sound sorry. Actually he used to quite like it when someone who he either didn’t like or who he’d fallen out with in some way had a shitty time. I am the sort of person who likes to be amicable to people, even if I don’t get on with them. Steve always used to hope that they fell on bad times so I guess he must be very satisfied seeing me today, soaked in the rain, no job, no car and let’s face it my body isn’t the same hot size 8 body that he used to wrap himself around all of those years ago. If only he knew just how awful my life has been these last few years it would make his week. I try really hard to pull myself together and sound light and breezy when I assure him that I will be fine, that life is fine and everything in the whole universe is, just, great! I don’t believe me and I am damn sure that he doesn’t either but honestly I am pretty much past caring. I have humiliated myself and knowing that doesn’t feel good. “Well you look” he hesitates, “Like crap” I fill in the blank for him. He catches my eye and we laugh. It’s one of those fake awkward laughs that are used to hide discomfort.
“No” he lies, “you look great. Just a little damp”.
“Well thanks for lying but we both know I look crap. You wait until you have kids, no sleep and all that. Mind you at least it won’t mess with your figure” I joke. The silence slaps us both again. I hadn’t forgotten, it’s just I moved on. You see, the fighting started after we lost our baby. I was almost four months, and well apparently Mother Nature decided that we hadn’t made the baby right or whatever. It was a horrible, agonising, messy miscarriage in the dead of night. He burnt that bed right out in the back garden. He was so, so angry, at life, at himself and of course at me. It all went quickly downhill after that. Strangely I was able to move on a little from the grief, but his just got worse. Every time we saw my period he would flare up with rage and lash out at everything and everyone. It was awful waiting, hoping and praying for a baby to find its way in to my womb. Not because I even wanted another, just because I wanted him to be happy. To feel pleased with me again. Sex became an every night chore. There was no more ‘love making’, we were on a mission to make a baby. In the end we broke up. I was relieved when we didn’t have to put each other through it anymore, but sadly I don’t think Steven saw it that way. My fear could still smell his anger.

“Sorry” I mutter vaguely as I throw the car door open. I don’t quite know what I am saying sorry for to be honest. I apologised so many, many times for losing the baby. He swore that he didn’t blame me, but treated me exactly as though he did. Friends commented on it, and his own Mother gave him a piece of her mind over it so it was not just in my head.
“You have nothing to apologise for” Steven starts, causing me to turn round and stare at him in shock, but when I meet his eyes I cannot be sure whether he means it or not. His eyes are no longer shiny and chestnut; they are closed off, cold and black.
I find myself nodding as I stumble out of the car back in to the rain which thankfully is slower now, I don’t know why I am nodding though, I just seem to do it. I am really, really trembling now. Partly from the cold and partly from a mixture of emotions which I can’t even place my finger on. I lean in to the car briefly and sincerely wish Steven all of the very best. He thanks me and wishes me well back. I don’t allow myself to care as to how genuine that is. I won’t allow myself to wonder about it. As the door clicks shut he pulls away so fast his tires screech. I hadn’t even realised that he had re-started the engine so silent it is.

I rush in to my house and slam the door hard behind me. I am shacking violently now. So much so that I stagger up the stairs like a drunk after blindly putting the eclectic key in to the meter. I cannot see through the pools in my eyes so I just hope that it has been accepted. I somehow make it in to the bathroom before I fall to the floor. I cry, and cry and cry. Years of hurt, anger, pain and grief pour out of my eyes, nose, lungs and mind. I am wailing. Howling like a wounded animal in fact. I literally sob until I have no more tears to give. Please do not ask me what I am crying for because I have no answer. I hope that crying will act as a release from everything. You see, if asked I would have said that I had moved on from him, the loss of the baby and all of that pain years ago. But there again, perhaps the pain of everything that happened after Steven and I broke up also had a massive part to play in those tears. To be totally honest, I have had this tiny little feeling festering away inside of me ever since the night that he left, it was as though I deserved all of the bad things that happened to me from that day on. Like as if I didn’t deserve to be happy again, like as if I was being punished in some way. I always felt a pang of guilt every time I felt good or happy and every time something great happened I have this little dagger inside me, poking away at me reminding me that I didn’t deserve it. I have to fight the urge to run to the school, gather my children in to my arms and scream with joy that they are here, that they are mine. Nothing and no one can do anything to take those joyful bundles away from me. I thank God for my babies over and over again in my mind while I lie on the cold lino floor.

Once I am calm enough to stand I do so, I put the plug in and start to run a bath. I pour plenty of bubble bath in to the water and watch it foam up without any further thought. Then once I add a little cold water I slowly peel my still sodden clothes off of my body. I am blue from the cold and the dye from my cheap jeans, I have the hugest goose pimples that I have ever seen and am seriously shaking like a leaf. I resign myself to the fact that I am going to get a filthy rotten cold after this. I step in to the bath and the warmth of the water burns my feet even though it is not too hot at all, they are just frozen solid. I love the feeling of sinking in to a warm bath. As the water splashes around your body and your muscles instantly relax it seems to wash all of the bad things away. Well that feeling was amplified 100%. I lay in the water and allowed myself to think about the conversation in the car. Steven seemed very bitter and I felt glad that I wasn’t carrying those feelings around with me every day. That didn’t mean I was glad that he did, just so very glad that I did not. I cried some more, for the past with Steven, for my children and for the pain I felt at their father. I cried because I really missed my Mum. I cried because I wished so hard that she could sweep me up in to her arms and hold me. I cried because of course that could never happen. I felt relieved to let it all out. I didn’t feel stronger, but I did feel a little lighter. That wasn’t such a bad place to start.

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