Sunday, 25 November 2012

The Journey

I walk purposefully up the road as fast as my smart black court shoes will allow. I’ve hated these stupid sensible shoes since the day I bought them; even in the shop I hated them. I am going to throw them away tonight. I also want to lose the neat, easy to manage bob too. I want my wild chestnut mane back! I swear to myself that I will never ‘do’ sensible again. I will do fun. Be fun. Be wild! I will be me once again and nothing or no one will stop me. I feel a little surge of anger rise within me again which strengthens my resolve and that makes me walk faster still. It strikes me that if anyone were to see me right now they would think that a. I am a business woman and b. that I am very late for something. That is not the case. I am not a business woman at all, I haven’t been for years. And from this moment on I am nobody, nothing! I am not late for anything either. I have just dropped my children off at school, and I am leaving. I am never returning. I will not be there to greet them at the school gates this afternoon. No one will be there. I stop my thoughts right there. ‘Do not think about this’ I warn myself sternly-silently. ‘Do not think. Do not think. Just do. Just do’ I chant to myself over and over again.

I run up the stairs at the train station two at a time. I do not know what platform I need as I have absolutely no idea where I am going. There is a train on platform 3 which is going to Rochester and due to pull out in 10 minutes. I hurriedly jab the buttons on the ticket machine and stuff £20 note in to the payment slot. I hear the machine whirling and wining indicating that the machine is printing and dispensing my ticket and snatch it out of the machine. I run for the train as I hear my change drop in to the tray and I can hear someone shout that I have forgotten my money but that just makes me run faster still. I cannot stop. I cannot think. I have got to keep moving. The little satchel that I am carrying hits hard against my legs as I run up the cold hard stone steps but I do not stop. I force my legs to keep moving and burst in to the train with such force that it causes several commuters to look up at me in shock. Shakily I grope for a seat. There are quite a number available as this train is heading out of the city and it is technically still the rush hour. I slide in to a two seat chair, placing my bag on to the seat beside me in the hope that people will take the hint and not try to sit next to me. I lean my head against the cold hard window and stare unseeing at the grey plastic back of the seat in front. I am willing this train to leave but it resolutely stays for what feels like hours. Eventually the doors ‘beep’ a warning and slam closed. In the second between the doors closing and the train moving I am hardly able to breathe, my mind freezes and my eyes clamp shut. As I feel the train pull away from the station I finally find I am able to prise open my eyes and take a deep breath. It is then that I am hit by a whole host of emotions. Relief and panic wash over me in equal measure which is a confusing sensation. I am rooted to the seat but have the desperate urge to run. I feel guilty and evil. Trapped and free all at the same time. My head is spinning and my whole body hurts as though I have just been in a car crash. I am crying. Silent, hot, salty tears are streaming down my face. What have I done? What am I doing? But deep inside a little voice is asking ‘How can I do anything else’? I am in agony. I am hyperventilating! I didn’t think that emotional pain was ever enough to make a person die, but today I realise that it really can kill you. No one can survive agony this bad.

I have turned my body towards the window as I definitely don’t want people on the train to see that I am crying. It takes so long for me to calm myself down enough to be able to focus on the scenery outside of the window and see that we have now left the built up residential areas behind and there is a lot more soothing green to see. It does not sooth me today. I cannot remember the last time I sat on a train without a child. Thomas is seven and it would have been before he was born. Seven years is such a long time. I think about train journeys that I can remember. Thomas and Anna screaming and crying, old women tutting and men looking at you as though you are something they trod in! Who am I kidding? Like as if the woman behave any better! Why are people in this country so hostile towards young children and their parents? It is a strange feeling, to realise that people dislike you because you dare to bring your offspring out in public, do they honestly think you should stay at home with small children and never leave the house for goodness sake? Would they like people to look at their loved ones that way? I ponder this for the millionth time and still I never find an answer. I also wonder if in fact people are like that in all countries. I haven’t travelled abroad since having the children so have no answer to this either.
I don’t have any answers to many, many questions lately it seems. Ever since their Father left the children keep asking me why, and I honestly cannot tell them. Anna looks at me with her imploring hazel eyes pleading to see her beloved Father, and is so angry that I am never able to produce him. They are impatient to know why he does not come home every day, why he does not visit them, and why he never answers his phone; and I cannot tell them why. I have no answers to their pleas and I have no mechanisms to cope with their angry temper tantrums when they vent their frustrations at me. Thomas bites and spits his rage at me, he screams that he hates me and tries to scratch my face. I am covered in bruises and teeth marks from his many outraged bursts of anger, which is both physically and emotionally painful for me too.

Witnessing the agony my children are in and feeling powerless to help them is the worst feeling in the world. Worse than the breakup of my marriage, or anything else I can think of. Anna cries and screams her discontent. She does not want me to tuck her in to bed each night, or to kiss her goodbye, she only wants her Daddy. I found Thomas tucking his five year old sister in to bed three nights ago. She asked him over me. This sweet sight should have been heart warming, but it wasn’t. It was just as heart breaking as the rest of my whole life. I plead with the children to let me help them with their coats and shoes; I am unable to help them with their pain since they won’t allow me to. I beg to be allowed to hold them, soothe them and comfort them but they refuse me saying that they only want their Daddy! The crazy thing being that he has never helped the children dress even when he did live with them! I do understand how angry they feel though because if I could find Greg believe me I would bite, scream and kick and spit my rage at him too! But he is not there, only I am.
Greg just came home from work on Friday night three months and two weeks ago exactly. He didn’t apologise for being so late, but then he stopped apologising for being late months before that and I had given up complaining about it. He told me that he didn’t love me anymore! He refused to talk and refused to answer any of my questions or listen to any of my pleas. He packed a few essentials and then left! His phone has been permanently switched off ever since and I have called his office every day, four times a day since the Monday morning after he left, only to be told that he is not there when I know that he is-where else would he be? I foolishly thought that a weekend away from his family would have given him time to think, to change his mind and come home. I was so wrong. I have turned up to his office a number of times, and the security officers would not permit me to enter without an appointment! I was nearly arrested the last time I went there as I essentially tried to ‘storm’ the building! You will be forgiven if you think that this is simply impossible. That he simply could not have just walked away from his wife of ten years and his two beautiful children without a word of warning but you would be wrong. You could be forgiven for not believing me when I tell you that he has taken away any financial support that he should be providing me with since I gave up my job at his insistence, but you would be wrong there too. He has not put a single penny in to our joint account since before he left. It is nearly empty now and I have had sleepless night after sleepless night panicking about what I will do when it is empty. There is about £100 left. He had kept up with the Mortgage at least but that is all. I know that I will have to get a job as soon as possible, and I will be glad to do so, but he is still disgusting for dumping his responsibilities so heartlessly.

When I say that I cannot answer the children’s questions, well that isn’t strictly true since Greg finally emailed me. I got it last night, my first thought was ‘how cold!’ my second thought was that I should have thought to email him after he left. He might have responded to that. He informed me that he is filing for a divorce. He told me that he will agree a fair financial settlement if I agree to the divorce without fuss. He also added that he would reward me if I allow the divorce to move quickly. He wants this to be over as soon as possible so that he can marry her before their baby is born.

So there is a ‘her’. I suspected as much.

She is pregnant! Oh God!

He wants to marry her! Oh God! Oh God!

I feel another physical blow as this filters through my brain. Before their baby is born! He wants to marry her. Angry tears swell in my eyes again as I think about the fact. I knew he was cheating of course. There was no proof; I didn’t dare look for any, but there again I didn’t need any either. I just knew that he was cheating. I was frozen with fear and just kept hoping it would pass and he would be back to being my husband soon. We are married and have two young children, which just had to mean something to him. I didn’t believe for even one second that he would actually love her. That he would ever leave me and the children. I just kept my head down and hoped beyond hope that it would pass quickly. I thought it was just about sex really. Our sex life was pretty much nonexistent towards the end which was a relief to me really. I was often too tired for sex anyway and since he had piled on so much weight I didn’t exactly find Greg attractive. She did though, but I suppose his huge bank balance has something to do with that too I think spitefully. I did everything Greg wanted of me. He wanted his children to have the stability of a stay at home Mum, so home I stayed! Now apparently it is o.k. for them to have no satiability at all in their little lives. He didn’t want me to dress in trendy impractical clothes, so I now dress like a woman far older than my age. People baulk when they learn that I have only just passed 35 years old. Recently I have felt as if my practical clothes, shoes, hair and bags have been suffocating me. I started to feel as though I needed to escape from them and now that’s exactly what I will do.

I know how foolish I was shoving the blinkers on and hoping that his affair would just ‘go away’, but I felt powerless to do anything else. I do not know how long they were together before he left. It seems that it must have meant something to him. He must love her. He would not marry her simply because she is pregnant. Leaving his children is proof enough of that. So now I am a penniless, jobless single parent. I have zero support and I am entirely on my own looking after two angry, confused little children day and night. I am spent from the emotional upheaval I have been through, from the lack of sleep and frankly from being told how hated I am about fifty times a day. I have spent so many years trying to keep my little family together, and to do everything ‘just so’ that I cannot remember when I last had fun, when I last enjoyed life. When was the last time we did something fun as a family? I can’t remember because all I can see is the stress of days out, the children crying, Greg being angry that they are causing a scene, debating where to eat as often places he liked didn’t welcome children. It was awful. I know that people will judge me harshly for leaving my children; I also know that no one will judge Greg. Frankly from where I am sitting right now it seems to me that it is almost seen as entirely acceptable for a man to leave his family if he is unhappy, but a woman will be ‘dragged through the mud’ for doing the same thing. I am ready for that. I think.
I did not choose to become a single parent. It was forced upon me against my will, so why should I allow him to do this to me? I waited for the ring on my finger; I waited for the mortgage and the security that came with my marriage. I was raised by my Mother alone for many years until she met my step-father. I didn’t choose that for myself or my children so why should I allow this to be forced upon me? It is not my fault. I tried to make my marriage work. He wanted me to have the children and so I gave him the family that he asked for. I have looked after those children on my own all day, every day. His input was minimal at best. Greg insisted that I stop working and so I gave up my job, but I still made sure to read the Financial Times every day so that I could be informed and discuss my stock broker Husband’s day with him over supper each night. I also made sure to cook a separate supper for us each night so that we had time alone each evening. Also I could never imagine my husband eating a fish finger for his supper and equally I doubted that the children would really enjoy sushi or the other very adult food that my husband preferred to eat, so every night I would feed the children, bath them, let them say ‘goodnight’ to their Daddy (apart from Monday evenings when we agreed that Greg would read their bedtime story), then once they were in bed I would wash up, finish preparing our supper and then clean up after that again too. We used to sit and watch the news together every evening but once the affair started I would often find myself eating alone and watching the news alone. Then I just gave up and started eating with the children, at least this made them happy. That is a blessing as they are going to be far, far from happy now no matter what I try to do. The fact is that he has forced me to become something that I do not want to be, so why should I just sit there and allow him to do that to me? I will not stand for it. I will vote with my feet and walk away just like he has!

I imagine their little faces this afternoon at the school when I do not come. They will be so confused and so very sad. Who will come for them I wonder? Will Greg? I doubt it. I remember when my Mum died, even though I was a grown woman, a mother myself at the time, I did feel as though she had abandoned me. It is a horrible feeling I acknowledge. My half-sister and I are not close. She lives in Spain and I hadn’t seen her for years until the funeral. I haven’t seen her since and that was 6 years ago. She has never met Anna. I receive a card every Christmas and that is the only contact we have. She will not ‘be there’ for my children. There is a chance that Greg’s parents might take care of them, but that is doubtful. They are elderly and infirm. I realise that the chances are that a Social Worker will be the person to collect them from school, a stranger. A stranger who will take them to stay with foster carers, more strangers! What will they think? How will they feel? I feel a sharp pain in my heart at this thought. They will be so scared I realise in horror. It will take many, many years of therapy to help them through this. I wish I hadn’t failed them too. Will they ever understand that their Father left me with little choice?

Did Greg have all of this angst and pain when he left the children I wonder for the first time? He didn’t appear to, but then I suppose he knew that they had me. They will not have him now I suspect. I hope he proves me wrong whilst at the same time I am terrified that he will prove me right.

I suddenly notice the castle up on the hill. I didn’t realise that you could see the castle from the train. I am now in Rochester and I hadn’t even noticed. I am grateful when I am finally able to get off of the train and in to the fresh air. I felt like I was suffocating sitting on the train. I don’t feel much better now I am off of the train though to be honest. It is almost 11.30am. I automatically wonder what the children are doing right now. It is a habit. I wonder how long it will take for me to lose it. I hope I never ever stop wondering what my children are doing. I hope that they will live wonderful, full and happy lives. I hope that they forget about me and at the same time pray that they will not. I hope that they will forgive me. Of course I know that I don’t deserve their forgiveness but I am not strong enough to raise two children all on my own. I have failed them so badly. I am a useless woman, a useless wife and a useless Mother. I do not deserve them and they deserve so much better than me.

Once I am off of the train I find the aimlessness of my journey makes me feel awkward and lost. I have nowhere to be and therefore where do I head? I stand at the exit of the station for a few minutes feeling so unsure of what to do. I can see some shops ahead of me and so with no idea where I am going, I just leave the station and walk in that direction. I look around at the surroundings I find myself in and wonder why I have never visited Rochester before. It isn’t very far away and it seems to be a lovely place, I used to think that I should take the children out of London more often for day trips, but I never really got around to it. I also wonder if this is where I will stay, if I will even sleep here tonight never mind every night from now on. I cannot picture this quaint little town with its pretty shops and cobbled streets as my future home as nice as it seems. I wonder if I will ever feel at home anywhere again. I wonder where I will find work and what I will do. The tears sting my eyes again making it very hard to see where I am going. My mind feels as though it is filled with fog and I cannot think straight. I find that I am fighting the urge to run again, but I have no idea where I want to run to, perhaps it’s more what I am wanting to run away from, oh I don’t know. I don’t know anything anymore. I probably need some therapy too myself I acknowledge.

Suddenly I am finding it very hard to breathe again. I see a little coffee shop a few yards ahead of me, there is a row of metal tables and matching chairs lined up outside. I make my way there and sit down heavily on one of the chairs. My legs feel heavy and tired despite the fact that I have been sitting for the most part of the morning, something which I rarely do on a normal day. Mind you though, I feel tired all of the time lately. Stress and the physical excursion of looking after two young children have just felt too much for me lately. The very act of living has felt too much at times.

“What can I get you?” The cheery voice jolts me out of my miserable train of thought and makes me jump. Startled I look up to see a smiling rotund woman with short curly grey hair grinning at me. “In a world of your own, are you dear?” she scoffs kindly. I try to smile back, after all the sullen robotic faces that usually greet me in the coffee shops I normally frequent I want to make the effort for her, but I am aware that my effort is dismal. “Please can I have a tall skinny latte?” I ask in a voice that is barely more than a whisper. I think that she senses that I am a little bomb that is due to explode any moment and so she nods while giving me a rather concerned look but disappears without further comment. I barely notice her leave though. My eyes are fixed on the small blond woman pushing her baby in a pram with one hand while holding her toddler’s hand tightly in her other hand as he skips along happily beside her. The little boy of about three is chatting away happily while his mother is half trying to concentrate on what he is saying and half trying to manoeuvre the pram on the unhelpful cobbles. She looks tired and distracted, but somewhere beneath that, she looks content. I doubt that I will ever feel content again. Will I ever get used to seeing other woman with their children? Will the pain and guilt that this scene is causing me ever fade? No of course it won’t, how could it? How can I ever feel right again after what I have done today? I can run away from everything and everyone, but the pain and guilt will follow me round every day for the rest of my life and I know that I deserve it. I wonder if my children will ever be able to forgive me for abandoning them. Perhaps when they are grown they might want to find me and perhaps then we will be able to build a relationship again. When they are grown! As this statement forms in my mind two other thoughts also enter my head; the first is a nasty snide little comment really, it says ‘what when all of the hard work is done?’ the second is a sadness as I realise that I will have missed out on everything. They will have all of these memories of their lives and I will not have shared them. I find myself wondering who will share all of these memories with my children. That is a sobering thought. I feel jealous of this fictional stranger already and I am fully aware of how ridiculous I am being.

It is quite a while before I realise that my coffee and a bill have been placed in front of me. I didn’t even notice! I might be distracted but even so I notice that my latte is in fact a cup of warm milk with a spoon full of instant coffee in it! Normally this would send me in to a rage, but today it makes me smile. I drink it quickly and pay far more than the price just because it is the first time that I have smiled in weeks. Before I have time to even think about what I am doing I find that I am marching back towards the bridge that leads to the train station. I allowed my husband to leave me and make a new future and new memories with another woman and that is fine. That is his choice and I can’t stop him as painful as it may be. But I refuse to allow my children to suffer any further loss and I will not allow myself to lose them and let someone else raise my children. They are mine and that is my job come what may! They may think that they hate me now but I love my babies and I will not fail them this time. I don’t even know where the decision came from, only that it is made and that I am going to be at the school gates tonight after all!

I feel the heavy sobs of relief and anguish give way and I am now practically running back to the station. I don’t care that I have spent the whole day looking like a freak show. I just need to get home and I am in danger of being late if I don’t get a move on! When I finally stand on the correct platform with my ticket in my hand I scan the timetable and realise that I have twenty minutes until my train will arrive. I think that the journey took around two hours. So this means that I will arrive at the station exactly at 3.30pm. If I walk briskly I will make it to the school in 5 minutes which is fine, no one will notice that I am a little late. The twenty minutes that I wait for the train are simply painful. The cool November day has finally started to chill and numb my body, but my mind is no longer frozen, it is racing all over the place. I know in my heart that I would never really have left my children. I love them too much but I still hate myself for what I have done and even though my children will never know about this-thank goodness, I will still never, ever forgive myself. Again I start to wonder if Greg has these same feelings, but I stamp the thought out of my mind. I don’t know what he is thinking or feeling and he isn’t my problem anymore. I have to find the strength to stop caring. Yes I will try to sort contact out between him and the children and I will also reply to his email and demand that he start financially supporting his children as of today, or I will drag this divorce on for years! But apart from that he won’t be part of my life any more, and I will be glad for that one day.

I am ready to burst with frustration by the time the train finally pulls in. Again I sit so that I cannot be easily viewed by other passengers, not that there are many at this time of day, but there might be as we go along. I do not concentrate on the scenery outside. All I can focus on is getting back home to my children. I wish this train went faster. I want to get out and push the darn thing. I try to distract myself by thinking about what I will cook the children for dinner, what story I will read them at bedtime, if they allow me, but I cannot think about those things. All I can think about is the fact that I nearly left them today. A cold chill runs down my spine every time those words form in my mind.

Suddenly the train stops at a red signal. I can actually see the light from my seat. It is 2.45pm. I will the light to change quickly. The driver announces that we are being held at a red light and that we will be on the move again soon. He makes this announcement three times. 10 minutes later we pull off again. I am late! I will not make it to the school on time and I search through my brown satchel four times before I remember that I did not bring my phone with me. I didn’t want anyone to be able to contact me. My heart pounds as I realise that I cannot call the school and if one of my children got hurt or ill today the school would not have been able to call me. A sense of dread fills my body and the rest of the train journey is agony despite the fact that there are no further delays.

I literally run to the school as fast as my heinous shoes will allow and despite a vicious blister that has developed on each heel. As I reach the gate I can already see my children standing at the door with their teacher waiting for me. Anna is crying. Thomas looks, scared I think. I start apologising even though they cannot hear me as I run up the path to the door. Ms Harris opens the door and says cheerfully to the children “See now, here Mummy is, I told you she wouldn’t be very long”.

“I am so sorry” I gasp, with tears catching my throat again, “the train was delayed and I left my phone at home. I am so sorry” I plead. I am looking at my children, with their tiny little bodies’ stuffed in to their grown up, grey uniform. The both look so unhappy. I know that I have got to change this.

Ms Harris smiles kindly and assures me that as I am never normally late there is no need to worry. Clearly she can see that I have had a horrible day. I have had to inform the school about Greg so no doubt they are being so kind because they think I am late because I have been sorting things out. Well, in a way that is I correct I suppose. We start to walk home slowly. I am silent because I do not know what to tell the children and am trying to come up with an explanation. Suddenly Thomas blurts “We thought you had gone away Mummy”. I stop dead in my tracks and look down either side at the sad, tired little faces of my children. Both have dark hair and hazel eyes like their father, I will always be grateful to him for our children I decide, but they both also have dark circles under their eyes, and sad looking pale faces which is something that I will also hate him for always. I gently pull them both round in front of me and bend down to their level. In the most forceful voice I can muster I tell them that I will never, ever leave them while I try to look in to their eyes so that they know I am serious. I grab my babies and hug them tightly, and for the first time since I had to tell them that their father left, they both hold me and cry. Together we stay in this huddle and cry for what feels like a very long time. “Where were you?” my practical little Anna asks through her tears.

“I went to see a castle” I tell them “and I am taking you both to see it tomorrow” I hadn’t given it a single thought until I had said it, but it is just what we need! “Really!” they both chime. “Yes I tell them. Really! We are going to see a bit castle that is high up on a hill!”

“Will Daddy come too?” Thomas asks hopefully and with a loyalty that Greg does not deserve. Again my heart sinks but I try to stay strong as I explain once again “No Thomas. I am so sorry, but Daddy has gone to live in a new house and he will not be visiting today”. Anna asks when they will see him, and I explain that I will ask him again, and that until he tells me I do not know, but that I hope it is soon. This reinforces my decision to email him; I will demand that he take responsibility, see his children and provide us with an income and fulfil his obligations to us, and if he ignores me I will see a solicitor and I will drag this divorce out for as long as I can if he forces me to do that.

“But we can still have a lovely day” I add as we begin to walk again, “We will see the castle and then have a burger for lunch. Does that sound nice?”

“Yes” Anna cries.

“Can I have a sword?” Thomas adds.

“We will see” I giggle. We will just have to see what happens next. But this time I believe that I am ready for what life will send my way, because I have realised that I do not want to give up on my life and my children. I also know that Greg will never step up and be the father that my children deserve because he never has even when we were still together. He never changed a nappy, fed them, changed their dirty clothes or dealt with a single ‘need’ that they had, beyond financial needs anyway. He has never attended a parents meeting and made me fax him their reports, he was annoyed when the schools would not email them to him. So I am going to have to fight their corners for them all of the way. After our visit to the castle tomorrow I will just have to ‘step up and do battle’. Perhaps I should buy myself a sword I muse. Poor Greg won’t know what has hit him!

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