Thursday, 12 September 2013

Where Has Suzie Gone?

Part One:

Yawning I sip my steaming cup of coffee and try to rub some life in to my overly tired eyes. The hot liquid causes me to flinch slightly as it burns my tongue but I ignore the sharp sting in my mouth. Never the less caution kicks in and I blow hard in to the cup before I sip away again. I always sit out here on the step early in the morning. I love watching the light seep its way in to my little garden, growing bigger and brighter, and I watch the insects and flowers as they greet the day too. The fresh smell of the new day always manages to fill me with, oh I don’t know, hope perhaps? I find the chill of the early morning air invigorating and breathe it in deeply, having barely slept for the last few nights I need all the help I can get to wake me up and the lovely clean, cool air seems to be working a treat.

Sitting here is a tiny pleasure that I allow myself each day and it is the only time in any day which I properly have to myself. Being a wife and mother is a busy job, so while my husband and daughter wake up at 7am, I get up an hour earlier, sit on my step and drink my coffee until it is time to wake them and get them both fed and ready for the day ahead. I allow my eyes to wander over the garden and smile with satisfaction at what they take in. I love my garden, tiny as it might be; it’s my very own project, as no other member of my family ever bothers with it. Even though spring has not long arrived it is already green, flowers including my newly planted daffodils are in bud and the tulips are starting to sprout up too. It’s already so pretty, and every time I look at it I feel proud of my achievement. It is proof that I am capable of doing something well.
“God can’t you shut that door it’s bloody freezing in here”! My husband exclaims grumpily.

The surprise of his sudden appearance causes me to practically leap to my feet and sends a large slosh of coffee splattering down my thankfully black night shirt. Any hopes that he has missed my blunder are dashed when his eyes fix to my front and I am very aware that he isn’t staring at my boobies! I am, and always have been very clumsy when I am around Darren. You would think that after 21 years of marriage he wouldn’t have this effect on me, but whenever I am near him I turn back in to the clumsy dithering teenager of old! For his part, Darren used to find this character trait cute and endearing in the early days of our relationship, but he no longer does given that I am not the cute 15 year old girl that he fell in love with anymore. Now he simply finds it irritating when I trip, slip, drop and spill things continuously, and because I know this, and am embarrassed by the fact, it just makes me even worse!

I use the pause to take a quick look at him, isn’t it funny that even after being together for almost 22 years he can still cause those giddy butterflies to fill the pit of my stomach! Darren is insanely good looking even when he has just got up, his handsome face still crumpled from sleep and his white blond hair poking out all over the place do nothing to diminish his looks. I note that he is fully dressed despite having just got up but I try not to wonder why. The main reason why I am watching him so acutely is actually because I am just trying to suss out his mood, and from where I am standing, out here in the cold, I can see that it doesn’t look hopeful!

“Morning” I answer with a false brightness as I step inside and close the back door, “would you like a cup” I indicate my own now almost empty cup and already walk to the kettle before he even answers with a nod. I try really hard to keep my voice bright and cheerful in a determined effort to avoid any further quarrel this morning. “You’re up early” I continue as I notice that it isn’t even 6.30 yet. I can physically feel the tension rise in the room but try my best to ignore the fact and concentrate on making coffee instead. Milk sloshes all over the kitchen side as I miss the cup and I nearly drop the sugar pot altogether. I am actually cringing inside as I can ‘feel’ that he is watching me intensely. The silence between us feels endless; it is actually giving me a headache as impossible as it sounds. I want to do, or say something, anything to end it but feel impotent with fear because I know that if I say the wrong thing, I risk reigniting the hateful rows of the previous day. So I try to avoid any further conversation and instead concentrate on cleaning up the mess I have made and try very hard to get the ingredients in to the cup! I needn’t have tried to keep the peace at all because Darren just launches right back in to war!

“So is that it?” he demands “was last night the end of the conversation, you are going and there is nothing that I can say to stop you?” He isn’t asking me, this isn’t a plea for me to tell him what to say or do; this is the gauntlet being thrown because he and I both know that I have to go. Darren has never, ever lost an argument with me before, I have always done as he has said and he clearly feels unable to deal with this unexpected turn of events. Even I can barely believe what I am doing! Temporarily I am rooted to the spot, I am unsure of what to say or do, because I know that I cannot win in this situation. If I go, and I really must, he will never forgive me, and if I stay myself and my family will never forgive me. Almost every member of my family have already distanced themselves from me years ago, and because I know that I cannot blame them, I have learned to deal with this fact, but I don’t want to end up in the position of not being able to look at myself in the mirror. It is already hard enough to do that as it is.

“Please Darren”? I plead as I turn to face him, “Please? She is dying. I have to go to her” I cannot continue speaking because my voice finally breaks and huge juddering sobs break out from deep inside where I have held them for a very long time. Years of guilt and sorrow come pouring out in place of words and I find that I am completely unable to stop myself from wailing. The huge torrent of tears means that I don’t even see Darren dive across the kitchen and so I am unable to move out of the way to stop him from grabbing my face. He grabs my cheeks so hard in his right hand that my mouth scrunches up and my lips are forced out and up towards my nose, he grabs my hair with this left hand and holds my head so tightly that I am unable to move it at all. As I am no longer able to speak the air and mucus that have built up while I was crying are forced out of my nose. I feel so humiliated knowing how disgusting I must look with tears and snot streaming down my face, and I am shaking so violently that I don’t even feel as though my own legs are supporting me anymore.

“Stop it”! Darren hisses as he shakes my head violently, causing me to fear that my neck will actually snap, “Stop that fucking fake arsed crying bullshit”! His face is so close to mine that he is spitting right in to my face and I can smell the toothpaste on his breath. The whole experience coupled with my inability to properly breathe leaves me feeling light headed and sick but his grip on me is so tight, and my fear so great that I cannot even attempt to physically remove myself. Rare as it may be, I have caused Darren to ‘lose it’ with me before, so I do know that when he is this out of control the best thing to do is stay still and quiet and let his anger pass, it is just stupid to test him further. “Your Mother is not bloody dying” he fumes, “she is old and she is fucking crazy-she has always been a crazy bitch, but she is not fucking dying! So don’t you dare try to guilt me you spiteful cunt!”

With his final insult he literally spins me round and launches me in to the air without difficulty. I am a tiny 4ft 10 and UK size 8 so thanks to a big strong Darren I literally fly across the kitchen and crash in to the heavy wooden dining set. Shock and fear mean that I don’t even immediately register the pain caused by the impact, my head is spinning and I feel like I am trapped in a crazy dream. I can’t even think straight as Darren stands over me and screams that I am selfish, that I am choosing to leave him and Nicole through choice, not need and that I don’t even care that they need me, or that I will be away for Mother’s Day. I fear that my pleas and denials are falling on deaf ears but then he surprises me by offering an alternative, “Right” he levels nodding vigorously, clearly liking what he is about to suggest “if it is true and you really just want to see the old witch before she pops her clogs then fine. Fine!” his words tumble breathlessly from his snarling mouth, “tomorrow I will drive you there and you can see her. Spend the whole fucking day with her-take her shopping-whatever,” he adds warningly, “but then you come home! You come straight home, with me!”

Although I have never battled my husband before, and as tempted as I am to end his anger by agreeing to his compromise I know that I cannot. I have faithfully promised my long suffering sister that I would come and help her and I know that I cannot let her down again. Ronnie is at breaking point and I have not been there for her and Mum at all when they have needed me. I shake my head and try to articulate myself again, “Darren please, Veronica has been looking after Mum by herself for the last five years. Five years without a break! She needs help,” I whimper, still crouching beside the dining room table and chairs as my legs are shaking too much to allow me to stand “she needs a break! Just one week” I am pleading and begging again such is my desperation for him to understand the position I am in. “I haven’t seen either of them since Mum had her stroke three years ago” I add, “I feel so guilty”.

“I. I. I” he screams at me, “You fucking selfish bitch. All I can hear is I. I. I. Are you trying to guilt me” he fumes, “because I didn’t fucking let that old cunt move in here?” Temper is causing him to shake and spittle to spray out of his mouth; I don’t think that I have ever, ever seen him so mad. “Your fucking dried up hag of a sister doesn’t have a husband” he continues without allowing me a second to respond, “she doesn’t have a family, and don’t tell me that she isn’t fucking loving it, living in that huge house rent free. She is playing a smart game, look after your Mother for a couple of years and win a free house! And you!” he points right in my face “are too fucking stupid to see that she is playing you!”

As he stands back up to his full 6ft 3 and looms over me, the disgust on his face remains completely unveiled despite being contorted with rage. His breath visibly shudders out of his chest and I can see that in his heart he knows that I am actually going to keep my word for the first time ever. I stay very still despite my pain and discomfort and try to make myself as small as possible, I want to try to stand but I dare not move right now. I need to stay still and quiet in order to allow him a chance to calm down. “Veronica” he spits my sister’s name as though it is poison “doesn’t give a shit about anyone but her fucking self”. Pausing he takes a breath and looks at me thoughtfully, “So is that it? You are going no matter what I say?” as he asks the question he already knows the answer.

“Please Darren” I don’t even get to finish before he rages that I am a fucking stupid bitch and kicks me hard in the side of my ribs causing me to scream out in pain. “I swear Suzanna; if you leave I might just refuse to allow you back”.
I am devastated when as he continues to yell that he hates me, and that there are better women who he could be with, he storms out right past our 17 year old daughter and I realise that she has clearly seen everything. Poor Nicole looks so embarrassed and openly avoids looking at me as I try to regain my composure and make my way slowly to my feet. “He is just upset” she defends her Father by parroting the words that she has heard me say to her so very often since she was a tiny little girl. Her pretty oval face and the sharp blue eyes she inherited from her father are screwed up as though in deep thought and I can see her nervously twiddling her thumbs around one another, a clear indication that she doesn’t quite know what to do.

“Yes” I murmur wincing in pain as I slowly attempt to straighten up. I feel like my face is covered in blood but a quick panicky wipe with the back of my hand makes me realise that it is just tears and snot. I am thankful but none the less know that I must look truly awful. “I had better go after him, make sure that he is OK” Nicole is saying almost to herself. I don’t reply because I am afraid of what I might scream at her if I dare to open my mouth. I know that this is entirely my fault, her lack of concern I mean, if not necessarily her father’s actions. I have spent years blaming myself for Darren’s temper and now she actually believes that it is my fault! Nicole has always been ‘Daddy’s Girl’ and in her eyes, thanks to me, he can do no wrong and I can do no right, and I only have myself to blame for the whole thing, and I know it. But it does hurt to see her long blond pony tail bounce as she literally runs out of the door after her father, to make sure that he is OK.

I cannot help but sink on to a chair, bury my face in my hands and cry however weak that might make me. At moments like this I cannot believe that this is my life, that all of my childhood dreams, hopes and expectations amounted to this! Life can be very cruel. Part of me wonders how much more of this I will have the strength to take before I leave, but I have to ‘stamp’ those thoughts out of my head. They are pointless. I know that I cannot leave. I love Darren and he does love me. I cannot go anywhere. Anyway, I have nowhere to go.

It doesn’t take me too long before I am able to regain my ‘stiff upper lip’, swallow down the emotional and physical pain and get on with the things that I have to do before I leave for my train. I am very well rehearsed at smothering my own feelings and concentrating on the things that I know I need to do, dwelling doesn’t solve anything. I don’t even make my way to the bathroom until after I clean up the mess in the kitchen, make Nicole and Darren’s packed lunches and ensure that the meals that I have been cooking and freezing all week are clearly labelled with the correct heating instructions. I look around my immaculately cleaned kitchen but it looks tainted to me now and it is a relief to me when I can leave and make my way up the stairs.

When I do make it in to the bathroom I am saddened to see the miserable lifeless green eyes that greet me in the mirror. My face is very puffy and swollen, although what is from my rare crying session and what is from Darren I cannot yet tell , thankfully there’s no bruising showing yet and no blood at all. Hopefully the bruising stays away, I always feel so embarrassed when forced to wear sunglasses in the winter or on days that are obviously dull. The neighbours already think that I am a snob because I keep myself to myself and so they might really think that I am self obsessed when I step out in shades even when it is it pouring with rain or so dull that it is practically dark. However when I step in to the shower and get to look at the rest of my body I see that I am completely covered in marks and darkened bruising already. My torso in particular is going to be black and blue I realise sadly. I swallow down the tears that threaten to spill yet again and remind myself there is no time for emotion. I have a cab booked for 9.30am and I need to be ready for its arrival. I am thankful that at least the bruises will be easy to cover, that is a blessing, I could not handle Ronnie and Mum seeing me covered in bruises on my first visit in years. I would hate for them to know that he didn’t want me to see them; they really hate Darren as it is and I don’t want to give them any further ammunition to use against him.

I have already washed and dressed in a hurry but because I have heard Darren and Nicole come back in to the house I loiter in my room rather than go down to face them. Silly as it might seem I would rather leave without saying anything further. I know that if I go and speak to him it will just reignite his rage and I don’t want to have to go through anything more today, or for Nicole to be upset any more. I find that I am too jittery to sit down so I find myself remaking my already made bed, plumping up the pillows and smoothing down the duvet as though these actions can calm the troubled waters between Darren and me. For a moment I consider writing him a note and leaving it on the pillow like I used to years ago when we’d had an argument, but what could I say? I have apologised, explained to him why I am going and pleaded for his understanding all to no avail. So instead I neaten up everything on the dressing table, dig out the overnight bag that I have hidden under the bed and slip a few items of make-up in to it. Regretfully I have to dig my sunglasses out because my face is still horribly swollen and therefore needs something to distract from it. Although the day is reasonably bright it is still quite early in March and so I am going to feel a total fool having to step outside wearing them, but the alternative is clearly worse and so therefore I will just have to bite the bullet. I slip the glasses on and stand waiting until it is time to leave the room.

Agonisingly I wait until exactly 9.25 before I make my way down the stairs, praying all the while that my cab will turn up on time. I can’t really even remember the last time I used a cab as Darren has always taken me anywhere I have needed to go that wasn’t within walking distance, often he would even drive me when somewhere was within walking distance -he has always been very helpful like that. As I make it in to the hallway I drop my overnight bag by the front door and turn towards the kitchen on legs that feel as though they are made of jelly. Darren’s voice stops me in my tracks, he is sitting at the dining room table, Nicole is sat beside him but it is Darren who is facing me. “Oh my fucking God, she is dressed for her fucking holidays!”

His words or more his tone cause me to freeze and I am literally paralysed to the spot for a split second, thankfully before anything more can be said or done I hear a car sound it’s horn outside and I gratefully dive for my bag and fling the front door open. I do call to Darren and Nicole that I love them both but my words are drowned out by a livid Darren who is ranting at poor Nicole that it is his money paying for the cab, and he also screams at me that if I leave he won’t ever have me back. I simply do not allow myself to think about what he has said or anything else for that matter. I just know that I have to leave, this could be my last chance to ever see my Mother again and I cannot let her down again.

As I instruct the driver to ‘please take me to Waterloo Station’ I hope and pray that with a little time and distance Darren will calm down and realise why I have gone against him. He has to because I have no job, no money and nothing else to live for, not being able to come home would just be unthinkable and I could not tolerate actually losing him, as imperfect as he may be. My head is awash with conflicting emotions and thoughts. It takes a surprising amount of willpower not to tell the cab driver to turn round and take me home. Suddenly Darren’s offer to take me for a visit the following day seems so reasonable that I start to doubt myself for leaving. Am I being selfish after all? Is Ronnie playing me? No! No! Stop it! I instruct myself. You have got to go; you have got to see them both again. I didn’t get to say goodbye to my father before he died and I cannot allow myself to be in that position again. If only this knowledge could stop the terror from eating away the pit of my stomach then perhaps I could have made it all the way to Waterloo without having to ask the driver to pull over so that I could throw up!

To be continued:

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Tuesday, 16 April 2013

34 Minutes, Part Two:

For what is probably only a few minutes, but feels like years, the vile beast that has broken in to my home just stands before me staring at my trembling, very naked body. I can tell that he is getting a lot of pleasure from my fear and humiliation and so I try to minimise it as much as I possibly can. I don’t dare meet his eyes, because I do not want him to see the terror in mine and I do not want to see whatever emotion he has in his. I cannot stop my violent shaking, I am petrified and cold so there is simply nothing I can do. The only thing I focus on as he approaches me is staying on my feet, my legs want to buckle but I know that he will beat me again if I fall and that it will be easier for him to rape me if I am on the floor, so I focus on keeping my body upright. I find myself wishing that I had taken some kind of self defence class. If only I knew how to ‘smack his nose in to his brain’ or whatever, but I don’t. Any futile attempt to fight him off would fail I realise, and it would bring him pleasure to knock me around further, or worse it would anger him in to harming one of my children, so I focus my gaze on the ceiling and wait for whatever his next move is.

He stands only inches from me now. I can actually smell his foul odour. He stinks of cigarettes, alcohol and a disgusting chemical smell that I cannot name. The hideous stench seeps into my nose and combined with the fear coursing through my body makes me wretch. I cannot help but flick a quick glance at him, and notice that his eyes are blue, an eye colour that I had previously associated with innocence and purity, but now a colour that I will hate for the rest of forever. Despite their colour his eyes are glazed over in a way that I have only read about, never seen, it doesn’t disguise the twisted pleasure he is gaining from this. I swallow down the urge to scream and to run as I hear him unzip his trousers. I wish I could go back in time. I wish I could be back in the shower, go back to feeling blissful and relaxed again, but this time I would have closed the bloody window. I wish he would leave. I wish I could die or even better he would drop dead right now! The tears are flowing silently down my face as he starts to masturbate as he stands before me. Every now and then he manages to bump his penis in to my stomach and each time I fight the urge to scream, or run. I need to stay calm, the more I cooperate the faster this ordeal will be over. I chant that mantra over and over in my mind. I force myself to picture the faces of my sleeping children and will myself to be strong and brave for their sake.

Muttering the whole time he continues to masturbate before me. Purposely I tune out the things that he is saying although I do catch the odd disgusting word that he spits at me. ‘Slag’, ‘dirty cunt’, ‘whore’, nothing very imaginative. ‘Stay calm’ I continue to chant silently, ‘this will be over soon. Stay calm’. I cannot stop the tears from flowing, or my skin from crawling but I try to be brave. I have to do anything, anything he wants in order to keep that vile beast away from Nathaniel and Elle. Sadly no matter how brave I try to be, when I feel the warmth of his sperm splatter on to my belly button I shriek and recoil in horror. I cannot help but look at him and my disgust is clearly visible. If it were possible, I would rip my own stomach off of my body and throw it away, I sure don’t want it anymore! I cannot bear to feel him on my skin! I can’t even bring myself to use my hand to wipe it away, and I am unable to move so I have to stand and tolerate the vile substance.

My reaction clearly makes him angry again. He rants at me that I am ‘a fucking dirt slag’ and smacks me square in the face with the hand which is holding the gun. The force of the blow sends me reeling in to the thankfully unlit fireplace. I manage to stop myself landing in the grate and clutch on to the sides to keep myself up. Pain strikes through my brain like lightning and the force of the blow literally blinds me for a second. Everything is reeling around me but I do hear him do his zip up and I feel the blood streaming from my nose and running down my breasts and stomach until it is mingling with his vile bodily fluid. Pain and renewed terror wash away any bravery that I had previously been clinging on to and I am openly crying now. Once my eyes refocus I can plainly see that he is pleased to have ‘broken me’ and to have probably broken my nose too. Neither of us speaks. I cannot. I have no words and am terrified that if I dare to open my mouth I will scream, and scream and scream! As I don’t dare to wake the children, they cannot see me like this, I just hang on to the fireplace and pant through the pain. With my eyes finally fixed on him, I can see that he is dithering; planning his next move. I look at the blu-ray player again, 24 tiny minutes have passed since I last looked. That feels crazy to me. I have endured this horror for such a short time, but it feels like months have passed. For what feels like years he continues to stare at me, clearly planning what to do, I am petrified about what he might do next as he walks forward towards me. Where is Dean? I have changed my mind; I want him to come home now, please God! Please let Dean rescue me from this horror!

He walks up to the table, picks up the bottle of wine that I had uncorked before he grabbed me and sarcastically asks me if I want some. I don’t speak. I don’t move as I am trying not to give any response or reaction if I can help it but he still sniggers to himself before taking a long glug from the bottle. “Tastes like fucking shit, rich bitch” he mocks and throws the bottle on to the floor. He stares straight in to my face waiting for a reaction as the red liquid spills on to the cream carpet that is already stained with my own blood. I don’t react, I don’t even look. My pulse is still beating in my ears and I am still shaking violently but I am trying to calm my breathing down. I need to think, to prepare for whatever is coming next. Right now he is picking my smart black bag up from behind the chair that I pointed out to him earlier. He rummages around in it and pulls out my purse. He pulls the notes out and looks mighty displeased with the small gains of £75. Tossing my bag and purse to the floor he spits “Is that all the cash rich bitch?” I nod still unable to dare to open my mouth. “You said there was gold?” again I nod, “take me to it”. This demand makes me freeze, if I take him to my room which is where my jewellery box is, that means I have to take him near my children. That is the last thing I can bear do. Stalling for time I fumble to take my earrings out, and to take my necklace and rings off. As I do so I sneak another look at the blu-ray player. He has been in my house for 32 short minutes. With hands that are shaking violently I hold the jewellery out to him. Bile rises from my stomach as he walks towards me once again.

Without warning the living room door swings open and a very happy looking Dean walks in waving a bottle of wine and greeting me cheerfully. His voice stops dead as he slowly takes in the scene before him and his eyes widen in shock as he tries to comprehend what he is seeing. The world has slowed down for me once again; I didn’t hear Dean come in and couldn’t even shout a warning, I feel sick with fear again! I futilely raise my hands and shake my head ‘no’ as though to stop him from coming in to the room despite it being too late. Sadly the beast thinks fast and flies at Dean who is still frozen with horror. He smashes the gun full force in to Dean’s face and flies out of the room and out of the house without a further word! Thankfully Dean managed to duck quick enough to save his nose, but the force of the blow has sent him flying in to the wall before he crashes to the floor in a heap. I drop my jewellery to the floor as I run to him “Dean, Dean are you OK?” I cry hysterically. I am panicking again for fear that Dean might be seriously hurt, but he doesn’t answer. Instead he leaps to his feet he makes to go after the attacker. Still naked I run after him and drag the jacket of his suit, “please don’t, please don’t” I sob and hiccup, “he has a gun!” For a second Dean turns as though to push me aside but suddenly his eyes actually focus on me and he stops in his tracks. Thankfully instead of running out of the wide open door after the vile beast, he slams it shut and pulls his suit jacket off and helps me in to it, kissing my head as he does so. “I...I, should, have, been, here!” he stutters clearly fighting back tears, “what did he do to you Jasmine?” Although I hear the urgency in his voice and see the terror in his eyes I cannot answer his questions yet, there is something more urgent that I have to do first.

“I need to see the kids” I assert tearfully instead of answering Dean’s question, “he, he was here for ages I think.” As I am speaking I am already making my way up the stairs with Dean following close behind me. Once I reach Nathaniel’s room I attempt to open the door but Dean removes my hand. “Let me check first” he whispers, “he will panic if he sees you like this”. I concede without argument, and stand aside as he opens the door. My heart is pounding in my ears again and I am silently praying that my babies are sleeping unharmed. Once he is satisfied that Nate is not awake Dean moves aside and lets me look at my son. He looks fine, peaceful, but I am still frightened and nudge my husband, “Make sure that he is breathing, please” I whisper in a voice thick with tears. I can see that Dean wants to object and to reassure me but then he thinks better of it, instead he obliges and tiptoes in to the room and stands before our sleeping son, “he is fine” Dean whispers and bends down to kiss Nate gently. Nathaniel sighs and turns over causing tears of relief to stream from my eyes. Once Dean has gently closed the door we both walk to Elle’s room, my legs are still shaking violently and my pounding heart picks up its pace once more. I cannot help but hold my breath again as Dean opens her door, quickly he moves aside and I am able to peer in. Elle is still snoring gently and the relief of hearing her gentle snores causes my knees to finally give way. I sink to the floor just outside of her room and weep so hard that my whole body shakes fiercely.

Dean scoops me up in to his arms and carries me down the stairs in to the kitchen. He puts me in to a chair and holds me tightly until my tears subside a little. Once I am slightly calmer he informs me that he is going to call the police. I nod in agreement, there is nothing else that I can do, but I hate what I am going to have to go through now. My attack has ended, but the rest of my ordeal is only just beginning I realise as I wonder how I will ever get through this. He steps back in to the hall once again and I hear him make the call. I don’t listen to what is being said, I am still crying and my mind is spinning, but I have never heard Dean sound so bewildered and sad in all of the years that I have known him. I guess that we are both shocked that this could have even happened to us because these hideous events are things we hear about on the news; they are not events that happen to us, and not in our own home! Once we are inside of our front door we are supposed to be safe from all of the evil in the world; that evil is not supposed to be able to enter our safe haven and harm us! That is just not supposed to happen, it’s as though I have been living in a horror story but hadn’t realised it yet!

After a while my husband comes back in to the kitchen; “They are going to send someone” he informs me and grabs a bag of frozen peas out of the freezer, wraps them in a tea towel and hands them to me, “and I have called your Mum, she is on her way so she can watch the kids and I can stay with you”. I cringe at the idea of my Mother having to even know about this, never mind actually see the state of me, but I accept that it is inevitable. “I hope the Police come soon” I whisper, “I really want a shower”. The coldness of the peas on my pounding nose makes me flinch. I can already feel that my eyes are swollen and can imagine that they are already bruised. Once again I send up a silent prayer that he didn’t break my nose.

“I think that you will have to see the doctor first” he answers in a voice that is chocked with tears of sorrow. I had of course already realised that this would be the case, a prospect that I am not relishing because I cannot stand the idea of yet another stranger’s hands touching me, but if they are going to catch that monster then I will tolerate it I decide. Dean puts the kettle on and sets out everything he needs to make coffee. “He didn’t rape me” I whisper causing my Husband to turn and face me once more, “he...he..” through huge wracking sobs I try to tell my husband exactly what happened to me. I see the horror and anger etched on his face as I relive every humiliating detail of what I endured, and once I am done he is there holding me and soothing me once again. Over and over he promises me that ‘everything is going to be alright’ but I am unconvinced, will life ever be ‘ok’ again?

We cry together for what feels like an age, Dean murmurs over and over again that he ‘should have been here’, but I know that this is my fault. I should have closed the window before I left the room, I am the person that allowed evil to enter our home, and I tell my husband as much. Of course Dean is horrified that I am blaming myself and the disagreement is not helping us so instead I ask for the coffee he was making even though I don’t want it. Dean looks relieved to have a task to focus on and hurriedly makes himself busy preparing the drinks. I try to close my eyes and focus on my breathing to try and stop myself from continuing to cry, but every time I close them I have this sudden feeling of panic that someone is behind me and have to turn around to check. ‘Will I ever feel safe again’? I silently wonder. The tears come back as I realise that I am unlikely to ever feel normal or safe again. No one has the right to make a person feel this way I seethe! I already know that I will never feel safe in this house again, so we will have to move. How could I ever step foot in that room again I wonder? I hate that that beast has ruined my dream home. I hate him so venomously for everything that he has done to me and taken from me, but I think that I hate him more for the effect his actions will have on my family. He had been in my home for just 34 tiny minutes, but has managed to destroy it for me! How can 34 minutes ruin everything?

Once the coffee is made we sit at opposite sides of the table and drink it in silence. Trying to drink the coffee is painful and as I dribble the hot liquid from my mouth I realise for the first time that my bottom lip is cut and very swollen. I hadn’t even felt it as I am in so much pain from so many parts of my body that it seems to have all merged in to one. Once he realises that I am struggling to drink the coffee Dean finds a straw for me, he hands me the bright pink straw and the absurdity of the act makes me laugh! I am part laughing, part howling and part crying while poor Dean is still standing there holding the straw out to me looking completely bewildered! This just seems to make me laugh more! “Are you in shock?” he asks clearly petrified. Those words seem to snap something in me and I stop laughing and howling and just cry-hysterically instead! So yes I probably am in shock! Clearly the poor man doesn’t know what to do for the best, so he just crouches down and holds me once more. I’m enveloped by his beautiful, warm scent and the strength of his embrace temporarily makes me feel a tiny bit safer.

Hammering on the front door forces us apart, and once alone I feel scared and vulnerable again. I already know that it is my Mum. The worst thing about what I have endured is the having to talk about it, I conclude. I felt so humiliated even telling my husband everything that happened, especially having to explain to him why I was naked apart from the silk dressing gown to begin with. When you actually do something like that it feels sexy and empowering, but having to say it, even to Dean made me feel pathetic and desperate. I don’t know how I am going to tell my Mum about the things that I endured. I fear having to tell the police and even a court room full of strangers if we are even lucky enough to get that far, what if they think I led him on in some way? That I was dressed to seduce him or something! What will they think when I have to admit that I didn’t even attempt to fight him off? Will they understand? I have to shake these panicky thoughts away and that is how my mother finds me shaking my head and silently crying.

My poor Mum cannot hide her horror, Dean had been quietly talking to her in the hall and I am sure that he tried to prepare her, but my Mum clasps her hand over her mouth and gawps at me. Her normally neat grey perm is wild where she has clearly pulled the rollers out in a hurry and her face is bare of make up making her look every inch of her 67 years. I am about to get up to comfort her but Dean beats me to it, he gently guides her to the chair he had been sitting in and sets about making her a cup of tea. The only words that are spoken are about how many sugars she takes and how strong she would like her brew. I know that I am the elephant in the room, that my poor Mother must want to know what happened but I cannot bring myself to talk right now, as cruel as I feel for that. I do try to smile and try to assure her that I am OK, but nothing can wipe the agony from her face. Mum gets up and comes over to me; I am still sitting as we embrace but I hug her as firmly as I can. As she pulls away to accept her tea from Dean I see that she is shaking and that her pretty white blouse is stained with my blood, tears well up in my eyes again. Is life always going to be bleak now, I cannot help but wonder. Perhaps how I look now is all that people will see when they look at me from now on. I hope not!

Before anyone can say anything further there is another knock at the door. We all look at each other and brace ourselves for what can only be the police. Fear engulfs me again and bile rises within me once again. As I hear Dean invite them in I stand on my weak and still shaking legs. I know that I need to be brave and to face everything head on if we are ever going to get through this, so I had better start right now.

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Friday, 12 April 2013

34 Minutes. Part One:

“Can I read for a bit Mum?” I look at my eight year old Son’s pleading face and think for a minute. Really I should say no, I have already let him stay up a little late, but it is Friday and deep down I know that he is trying to wait up for his Dad to come home. Dean has been working late most nights for the last two months, as well as most weekends too. For good reason of course; he is trying to secure a very important contract for his business so we cannot be angry with him, but we do miss him. “OK sweetie” I concede as he clenches his fist and draws his elbow in with a victorious “Y.E.S!” I cannot help but smile, Nathaniel has won the eight year old version of the lottery. Let’s just hope that my husband wins the actual Lottery very soon! If I were a ‘Stepford Wife’ type then what I would wish for most would be for my husband to get this contract that he has been working so hard for, and it isn't that I don't want him to exactly, in fact I am very sure that he will be the successful bidder. The trouble is that once he does win the right to build the housing association flats he is going to have to work even harder to make it happen. Also I have learnt that the more successful he becomes in business the less time he has for his family. Sure, we will benefit financially but in truth I would rather have my husband home every evening for dinner and to kiss our children 'goodnight' rather than have even more money in the bank. Dean however is a man possessed with success and cannot understand my line of thought.

Sometimes I really miss the life we had when we started out our life together. Sure we had a lot less money and lived in a rented flat, but we had so much time together. Back in those days our relationship was so much fun and Dean was so unpredictable, often surprising me with flowers and weekends away. Life was totally stress free back then, they were blissful years. My getting pregnant with Nathaniel drove my husband to want to be successful and he set up his own building firm, he was so determined not to turn out like his own lazy ‘bum’ of a Father that he became so driven with determination to provide the best life possible for our children. Dean grew up watching his Mother working three cleaning jobs while his Father sat on his arse drinking and gambling her hard earned money away and he resents him beyond words for that. I fully supported Dean in his dream and even helped to fund it by giving him every penny of my small savings. He didn’t disappoint, now he is hugely successful and I couldn't be more proud of him.

I also couldn’t be lonelier. There is a downside to every upside it seems.

Anyway, a few years after I gave birth to Nate we traded the flat for a stunning three bedroom house and I was able to give up work and become a stay at home Mum, which is just as well as Elle followed just two short years after her brother. To me our family and life felt so complete but Dean spurred on and on, wanting more and bigger and better. Success seems like a drug to my husband.

The thing is; I really miss working and I really, really miss Dean!

Gosh I don't know why these thoughts just keep popping in to my head!

I shake the negative thoughts away and concentrate on my Son who has jumped back in to his bed with a book in one hand and a torch in the other. His earlier pining for his father has been temporarily suspended given my bedtime leniency. Gently I tap his head through the covers and inform him that as soon as I finish my quick shower it will be time for 'lights out'. Nate's head briefly pokes back out from under his spaceship quilt and he asks "will Daddy be home by then". His face looks hopeful but his tone is pleading.

"Maybe" I hedge because I don’t know the answer myself "but even if he isn't it will still be time for sleep OK"? He nods solemnly and dives back under the covers to resume his reading. I smile to myself, turn the light out and close the door.
I walk quietly to the next room and poke my head round the door. Elle is sleeping soundly; she looks so peaceful bless her. My heart literally swells as I look at her innocent little face which is framed by her angelic brown curly hair. When she is awake Elle is a confident, bossy little determined madam, but asleep she looks like butter wouldn't melt. She also looks much smaller in sleep than she does when she is charging around the house bossing us all around. I fight the temptation to kiss her for fear of waking her and close the bedroom door as quietly as possible.

When I look at my children and the beautiful house we live in, it is hard not to feel blessed, but the trouble is that I am also the person who wipes tears away when daddy misses dinner each night, misses school plays and is just never there. I know I can soothe them by reminding the kids that Daddy is working hard for them, because he wants them to have such a lovely life, but it isn’t easy. My biggest fear is that the children will grow up resenting the fact that their Dad was never ‘there’ when they were growing up. Dean thinks that this is crazy, that they will be proud of him and his successes, but then again, he isn’t the one watching them cry and trying to comfort and reassure them. Sometimes I wish that he could see their sad faces when I have to tell them that he won’t be home. I am confident that if he could see them only once, he would make the effort to be home more.
Slowly I make my way back in to my own room and pull my dressing gown from the hook on the back of the door. I pull my mobile out of the pocket of my jeans and automatically check it for messages, there aren't any. I throw it on to my bed and walk to the far side of my room towards the white door. Through the door is the en suite bathroom that Dean installed. I love our bathroom. It is such an adult room as it was designed solely for our use. The walls are tiled with mirrors, the floor is a dark grey marble and the units are light grey. We have a large free-standing bath and a small shower cubicle. For a moment I wonder if I should run myself a lovely hot bath, but then I remember that Nathaniel is still up and so turn the shower on. I undress while I wait for the water temperature to settle.

Once the hot water hits my aching body all the thoughts whooshing around in my mind seem to melt away: I am no longer 'clock watching’ for Dean's return home, my worries and guilt over my Son's pining for his Dad temporarily dissolve, as does my own pining for, well for more of a life! Instead I just allow my mind to empty and my body to slowly relax. There are not many times in a day when I am completely alone and able to get lost in my own thoughts. There are even fewer times when I can just 'be'. I find that I am humming away to myself as I start to soap my hair and then my skin. The delicious smells of my shower products fill the air and seem to completely soothe my senses. It's blissful! Perhaps this is the Mummy version of winning the lottery I muse smiling.

It's more than half an hour before I step back out of the shower again, hurriedly I throw my towelling dressing gown back on, wrap my hair in a towel and make my way towards Nate's room to tell him it is time to stop reading. I need not have worried; he is sound asleep and snoring gently. The book he was reading and torch have fallen to the floor. I pick them up, switch the torch off and place them on Nathaniel’s night stand. He looks like he is sleeping peacefully, the frown lines of earlier have disappeared and his earlier down turned mouth is puckered up as though he is about to be kissed! I hope that he is having sweet dreams bless him.

There is no doubt that Nate is beautiful, too beautiful for a boy really. He is definitely going to be a hit with the girls when he is older; with his Olive skin that he inherited from Dean and the brown curly hair and hazel eyes that I gave him. Both of our children look very alike and Dean and I both recognise that our children inherited the best features from each of us. We are very blessed to have such lovely, healthy, well behaved children. The fact that they are both so gorgeous is a bonus and I won't deny it. The children are a massive source of pride for us and Dean definitely wishes for us to add to our brood. I am tempted as I look at Nathaniel right now, but truthfully I would like to build something of my own first. I would like to start my own business perhaps or maybe a charity. I wouldn’t even mind just to get a part-time job to start with, something-anything! I have skills, I used to work in sales and then after I quit work when Nathaniel was born I took a book-keeping course so that I could help Dean with the business. I did that for almost five years but then the company outgrew my skills so we had to get a real firm in to do them. The point being that I have skills, I have interests and there are things that I could be doing out in the real world! I feel ungrateful sometimes but I just don't find being a stay at home Mum fulfilling enough anymore, especially now that they are both in school.

Am I selfish to want more?

That is my worry really, that when I tell Dean that I’d rather have my own career than a baby, that he might just think that I am a selfish person. After all he has done to provide us with a wonderful life, why would I want to earn my own money? Why do I need something more to do when I have the house and kids to take care off? Would he ever reschedule a meeting to pick the children up from school because I have a meeting? I like to think he would. I really hope that he would. I like to think he would encourage me and be the supportive partner that I think or hope that he would be, he is my husband and he definitely does love me. It’s just that I would be so angry and hurt if he didn’t that it feels like a bit too much of a risk to find out!
Wearily I sigh and close Nate's bedroom door. I walk back in to my own cool, soft grey room and close the door. The clock on my mirrored bedside table informs me that it is now 9.15pm, I check my mobile again- there are still no messages so I type a text to Dean, I don't want to become the nagging wife but I do need to know what is going on. I send the simple: 'Hi darling, are you leaving soon? Let me know if you are hungry. Love you' and start to dry my hair while I wait for the response. There is still no reply by the time I start moisturising my skin. Every few minutes I find myself picking the phone up to check and see if he has replied even though my phone alerts are on 'loud'. Just as I am starting to close the lid on my very expensive body cream a message finally arrives. The content makes me smile 'leaving very soon beautiful so please no divorce!' it continues, 'I’m not hungry, love you and kiss the kids!'

‘See’ I tell myself, ‘he is a good husband, he loves you! He would be supportive; no doubt about it’. I hastily reply with a ‘hurry I am missing you’. Knowing that Dean will be home soon cheers me up no end. I was about to pull my pyjamas out of the drawer but after reading his text I change my mind. Instead I wrap my sexy red silk dressing gown around my naked body and liberally spray myself with my most expensive perfume. Tonight I will give my husband a very warm welcome I decide, tomorrow I will tell him my plans for the future. I am sure that he will be happy. He loves me. Right?

I am so buoyed with enthusiasm that I practically glide down the stairs and in to the kitchen. I am now a woman on a seduction mission and I feel stupidly excited! It has been a while since Dean and I made love, we have really been stuck in a rut. He is so busy and tired from work, and I am so busy and tired from looking after the children and house that really we haven’t been making much time for each other. I have really missed our bedtime chats and the passion that we always seemed to have until a few months ago. Tonight I will change that I vow, tonight I will make sure that we put a little sparkle back in to our relationship, and if he does get this contract, as I am sure he will, then I will make sure I surprise him by booking us in to a hotel for a child free weekend away to celebrate. No matter how busy life gets, especially once I am working, I must make time for my relationship I vow. Dean and I must never end up in the divorce courts, and I will continue to work on making him slow down a little and make more time for us all too.

Looking about my kitchen I try to decide what I need for my little seduction. I rummage about in my white cupboards and drawers looking for inspiration, I have already decided that I will light our log burning fire in the living room, something that we rarely do these days. The kitchen is such a cool calm room with its white cupboards and cream walls, which is quite ironic given the chaos that often unfolds in this room! The only bursts of colour come from the many paintings and drawings my children have made and that I have pinned to the fridge with magnets. I decide to pull a bottle of red wine out of the rack and open one of my glass fronted cupboards and pull out two crystal glasses. I dismiss the idea of bringing any food and just carry the wine and glasses in to the living room. Moving the glass vase of white lilies aside I place them down on my ebony coffee table, and uncork the wine to let it breathe or whatever the wine experts call it. The window that I had left slightly ajar has blown wide open in the wind and my cream velvet curtains are blowing in very dramatically. Shivering with the chill of the night air I lean forward, shut the window and pull the curtains closed.

Without warning I suddenly sense that someone is behind me, the hairs on the back of my neck and on my arms stand up as I register fear. I quickly try to turn around but a hand clasps my mouth from behind, my head is yanked back viciously and I feel a blow to my head. My heart starts pounding in my ears and my head spins from the force of being hit. I feel completely confused and having my mouth clamped shut makes me panic. I try to fight my assailant but they/he is much larger and stronger than me. The object that I was hit with is suddenly shoved in to my face, and I realise it is a gun! This sharpens my senses enough to realise that we are being burgled. OK, we are being burgled. Just as this thought registers a voice hisses ‘One move bitch, one noise and I will blow your fucking brains out!” He doesn’t need to say that to me, I couldn’t scream if I wanted to my voice seems to have deserted me, I am now literally frozen with terror.

Such is my shock and fear that everything feels like it is happening in slow motion. I am thrown to the floor with such force that the carpet grazes my knee as I land. I manage to turn so that I am able to see who this person in my house is. My attacker is dressed head to toe in black, he is wearing a balaclava so I have no idea what he looks like and can only see that he is male, and is a very large, very scary man! It does seem that he is alone and that is a relief to me. Still I am shacking so violently that it takes me four attempts to stand up, and even through the balaclava I can sense that the intruder is enjoying watching my struggle. I try really hard not to look at him, I don’t want to witness his joy at petrifying me if I can help it, it might spur him on and make him worse. Once I am finally on my feet again he throws me back down, kicking me with his large, heavy black boots as he does so and quietly laughs with glee as I yelp with shock and pain. Tears sting my eyes from the pain and terror but I fight them back. He can beat me, and rob me but I don’t want to allow him to see me cry! Even through my terror I have decided that I will do whatever it takes to get this man gone as quickly as possible. Whatever he wants, cash, jewellery anything he can have it! But he must be gone before Dean gets home because I cannot risk my husband being shot, and I try very hard not to give any indication that there is anyone else in the house. I don’t want this evil being anywhere near my children.

After gathering my senses as far as I can I gingerly I manage to get back to my feet again, I flinch half expecting him to throw me down again and as I do so I catch a glimpse of the time on the blue-ray player, it is 21.46 according to that. I am not too sure how accurate the time is, but I am very sure that I want this to be over as soon as possible. I find myself praying that Dean will have been delayed and isn’t yet on his way home. I don’t want my attacker to notice that I am looking at the time. He cannot realise that I am expecting someone I decide, so reluctantly I force my gaze back to him. By this time he is slouched on the arm of the sofa while still aiming his gun at me, and I feel very confident that he would use it too. Despite my absolute terror I try really hard to compose myself. I hate the fact that he is enjoying my fear. “What do you want?” I ask in a voice so contorted with terror that I don’t even recognise it. “There is only a little bit of cash in the house, but I have jewellery, and some of the ornaments are worth a little bit of money” I try, “take anything” my voice betrays me and I cannot stop a tiny sob from escaping as I finish my sentence. He doesn’t answer me though and is no longer looking at my face. I follow his gaze and realise to my horror that the dressing gown I am wearing has opened and he can plainly see my naked body, he is staring straight at my exposed pubic hair. Hastily I grab my robe together and hide my modesty. I feel myself flushing with a strange mix of terror and shame; there are no words for the humiliation that I am feeling. He in turn points the gun back to my face and orders me to drop my robe. I don’t. I stand as stock still as I can given that I am still shaking violently and clutch my robe as though my life depends on it. I try to speak, to dissuade him but terror has once again muted me.

He gets to his feet once again he demands that I drop the robe and chillingly adds “if you don’t, I might have to look elsewhere for my fun. Would you like that rich bitch?” tellingly he raises his eyes to the ceiling. He knows that I have children in the house I realise with horror. I dread to think how long he has been in my home without me even realising, you just wouldn’t imagine that it is possible for someone to be in your house and you not know! I desperately want to run to my children and make sure that they haven’t been harmed, but I know that this is impossible. All I can do is hope and pray that he hasn’t touched them.

“Please” I plead while shaking my head slowly back and forth, “please don’t”. I cannot finish my sentence. I cannot bring myself to verbalise my plea for him not to harm my children, “You haven’t?” I ask pleadingly “please, please, take anything!” I beg fruitlessly “my bag is just behind the chair there. I have a about £100-I have gold! Please! Please!” I am sobbing now and I hate myself for that fact.

“If you don’t want me near those kiddies of yours you had better drop the fucking dressing gown you dirty slag!” he hisses angrily as he lunges towards me. I know that I don’t have any choice. If I want this to be over, if I am going to avoid anyone, and more particularly my children from being hurt I am going to have to do what he says, and just hope that if I just do what he says, then perhaps it will be enough to make him leave. With shaking hands I slowly, reluctantly drop my red silk robe to the floor.

To be continued.

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Friday, 22 March 2013

Dear Justin

I practically fall in to my tiny dark office under the weight of the enormous box of surveys that I am carrying. I even had to use my elbow to open the door as none of my thoughtless colleagues felt the urge to offer any help. To add to my discomfort I am soaked through to the skin. My clothes are clinging to me like a cold, hard second skin causing me to shiver constantly, and my feet are sliding around in my flat sensible shoes causing my seriously blistered feet to bleed. Who could have known that such innocent looking shoes could be so painful? They feel as though they have built in razor blades installed in to them or something! Well they will be going straight in to the bin when I get home I vow dropping in to the chair at my untidy desk, and breathe a sigh of relief. I haven’t felt glad to be in this tiny, dark, cold office for a very long time! Normally I am awake long before my alarm goes off on a Monday morning. I hate my job so much that I lay there and silently cry until the dreaded noise tells me that I have to get up. It isn’t even just the market research job that I despise; I also hate the office and the vast majority of the people that I have to work with, and it would seem that they feel the same way about me, after all thanks to the invention of email and the telephone I should not have had to spend the last month standing outside of Lewisham Shopping Centre trying to get people to fill surveys in with me. That didn’t stop my manager sending me though.

I am struggling to find anything that I do like about my life right now. Nothing feels good to me anymore. Nothing feels certain or safe either. I have fallen out with my only actual friend because she cannot handle the fact that I constantly complain about everything in my life but never actually do anything to change the things that are making me so unhappy. She just blew her top one day six months ago and ranted and raved that she was sick of hearing about it! She told me to piss off and not come back until I have found some guts and actually done something, anything to improve even one area of my life! So under the watch of far too many strangers I left the pub we were sitting in and haven’t seen or even spoken to her since. I really miss Christine, more than anyone can ever imagine. My life is very lonely without my best friend. I have wanted to call her so many times over the last six months but I simply haven’t dared. I haven’t listened to any of her good advice and done anything to make my life better in any way so how can I face her?

The worst part is that she is right, you cannot keep complaining about your life but never try to fix or change the things that make you unhappy. I wish that I could be a clear cut as Christine but sometimes it just isn’t that easy. Sometimes it is too scary to tear your life apart and try to fix the aspects that are wrong, especially as just about everything in my life is wrong. What would I be left with? I am too drained and too tired to find the energy to do anything right now. I wish I did. I wish I wasn’t so gutless; so bloody lifeless, but sadly I am. I sob as I wallow in these thoughts. The saying ‘the truth hurts’ has never been more apt than it is to me right now. Sometimes I fear that I might actually drown in my own misery, and I really do know that I need to find a way to make things better.

Without any doubt the worst part of my life by far, is my failing relationship. I have been with Justin for 12 years. We went to school together but were nothing more than friends, however on the day that we went to collect our GCSE results he came up to me in the queue and announced right in front of both of our Mothers that the worst thing about leaving school was that he wouldn’t be seeing me every day anymore! He asked me out, right there and then in front of everyone! Although we had been friends I truthfully hadn’t ever looked at Justin that way before, but I was so in awe of his boldness that I immediately agreed to go out with him, much to even my own surprise. Suddenly his Auburn hair, green eyes and freckles became the most attractive things to me ever! I didn’t mind as much that he wasn’t more than an inch taller than me (happily he did have quite a growth spurt soon after that anyway) or that he wore glasses. Something about his charm and confidence wiped away any doubts that I had previously held about him and I became immediately smitten with him.

Being with Justin was wonderful at first. He was a very attentive boyfriend and showered me with love, attention and gifts. We were very much in love and everything was blissful between us at first. The day after my 21st Birthday we moved in to our tiny studio apartment together. I was so excited that we would be falling asleep and waking up to each other every day from then on. My Mother actually laughed when I confessed that I was really excited by the idea of cooking his meals and washing his clothes! Yes I do now realise how foolish that was, I have since learnt that nothing kills romance quite like washing a man’s pants and socks.

Remembering those early days manages to bring tears to my eyes as always. If I had have realised that once we lived together he would turn into a sulky, distant man who never came near me unless it was to complain about whatever I cooked and about the standard of my ironing I wouldn’t have moved in. Although we often wake up in the same bed he is rarely there when I get into it late at night, sometimes he doesn’t come home at all and reacts with such fierce aggression if I dare to question where he has been, that I don’t dare to ask him anymore. We rarely have sex and when we do it is over so fast and is so unloving that it actually makes me feel more frustrated than I was before the act, so it is actually a blessing when he leaves me alone, which he thankfully has been doing for a very long time. I know that I shouldn’t still be with him, I should have left long ago, but I just can’t be sure of what type of man I could end up with next. Better the Devil you know right? The next guy I date could be far worse and I just don’t feel brave enough to risk finding out.

I sigh wearily and try to push these miserable thoughts to the back of my mind. I really need to focus on my work. I have to analyse the finding of the surveys that I have completed and start compiling the report. However given that I am soaked, cold and miserable and that I only have a couple of hours left before I can escape for the weekend I persuade myself that there is no point in starting the report right now, so I find myself procrastinating with my favourite pass time. I pull up a blank email document and begin writing:

Dear Justin,

How should I put this? I don't know how to say all of the things I need to say to you right now. If I ever actually had the guts to send this, then this would be one of the hardest things that I had ever done in my life, but I admit that I haven’t exactly done very much with my life to date so I don’t really have much to compare it to. My lack of confidence in myself just seems to get worse and so I take all of the rubbish that life throws my way and do nothing about it. I know that it is weak of me and therefore the consequences are my own fault, entirely, but because of that my life isn't all that it could or should be. I am deeply unfulfilled and unhappy at work, in a couple of my friendships and most of all, in my relationship with you. I suspect that you already know all of this and just don’t care about my feelings any more, but if I am wrong and you somehow didn’t realise then I really want you to know that this is how I am feeling, and that I have been feeling this way for such a long time.

I know how gutless I am to do this by email, but I also know that it is the only way that I can say everything that I need to say, because if I were to do this face to face the words would escape me and I would probably just end up a blubbering mess, every time I have rehearsed this little ‘speech’ in my head I have just broken down and cried. I think that is mostly because I am so angry with myself for living this way for so long. I have written you endless emails and letters but have never, ever had the guts to send them. As I write this I honestly don’t know if you will ever actually get to read it, but it’s probably not likely.

Right now I am at work. I am sitting in my office, and I’m meant to be writing the findings of that shoe survey I carried out, you know the one, you have mocked me about standing outside of shopping centres and accosting people about their shoe preferences! Anyway I just cannot do it. My mind just blanks every time I try to focus on anything sensible because this pain and unhappiness is practically burning a hole in my brain and if I don’t finally do something soon then I might just go crazy. I won’t be able to think straight ever again until I do something to change my miserable life.

So I just have to get it done.

I am just going to say it! But how?

Justin, I don't love you anymore.

This relationship has got to end.

Sorry but, I want out.

It’s over-finished.

Justin, I haven't loved you for the longest time-years in fact. I think that I first realised that I had stopped loving you at my sister's wedding. God! That has been about four years I think! Actually maybe nearly five years and I have simply been too gutless to say anything! That is seriously shameful. Anyway, there I was sitting in that stunning church watching my beautiful little sister walking down the aisle looking so radiant and so unbelievably happy. I can remember that her long blond hair was tied up showing of her slender neck and back. The sunlight danced on the diamant√© on her dress, and the scent of those beautiful white lilies filled the church with their heady scent. That was the most perfect wedding that I have ever attended, and all I could think was 'please God, please don't let Justin think I want to get married. Don't let him propose'. Only my Mother commented on how much I cried at the wedding. She thought that it was because I was upset that you hadn’t proposed yet and assured me that you would soon. She was so confused when I burst in to tears again on hearing her assurances and fled from the reception. For weeks she kept trying to meet me so that we could discuss her concerns. I avoided her right up until Jess announced that she was expecting and then her mind was so happily diverted that finally I could breathe again! Fittingly you were too drunk to even notice that I had left!

Well, of course you know that you didn't ask me to marry you, and I was glad as I would have said no, but I also took note of the fact that my boyfriend of six years didn't even test the water to see if perhaps I might like to marry him, you never even made a single hint at all. Perhaps you don't really love me either. This letter might actually be a relief to you now that I think about it that way. Are you looking for a way out? If you are than all you have to do is say so and I will ‘let you go’.

I need to tell you that for a long time I have suspected that you have been cheating on me and I don't think that it is the first time either. There are so many reasons as to why I am suspicious about this, not least because you haven't touched me in six months, even though I am quite glad about that really, sex is horrible once you realise that you are no longer in love with your man! When we were first together we couldn't keep our hands off of each other, do you remember how much we craved each other? We were the most 'touchy feely' couple in our group. We were the only couple that seemed to be 'going the distance' too. Everyone said how good we were together. It feels like that was a whole lifetime ago now. These days most people who dare to voice their opinion about our relationship only have negative things to say. I just cannot understand how we have managed to go from one extreme to the other as we have, but here we are. I kept hoping and hoping that we would find our way back to the loving couple that we once were but I accept that this hope is dead now. I cannot see any way back for us now.

Of course lust fades over time and we all accept that, but you go through long periods of not even noticing me sometimes, and naturally it makes me wonder who has captured your attention. Let me tell you that the endless late nights at work and weekends away with the boys, new clothes and aftershaves and silences between us that spring up every 18 months or so, and last around six-eight months at a time haven’t gone unnoticed and don't exactly help to ease my suspicions either. This latest one seems to have gone on significantly longer than normal though. I definitely think that over a year has passed now and that makes me feel very nervous.

Do you love her?

Why is this one so special?

What does she have that I don’t?

Is she beautiful?

I can also see how preoccupied you are all of the time and you have become blind to me. Justin, I am not just talking about you not noticing my new haircut or top or something trivial, although you never do notice those things, but you sit in the room with me in such silence that anyone would be forgiven for thinking that we were strangers. You make me feel invisible. If I do force you into a conversation you just use it as an opportunity to sneer or mock me. Like with the survey. I have told you so many times that I am unhappy at work; I regularly cry on a Monday morning because I don't even want to go in! I feel like an unhappy school child and you never so much as ask me if I am OK! You didn't even notice that I had a black eye from falling out of the bath last month. It wasn't until that guy at number 40 quizzed you about it that you even bothered to ask me what happened! It's crazy that the loving, attentive man I started dating has changed out of all recognition. You have become completely unfeeling towards me; it is distressing to feel so uncared for. Why am I not worth noticing Justin? Just explain that one thing to me!

Long gone are our evenings out, or even an evening in with a curry and a DVD, you haven't remembered my Birthday for three years, our Anniversary for five years and I can't even imagine what excuse you could use for not buying me a gift at Christmas for two years in a row! Not that I made a fuss of course, but only because I didn't want anyone to notice. I felt so humiliated. The first time it happened we were with my family, I thought that perhaps you had bought me something special or intimate that you would surprise me with later, so you getting up and leaving straight after lunch really did take me by surprise. Mind you, my family were more than surprised when you claimed to be working! You didn't even make the effort to come up with a decent excuse. The only reason that I backed up this ridiculous lie for you was because I was so embarrassed in front of my parents. I should have left you that day. I wish that I had. I have never forgiven myself for staying with you after that. I don’t think that my Mum has either, she never even asks after you anymore and looks in pain if your name as much as come up in conversation.

I admit that it is crazy that I have stayed and tolerated this disgusting treatment for so long. I agree with anyone who says that I am a crazy, gutless fool, and there have been more than a few people who have said exactly that. But that is slowly changing. I have been using ‘self help’ books for a while and even though I never thought that they would work I actually feel a little stronger in myself now. I have been re-evaluating my life and have finally decided that I deserve more than this. In almost every respect I deserve more in life, and I am going to try to make sure that from now on I don't settle for less than I deserve. I am going to try to face the changes that I need to make: starting with us.

I will move out tonight, I have paid the rent for the whole of this month and what you do after that is up to you. Given that I have paid the full rent by myself for the last three years I won’t be worrying about paying for anything more, you can take the responsibility now and let’s face it, you earn almost triple the salary that I bring home so you can afford it. If your name wasn’t on the tenancy I would throw you out rather than leave, but I know you well enough to know that you would make it as difficult as possible and would refuse to leave, so I will go. Perhaps it would help me to make a fresh start to leave anyway as I won’t have to live in a place that has so many memories of you.

I hope that one day you fall in love Justin, and when you do I really hope that she treats you exactly the same way that you have treated me. I don’t hate you, but I do hope that karma makes you see what you have put me through for all of these years, perhaps then you will learn change, too late for me but it might save someone else from suffering this way.


From Abby

I read the letter at least three times and then stare at the screen blankly. I know what I should do; what I really need to do. I move the cursor over the ‘send’ icon over and over again willing myself to press it and let Justin go. I fantasize about sending him the email for a second and wonder how he would react. My instinct tells me that he wouldn't really care beyond the annoyance of receiving it at work. I don't doubt that he would let me leave unchallenged and that would be it, finally finished. How would that feel? I ponder the possibilities briefly. I cannot even picture a scenario where he would even come back to the studio apartment to say 'goodbye', rather I imagine that he would wait until the coast was clear before he tried to return home.

This train of thought sits like a cold, heavy bulge in my gut. It doesn't feel good to feel that you know so absolutely that you are unloved. I feel that my pride, confidence and my womanhood have been completely eaten away until I have become unsure of who I even am anymore. These days I doubt absolutely everything about myself, who I am and what I can achieve in life are just HUGE question marks over my head. Most of the time I feel nervous and anxious for no apparent reason and I am fully aware that my absolute lack of confidence makes me an easy target in life. People really have started to take advantage of me and I have felt powerless to speak up for myself. I feel a failure. It hurts to admit this even to myself, but of course I know the truth.

Just for the fantasy as I continue to hover the cursor over the 'send icon' I try to imagine him getting the email and being devastated. What would I do if he suddenly realised that he wanted to save our relationship and rushed home with his arms filled with flowers and mouth full of apologies, promises to change and kisses? How would I react if he took me in his arms and wanted to make love to me? Would I let him touch me? Would I stay with him if he asked? Probably I sigh. I probably wouldn't have the nerve to leave if he did that even though it really is not what I want anymore as I am far beyond doubt that he would never really change in any meaningful, lasting way. It probably is just as well that he would never do that, not ever! Perhaps for the first time since we moved in together I should feel a tiny bit grateful for his total indifference towards me and our relationship.

I am so engrossed in my own thoughts that when the door to my office swings open I jump. David my manager of three years calls cheerfully to me that it is now 6pm and he is leaving, there is a very heavy emphasis on the time and the fact that the cleaners are due any minute. He wants me to leave. I do not look up from my desk however as I am frozen with horror. When I jumped as the door opened I accidentally pressed send! I sent the email to Justin! As David is praising my dedication to the shoe survey jovially, or perhaps sarcastically, I am only half listening to him, I am panicking that I have sent the bloody email! Now I have to leave the studio apartment and I have nowhere to go! David is completely unaware that I am hyperventilating with the horror of what I have done. My anguish mixes with confusion and relief when a 'failure to deliver' notice flashes up in my inbox. I have no idea how the often used email address for Justin could have been wrong but I am too relieved to care! Oh my goodness that was close I sigh relieved; some kind of divine intervention just saved me from a nightmare. "Is everything OK Abby?" David is asking with genuine concern. Sighing with relief I simply nod as brightly as I can, switch my computer off in a way that is going to cause me problems on Monday morning and leap up from my chair. My clothes are still damp, stiff and uncomfortable as I move but I hastily say my goodbyes to David and practically run from the building. I am sure that I have totally confused my poor manager but I am willing to live with that, just as long as I get out of there I don’t really care!

Once I am on the street I allow myself to lesson my pace and to breathe again. I don't live too far from work and despite the cold air penetrating my damp clothes and chilling my bones and the painful blisters on my feet; I decide to walk the forty minutes home. Within minutes my relief and euphoria has turned to sadness as I realise the opportunity that I have wasted. I could have ended my failing relationship today and could finally have started the process of moving on and of healing. Sure, I might have ended up back with my parents until I found somewhere to live and they wouldn't have been thrilled to have one of their 'little birds' back in the nest, but it wouldn't have been for long. I feel quite ashamed at my weakness but try to shrug the negativity away. There is still hope I remind myself. There is still time. I could still tell him tonight if he comes home or I could call him. I could even just pack my bags, leave and then text him to say that I have gone! I like the sound of that! I could do that, the more that I think about that option the more I realise that I like it. It feels powerful! I wouldn't need to say much, just a simple 'Justin it's over, I have left' would be enough. He could always phone me if he wanted more of an explanation couldn't he? A sense of purpose fills my body and my mind is made up, I'm going to do that. I am going to go home, pack my things and leave tonight! Just like that.

For the first time in years I actually feel empowered with a sense of possibility which makes me know that I am doing the right thing. I am so excited that my heart starts to pound in anticipation and I have to stifle a laugh so that I don’t look like a deranged mad woman on the street. The only sadness I feel is that I won’t be around to see the look on his face when he comes home and finds that I have gone. I feel confident that he would be shocked even if he doesn’t really care. Finally I will at least be able to show him that I do have some backbone.

I practically burst through to the door of our little studio apartment. I really tried to make it look homely and inviting, Justin pretty much stayed out of the decorating which became the theme of our relationship really. The large room which serves as a living room, bedroom and kitchen I decorated in creams and white in order to make it look bigger and lighter than it was. The kitchen appliances that ran down the right side of the room belong to the landlord at least so there isn’t too much to divide. Not that I care about taking items other than my clothes and personal documents. Justin can have everything else. We have two large built in wardrobe style cupboards either side of a row of large built in shelves, I open the one on the right which holds my things to take my large suite case out and realise that it is missing. Everything else is present. Perhaps I put it in Justin’s wardrobe by mistake. I turn to go to his wardrobe when I notice that the TV which we both paid for is gone. I freeze for a good two minutes, but oddly still have time to wonder if we were burgled. Once my legs can move again I run to his wardrobe and throw the doors open. It is empty. Every single item has gone!
He bloody beat me too it! He was here when I left for work this morning, as was everything he owned and everything that we owned! Now that is all gone! He beat me to it by a few bloody hours! I literally scream with frustration!

Reeling with shock and bitterness at having my thunder stolen I stumble backwards and actually fall on to the sofa, my mind is spinning and I feel sick. I try to calm down and take a few deep breaths; which is when I see that there is an envelope on the coffee table, on the front in Justin’s handwriting is my name. I half laugh and half cry on realising that he too is so gutless that he has also left a note rather than look me in the eye and tell me that it is over, and there I had been all along worrying that I was the weak link in our relationship, it seems that I was not alone.

Still sitting on the sofa I put my hand in to my pocket, pull my mobile phone out and call Christine, she at least is going to be thrilled!

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Thursday, 28 February 2013

For You: Part Two

I realise that I am gripping on to the buggy with all my might. Actually I think that it is the only thing keeping me up. I would sit down but Heather has her things spread all over the sofa. Foolishly Greg and I only ever got round to buying just the one sofa and I think I put the foot stall in to the bedroom. I am in such a state that rather than process what she has just told me I am actually wondering if I should go and buy a chair or something. Seriously I feel like a bomb just went off in the room. I can feel Heathers eyes on me, but I am not able to meet her gaze. She wants an answer, or at least a response and I cannot provide either one. I am mute. I can barely think or even breathe for goodness sake! How do you vocalise these feelings? How do you put into words the fact that you do not want to go to your own husband’s memorial service? A service that no one even told you about, that you played absolutely no part in planning and that you found out about through a friend on the very morning that it was due to happen! This is all swirling around in my head and my brain feels a little bit like the bubble bath earlier, it is getting thrown around by the force and has turned in to froth. My heart is pounding and I feel sick. I thought that nothing could feel worse than Greg dying, but this does. This actually feels far worse than anything I could ever have imagined.
Heather has already taken me by the arm and basically sat me down before I even realise it. Over and over she soothingly asks me if I am ok but I have no response. I feel ill, faint. I realise that the tears are back, they are streaming down my face. “Who planned it?” I ask hoarsely as I continue to weep, “Who planned this service and didn’t even tell me?” I don’t know the right or wrong of it but planning his memorial service without even telling me feels like an act of hate. I cannot believe that this is even happening; I cannot believe that this is allowed either legally or morally.
Heather fills me in on all of the details. Apparently there was a notice on Greg’s sister’s Facebook Page. Heather called her to find out what was going on and apparently was pretty angry that they had planned it without telling me. Grace defended her Mother, who had actually planned it saying that they were unable to contact me. I seethe to Heather that the family are lying; I haven’t moved and the landline number is the same so they just didn’t try. In the instant that I say those words my decision is made and I am determined not to go, I cannot face them right now. I would explode. Without me even vocalising these feelings Heather turns those thoughts around, she insists that I have to go to the service and make sure that they all know that they cannot just dismiss me this way. I can see that Heather is really angry about the whole thing which does make me feel at least less crazy if not actually any better. Apparently my parents have even gone to collect my Brother and his wife; they are all determined that no one forgets that Greg was a part of our family too and that we loved him as well.
I love what Heather and Mum are doing for me, but I haven’t the energy to fight or even defend myself today. I felt weak and feeble as it was but this is all too much for me right now. I have always loved Greg’s family dearly, and I thought that they all cared for me too. We were all very close for a very long time and Greg and I saw every member of each family all of the time. Weekends used to be chaos with travelling around visiting various relatives, or holding large family gatherings in our tiny flat and now they care so little that they would do this to me? Why didn’t they invite me to be part of the day? I would have loved to. Guilt creeps in when I realise that I should have thought of it myself. Maybe they were angry that I didn’t or maybe they really do just blame me for the accident. No matter how many times they said they didn’t I have never believed them, how can I face them if they hate me and think I killed Greg? I realise that I am crying again, I hate this. I hate feeling so weak, I hate what my life has turned into and I feel like I am suffocating under the weight of my own misery. This pain is never going to go; it is never going to get better. I cannot handle this emptiness any more. I think I might be hyperventilating!
“Stop this Alex!” Heather’s command takes me by surprise and I literally jump with fright. She is shaking her head and arms around wildly. Even in my state I can see how comical she looks but more so I notice that she is no longer holding Josh. I look back at the buggy and he is tucked safely inside fast asleep. I wish for a tiny second that we could trade. “We haven’t got time for this” she continues impatiently quashing my protest before it has even had the chance to leave my lips “your parents are on their way and we need to get going. You have to go and get dressed right now” Heather has grabbed my arm and is marching me towards my bedroom and in the face of this new commanding, forceful woman that I almost don’t recognise the words escape me and I am feebly led in to my room, stuffed in to a black trouser suit that is now way too large for my new tiny frame and forced to apply makeup. I hate looking at my sallow face in the mirror. Normally it is something which I avoid as far as possible. I only obey Heather because I don’t have the energy to face the argument I would have to have with her if I refused. I feel completely stupid, like a child being forced to go to church against its will. Well, let’s face it that is exactly what is happening to me. Heather catches my smile in the mirror; “That’s a sight for sore eyes honey. What gives?” she asks kindly while smiling broadly at me.
I manage another genuine smile as I explain, “I was just feeling like a kid being dragged off to church by their Mother” we laugh together for the first time in exactly a year. “I’m going to have to keep an eye out for poor Josh” I scoff, “it would seem that you are quite a force to be reckoned with when you get going!” Still in the reflection of the mirror I notice her smile falter for just a second, for once I notice something other than my own pain. “I hope so” she whispers as her soft brown eyes well up with tears, “I hope that I am going to be a good Mother”. She looks directly in to the reflection of my eyes and I see that she has so much sorrow in her face, “it’s scary being all alone with a baby” she confides to me. In this moment I realise that I haven’t been there for Heather at all really. Sure I’ve seen her a few times but she was comforting me, I haven’t offered her anything. Nothing! I have been so selfish and self absorbed and yet here she is, still here for me, still on my side. I really don’t deserve this wonderful loyal friend, realising that is a very humbling feeling. I turn to her and hug her tightly and tell her that as far as I can see she is a fantastic Mum already and that I am very proud of her and the way that she has coped with these changes to her life. It feels good to be able to say those things to her. We hug and weep together until the doorbell rings forcing us to part.
“Right!” Heather is back in full general mode again, “you do something with your hair and I will sort Josh and the buggy out” she is already opening the door as she is speaking and I hear her greet my Father warmly. He helps her down the stairs with the buggy and just for a second a tiny little stab of jealousy stings me. I just cannot help myself. I wish that my Dad had been able to do that for me. I shake this thought and quickly drag my hair up in to a ponytail. I still look a state, no amount of make-up can hide the fact that I hardly eat, sleep or smile. I take a deep breath, pull my wedding band out of the drawer of my dressing table, slide it on to my finger and kiss it for ‘good luck’ before turning and walking out of the flat to my Dad’s shiny silver estate car. I won’t lie, my heart is pounding and my legs feel as though they have been forged out of concrete, but I force myself forward.
I notice my brother’s bright red Alfa Romeo behind our Father’s car, I cannot see my Brother and his wife behind the tinted windows but I wave vaguely in their direction as I get into the back of Dad’s car. Heather is already seated and Josh is strapped in to the middle in a car seat that seems to have been part of his pram. I comment on how quickly they all got sorted and see Heather smile proudly, I wonder if anyone really boosts her ego these days. I also note the concern in my parents’ voices as they greet me and I try to sound bright as I return their ‘hellos’. I know that it is fake and stupid but that is all I have to offer for their kindness and concern. No one speaks much on the way to St. Luke’s and I am grateful to be able to stare unseeing out of the window and tune out. I don’t want to think about where we are going and what we are doing, honestly I just want this day to be over. I want every day to be over. I cannot wait for my crappy life to be done and finished, I know that I cannot actually ever tell anyone that and distress them, but I cannot help but feel that way. I cannot help but to hope that this will be finished soon.
We arrive at the church and straight away I notice the huge volume of cars parked in the small car park. There are also a large number of people greeting each other on the pretty grounds. This service is going to be very well attended so I haven’t been left out of a simple, small family affair, not that it would have made it any better anyway given that I am his wife. My blood is boiling as I see two of Greg’s cousin’s greeting an old work colleague of his. How dare they invite all of these people and not me! Heather has leant over and once again is gripping my arm. It is plainly obvious that everyone knows what is going through my mind right now. The atmosphere in the car suggests that everyone is as shocked as me, so perhaps they are actually thinking the same things. I can imagine that they are all holding their tempers and breath alongside me. I don’t know if in her mind Heather is trying to comfort or restrain me; I am close to exploding so it could go either way. I do not look to her though; my eyes look directly into my Father’s eyes via the rear view mirror, his longish Greg hair is brushed away from his brilliant blue eyes so I look in to them undisturbed for a change. He is sitting right in front of me but has adjusted his mirror so that he can look right at me, once he is sure that he has my full attention he simply states “Be dignified Alex. Today is not the day for anger, today is a day to honour Greg’s memory”. His finger wags as he tells me to ‘get out there and make Greg proud’. I know that Dad is right but it doesn’t stop me from seething.
We tumble out of the car. Mum hugs me as Dad gets busy helping Heather with the baby. My Brother Dennis and his Wife Millie have joined us now. Mille is a very shy person and looks even more intimidated than normal today. She is dressed in a simple black dress and looks like she might run at any moment. She is completely unable to handle me and my obvious grief, although she tries to be very kind about it. My big, rufty-tufty, Rugby playing Brother on the other hand has no such worries. He practically drags me out of my Mother’s arms and pulls me closely towards him. “Fuck ‘em sis!” he declares wrapping his large, strong arms around me. I half laugh and half sob as I return his hug, I haven’t seen Den for a while and I realise that actually I have missed him so much. I am very aware that we have attracted a small audience but I am unsure if they want to greet me or are shocked that I have arrived uninvited so don’t acknowledge anyone. Despite my huge discomfort at feeling so completely ‘wrong footed’ at my own Husband’s memorial, I simply wait for my little family group to get sorted and with one hand in my Mother’s cool grasp and one hand in my Bother’s strong grip make my way toward the church. I wish that I could feel confident in my right to be here, but actually I keep waiting for someone to approach and demand I leave! I cannot help but wonder anew what I have done to deserve such poor treatment. There is no time for me to dwell on it though, right in front of the entrance to the Church I can see Greg’s Mother (Amai, as I have always called her as she was my Mother for a time), his Father (Baba, as he was to me) and Greg’s Sister Grace seem to ‘flank’ the Vicar and are all meeting and greeting everyone as they arrive. Amai’s short, tubby frame somehow looks frail to me whereas normally she had always seemed so robust. She is wearing a traditional Zimbabwean dress that would be beautiful if it were not for the evil colour, I always used to love the fact that Greg’s family wore colour to ‘celebrate a life’ when someone died rather than wear black to mourn a death, but now I am not sure that I like it much after all. I cannot imagine a time when I will ever be able to tolerate the colour purple. I struggle to even look at Baba, who also looks like a child that has been forced in to his Navy suit that is far too large for him. He seems to have literally shrunk over the last year. Baba looks so much like Greg it pains me to even look at him. In his face, in his eyes and in his bitter sweet smile all I can see is the future that I cannot have with my husband. I will never see Greg at this age. I will never see his greying hair; I will never see his face peppered with lines. Greg and I will never grow old together. Again the feeling of injustice rises within me. I have been robbed of my future and now it seems that Greg’s family are robbing me of the only thing that I do have left; my grief. I swallow down the urge to scream at them and demand to know what the fuck they are playing at, and my Brother and Mum tighten their grips on my hands simultaneously. Clearly they don’t trust me not to do something stupid, but I do nothing. I hold on tightly to my Father’s words. The best way I can get through this awful ordeal I decide is to try to believe that Greg really is ‘here’ in some way, because if he is able to watch us then ultimately I really do want to make him proud. My love for my husband overrides every other feeling and I really want to try to hold on to that as much as I can.
Amai freezes when she sees me, and then her whole face crumbles. Emotionally and almost physically I am thrown as she launches herself at me and lovingly grasps me to her while crying out in what I can only describe as agony, my Mum and Dennis have no choice but to release me and move aside as Amai grabs hold of me. “Oh child” she wails over and over again; “oh my child I thought that we had lost you!” she cries “oh my dear child!” These words are all that it takes to break me. The force of the tears I cry make my whole body shudder, you would think that I have cried myself dry over this last year but no, torrents of tears flood down my face and I almost scream with the agony of the release. I cannot speak or articulate anything. Baba and Grace rush over and join the huddle and together we cry and cry. Through her tears Grace whispers in to my ear that they did send a card asking me to join them in planning the day, she promises me that they would never leave me out. I know that she is telling the truth. You see once Greg died I was inundated with cards of ‘sympathy’ but I haven’t to this day opened a single card. I hate the thought and cannot understand how anyone could find this a comfort. There was no time line either; cards have been trickling through my door all year. I was so afraid of opening one that anything that looks like a card I just shove in a shoe box beside the door I. I didn’t even open any Birthday cards. So beyond doubt I know that this is the truth and I feel sick with guilt and sorrow that I even thought that of them. They must have thought that I really didn’t care. That is devastating to me. I turn to Grace and hug her tightly. I still cannot speak so don’t get to apologise but I will. I will put things right. The Vicar tells us that it is time to go inside, so my parents, Greg’s parents, our siblings, Heather and the baby all enter the church together as a family for the first time since Greg’s funeral. As we walk towards the Alter the sound of ‘Songbird’ fills the church. The moment I hear it my heart swells with memories of our love.
The service is simply beautiful. Greg’s Uncle, his old manager and his sister Grace give lovely heartfelt speeches. The music that plays softly throughout the service are exactly the songs that I would have chosen myself. I think that they represented him perfectly. The programme is decorated with lovely pictures of Greg, I cannot help but stare at them throughout the service, I keep wishing that we could go back and relive the days on which they were taken as stupid as that sounds. Tactfully no one else appears in the photos and that is definitely best. I know that if Greg could see the service he would be very impressed indeed.
Although I have found the service slightly comforting I cannot help but feel drained and distressed after it has ended. The whole day has just proven too much for me. I do try to politely thank some people for attending and generally try to be hospitable but I’m relieved when people finally leave. Once again Amai holds me as she asks me to join the family back at the house. I hug her tightly smelling her familiar perfume as I do so. I almost want to ‘drink her in’ as I am so unsure what the future hold for us. “I’m so sorry Amai” I whisper hoarsely “I can’t do any more today”. Her eyes meet mine and aside from the sorrow I do see that she understands. Any doubts that she may have had over me once Greg died and I ‘went off the rails’ have vanished. I know that she can plainly see how things are now. “Alexandra, please child, don’t distance yourself from us any more” she pleads, “we love you so much”. The rest of what she wants to say is lost because we are both crying again. My Mum comes and comforts us and it brings me a sense of peace to see her and Amai united once again.
Once everyone has said their ‘goodbyes’ I walk back to where my Dad has parked. Dennis is walking beside me silently. Even his presence is a comfort. I turn to look at him walking in the sunshine and notice that he is looking tired and drawn himself. “Are you OK Den?” I ask concerned.
“Sure” he shrugs smiling, “I’m OK Ali, just worried about you”. We stop walking and face each other, “it’s been hard Sis” he confesses sadly, “seeing you like this” He shrugs his shoulders. There is no need to finish what he is saying and we both know it. “I’m so sorry” I start to speak but he takes my hand and shakes his head. “Don’t say it” he insists, “Don’t you apologise for anything. But little sis, please, please if you can’t cope with this, get help. Do something” he stops walking and turns to face me again. I cannot meet his eyes and stare at the pocket of his blue shirt instead, “Don’t suffer any more” he begs. I have never seen my brother cry but today the tears in his eyes are unhidden. It doesn’t feel good to me to know that I have put my family through this pain. I haven’t intended any of this. To be truthful I hadn’t given any thought to anyone, to anyone’s pain. I have been too locked in to my own grief. That isn’t my usual character, before the accident Greg used to comment that I never put myself first. How things change I muse sadly. We walk the rest of the distance back to the car in silence. I don’t feel able to make promises, but clearly I know I have a lot of thinking to do.
The first thing I notice when we approach the cars is that Millie has taken Josh and is holding him blissfully. She is telling Heather how amazing he is and what a good boy he is for sleeping right the way through the service. I have never seen Millie so animated before. It makes me wonder when she will have a little announcement of her own to make. I hope soon. Our family could use an injection of joy and even though I will be sad that it isn’t me, I will be able to put that aside and be so happy for them. They will make fantastic parents. It is plainly obvious that everyone is feeling slightly awkward; no one is quite sure what to say or do right now, so I take the lead, something that I haven’t done for a while. “Shall we find a nice place for a meal or something?” Heather and my Mother look at each other in bewilderment and it is my Dad who asks if I am feeling ‘up to it’. I cannot lie but I stress “It’s Heather’s Birthday, and I think that we should mark the occasion” I feel a little shy as I add that I would also like to buy everyone dinner to say thanks, and sorry. Dad hugs me and enthusiastically agrees with my plan. I am so shattered, but I take a deep breath, kiss my wedding band for strength and get into the car. Finally I feel able thank these divine people who love me so very much.

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