It’s hard being an ex-wife. I saw it with my mother. She did the dirty, admittedly with my dad’s boss. They never spoke to each other again. I’m overdramatising. My dad’s not a bad guy, but he does have a temper. My mum’s not a horrible woman. But she has problems she doesn’t even recognise. Roots go deep and are tangled beyond anyone’s comprehension. I had to do some digging to realise that none of this was my fault, though of anyone, I felt I, along with my sister, just 2 and 3 when she left, suffered the most in the fallout.
Later, Daddy dearest, having brought up my sister and I more or less on his tod, becoming, in a short time, a wealthier man with more of a chip on his shoulder than the one my mother left, ditched the woman who’d been at his side since mama went. She’d been a good sport, coping with us two kids (who like their parents weren’t always simple creatures) and living in their nice house(she sold one to move in with us), going on our nice holidays and being there, at least physically, through good times and tough. But he found someone else on a business trip and boom, he blew up his life up once again.
It was an atom bomb to my fragile psyche that left me reeling for years. He moved her and her family over from where they lived and in a while had a daughter, the same age as my son. It took years for us to be understanding of one another, in the mean time, damaging relations between the next generation. It was a mess alright – one of the reasons I ended up in Mile End by hook or by crook, where the flotsam of life’s turbulent tide has often drifted in, now increasingly where the human detritus of the City and Canary Wharf can be found. It is illuminating that I am now a stone’s throw from where my mother’s 16th century relatives scavenged a living. All our problems and successes have deep roots. At least, I feel I’m probably plague proofed, if nothing else can be said for my genes.
All this early drama made me both long to to avoid it for myself, but also be drawn to it like a moth to a flame – it had become so normal for me. I found myself a nice, normal man, who was stronger than I was, to take out my angst on. But because of his stable background – mother and father together until he died, tragically young, but uncomplicated to the last – Tom by and large props me up. Except nothing’s ever that simple, whatever polemic rhetoric our tabloids sell as normal dialogue. Even Tom.
Tom was married when I met him, floating round strip clubs with a buffoon’s grin on his face and money to burn in his pocket. He was adrift. His workaholic wife had cast him to the spare room. Married in his early twenties, he’d missed out on his youth, as I would go on to miss out on mine, through the babies we made together. Back then, he had the unwise income of an incautious profession. He slept with hookers in Amsterdam. He was squandering his credit limit paying for someone to be nice to him. He wanted someone to look after. And I needed someone who made me feel safe. It was, perhaps, a relationship based on false promises.
I cut him down to size with good time wit, bedazzled him with sequins and youthful breasts. I tested his patience, pocket and determination. I didn’t find him wanting. He scraped me up, moved in and we hung out a while, while I worked out what to do with the rest of my life. It took a while, but we got there. I needed to know he would never leave. And he promised and promised he wouldn’t.
But that promise is always a pie crust promise. Here is how it works. Relationships have a balance of power. When I was young, some would say, Tom included, I had beauty. Tom had money (at least, he had rather more of it than me). Even stevens, more or less. If you don’t believe me, think, how often in life does this combination achieves a partnership – even if they are rarely, in the end, successful? Relationships – a marriage – are always a bargain of sorts.
Now, I have less beauty (itself a form of power) and more money (power of a more tangible kind, in the form of capital). Tom, who went through a patch when he had less power (losing several jobs in the financial crisis ( and despite myself, I nearly left, though it was complicatedly dressed up as something else, like all our motivations are. The more power he accumulates the more he might leave. It really is that simple. I hope that he won’t. I hope the investments we have made together, in our family, our friends, our shared history and memories, will keep him glued. But I can’t bank on it. My step mother (who my father tellingly never married) thought that. But when Dad left her, he did it hard and fast and never looked back. Not brutally – he bought her a house. But there was nothing my stepmother could do about it either. When someone wants to go, they go. It doesn’t make them a monster. It just means they believe, albeit temporarily, that whatever insecurities they have about their lives (and we all have some) will be eradicated by this new relationship. Perhaps for Tom, it was that he hadn’t had enough sex with enough people, enough fun, enough control…. I was a way to achieve all that Perhaps as I get old and deny him these things for whatever reasons, or gain more control, he may decide to dispense with me. For me, Tom was a way to get stability. When he became unstable (lost several jobs, started partying hard) I very nearly dispensed with him. There’s always an ulterior motive. And spurious concepts of love and morality don’t cut it. And that’s how I learned to forgive my parents. It’s how I learned to be disillusioned by free will.
Tom’s ex-wife sometimes gets in touch. We are grown ups and most of the time are respectful of each other, even at times friendly. But as a human being, there was always a hint of Schadenfreude when Tom and I started to go through tough times. It’s never easy to be left for a younger, albeit more vulnerable model. Now she’s going through a tough time, for which I have utmost sympathy. She’s contacted Tom for old times sake – I’ve never had a problem with this; indeed, we have continued to use Tom’s old holiday house they owned together. But she has become increasingly critical of me, in particular my writing, which has always been honest, often to the detriment of myself in more vulnerable circumstances, although, now I’m less so, I can take greater risks, which is ultimately the very nature of power.
And it’s easy to be critical when you don’t have all the facts. Which ultimately none of us every do.