Lost in the wild tangle of emotions I cannot sleep. I toss and turn, throw the duvet off and instantly retrieve it, turn the pillows over, discard one then bring it back with a thump under my head. Sleep still evades me. My hand reaches over to the empty half of the bed; your empty; your cold half of the bed – and the nightmare thoughts flood back, overwhelming me like some freak wave. I am wide awake; blinking back the salty tears. I glance over at the clock – 2.30, and still you are out. Out there somewhere. Drinking in some late-night den, laughing, smiling into someone else’s eyes. Or worse, in their bed. Oh God, the thoughts simply won’t go away.
It isn’t even jealousy. I am long past jealousy. It is the longing, the desperate yearning that keeps tormenting me. I long for her touch, her smile even – but all I get is her scorn, her sarcasm, her evil taunting of me, comparing me to him. And yet…. still I love her. I plead with her, I cry, I weep in front of her, begging for forgiveness. Forgiveness for whatever I might have done, or not have done, for my inadequacy, for letting her down, for forcing her to reject me. And none of it has any effect, she simply brushes past me, in her new red high-heel shoes and that little black velvet dress I bought last year for her birthday. And as she sweeps past I have to admit that she looks incredible. So stunningly beautiful, there is no denying that she is becoming simply irresistible. Even at five months pregnant she looks wonderful, radiant, and with her slightly pouting belly and rounded breasts she looks splendid. For all the good that does me. It makes it all far, far worse, of course.
I think back to when I first met her, she was slightly plump then, a five-foot-two chubby teenager with spots and glasses, and lank slightly greasy hair. But I loved her. It was love at first sight; her with her blinking eyes and long fringe that kept falling over her face. I loved her back then when she was just sixteen and shy. Oh, how shy she was. I worked so hard to open her up to even my kisses.
No good thinking back though to that time of innocence. We are long past innocence. I suppose I stole her innocence. Yes, you could say that. But I was barely two years older than her. She was my first, my only girlfriend. The only girl I have ever loved. Of course, we – well, I, was stupid and she got pregnant so soon, and twice at that. And now she has shredded that love, torn it up and tossed it like so much wasted confetti into my face. Confetti? We had no confetti at our wedding, and barely any guests. It was a sad affair, the registry office cold and dismal. Her parents refused to come, as did mine. And even then, I knew I was losing her; that fervour in her kisses was missing by now, too often she would turn her face away and stare vacantly at the wall when we made love.
And we had had to fight so hard for everything. When she was first pregnant she begged me to take her away; from her mother, from her father and his drunken rages. We fled to Scotland where we heard you could get married at sixteen. All that bus journey, as she slept soundly beside me, her head on my shoulder – I stared out of the window at the rainy night sky, as the town signs drifted by, Cambridge, Lincoln, York, Newcastle. I was scared and alone; I had mucked up yet again. All I had was this sleeping beauty beside me and the treasure she carried. My very own family, after the one I had rejected a year earlier when I too had fled the life I felt trapped in – for a new life and a new start in London. And now I realised I was messing up again, and not only my own life but hers too. This was just another trap I was tumbling into.
It was dawn as the bus pulled into Edinburgh. I trudged up steep streets and found a tenement with a sign ‘Room to Let’. Five floors up, and I can still recall the stone staircase, each step hollowed out by millions of tired feet. I went out to find a job and came back elated that I had found some temporary bar work. She was suddenly smiling. She had phoned her mother and gained a degree of forgiveness. ‘We have to go back, it’s alright’ she said ‘My Mum said we can have the baby and live with her. My Dad is sort of okay about it too.’ I had spent almost all of my money, just enough for the bus fare back. And as the bus wound its long return journey and the towns drifted by in reverse order, she slept soundly on my shoulder and I stared out all night at the bleak rainy darkness. It rained and rained and as I kept wiping the condensation from the window with the side of my hand – still, all I could see was rain.
Sometimes I feel it hasn’t stopped raining since. Her father kicked us out six months after the baby was born. We ended up in a homeless hostel, and then in a temporary ground floor of a house waiting to be demolished. It was here that she fell pregnant again, but worse than that she started going out with the woman from upstairs. Drinking in pubs down the Holloway Road, while I stayed in looking after the baby.
And now she stays out until the early hours, and I lay awake, occasionally rocking the baby’s cradle, listening for the sound of a car pulling up and her drunken giggle and the click-clack of those red high-heels as she stumbles up our steps. Which is worse, the waiting or her arrival? I really don’t know. I dread her not coming back, and I dread her coming in and taunting me with how good a lover he is, and how useless I am. And still I put up with it, I stay and look after the baby, changing his nappy, making his food, washing his clothes, and worrying what the hell my sometimes wife is getting up to. Hoping against hope that she will tire of him, of her ‘freedom’, that she will realise that he is simply offering her another trap. That she will give him up and come back to me.
The months roll on and it gets no better. Then the baby is due and we go together to the Hospital. She holds my hand, digging her nails in as her contractions come one by one. I am nervous, apprehensive. Desperately hoping that things have changed, that she still loves me. But hope is all I have. Hope is all I have ever had.
Six weeks later and she has gone. With him. She has taken the new baby, but has left me with the other one, now just 18 months old. And this child, who smiles through everything knows nothing of the turmoil we have been through. The desperate nights, the hours of lonely waiting were nothing to him. He smiled though it all. And as I drop the good-bye note and pick him up I realise that he probably has saved my life.
We start again; I paint the rooms, I find him a nursery, I buy some better second-hand furniture. We move into a GLC flat in Hackney. I begin to get over her. But I will never forget those nights, lying awake, listening for the click-clack of her heels, the drunken giggle, the fumble of her key in the lock.
I grow stronger, I will fall in love again, I will have more children. But I will never forget her, her shy smile, those blinking eyes, that little black velvet dress and how beautiful she looked. I will forgive her, maybe I had always forgiven her – but I cannot forget those wild nights, when I was lost in the tangle of my emotions. When I wasn’t sure if I still loved her, or just the memory of her; when all I knew was that I was losing her. I was lost in those wild times, and sometimes I am not sure I have ever recovered, if I ever found my way home – or if I am still wandering, still tossing and turning in my frantic search for some peace. Even now somewhere inside, there is a little bit of me that still loves the memory of her, even if she did smile as she ground her high heeled shoe in the space in my heart I’d laid open for her.
Such is love.