(Posts on this topic can be found consecutively in the page “Infidelity”)
When the ending came, it was brutal.
She went to bed the night before as usual, with their goodnight messages of love: Night night, lovely lady with the beautiful breasts. And their rows of kisses. The next morning he rang. She was waiting for me at 2 am when I got up for a pee, he said. She said, I know what’s going on. I’ve known from the beginning.
I can’t see you anymore, he says. I can’t talk to you anymore. She says I either end it with you or leave. I can’t leave. I can’t lose my family. If I lose my family I won’t be the man you fell in love with.
She is having trouble taking this in. She hasn’t slept for the three nights since her husband died after a prolonged illness, in the nursing home. She’s taken any number of sedatives, and drunk a fair bit as well, and nothing has even hit the sides. She keeps seeing her husband when she goes down the street. She’s on the brink of stopping some bloke in jeans and a flannelette shirt and throwing her arms round him. She’s ill. She’s in about as bad a shape as anyone can get, and still be on their feet. So if he expects her to comprehend weighty matters such as the ones he’s putting to her, he’s dreaming.
Don’t, she says. Don’t, not now I’m grieving my husband, don’t.
She hangs up on him.
Later that day or maybe the next day, she can’t recall the days, the nights, he phones again. She begs him again not to do this. Relationships end, Jennifer, he says. You’re strong.
What seems like five minutes ago she was the centre of his world. If he didn’t hear from her for a few hours he’d message that he was worried about her. If she didn’t respond he’d write: more worried. Getting anxious. Until she replied and reassured him she was all right, they were all right. Now he’s telling her, relationships end, Jennifer and her husband is dead but she keeps seeing him in the street. The combined shock is indescribable. She is numb, but not numb. She is feeling but it is chaotic, unfocused pain, like babies when they hurt one small part of themselves and feel it in their entire bodies.
She listens as he lurches between two seemingly opposed personalities. On the one hand: Relationships end Jennifer. I can’t lose my family. On the other: I love you, I miss you, it’s impossible, I don’t know what to do.
When he says, I can’t lose my family, she thinks, but they’ve been here all along. They didn’t just appear. They were here at the beginning. Why didn’t you think that then?
This is brutal, she tells him. What you are doing is brutal.
Brutal? he replies. My radical change of circumstances, getting caught, is brutal?
She begins to understand he has unquestioningly assumed that he was entitled to everything he had with her, and entitled to walk away unhampered when it became necessary. He has assumed that he was entitled to have this affair with her long as he wanted, and when he was caught he was entitled to say, relationships end, you are strong, and walk away. The privileges accorded to him by marriage give him that entitlement he believes, without even thinking about how or why he believes it. It’s just there. Like the sun rising and setting.
His marriage neutralises the importance of anything she might feel, because it is his marriage. Relationships end. They end four or five hours after you’ve told someone you how much you love them and their beautiful breasts. This is not brutal. This is an expedient adult response to the radical change of circumstances in a married man’s life.
She remembers this is one of the things she has at times despised about some married people, that they believe anything and anyone can be sacrificed to keep their marriages intact. If it’s that important, she’d often thought, why risk it in the first place. She sure as hell didn’t risk hers with betrayal.She abhors the way marriage can be used to justify all kinds of lousy behaviour that causes anguish to somebody else.
You aren’t the man I fell in love with anyway, she tells him. I have no idea who that man was or if he exists or ever existed. Then she hangs up the phone.
When weeks later his wife tells her he’s done it before, she begins to understand his sense of entitlement, and privileged assumptions. Obviously, he has got away with it who knows how often, his wife won’t tell her that. Obviously he has told other women I have to end it I can’t lose my family, and they’ve buggered off without much, if any protest, his wife’s taken him back and now he believes that’s all he has to do.
Then out of nowhere he rings her up and tells her he won’t leave her, not while she’s sick, not while she’s in this awful state grieving her husband. He’s told his wife she’s having a hard time and they’ll be “staying in touch.” I am being circumspect with her, he says. In this situation, she replies, circumspect is just another word for lies of omission. You are being forensic, he says, you’re making me anxious.
His wife has not reacted well to this news. She cries every morning and evening, and it emerges later that she feared every contact the lovers had would result in her husband leaving her.
At the same time, every phone call she has with her lover she expects him to tell her again he’s had another ultimatum and relationships end, Jennifer. He now has two women in a state of appalling distress.
She is not grateful for his decision to stay with her. She has lost all trust in him, she knows he can say again at any second what he has already said. She doesn’t actually want him to stay with her. She wants him to have a conversation with her in which they say goodbye. The conditions he has outlined for staying with her are outrageously selfish, and she wonders how any man could think a woman would find them acceptable. They may only have phone contact a couple of times a week when his wife is out, she must ring so it doesn’t show on his phone bill, and they may not refer to any of their former intimacy, or say anything newly intimate. They must be friends, he says, although he has just spent an afternoon telling her they can’t be friends because it’s all black and white with them, there’s no grey, it’s all or nothing. She has never understood this notion of a nano second’s transition from passionate love to just friends, and bridles at the utter dishonesty of it. He will remember everything about her, he can’t turn his head off like a tap, he will think about her just as obsessively as he always has, but they must not say anything. Nice for your wife, she says. You thinking about me every minute while you’re repairing your marriage. How will that work then?
At least he will get to hear her voice on the phone he says, and that will keep him going.
It fucking well won’t keep her going and he can get fucked, is pretty much the short version of what she tells him.
She wants to end it as well as it can be ended, because they love each other, but she is incapable of coherently conveying this, and shouts at him instead. She can’t clearly articulate what she wants at that point, but she knows it isn’t what he suggests. He tells her he can’t bear not to know what happens to her. He cries when he thinks of never seeing her again. He will keep it staggering on like a mortally wounded animal, bleeding over everything and in terminal agony before he’ll agree to say goodbye.
She does not convey her wishes to him well, because she is governed by excessive emotion and she can’t work out if her awful grief is for her husband, her lover, both, neither, and she is now running fevers every morning and evening.
I’m risking my marriage staying in touch with you, he tells her. She realises she is supposed to feel grateful that he is staying with her on his terms, as he always bloody well has. She becomes increasingly recalcitrant and objectionable. I can’t lose my wife, he says. Relationships end, she tells him.
I don’t care about your fucking marriage, she tells him. I’d like to blow it to smithereens. Which isn’t exactly true, because if she did she’d feel she had to look after him, and she isn’t at all sure now she’d want to do that.
All she wants is a face to face conversation in which they say goodbye. She doesn’t want him to lose his wife and family. She just doesn’t want to be treated like a piece of shit he’s trying to get off his shoe so he doesn’t trail it into the marital home. He has spent countless hours poring over photos of her naked body, and now he can’t even look at her face and tell her goodbye?
No, it would seem that he can’t, and there follows months of silence that she can’t see him ending.
There is perhaps no more powerful way of staying enmeshed than refusing to say goodbye. Once you’ve said goodbye you’ve closed the book, there’s no reason to go back. Being too angry, too hurt, too mean, too afraid of the sorrow to say goodbye means you’re still there, in the worst possible way. And it’s poison.
With all the marital mess he’s got to clean up you’d think the very first thing he’d want to do is say goodbye to her, close the book, and try to put his marriage back together. If she was his wife, that’s what she’d need him to do as a sign of his good faith. If she was his wife, she’d be wondering every time she looked at him if he was thinking about his lover. Because he has refused to say goodbye, and a wife would want to know why.
And he still hasn’t told her if he’s destroyed her naked photos.