Arranging a new life

I had to leave, of course. I had no idea what I was doing. I had no idea what to do. But I knew with an absolute, cold certainty that my marriage could not, would not, work again, not at that point. Whatever my husband said about it, however prepared to forgive he thought himself to be, I knew that he hadn’t grasped yet the enormity of what I’d done and that neither of us were thinking clearly.

And I was still insistent that my future was with X. Why else, I told myself, would I have done everything I had done so far? It was easy to forget, in this feverish panic, what we had between us, but surely I still wanted it. Him. Surely, we still wanted it. Us. Surely.

I was not so far gone from myself as to not recognise that the dreams of a life that X had sold me over recent months were pure fantasy, but he continued to peddle those dreams at odd moments, between bouts of his self-pity, and they still remained so addictive.

Such a compelling dream he sold me, so comforting to dip back into when it felt like everyone else around me was queuing – and quite rightly – to condemn my behaviour, to condemn me. X still knew exactly what to say to me, and when.

“This awful time will all be worth it when it buys me forty years, easily, of being with the only woman I have ever truly loved,” he texted me one exhausted afternoon, his words sliding onto my screen at the moment I picked up my phone, mentally bruised from the mind-bending eternal logic puzzle of another argument with him, to block his number forever.

I believed him, at that moment, and for a moment everything was all right. But I did not believe him, at so many other moments. I was becoming ever more lost. (Of course, I did not block his number).

My husband and I had a family holiday, booked months earlier, which was due to commence shortly after everything imploded. It was a week-long break with another family, renting a big house in the same Cornish seaside town we had visited every year for a decade.

We decided that for the sake of the children, and of our friends, and because after all we could definitely be adults about this, the holiday should still happen – and so, after subdued packing, off we went.

That drive down the country, with my husband weeping quietly beside me as he recalled countless happier drives on the same roads with our younger children, remains up there in my memories as one of the worst experiences I have ever lived through.

For the first time – driving through a mizzling Gloucestershire dawn – I felt the encroaching and true black weight of the genuine, crushing remorse and regret that I’d been trying to run away from. I felt utterly terrible. I thought that I would never feel happy again.

We arrived in Penzance to meet our friends and the rain was pouring down so hard the wipers could barely cope and the only word that existed in my miserable head was “fuck”.

The sun came out, though. Cornwall, in the end, was a week of blue skies and sparkling seas and acres of sun-washed cliffs. The coastline always feels like it has a strange power to heal – maybe it’s just that it’s a physical halt, a manifestation of being able simply to go no further, of being forced to stop and be still – and the airy light that washes over St Ives and Carbis Bay has always seemed to me to be as close to anything divine as I would ever, atheistically, believe in.

After all the dread, we had a happier and more fun and relaxed week than I think any of us expected. We played a lot of board games with the children, drank wine with our friends, ate moules frites on the harbour, threw snacks to the seals in the bay, meandered without thinking through all the cobbled streets we knew so well.

I slept in a tiny single attic room, on my own with my swirling, clouded thoughts. I swam in the freezing sea and walked miles along the coastal paths, sometimes on my own, sometimes with my husband, while we picked carefully over the flotsam and jetsam of the marriage I had comprehensively smashed onto the rocks.

We were gentle with each other, but I was consistently firm with him on one point: he had to understand that I loved X, I had cheated for a reason, and I had to leave.

Then, in Kynance Cove one perfect sunny day, I climbed all the hundreds of steps from the bay to the car park so that I would have enough phone reception to make a phone call, and I called an estate agent and paid a holding deposit and a month’s advance rent on the house that I would move into as soon as we got back home.

Ruins - the cliffs at St Ives, Cornwall
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