Rock bottom: how to end an affair

Alone in my pointlessly big, pointlessly expensive rented house, the days became weeks and then months and I had far too much time to think. And what I realised, with a creeping shame that bordered on horror, was what I could now clearly see I should have known all along – what everyone else had seen and tried tactfully, kindly, to tell me for a long time.

I was an absolute fool. I was a stone cold idiot. I had no hope. I had thrown away a beautiful life that I had made, with a man I truly loved and who loved me, for something nebulous and dark and unhealthy with a man I barely even knew. Not really.

I had thought there was some sort of mystery and intrigue in X’s unknowable depths, but in fact he had nothing behind the facade. He was a fan of pointless half-truths and a life in the shadows for its own sake. A coward, when all was said and done. And I had fallen for it.

I could clearly see now what had happened, what I had done, and it made me feel lost and blindly, howlingly furious with myself, with the cliche I had become, with the powerlessness of it.

Of course my husband was in high demand with other women, now. He was tall, dark, successful, widely liked, and now, to add to everything else he had been scorned by me. He was damaged. Blamelessly rejected. He was in need of saving and reassurance and the restorative love of someone true. He was irresistible. He was everything. He had been mine but I had taken him utterly for granted and then I’d turned my back on him in favour of X.

X was not, by any definition, widely liked. X was generally regarded as an absolute arsehole, and was proud of this. I had once seen this as a badge of honour – hey, this total bastard, this upfront, brutally honest, suffers-no-fools man loves ME! I’ve broken his carapace! ME! – but now I saw that this, too, had been a truly foolish standpoint, the worst sort of hubris.

I hadn’t cunningly won the heart of a cynical, hard-to-please genius. I’d just been duped by a common or garden player, and to a crushingly humiliating degree. I was sunk, and embarrassed, and pinned under the weight of what I had done.

My husband did not want me any more. I asked him to his face, baldly. Might there be hope for us, ever? Might we find our way back? Could we ever be a couple, a family again? “No,” he said, kind but quietly firm. “It is just not an option. Not any more.” I understood this, I did, but still it was agony.

All I could remember, now, were the good times. Last minute flights to random destinations, booked always by me on a drunken whim. Tapas in Barcelona, him laughing fondly as I stumbled on La Rambla after too many mojitos.

Dancing badly with him at concerts, leaning my back into his chest as he held me tight through the slower songs, his chin on my head, swaying.

Walking through cities late at night after the theatre, hand in hand and alive with possibility.

Sunday evenings, him holding me gently on the sofa, both of us reading in companionable silence, glasses of red wine within reach and the children all safe nearby.

I ached for all of it. I could not summon from anywhere the frustration, the ennui, the sense of missed possibilities that had led me to X. All I could see when I looked back was my own idiocy and a trail of stupid text messages and X calling all the shots.

I hadn’t been in charge of any of it, and now I had nothing, and it was entirely what I deserved.

One autumn Sunday I woke up late and alone, as usual. The sky was the colour of mud. My children had been away with my husband for several days and I missed them badly. I had absolutely nothing to do with my time.

I went for a run, and then I went for a walk, because there were still so many hours. I made coffee. I listened to podcasts. I tried to find parts of the spotless house that I could clean again. In all of these hours I did not see or hear from anyone. I was completely alone, and completely calm.

In the afternoon X sent me several text messages. He missed me, he said. His mood was low, he said, but it was manageable, I mustn’t worry. (I had not been worried). He would visit me the next day; what would we cook? Would I wait for him to arrive, before we ate? He was so looking forward to it.

He was sorry he’d been quite intermittent in his contact that day, he said, but he’d been very busy. They’d had extended family round; they’d cooked a feast, several different types of curry for everyone. They’d actually been really good curries. Maybe we could make one of the recipes the next night?

I looked at my phone screen and I looked up at my empty, echoing house. I pictured X in his home less than half a mile away, washing up next to his wife, his house full of bustle and noise and the love of his children. I said out loud to myself “You are a fucking idiot.”

Then I sat down on the bottom step of the stairs and typed a reply to X. I told him, for the first time ever, not to visit me the next day. I said “I am not going to carry on with the half-life you are making me live.”

I would not block his number this time, I said. No dramatic gestures. I just did not want him in my life any more and I expected him to respect that. I would have my key back for the last time, please, but no rush. It was over, and I was sure he would understand. I knew that he would not believe it, but that didn’t matter. In my head, I was finally done.

That was it, in the end. I didn’t need wine to go to sleep, not that last time. In my utter and complete despair I was perfectly calm.

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