I woke this morning agitated and a little out of sorts. My husband had cocooned himself amongst the duvet, a position he often takes at some point during the night because he hates being cold, so I gave him a prod and the covers another yank. ‘Selfish sod.’ Annoyed I rolled over and touched my lower back wincing from the immediate pain. My bed feels uncomfortable now, much like my marriage; at one time it felt safe but not anymore. Now it feels strange and awkward. Don't get me wrong I love my husband I completely adore the man and I am very happily married. He is the most attentive, devoted human being I could wish to be with, an impatient so and so all the same like many of the male species, but the present situation has caused a shift of emotions that once again, remain unfamiliar. So unable to get comfortable I decide to get up.
It was a dream that woke me, normally my 2 year old beats the birds dawn chorus, but not this morning.The image was so clear it seems it happened only yesterday. I am driving in my car towards the home of my husband’s ex wife. It is a beautiful summer afternoon and the sun has been hot for days. Folk don their sunglasses and lower shades in their cars; bare-armed overweight women fan themselves with newspapers or magazines, irritable with the heat. Children holding the ice creams they eagerly lick, drop most of it onto their newly washed t-shirts, they gaze up at their mothers and their mothers glare back at them disapprovingly.
My palms are sweaty as I grip the steering wheel, my young daughter gurgles happily fastened into her seat behind me. I am fizzing with excitement yet apprehensive with nerves, excited hoping I may bring about a change concerning my husband not seeing his child, nervous because I will stand face to face with his ex wife and try to have a calm and civil conversation regarding her daughter and I just don’t do confrontation. I perform the scenario over and over. Was there anything that could be salvaged from the situation; was there anything I could have done differently? The same answer repeats itself once again, no; there was nothing I could have done to change what has happened.
My husband never stood a chance as once his ex wife decided she wanted him out of their daughter's life there was absolutely nothing he could have done to change her mind.
My get up and go got up and went and I simply do not have the strength to chase headlong after it. If my mind isn’t racing with one thing it’s thinking about something else.
Coming back to my senses my feet feel for the soft rug that is lying on the floor, so stretching the pain away from my aching back I venture downstairs leaving my husband to sleep. On entering the kitchen, the tiles are cold under my feet so I dance, hopping from one foot to the other while trying to pour myself a cup of coffee, then with cup in hand I walk to the window to see what the day's weather is going to offer. It is a beautiful warm morning, unusual for this time of year so opening the tall patio doors I invite a light waft of air into the room, seat myself at the dining room table and gently cradle my now cooling cup of coffee.
I can hear the birds singing their early morning chorus; the bells of the local church ring out inviting its congregation to share their celebration of life. Closing my eyes for a moment I take in a deep breath, the morning air brings the pungent scent of early flowering stocks and it prickles my nostrils. The gentle but cool breeze brushes my cheeks and embraces my shoulders so I pull the collar of my dressing gown tight around my neck.
I reflect over the past few years of anguish and despair and the last twenty-four months of alienation from my stepdaughter that has eventually led to her ceased visitation. I cannot rid my mind of the meeting with my husband’s ex wife; it haunts my waking moments and disturbs my sleep but those feelings are slowly but surely beginning to diminish, gradually finding their way into my heart is acceptance and in some peculiar sort of way forgiveness.
Unfortunately embroiled in these mixed emotions lays a deeper sadness that bites to the bone, an emotion that will certainly never go away and a tear finds its way onto my cheek. It descends over the contours of my face where it reaches my lips and when biting my lower lip I can taste its saltiness, so drawing a deep breath I lick it away. I have cried far too much, it is time for a new start; time to salvage something from my shattered dreams, my fairytale and the happy ending that should have been inevitable.
Lifting the cup, the brim finds my lips and I take a sip. The tepid, slightly bitter tasting coffee makes me scowl so I place it back onto the table heaving a sigh. Yes I am happy here there is no doubt about that, but it is taking a long time to accept what has happened and how desperately unhappy I have been. My stepdaughter’s ability to alienate me from my family has caused tiresome conflict with my husband and although I no longer have to endure her behaviour, it has left its mark on my husband. He misses her desperately, so much so it’s as if his spark has been extinguished and his inner soul has been snuffed out.
Admiring the comfortable surroundings of my home I catch sight of a photograph hanging on the wall among the other current family snapshots. It is a recent picture of my stepdaughter and immediately guilty feelings of rejection and resentment began to take hold. Sadly she has somehow lost the sparkle in her eyes and her skin is more of a paler, pasty complexion than it’s once radiant pink. Her long, mousy-brown hair framing her delicate features hangs limp and lifeless causing the delicate wispy curls to straighten with the weight. Her confident grin is now replaced with a strained half- hearted smile, it is a completely different image to the child I once knew.
But it is a lot less painful to look at her picture now as not so long ago, one particular portrait at the top of the stairs had to be re-positioned. It was the first picture I caught sight of when descending the stairs after putting my youngest daughter to bed. I just could not look at it without feeling bitterness and dejection, but I knew it had nothing to do with my stepdaughter as an individual; the antipathy was everything she represented. It makes me ashamed for feeling this way but as I see it, all the emotional crap my husbands ex wife has shovelled in our direction via her child has left such a void, the bond I had forged with her daughter that has now been brought down, has left our relationship irretrievably reversible.
It’s funny, in the beginning my stepdaughter could have been visiting her daddy alongside a woman who hated everything she represented. Instead she came into a home where she was loved by her daddy and adored by a woman who cared very deeply for her. It’s funny how a change in circumstances can alter ones perception.
I rise from the table and head upstairs to dress. My husband is still cocooned by the duvet but his snoring has now turned to heavy breathing with more of an odd jaw chomping sound. In the dimness of the bedroom I catch sight of my full-length reflection in the mirror. I think I’m doing ok for my forty-two years of age, the slivers of grey that dominate my once brown hair are a bit of a give away though. Mental note, must buy a hair dye. My eyes are looking a little tired and as for my mental state, well, I don't recall where I left my humour head, I think I misplaced that a few years ago.
Certainly seems a while since I threw my head back and guffawed with laughter, too many tears, disputes, arguments and disagreements concerning my stepdaughter or her mother. All said and done I feel I am actually beginning to re kindle the rapport I once had with my sense of humour and laugh again. Looking in the mirror I squeeze the left over skin at my middriff that doesn’t appear to actually belong to any particular part of my body, I am able to laugh at myself, a good place to start, especially when I pore despondently over my reflection. If I refrain from falling about in hysterics I question myself, 'why am I still here?'
The initial happiness I had shared with my husband has been short lived. In the beginning we were madly in love, we still are, but we both have become preoccupied with our own grief and hopelessness, finding it impossible to put our own needs and anxieties to one side and assist each other in repairing our fragile relationship.
Returning downstairs I rinse the leftover crockery from last night’s meal along with my cup under the tap. 'I love you ya know.' I hear the tender voice of my husband. He is standing behind me and places his hands caressingly around my waist giving me a gentle squeeze. Without turning to face him I smile, 'I know,' I reply, but his sincere words just don't seem to matter at that moment in time. He pats me affectionately on my bottom and totters out into the garden. We seem to have lost our way as husband and wife and disconnected from each other, well maybe I have from him a little. The resentment and regret that has consumed each of us for so long has resulted in the inability to understand, provide sympathy or support to each other but most of all love. It has left no room to plan our future, a future that seemed so bright and a future that should have included my stepdaughter.
Turning away from the sink I saunter to the open doors and study him in his dressing gown. He is tending the blossoms of the small lilac tree and suddenly becomes aware of my gaze and chuckles, ‘takes me back years these do. When I was a lad my mum had one of these in her garden. I used to hide beneath the bushes and poke the passers by with a little stick. Laugh my head off cos they didn’t know where it had come from.’
He cups the blossom affectionately, his cheerful mood changing to despondency as he remembers the true but more powerful significance of the tree, the birth of his beloved daughter.
I think about a friend who has a new love interest in her life.
'He has two wonderful girls aged eight and six, they really are sweethearts.' She eagerly told me.
'Yes, they would be wouldn't they?’ I reply.
'His ex wife is a bit of a pain though, I made a surprise visit to his work and she was sitting on his desk, cross legged wearing stockings and a short skirt. They were laughing together but I can handle that, she doesn’t pose any threat to me.'
I want to be excited for her really I do, but those hidden signals foretell an agenda that cause my scepticism and concern for her. A woman who has not accepted her ex husband has moved on with his life, a woman who doesn’t want him for herself but doesn’t want anyone else to have him either.
It may have been a perfectly innocent visit, but with my past history, it leaves me extremely cautious and suspicious. Never take too lightly a woman who is not completely over her ex husband or hasn’t accepted the dissolution of her marriage. She has a bargaining tool she will use to her advantage, and that tool is her child. This was my mistake; underestimating a woman who should have been of no consequence to me whatsoever apart from sharing a daughter with the man I had fallen head over heels in love with.
She had her own agenda and that was to bring down a relationship, whether it was between my husband and I, my husband and his daughter or her daughter and myself. I will never know whom she targeted as her intended victim, but there were without doubt casualties. The elected victim was my husband but drawn into the crossfire was his own daughter. It was their relationship that was so tragically brought down, consequently my husband lost his child but more importantly his daughter lost her daddy.