DOWN A DEEP, DARK WELL
My dearest, darling Andrew,
I am leaving you, and you know why. I love you, and I am leaving you today.
It feels so good to be able to say that, so exhilarating and so powerful. I am leaving you. I am leaving you. After spending 30 years together and having two beautiful children, I am leaving you. There is no reason for me to stay. I waited ten long, difficult months for you to leave me until I couldn’t stand the powerless, helpless feeling that waiting gave me, anymore. Now I am leaving you. I am leaving you today, December 12, 2012.
I haven’t always felt this good. Ten months ago, I felt a terrible isolation and despair. I don’t feel that way now, but rather the reverse. I feel outrageously happy and excited.
In this same envelope, there is a post office box key and a storage unit key. Please read this letter. It will help you understand what I have just done to you.
Why didn’t you tell me? I imagine you asking. I am telling you now. Please read this. Why have you written this? I can hear you ask. I have written this letter because I felt compelled to write it. I wanted to express myself and explain my actions. For thirty years, you were my lover, husband and best friend. You were the person I could tell anything and everything to. When I had an interesting day, I always thought, I must tell my dearest darling – my Andy. I still do because a habit can be hard to break. I still want to tell you everything that is interesting or important to me, but I intend to let that habit fade with time. For now, I have written down what has happened to me over the past ten months before your unseeing eyes, condensed from some recordings with my therapist and the journal she encouraged me to write.
You’ve been seeing a therapist? Since when? I can hear you ask. Yes, I have. Seeing a therapist is one of the many things I have been doing over the past ten months to help me come to the decision I have come to today.
Why didn’t you deliver this letter yourself? I can hear you ask. I couldn’t deliver it darling because I’m a coward. I didn’t want to see you. I was afraid that if I saw your beloved face, I might change my mind. The last time I saw you, four days ago, you hugged me, picked up your suitcase, smiled and kissed me goodbye. That was the last and best image I have of you and I didn’t want to spoil it. I might have gained some satisfaction from seeing the expression on your face today if I had handed you this envelope, but I simply couldn’t risk it and it wouldn’t have been worth it. Believe me, I thought about it. I thought about it a lot.
I imagined a variety of different scenarios. You might have been shocked, horrified and disbelieving. You might have cried. You might have even begged, which would have been very satisfying, or you might have been relieved, delighted or even euphoric, which would not. Either way, I didn’t want to remember you like that. I wanted my last image of you to be one in which you smile and kiss me goodbye.
Why did you send it by courier to my office? I can hear you ask. I needed to be sure you would receive it. That woman works in your office and it may have become ‘mislaid’ so I am making sure you receive it by arranging for you to sign for it. Besides that, the office was the only place I could send it – don’t ask. Just read the letter. By doing it this way, I can leave you – no discussion, no negotiation, just a done deal. You may never read it all, but I wanted to write it. If you do read it, you will know how I have felt for the past ten months and you will understand why I am doing what I am doing today.
I have also written it because I believe there will be tough times ahead for you and the concepts in this letter may help you the way they have helped me.
I have loved you since I was eighteen years old. I still love you and I am forty-eight. You are, and probably always will be, the love of my life and I am finally at a place where I can say that I want you to be happy. If you are happy, then maybe you will leave me alone to be happy too.
I want you to know how I went from holding my breath every time you walked through the door to breathing freely and easily, no matter where you were, whom you were with or what you were doing. I want you to know how I went from having my happiness depend on your every move, to discovering that my happiness depends entirely on my ability to focus on who I am and what I want.
How did you find out? I can hear you ask. I saw you with another woman on Wednesday, February 8, 2012 – the day my life fell apart. It was two o’clock in the afternoon, two months after my Mum died, six days after our twenty-sixth wedding anniversary and three days after we had to have lovely, old Molly put down.
I saw the two of you together in the Fitzroy Gardens. I was cycling across the park to meet friends for coffee at the Pavilion Café. You were sitting under a tree about thirty meters away on a rug with a young, blonde woman. You were kissing her, holding her hands, smiling and talking. The two of you were totally engrossed in each other. I was watching lovers who knew each other well. I got off my bike for another look. It was definitely you; there was no doubt about it. I stood still. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t breathe. Then something unexpected happened. I wet my pants and not just a little; I lost the lot. My bladder simply let go.
I had warm urine running down the inside of my sports pants, filling my shoes and forming a puddle on the ground around me, so I couldn't walk up to you. I couldn't ask you what you were doing or who she was. It would have been too humiliating. I couldn't do anything but stand still, keep my balance by holding my bike and stare from a distance. People passing by looked at me and saw the puddle on the ground. One young man approached me and asked if I was all right. I smiled weakly and waved him away. Yes, I was all right. I had only entered an alternate universe where nothing I believed made sense. I felt like I had fallen down a black hole. Now however, I can look back and say that wetting my pants saved me. I am also grateful that only my bladder let go. It could have been much worse.
Over the years, I seldom thought that you might cheat because I loved you and I believed in you. You still came home at night and you still made love to me often. I believed that we cared enough about each other to resist the temptation of becoming involved with anyone else. As far as I know, you were faithful until recently. If you weren’t, there’s no point in telling me now. Please leave me with my delusions.
I wonder if that woman will read this letter one day. I hope so. All my questions are rhetorical and I don’t want or expect you to answer them. I don’t want a response from you at all, although an apology might have been appreciated. I definitely don’t want one from her. How could she read this? I won’t be showing this to her. I can hear you say. I will tell you later, I reply. Keep reading.
I loved you. I still do; you are the man I have known and loved for thirty years, the man who could make me laugh and one that is still so good in so many ways. I loved almost everything about you. I loved the sight, smell and sound of you. I loved who you were. I loved the respect you showed my friends and because you loved me, you liked women in general, the same way I loved you and therefore respected what was good in all men. I loved our history and the possibilities for our future. I had saved for a holiday on a luxury Great Barrier Reef island for your fiftieth birthday and I almost had enough before seeing you in the park. At the time, the idea of surprising you with a week on a tropical island was exciting. Now it just seems pathetic.
So I stood there, in my wet pants, sodden socks and squelching shoes I turned my bike around and headed home where I sat in the shower, cried for ages and went to bed exhausted. The phone rang and I ignored it. I heard the sound of voices on the answering machine. My friends were waiting for me at the coffee shop in the park. They all chimed in cheerfully together wanting to know where I was, wondering if I had forgotten, and asking me to call them back. They were friends you hardly knew. When the children were small, we all met at playgroup. We were still friends simply because we had known each other for more than twenty years. If I met them now, we would probably have nothing in common. Out of habit, however, and perhaps because I worried about what they would say about me behind my back if I stopped going, I met with them every second month at a café to ‘catch up’ for gossip, trivial conversation, coffee and cake.
While lying in bed, and listening to them telling me I was no fun, I began to wonder who I could talk to about what had just happened. I knew with certainty it couldn’t be any of them. It couldn’t be any of my other friends either. I couldn’t rely on any of them to understand, or to keep it between us. I missed Judy, my dearest and oldest friend. I could have told her and she would have understood, but she had been dead for two years, so there was nobody I could talk to about something that mattered so much.
I don't suppose you remember it, but I’ll ask you anyway. Do you remember the day you came home and I had the 'flu'? I was all hot and congested. I wouldn't let you look at me because you would have seen that I had been crying and I wasn't really sick at all. That was the day I found out you were seeing another woman, and I knew that my marriage, as I understood it, was over. When you brought me a cup of tea, I couldn’t meet your eyes. I didn’t notice then that you had trouble meeting mine. That came later.
Why didn’t you say anything? I can hear you ask. In my imagination, I could hear this question repeatedly. Each time you asked, I had a different answer so I couldn’t explain why. I just couldn’t ask you about what I had seen. I was frightened. Initially, I was numb with terror. Everything around me was the same, yet different. I felt panicked and powerless. I couldn’t think, let alone speak. All I could do was ask myself questions that I was too afraid to answer.
What if I say nothing? What if I turn a blind eye? What if I just pretend I don’t know?
What if I ask you? What if I confront you?
What if you deny it? What if you say it wasn’t you and I was mistaken?
What if you say you can’t believe I could think you would do such a thing?
What if you accuse me of being paranoid or suspicious?
What if you admit it?
What if you say you love her? What if you say it’s been going on for years?
What if you say she is pregnant? What if you want to marry her?
What if you say you want to leave me? What if you want a divorce?
What if I never see you again?
What if you come home and tell me you are leaving?
What if you come home and tell me you want me to leave?
What if you tell me you never want to see me again?
What if you kick me out the front door?
What if I then have nowhere to go?
What if you move that woman into my home once I am gone?
What if she moves into my kitchen, into my bedroom, into my bed, into my life?
What if you convince the courts that the house is yours?
What if I come home and the doors are locked and my suitcase is on the porch?
What if that woman is inside laughing at me, or pointing at me through the curtains?
What if I have a nervous breakdown and lose my job?
What if I do and I can never get another job because I am too old?
What if I have no money and nowhere to live?
What if our children like, no, love that woman more than me and she turns them against me?
What if I never see them again?
What if you have more children and you all spend happy Christmases together?
What if I spend every Christmas alone?
What if I am always alone?
What if I end up living in a caravan, on government assistance?
What if I turn into a homeless, old bag lady who dies, cold and alone in the street?
What if they find me days later, frozen to death?
What if, what if, what if. Was I being melodramatic? Yes, when I think about it now, I definitely was, but at the time, I couldn’t stop asking myself those terrifying, unanswerable questions. They came into my mind like an avalanche, one after the other. I didn’t have answers for any of them then. They made me frantic and unable to think rationally. Each ‘what-if’ was worse than the last. I could hardly breathe. I couldn’t stay still. I paced around the house crying and babbling to myself like a mad woman until I was exhausted and had to lie down. I got up, paced and talked until I was exhausted again and lay down. Eventually I wore myself out and curled up under the covers.
You slept in another room that night so you wouldn’t disturb me, or catch ‘the bug’. I lay awake for hours. I wanted to run to you and have you envelop me in your arms and I wanted to feel your stubble against my shoulder, but I didn’t dare. I reached across to your side of the bed and it was cold and empty. I put my face in your pillow to smell you, but I could smell perfume as well, and it wasn’t mine. I rolled back onto my side of the bed and cried, trying to stifle the sound with a corner of the blanket in my mouth. Being in our bed without you was the loneliest place on the planet. I dozed fitfully, my dreams were disturbing and I woke in a sweat. You left for work without waking me.
I stayed home that day and wandered aimlessly through the house, still talking to myself and asking myself questions. What if you come home today to tell me you are leaving me? I spent the day pacing the house. I couldn’t eat. I stopped wanting to think, because each thought brought to my mind another frightening question that I couldn’t answer. I felt like a mouse on a wheel. The faster I thought, the faster the questions came up and they went around and around in my head and didn’t stop.
That night, when you came home from work, I was still in bed and you brought me a cup of tea. By then, I really did look unwell. There was a concerned expression on your face, which I read as love. It gave me hope that perhaps you still loved me and what I had seen the day before was temporary and unimportant, although I didn’t really believe it was either. There seemed to be such intimacy between the two of you, such affection and enjoyment. I knew it wasn’t a one-time thing but you looked at me that evening with something in your eyes that felt, to me, like love. With that little breath of hope, I fell into a long, deep sleep. When I woke the next morning, I was certain I couldn’t say anything to you yet. I had to wait. I needed some answers to my questions first. Why didn’t you say something? I can hear you ask again. My reply is why didn’t you? Why would you? I know the answer to that one. You were a married man having an affair and you didn’t know I had seen you in the park.