Room for Confusion

Deciding did not paralyse as I chose for Christmas, got spinach rather than sprouts , or when I agreed to marry Brett.

Yet, faced with making this new decision, there’s only disbelief that I ever knew how to reach a conclusion.

Finding I have been staring down the plughole is no help in getting a  shopping list.

Once I get to the greengrocer, it’s obvious dithering is inconvenient. Though friendly, their small shop has no waiting room for the uncertain.

How then, do I begin to make up my mind over the future of the marriage when, two months ago, it was nowhere on my radar that there might be a question?

Before the upheaval, barely known threads must have stitched the past to the present, as if it were meant to be that I felt safe, comfortable and well turning forty-three – with some continuing lifeline held by tidy connection back to the  small girl, then the white wedding.

But threads were cut.

Their existence had hardly occurred to me, let alone that they could be severed, or that making sense might unravel.

A taken- for -granted family future abruptly turned to mist.

Surges of outrage and hurt briefly shape thought but they subside.

I cannot sustain war. Endurance was never my strength and fighting Brett gives only limited satisfaction, though, some nights, locking myself behind a barricade, flinging out furious, righteous grenades can work, as long as our shared daughters, eleven and nine, stay asleep.

They, too, are bewildered. Continuity once ruled their lives, as it did mine.

The three of us got lost, yet both girls know the streets round here.

How could we all have taken a left turn for the cake shop we found weeks ago?

Yet again, I was  getting something wrong and taking our daughters along with me.

The grandeur of the word betrayal appeals, and I would like to stay in the operatic certainty it generates.

But as soon as exploding passes I am back to confusion.

How did I not know?

Yes, Brett lied.

Misled, he says and though he never actually told me a lie,he repeats sorry, sorry, sorry.

And what use is that?

Old stories of myself have been stripped away, leaving me suspended in “so where do we go from here?”

And on what did I base belief that we had solid foundation beneath our life together?

Brett, who was meant to love till death do us part, insists he still does.

When we made our vows didn’t he know he would always love Nicky?

Then what is his declared intention worth now?

How is deciding that to be done?

There is no doubting Brett relished becoming a parent. His own father disappeared in Australia, starting two further families, and dumping his  sons from the first.

By his teens, Brett understood, however rich the connection and on-going long nights of conversation with Nicky, he wanted children.

He also claims to truly value being a husband and is all regret at not having risked confiding to me Nicky’s importance from the start. He told himself it protected me from hurt and that I couldn’t possibly understand.

If we were meeting now rather than back when we were twenty-six, how his sexuality didn’t fit in one neat channel might more easily be shared. Or so he suggests.

But that fidelity was fixed for me, and not for him, sticks lumpen in my chest.

When I said those words in a church we hardly went into before or after, how could I understand what inhabiting marriage might mean? Yet  I wanted our vow to come true.

Surely he recognised his first love mattered enough to remain?

Brett asks if I ever felt short- changed.
And, if not, is my response that he kept too much from me or that I am looking  through monster-green eyes?

If it is jealousy it has thickened to a solid to fling at him. I don’t want it, he should get it all!

While the fact of his other love was masked, jealousy could hardly be an obstacle between us. But, once seen, Nicky diminishes my place – a constant I cannot imagine a way past.

If I set a choice as condition for him staying and he accepted my terms, Brett doubts any more of him could be available.

At thirteen, while fooling around with his best friend, both fell in the river, then came out laughing and dropped onto grass, side by side, looking skyward.

When eventually they sat up,Nicky’s thick hair was over his face and Brett had a comb in his pocket.

He reached to those wet dark curls and as he combed, was choked with a tenderness inconceivable before.

A moment echoed only at first sight of his child.

Not once has he offered a time of breath-suspended, intense care for me.

He says how grateful he will forever feel that I wanted to marry him.

But what does that mean?

It is not the claim I used to make that I was lucky to have fallen in love.

Waking one night, I ran to where Brett slept on the floor, after being banned from the shared bed.

“Nicky came to our wedding!” – shouting and shaking him to sit up while other questions flowed.

“What did you feel with both of us there?”

“Which of us roused you more?”

“He wasn’t your best man though he’s been your man for thirteen years longer than I’ve known you.”

With no volume button my voice disturbed the girls, and one began to cry.

There was an urge to slam open  their door  yelling, “This isn’t just about you. I’m bridled with motherhood most of the time and right now I’m not. Stop snivelling. My rage will pass and I won’t kill your damned father, though he has saddled me with more than I can take!”

Instead I locked myself in our recently painted, blue bathroom and left Brett to comfort the girls. They are unused to scenes.

I refrained from pounding on the door by repeatedly slapping my own head.

Brett is distraught watching us suffer.

And it does not feel quite fair to destroy things for the children to avoid hard questions with him.

Whatever he did, how much was I not noticing during those fifteen years, which had seemed good?

What had I been unable to consider?

That Brett went off on long fishing weekends three times a year, except the two years of the births, wasn’t a problem and he returned refreshed.

Friends agree on girl time, so it balanced for Brett to see his close friend, except we women didn’t have sex.

Does Brett bugger Nicky? It isn’t all conversation and tenderness between them.

Those few times, mid-fervour, that Brett penetrated my anus begin to look different .

It wasn’t unexciting to be pushed into the disconcerting ,though pain lingered several days.

Did he want to do that often? Instead of asking, I wordlessly made clear it was a barrier, which he never pushed through again.

Apart from everything, what changed with my overhearing Brett at six o’clock that Monday night when he assumed he had the house to himself?
Clearly, my compass dropped and broke, leaving me directionless and on the wrong street, unsure how I had ever known where to go.

And I erupt as I barely did before.

I tell Brett anything, had been rolled out on repeat to friends over the years – a categorical which left out the actual cost of my new pink coat, with its bright shell buttons, and the way some thoughts went into storage – a neat dead end.

What is truer is that I freely chatted into his silence.

Who knew what he made of half of it.

Where did real curiosity between the two of us shrivel to too little?

Now turned detective, with Brett under suspicion, I want to search his pockets, his thoughts and his phone.

He asks what I imagine there could be to find in those details.

“You won’t track down more between us that way – and there can only be certainty about your heart or mine if all we look for is an ECG.

“Yes, Nicky kept his place in my heart but where did that squeeze you out?”

The easy grievance is that he kept something essential from me and now it’s impossible to trust his word.

He weeps at not having seen he must have convinced himself things had to be hidden from women.  And that fixed belief set me up.

What threatens is not just the long connection with Nicky but that he did not share it.

And why didn’t I ask?

Having often declared I knew Brett well, I am exposed as a fool.

Did I assume I had most of Brett for myself and the girls?

Possibly. And though I made a serious effort to include his picky mother, it comforted when Brett and I were a pair, sharing reaction to her critical judgements of others or of any damning, indulgent behaviour she spotted in our girls, whom she adores.

But there was no sharing Nicky: he escaped my having hands on any steering wheel to help drive his connection with us. From the start he refused to be drawn in as support for our unit.

He stayed outside, taking Brett away, where I had no control.

He not only shifted to the far north, weeks before our wedding, but eluded me and slipped out of place as a family friend.

Why wouldn’t he take up being an uncle to our child? After all he didn’t have his own.

Old friends and Brett’s brother would ask, “How’s Nicky? What’s he up to these days?” Or “Seen Nicky lately?” making me aware they saw him as central to Brett.

Once I asked if the very handsome, dark-haired Nicky was gay. Brett said it wasn’t clear-cut like that, and, “Nicky doesn’t seek a network, he keeps few people in his life.”

So he kept Brett and didn’t show interest in me or the girls.

I have no idea if he resented that I took Brett – and family life took Brett – while he had only those trips.

It was a small place and perhaps Nicky had expected a big one.

Did I hope to find out by feeling bad yet still searching Brett’s desk ?

An unseemly first.

Whatever Nicky’s grip on Brett’s heart, he had little foothold in our home, until the Monday evening Brett believed himself alone.

He came in from work to a note telling him the rest of us were out swimming.

We had been but a migraine sent me creeping back to lie in the dark, leaving our daughters with a neighbour.

I heard Brett come in then telephone and heard his tone, though not the words.

It had to be the girls, there was no one else he spoke to like that.

I sat up to listen, loving how gentle Brett could be with his daughters.

It took a moment to wonder why he was calling them. And how?

Though the eldest had recently got a mobile, she wouldn’t take it to the pool.

I began to register what Brett was saying and that our daughter was not the one with whom he’d just spent such a precious Wednesday to Sunday.

Nothing was quite right.

And then too much had to be noticed.

The sister and several friends, who used to tell me how lucky I was to have Brett, now call me too kind and forgiving. Clearly not seeing that if Brett is deemed faulty beyond repair as husband, great potholes are left everywhere.

If much of Brett went unseen, how good was my loving?

Did he really desire me or simply want a family to which he willingly gave his attention and time?

Yet we enjoyed each other and becoming parents.

If Brett is forced to leave, his love for Nicky becomes huge and insurmountable, putting those years with me in shadow for the girls as well.

Soon both will be adolescents and probably see my reaction as narrow, intolerant of a wonderful father.

Since they have no doubt he loves them, as they do him, still cuddling close for stories and to talk, why would Brett’s close connection with his oldest friend be a threat?

Besides won’t they hate any other relationship I might try? Step-families seem full of martyrdom, or as messy as this with Brett. No one else will want them as he does. And there will be considerable financial strain just as they want more.

To insist on divorce is to decide Brett’s less than honest love for me was inadequate. But what of my own?

Before breakfast it begins to look possible that we could do better with each other, as Brett wants – though it might take as much courage as I’ve got to ease a path through jealousy and make room for complexity .

By evening one question is too hard to wash off; what if it’s cowardly to let battle drain out of me and try to keep our marriage?