“Lets go to New York.” H was excited by the prospect; standing over me with lustful longing in her eyes as I sat at my desk at work feverishly prevaricated.
“Go on. You deserve it…”
Recently divorced from problematic spouses and the financial baggage of eighteen months of divorce proceedings, perhaps I did. But what about the kids? What about all the years of marital conditioning? Wasn’t forty-seven a bit old to start travelling the world? Not to mention the danger of ostracizing someone who I had considered a friend for over a decade by forced close proximity.
“Yes, but I snore.” I wailed pathetically.
The previous Christmas I had shared a hotel room with H and she had ended up sleeping in the bath. My concern was not unfounded. My affliction was stress related and I had been reliably informed that I could strip wallpaper by sheer decibel power. After a dozen or so double gins in the face of years of abstinence I had retired the night of the Christmas ‘do’ to our shared hotel room stone cold sober and obviously deeply stressed about it.
“That’s alright I’ll get some earplugs.” H was not going to be shaken from her dream that easily.
A few weeks later I stopped prevaricating and caved in. My daughter was almost eighteen and my son, at fifteen, had discovered that self-sufficient Utopia requiring only a pot noodle and a guitar. I had run out of excuses. And besides, when did anything I ever plan actually ever happen?
The time passed quickly, a blur of inadvertently cancelled flights, hasty passport applications, misspelt names and dodgy unconfirmed bookings. I had no time to be nervous or excited, work ate away the days and weeks until summer was gone and the departure date loomed. Fate, in the form of Emma the incompetent booking agent, had done its best, but failed in the face of H’s determination.
We drove down to Heathrow on a Thursday night, skimming the tarmac down the M1 in five degrees of frost, the black abyss of the sky held back by the glare of high street lamps. Me handing H ham sandwiches and crisps and soaking my jeans with apple juice from a reluctant carton, already imagining the mayhem my two might cause with the cash card I’d left them ‘for essentials like milk’ for the five days I’d leave them home alone. Not to mention leaving them to oversee a builder charged with, ‘doing something with the garage’.
Even then, as I mentally repacked my suitcase while unzipping the extraordinarily well- organised plastic folder to recheck all the essential documents, it didn’t seem real. H was already beginning to buzz on the crest of an adventurous wave, but I felt displaced and reticent, my children abandoned too many miles in the wrong direction.
In order to combat the deeply engrained parental guilt, I had come to think of this as an experiment. It was, I decided, a giant step toward breaking the co-dependence that had once been our strength and was fast becoming a weakness now their father had departed and we had no common foe to stand united against.
On the day my husband left us he had been missing. The self- indulgent pleasure of having the bed to myself soon replaced by a familiar gut wrenching fear and heavy silence through which the children passed like wary phantoms in search of sanctuary. When he finally appeared and began packing his bags we said nothing to deter him, instead merely waited until he was gone releasing us from our shared misery.
Not even as a child, a lonely and tortuous phase that led to lonely and angst ridden teens when I finally decided that romantic love was a myth and have yet to be proved wrong, had I ever been so happy. All three of us and even the house seemed to settle as if the whole world had suddenly become a large comfy chair.
As the months passed and the divorce dragged its legal heels I set about clearing away the accumulated detritus of a twenty-five year failed marriage. Life became a never-ending stream of financial advisors, builders, decorators, plumbers, chaos and skips. Nothing was sacred not even my memories; a huge chunk of my life, his face, the sound of his voice, becoming nothing more than a troubled sleep that vanishes in the light of a bright spring morning. Life with only my children took on a dreamlike quality, far too content to possibly be sustainable and about as real as me jetting off on holiday to New York without them.