I was so happy, the day I came home to find the note.
I’d been at school, where I had only weeks ago embarked on a three-year training course after 17 years as a stay at home mum, and I was loving it. Not only having something to do after all that time essentially tied to the kitchen; not only coming into town each day by bus to the school just opposite Selfridges, and seeing all the hustle and bustle and feeling alive again at last, as though woken from a stupor. Also: what I was learning. It was fascinating. And helpful. In a few weeks the pain in my knees, which had not responded to years of physiotherapy and the odd investigation by an orthopaedic surgeon, had disappeared and allowed me to skip down the four flights of steps in the school without so much as a twinge. It was nothing short of miraculous.
So I had (I suppose) had a great day at school. It being almost my husband’s birthday, I had done a little shopping before heading home. That was a treat in itself: after too many years of financial hardship, things seemed to be letting up, and I had enjoyed choosing him some gifts without panicking about the cost. I’d bought some books, and a replacement for his threadbare dressing gown. My husband’s business seemed finally to be delivering: the financial fog was lifting at last.
And perhaps most of all: today was the day, a year since I first approached my GP to ask for it, when my husband and I were going to have our first couple’s counselling session. Because money was so tight, I had organized free counselling at the world famous Tavistock Centre, a short walk from our home. In previous months we’d been for assessment meetings, and at last we were to begin a year’s free help. It was all coming together. Even the assessments had helped. My husband had told me how useful he had found them. He’d been told to his face by an expert that he didn’t seem to be listening to me. So I felt somewhat vindicated and less like everything was my fault, which was a blessed relief. And he had resolved to take the remarks on board. Then we’d had the best holiday I could remember. Ever since the children were toddlers we had been largely holidaying in the Cornwall apartment of a family member, for which we were of course extremely grateful, and where we had all had lovely days at the beach. But finally we were back to Italy, with a villa rented for a week, and a fabulous leisurely drive to and from Tuscany, stopping to see the sights, staying in modest but lovely hotels, eating in simple but fabulous restaurants. We laughed together, we slept together, the children no longer needed to be watched like hawks around the pool. Everything was finally relaxed. We were over the worst.
All was right in my world. Or almost. It was true that the night before, we’d had a row. For the first time in years, I’d organized a date. There was a movie I really wanted to see. We’d not been to the cinema together for years. There was a two for one offer and I thought I would treat us. Pathetic I know, but that’s how bad it had been for years. Well, he didn’t show up. Said afterwards that he hadn’t realized etc etc. Maybe so. Anyhow, I was stood up, and by the time I met him back home I was hopping mad and disappointed: the efforts I had made had been spurned. I shouted at him. He was his usual passive self, and the argument went nowhere. I lay awake for hours beside him, stiff with resentment and hurt.
But on the following day, almost four years ago, everything seemed rosy. I came home singing to myself. I opened the front door, swinging the bags with his birthday presents. I stopped to pick up the post from the mat. Amongst the bills and fliers, an envelope with my name in his hand. I opened it up and read that he had gone.