I can’t remember where I read this (or I would credit) but there was a woman who was unaware her husband was having an affair. Even though there were signs, she chose – subconsciously – to ignore them. (Oh God, this business of shielding oneself is so fascinating). One day she joined him in the kitchen and suddenly demanded: ‘Who loaded the dishwasher?!’ Where all the other clues could be brushed aside, the sight of dishes stacked in an unfamiliar way suddenly forced the scales from her eyes.
Funny old world.
I’ve mentioned before that I think I have pretty good instincts. And wondered where they were when push came to shove.
In addition to the aversion to facing painful truths, there is my awkward and unhelpful ability to be swayed. Do you know The Fast Show? One of the regular sketches showed a man agreeing with another at a pub. A third man would join them and take the opposite view. The man in the middle would agree with each in turn. As this got untenable, he would take his leave, muttering ‘I’ll get me coat.’ That’s me. There have been very few examples of my insisting on being right in defiance of someone else. Very few times when I have been confident enough to offer someone a bet. (By the time we were engaged to be married, my ex had accepted 13 bets with me at £1m each, at which point it seemed cruel to continue. Needless to say, he never coughed up!)
I am trying to listen to the little voices inside more. Less to the voices of others. Or the imagined voices. It’s hard though, against the habit of a lifetime.
When I went for that interview, seemingly predestined because of its location, I had a bad feeling. I didn’t like the people. They seemed to me rude, arrogant and foolish. I didn’t like the place. I had no confidence in the business. There was something wrong. They asked me to write a proposal without giving me any clues about what they wanted. I felt certain, even as I agreed to do it, that anything I produced for them would likely be passed to someone else and simply used as free advice. And I felt that even if they did offer me some work, I would never be happy working with them. Though beggars can’t be choosers, I just didn’t want to work with them, even if they paid me. They made me feel uncomfortable. It was all very peculiar. I’d read about the people I met on their (awful) website, and on LinkedIn. But I’d missed a trick. It wasn’t till I got home that I googled the young CEO (who had turned up very briefly in the middle of the meeting, looking self-consciously gorgeous and self-consciously wearing Ugg boots) for information other than what she had posted herself. Newspaper articles about her recent wedding, how many millions it cost, and which celebrities performed. That is not a reason to dislike or distrust her of course. But it somehow explained how they had this extremely expensive and old fashioned office with the name all over the place that turned out to be her father’s. How the whole thing had an air of make believe.
So I didn’t write the proposal straight away and after a while they told me they no longer needed it and I felt a mixture of annoyance, self-reproach, and relief.
After BH did a runner, I had a very strong feeling that everything was going to be all right. Lots of people (including my mother, who had always sided with him) were encouraging me to tell him to fuck off and to do things to annoy him. This was exasperating. I explained to them: ‘No. I have to show him how nice I can be, how lovely everything would be if he came back. Not strengthen his belief that he is better off without the old cow.’ In couple’s counselling I remember with some shame how I, with the patience of a saint, explained to him also. ‘Do you remember the kitchen wall?’ I asked.
When we’d bought an enormous property (and not even tried to sell the one we were living in, because the new one needed to be stripped back to brick and was uninhabitable), within days he lost his job. So there we were with two mortgages and no income. I was very stressed. I sort of wanted to sell the new one and retrench, and sort of wanted to believe him when he said everything was fine. (There was no dishwasher moment to shake me from belief.)
Our architect had drawn up plans for the refurb. On the grounds that the new kitchen was unfeasibly large, she had proposed building a wall and creating a utility room out of part of it. I went with this plan but then spent sleepless nights imagining inviting friends to Sunday lunch and staring at the walls in the kitchen, while the utility room enjoyed views of our enormous south facing garden, and provided access to it past laundry baskets and so on.
One morning I could stand it no longer, and woke my husband. ‘I can’t do it. The wall is madness.’ I was embarrassed to assert myself against the architect but, cowering behind my ex, I did it. On the very day, as it happened, that the wall was erected. I stood shuffling beside the architect as she explained in Polish to the builder that the wall he had just put up was going to have to go.
‘Remember how certain I was about the wall?’ I asked my husband in counselling. ‘Well, that’s how I feel about this family being together and how it will all work out for the best.’
Imagine this in the voice of Trump: ‘WRONG!’
And not for the first time. My then husband used to rely on my instinct vis a vis people. Before starting a new job, I would go out to dinner with the prospective boss, and sometimes his wife also, to sniff them out. I was famed for being able to smell nutters. But I have to admit that there have been some notable failures. I encouraged him to go into business with a man who turned out to be evil personified. And who went on to teach my ex everything he knew. How to lie, how to operate secret bank accounts, how to leave the family, how to insist to all and sundry that the money was coming, how to get divorced and sued on all sides at the same time, how not to pay maintenance for children even if ordered by the court to do so. After we saw off this business partner, stressfully and expensively through the courts, a new man entered my ex’ life. I never met him. But I didn’t like the sound of him and told BH so. This man later succeeded in bankrupting many people in countries around the world, including himself. Aided and abetted (unbeknown to me) by my husband (whose part in the miserable deception is described in a book I came across recently, the title of which and link to amazon I am tempted to give here). He tried his best to bankrupt us. My ex did business with this man behind my back, gave him our money, operated bank accounts for him as bankruptcy approached and thereafter, and never breathed a word to me even though at the start we were still together. Asked about it afterwards, BH said ‘Of course I couldn’t tell you I was working with him. Every time I mentioned his name you rolled your eyes and slapped your forehead.’ Ah yes. So, I won some, I lost some.
The biggest howler of course, was BH himself. And I am still struggling with that. I wish I could say I am clear-eyed now, but I know I still avert my gaze, literally and metaphorically, sometimes when it is just too hard.
And as for the family… I’ve lost him of course, but I consider that I dodged a bullet there. But my younger daughter has jumped ship. Both twins have just been offered places at Cambridge. They haven’t spoken to one another since she left. It is heartbreaking. Not my idea of family. But I am forced to adjust.