By Cary J Hansson
These last ten weeks, I feel I’ve lived through ten years.
Those who read regularly will know that back in Spring, my world fell apart as I discovered my husband’s affair. A lot has happened since then, so, where to start?
With the confrontation between me, and my nemesis? The woman whom my husband left me for. The woman, who knew from day one that he was married, but nevertheless flirted with him via text, in person and over the top of my son’s head – I get angry just writing those last few words. Over the top of my son’s head. Yes, I bumped into her. I knew it would happen and trust me, it’s a good scene. Your favourite soap-opera couldn’t deliver more drama – or more bad language, but it’s probably better left in my head, ready to be worked into fiction one day.
Or maybe I should start with the best news of my writing career to date? Short-listed for a big self-publishing prize, with an award ceremony at the Houses of Parliament, in the UK? A lovely, all-expenses paid event, that is of course for me and my Plus 1 … I’ll be going alone.
Or the sticky dream-like state that enveloped me as I packed down a family home, I didn’t want to leave.
Or the extraordinary stories I’ve heard from women, in real life and email, detailing in such honesty the heartbreak they’ve seen and experienced in their lives.
Or my baby-steps into the world of on-line dating? All in good time …
No. I’m going to start with the women. The women who have helped me through.
I have my friends. A few here in Sweden, and my long-standing group in England. But it’s not those women I’m going to talk about. It’s the women I’ve met at the bank, at the estate agents, in the garden. Women who have listened and talked and offered advice and hugs. For weeks now you see, I have been a leaking vessel. In every situation, the hurt, the anger, the pain, escaped any way it could. I just couldn’t help it. My emotional balance was upended by a storm, because while I was cleaning ovens and toilets, getting our home ready for viewings, keeping my youngest son amused on his long summer holiday, shopping for, and feeding all my children, trying to keep my own work going, trying not to cry in front of them, trying to drink just the one bottle at a time … I found out that my husband was away on a relaxing holiday. With her. This is barely a month after he had left.
And for the strangest period of time I became a walking weather front. Alternating between bolts of rage at his callousness, and sudden depressions of grief at all that we’ve lost. (The hurt, funnily enough has been different. More constant, like a deep wound I have the comfort of knowing isn’t fatal. I can feel it, but I can also sense the scar tissue forming and protecting.)
Dawn, on the morning after I found out about this holiday, I went down to the water and sat and cried. Another neighbour found me. A woman I had never exchanged a word with, so stern and rigid and upright, with a haircut to match, she appeared. We swam together and after, she told me how ten years ago, her husband had left. Of the lonely years that followed, and of the sense of peace she has now achieved. She’s in her sixties. She cycles and swims and yes, she even tried online dating. But she is now happy and settled on her own. I know she meant it.
Another morning, another swimming neighbour, and another love lost. This one was killed in a motorcycle accident. She waved goodbye to him, on the steps of a house they had just finished renovating, never to see him alive again.
On the day my home was opened up to strangers coming to view it, I waited outside on a bench in the communal gardens, and when my upstairs neighbour passed, and asked if we were selling … again, it all spilled out. Forty minutes later, and I knew all about her father and his serial adultery. The way her mother had asked him to choose between her, or his younger mistress. The way he chose the younger woman. The way he lived to regret it.
A few days later and a sunny afternoon in a coffee shop, trying to get some work done and I find myself telling the woman at the table next to me … And then she is telling me how, as the pandemic ended, her husband left, moving back to his own country. They still breakfast together she said wistfully, over WhatsApp.
Then there was the government tax advisor, who extended the deadline on my tax return, after it leaked out in an email to her. (Even when I’m writing it all comes out.) And she went further – sending mail after mail, digitally holding my hand through the Swedish tax system. Such kindness.
The bank worker, who got a second coffee, with chocolates, as our meeting on how best to manage my finances, morphed into a gossip/ therapy session. Who advised me on the best dating apps. Who was a little too keen, for my liking, to hear all the juicy details.
J … who bought the film-rights to my books. Who drank coffee at coffee-time in Toronto as I drank wine, at wine-time in Stockholm. And, instead of going over the details of our contract, listened and then told me her own horror story.
And then I wonder where you are, dear reader, as you read this? On your own, in a coffee shop? That’s how I often imagine you. Lying in the bath? Sitting next to your partner on the sofa? If this last one is you, and you’re happy in that position, I want to say lucky, lucky you. Enjoy it. Treasure it. Because Facebook keeps throwing up memories, and try as I may, I can’t, in those memories, see a marriage in trouble. I see a man with his arms around his wife, a wife happy to be in those arms. I see two people, comfortable as an armchair with each other. I don’t think I’ll ever understand why he chose to press the nuclear button on that.
I do now understand now, in a way I didn’t before, how underneath our layers, so many hearts carry fractures and breaks that have never healed. Or have healed in such a way as to re-shape their owners. And I also understand, in a way I always have, just how good it is to talk. How a trouble shared, really is a trouble halved. Everyone of these women, and there were more, helped get me through a morning, an afternoon, another day. I’m grateful to them for listening, and here’s the thing: I truly believe they were grateful to me for talking.