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Day thirty-four

December 4, 2016

Here’s a funny thing (not sure whether that’s ha ha or peculiar). I have a couple of close friends who do know how tough things sometimes were for me with Mike. For the most part, however, I’ve kept this to myself. He was a bit of a mythic figure in the peace movement and to some extent also on the island. I’ve never wanted to diminish that, to tarnish his reputation.

Back in the 1990s, I think we were a bit of an iconic couple – him with his academic qualifications and role in the peace and disarmament movements and me, the uncrowned west coast queen of toxics. I’m not trying to big us up, it’s just a sense I sometimes got. And at the times I got that sense, I confess I occasionally wondered what people would think if they knew what an overgrown baby he could be in private. I didn’t want them to know, partly because, like them, I did admire Mike in many ways. But there was another reason, which I confess now in the spirit of full disclosure: part of me did not want people to see the real guy behind the curtains because seeing him would reflect badly on me. What was this kick ass, campaigning woman doing with this giant baby? The answer to that question was simple: because I loved him, giant nappies notwithstanding. Still.

Here’s the funny thing. I had lunch the other day with the woman who was the stage manager for the panto. She and her husband are new to the island, so they have no idea who Mike was, other than my deceased partner. (Yes, despite the sworn statement his children demanded, I did think of Mike as my partner. And he did think of – and introduce – me as his partner.) She asked about him and I found myself telling more of the truth than I ever have to anyone other than those previously mentioned close friends. I told her about the crippling anxiety and the alcoholism, the spectacular tumbles off the wagon (although these not in detail). I know for a fact that I would never have done this if I hadn’t let the genie out of the bottle in a couple of these entries. And this is the funny thing: It felt amazingly liberating to be honest about my struggles with Mike. Better out than in. It really is true.

I’ve now been staring at the screen for at least a minute, wondering where the hell I want to go from here.

Should I write about the moment of madness I had when I was forty (inspired by a friend of a similar age having her first child) when I thought it might be a good idea to have a baby while I still could? I broached the subject with Mike, who was initially surprised. (Early in our relationship I’d told him I had no interest whatsoever in either marriage or motherhood.) After some thought, he said it was ultimately my decision, as I was the one whose life would be most dramatically turned upside down. But, he confessed, acknowledging his previous shortcomings as a father, if he was being totally honest, he would welcome the chance to do it all again and do it right this time. Once we’d got that far, I was all for starting to try straight away. Mike cautioned against this, pointing out that we were planning a two month trip to Europe in the not too distant future and the last thing he wanted for me – or that I would want for myself – was to be plagued by morning sickness on that trip. I remain forever grateful to him for persuading me to postpone.

On the day we were supposed to be flying to London, while I was running around doing all those last minute things, Mike, who was afraid of flying, stayed in bed and got himself spectacularly drunk. Part of me wanted to just leave him stewing in the bed, to go to the airport on my own and take off for two months. But we’d arranged for a friend of mine to come and stay at the house while we were away, deeming Mike’s teenage daughter too immature to stay on her own, let alone remember to pay the bills while we were gone. Said friend was at the time between flats and would have had nowhere to live for those two months. So I called her and another friend who could drive a stick shift and got them to come to the house, get Mike into the car and out to the airport, where I had to find someone to rustle up a wheelchair, because he was so drunk he could not walk (although I did not tell the airline this) and then take the car back to our house.

Well, that woke me up. I don’t know what sort of daydream I’d been having of some happy families future, but it was clear to me that I had to say goodbye to the daughter I’d hoped I would have. I simply could not inflict this father on anyone.

That should have been the end of us. I fully intended that it would be. For the first few days we were staying with my cousin and his wife just outside London and I didn’t want to have it out with Mike while we were there. I’d wait until we got to Paris. And then a ridiculous thing happened. The night before we were due to leave for Paris, halfway through a dinner party with friends, I came down with laryngitis. Out of nowhere. I could not speak for three days, not even a croak.

Bloody hell. It’s never occurred to me until this moment, but I’ve just done a Google search and whaddaya know: laryngitis as a psychosomatic condition may be the mind’s attempt to avoid toxic interactions that the person cannot otherwise deal with, by ‘shutting down’.”  Why did I never think of this? It makes complete sense.

Anyway, my voice didn’t come back until we were on a train halfway to the south of France to stay at a friend’s holiday home. (As it happens, it was the home of the friend who’s first-child-in-her-forties baby had got me brooding.) And that’s where I told him: we were done. Finito. Kaput. Over. We should do our best to enjoy the trip, but when we got back to Vancouver, I would be moving out. There was pleading, there were tears. We’d been here before, but this time I was adamant. The end.

But it wasn’t. What happened? Well, during the remainder of those two months, sober Mike reminded me how smart and funny and charming he could be when he stayed off the bottle. Another six years would go by before another spectacular tumble off the wagon really did finish us off as a co-habiting couple and I put thousands of miles between us.

In September 2008, after the oncologist told him none of the treatments had worked, that he had at best a year, more likely six months to live, Mike told me, simply and with no whining or pleading, that the prospect of facing his last birthday, his last Christmas, his last new year would be more bearable if I could be there with him. I honestly did not hesitate. I could spend six months with him on the island. I wanted to make it more bearable for him.

The decision to make a permanent move from London to the island was not as easy. It was driven by a tragedy that made continuing to live in the UK much less attractive. That really is a story for another day.

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From → Black dog diary

One Comment
  1. Caroline permalink

    You and Mike were an iconic couple. I deeply respected Mike, but I only knew some of the story. The relationship issues you describe are familiar to me, but the depth of your loss is thank God not something I’ve yet experienced.

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