Pick Of The Month
In The Fog
Trish Thornell © October 2020
I looked around at all the painfully young first year students and said to myself for the umpteenth time “This is a mistake. I don’t belong here and eventually everyone else will realise that too.” I felt like an imposter. The eager youth gathered in small cheerful groups, full of confidence and clearly with a much better idea of what they were about. At my feet was a heaving bag of brand new text books. Each tome weighed a ton and was full of unintelligible words I would never understand. Simply navigating my way around the campus was difficult and each introductory lecture was overwhelming with information about assessments and dire warnings against plagiarism. How was I ever going to be able to work out all the online processes and activities and why did I let my kids talk me into this? They had both recently completed degrees and they reassured me that there were plenty of mature age students and I could certainly manage the study. Sarah was in her first job as an engineer and Joshua had finally received a permanent teaching position at a primary school. I was proud of them both, and so they were launched and clearly busy with full, independent lives.
Rob and I had been married 30 years. I was 18 and working in a bank when we met. He was enrolled in a law degree and those early years were lovely. He studied hard but we made time for parties, friends, beaches, picnics and bushwalks, and each other. I left my job when I fell pregnant and by the time we had 2 children he was a partner in a successful law practice and he was quite happy to have me take the role of a “stay at home mum”. He insisted that he earned sufficient for his family to have a great life and since he worked long hours it would be more convenient if I stayed home and took care of everything else; and he meant everything. Of course I looked after the children and all the housework and if I couldn’t do a maintenance or gardening job myself, I simply paid someone to do it. Part of my role was to entertain his colleagues and clients. I didn’t particularly enjoy the kind of pretentious soirees he revelled in, and I felt left out of the business conversation, but it was important to him. As the children grew and needed me less I felt a little embarrassed when people asked me what I did, when I had to admit that unlike most of the other mothers I didn’t have a job. I wanted something more meaningful, but Rob discouraged me from working, suggesting it tied us down too much, so I filled my time volunteering at the local school and working on the committees of various charities.
I was a little envious of the marriages some of my friends enjoyed. They seemed so free and easy and actually had time to do things together. They would whinge about their husbands of course, but behind it seemed to be a warm affection and playfulness that I didn’t share with Rob. I didn’t complain. He was an excellent provider and if he was a little more stiff and serious than I would like, surely that’s what marriage is about – accepting your partner. I loved him and I longed for the time we planned together when he would take early retirement and we could head off finally having our time to enjoy each other again.
Six months ago my life fell apart. Rob came to me in tears; he awkwardly took my hand but without being able to look me in the eye, he told me that he was leaving me. He said he hated to hurt me, and he had tried to fight it, but he had fallen in love with someone else and he thought it would be best for both of us if he ended it now, quickly and cleanly. He said he knew that I deserved better but that with all my charity work I would be kept very busy and in time I would get over him. My mind was a blur, and I struggled to understand what he was saying. I didn’t know how to respond, so I said nothing and eventually he simply left the room, quietly packed some necessities and on the same day, moved in with Angela.
I hid for a while, too shamed to tell anyone. I wasn’t eating and I spent hours curled up in bed. How had I failed him? When I looked back I could see that there had been small hints. I had thought it was endearing when he suddenly started showing more interest in his clothes. I had always bought his outfits. He hated the change rooms and I knew what sizes and style he preferred (largely unchanged for years) so I would buy what he needed from DJ’s. Suddenly he was looking for more modern fashion, styling his hair and he also took up cycling. He even invested in some of that horrible lycra that he had previously scorned.
He had always been very critical of his work colleagues. He described them variously as lazy, incompetent or ambitious beyond their ability, but then Angela took a position with them. Increasingly her name came up in conversation. He spoke eagerly about her contribution to the business and I was pleased that he had a workmate he worked well with. If I ever felt a slight tinge of jealousy I reminded myself that he was too honourable a man, and way too busy to have an affair. In the past he had been savage in his condemnation of middle age men taking up with younger women.
In our last months together he had been inclined to be more moody than usual. He fluctuated between being cheerful and teasing, and then very suddenly would start picking on me for minor things. Now that he was taking more interest in how he looked, he was making comments and suggestions on what I wore, and how I did my hair. In order to please him I had tried to put more effort into my makeup and wore the dresses I knew he liked, but it didn’t seemed to make him any happier. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised when he eventually admitted to his affair.
When I finally confided in a friend that Rob had moved out I was surprised at the anger she expressed. She was clearly furious at him and I didn’t understand. I tried to explain to her that he hadn’t done it to hurt me, but he had a right to be happy. If I had let myself go, neglected him due to all my charities and if I was basically just a bit of a bore, then I must be at least partly to blame. She scoffed, and insisted that I was one of the least boring people she knows. “Surely you can see”, she said “how smart, funny and clever you are; what amazing organisational skills you have. Look at all the money you have raised through the charity events you organise. Everyone loves you. If he doesn’t appreciate you, then more fool him. He doesn’t deserve you”. I wasn’t convinced, but I certainly felt much better after our talk.
When I spoke with the kids they were pretty angry at him too. They aren’t talking to him, so I tried to reassure them that they could still be loyal to their Dad. I took on board their suggestion that I go to uni and I gradually got quite excited about the idea, even though it also terrified me. When I tentatively suggested a nursing degree, they were enthusiastic in their encouragement. Sarah said that she could see me in scrubs and Joshua suggested that I was great with kids and would do wonders in the paediatric ward.
So there I was sitting at a campus cafe, sipping a coffee and wondering what the hell I had got myself into – very close to running off home. Then a bloke of about my age with a nice, friendly face, approached me, apologised for intruding and introduced himself as Jude. He said he thought we were studying the same course and he wondered if I could help him. He was looking for a particular tutorial room but as far as he was concerned, the room just didn’t exist – or at least not where he thought it should be. He smiled with embarrassment that he could be confused by something as simple as finding a room and explained that he had a career in banking but hadn’t worked for 4 years. He had been caring for his wife who died 6 months ago and he couldn’t face going back to his old job. He hoped that nursing would be his new future but there were very few mature age male students and he was feeling somewhat lost. He then turned bright red and said “I am so sorry – way too much information.” I laughed, told him my name was Jane, that I was happy to help and though I didn’t know where the room was either, I was sure we could find our way together.
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