A Dear John letter:
I know that you always accuse me of running away in a crisis but I’ve had just about all I can take. I know that couples are supposed to support each other at times like this but sometimes it’s impossible to get through to you.
I called mum yesterday and told her that I’d be going to stay with her for a while. I’ll probably be away for about a week or so. I had some holiday owed to me and I’ve told them at work that I need a break. I think they understand.
This is something that only you can sort out, John. I think you need a little time on your own to do some thinking. I get the impression that you resent me being around at the moment so I’m giving you a little space. Call her, John. Call your mother, you know that you have to.
I’ve checked the freezer and there’s enough food to last you the week. You may have to buy bread and milk and juice but you won’t starve.
You can call me if you really need to but I’d rather you didn’t, at least not until you’ve decided, one way or the other, what you’re going to do. I know that you’ll do the right thing, John. I know that you will.
PS I’ve left the washing machine running – please can you hang everything up to dry?
PPS Sophie rang this morning and says she can’t make Friday – she’ll be coming in on Saturday instead.
This is what I arrive to find waiting for me on the kitchen table when I get home from the Ship. I am bound to admit that this little bombshell doesn’t exactly come as a surprise to me; I’d kind of been expecting it and in a way I’m relieved. Maybe Marie’s right about the being on my own for a while bit. Maybe I do need a little time on my own to sort my head out.
I’m assuming by now, that you have been able to build up a fairly reasonable picture of the kind of person Marie is; with this in mind it’s perhaps right and proper that I use this moment of solitude to put the finishing touches to the canvas. Let’s see: Marie is five-feet-six, black hair, brown eyes, a little Irish in her; she’s thirty-three years old, she works as an editor for a rival partwork company and drives an old Metro that she inherited from her father when he got his new Rover, she was born in Barnes – in the house in which her father, a retired headmaster, and her mother, a one-time dental assistant, still reside; she has two younger brothers: Craig, a surveyor, and Daniel, a layabout, and no sisters; her cup size is 32b, she likes her groceries pre-packed from M&S, her favourite singer is K D Laing and, oh yes… whenever there’s the slightest hint of trouble between me and her she runs off to her fucking mother and disappears for weeks on end.
Just as you probably think I have a strange relationship with my parents, Marie, in my monocular opinion, has an equally unusual one with hers. Perhaps, in a way, that’s what draws us together – it’s the attraction of opposite poles: whereas I, as you may have noticed, tend to keep my phone calls back home to a bare minimum, Marie rarely goes more than two days without spending an hour or so rabbiting away to her mother. God knows what they talk about, but talk they certainly do. I mean, fair enough, it’s probably great and everything that they’ve managed to negotiate the difficult teenage years and the conversations about men and periods and stuff, but to remain so close after all these years is surely not healthy.
Since we have been a couple Marie has done her disappearing act on three other occasions. The first occurred about a year into our relationship when I made the grave error of forgetting to pick her up from work one night. After waiting outside her office in the rain (an office, I might add, that was within walking distance of two separate tube stations) for about an hour Louise finally had the nous to realise that I wasn’t coming and did what I myself would have done after only five minutes: she flagged down a cab. However, instead of instructing the driver to take her to Islington she told him to head for Barnes. There she stayed for six days with her fucking mother until I finally managed to convince her that I really had forgotten that I was supposed to pick her up and that it didn’t mean that I was taking her for granted or having sex with another woman.
The second time it happened came after about six months of increasing pressure from Marie about the marriage question. We’d been together about three years by this time and Marie’s attitude was that if we didn’t get married now we never would. My argument was an evolved, modern one: it was the marriage-is-just-an-archaic-institution thing… it was the if-you-think-about-it-really-we’re-married-anyway-and-who-wants-to-sit-through-that-ridiculous-ceremony justification. In fairness, I think that Marie was under a little pressure herself at the time, it was, I suspect, something to do with the fact that the conversation would somehow always manage to get around to the subject of babies whenever we visited her folks. It’s something, in my experience, that a lot of parents are quite prone to talk about.
This disappearing act was only resolved after a number of lengthy telephone conversations between Marie and I and the theatrical gesture I made during our sort-things-out-dinner-in-a-neutral-territory-restaurant. You can guess what Marie did when I produced a ring and went down on one knee before the intrigued eyes of our fellow diners: that’s right – she said no, she said she’d have liked to and she will one day but if she accepted now she’d always think that the only reason I asked was because she put pressure on me. Thereupon, she moved soundlessly back into the marital home, secure in the knowledge that she could be married to me by now if she had wanted to; her self-confidence and prominence in our relationship bolstered by the fact that it had been her who made this decision.
The last time that Marie did a moonlight flit occurred about two years ago. This time it was the you’re-working-too-late-too-often-so-you-must-be-sleeping-with-another-woman syndrome. Again my counter-argument was uncharacteristically sophisticated: I used the god-this-is-so-clichéd ploy, the calm-down-you’ve-been-watching-too-many-movies-real-life-isn’t-like-that premise. In actual fact, on that occasion Marie’s instincts weren’t too far off the mark: I was working too late too often because I had developed what you might refer to as a mid-thirties schoolboy crush on a colleague who also chose to work too late too often. Names and descriptions are unimportant, except to say that she fancied me and I fancied her and under different circumstances something could have happened but there were four people involved and our attraction to each other wasn’t so strong as to merit the emotional carnage that an interchange of bodily fluids would surely have precipitated. This mini-crisis was easier to fix: when I promised and was seen to keep the promise of cutting out the late nights at work, Marie agreed to grace me with her presence once more.
If I’m to resolve our current mini-crisis I assume that Marie expects me to pick up the telephone and magically wipe away twenty years of bitterness. This is something I have no intention of doing, and if I think about it, an attitude that I’d be prepared to defend to the hilt – even if it meant putting our own relationship at risk. I mean, okay, I appreciate that Marie and the surgical attachment she has to her own mother will probably never be able to see things from my point of view. Just as I cannot understand her desire to keep in constant contact with the woman from whose womb she emerged three decades ago, so Marie cannot possibly comprehend my need for distance. And because she cannot possibly comprehend my need for distance she is currently keeping her distance.