In the beginning it was perfect. It was as if all roads in your life had been converging on this point. Every false start that you had endured, every betrayal you had suffered, everything that had ever happened to you in your miserable, unfulfilled life was merely a rehearsal. It was all leading up to this moment.
And she was beautiful. Impossibly beautiful. And funny. And kind. And generous. And wise. You wondered what you had ever done to deserve such a rare treasure. You wallowed in her sweet aroma. You basked in her dusky body heat. You worshipped her being. In the bedroom you had never experienced such bliss, such sensory pleasures, such togetherness. When you talked it was as if you were one and the same person. She was perfect. And wonder upon wonder she believed that you were perfect too. She told you how handsome you were. How witty. How clever. How special. She wanted to find out everything about you and didn’t seem remotely troubled by your more obvious imperfections. The things that had held you back all your life. The scars that stubbornly refused to heal.
This was love. You were experiencing LOVE. Real love. True love. Enraptured to be entangled in its silky net. Never in your wildest dreams could you have imagined it would ever feel as good as this. As pure. As selfless. As all-consuming. After all those years of hopelessness your life finally had meaning. This is what you had been building towards from the day that you were dragged screaming from the womb. You believed. And, incredibly, she believed, too. You were Love Twins carried along on the wheels of destiny. The two of you overdosed on joy. Freebased on passion. The bliss was almost palpable. You could touch it. You could smell it. You could taste it.
So you ditch your long-term partner and she ditches hers. They never really meant anything, you tell yourself. Because now you have the REAL THING. You get a place together and the days float by in an opiate haze. Every waking moment, every sleeping moment is spent in her company. You talk. You eat. You laugh. You drink. You make love like never before. You plan. You plot. You scheme. The future is no longer a foreign country. How is it possible that it can feel this good to be alive?
And then one day when you least expect it you hear the teeniest, weeniest alarm bell gently tinkling away in your blissed-out brain. What’s wrong? you ask. Is it something I’ve done? But she just sits there in a grubby dressing gown, her eyes staring blankly ahead. The lips that you long to kiss saying nothing. And suddenly you recoil against the bedroom wall. Such anger! Such rage! How can this girl, this woman, my Love Twin, be saying such things? The shock jolts you temporarily back to reality and the breath is squeezed from your lungs. Your world is shattered into pieces and already you would do anything to glue those broken shards back together again.
In the morning come the apologies. The tears. The explanations. Always the explanations. It’s hormones, she tells you. It’s a medical condition, she will say later. It’s this. It’s that. So you wrap your arms around her trembling shoulders and tell her not to worry. We can fix this, you say. Together you and I can make this right. And she kisses you and a smile lights up her beautiful face. The snarling, spitting stranger from yesterday now banished forever. Until the next time that is.
The days turn into weeks and the weeks turn into months and the months turn into years. The passage of time is immaterial so long as you have your Love Twin. A baby arrives. And even though you never really wanted one you pick the little girl up in your arms and you’re in love all over again. Now there are three of you. Three of you against the world. You pose before the camera lens and smile. You don’t deserve this. You don’t deserve such happiness. Nobody does.
And then… And then… Things begin to change. Slowly. Insidiously. Like the stationary hands of a clock you are unaware of any movement until you chance to look away. You’re the same person that you always were. At least, you’re mostly the same person. Sure, you don’t go out as much as you used to but then you have different priorities nowadays. For one thing there’s a toddler to look after. To feed. To clean. To entertain. What could be more important than that? And so what if you’re losing touch with your friends? And for that matter your family, too? But that’s only natural, isn’t it? You keep telling yourself that. (Why does she do that strange thing? Verbally attacking the people you care about so that these days you’re wary of introducing her to anybody? It must be because she loves you so much that she wants to have you all to herself. Yes, that’s the reason. It’s charming really. Sweet.)
And then one evening you catch your reflection in the mirror. You look older. Heavier. You’ve put on thirty… Forty pounds and your belt strains against your flabby belly. You limp a little, too. (You really must see a doctor about that when you have a moment…) There are dark circles under your eyes – hardly surprising given how hard it is to sleep at night. Who’d be a father, huh?! And yes, you’re a little down these days. Well a lot down actually. You know that you are. She tells you all the time that you are. She tells you because she cares about you. Because she’s your Love Twin. But then there’s so much to worry about. So much work to do. It’s only natural.
When you met your Love Twin you were a writer. You even sold a few books in your time. But that’s in the past. You’ve put your career temporarily on hold while you attend to more important matters. And yes, you hate the job that necessity forced you to take. You really despise it if you’re honest with yourself. The thought of doing it sometimes makes you feel physically sick. But you don’t have a choice because there’s the baby to look after. You have to be there to take her to school. And you have to be there to pick her up afterwards. It’s lucky that we found a job with such flexible hours. We’d have been in real trouble if we hadn’t been able to do this.
And every evening you wait for her to come home. She doesn’t like to cook so it’s best that you do it. And even if your meagre efforts are often rewarded with a grimace it’s not really important. You smile at her as she floats into the house. She pecks you on the cheek and frowns. She doesn’t notice the aftershave that you’ve doused yourself in especially for her. She’s oblivious to the softness of your chin. (Naturally, you love her so much that it’s become your habit to ensure that you’re freshly shaved and showered for that special moment when she floats in through the door.)
To grudging appreciation you serve the food that you’ve prepared. You swallow it down whole and it sticks in your teeth. You stack the dishwasher and put the baby to bed. Except that she’s no longer a baby. She’s growing up fast. Full of questions. Too many questions. I simply don’t have enough energy left to reply… No more questions. Please. No more demands. You hear the pulse of your heart as you fight to keep your eyes open. So you read to the little girl until she begins to fall asleep. But you’re falling asleep too. You’re falling asleep all the time.
Without ever noticing it a stranger has moved into your house. But you don’t know she’s a stranger. She stares at that chunk of metal and glass in her hand. Endlessly… Endlessly… Endlessly… Tapping away like a metronome. Gently smiling at nobody. Immersed in secret thoughts.
Yet she never seems to hear your thoughts. And if she does hear you she won’t let you speak. If only she’d stop interrupting me, you cry, I could tell her what’s really on my mind. But then… But then… You’ve forgotten what it was you wanted to say. Perhaps it’s just as well. It couldn’t have been that important anyway. Your Love Twin works very hard. It’s perfectly understandable if she sometimes gets frustrated and hits out at you. And even if some of the things she calls you are nasty – well unforgivably nasty, in fact, the sort of things that no person should ever say to another – it’s best that you keep the peace. You can’t really blame your Love Twin for telling it like it is. After all, you know that you’re too sensitive… That you overreact… That your depression is bound to cloud your judgement… That you overthink things… That you’re damaged… You know this because she tells you so. Not to hurt or criticise, you understand. But because she loves you.
You know that she loves you because sometimes there still are those moments of bliss. Less frequently, of course. Not so often as they used to be. (Bringing up a child isn’t easy, you know!) Well actually it’s gotten to the point in which you’ve given up trying. She tells you to calm down. To get a grip. To get over it. That it’s nobody’s fault that you both have different sex drives. Naturally she has a point. Sometimes you try to tell her how unhappy this makes you feel. But it’s not really that big a deal. Because every now and again – once or twice a month if you’re counting – you will feel her creamy flesh against yours. She will extend her arms towards you and for a brief few moments everything is as it should be. You inhale the love. You suck it in. A desperate unspeakable kind of love. How lucky you are to have found your soulmate. You’re the love of my life, she will gently whisper into your ear. She tells you this all the time and you know that it is true.
How is it possible that your daughter is starting senior school today? Why, it only seems like yesterday that you watched her mother squeeze that frail little body out from between her thighs and into the light. Do the years really pass so quickly? You’ve lost your mojo. You’re not the man you used to be, has become her mantra. You used to be so wild… Lippy… Uncontrollable… A real rebel… Perhaps you should see a doctor? Maybe therapy would be good for you?
And she’s right. Of course she’s right. You can feel it in your crumbling bones. You can see it in your your blood-shot eyes. How did you become such a disappointment? How could you let your Love Twin down like this? Surely she deserves better? She’s an important woman now. You can’t believe how much money she earns from that job of hers. Well, career is the more accurate way of describing it. (Remember when you had a career?) You’re so proud of her. So proud that she gets to travel around the world: to New York… Milan… Paris… Berlin… You tell her that her achievement is your achievement. That staying home to babysit your daughter on those dark winter nights is small fry compared to the pressure, the responsibility that she has to bear on a daily basis. You’re so proud of her. So proud…
But even as you have changed over the years, so has she. She’s 44 now but looks ten years younger. Everybody says so. You’re 53 but look ten years older. Nobody ever mentions this. They don’t have to. There’s no getting away from the fact that you’re an older man with no power, she scornfully tells you one afternoon. Whereas I look better than I’ve ever done.
And who can disagree? She does look better. More beautiful than she ever did. And clearly it’s no accident. You have to admire her for the number of hours she puts in at the gym. You hate the gym yourself. You don’t know how she does it. Certainly all her new friends seem to agree with her. They love her. They worship her. And who can blame them? It’s such a breath of fresh air, you try to reassure yourself, that she basks in the glow of these bright young flames. Much better than worn out old farts like me. It’s incredible really. You don’t know where she gets the energy from. Three… Four… Sometimes five nights a week she’s out there putting in a full shift with those youngsters. Clubs… Gigs… Festivals… Fancy restaurants… Well, with a job like hers she’s entitled to let her hair down from from time to time. We all are.
But where exactly did these people come from? These flawless, unblemished, unwrinkled young friends of hers? You can’t really be sure. They just seemed to appear one day, to materialise out of thin air: a couple of new faces here and there and then more and more and more. Names mentioned in passing and then in every other breath. And they carry with them new experiences… Alternative attitudes… The foreign language of the next generation… New music… Indecipherable sounds that make no sense to you but your Love Twin somehow seems to effortlessly assimilate. She doesn’t even listen to any of our music any more. But then come to think of it she never really did listen to it. How could you not notice?
Sometimes she even lets you tag along for the ride and you pretend to enjoy yourself as you’re dragged around a flickering dance floor inhabited by people twenty years your junior. Amused to see you. Embarrassed to be seen with you. I don’t really want to be doing this, you meekly whisper under your breath, but I love her and she’s probably having some kind of mid-life crisis. Yes, that’s it – a mid-life crisis. It’s those pesky hormones again. Those irritating chemicals that are to blame for those infamous temper tantrums of hers. She needs my support so that one day she’ll come back to me and I’ll have her all to myself again. After all, I’m her husband and best friend. It’s my duty. It’s the least I can do.
But yes, it can hurt. Deep down it can really hurt. You never mention it but you hate how she dresses these days. Skin tight jeans… Plunging necklines… So much bare flesh. So much cleavage. Who exactly is she putting it on display for? Well obviously it’s for your benefit because you’re the love of her life. You know this because barely a week goes by without her telling you so. Despite everything you still have that special bond that brought you together. That made you Love Twins. She’s still your soul mate. She never stops telling you that. 17 years is a long time in anybody’s book. And don’t forget that you created a daughter together. A living, breathing human miracle.
And then one day your reality crumbles. It dissolves into a fine dust that floats through the air and clogs up your lungs. Purely by accident (was it really an accident?) you discover your Love Twin is not abroad on business as she is supposed to be. She’s actually still in London. Why on earth is she still here? If texts could scream, your desperate pleas would be heard at the far edge of the universe. Liar! You exclaim. How could you do this to us?!
Stop making a fool of yourself, comes her deadpan response. He’s just a friend helping me go through a difficult time – I’m trying to sort out our relationship.
Give me his name then! You demand. I don’t know what you’ll do, she says. I can’t trust you.
Slowly, imperceptibly slowly, the truth is drip-fed to you over the coming weeks in bite-sized flakes. Hidden away in meandering sentences the lies detach themselves from fact and float to the surface like oil in a puddle of muddy water. I have feelings for him, she calmly admits one afternoon as you melt before her, your voice hoarse from all the shouting. He’s 31 – a whole quarter of a century younger than you – Italian, thick of hair, tanned to perfection. His youth an incurable disease. Far better looking than the empty shell of a man that you’ve become. He’s a nice guy, she announces jauntily. You should meet him.
And he’s by no means the first. You discover this as you pick away at her tapestry of deception. There was that young guy at the gym, (Ahh… The gym! The penny drops and rolls away into the distance… The gym!) I bet you didn’t know that I was sexting him last year at the Xmas dinner table? Sending him naked pictures of myself… You know, the ones that you took of me because I asked you to… Remember? And even a couple of one-night stands at parties. No, I can’t remember their names… It’s not important… Even a Calvin Klein model she announces, scarcely able to conceal her pride. Her achievement. (Her achievement is your achievement…) I’m pretty hot, you know, she smirks in a voice you’ve never heard before.
You throw her out of the house and she takes an Uber to her Italian toyboy. You intercept the email that she sends to him in transit: I’m sorry you had to be involved, she writes. My husband’s gone crazy! I love you xxx.
And you have gone crazy. How could you not go crazy? And all her young friends know that you’re crazy. Her family do, too. They know you’re crazy because she’s told them that you’re crazy. Your Love Twin has made it her duty to do so. The love of your life that was never the love of your life has somehow become the victim in all of this.
You’re pathetic! she snarls. You’re a sponger! Over the years you’ve bled me dry! You’re a loser! Get a life/job! Every day the insults smack you in the pit of your stomach. You’re a fat c**t! You’re vile! The gravy train is over! You need help! Even your daughter doesn’t want or need you! I hate you! Stop abusing me!
You lose all understanding. Your world collapses around you. You don’t know where all these words are coming from. You no longer recognise the person saying them. You cry. You rage. You plead. You whimper. Your Love Twin has gone. Somebody else has her now and a stranger has taken her place. In a long neglected alcove of your mind a memory flickers away in the half light. And you find yourself thinking back to that morning all those years ago. And that alarm bell tinkling gently away in your loved-up brain.
Naturally you let her back into the house. There was never really any doubt that you would. A couple of days later you greet her at the front door. You and your hangover. Your only companion. Your new best friend. You tearfully tell her you’re prepared to forgive. Have you no self-respect? comes her retort. So cold. So icy. You explain that you’re willing to go into therapy with her. To try to work out why she’s behaving like this. Both of you know that this isn’t really her. Something has happened to mess up her head. 17 years together cannot be thrown away in the blink of an eye. On one condition, she frostily announces, that I can carry on seeing him at the same time…
And then one day it all becomes too much for you. The pressure crushes your spine. Your shoulders are blocks of ice. Nothing you can force into your body can nullify the pain. You pack a couple of bags: Underwear. Socks. In only a couple of months you’ve lost that thirty or forty pounds that you’d piled on over the years. You look older than ever. And even the pills cannot bring the blessed relief of sleep. You say goodbye to your daughter, almost an adult now. You cling to each other and she tries to hold back the tears. And then you bid a last farewell to your Love Twin.
How could you do this to me? you plead.
It was bigger than me, she shrugs.
But how could you tell so many lies?
I lie because I can, she replies, with a cheerful smile.
And then she wraps her arms around you and you feel her tears creep down your neck. You’re the love of my life, she whispers in your ear as you close the door behind you and head off into nowhere. Nothing to show for 17 years of commitment. Of love. Your thoughts flow like treacle. The pain of the loss, the agony of the betrayal overwhelms you, like a rusty dagger has been plunged into the epicentre of your soul. How will I ever recover from this? you scream into the dazzling sunshine. It’s just not possible. How will I ever live again?
But life goes on for some people. Of course it does. Barely 24 hours after bidding that final tearful farewell to the love of her life, her life partner for the best part of two decades, the father of her child, your Love Twin is parading her shiny new toy before her parents and your dumbstruck daughter. His skin is taut and unwrinkled; his smile is sweetly earnest with unplucked innocence.
He’s in love. You know this because your Love Twin told you that he is (Although I’m not in love with him – I’m not in love with anybody actually…). If there was any pity left in your heart you would hand it to him freely and without hesitation.