Whitecaps adorned the waves, the colour of the water taking on a greenish-grey cast, reflecting the dark grey of the sky overhead. The earthy tones of the beach’s shingles were deepened, the earlier rain staining them darker. No doubt we’d have more rain.
The rhythmic wash of water draining through the shingles after each wave had landed onshore was almost hypnotic. The sound was comforting, an almost daily companion of mine for close to twenty-four years. I remember the first time I ever walked along this path, stopping and standing very close to where I am now. Newly graduated from Cambridge with my doctorate. Proud of my accomplishment. Excited to be starting a job where I’d actually be able to do what I loved most in the world.
Almost a quarter of a century.
Good god, where has the time gone?
I slipped a bit as I turned, the shingles shifting under my weight as I made my way back across the beach to the promenade. I’d stood at the water’s edge for some time as the sun rose, letting the wind wreak havoc with my hair and daring the waves to reach me. None had.
I wouldn’t permit it. Each time a wave came in, I stopped it before it could touch me. I hadn’t defeated the waves, though. I’d chosen where to stand then imagined I’d the power to stop them.
I’d come to the rather rude realisation I’d done it with most things in my life. I’d no idea I was so good at it. Turns out I’m quite the master. Add in the random moments of unbelievable arrogance I was prone to on occasion and, well, it’s a wonder anyone tolerated me.
Over the years, I’d perfected a spectacularly simple and efficient system for dealing with my emotions…anything, really, that interfered with achieving my goal. I put whatever it was into a box, taped it shut, promptly forgot about it, and carried on.
Damn the torpedoes.
Full speed ahead.
‘All in’ was what I always told myself each time I set a goal. I developed a plan. Implemented it. Gave it 150% as I worked towards the goal. No sacrifice was too great. Did what I must. Boxed up the rest. And in the end, I achieved my goal.
I angled a bit as I moved up the beach towards the promenade. Lately, I returned from my morning walks exhausted, not because of the distance or difficulty. It was the battle I fought trying to keep all those bloody boxes shut. Trying to control all the feelings. Fighting to stop them from overwhelming me.
And with it came the anger.
I’d never thought of myself as an angry person. I was wrong. I was full of anger. At myself, mostly. I’d utterly failed in my personal life on every level.
I’m determined to figure out what’s wrong with me. It must be something fundamental. I’ll fix those fundamental flaws then I won’t feel so fractured. Everything will be fine.
Some of the feelings were good, though. Better than good. My heart skipped a beat. Spectacular, really. Breathtakingly glorious feelings springing from a place inside me I hadn’t known existed, making my heart soar. I’d no idea what to do with those feelings. I couldn’t get them into bloody boxes at all.
“Good god, just don’t think about it, Jill,” I whispered.
I reached the promenade and made my way to one of the benches, took a seat and stared out across the water. I wasn’t ready to go back to the house yet even though I’d walked several miles already. A break in the clouds allowed a bit of light through, painting golden swaths on the water. I loved this time of day and the solitude it afforded me.
At least one goal I’d set was in sight. The divorce papers were to be put in a fortnight Friday. Twenty days. One final meeting a fortnight Tuesday and everything would be finalised for the property division, our pensions and assets divvied up and agreed.
The house, thank god, was mine, bought before we’d met. I’d’ve fought a war for the house. He’d always hated I’d never added him to the title.
“If you loved me, we’d share everything,” he’d said.
‘If you loved me’.
I’d likely murder the next person I hear say it. Everything was an issue of love with him. If you loved me, you’d ‘fill-in-the-blank’. How long did it take me to figure out all those things had absolutely nothing to do with love?
Dear god, what is wrong with me?
“If you loved me, you’d add me to the title,” he’d said.
I’d refused to even entertain the idea. Likely the only smart thing I did the entire twenty year relationship.
Two things, I suppose. No children. I’d never wanted any, having no maternal instinct whatsoever, except towards my science, of course. I loved it, nurtured it, cared for it, put it above all else. It never failed me, lied to me or hurt me.
We’d discussed children before we’d married. He’d said he didn’t want anymore, his two girls from a previous marriage enough. Emma and Hannah were in their mid-thirties now, living up North near their mother, Emily. But he’d changed his mind soon after we’d married. We’d argued about it countless times, the argument always the same.
“We discussed this before we married. You knew my position. I was crystal clear I didn’t want children,” I’d argue. “I didn’t hide it from you. You agreed, said you didn’t want any more.”
“I hadn’t realised how important children are to me,” he’d counter. “I’d love to have a son. Someone to carry on the name.”
The name. How utterly ridiculous. I hadn’t even taken his name. Another bone of contention.
“But I haven’t changed my mind,” I’d insist. “I don’t want children.”
“If you loved me, you’d get pregnant, give me a son.”
“I don’t want children. I don’t know what else to say,” I’d end it.
Then my birth control pills would disappear. I finally had an IUD inserted. One can only ‘lose’ one’s pill pack so many times before one’s chemist became suspicious.
I hadn’t told him about the IUD. The doctor assured me Paul wouldn’t be able to feel it. I think she thought I asked because I was concerned it would cause Paul discomfort. That wasn’t the case but I didn’t disabuse her of the notion.
Paul never did find out. He couldn’t understand why I hadn’t become pregnant. It was my fault I hadn’t given him a son. I was barren. Something was wrong with me, a failure as a wife. He was right about that last one, at least.
None of it was normal. Why hadn’t I realised it at the time? I just put it all in a box. Did what I had to do. No thought. Just carried on.
My marriage, summed up.
Dear god, what the hell is wrong with me?
I’d made some decisions, concessions really, during the divorce and property negotiations. The final payment for my mistakes. Victoria, my best friend of thirty years, was absolutely livid over it. She was already angry with me over so many things, what was one more? A month, perhaps six weeks at most, and he’d be gone from my life for good.
I wanted that day to be here.
Then maybe I could breathe. Think about all of this rationally. Not feel so overwhelmed. Not be so confused by my feelings. Have it all make some sense.
A sailboat clipped along in the distance and my eyes followed it for a time. I’d always walked along the sea in the early mornings, rain or shine, ever since I’d bought the house. I used the time to sort things in my mind. Tend to my boxes. Make decisions. Prepare to face the day.
When I’d married Paul, it became my time alone, very much needed and jealously guarded. I was glad he’d thought walking a waste of time though he tried to intrude towards the end. I just woke up earlier, slipped out of bed and practically ran from the house. Stayed out until the very last minute. Rushed to get ready for work.
Had any of my marriage been normal?
“Just don’t think about any of it, Jill,” I whispered as I stood, tugged my Barbour tighter, and peered across the Channel, the coastline of France barely visible on the horizon. I hadn’t been to Paris for pleasure in some time. A long weekend there sounded heavenly.
With a sigh, I turned and strode down the promenade towards home. I loved Sundays, my day of reading and relaxation. I’d gone to the shops and run my errands yesterday. Today, I’d turn my attention to the stack of reports, memoranda and journals waiting at home. I’d make a fire, turn my music on, curl up on the sofa and read until I couldn’t read any more. Cook something. Have a glass of wine. Then read some more. Try to put a big dent in that stack. A very good plan for the rest of my day.
I heard a dog bark and without thought I turned and looked. Why did I always look? It wasn’t going to be Daisy. She’s dead. Hit by a car. Almost two years ago and I still looked when a dog barked.
To this day, I can’t believe I left the back gate open. It was so unlike me. And Paul’s words? Irrefutable.
“If you hadn’t been so careless, the dog would still be alive.”
I’d refused to cry in front of him. Hadn’t cried about it yet. I absolutely refuse to. It was my fault. I don’t deserve the solace of tears.
I watched the dog, a large black labrador, fetch a ball then return to its master before I resumed walking. V had suggested I get another dog after Paul left. Certainly not, I’d said. I’ve no time for a dog. My last promotion had seen to that. In fact, I’d received it shortly before Daisy had died. I’d hated I’d no choice but to leave her care to Paul much more than I’d’ve liked. I couldn’t very well take her with me on the day trips to London or my overnight trips.
A ball flew past me on the promenade, startling me, then I was almost bowled over as the dog I’d watched earlier raced past. I heard a man’s voice call out.
“Sorry, bad throw on my part.”
“No worries,” I said as I glanced back, surprised by the American accent, unusual in Sandgate.
“Hey, I’ve seen you before. You work at Landers, don’t you? Yeah, that’s it. Landers. I’m working construction on the new building.”
“Ah,” I said noncommittally, having no desire to engage a total stranger in conversation. “Good day.” I nodded and offered a small smile, hoping that would be the end of it. I turned and continued on. The dog ran back towards me, having retrieved the ball, and stopped, sniffing at my leg.
“Hello. Who are you?” I stopped and held my hand out. A big black nose sniffed it. “What a beautiful collar you have.”
I’d never seen a collar quite like it, the design and color resembling a peacock’s feather, black spots surrounded by iridescent greens and blues. A whistle and the dog left me, running back to its owner with the ball still in its mouth. I gave a small wave to the man and resumed my walk, finally turning off the promenade onto the street and towards my house.
Sometimes, I want to scream until I simply can’t anymore. I’ve come to the conclusion this must be what going insane feels like.