My heart lurched when I unearthed them amid the tinsel and trinkets in a bag of Christmas decorations I’d pulled down from our attic.
Two crochet snowflakes, remnants in silver and gold of a year that’s been anything but precious. I remember the moment exactly when they surfaced last December.
‘Come help me put these on the tree, girls’, my husband had said to our daughters on Christmas Eve. ‘A lady at work made these for me’.
Sweet, I’d thought, and I watched while he took a picture of our seven and nine year old in front of the handmade decorations now hanging on our tree, a shot he’d send off in a text with, I thought, a note of thanks.
I had no clue at the time just how cruel his gesture was, that these seemingly innocent festive ornaments were in fact a gift from his mistress. It was another four months before I discovered the full extent of his deceit. And hanging gifts from his whore on our family Christmas tree was the very least of it.
‘I’m so sorry to do this to you, but you need to ask your husband about his relationship with Becky. Don’t let them tell you it’s just work, it’s not. You deserve better.’
At 7.30am on April 10th – Good Friday, and in the middle of lockdown – I received an anonymous message on Instagram. ‘I’m so sorry to do this to you, but you need to ask your husband about his relationship with Becky. Don’t let them tell you it’s just work, it’s not. You deserve better.’
A mistake, surely? There’s got to be an explanation, I thought, as I got out of bed and headed downstairs to wait on my husband emerging from out the shower. Baffled, sure, but certain – feeling really certain – he’d tell me there had been some mix up, that someone with sour grapes at work was out to get him.
I wasn’t prepared for his answer when I showed him the text.
‘It’s not an affair,’ he said, the colour draining from his face. ‘But we are very close’.
I knew this woman’s name. He’d spoken about what a bright spark she was, how she was such a smart thinker, exactly what he needed in his team. I had listened intently as he told me months before that he’d engineered a move for her into his team. Great, I thought, someone who’ll help ease the pressure of his high-powered role.
I’d sympathised, only two weeks earlier, when he told me how worried this right-hand woman had been at the start of lockdown. A single mum with two girls of her own, she’d feared how she could keep up her full-time role and juggle homeschooling. Poor woman, I’d said, as I encouraged his idea to give her a call from our spare room at 8pm one night, to reassure her it would all be all right.
Except the conversation actually went a little differently to what I’d imagined.
On that hellish Friday morning, after his admission of being ‘close’. I demanded to see his phone. Reluctantly, he handed it over. There, on Whatsapp, were dozens of messages. Flirty, heartfelt messages, the kind of which he hadn’t sent me in years. Then I started to flick past pictures of my kids. He was sending HER pictures of OUR kids taken on family days out we’d had together over the preceding months. Then there was a house he’d shared with her from a property site, his dream place by the sea. ‘I can just see you playing your grand piano in the window there,’ she wrote back. ‘I’d be out on the lawn with our girls.’ OUR girls. This woman was talking about MY children.
Next was a video message. Sent at bedtime the night he’d called her for her lockdown reassurance, or so I’d thought. Wearing a spaghetti-strapped nightie and filming herself in her bed, she cooed: ‘It was so lovely to talk to you tonight. I love you, and it was so lovely to hear you say you love me too.’ The waves of nausea were overwhelming.
‘Are you sleeping with this woman?’, I asked, tears streaming down my face by this point.
‘So it is actually an affair then?’
He’d been a rabbit caught in the headlights, thinking he might still, somehow, be able to get away with it. But here was the truth, in all its digital glory. It’s right what they say about 21st century infidelity being death by a thousand digital cuts. My husband and I had been together for 16 years, married for 12. I never suspected in all that time that he’d ever cheat on me, never had the slightest inkling. We’d joked over the years after watching TV dramas that featured affairs. ‘A wife and a bit on the side?’ he’d quipped. ‘Who could be arsed with that?!’ I felt like I’d been hit by a truck.
I made him tell me everything, and he did. He answered all my questions. It had all started a week before Christmas and was only on pause because of lockdown. He’d never intended to tell me, never intended to be caught. He said he’d told her he’d never leave because of his kids. Not once did I come into the equation.
In all the time we’d been together I never picked up his phone. I didn’t even know his passcode, or ever felt to need to ask for it. But now I was obsessed by the fact that the whole thing had been playing out on that phone right under my nose and I hadn’t had a clue.
Gushingly emails sent on the morning of Christmas Eve just an hour before we took our kids to the panto. Records of video calls made on New Year’s Eve while we were away on our annual Hogmanay island trip with our children and extended group of friends. And – discovering this one was like a knife in the stomach – an email record of a room he’d booked for their cosy Valentine’s night in a hotel, secured with his Hilton Honours points so it didn’t show on our joint credit card statement.
I later discovered a letter she gave him that night telling him ‘the fact I get to fuck my best friend blows my mind’. Poetic.
While the penpals swapped their love letters, I was at home combing our girls’ waist-length hair for headlice doing the rounds at school, the evening punctuated by a call from Daddy (was she there lying beside him at the time?) to say that he’d see them tomorrow, after his work trip. Mostly, their liaisons were altogether more sordid. They’d leave their office separately and rendezvous at her house half an hour away for an afternoon of shagging before her kids came home from school. Then he’d leave and head back home to me in time pesto pasta and the Brownies run.
And what did I do with all this information for the best part of seven months? I crumbled. I became a desperate, pathetic woman I don’t think I’ll ever recognise who’d do anything – ANYTHING – to keep her family together. I lost 2st in weight. I edited EVERYTHING before it came out my mouth. I lost myself.
He suggested moving us all to the other side of the country, ripping me and the kids from everything and everyone we held dear. I agreed. Then I didn’t. It took me four weeks to see that going ahead with that plan would only be changing the location of our problems and not actually dealing with them.
And that was really the beginning of the end. I couldn’t win after that. I was the one who’d robbed him of his dreams, who was sentencing him to a life of drudgery in our half-million pound house in a desirable part of of Scotland’s biggest city. Bless him. How could I ask so much?
He continued to see her on video calls every day at work and she continued to send deluges of emails, even essays she’d written about him for her ‘writing group’ as she tried desperately to raise their icky office affair to literary heights. She even wrote a pathetic fantasy about her, him, her kids and my girls living in the exact house he was trying to persuade me to move to. She described the property in great detail, including the bedroom where she’d wake up beside him and look out to the coastline and golf course. Seriously.
After months of gaslighting and manipulation in a bid to persuade me that all of this was actually my fault, I know that the man I loved with all my heart had exited the building some time ago.
The rest is like an episode of EastEnders. He writes and records her love songs, I find them. She makes him hand-crafted gifts. He tries – and fails – to hide them in plain sight. She sends me an email saying it’s not good for me to be in a loveless marriage and gives me relationship advice. Yes, really.
Whenever I tackle any of it with him, I’m shouted down for bringing up the affair. Again. It’s old news to him. It’s still firmly front and centre for me. It takes a while, but it finally, spectacularly, dawns on me that I will never trust this man again. And after months of gaslighting and manipulation in a bid to persuade me that all of this was actually my fault, I know that the man I loved with all my heart had exited the building some time ago. This man with whom I went through IVF to start our family, this man who I thought I would grow old with.
So on Halloween I finally took off the mask of downtrodden wife and told him he had to leave. He was gone an hour later and in only two weeks he’d picked up the keys to his new rental house, bought a shedload of furniture and no doubt invited his whore over for a cosy Dominos.
So in time she may get her ‘prize’, but as my friend pointed out to me, she’s getting Dusty Bin, not the speedboat.
I cannot for the life of me get myself in that woman’s headspace. She’s a single mum with two girls and proclaims to be a feminist. Her own marriage broke down because her husband had cheated on her, yet she went on to inflict that very same pain on another woman. Don’t get me wrong, I obviously blame him more than I blame her, but – really?
There are a few home truths that she’s not aware of either.
He told me he doesn’t want anything to do with her kids. ‘I’m sure they’re lovely kids, but I’ve got my kids. I don’t want her kids’. Somehow I don’t think that discussion featured in their pillow talk as she fantasised about their collective offspring together on their fantasy lawn. He also told me, while we were still together, that maybe one day he could see her being his friend, but I was quick to point out that it wasn’t friendship she was after. ‘Well, she doesn’t have any of me at the moment, so I think she’d settle for what she can get’, was his response. Word for word, I swear. His self-awareness has clearly left the building too.
So here I am, embarking on a New Year and, reluctantly, a new life. I put my work progression on hold and carved out a part-time freelance gig for the good of our family while his career soared. I thought he’d always been appreciative, but when money talks turned sour recently, despite him earning a six-figure salary, he told me that I’d ‘better start fucking earning then’.
So I have. I heard last week that after a seriously rigorous recruitment process I beat off 170 other applicants to secure a new full-time gig that I hope will keep me and my girls afloat. I start in January.
As for those snowflake decorations, well, they met a rather satisfying end with a sharp pair of scissors. They’re not the only thing that’s been cut to pieces this year – I still lie awake at 4am and wonder how my life ended up in tatters around me.
I just hope there’s enough of me left to mend in 2021.