Today I received my decree absolute. I've never been married, this was the millennial's version; an email confirming that the deposit I'd paid on the flat I'd shared with my ex-partner of six years had been refunded.
The relationship ended seven months ago when I packed a rucksack and spent three weeks sobbing on friends' sofas before finding a tiny box room five minutes away from my (our) lovely little flat. A lot's happened since then. Life has gone on. But this notification, this cold scrap of legal data, served as a reminder that something has shifted. I've changed something. I've failed at something. I've lost something I'll never have again. A sixth of my life is gone and won't ever come back.
There was so much guilt, so much doubt, so much anger and self-loathing. There was some little relief, too, streaking through the tumult like angel rays. But aside from the grief – the terrible, corrosive grief that contaminated every aspect of every day and left me reeling (ever stuck your head in a fridge at work to hide a fresh batch of tears from your colleagues? Hello!), there was a nauseating amount of admin involved. Separating our belongings, working out how to get to work from my mate's place on the night bus, changing my address on bills and statements (this particularly tedious bit of ball-achery took me six months to complete). There was a steep cost too – removal vans to hire, greater commuting costs, a deposit and a month's rent in advance on my new place, as well as a month's final rent on my former home. It was dizzying and frightening and now I know, now I know why people stay in unhappy relationships and marriages. I've never been more grateful that I don't have children – I can't imagine doing all that whilst caring for a scared, confused and very sad small human. I myself felt scared, confused, sad and small - I called my parents constantly, unable to make the smallest decision without consulting them. My regression was met with infinite patience and relentless love.
The deposit was the final thread connecting me to my ex – the refund signifies that he has now moved out of our home. We're not on speaking terms. That's not my decision, but one I respect. During our relationship my anxiety disorder manifested itself in worrying about him. Was he eating properly? Did he get to work safely? What if he got mugged on the way home? He worked in Camden, and during our relationship there was freak accident and a man was killed by a falling shop sign. I obsessed about it for weeks. During that time he sent me frequent texts to soothe and reassure me that he was alright. When the relationship ended my anxiety flared up like psoriasis but I had no outlet. I couldn’t ask him if he was alright because I knew that he wasn't. I knew he wasn't alright, and I knew that I was the reason he wasn't alright and I felt sick with guilt because I still loved him. I'd broken his heart but he was my best friend and I still loved him so much. My friends and family carried me through those frightful few weeks. They spoke soothing words and rubbed my back when I had panic attacks in the pub, after a couple of drinks unbridled the hurly-burly in my head. They didn't flinch when I sobbed and slobbered snot all over them like a deranged St. Bernard. They protected me when I was hurt, and they prevented me from hurting myself. I'm so, so grateful for their love. It saved me. And when I had zero self-esteem and such a low, low opinion of myself, knowing that I was loved by such wonderful people validated me, it made me realise I couldn't be a totally hopeless case.
I was very sad when my relationship ended. Sad, but not depressed. I didn't feel debilitated by sadness – it was imbued with relief that it was over, that we were both free to pursue what we really wanted from life. The truth is, I was a Bad Girlfriend. And I feel as though I'm unlikely to ever be a Good one. It seems to me that every relationship reaches a point where you have to choose between your partner, or yourself. And I choose myself.
It took a long time to acclimatise to my new (single) condition. My husband (we were never married, but I always called him that, even at the very beginning) was my compass, now I was adrift and I couldn't tell dry land from stormy sea. I started smoking again. Our relationship, my life's anchor, had been re-examined and reclassified and there's so much more to that than no longer sharing a roof. It's a rending of the soul. It hurts. It hurts. And to paraphrase a far greater Thomas than I, I did not go gentle. I raged, I raged against the dying of that light. The dying of that love. In the end I was exhausted from raging, from loving so much. I was so lonely. I was so lost, and I had lost so much. And it was time to leave.
It's been seven months now. The last three months have been an unexpectedly exciting, galvanising and fulfilling time, which wouldn't have happened were I still in that relationship (I can heartily recommend going viral as a displacement strategy if you want your mind taken off utter emotional devastation for a few months). It still makes me sad that I've lost my best friend, but I have more perspective now. I know, I've always known, that it was the right thing to do. The rest just takes time.
I still miss him, and the life we had together. Every time I have to catch a train, I have to walk past our old home. His car isn't parked outside any more, and there are new curtains and shiny new furniture in the back room (of course I still look, every time). Every time I pass, there's a faint but very distinct stagger in my belly. It's like walking into what Scots call a “thin place”, a place where there's a thin line dividing this world and the next. A haunted place. This place is a thin line dividing this world and one where we're still together, between the present and the past. It's a physical sensation – somewhere between lurch of vertigo and that shudder which prompts you to say “ooh, someone's just walked over my grave”. I always look. And I always feel it. But then I catch my train in my new present. In my new place. In my new world. It just takes time.