Several days after Robert moved out I awoke with the sun glowing through the pale apricot curtains. Being alone in the apartment didn’t bother me. With Justin in boarding school and Robert so often away in New York I was accustomed to having all the space to myself.
I wasn’t even really sad about the break up. It seemed somehow cleaner and more hygienic to have acknowledged and amputated the toxic, festering gangrenous stump that was all that remained of my once happy marriage to the man who had swept me off my feet in 1977 and adored me for the next 20 years. Those years had given me an enviable lifestyle and inflated my sense of self worth. But there had been a steep price to pay. Facilitating the lifestyle denied me many of the things I had taken for granted all my life and somehow we had degenerated into a morass of mutual misery.
But I was not going to look backwards. Tomorrow was here and tomorrow was another day. It was essential not to wallow; to keep moving forward into my future with all flags flying. So I got up and ‘jumped into the shower’ as the phrase goes. Of course I did no such thing. I turned on the tap and let the water run until the hot came through. Then I ascended the three wide, carpeted steps up to the top of the enormous bathtub and climbed carefully down into it. The tub was slippery but I steadied myself on one of the tiled columns that lent the bathroom the air of a Greek temple.
As the hot water ran over my bald head and body, newly streamline by stress and ill health, I forced my thoughts towards the future. “What am I going to do with the rest of my life?” I asked myself. There was nobody around to overhear so I spoke to myself loudly above the whoosh of water in order to, literally, hear myself think.
“What’s happening today? Well it’s nothing to write home about. Today is the day Jenna is arriving to live with Robert.
“It’s been very civilised up till now but I have a nasty feeling that that is going to change things. It’s not” I added humorously, “so much a foreboding – more a five or sixboding.”
I didn’t even chuckle at my little wordplay. It was a Robert joke originally, well worn over the years. Yet another sad thing to chuck on the pile of things superfluous to this strange new life.
“and – oh joy! – this afternoon I get to go to a fun little party near Wimbledon.”
The Easy Way To Stop Smoking session I had booked three weeks ago when everything seemed reasonably stable. I was probably smoking thirty a day now, which was a lot better than it had been. At each lurch into crisis it had risen to about 60 a day. Stopping was clearly a good idea if I planned to make old bones. Still the timing was looking a bit bleak. I had to admit I’d like to be planning something Fun if only to affirm to myself and the Universe that I was going to live and be well. That there would be a future despite what Robert and the oncologists believed. I was going to pull off a miracle if it killed me! But I couldn’t pretend that The Easy Way to Stop Smoking sounded like my idea of Fun.
“What can I do for Fun today?” I wondered aloud. And suddenly out of the blue, the answer came to me.
“I know! I’ll put an ad in the Lonely Hearts column of The Times. There is an enjoyable almost bodily throb that happens to me when I recognise an idea of genius and it happened then as the water poured over me.
Before I climbed out of the shower I’d composed my ‘ad’. I wrote it down before I flushed the lines in my chest because it seemed perfect to me and Chemo Brain wasn’t going to rob me of this ideal inspiration.
“Why not come up and see me sometime…I drawled as I wrote. (My Mae West voice expresses a certain side of myself and had become second nature to me) “when I have nothing on but Radio 4?” I chuckled again as I wrote that. It seemed to convey a sensual sense of Fun as well as the idea that I was a thinking person, a Radio 4 listener. I thought there was a good chance that a man who found that sentence provocative might be a man who I could have some fun with.
“Modesty and space forbid a catalogue of my virtues but be warned, if you are looking for a numerate, athletic partner you WILL be disappointed. If not why not reply? It could be fun.”
I phoned it in to The Times before I even went down for breakfast. The first ad would run on July 4th, Independence Day in America. That seemed apt as well but before I got my first response all the seemingly settled points of my life would have been flung up into the air again as part of the seismic shifts that were happening to me…