He said he had fallen in love, couldn’t live without her and was going to leave me and our ten year old son. It was like being beaten up, each word a blow to the face, the head, the chest, the stomach.
My role was to be a smart, independent and modern woman. To understand that marriages die, maybe even enjoy being free after so many years with one man. That would have suited him and his paramour well. But, just like Vicky, I couldn’t, wouldn’t, oblige.
The day Mo departed our marriage he found time to iron his favourite shirts (some were gifts from me), pack his bags neatly and leave a few instructions about bills and things.
I wept through it all, begging and pleading with him not to go. Our child was bewildered and upset by my tears but didn’t really understand what was about to happen.
And so it was that one cold dark January day in 1989, ten days before our son’s 11th birthday, when I was 39, my university lecturer husband traded in his old life for a thrilling new one with a woman half his age.
I descended into what I can only describe as a kind of maddening sorrow. No one who has not been through it can possibly imagine the depth of grief and the temporary insanity that befall such wives when collective histories, marriage vows and hopes are suddenly deleted by the husband who decides he wants a new life and love.
One such wife I know started slashing herself at the age of 43. It was, she said, to stop her from slashing the face of her ex. She was a teacher and has since recovered from that trauma but the scars remain all across her arms.
A woman emailed me this week to describe how, 30 years ago, her husband’s ‘life-changing betrayal’ left her ‘unhinged with misery’. She still feels the loss of him even though he has since died.
Stella, another acquaintance, divorced against her will, and became a recluse and a depressive. She was so disabled by grief she couldn’t function and her children were taken into care for a while. They have never forgiven her.
I, too, was completely grief-stricken by the loss of my beloved husband, and sometimes spent entire nights sobbing into one of his old shirts desperate to detect the scent of him.
There were days when I vomited blood. My doctor diagnosed a stress-induced bleeding ulcer. I didn’t plot supreme revenge — I was just too sad for that — but I did talk to his large family, colleagues and our friends about his betrayal. This, of course, made him furious.
I started smoking even though I’m asthmatic. A Mexican friend going through her own ordeal — her baby son had died in his cot — gave me whisky to drink one night to ease the almost physical agony. Suddenly, I was drinking a bottle of whisky every night.
One of my best friends, Ann, moved in with me because I was, at times, suicidal,
wanting to escape the purgatory. My only sister has been mentally ill for years and my mother Jena was terrified I was descending into the same darkness.
She cooked for us, tried to give me courage, prayed, and counselled me: ‘He’s just a man. Don’t let a man own your life. You are more than someone’s wife. You have your son — that is the blessing,’ and so on, words I could neither hear nor heed.
I lost weight fast; my hair started falling out in clumps. I could think or talk of nothing else. Somehow I had to find the strength to look after my child whose world had also collapsed.
My marriage had been a love story. Mo and I met in my native land of Uganda and married in London in 1972. We were postgraduate students, penniless but ecstatically happy. He was my best friend, the nucleus of my life, my present and future...more