A YEAR SHY of turning sixty, Becca realised the cause of her anxiety and misery. Married, with now-adult children she rarely saw – admitting they had job commitments – she’d had plenty of time to think about her misery. And how much she hated her misery.
From that realisation after suddenly succumbing to her old friend – the one-in-a-million neurological condition that had laid her low thirteen years before. It had taken six years of medication, rehabilitation and strength exercises, home help and personal carers. Her first hospital had sent her home with the full ward kit of furniture, equipment and patient paraphernalia. Boy, how she’d hated having to use those bedpans!
But she’d soldiered on through it all – the spasms, the blackouts, the humiliating treatment from one or two nurse-bitches. And through all that and the years since, her husband Simon had been supportive. He’d breathed for her when she’d blacked out at home. He’d tenderly lifted her from the floor back onto her hospital bed, too many times. He’d made sure the removal company knew the importance of having all their – her – furniture in situ in their new house in a new town, rather than a twenty-four hour wait between loading and unloading.
And oh, how she’d loved their first new home – a rental in a nice suburb, a two-storey house big enough to fit all their furniture on the ground floor. The removal men had set up all their furniture – with her hospital bed alongside the broad window overlooking the garden. Planted with a mix of floral beds and native trees, it was a delight watching the birds coming for nectar –butterflies and bees too. She photographed the garden and its visitors through the pane of glass.
Then they bought their final house. Goodbye to the beautiful garden, hullo dreary, red-brick house. There was only one door wide enough for the wheelchair, so it was a good while before she saw the back yard – bleak in terms of flower beds, and an old flowering tree that shaded three-quarters of the lawn in winter, and not much more in summer.
Simon organised occasional wheelchair expeditions from the house, taking her to public gardens, tree parks, and the waterfront – pushing her in whatever direction he fancied. She ‘graduated’ to join a local history group, a debating group, and another, and another – seeking friends, an interest that would engage her as much as her career had. Simon was a treasure, driving her to and from meetings.
Becca had been a book-keeper, and damned good at the job. She’d seen technology take jobs from clerks, and thrown herself into mastering accounting software. “An asset to the company”, her boss had said when he visited her in hospital, back then. It reads blasé in a CV, and doesn’t come across as much more in real life. But it did earn her the role of Treasurer for a club or two here in their new town.
She persisted with her rehab, she improved, she took the regular blood tests required by her medical team. The team narrowed as she improved, until only her general practitioner checked the results. Then came the glorious day when her neurologist declared she was fit and capable of safely driving. Her car had been, all this time, sitting waiting for her. She was issued a disability parking tag for her car, and enjoyed a few brief months of socialising with friends, not at meetings.
How her blood boiled when Simon took her parking tag for his own use, after a hip replacement, to use for work and often when shopping. His trips into town for shopping became more and more frequent, and began to drain the household budget. Even her eldest daughter was indignant that he used it well after he needed to. She lifted it from his car, and hid it in her room.
Simon still made two or three trips to town each day.
Becca started a small business – bespoke photographs. It was something she was proud of, even though it only gave her spending money. This little pocket-money work gave her satisfaction in a warm, fuzzy way book-keeping never had. She enjoyed it, every bit of it: the infants and toddlers, then older versions of them, posed just so, against just the right backdrop, with just their right smile, delighting the parents. She received requests for wedding shoots, but the thought of having no control over the location made her anxious, so she declared her speciality as children’s portraits.
She checked the household banking often – enough to know they owed more than they owned. The savings were too low to cover the overdraft, never mind the mortgage. The house value fell over the years, and repairs and maintenance were done on the cheap by Simon. Renovations were out of the question – too expensive, he said.
When at last she was old enough to receive the state pension, she made sure it was paid into her own bank, a separate bank from the joint accounts and mortgage.
She discovered Simon was still using their old bank account overdrafts, often to the maximum, and repaying the bare minimum.
What should have been clients were all part of the digital tidal wave, and their cameras and phones replaced her in the portrait photography market. Anxiety, which by now she’d realised had been part of her, all her life, began to mount. Checking their joint account became a regular habit. As did repaying some of their shared overdrafts – by more than he was repaying.
Then Covid struck, and photography disappeared from her life. Without her car, which had been left to rot on the front lawn, she became a shut-in. And being an anxious, now depressed, shut-in made for a poor life indeed. Plenty of time to ruminate, reminisce, and revisit past decisions that had led her to this no-longer-happy existence.
Oh, Simon was his usual cheery self, making his sex-hinting jokes (carefully ignored), or playing tricks, bluffing his way through their odd dinner with her sister and husband, He readily prepared the evening meals – she’d resigned from cooking after admitting she couldn’t bake to save herself, and only knew three dinner recipes. He helped move heavy furniture, vacuumed – too difficult for her and her back with hairline fractures in a vertebra or two.
He too had aged badly. Early deafness had become extreme deafness with age; he refused to admit it and have his hearing checked. As he couldn't hear himself clearly, he shouted. He had fattened over the years, and was on medications for diabetes, cholesterol and heart management. His sweat contained oil – she felt ill whenever she had to change his pillow case, or touch and rewash kitchen knives to remove the stubborn grease from the rubberised-plastic handles.
As anxiety worsened into depression, her condition went downhill rapidly. Suddenly she was back in A-&-E then Rehab for five days, and released on a new medication combination that at first did not work. She called her GP, who added just one more tablet a day, and progress began. Personal carers came in, four days a week.
A therapist came in, and prepared a plan to aid her rehabilitation – including a free bus trip whenever she wanted it, to a social programme. She made it clear, she was not interested in sitting in a silent lounge full of oldies, and the coordinator laughed and reassured her it would be much livelier than that.
But one thing Becca took heart in was a remark that she could call on a qualified instructor who would, when she was again fit to drive, give her a series of “lessons” and an official declaration she was fit to drive – when she was. She recorded the company name and number, and tucked it away deep within her cell phone – the work one, not her personal one.
A surprise – her daughter popped in for a night, and that evening they sat together in the chill, having a coffee, a cigarette, and a chat. She listened supportively to her daughter’s chatter about a tentative relationship with a man she’d only met once, but had chatted to for a tad longer.
Her daughter asked a question that broke her years of silence. “What do you think, Mom? Would you have done that when you were my age?”
She paused, and began, “Yes, I might have”.
And she poured out her years of heart break. Of meeting one wonderful man, so stunningly beautiful in such a masculine way that she’d initiated sex. And such sex it had been! She told the story of meeting him, then of learning, after he’d been suddenly lifted out of town by his company, she was pregnant – but he never knew.
Of how he’d reacted with a marriage proposal when they did meet again, months after the baby had been born and adopted.
- - -
Becca did not share about going home and telling her parents, her mother bursting into tears and leaving the room. Her father patting her on the shoulder and joining her mother, then returning and telling her they’d rung his sister at the other end of the country. She would be going there to stay until the baby had been adopted.
But she was not to tell her younger brothers and sisters. Not to write to them. Not to phone them.
Months of isolation – felt deeply in a major city, knowing no one except her aunt, uncle and cousins. The heartbreak of learning, well after she’d left the her baby in the maternity annex, the adopting couple had changed their minds. The agony of pacing a groove in her aunt’s carpet, torn between returning and bringing her baby away with her, and knowing there was no way she could afford to keep him. Knowing she was not allowed to take her baby back home.
Her aunt rang her father, and it was decided to put her on a plane back home. Then, a week later, being called to sign papers officially revoking all interest in her son.
Oh, the tears and pain! The shame she had to carry, loaded onto her by her mother. The shame that made her feel worthless, unwanted, and so alone.
Small wonder she had accepted that invitation for a date with a man she’d disliked on first meeting. Small wonder that she accepted Simon's “I think it’s time we should get married.” So casual. Not cold, but neither warm; just … matter of fact. A done deal.
When she bravely asked, “Why do you want to marry me?”, his reply was empty of any real meaning.
“'Cause a man my age should be married.”
That was the first wound. The second was from her mother.
“Mom, I don’t want to marry him. I don’t know if I love him.”
“Well you’ll never find a better man.”
So, she’d gone ahead and married, despite all her misgivings. And throughout the years her misgivings proved well founded. He was clumsy in bed, and in social engagements. He shouted at their first two children, and over indulged the younger two. He cheated on her online. He checked her email and internet activity, regularly.
Becca had once tried to flee, but after a week of pleading calls, she caved, and returned; after Simon's token effort of three weeks, it began again.
- - -
But now, becoming stronger each day, knowing she’d beaten this shit thing once and she could again, she determined – this time, buster. This time.
She dreamed – romantic dreams, of a romantic house and garden. Of being free to make friends, without having to have his approval, as she liked. Of driving her own car – a small hatchback, good fuel to mileage. Of planting her ideal garden – fall leaf display, spring and summer flowers. Of revamping her own business, taking a partner to increase its viability.
She planned. Saving – no more lending to her son. Minimum reduction of his debt. Culling redundant possessions. Saving for a deposit on a car, and for that capability assessment. Staying in touch with that new friend she’d made who, after moving to a town unknown to him, had offered her a half share in a small house – just like the one she dreamed of many times.
And writing letters, emails, maybe making phone calls, to find him.