Matters of the Heart
We grew apart gradually, though to me it seemed sudden. Let me try now, with hindsight, to trace those unravelling threads.
I see that, in our four years at Three Bridges, while we had various adventures in the new way of life in the new location, many of them pleasurable, we also had as a constant backdrop the huge financial challenges which ultimately became too much for us.
Early on we asked some wise spirits, via our Andronicus Foundation meditation group, how to be able to afford living there after our supposed co-owners left; how to make this unexpected situation financially viable. We were told, 'Use what you have.' It seems, now, such straightforward advice, perfectly clear and easy to understand, but at the time we couldn't grasp the obvious as we tried to find some deeper meaning. We puzzled and puzzled over it. Did 'they' perhaps mean we should cut and sell the timber on our property? Did they mean we should plant crops or run cattle?
We didn't attempt any of those things, which would have been beyond us. But we did spend money on things we could have done without, which I see now (but didn't then) as directly contrary to the advice we received. We put in a modern stove in addition to the wood stove which was already there, because it was what we were used to cooking on. Bill did some building modifications to the house, which weren't really necessary – but he always needed to be physically active and would create such jobs for himself. 'Use what you have' seems to me, now, to say clearly, 'Be content, don't spend on "improvements" '. We just couldn't fathom it at the time. I guess we were caught up in the habit of doing rather than being.
There was one crop already there, which we did use. The previous owners had planted a big field of daffodils. I asked the local florist if they'd be interested, and after taking one sample bunch to check the quality, they ordered some every week. It wasn't a huge number, but provided a bit extra cash for me to run the household on, and didn't need much work. There were proteas growing too, but unfortunately they weren't as fashionable then as they had once been. They had lost their novelty value, and the florist wasn't interested.
I look back and think that one thing Bill and I did together very well was parenting. Now we were without resident children, and that glue that had held us together was very much weakened. At first, when 'the boys' needed help, and called on us as they were used to doing, we'd drop everything and drive to Melbourne to the rescue, but this was now over an hour's drive to wherever they were. It soon became obvious to us all that it simply wasn't practical and they'd have to start standing on their own feet. Indeed, it was the right time for them to do so, having left school and started university.
We still saw them fairly often, either in Melbourne or at Three Bridges – they'd bring their girlfriends up for weekends, or we'd take the chance to drop in on them if we had errands in town – and of course we kept in touch in between times. But it wasn't the same as being a family under one roof. Bill and I were thrown much more on each other's company, without a buffer in between. This revealed that we didn't have so much in common any more.
He was busy trying to bring in money, getting building jobs in the nearby townships. Eventually he became deckhand to a new young abalone diver. This young man perceived Bill as an old has-been, and was probably insecure as well, so instead of respecting Bill's years of expertise and taking his advice on things like the best fishing grounds, he treated him disdainfully. He was downright rude. We were so much in need of the money that Bill swallowed his pride and resentment, and the angry rejoinders he would have given anyone else. Some of the other divers said to the young man, 'Wow, you're lucky having him decking for you!' but it didn't sink in. Between hard work and mental stress, Bill was constantly exhausted and miserable. A naturally exuberant man, he did try to keep his spirits up, but it was more and more difficult.
As for me, I got very fat. Two things happened at the same time, just before we moved to Three Bridges: I stopped smoking after 42 years, and I started menopause. Either of those things on its own often causes weight gain, let alone both at once.
I noticed that many people in the area were also carrying extra weight. When I moaned to Marie at the Neighbourhood Centre about how much I'd put on since moving there, she (distinctly plump herself) said, 'We all do here. It's the lifestyle.' There was probably something in that, too. Anyway, I think it's fair to say that I stopped being sexually attractive to my husband. There certainly wasn't a lot of sex happening between us in those years.
I wasn't initiating it either. I remember waking up one morning and, before I opened my eyes, realising that he, over on his side of the King-size water-bed, was masturbating as quietly and surreptitiously as possible. Instead of saying something like, 'Do you need any help with that?' I pretended I was still asleep. A marriage is surely not going very well when one party would rather take matters into their own hands even when there's a readily available spouse right there, and when that spouse would prefer to let them.
Soon after that Bill made an excuse to start sleeping in one of the other bedrooms. I can't remember now exactly what he said, but I think it was to do with needing a sounder sleep now that he was working as a deckhand. It was plausible. He had to get up very early in the morning for a long drive, on the days of good diving weather, and it was a very physical job. Then there was the long drive home, and the need for an early night.
But, as I said, the disintegration of our marriage was a gradual thing. Or at least, it was for me. I've always been quite good at amusing myself when necessary. I was an only child for my first four years; perhaps it started then. With Bill being away quite a lot, either at the caravan park or working as a deckhand, and being more and more dour and distant when he was home, I increasingly relied on my own resources. They were the same ones as always: writing, reading, home-making, thinking and dreaming; exploring the esoteric. I hardly noticed that we were gradually sharing less and less real conversation.
I look back and think it must have been very lonely for him. He was an extroverted, gregarious man. But that simply didn't occur to me then. He was busy doing his own things, as I was mine. I wasn't lonely; I was my own companion. I wasn't discontented; I knew how to make myself content. If our marriage had lost its spark, well, we were middle-aged, weren't we? I'd just make the best of it, keep myself busy, and enjoy other aspects of life – which of course, I see now, threw me even more on my own resources and gave me even less motivation to bridge the widening gaps between us. Back then I had no perception that something was seriously wrong.
It came as a complete surprise to me when, on our 24th wedding anniversary, he came into the bedroom fully dressed to wake me – not with a cuppa and Happy Anniversary wishes, but to announce that he wasn't happy in the marriage and we had to separate. Then he walked out and drove to work. I still don't know if he realised it was our anniversary or if it was an unhappy coincidence. That's how little we were communicating then. It's not impossible that he might have completely forgotten; I was the keeper of significant dates like anniversaries and family birthdays.
I had just started my friend Jenette's Master Game program. Part of our agreement was that participants would contact her if any problem arose in their lives. I phoned her in tears. She said, 'Don't make any decision yet. Just keep doing the program. It's only a few weeks until you complete it. Put everything on hold until then.' That calmed me down, and that evening I asked Bill to wait those few weeks before taking any definite steps. He said it would make no difference to his decision, but he agreed.
It wasn't that Jenette or I imagined that her program would necessarily save the marriage. We both knew it would clear my energy, therefore Bill's energy would shift in response, and so we'd be able to make the decision lucidly, uninfluenced by extraneous baggage.
For those weeks, things did seem to improve between us – to the extent that I confided in him that one reason I'd been so devastated by his announcement was that I'd been very much looking forward to celebrating our Silver Wedding Anniversary, in only one more year.
We did get to celebrate that anniversary. By the time I finished the Master Game, things were much friendlier between us, we were sharing a bed again, and the possibility of separation wasn't mentioned any more.
Bill organised a wonderful anniversary party for me, as I mentioned in my previous post. It was a joyful occasion. Our friends were happy for us, we had a ball, and I was relieved that we weren't going to separate after all.
This was still a year before he fell for someone else.