Jeremiah Savant’s ‘Inside the Inside’
A Parallel Companion to ‘Adventures In Mental Health‘
TEN: The Tin Man Hits the Bricks
I arrived home from work one evening, to find that Beth was sitting, all prim and serious, in the living room. I could tell something was up, and was filled with dreadful relief, a strange hope… She looked gravely at me and said,
“We have to talk.”
Those four words said it all, and my first crazy thought was that the fighting and nonsense was all over; the momentary heartbreaks of the arguments and the constant searing anguish of watching and feeling it all slide away painfully. There had been disagreements about almost everything. Where there had once been a certainty and a harmony, there was now strife. Things we had shared now became dispensed with, cast aside. While Beth and Bella had been at choir practice in our early days, I would record Poirot, and I did this automatically when the next series started – to then be told coldly that I need not bother again.
One Sunday lunch at my parents was a complete disaster, with an unexpected hurricane of an argument about something blowing up seemingly from nowhere. Maybe I had simply expressed an opinion she had disagreed with, I cannot recall – it happened frequently, and very quickly Beth (after having been so kind, loving and wise) would viciously snap that I was, ‘a stupid boy,’ and that I did not know what I was talking about. Even when I did. This particular incident continued with me defending myself increasingly against her verbal assault and ended with my elder sister leaving the room in extreme distress. When she did this, Beth rounded on me harshly,
“See what you did? You caused that.”
We left for our home not long afterwards, and it was within a couple of weeks that my mother drew me aside one day for a ‘little chat about what had happened,’ and I thought to myself that now I could begin to describe the verbal attacks I had been suffering at home – but no. As it turned out, Beth had turned on the waterworks and made me out to be the aggressor. Stunned, I said very little. Back in those times, it was unheard of for men to be bullied at work, unknown for men to be subjected to domestic abuse – especially the psychological sort; plus, because my longest relationship had been with Jane (who had increasingly been subjecting me to ridicule and scorn), I sort of thought this was a phase to get through or the way it should be.
One early morning, just as the sun was rising, I woke and went to the toilet. When I returned, I sat on a chair in the bedroom and took the opportunity to look at my beloved wife. With her face relaxed in sleep, I could see the through the dim light the beauty I had seen before. My heart seemed to burst with love for her and yet splinter with the agonies of the last few months. The air was cold, and I began to tremble… but there was emotion in it too. Regret that this woman with whom I shared a bed, yearning for the woman who had smiled The Munchkin Smile at me… in fact, the same smile she had smiled one day answering the phone. I was in the living room, and the phone tinkle-brayed its bleep of incoming call, and I answered it; only to hear silence, the suspicion of someone breathing and a clock ticking in the background. I hung up, and less than five minutes later, the phone did its thing again. I told Beth she could answer it this time. Angrily she bustled past me, lifted the receiver and smiled The Munchkin Smile, spoke quietly and conspiratorially into the mouthpiece, hung up and told me she had been invited out. She changed into the outfit I had bought her for our wedding and trotted out.
That was when I suspected she was having an affair. I knew for sure when one evening in the pub, I reached into the pocket of the coat I had bought her for her birthday – I was putting change or keys in it or something, I forget. She teasingly told me that I should “…never put my hand in a woman’s pocket, I might find anything in there… even a condom…”
“Although, you wouldn’t,” she said and sipped her gin and tonic. “Because I don’t need them,” she sing-songed.
“Actually,” I said, “You do. If you’re sleeping around without them after all the programmes we’ve seen about AIDS, you’re even dumber than I thought.” She stood rigid. Gotcha, I thought.
All this was going through my mind, when she stirred and looked at me. For a split second, I thought she was going to break into a smile and open her arms to me as she had done less than a year previously, but no. When that split second ended, she was telling me off for being stupid and look how I was trembling and what I was doing to myself. A final snap of, ‘get into bed,’ ended the memory/fantasy/hope.
In the end, I just stopped arguing back, only to find that attacks intensified as she clearly considered I was no longer man enough to stand up to her. She insisted I go to the doctor to seek professional help – all I wanted was for to her stop getting at me and give me a cuddle every now and again. I was signed off work with depression (my sympathetic boss asked me what I had to be depressed about, and could I put it off for a couple of weeks…?). The situation at home was only part of it; the sympathetic boss was phoning me up every day to berate me about appalling sales figures, and I constantly defended myself by saying that my sales per customer were up significantly, but due to the roadworks in the street outside the shop, there were fewer customers… I may as well have been talking to him in a foreign language, all the notice he took.
When I went to the doctor, I put my case for therapy – therapy I was going to bring her with me, but now…
Now it was all over, and Beth – to whom I had pledged my life, for whom I had changed just about everything and from whom I was hoping never to part – was explaining very patiently and somewhat tearfully about certain parts of her activities recently. Conveniently leaving out the affair, of course. As I wept, and she stood, I put my arms around her – she sort of returned the embrace for a brief moment – and before I let her remove my arms, I locked them hard and whispered into her ear the worst thing I could think to say.
“There’ll never be anyone else.”
“Oh, don’t say that!” she wailed, shocked and stepped back. Then she left so I could pack. The same window we had watched her friends depart before our first passionate exchange was the same window I looked out of at the street below as shoulders hunched and clearly sobbing, Beth made her way to the nearby house of people we both knew… regardless of what she had done, irrespective of her actions towards me, I saw at that precise moment a woman who was intensely miserable and very upset.
If I had hooked up with Gillian instead, and followed that for a bit, this would not have been happening. If I had only kept our first night of frantic sex as just that, and not gone back the following night, this would not have been happening. If I had not asked her to marry me, based mostly on the hormonal rush of long nightly sex sessions, this would not have been happening. Therefore, it was my fault. It was my fault that the woman I had pledged everything to for the rest of my life was now – right at that time – in total emotional turmoil and agony.
My instincts, however, had been right. I had felt the end coming for a couple of weeks, I just had not known how it would happen – but I did know that she had to be the one to make the move. Being so passive for so long had cost me, but now, surely, people would see her for… well, what she had become. For all I know, many of her relationships had ended this way, with her then playing the victim as ‘he left me…’ despite all of this, though, I watched that wretched, dejected and extremely upset woman trudge away, and one thing only crossed my mind.
“I’m never going to put anyone through that again.”
Never would I put a woman I care about in such a position where she somehow goes into a destructive mode, and breaks her own and my heart with pointless and increasingly vicious and trivial arguing. Jane had put me through that, and now I had gone through it again. Beth had felt that she needed her affection from another source, and had sought it out, and this is where the rot began and crippled us.
Interlude: at the time of writing
Many would have said – and may well still do – that I accept this blame incorrectly, but the blame I accept is only that which started the whole thing.
Beth’s actions and responses were hers, and hers alone. I neither can, nor will accept any guilt for the person that she became during that two-year period. It was she who had committed a sustained campaign of verbal and mental abuse against me, it was she who broke the vows we made in front others, and it was she who betrayed and ultimately rejected me.
The woman with The Munchkin Smile, the woman I fell totally in love with. She, who consented to become and became my wife, is a woman I have felt the same about since I started feeling it. I always will. The woman she became duringour marriage, I loathe and detest – despise and ultimately have complete compassion for; it cannot be pleasant living in a mind like that. Despite rejecting me in unseemly haste, she did not change her name back at all, only changing it when she married again a few years later (or so I heard). I believe it was to the man with whom she had that affair. I hope she’s been happy all this time, and that the marriage lasted.
On her birthday, I raise a glass to her. On what would be our Wedding Anniversary, I raise a glass to the ‘us’ that never was, and to what we first had. On the anniversary of That Day, I celebrate my freedom from the twisted and hatred-filled harridan who made my life a living hell, twenty-four hours a day. A friend told me to let go, she was not worth it; I told him that the woman I got married to, was. Another told me that, all these years later, it is a shame I let her live rent-free in my head and heart, and I told him this:
I do these things in remembrance of the good and sadness at the bad. I do this because, I suspect that should she ever spare me any slight thought at all, it is filled with bile and inhumanity… my remembrance is my assertion of my own humanity, for I know she is incapable of it with regard to memories of me.
I punched the wall – pulling back at the last moment. I screamed into the empty house – muting my voice at the last moment. I thought about running a hot bath and opening my wrists, writing ‘Til Death Do Us Part in my own blood on the wall. I did not, because if Bella had come home before Beth… besides, Beth could then play the victim to everyone and get sympathy which I knew she did not deserve. Not after the hell she had been putting me through.
Finally, I phoned my younger sister, alone at the parents’ house and told her I needed to be there; that it was over. I phoned friends who had a car and told them I needed them to come get me; that it was all over. I phoned my boss and told him it was all over and I was changing address and phone number immediately. The friends came and we packed what we could then and there, took it up to the parents’ house, where my shocked sister did what she could to cope with the circumstances, and seeing me broken told me her rules of the house from the following day, and I agreed. It was something that would work, and I was grateful to her for taking that control because I was incapable of it. My friends took me to a faraway pub, and I drank and smoked and cried quietly. A lot of it was with relief.
The next morning, I was trying to settle into the routine at work and my boss turned up. He seemed sympathetic, and after a lengthy phone call to head office, gently told me that I was in for a tough time, and that he thought I should devote my time to it. I did not understand. He then said that he was asking for my immediate resignation. There was the hat-trick; wife and family, home and now job – in less than twenty four hours. Two years of my life undone by the actions of others. I went upstairs and wrote something appropriate, then tried to get through the day. He stayed and helped out, basically running the branch for me (I had just resigned from being the manager of a failing menswear shop). The following day, I would hand in my keys after the stock take and that would be that; I would never set foot in that place again. Suddenly, just before closing time, a horrid thought occurred to me. What if Beth’s on the same bus home I am going to take? As I lived sort of on his route home, I asked my boss if would give me a lift. I told him that I was just about holding it together and I did not want her to see me like this. He agreed.
Sometimes in a film, there is a line which is so apt, so tart and pithy, so nail-on-the-head yet has an ironic duality to it that you do not know whether to laugh or cry… or both. I had always wanted to be able to deliver such a line at an appropriate point. Just before we got into the boss’s car, I looked at him across the roof, and talked to him for the only time as man-to-man.
“Wow,” I said. “There’s one good thing about this.”
“I don’t have to worry about how I’m going to tell the wife I lost my job… (!)”
When he burst out laughing, I knew I was going to be alright. I did not know when, I did know how, but I knew that as Gloria Gaynor sang, I Will Survive. Home, to the parents’ house, then down to the doctor’s for an appointment – to see if I could get bumped along the mental health waiting lists… and to get sleeping tablets.
Interlude: at the time of writing
When I sat in the cinema years later, watching The Matrix on its first release, there was a scene which blew my mind. It’s just after the 55 minute mark, and is the scene where Morpheus is taking Neo training in The Construct, and they walk past a woman in a red dress who smiles at Neo…
During my marriage, I literally did not have eyes for anyone else at all. Beth completely and utterly dominated my heart, so much so that the prettiest of women would simply have been a person to me. To me, Beth was the most beautiful woman I had ever met – or was likely to meet. Full stop.
However, at some point during those last few horrendous weeks, a miraculous thing happened. I was just going to get my lunch from a sandwich shop a couple of streets away, when – just as that scene replicated a decade later – out of the milling throng, a stunningly attractive blonde woman in a red dress walked past and gave me the most wonderful of smiles… it was the first time (during that two years) that I had seen beauty in another woman.
So it was over. My parents returned home and there was a kerfuffle. There was to-ing and fro-ing. I hid. Then there was a situation and the only thing that gave my parents the hope they needed was me taking the job I had been offered back at my old place of work.
So finally, still raw and bleeding inside, I stood on the familiar shop floor, and wondered where the hell the last two years had gone; when Lawrence turned up. Lawrence was an old Eastern European with ravaged features and somehow seemed to have stories to tell. When he asked what I was doing back, he nodded sagely and said in his thick Russian-ish accent (with possibly a hint of Yiddish),
“Well, it’s just life. In life you learn – and the only time that is wasted is the time you fail to learn… and I can see for all your heartache that you have learned. So don’t moan that it’s been a waste. Because you learned, it wasn’t a waste.” He paused, and was waiting for him to evoke some scene in a kitchen with exotic soup boiling in a pan and vodka on the table – a wise old man my grandfather once knew said this – but he cocked his head to the side and grinned. “You told me that,” he twinkled, then marched off to buy his usual ten-pack of video tapes.
He was right.
Jeremiah Savant’s ‘Inside the Inside’ is a parallel companion to ‘Adventures In Mental Health‘.
If you would like to connect with Jeremiah, or have any questions about this series, feel free to get in touch.