Tom was at work. He was spending longer hours at the hypermarket to stay out of Jennifer’s way. The night of the party, after everyone else had left, was one of the most fraught he could remember. Jennifer let him have it with both barrels for not stopping the trouble. Tom had begun to argue back but Jennifer was furious and he decided not to add fuel to the flames by trying to defend or rationalize the debacle.
Jennifer was curled up in the armchair. She chose to ignore the door knocking and just wanted to keep herself to herself. She had phoned in sick because she could not face all the small talk and stuff and nonsense from her fellow nurses, and certainly could not face all that illness and trauma around her.. Had she gone, she would have been expected to gossip and laugh at stupid jokes and get involved in the team spirit thing but she was sick of all of that false camaraderie. The boss of the hospital she worked in was heavily into American-style culture and mission statements and values, with everyone expected to be upbeat, supportive and smiley to each other, and it was so wearing at times that it was easier either to snap back at someone to get things done or keep quiet and be seen as a loner, in other words, a potential troublemaker. A nurse was all she had wanted to be when she was a young girl and now she was one, she realized that, like a lot of dreams and ambitions, the reality was not what she anticipated. As she grew older, she loved the idea of a happy marriage and when Tom proposed, she thought another dream had come true. But, very quickly, something switched inside her and it did not seem to be the right thing to have done. She felt terrible about it because she loved Tom to bits, but a little voice inside her was nagging away, telling her that she did not love marriage. How could that make sense, she thought. How could she love a man so much and not want to marry him, not want the relationship to last forever and ever amen? She curled up in the chair and waited for the answer to come to her.
Her mobile bleeped. She read Tom’s text. “How are you?” Jennifer help the phone close to her chest and stifled a sob. Either she could answer and say the usual, old boring “fine” or not reply at all. She chose the latter option, got up from the chair and walked to the bedroom to pack a suitcase.
Later, about 9.30, Tom arrived home with a Chinese takeaway for two. He thought the flat seemed cold and strange that the lights were off.
“Jen,” he called. There was no reply. He switched on the light and looked in every room. As he stood in the bedroom doorway, he noticed an envelope on his bedside table. He sat on the bed, lifted the envelope, breathed in and out heavily, twirled the envelope around his fingers before opening it.
“Tom, I am so sorry to be doing this to you. I cannot think clearly enough to write what I really think and feel, but one thing is certain, I love you very much and you do not deserve a silly cow like me to be messing up your life. I loved the thought of our marriage and our future together but as soon as it happened, something inside me did not feel right. It’s not you, please believe that, it’s not you. It’s me but I need time to understand it all. So I have decided to go back to Mum and Dad for a while to work this out. I know this will hurt you so much but I need this space. I will contact you at some point but, even though you probably hate me for this stupidity, please remember that I care about you and partly because of that, I need to do the right thing for both of us. It would be wrong to subject you to a moody wife and a life of misery. It might work out eventually, but that’s up to you as well as me. Take care of yourself. Love, Jen.”
Tom lay down on the bed with the scrunched letter in his hand. His head was spinning. He was exhausted after a busy day at work and before long he was fast asleep. Some time later, he sat up with a jolt, his heart racing, and a cold sweat chilling beneath him his shirt. The reality of the letter and the empty flat came racing back to him.
He poured himself a glass of wine and sat at the kitchen table. The carrier bag of Chinese food was sitting on the draining board, untouched and unwanted. Tom gazed out of the window across the tops of the silhouetted city buildings, through the smattering of urban early morning lights, and on out to the semi-darkness of that pre-dawn world. He had never felt as sad in his life, never felt so empty. He blamed his own failure to see that Jennifer was clearly not completely happy with things. He was so besotted with her and their marriage and the thought of a bright future that he did not see the signs. But, he berated himself, what was so wrong with him that Jennifer could not stay and explain or try again? He finished the wine and undressed to get back into bed for a few hours before getting up again for work. He slept fitfully, haunted by all kinds of thoughts and doubts.
He went to work that morning determined to get on with his life, a life, he concluded, in which his wife had made her choice to leave him, a life that he had to start living all over again. He was once again a single man, enforced by circumstances, and he was determined to make the most of it.