The Meeting – Day 20

Dare to Tell – Day 20

Gemma’s Story

The Meeting

We were at university together. My friend from school was his roommate.  We met on the first day. Tom was from posh public school, I was prepared to deal with that sort!

In our second year, we went out together and became lovers.  Our attachment was overpowering, it was huge.  He overwhelmed me; he was such a strong personality.

Tom came from a cool family, so different to my loving family.  I didn’t understand that families could be like that.  His father had just died and he spoke about how much he hated him.  I couldn’t understand how you can hate your father.  It was years later that I discovered how abusive his alcoholic father had been.

At the end of our second year we split up though we saw each other during the 3rd year, we were very attached to each other.  Six months after university, Tom came to visit me.  We walked in a blue bell wood holding hands and he asked me to come back to him.

I remember feeling quite split.  I had already met the man I was going to marry, even though he had gone to Africa.  I was quite determined to be with this other man.

So we were apart for 30 years.

When ‘the other’ man returned, we were married.

We were together for 30 years.  He suffered from depression that was getting progressively worse.  He became bi-polar and then there was one terrifying psychotic episode.  I kept telling myself, you don’t leave someone because they’re ill.

Then I knew I just couldn’t do it anymore.

Just after I decided I couldn’t stay with my husband any longer, Tom’s Christmas card arrived, with just his name on it.  We had exchanged cards every year, but usually it was signed by him and his wife. Later I found out that it was an innocent mistake, she had just forgot to sign.  But it was enough for me to suggest we meet up.

We meet in the city.

I really thought, on the conscious level, that we were just catching up.

I had been in meetings all day.  I couldn’t concentrate.

As Tom walked towards me I was surprised.

He’s so big.  I remembered him as a skinny kid.  He’s filled out, he had such presence.  He seemed so manly.  Or course, last time I saw him he was a boy; now he’s urbane, so sophisticated.

We hugged. We went for a drink. He was a stranger and at the same time, he was so familiar.  We both knew each other and we didn’t.  I wondered who Tom was seeing in me.  I was so nervous, all over the place.  Tom was calm.

When we parted, he said “let’s keep in touch.”  I thought, that’s what people say when they don’t mean it.

We met in January. Tom said he knew as soon as he saw me.  He said that my letter was like a bolt of lightning reminding him that he’s loved this woman his whole life.  We were together within a matter of weeks.  We moved in together a few months later.  Thirty years after his initial proposal, we were married.

Looking back on 30 years, I feel an enormous mix of things.

There was a lot of good in my first marriage.  I always felt that I divorced the illness not the man.  I have two great, lovely, lovely kids.  I have lots of good and difficult memories.

As we parted in that darkened living room I said to him, “Thank you for the good times”.  It breaks my heart to remember how he shrugged and said “I’m sorry about the bad times”.  He’s doing better since we split up.

Tom did not have children but he had a fantastic career.

Our relationship takes up a huge space.  He’s the only person with whom I get furious.  It’s very intense, a consuming emotional space.  That was too big back then.

I don’t think we could have managed to be together and have children, build careers and financial security.  Though Tom says he could have had children with me.

I would have loved to have children with him.

I would have loved to have seen him at 25 or 30 or 40.

I would have loved to watch the transition from skinny boy to great presence.

30 years is a lifetime.

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