A New Life Part Four

She loved her new home, she even loved the sunken, avocado bath with the red curtain surrounding it (although she wouldn’t say no when her dad offered to put in a shiny, new white suite!)

They had a wonderful first summer home, slowly re-adjusting to the British confusion of sun and rain, they were relaxed and in high spirits, spending their time catching up with family and old friends and sitting in the garden with Theo and her hippies, resolving the worlds problems with lively debates.  Theo was clearly happy to have them home but their relationship was fragile, she had allowed the sixteen year old Theo to decide where she wanted to live but she realised now that it had been a mistake to accept her decision without question.  She had been foolish and selfish, she wanted to move away and so convinced herself that Theo would be happy.  She watched her vulnerable daughter, desperately trying to be cheerful and hide the resentment and anger that she was feeling. She knew that there would be attacks and recriminations ahead, she was ready to take it and she hoped that her explanations and apologies would be enough to earn Theos forgiveness.  It appeared to her that Livvy and Jake had never been away, they settled so swiftly into UK life.

She went back to working with her dad but was forced to abandon her ‘Luddite’ nature when she found that he had been brought into the 21st Century with a computerised system (which, once learned, she grudgingly admitted was much quicker and easier, and she even enjoyed using it).  It felt good to be working again, to feel useful; and having her own money, she was back in control of her life.

She was certainly happier but she couldn’t pretend that her life was perfect.  She’d been away for four years and it wasn’t just the office system that had changed.  She found that relationships between her friends had also changed, with each other and towards her.  Some of her closest friends had now become part of a clique that she didn’t feel a part of, she tried to ignore the feeling that she wasn’t wanted, it was too much to bear after four years of being an outsider, the thought that it could be happening again, with her best friends, was intolerable.  The same friends that had spent the last four years holidaying with her, enjoying the sun, sea and her hospitality were now uncomfortable inviting her to their homes, she tried to tell herself that she was being paranoid, she needed time to adjust, things change and move and and she had to move with them…

Branka came to visit, it was perplexing to realise that she now felt more at ease with her than with some of her oldest friends.  She arranged to go for dinner with Marie and Jane, Branka had met them several times, she was sure they would have fun ‘like old times’ came the naive thought.  Branka regarded the discomfort of the three friends, her lack of English couldn’t obscure the awkwardness.  Marie and Jane spoke about a birthday dinner they’d booked, ‘thanks for the invite’ she joked, Marie looked her in the eye and said ‘it’s a couples evening’.  She was gobsmacked, she blinked and floundered and finally answered ‘does that mean I won’t be invited to anything now?’ they both laughed and told her not to be silly, Jane then joked ‘actually no, you won’t, in case you try and steal our husbands’.  ‘I’ve just got rid of one twat’ she thought ‘why would I want either of yours?’ but she laughed along, not that belly laughter she craved but the polite, ‘keep it civilised’ laughter that she hated.  They said their goodbyes and Branka turned to her and said with regret ‘with friends like that, I don’t think this is going to be so easy for you’ and she knew that she was right.

The children started their new, international school, it was strange for them to be back in uniform, they did miss being able to chuck their jeans on and go.  Jake had hoped that he wouldn’t have to go to school anymore once he had moved back, but once over the disappointment he soon settled and made friends.  Livvy, as always, adapted very quickly, made fast friends and got her social life in an immediate whirl.  As she’d expected, Theo began to show her anger, she would go out drinking and then come home in a rage, condemning her for leaving, accusing her of being a terrible mother for abandoning her.  She took it, time after time but eventually, after continual explanations and apologies she had to say ‘enough, forgive me or forget me, I can’t change what I’ve done, I can only be the best I can be from now’.  She was thankful that Theo didn’t want to forget her, her love outweighed the anger and they slowly began to rebuild the closeness they had always shared.

Drago had become an oppressive shadow in their lives, he began bullying the children, forcing them to visit him, he gave them no choice and when they visited him, he left them with his equally bullying parents.  They didn’t want to go but initially, she still felt guilty as he constantly reminded her that ‘she had taken his children from him’, so she made them go.  All of her attempts to reason with him, asking him to listen to the children, to let them make their own decisions, were met with derision, ‘they have no choice’ he said ‘they will do what I say’.  It came down to money in the end, he paid a pitiful maintenance for a few months and then stopped, she became exhausted, sending unanswered emails practically begging for money and was reduced to threatening not to send the kids over to see him if he didn’t help them financially.  He responded in the expected way, threatening courts and lawyers ‘they had to visit him, it was his right’, with no mention of the money that he didn’t send.  Ultimately, it was taken out of her hands when the children told him themselves that they would be deciding when they saw him, she knew that it was the beginning of him losing them and that he would blame her for it, but she was past caring, her conscience was clear and she just felt pity for him.

She began to truly live again, her loneliness was gone, there was joy and laughter in her life, she slowly became strong again, she removed herself from Marie and Janes lives, she felt no anger or malice towards them but she couldn’t disrespect herself by trying to be friends with people that had no place for her in their lives.  She immersed herself in life, taking pleasure in everything her home had to offer, both the art and culture and the immense diversity of the people she was surrounded by.  She made new friends and enjoyed the company of the old friends still in her life. She grieved, for her marriage, for wasted years and for lost friends but as time passed, the sadness slowly melted away and she was content.

One year later.  She sat on her rickety garden step, sipping her coffee, listening to Theo, Livvy and Jake roaring with laughter at some silliness, she looked down at her considerably deflated stomach and smiled.

A New Life – Part Three or Planes, Trains and Automobiles

‘Thanks so much Felix, don’t wait, we’ll be fine from here’ she said to her soon to be ex brother in law as they pulled into Treviso Airport.

They walked into chaos, hundreds of people crowded into the tiny Treviso Departures ‘what’s going on’ she asked the furiously frazzled businessman standing at the end of the queue she’d joined.  ‘There are no planes going anywhere’ he ranted ‘There’s been bomb scares on planes, something to do with bottled water! It’s just utter confusion!’  She looked around at the angry, buzzing crowd and her mind went into overdrive ‘I have to get home’ she thought ‘what to do, what to do?’  She grabbed the bags and the kids and headed for the taxi rank ‘Venice Airport’ she told the driver.  The arrived twenty minutes later and headed straight to the ticket desk, her hesitant query of ‘are there any flights to the UK’ receiving the expected ‘sorry, no’.  She noticed a flight to Paris showing on the board and felt the lightbulb ding above her head as she thought ‘Eurostar!’ feeling a glimmer of hope, she asked ‘Can you get us on that flight to Paris?’ ‘Yes, we have three seats available, the cost will be one thousand euro’.  ‘Shit’ she thought, ‘a thousand euro for flights and then the Eurostar, how am I going to do this?’  She opened her purse and fingered the ’emergency’ credit card her dad had given her, ‘this definitely classes as an emergency’ she thought ‘now to convince this girl to let me use it!’  She didn’t know if it was the desperation in her eyes or the pleading looks from her pretty children but her luck was in and the girl put her hesitation aside and let her use the card.  Four hours later they were on the Metro, heading for Gare du Nord and train tickets home.  Once again they were greeted with endless queues ‘seems all the Brits had the same idea’ she grumbled to the kids ‘well, we’ve got this far, let’s wait it out and get on a train’.  They waited for what seemed an eternity and eventually got to a ticket booth, ‘three tickets for any time today please’ she said ‘I’m very sorry Madame but we have no tickets for today, the earliest train you can get is at 3pm tomorrow’ he blushed as he continued ‘this is on fold down seats and the price will be the same as for the regular seats’.  She raised her eyebrows, as much of a protest as she could muster at this point and handed over a bundle of her dwindling cash ‘let’s go find a hotel’ she said to the kids.  They walked across to the Hotel Terminus Nord and couldn’t believe their luck as the receptionist sold them the last available room, she did a mental fist pump as she gave the couple behind her an apologetic look.  ‘We did it!’ she screeched as they fell on their beds, convulsed with exhausted laughter and relief.

She woke early the next morning, unable to keep the smile from her face as she reflected on the craziness of the last twenty four hours.  She thought about how she had sat back for the last fifteen years and let Drago handle all of their travelling, allowing him to convince her that she was too scatty to organise pretty much anything and ultimately destroying any faith she had in herself.  She called Theo, at university in Canterbury, and arranged for her to collect them from Ashford, they could all go home together.  The kids woke up and they continued their mini adventure, indulging her sons fascination with the Da Vinci Code, they set off for the Louvre.  Their Eurostar experience wasn’t the most relaxed, fold down seats not being too comfortable but she convinced the kids it was all part of the adventure, as she shifted her aching bottom every ten minutes.  They trudged out to the car park at Ashford and there was Theo in her beat up little Peugot, stuffed to the brim with Hippies and guitars ‘you don’t mind if Simon and Gabe join us do you mum?’ her eldest daughter chirped.

She took a deep breath as they squeezed themselves and their bags into the car, she wanted to scream but she had a lot of making up to do with Theo and she knew that this would be the first of many tests.

As she drifted off to the gentle guitar strumming from the Living Room, she felt her body releasing the last four years of tension and loneliness, the journey home had filled her with a sense of her own power and she felt a renewed confidence, she was looking forward to tomorrow…

A New Life – Part Two

It got mixed reviews.

She tested the waters with Drago, tried subtle hints to see if it would open him up to going back to the UK.  She should have known better, it would take a lot more to blast through that thick skin and arrogance.  After several weeks of  dropping ‘I really miss that about England’ or ‘that wouldn’t happen in England’ or less subtly ‘I hate this fucking place!’ into practically every conversation, she finally said it ‘I want to go home’.  He laughed at her as he walked out of the door, cock sure that it was never going to happen.

‘If you had the choice’ she asked her son ‘where would you live?’ his reply was a vehement ‘this is a disaster mum! why did you bring us here?’ ‘It seemed like a good idea at the time’ she replied sheepishly, her daughter, a little less dramatically replied ‘England, Mum’.  ‘Phew’ she thought ‘he’s outnumbered, he’ll have to agree’.  But no ‘the children don’t know what they want’ he said ‘and neither do you’.

She called her mum, idly chit chatted and then casually dropped the bombshell ‘mum, I hate it here, I really want to come home’.  Silence for a few moments and then nervous laughter ‘I can’t believe it! Really? You were so sure! I thought you were happy there?’  A barrage of questions and finally. ‘What about Drago?’  ‘I’m not too sure what he thinks, we’ve barely said two words to each other since I told him, I’m guessing he’s pissed off!’ she replied with a giggle, already feeling better now that the words were out and they were laughing their way through them.  Then she heard the only question she needed ‘What can we do?’

She told the two friends she had made that she’d decided to go home, she saw the sadness in their eyes, they would miss her and she realised with a jolt that she would miss them too, but they agreed it was the right thing, they had never understood why  she had left England to live there in the first place.  She told her English friends that she was coming home, expecting excited whoops (or at least a yay!) it was a little unsettling when some of her closest friends didn’t appear too entrhralled at the idea but she pushed the uneasy feeling aside, she was surely imagining it.

She took a trip home and started house hunting, with no money, no job and no idea if her husband would be coming back with them. The one thing she did have was the unquestioning support of her family, there were no judgements, just a simple ‘are you sure?’ her yes was all it took, they helped her to find a house, a school and her father assured her there was a job waiting for her in the family business, she knew how lucky she was, she dreaded to think what would have happened without the good fortune of having a loving, generous family.  ‘Imagine being stuck in a foreign land, no friends, no family, no money and no way out’ she thought.

It took just a week to find the perfect house, the owners shared her maiden name, the wife was an artist and there was a copy of Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone by their bed!  ‘This is meant to be my house’ she thought, smiling down at the book.  She thought that this could finally convince Drago that it was the right thing to do, he couldn’t possibly refuse to come back now; but as she watched her father sign on the dotted line, the niggling doubt was in her mind and she tried to block the hopeful thought that he wouldn’t come with them ‘he is the father of my children’ she thought guiltily

Arguing is destructive and stressful, being completely ignored is almost torture.  He wouldn’t talk to her.  Every time she mentioned moving back, the new house, how great the school was, he just sat there in angry silence, in complete denial, it was as if he felt that if he didn’t talk about it, it wouldn’t happen and then he would go out, again.

It had been two years since that dawning of realisation on the patio, two years of anger, fear, sadness and loneliness, sipping her stress away with grappa at the computer every afternoon; two years of painstaking planning and trying to convince Drago to go back with them, and now the date was set, they were flying home on 10th August, with or without him.  He was still non-committal, trying to pull her strings and control the situation, thinking that she’d back down for the sake of the family, he didn’t understand that he wasn’t a part of the family anymore, his misguided sense of self importance had blinded him to the fact that none of his family wanted to be around him and he was unable to believe that his wife and children didn’t want to live with him in ‘Paradise’.

Her brother arrived, the man with a van, and helped her load her meagre belongings, she decided to leave most of it behind, just taking their clothes, photos, books and a gorgeous old table that her friend Branka had given her.  ‘I don’t need any of this stuff’ she thought, as she looked  around the house ‘let him have it, it’s clearly more important to him than having a family’.  She tried one last time to talk to Drago, still hoping that he might open his eyes to her unhappiness and come to her rescue ‘I watch too many rom coms’ she thought with a smile.  They were strangers by now but she still didn’t have the strength to say the words to end it.  As she left to meet him, her wise daughter said ‘Mum, you need to divorce him, don’t worry about anything else’.  He grudgingly said that he would go back if he could find a job that paid enough.  She looked at him, wondering how it had taken her so long to see who he really was ‘don’t strain yourself Harry’ she thought, but she said ‘enough of this bullshit, we both know you aren’t coming back’ he smirked and said nothing.  After a while he managed to blurt out ‘if you turn my son against me I will take you to court’, she looked at him incredulously, and his daughter? ‘Balkan to the core’ she thought, she tried to tell him that he was doing a great job of that himself but he didn’t want to hear and so she sighed and as she thought ‘what an idiot’ she promised that she definitely wouldn’t turn his son against him.

The next morning, Drago thankfully absent, they waved her brother off in the van, stepped into her brother-in-law’s car and set off for Treviso Airport.