Another tale of just how long, winding and horribly twisted the road to the right person can be, this time told by Chloe Hammond.
My first boyfriend was a bit of a shit. I was a late starter due to living in the middle of nowhere and being desperately insecure. He was also insecure, but while my lack of self-worth manifested as an incapacitating need to please, his showed in a desire for control. It wasn’t a good mix, and I won’t go into the nasty details, but there were many. Nothing as straight forward as violence; I would have known what to do about that.
Once I had moved away to university, I finally got rid of him. Although I continued receiving regular spite sodden letters for another six months, I started to enjoy being young, free and single. I had lots of fun, no-ties sex, and dated a couple of men for varying lengths of time, until I met the boy who broke my heart, properly, the first time, the break it never recovers from.
The poor kid, he was all louche non-commitment, and brooding coolness. And I came along and hung all my hopes and dreams on him. My friends all thought he was weird, and couldn’t see the point of him, but I adored him. Almost as much as he adored himself.
We split up and drifted back together several times. Somehow I always knew when I’d hear his distinctive knock at the front door of my shared house. We didn’t have mobiles in those days, or even landlines in ratty student hovels, so I would just have to hope he’d turn up, late in the evening, if he came at all.
As we restarted university in our third and final year he ended it for good. And my heart broke. My mother described this first heart break as being like a crystal champagne flute shattering. You are never going to get all the pieces back together. I think that’s accurate. My tears, and the storms of my misery, turned the delicate broken shards into blunt and sturdy sea glass. I could never put it back together again, he took an essential fragment with him. I was glad he had. He had earned it by being completely unreachable, and he would keep it safe for me. With that piece safe, no one else could hurt me like that again. Never again would there be that shocking shattering of hope and innocence with the ice pick of reality. I was left with my tougher collection of jetsam to face the rest of life with.
Which was lucky, because my next boyfriend was a much more realistic proposition. He was the sweetest-natured lad, funny, caring, kind. He took on the almost impossible task of teaching me how to be loved, and he was very good at it.
It was the nineties. I was a troubled girl, therefore I listened to Alanis Morrisette. A lot. The lyrics of ‘Jagged Little Pill’ resonated deeply, along with ‘You Learn’. But there was another song on the CD, ‘Head Over Feet’, one I didn’t really listen to originally, but over time it became the song that spoke to me loudest, and taught me it was ok to be loved in this gentle, uncomplicated way.
Life is never so straight forward though, is it? One of the reasons ‘Head Over Feet’ fitted so perfectly was the allusions to overcoming initial resistance. And my sweet love had. I was very reluctant to get involved with a straightforward man who didn’t read poetry, or have dark complications. And one of the barriers I used was the fact that his heroin addict brother had burgled my shared house on my twenty-first birthday, about two weeks after we’d started seeing each other. I’d leapt straight back into bed with my brooding ex, and ended it with my sweetheart the next morning. He, however persevered, and his old fashioned courting won me over.
Little did I know though, that actually that incident, rather than being a one off from a drug addled sibling, was a sign of things to come. Somehow, over time, I became the bad guy to his family. It turned out his siblings were almost all either drug addicts or dealers. He came to France with me, I taught him to read, and over time his stutter almost vanished. But that made me the enemy to them.
When we came back to the UK, money was tight, and real life waited with a soul numbing lack of dream fulfilment. We argued, and his family stepped up to reclaim their own. We split up and he returned to living with his family, only this time instead of living in Newport with his just about legal parents, he lived in Cardiff with his siblings, and quickly slid into their ways. I had no idea how much.
We reunited and split up several times, until finally after several weeks apart we got back together, I moved up to Cardiff to continue my studies on a youth and community work course. We loved each other desperately, and really tried to make things work, but our lives were at the crux of moving in very different directions.
I didn’t understand that. I didn’t understand that being the one ‘straight’ person in a family of criminals and addicts would weigh heavily on his soul. I didn’t realise that to reject what they represented he would have to reject his blood and kin. I didn’t comprehend that as I tried to compromise and see the best in them, ignoring my innate trouble radar, I would actually be sacrificing chunks of myself and bending my being into unsustainable knots.
We got engaged at a big family party. We were drunk and happy and in love. I woke the next morning in a tangle of terror, but denied it. On the Friday of the August bank holiday we bought the engagement ring. He was sick in the street. Told me he had a virus. I still don’t know if it was actually terror or heroin that caused the vomiting. Is there really much difference?
On the Sunday his sister brought me a note to the pub where I worked. She couldn’t come in because she had stolen their charity box. I’ll never forget standing out the front in the beer garden in the scorching August heat, squinting my eyes to read his note. His suicide note.
After that my life became a nightmare, time stretched and distorted. We eventually found him and got him to the poisons ward, where I sat up all night with him, while he vomited up the thick black charcoal drink and paracetamols. The ambulance and hospital staff were all pretty useless, as was his G.P. I was left on my own to support him. I was twenty one.
After about two weeks his sister came to see us, and after she’d gone he told me that she’d told him how wonderful I was and how he was lucky to have me. He clung to me all night. Somehow I did not feel reassured. And I was right not to, when I got in from work the next day, he told me it was over. He took me to the station and I fled to West Wales, where my mother and best friend where.
I spent a surreal evening in the local pub, and a restless night dozing on my friend’s sofa, with the TV on. At some stage I became aware that Lady Diana was being shown a lot. Slowly, it dawned on me that she’d been killed. Everybody had a surreal couple of days.
The next few months were terribly hard. I didn’t have anywhere to live, and ultimately had to move back into the flat I’d shared with him. He wasn’t there because he’d tried to kill himself again, and he was under section. I had to clear up the sticky Tia Maria glass and empty pill packets and the nest of blankets he’d made to die in.
One night they let him out for a family party, and I don’t know what they gave him, but I know he turned up at the door and tried to stab himself in the stomach with scissors while I tried to pull them out, screaming and crying and babbling.
A few weeks later, I had found a new job in a different area of Cardiff, and a new flat I could share with a friend who had decided to move to Cardiff to find work. I went to see him in the hospital where he was sectioned. We went to sit together in the quiet gardens, away from the shrieking in the ward. He explained that he needed to say good bye. Needed my blessing to separate his life from mine. I was scared about where this would leave him, and started to tell him so, but he pointed out that this was the doctor’s advice. They felt I tried to control him. I looked into his empty eyes and saw no trace of the carefree jester who had us laughing around France. So, I did as he begged and let him go, although it felt like letting go of someone’s hand when they were going to be swept away by a raging current, but he was telling me this was what he needed.
A few weeks later, I was on a violently happy night out with acquaintances and I bumped into him. He looked so well, so like him again. I smiled and laughed, and agreed to meet for coffee. Then hid in the toilets and cried and cried. Then I wiped up my tears and grabbed the first man I came across. He’d do to make sure I never went back.
That sweet man and I tried to be friends, on and off over the years, but heroin had slid her claws deep and swept him away. I saw his mother last summer and she told me he died three years ago, he was not even forty. And I mourned my innocent fool, who taught me I was loveable.
The poor man I grabbed that night was in for a rough ride. I didn’t love him, often didn’t even like him, and friends would gasp over the way I spoke to him. Sometimes I feel guilty about how I treated him, but then I remember the hundreds of pounds of phone bill he ran up phoning sex lines, and how he dug through all my belongings to find diaries and letters and read them all. And I realise that no, he deserved a lot of my anger, if maybe not all. My only crime was not dumping him sooner, but believe me, he didn’t make that easy. Even a year later my friend found him, sodden, crouching in the rain, on the door step opposite our house, watching me through the windows. ‘No,’ she told him. She didn’t think I’d take him back.
After him I tried a personal ad in the Guardian, sure that I would be able to advertise for exactly what I wanted, and that person would step forward, and that would all be marvellous. Well, no, that’s not how it goes at all. After some very bizarre dates, I was just about to give up all together when I met the final man to get me over my whole Daddy-didn’t-love-me, let-men-walk-all-over-me bollocks.
The short and less sordid version is that he went from a man who refused to commit, and lied and cheated in an open relationship – Why????? There was no need, it was an open relationship! – to actually kneeling on the floor in front of me telling me he worshipped me. And he wasn’t drunk. This was what I had told myself I wanted, but he repulsed me. Of course it was not as simple as being revolted and walking away. I was still caught up in ignoring my instincts and beating myself up with boyfriends, but something changed that day and I did leave him soon afterwards after a very ugly argument.
I stayed single for the next six months, and studied a counselling course so I learned to understand myself and the games I was playing better. I became a lover of existentialism, and got over myself. My friend and I spent an evening talking about the kind of man I needed, not wanted, needed. We recognised that I would need someone earthy to root me, strong enough to withstand my foibles and contradictions. We called him Beardy Man. Beards were not trendy at the time, but we recognised I needed someone that essentially male. Not male in the chauvinistic, patriarchal society way, but rather in soul deep, mellow, content with themselves way that bearded men epitomised for us. I finished the conversation by laughing and pointing out that I absolutely did not have time for a relationship at the moment anyway, and she wisely advised me that when the right man came along I’d find time. I sneered.
I met him a few weeks later. I didn’t like him. I had taken a job through an agency and was travelling to meet my new temporary boss. I was filled with the anticipatory fizz that always meant I was about to meet someone important. So I was disappointed when my new boss turned out to be very nice, but absolutely not my type. I completely disregarded the men sweeping the steps as I left the office.
Over the next few weeks as the caretakers popped into the elderly supported accommodation I was temporarily wardening, I got to know him, and thought he was a dick. And a cocky dick at that. I eventually learnt that his wife had left him six months previously, and taken their son with her, on the week of his first birthday.
One day none of the other staff were around, and it was just he and I having a cuppa and a cigarette for our morning break. He dropped the bravado, and I saw a glimpse of the hurting man underneath, who was interested in psychology programmes and what makes people tick. But it was only a glimpse, and even as he invited himself and his friend along for a night out in Cardiff I did not think anything of it. He is a lot older than me, and I never, ever mixed work and pleasure.
However, on that night out we had the best laugh ever, and when he kissed me at the end of the night it wasn’t like any other kiss I’d experienced. The relationship we found ourselves in wasn’t like any other I’d ever had either. There was a depth and a calm and stillness at the core of our time together which was new to me, and overcame all the difficulties of being in a relationship with an older, twice married man who has children.
We’ve been together fourteen and a half years, married for almost eleven. Don’t get me wrong, there are times when I could happily throttle him, when I could walk out of the house and never look back. But underneath the surface annoyance, or ego clashing against ego, of hurt feelings and over tiredness, there is something joined, something of me completed by him that I would never severe. I’d haemorrhage.