Help Self

by Louise Whitworth on Thursday, 8 December 2011

Every day, before leaving to catch the number 25, I look in the hall mirror (which was a wedding present to Jim and I, 1975, teak, oval, the style has recently enjoyed a revival in Ikea, Jim has since told me) and I tell myself, out loud, that "it will be okay". Sometimes, if I haven't slept too well or if my head hurts from all the questions I ask myself, I emphasise the "will be" and raise my voice.

Paul McKenna has told me (although I must add, not personally, in his book, "You Can Get The Life You Deserve", courtesy of the Salvation Army shop, 99p) that if I repeat certain statements enough times my mind will start to believe and accept that they are true. So, for the past 162 days 8 hours and, let me see, 23, ah 24 minutes, I have been telling myself that I will be okay. I tell myself this because there is no one else to.

At the bus stop I tell Ethel, a fellow bus goer and the lady I have become acquainted with over the last 162 days 8 hours and 34 minutes that "yes" the weather is very warm for the time of year, April (the month Jim and I married), and "yes", I did watch the Royal Wedding (and cry for England and myself), and "yes", the bride did look amazing (Jim said I looked "divine" the day we got married). Don't let this banal talk mislead you into thinking Ethel is drab and dull or that she bores me silly each morning on my 15-minute journey to the office. Not at all! Ethel is a potential friend. She is part of my healing process.

Ethel has a lovely silver swinging bob and even though she's called Ethel (well come on, there is a certain image that an "Ethel" conjures up), she is a pretty sharp dresser if I do say so myself. Her nails are always buffed and polished, nifty shoes or boots on a dainty little foot, and some of the scarves she wears on an oh-so jaunty angle, are stunning. Over the winter months, she'd often be wearing a bright red pashmina draped over her camel coat for extra warmth. The scarlet against her sleek bob was very dramatic. I told her so and she seemed pleased.

In her book "How To Get The Most From Friendships And Relationships" by Martha C Perkins (British Heart Foundation, £1.99), she suggests that by complimenting others, "we get feelings of warmth and fulfilment by making others feels special". And I must say I felt good when I saw the faint traces of a blush in Ethel's smiling face. However, did I feel fulfilled? Hardly. That feeling left me approximately 162 days, 8 hours and, ah, you know the rest.

I think of what Ethel sees in me. What she has gleaned from me this past few months. I am 50 something (I still never tell, and even Jim was never too sure over the years). I like reading. I always have the latest rom-com poking out of my bag for all to see (never the self-help books). I aim to portray relaxed, easygoing, fun lady (and not, crazy, uptight, lonely lady).

She probably thinks that my hair is well cut and expensively coloured. It is. Being a lover of clothes herself, she may think that I have expensive clothes that are cut just right for my rounding figure. Obviously she's noticed my large feet, cramped into too-small shoes. Doesn't everyone? A habit from my youth. It drives… drove Jim mad to think of all the pain I inflicted on myself. Well come on, size eight and a half is not exactly dainty, is it! Ethel knows that I am happily, ecstatically, joyously married to Jim, of course, and we exchange sweet little anecdotes about our men most mornings.

"Morning Robbie."

Since getting the bus to work every morning I have met some lovely bus drivers. Robbie isn't one of them. He reminds me of someone on the verge of something. Not like a heart attack or anything like that, literally, like he's sitting on a verge. Perched on the edge of his seat, it doesn't look safe to me. How does he control the pedals? He is rather large and I do worry that maybe the momentum of his weight will drag him forward from his perch and he will bash his head off the steering wheel and we will all die, us passengers of faith, our lives in his hands. A little extreme, but a lady's got to distract her thoughts somehow.

I often plan these silly scenarios just to pass the time between getting into bed and falling asleep. I have always been credited with having a good imagination. It's not a credit at times like these. I imagine, mostly at night when I'm alone, what Jim might be doing now and then I stop myself, and pick up my Paul McKenna book.

Robbie asks questions. Lots. Sometimes when I'm up from my seat and I've said goodbye to Ethel and I'm waiting those few moments after getting up to arriving at the stop, he speaks. I have tried to time it so I literally jump out of my seat and then jump out of the door in a matter of seconds. The last time I did this, in my momentous effort to exit the bus, my size eight and a half's got stuck in an old lady's shopping trolley and the result wasn't pretty.

"What a good laugh you are," Jim used to say.

I'm not laughing now.

And I wasn't laughing then. Is there a shade on the Dulux colour wheel darker shade of puce?

Robbie knows I'm married to Jim. He knows I live in a street near to where I get picked up and he knows that every evening I go home to Jim. I think he thought he had a chance despite the gold band on my left hand. I made the mistake of smiling the first day I saw him. Obviously a big come on in his eyes. He asks about my weekends and I invent fantastic days in the Cotswolds, long walks across the hills, dinner in a lovely little restaurant in Chipping Camden, great value for money. The lies just drip off my tongue.

With my great imagination and ever-developing lying technique, I think the stage is calling. Maybe I've missed my vocation? Maybe I should be treading the boards rather than number crunching in a pokey little office on the High Street. However, said pokey little office is where I talk the talk and carry on as normal. I do it well. I'm good at it. Keeping it all in. Well, that is if you don't count the headaches and the constant knots in my stomach. The anticipation of getting found out.

Jim was always great with his emotions, happy to let it all go, a good weep at a soppy film, a hearty laugh when I made a joke, he read The Road Less Travelled. I mocked him! We laughed. We had fun. We still had sex?!

"Morning," I say, smiling as I begin to regale the girls in the office with my tales of Robbie.
"Since Jim's car packed up you've had a right old time on those buses haven't you," one of the girl's giggles.

"It's been a laugh a minute," I answer, deadpan.

I'm a laugh. Let the show go on. After all I have standards to maintain. I can't let them slip. I'm strong. That's what Jim reckoned.

The girls know about my burgeoning friendship with Ethel and how she's a natty little dresser. They wonder how Jim feels about me getting public transport for the past few months. They ask after him all the time and tell me we should all get together again soon, us girls and our other halves. I oblige, organise a meal for the eight of us in a couple of weeks time. I'm good.

The journey home is when it starts. The trembling and twitching. It's like my body is reacting to the day. Like something inside is bursting to get out. I can feel the tension pushing on my temples, throbbing in my neck. I am the Hulk-ess.

Pulsing lady with trembling limbs has not (yet) made any acquaintances on return journey home. I think the reason is obvious. I think the veneer starts to slip by the time the bus is outside the chip shop on Market Street. I think I look deranged. I think it could possibly be the happy couples queuing for their chippy tea, hand in hand, the whiff of the chips, the vinegar soaking through the paper, the expectation of the evening ahead, the bread, the butter.

Or, it could be the big advertising hoardings opposite that make me nauseous. Large headed, large teeth (are they sneering at my singleness?), happy, beautiful couples, advertising sofas, lithe limbs draped casually over each other, happy couples, happy couples, happy coup... oh, there's my stop.
Back home the oval, teak mirror shows a different me from this morning. I am flushed and slightly dishevelled. The walk from the bus stop has bedraggled me. I am cold inside. It's wet and windy outside and all I want to do is flop into Jim's arms and be warm again. But he's gone. I can admit it to myself, if to no one else. Where is Paul McKenna when you need him. His mantra has deserted me. I am a pathetic sight.

However, Jane S Morgan PHD, "Love After Losing" (Oxfam, £1.50), says "we must accept the truth in our hearts before we can learn to love again."

Coat off, work clothes in washing basket, PJs on. Red wine, out of a box with a neat little tap attached, in a tumbler! It would never have happened when Jim was here. I don't have to have standards when I'm alone.

"I am single". Gulp. Said it. Doesn't feel too bad.

"Single", a bit louder.

"Abaaaaandoned!" Too loud.

I am a good laugh, I have nice hair, large feet, I'm happy go lucky. Robbie fancies me. I have made a new friend. I can tell the truth. I will reveal all tomorrow. Well… one step at a time… now, where's that book, Alan Porter, "The world need not know your secrets" (PDSA, £3.50).

 

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