5 years ago - May 18th, 2014.
I am exhausted. The twins were born three days ago, though it seems three years have gone by. I've spent the past seventy-two hours attempting to rest, but they don't sleep long enough for that to happen. Then there's the fact that I don't feel comfortable falling asleep when I have two new-borns. I have the 'nothing bad can happen to them if I'm awake' mentality. Don't get me wrong, they are the most important people in my life, but I wouldn't have minded staying longer at the hospital. That way, I'd have the help I so desperately need.
The only chance I get to escape everything is the few minutes I spend on the toilet each day. I'm sat on the loo now and with my baggy trousers and underwear at my feet, I cry. I shouldn't. I know I should be over the moon. At twenty-one, I have just spent fourteen hours in labour with only the hospital staff to help me through. Don't get me wrong, they were kind, they just weren't him. I needed Joel there, but he was a no show.
My twins came into the world two weeks early, covered in red gunk and screaming their little lungs out. Rowan, my daughter arrived first at 7lb10 and then James came along at 7lb4. They cried and cried while the nurses checked them over, only stopping when they were placed on my bare chest. With an overwhelming feeling of love in my heart, I held onto them with all the strength I had left.
They are my world already. I've come to the conclusion that I'll die for them if needs be.
But that doesn't mean I'm happy.
The stream of tears only falls harder as I use the loo roll to wipe away my pee. When I look up, I catch my reflection in the mirror on the wall opposite. My eyes are red and puffy, the bags under them dark and screaming for attention. My hair hasn't been washed in three days, leaving it matted and greasy. The body that I was once extremely proud of is now a mangled wreck. My boobs are large and painful, my stomach sagging uncomfortably. And I'm certain, if I were to look down below, I'd scream. Labour, it turns out, is painful and destructive.
"How are you doing, sexy?" I mutter to my reflection.
The only thing I have to my advantage is that I made it through the labour. Damn, the female body is a wonderful, powerful thing, isn't it?
Though I don't feel beautiful, I do realise that what I achieved is in fact, beauty.
Once I'm done in the bathroom, I approach their bedroom. My beautiful twins are restless. Both are wriggling in their bassinets, both with their mouths open wide. Though, only Rowan is crying. I take her into my arms, the butterflies not once subsiding and I suppose they won't, at least for a while. I will be living on pins for the next few months as I attempt my hand at motherhood.
That's something I never thought I'd experience. I did have a plan. After my years at ballet school, I spent a year in New York and it was supposed to be my big break. I wanted to become a professional ballerina, but one missed period later and a dozen tests, I found out I was expecting. I could barely hold my arabesque by the time I was six months gone. So, I quit. I quit my dreams because Joel's had come true.
He always wanted to be a father, and though he mentioned it on our first date, I took no notice of it. But, then it happened. We discussed terminating the pregnancy, but I couldn't bring myself to do that to him. It was the look on his face when I broke the news to him that I'll always remember. Tears had threatened to spill down his cheeks and he clung to me for a while afterwards. Joel was excited but I was terrified.
I only allowed myself to become excited on the day of the baby shower. I think I realised that I had all I needed for a great life. My husband's enthusiasm was beyond compare and it helped me appreciate the adventure we were about to face together.
Something I thought would last forever ended pretty soon after. Much to my surprise and heartbreak, Joel's attitude changed. He spent less and less time with me and his smile became non-existent. That's why I'm here alone today. With my daughter in my arms, I try my hardest to fight the negative thoughts that threaten to consume me. I really hate to think that the twins are only here because Joel wanted to be a father. Did I want to be a mother? It's too late to answer that now.
I stare down at my daughter. More tears threaten to fall down my cheeks, but I blink them away furiously. It's stupid, I know Rowan is too young to know what's going on but I don't want to cry in front of her. I've never been a cryer. I grew up with strict parents who didn't answer to tears, so I learnt to show my emotions in other ways. I'd like to think I'm a strong woman but Joel's vanishing act is a game changer.
A knock sounds through the house.
Fortunately, Rowan has settled slightly so I place her gently down. I allow myself the excitement of believing Joel's come home. But... he has a key. Why would he be knocking? With a frustrated groan, I approach the door. It swings open to reveal my best friend, Lydia Rome. Without saying a word she steps through the threshold and throws her arms around me. I can only offer her a weak hug in return.
"I am so sorry I couldn't get back any sooner!" She says, catching my arms as she steps away. Holding onto them gently, she tilts her head to the left. Her blue eyes are full to the brim with sympathy.
I wave away her words, "You were on holiday. Don't be stupid."
"Where are the beautiful babies?" She asks.
"You can see them if you're quiet," I lead her through the house. "How do you know they're beautiful? They could have pig snouts or warts."
"They're yours, so they're beautiful."
My lips curve upward slightly at her words. We reach the bedroom and I move to the side so that Lydia can see the two of them. It seems now that someone other than myself is around, they've settled down. I can tell that Lydia loves them already because when I turn to face her, she's crying. Not uncontrollably like me earlier, but still. I yawn, wrapping an arm around her shoulders.
"Where is Joel then?" As we're hugging, she mentions my husband.
"No idea. I haven't seen him in two weeks."
Her eyes turn to saucers, "You're joking, right?"
"No... I'm not, Lydia."
"That fucking asshole!"
I grab her arm, dragging her behind me away from the twins. When we reach the living room, I break down again. My body is not strong enough to fight, so I collapse down onto the edge of the sofa. Whatever anger I felt towards Joel is long gone. It has been replaced by sadness.
"He is, isn't he?"
And as I weep into my palms, my words come out muffled. With my tiptoes on the floor, I bring my thighs up before letting my head fall. My hair falls around my face as a sort of protective shield. When Lydia sits by side, she wraps her arm over my shoulders before tugging at a strand of my hair. She says my name softly, forcing me to look at her.
"Please don't let him do this to you."
"What exactly? I can't hate him can I? He gave me those babies! But, Lydia, and here's the real problem... I never would have had children if it weren't for him and the plans he made for our family. I quit what I loved to start this journey with him and now he can't even be bothered to show up!"
She sighs but as my words sink in, she doesn't loosen her grip on my shoulder. "I know. I know. The only thing you can do now is to love those little ones."
"They already mean the world to me. I just hate to think that I-"
"Then don't think like that. Forget Joel until his sorry ass shows up. They are yours and if he can't be arsed being a father then he doesn't deserve them."
Lydia has always been wise. We're friends because she settles me whenever I become overwhelmed by any sort of emotion. Lydia understands me, but she doesn't understand my situation.
Then again, neither do I.
When I wake up it feels as though I haven't spent the past two hours asleep. My entire body still craves rest, but a noise that came from the kitchen catches the attention of the mother within me. I must check on the twins in order to be able to fall back asleep easily. Otherwise, I'll be tossing and turning for the rest of the night. Once I've fumbled for the lamp switch, I stretch my arms above my head. The action forces me to notice how much my body craves exercise. Or at the very least, yoga. Every single muscle of mine is full of tension.
Joel is standing with his back to me, his arms no doubt taking his body weight as he leans against the kitchen counter in front of him. With a final glance at the twins, I gently pull the door of their bedroom shut leaving them in dreamland. I take a few precious moments to study my husband. He cranes his neck backward before palming at his shoulders. He does this a few times, as though trying to rid himself of unnecessary pain. As though he's the one who's been couped up with newborns for four nights. I want to run at him and scream. He needs to hear everything that has been rushing through my mind. Instead, I tentatively take a step forward.
Without realising, I step directly over the only floorboard in the home that creaks under my weight. It sounds through the silence and Joel turns on the spot, his eyes meeting mine under the dim lighting. He's dressed in a pair of old, ripped jeans. In fact, they are the very same pair he wore on our first date. I remember because of how quickly they ended up on my bedroom floor that night.
To say he looks tired is too easy. The man stood in front of me looks dishevelled. The cream, wrinkled t-shirt he wears is the last thing I saw him in, and that was two weeks ago. God knows where he's been staying, but he hasn't been sleeping. That I can tell by the bags underneath his gold-flecked eyes. He also hasn't shaved; a sign that something is the matter. Joel looks just like his father when he allows his beard to grow. They have never gotten along. He hates it if I mention the similarity and eventually resorted to shaving every few days in a bid to distance himself from his father. His job as a barman never really effects him, so why does he look so broken?
I have no idea what to do at the moment. All I want is for him to tell me straight what's going on inside his head. And if he doesn't have a fantastic excuse for missing the birth of his children, then let god have mercy on him. I've never liked conflict, but with all of the hormones and angry blood surging through my veins; I'm willing to give him a piece of my mind.
Crossing the hallway towards him is easy enough. It's even a piece of cake to meet the uncertain, distant stare in his eye. What's difficult is finding the words to express how upset I am with his recent behaviour. I pull my yellow cardigan around my shoulders, covering the goosebumps that have appeared and open my mouth to speak.
"Joel, where were you?" I could kick myself for the way my voice gives away my pain.
The smallest of groans leaves his parted mouth, "I can't do this any more, Roni."
I'm not at all surprised, but to say I'm not taken aback by the way he decides to tell me, is a lie. He says it without a hint of confusion or emotion. As though he's spent the past two weeks coming to terms with his decision.
That's exactly what he's been doing, isn't it?
Joel seems to have found his voice because once he's sure I heard him correctly, he continues.
"I don't think we're going to work out... I- I can't do this." He gestures between us with a wild hand.
"What? You don't think we're going to work out? Joel, we're married. I just pushed your children out of my body! How dare you come home after two weeks and tell me you can't do this." I pause briefly. "You've already done this! What's the saying? You make your bed so you have to lie in it? That's it! Joel, stop staring at the floor. Look at me!"
He does so, our eyes meeting for the third time tonight. "Roni, let me explain."
"This wasn't an easy thing for me to do. I need you to know that. The truth is... I was planning on leaving you nine or so months ago, but you found out you were pregnant and I thought that maybe a kid could save us. It was naive of me to think that way. A baby can't help us, Roni. It won't help us treat one another any better."
I'm certain that the expression on my face is priceless. Never have I ever heard such bullshit. "That's hilarious. You say that as though we can just return the twins. They aren't just clothes you can get a refund for because they suddenly aren't what you want! Damn you, Joel. How could you do this to me? You proposed to me! You told me you wanted nothing more than to be a father!"
And although the two of us have been whispering up until now, I raise my voice to help me get my point across.
"I know what I said, but I changed my mind."
It's simple. His sentence is a simple construct, but I can't wrap my head around it.
With a slow nod of my head, I ask the words that need asking. "Is there someone else?"
"I'd never do that to you."
"Oh please, don't give me those puppy dog eyes. If you're willing to walk away from your dream of being a father then you're willing to cheat on me."
"I didn't." This out of everything, is the point he wants to get across.
"Fine!" With heavy eyes, I step away from him and around the counter. When I'm done searching through the cupboards, I slide to my bottom and rest my tired body against the cupboard door. "Don't mind me. I'm just trying to figure you out."
Joel comments, "And a £30 bottle of Cava will help with that?"
"Of course." I hold the bottle out to him. "Open it, would you?"
"You no longer have the right to say my name like that," I press forward with the bottle until he takes it and reluctantly pops the cork. As it flies across the kitchen, I brace myself for the twins' cries, but they don't stir. "Rowan and James. That's what our babies are called, by the way." I say once I've swallowed a mouthful of alcohol. Joel's body is on the verge of giving up, just like mine. Because of that, he drops himself to the floor too.
"You don't care do you?" I ask. "Joel, I thought you of all people, knew what you wanted?"
"I thought I did too."
His submission really does surprise me.
At first, but then it all begins to make sense.
Joel has no idea what he wants in life because everything he told me was a lie. He's lied to me the entire time we've been together. And no, I don't want to hear why. I don't want to hear another stupid excuse because I don't think my heart can take it. It already hurts too much... It all hurts too fucking much.
I hug the bottle to my chest before I speak, "I have one more question. Do you want them? I say them because I am way past the point of caring if you want me or not."
What he says next hurts more than anything else.
"Roni. I- I... No."
I don't want to give him the satisfaction of seeing me crumble. He can't see me cry. Instead, I close my eyes. "In that case, you can get out of our lives."
It doesn't take Joel long to pack up. The fact that everything in this house that he owns can fit into two suitcases and a backpack is enough to tell me what I should've worked out in the first place. He was never really a part of this marriage. I don't make a move to get off the floor until he's out of the front door. Only then do I tip the remains of the bottle down the sink, before I throw a handful of cold water over my face.
It isn't until I enter the twins' bedroom do I allow myself to fully give up. With a glance at their sleeping forms, I crumble to the floor between their bassinets. There's nothing I can do to stop the harsh, loud sobs that leave my lips apart from attempting to use my palm to muffle them. I ugly cry until the early hours of the morning, unable to move or think about anything other than Joel's betrayal.