Over five years ago, I stood in a room with a man in Marlborough Town Hall and made a series of promises in front of our families, our friends and a registrar.
We promised to love each other, to care for one another and to grow old together. He took my hand and I took his, we exchanged rings and in so doing welcomed each other into one another’s families.
A little over a year ago, I left.
The promises made that sunny day in August had been broken and the reasons we decided to get married had fallen away, been forgotten or lost in the intervening years and I realised that I was not the same person anymore.
I don’t remember the moment, the hour or the day it happened, but over the course of more than five years together, I had forgotten what it was that made me happy. In becoming a ‘we’ I had mislaid ‘me’.
I have to remind myself that I was still young when I got married and that I had met him only 18 months after my initial HIV diagnosis. It’s taken a lot of therapy to uncover what I think I already knew; that I married him because he was kind. I got married because he was the first person since my HIV diagnosis who was unfazed by it and with whom I could begin to feel normal.
It would’ve been the basis for a good friendship but we should never have married.
Over the years we were together I moved away from my friends and family to be with him in Hereford, I suppose it was a fresh start which was sorely needed. If I could distance myself from the scene of the drama that had engulfed my life, I might be able to start again. In my attempt to gain a fresh start I gave up too much of myself and what made me happy. That and a very rough time starting HIV treatment meant that two years into the relationship our sex life vanished without trace, though this may also have had something to do with my ex’s other man…
Even then it took another three years to finally admit what I had known in my heart for a long time, that we were friends, we shared a bed but not much else, and that with everything peeled back, we didn’t make one another happy.
Leaving was just the beginning, I had discussed it with my family and close friends who serve as a sort of ‘Dating High Command’ and made the point that to stay would be easy but that it would be wrong, whereas to leave, though infinitely harder, was the right thing to do. I was moving on.
My ex and I agreed we would separate then dissolve the partnership after two years once we were sure and settled.
The impact of leaving was huge, I still had my job in Hereford and so I moved out on the 5th of November, which is probably the reason I love bonfire night and the fireworks, – at the time it felt like my very own Independence Day.
I moved in to a small two bed Victorian terrace which I decided to share with a friend, my wage wasn’t great and so for two months I lived simply, eating rice, beans on toast and the occasional pot-noodle.
On a side note; as a foodie, I’m willing to admit that the pot-noodle is akin to heresy, but they are a guilty pleasure of mine in the same way that some men like to dominated and some women like Gérard Depardieu. Oddly enough that particularly corpulent Frenchman is what I envisage myself looking like if I were ever to cave in to my gastronomic desires and ingest nothing but pot-noodles, gin and a ready supply delightfully moist sponges, but I digress.
I couldn’t afford a bed initially and so, for a few weeks at least, slept on the floor.
I didn’t talk about it much, the friends I’d had while married no longer spoke to me, most had known my ex before me and the rest didn’t know how to approach me now I was, to them at least, different. I didn’t discuss my marriage, leaving, or my difficult circumstances with the new friends I made because of a deep sense of pragmatism, – my marriage was in the past. To look back would only have hurt more.
It was a mistake. By not talking about the pain I was obviously feeling I let it grow rather than dealing with it. I sought comfort in the arms of inappropriate men (and I use the plural quite deliberately) – I didn’t care who they were and to my shame, there are some whose names I can’t remember. The thought that drove me was that to feel the warmth of another man, to feel his skin, his touch, however fleeting, however hurried, helped me to fell less alone.
Shortly after Christmas I was made redundant, local government budgets were being cut to the bone, there was precious little money to spare and I, or at least the role I occupied, was deemed to be surplus to requirements. I got home from work that same day and found a letter from a firm of solicitors representing my ex confirming that they were pushing for an immediate divorce.
I sat down and did some sums, with the estimated legal costs it quickly became evident I couldn’t afford the house.
It was at that moment I realised that I had hit the bottom, there was nothing else that could go wrong. It was that night I tried to take my own life. I came a little too close to being successful.
I spent the next three weeks in hospital, during which time I was visited by old friends, my loving family and a new friend, – my own solicitor.
After discussion with the medical team it was decided that I should move back to Hampshire, – recuperation and recovery would take time and with the job ending and the marriage officially over I no longer had anything tying me to Hereford.
Since moving back I realised that there are things I miss, – when you divorce someone you don’t just say goodbye to them, you say goodbye to their family too, I was lucky to have a good relationship with my in-laws and because of an unfortunately bad hay fever season when my niece and nephew were young, they grew up calling me uncle sneeze.
The hardest thing for me to realise was that no one will ever call me uncle sneeze again. I also miss the friends who felt they weren’t able to maintain a friendship with me, but if I’m honest, I love my life. It’s not what I planned and it certainly doesn’t look the way I thought it would, but it’s the only one I’ve got, and I plan on making it a good one.
I’ve finally realised that I don’t need to try to feel normal or natural, or even to date based on whether someone makes my HIV seem less scary because the truth is, I am a normal guy, I am as natural as I’m ever going to be and I shouldn’t have to settle for someone who makes me feel normal in spite of my HIV.
No one should settle for being loved in spite of something.
After everything I’ve been through I’m settling for nothing less than fireworks.
Steve Cummins (@SteveoftheMarch on Twitter)
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