[This is a continuation of the story I began telling in a previous blog post.]
After visiting with my family in the London area, I applied and was accepted into the college that had been recommended to me by my brother-in-law Jim. Consequently, AR and I moved again in 1971 so that I could attend. We rented a nice furnished row house in Barnsley, a bus ride away from the college where I trained to be a high school teacher of Art and English. I loved being there, and I made a lot of friends. I can’t remember what AR was doing for work at this time, but I remember that we hung out with my college friends in the evenings and at weekends. They would often come over to the house and stay overnight. Sometimes I would come home and find people sleeping on the living room floor; it was that kind of an era.
Ultimately, though, these friendships caused the end of the marriage. Looking back, I think now that AR felt a loss of control over my affections, and he feared that my friendships were taking me away from him. He was right, but I didn’t know it at the time. I just liked having friends around. One of those friends was a good-looking musician and we definitely caught each other’s eye, but it didn’t go any further than that. AR, though, was furious about what he thought was my infidelity.
He and I argued about it one day in our bedroom and he hit me, knocking me on to the bed hard enough that I rolled off the bed on to the floor. No-one had ever hit me before and I was in shock. First, I couldn’t understand his rage and, second, I couldn’t believe he would physically attack me. From that moment on, my perception of him and the marriage changed completely. He had knocked me out of my delusions. He had also made me afraid of him and so in order to leave him, I had to wait until he was out of the house.
One of my college friends, Nancy, was a talented fashion designer and seamstress who was training to be a teacher as a backup plan to her goals as a designer. She had noticed over the course of our friendship that I was increasingly troubled by my relationship with AR. I don’t think I disclosed any details to her, but she was quite intuitive. At some point, she said to me, “If you ever need any help, just call me,” and she meant it. So, after I decided to leave AR, she was the person I called.
I kept it simple. I packed just one suitcase and picked up my mother’s Singer sewing machine. It seemed important to me that this machine, which had a lot of sentimental as well as practical value, should not be left behind. Also, I think I was trying not to worsen my already strained relationship with my mother.
That sewing machine had been used to teach me and my sisters how to sew, and it had also been how my mother repaired our clothes and household linens. She sometimes had to cut bedsheets in half and then sew them “sides-to-middle” when they wore out. It became symbolic to me of my mother’s constancy, frugality, and hard work. That machine meant a lot to both my mother and me, and I was afraid that if I abandoned it a family bond would be lost. I left behind everything else, including two cats and the cheque book.
After I had called Nancy and asked her to come and get me, she had to make quite a long drive from Brighouse to Barnsley, but she did not hesitate. She came right away. I have never forgotten that and I have always been very grateful to her willingness to drop everything for my sake. That act of generosity has inspired me to help other people over the years. At the time, though, I just stood at the side of the road praying that AR would not come home and see me leaving him.
Nancy and her husband, Keith, invited me to stay at their home until I could get back on my feet again. I remember sleeping on the couch in their living room for quite a while, and I was glad that AR had never met them and so he did not know where they lived. It was a respite that was exactly what I needed to get my mind and my life sorted out.
(Continued in Part 3)