Chapter 16

SOPHIE

I was still smarting after our row a week later even though I’d said to myself that this was counter-productive. We were just about speaking to each other, if nothing else because of the children, but we weren’t close. We didn’t curl up round each other in bed as we did usually. I knew I was biting off my own nose to spite my face. I wanted to be close to Tim and I knew if I made the effort I could seduce him. It didn’t take much to get him aroused. And if we made love the row would become history, like other rows we’d had. But I was still resentful and wanted to punish him for what I thought was unacceptable behaviour. However, as the days passed I couldn’t quite see why I was so angry. I know we’d both said some awful things to each other in the car going home but they were just what we did when we rowed – part attack, part defence. But wasn’t Tim within his rights to want to go home so he’d be in bed by midnight on a weekday? My resolve was weakening and I wasn’t sure I was in the right anymore. But why didn’t Tim make any effort to make it up? Why should it always be me?

Anyway I was pleased this morning when Sarah rang and suggested meeting up for lunch next day. I thought if I had a good time I would be more likely to make it up with Tim. Perhaps a bit of time away would break my mood.  So I decided to take the day off work and persuaded Sarah to make a day of it. She was the only friend I felt I could confide in and I thought talking to her about what had happened might help me. I picked her up at about 10 and drove to Chester where we parked in the multi-storey, walked along the city wall to the town centre, where we had a coffee and a pleasant chat. Sarah was still enamoured with Richard who apparently had already proposed to her. She wasn’t sure whether she’d got over Clive yet and didn’t want to just get engaged on the rebound so she had asked him to give her a bit of time. I’d met him several times, most recently at the Chinese banquet a week ago. I told her I thought he seemed nice but it did seem a bit soon. Then it was time to go shopping and I still hadn’t told her about my problems.

However at lunch I made sure I had my turn. Firstly I let her know that I’d spoken to Tim about the rape. She knew I’d been putting this off for ages and was pleased to hear that he’d been very understanding and not at all judgemental about it and that he had respected my decision not to take it further. She congratulated me on having the courage to tell Tim and said that she’d known that Tim would react like that. Then I told her that I’d found him watching porn on his computer. She was completely un-fazed about that too.

“Do you watch porn?” I asked tentatively.

“Doesn’t everybody? Clive and I sometimes used to watch it together. It got us into the mood. Actually, to be honest I found most of it a bit much but it did make Clive randy so I just pretended to enjoy it too.”

“Oh! I don’t think I could do that. I’m too much of a prude and I find it disgusting. Not that I’ve really given it a try. I just saw what Tim was watching.”

A bit later on after Sarah had told me a bit more about her and Richard I told her about the time in the pub when I’d been flashing a guy.

“What are you like?” was all she said.

Sarah then asked me how Tim and I were getting on. When I said fine she said that it didn’t seem fine the other night at the Chinese. She said everyone had noticed that something was going on between us and had been upset by it because Tim and I had always been so lovey-dovey in front of everyone before.

“Oh, that,” I said not wanting to elaborate. Then I had second thoughts. Sarah had been a good friend and she’d obviously kept my rape secret.

“You’re right things aren’t that great at the moment. I don’t know what to do about him. He doesn’t seem to want to make friends, certainly doesn’t make any effort with my friends. He seems distant these days and he seems jealous.”

“What do you mean, jealous?”

“Well he seems to resent my friends and things like our jaunt today.”

“Well he has to work hard doesn’t he? And I don’t want to be presumptuous but you do go away a lot and leave him on his own.”

“Do you think so? I’d go away with him if only he’d come. All he says is that he needs to get the business off the ground and he can’t afford to staff it more than he already does.”

“Don’t you think he has a point there?”

“I suppose so but I don’t see why his business should restrict me.”

“Except that you’re married to him and marriage is a team thing.”

“Whose side are you on?”

“Yours of course. I’m just playing devil’s advocate. I’d take Tim off your hands anytime.” She winked as she said that.

“Don’t talk stupid. I love him and ’till death do us part’’.

I could see Sarah’s point but I couldn’t go along with it. I wasn’t used to being restricted on holidays. All my life I’d had holidays almost whenever I wanted. Dad and Mum, when they were together, were always swanning off somewhere and leaving us. I thought I should be able to do the same.

We continued shopping, my favourite hobby, almost an occupation as Tim said and I forgot all about the row and my worry about the way our relationship was going. I did go a bit over the top in the spending department and had to hide some of my purchases from Tim when I got home. I did try a few items on for him later but he didn’t seem interested. One comment – Haven’t you already got several of those? – really got up my nose, although I knew he wasn’t wrong.

The day out did nothing to repair our broken relationship. I was resentful that Tim wouldn’t accept me as I am, wouldn’t join in my love of clothes and shopping. His disapproval made me feel superficial and uncomfortable. So we were no closer in spite of my hopes earlier in the day that my change of mood would enable me to get things back on track.  One thing Sarah had said had got to me – the fact that I go away a lot.  I’m supposed to be part of the nursery business but if I’m honest I haven’t really been putting heart and soul into it.  Perhaps Tim’s disappointed that I put my own entertainment above my work?  Perhaps that’s part of the problem?

I resolved there and then to take my role in the business seriously.  I thought if I went in 3 full days a week I could really make a difference. 

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I was in John Lewis in Manchester with Tracey when the my phone rang. 

“Are you Mrs Sophie Smith?” The tone of voice slightly unnerved me. I was used to getting rid of cold callers who would probably ask a similar question but somehow I knew this was different.

“Who’s calling?”

“It’s the police. We need to contact Mrs Smith as a matter of urgency.”

“I’m Mrs Smith, what’s the problem?”

“Your husband has been involved in an accident.”

“Oh what sort of accident? Is he OK?”

“A serious accident, I’m afraid. He’s currently in Leighton Hospital in Crewe. I think you should go there as a matter of urgency. I’m sorry to alarm you.”

The call hit me like ton of bricks and I just felt my legs give way beneath me. When I came to I was surrounded by people looking down at me concerned.  Tracey helped me to my feet.

“I’m OK. I’ve just had some bad news.  Tim’s in hospital.”

Tracey collected my shopping bags and suggested I go to the cafe for a cuppa to calm me down before I did anything else. I couldn’t relax though and only managed to swallow half the hot tea before I pulled Tracey up and raced for the car. I was so flustered, first of all I couldn’t find my car fob, then I couldn’t locate the car park ticket – more haste less speed I said to myself.  Tracey’s entreated to calm down didn’t help.

I drove much faster than usual, ignoring speed limits and not caring if I got caught. I don’t think I should have been driving at all. Tracey kept asking me to slow down.  When I arrived at the hospital I ignored the car park machines again risking getting a fine. All I wanted to do was to find out if Tim was all right. Obviously I had no idea where he would be but the receptionist was very helpful when I told her my husband had been involved in an accident. She paged for a nurse to come and get me and we were taken through to A and E. They sat me down, pressed a cup of tea into my hand to sooth my nerves and told me Tim was in the operating theatre so that I couldn’t see him for a while. They couldn’t tell me what had happened or what they were doing. They didn’t know when there would be any more information. I sat dumbstruck for a few minutes but I couldn’t settle. I felt I had to do something. Tracey was great.  She did her best to comfort me and then suggested I should let Tim’s parents know about the accident.

His father, John, answered and when I explained that Tim had had a serious accident and was in the operating theatre he said he and Wendy would drive over immediately but as they lived two and a half hours away not to expect them until at least 2000. Then I thought I ought to let Mum, who was looking after the children, know I might be late home and that she should sort out some food for them.   I decided not to tell her what had happened as I realised I would have to think carefully about what information the children should be given.  I thought |’d fill Mum later in when the children were in bed.

Tracey meanwhile had phoned Dad but had instructed him not to come in.  He would have been disruptive and that would have been counter-productive.

I still couldn’t rest so I asked the nurse if they could get hold of the relevant police department so I could at least find out what had happened. That proved impossible and I spent a frantic couple of hours alternately pacing about or sitting drinking disgusting coffee. 

It was a huge relief when John and Wendy arrived.  Persons who were as concerned as me, persons I could share my anxiety with. We collared several nurses and men in white coats to see if they could get us any information but although a couple of them said they’d try to find out we were kept in the dark until almost midnight. John bought more coffee for me, tea for Tracey and sandwiches for the four of us. I suggested Tracey should go home.  I can’t remember what we talked about after she’d left but I did find out that Tim had left Cwm Dinas just after lunch with a trailer load of plants destined for the nursery.

When we’d almost given up hope of anyone being able to help us a man in a white coat approached us.

“Are you Mrs Smith?” He said addressing me.

“Yes,” I said in unison with Wendy. “I’m Tim’s wife and John and Wendy are his parents.”

“Follow me please,” and he led us into a room with a few upholstered chairs.

From his demeanour and the look on his face I knew something bad had happened. In spite of this I wasn’t expecting what came next.

“I’m afraid your husband, your son, has sustained serious head injuries and is currently on a life support machine. At this stage we don’t know whether he’ll be able to survive on his own but I think you should prepare yourselves for the worst. At least I can inform you he is not in pain. His head injuries which must have occurred on impact have rendered him unconscious.”

I went completely numb. Wendy broke down into tears. John tried to comfort us both.

“Can we go and see him?” I asked.

“Yes but at this stage you can only see him through a glass wall. We need to protect him from any possible source of infection.”

Peering through at him was totally unsatisfactory. At least I wanted to be able to hold his hand, feel his warmth. And he looked so vulnerable there with bandages covering most of his head and face and tubes coming out of his nose and arm. Machines showing things like I suppose his heart beats and his brain activity surrounded his bed.

After a few long minutes I broke the silence and suggested Tim’s folks came back with me so they were near Tim for the morning. They drove me home as I didn’t feel able to. We discussed how we would let the children know on the way back. Mum had put them to bed and was watching the box. I burst into tears when John told Mum what was going on. I went upstairs to see if the children were asleep. I couldn’t bear to think how upset they’d be if the worst happened.  

Surprisingly I did sleep soundly and was woken by Di coming in for a cuddle, already in her school uniform. She wanted to know why Dad wasn’t in bed with me so I had to tell her that he was in hospital. She wanted to go and see him and I thought I would take them there in stead of letting them go to school in case Tim didn’t survive.

We all went in John’s car and again peered through the glass at Tim. The children were surprisingly matter of fact about it. John and Wendy looked after them while I talked to the doctor. The news wasn’t good. They didn’t know if Tim would survive once they switched off the life support machine. His brain was very damaged and if he did survive they didn’t think he would ever regain consciousness.

Somehow I was able to absorb this information and plan in my head what to do. I would go home and tell Dad the news. I would phone Gordon and suggest he might like to go and see Tim. I would try to let the children know that Dad might never come home. Tim and I had on several occasions discussed our views should something like this happen and I knew what I had to do. Tim would not want to live as a cabbage. He said life is good when you’re healthy but a burden if you’re in a state like that the doctor outlined. So if he survived after the machine was switched off I would instruct the doctors of our wish to let him quietly slip away. I would tell Tim’s parents of this.  Anyway he’d written a written will which I think has some sway.

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Tim did survive the switch-off but didn’t regain consciousness. All my family and Tim’s family had a chance to see him and make their farewells, as did Gordon, his lifelong best friend. I sat beside him holding his hand for several hours before he finally slipped away. I’m not sure what the doctors did but apparently it would have been possible to keep him ‘alive’ in his unconscious state for some time if we’d fed him via a tube and dealt with his faeces and urine. I’d had to tell them it wasn’t what we wanted.  It was the hardest conversation I’ve ever had.  

Wendy and John had supported me with this decision and Wendy told me a very sad tale about one of her friends sons.  This man was about 40 and had had a major heart attack which had starved his brain of oxygen to the extent he couldn’t do anything for himself except breathe.  He’d been just about to get married and his fiancé, a doctor, had decided to keep him alive, paying for 24-hour care, even though there was no chance of a recovery.  No-one knew whether this man was in pain or what state his brain was in and keeping him on a life support machine was against the wishes of his mother, Wendy’s widowed friend.  Having supported her friend, Wendy understood my dilemma and backed up my decision. Dad would have been a different matter so I decided not let him know of our decision. He had stated that he wanted to get ‘the best’ private care for Tim and I had to I tell him that he was getting excellent care on the NHS and ignore his wishes.

Several people, including my parents and Tim’s parents, offered to help arrange the funeral for which I was grateful for but declined even in my dazed state. I owed it to Tim and to the children to do this for him.  In the end I decided to let Mum stay with me and take charge of looking after the children and the domestics and to ask for Gordon’s help. He was more on the same wavelength as Tim than anyone else. Tim wasn’t religious, in fact he thought religion was an enabler for some of the worst atrocities ever and was aggressively anti-religious.  That was our starting point. The funeral director suggested we contacted the British Humanist Association who provide a person they call a celebrant to help arrange the funeral the way we want it. They said Crewe crematorium was a very sympathetic place and Gordon said he’d been to a beautiful ceremony there. We asked John if any of them would like to make any contribution – such as a reading, poem, song or piece of music and I suggested to the children that they might do something.

In the end I chose the music, I wanted something slow and mournful to start with and something bright and optimistic to finish. Jock agreed to play for me.  John wanted to do a reading, a celebration of Tim’s life; Teresa wanted to read a poem she had written about his life; and my two, Di and William, decided to do a duet, singing and moving to a routine they’d practised.  Gordon suggested it would be a good idea if there was a chance for everyone to do something.  We came up with two ideas.  One was for a song that everyone could join in and the other was for everyone to be given a chance if they wished to come to the front and say a few words.  We couldn’t decide which and so plumped for both, choosing Imagine as the song.

I wanted to go shopping for an outfit but in the end decided to choose something from my wardrobe. Tim would have preferred that.

I can’t remember much of the actual ceremony as I was too upset. I sat between my children on the front row with John and Wendy. The place was packed and I didn’t recognise lots of them. Afterwards we went to a nearby hotel for tea and a buffet. I talked to as many people as I could and this kept me busy and the tears at bay. When we got home I had a long cuddle with William and Di both of whom had behaved with dignity throughout the day. When they’d gone upstairs to their rooms I curled up on the sofa next to Mum, put my head in her lap and sobbed and sobbed until I was quite exhausted.

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I’ve been a widow for a year now and to mark the event I’m inviting a few people who were close to Tim for a sort of celebration tea.

I have missed Tim terribly and have had several bouts of severe depression. One of the reasons for this is that I feel guilty that I didn’t appreciate him more when we were together. We were very different and had very different motivations in life but we did love each other and it’s that that’s important not the silly rows we had. I think we were each trying to prove a point, he was trying to enforce his principles on me and the family and I was defending my way of life. If we’d both been more accommodating this unnecessary conflict wouldn’t have blighted our relationship. I know much of Tim’s approach to things was right, his stand on the distribution of wealth, his views on global warming, destruction of the environment and so on. I know I was my fathers daughter, was extravagant, wasteful and so on. But because Tim kept pointing this out, kept mocking me I suppose I dug my heels in. It was as if he was assaulting my whole way of life and therefore me, the essence of me. So we allowed ourselves to be drawn into entrenched positions.

If only we could have talked our way through. After all we fell in love with each other as we were. So why did we want to then change each other? I like to think if we’d had more time together we would have resolved these differences and had a more relaxed relationship. I do get comfort from the fact that we were able to love one another, adore one another in spite of the different places we came from.

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Since I lost Tim my life has changed out of all recognition. Believe it or not I’m now running Cwm Dinas Nursery. John and Wendy have been very supportive and Tim’s younger brother, Stanley has recently become my manager. The business is thriving, making a respectable profit. I put this down both to the knowledge I acquired working for Cannon Pet Supplies and a sizeable investment taken out as a bank loan. My knowledge of plants is minimal although I’ve grown to appreciate Tim’s love of them. This gap in my knowledge has not hindered me thanks to Stanley. 

I’m much happier within myself that I ever have been. When I lived at home I didn’t feel I fitted in there. I was just a silly little rich girl with no self-belief and no idea who I was and what I believed in. Tim pointed the way but he didn’t allow me to develop at my own speed, to find myself. He didn’t have the confidence in me to allow me to and, face it, some of his beliefs and ideas were quite extreme.

The children have been great considering how much they must miss Tim. I think they support me at least as much as I support them. William works at the nursery at the weekend and is set to read a degree in horticulture, following in his father’s footsteps. I’m sure there will be room in the business for him should he want to. Diana is doing well at school and is just about to take her GCEs.

Mum came to live with me for the first three months which was great but after that we both needed more space so she left by mutual consent.

No one could replace Tim in my heart but I’m still relatively young and I don’t want to live the rest of my life without someone so I’ve decided to start looking for a new man in the near future. I’m not quite ready yet and I don’t think the children are either. Nor do I know what sort of person I want. Perhaps someone more like me than Tim was, a rich man who appreciates the good things in life. Maybe one who is still connected to the real world, a farmer perhaps. We’ll see. Gordon is free and available and I do like him. So he’s a possibility. The trouble is that he’s become a good friend and if we started a relationship and it didn’t work out we’d lose that. If I just found someone on the Internet and that didn’t work I would have lost nothing.