After a tough year, Carl Smeeton* was looking forward to a relaxing fortnight in the sun…
My wife, Mary, and I were on holiday in Corfu in the last two weeks of August. We’d been at university together for three years and then spent a year in teacher training, after which we had married. Now, having completed our first year as teachers, we were enjoying the long school summer holiday.
Some friends had recommended a quiet fishing village on the less-developed north-east coast of Corfu, facing the coast of Albania. At night we could see the searchlights playing on the water as the Albanian police kept watch over the narrow strait, looking out for their compatriots trying to escape to what they hoped would be a better life in the West.
Everything was perfectThere were only three tavernas in the village, arranged around its pretty horseshoe bay of white pebbles. We intended to try all three in the course of our two-week holiday so, on our first night, we chose the one nearest to our villa and sat down at a table by the water's edge.
I can still hear the rustle of the pebbles as the tide ebbed and flowed. We ordered two Greek salads and winced as we took our first sip of Retsina. The air was warm and still and I felt happy and relaxed. I’ve always found the first day of a two-week summer holiday exquisite. Endless possibilities, with no ending looming to tarnish the pleasure. What could possibly spoil such an idyllic moment?
The bombshell"What would you say if I said I'd had an affair?" asked my wife. My first emotion was neither shock nor horror. I was so sure of our marriage that I simply assumed it was a hypothetical question. I’d studied philosophy at university and was accustomed to this kind of discourse.
I remember my reply as clearly as if it were yesterday. I said, "I would ask you why you'd had an affair and try to understand your reasons and discuss them with you and ultimately, I would forgive you and ask what I could do to ensure it never happened again."
I was very pleased with my words as I heard myself speaking them. They sounded mature and reasonable, which was how I wished to be perceived. I was not expecting Mary to say, "That's good, because I HAVE had an affair." I have to confess that what I said next was neither mature nor reasonable.
The beginning of the endOver the next 13 days of our 14-day holiday, we did a lot of talking, but my mind was already made up. My wife had had sex with another man so that was the end of our marriage. I was not in the least interested in understanding her reasons or sharing the blame. I had changed from philosopher to mathematician and it was a case of a + b = c.
I tried to get an early flight home but there were none available. It was the longest two weeks of my life. If time flies when you're having fun, I can confirm that it stands still when you learn of your wife's adultery in a foreign country.
Our marriage was overI believe that Mary thought everything would be okay as we boarded our plane to fly home to the UK. When we collected our car from the airport car park, I can remember thinking how convenient it was to have my suitcase already packed.
We drove home and as we turned into the drive, I applied the handbrake but didn’t switch off the engine. Mary seemed not to notice that I remained in the car while she collected her suitcase from the boot. As she walked past the driver's side window, we made eye contact and I saw the realisation dawn on her. I released the handbrake and drove off with the wind buffeting the open boot of the car.
UpdateYears later, we met in a park and discussed the break-up of our marriage, while we watched the children from her second marriage playing on the swings.
I thanked her for having an affair and she thanked me for leaving her. We had both come to realise that our marriage had been doomed to fail and that we had played an equal part in ending it. My ex-wife had loaded the gun and I had pulled the trigger, or perhaps it was the other way around? In any event, I felt I did a better job of being mature and reasonable on that occasion, except for the entirely irrational feeling that somehow I felt a connection to these children I’d never met before.