The Ex Files - Diane Lee

The ex-files: to all the men I’ve loved before (Part 2)

If you haven’t read Part 1 of The Ex-Files you should. It will give you some context as to why I’m taking this self-indulgent trip down memory lane.

Nick

I met Nick one night when I went out on my own, something I rarely did, even in my risk-embracing early 20s. I had moved to Adelaide from Naracoorte by this time—having been transferred by the bank for which I worked—and after one disastrous short-term house-sharing experience with a would-be biker, I ended up moving with my sister into an old  bungalow in Prospect. The bungalow was a half a house and was in desperate need of refurbishment. My sister and I lived in the back half, and a single mum and her young daughter lived in the front. My bedroom was in the back; it was smallish, cozy even, and barely accommodated my wardrobe and bed, let alone my stereo and dressing table. The house may or may not have been haunted; my sister seemed to think it was, based on an eery experience she had one night when she was home alone.

To say that we had an active social life is an understatement. We were out practically every night of the week, and I often went to work on a maximum of three or four hours sleep. That I managed to regularly balance my cash till (I was a bank teller) is one of the unsolved mysteries of the universe. After a year or two of this kind of lifestyle, which was unsustainable and exhausting, and a few shared houses later after my sister and I parted company, I moved into my own little one bedroom flat in the adjacent suburb of Walkerville.

It was one lonely Saturday night that I dolled myself up and took myself off to St Paul’s Nightclub, all on my own. St Paul’s was a notorious hangout for Italian boys, and as luck would have it, almost as soon as I arrived, I started talking to Nick, who was out with a bunch of his football mates. And by football, I mean American football. Gridiron.

After the nightclub closed, we drove to the beach in his Fiat. It was summer, hot, and we sat on the sand talking until almost daylight, shoes in hand, our bare toes wriggling in the sand, sipping lukewarm Coke.

Nick was a tall man; muscular, handsome and beautifully dressed, as Italian men often are. At St Paul’s, he was attentive and charming, chatting to me, buying me drinks, dancing with me, introducing me to his friends, making sure I was looked after. After the nightclub closed, we drove to the beach in his Fiat. It was summer, hot, and we sat on the sand talking until almost daylight, shoes in hand, our bare toes wriggling in the sand, sipping lukewarm Coke. He was studying to be a town planner, I discovered, and had nearly finished university. We kissed, and he drove me home and we kissed some more.

The next day, he came to my house to see me. And again, like Peter and Iain before him, we became boyfriend and girlfriend. No games, no guessing. He was reliable and included me in his life; I went to his 21st (his father wasn’t too happy, and I guess that was a significant portent of doom); his gridiron matches and practices (I still enjoy watching gridiron—not that I watch it often, nor go out of may way to watch it—but I do UNDERSTAND it); I went out with him and his friends; and I think I may have even gone to his graduation. But like Peter before him, his secure attachment style meant he was doomed to be put in the “too nice, too predictable, too boring” category. I ended the relationship (after it was clear that his father did not approve, and ironically, is almost the mirror image of my relationship with Iain) after about a 10 months.

When I ended things with Nick, I felt an overwhelming sense of relief. In a weird way, I felt that I didn’t deserve someone so nice. And he was nice. Too nice. And it was claustrophobic. After years spent dealing with, and learning to navigate, toxic environments a la my mother, I didn’t know what to do with someone nice. It felt “wrong”. Like we were out of synch. What I see now is that my anxious attachment style was seeking more drama and more excitement. You know, the kind of nail-biting drama and soul-destroying excitement one gets from pairing up with someone who has an avoidant style.

I had that kind of drama for the next 30 years.

Brenton

I met Brenton through friends; one of my girlfriends (who I met when I first moved to Adelaide) was dating one of his best mates. I was 24, he was 19. I worked in a bank. He worked as a fly in, fly out diesel mechanic in Moomba, on a two-week on, two-week off roster. He was from a large family, with lots of male siblings, I was from a small matriarchal line. I was sexually experienced, he was not. He was shy and quiet, I was outgoing and about as far away from shy as you could get. We were complete opposites, but he was cute and attentive and reliable and we quickly became an item. So much so, that Brenton became the second man I lived with.

I remember finishing work one evening before we officially started dating (I was working shift work in a bank clearing department) and Brenton was parked in his sexy, souped-up Holden Statesman, waiting for me to finish for the day. He’d been waiting for a while, and said he wanted to see me before he flew out the next day. I think I slept with him that night as a reward, and as disappointed as I was with his lack of “experience”, I convinced myself that the sexy times would get better. And they did. So much so, that after a particularly enjoyable sexy time, I suggested that we should marry. He agreed. So at 24, I became engaged to 19 year old Brenton.

His mother and father welcomed me into their family; although I always thought THEIR relationship was odd. She was a mousey woman, domineered by Brenton’s father, who happened to be a hoarder. Their house and yard were full of junk, and as nice as they were to me, I always felt like I needed to scrub myself clean after I visited.

We moved in together not long after that, and we stayed together until I was 26. I must say that I initially enjoyed my life with Brenton. I recall being flown up to Moomba one year for Christmas by his work, which was a surreal experience. I remember red dust and the metal of the plant and snow: the men had used foam from fire extinguishers to simulate a white Christmas for their partners. Brenton’s large family meant that we had an excellent social life, and I was never lonely while he was away; his brothers and their wives and their children would always be popping in. When Brenton was home, we’d go fishing and camping, and on road trips into wonderful parts of South Australia that often involved fishing and camping, and sometimes with members of his family. His mother and father welcomed me into their family; although I always thought THEIR relationship was odd. She was a mousey woman, domineered by Brenton’s father, who happened to be a hoarder. Their house and yard were full of junk, and as nice as they were to me, I always felt like I needed to scrub myself clean after I visited.

And then there were Brenton’s brothers. The married ones were fine… the single ones were, well, odd. One in particular was odder than the other, and probably had a drug and alcohol problem. He was volatile to say the least, and I always felt on edge when he was around, which was often. I didn’t trust him, particularly when he’d be drinking, which was also often. But I was civil and polite and accommodating because of Brenton, who adored his older brother.

I had received a “don’t bother returning” letter from the bank while I was on holiday (after a nasty run-in with my supervisor), so the move to university was timely. Brenton was supportive of my decision; he had to be. I was pregnant.

At 26, after we had been together for two years, I decided it was time to explore my potential, and by that I mean, go to university. I was sick of dead-end bank jobs and thought it was about time that I got myself some more education. Coincidentally, I had received a “don’t bother returning” letter from the bank while I was on holiday (after a nasty run-in with my supervisor), so the move to university was timely. Brenton was supportive of my decision; he had to be. I was pregnant. At around this time, we had decided to move, and what with the stress of the move (which I had to organise, because Brenton was away for work) and my hormones being all over the place, and me being out of work, our relationship deteriorated at a rate of knots. I was becoming increasingly dissatisfied, and painfully aware of our age difference, particularly in maturity and outlook.

(I always maintain that Brenton and I lasted 18 months longer than we should have because he worked away. The FIFO lifestyle meant that we were always on our honeymoon, and I had all the benefits of being in a relationship while being sorta, kinda single. I’m pretty sure that Brenton had a secure attachment style, but it’s difficult to tell given that he spent so much time away.)

I have never felt more frightened for my personal safety than I did that night. Brenton stood by, watching his brother physically intimidate me, and did nothing.

And then there was The Night That Things Came To A Head. Brenton was home from Moomba and had gone out drinking with his odd, older brother, and had left me home alone. We were settled in our new rental place, and I was bone tired as only one can be when one is pregnant. I’d hit the wall at about 2pm, nap, and revive around tea-time. On The Night That Things Came To A Head, I had to contend with two drunk men who I had neither the patience nor interest in dealing with. We had words, and the odd, older brother became quite threatening, and I was scared. So very scared. I have never felt more frightened for my personal safety than I did that night. Brenton stood by, watching his brother physically intimidate me, and did nothing. By some miracle, I managed to get them out of the house and I locked the doors and windows; I could hear them trying to break in, and they were angry, so I called the police. When the police arrived, they fled.

The next day, I packed up my stuff and went to stay with friends. I looked for another place to live, and moved in that week and I lived there for a number of years. I haven’t seen Brenton since.

Oh, and I lost the baby.

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