The Ex Files - Diane Lee

The ex-files: to all the men I’ve loved before (Part 3)

If you haven’t read Part 1 and Part 2 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.

Terry

While I didn’t have a relationship with Terry per se, mainly because his “taken” status precluded it, I saw him on and off while I was at university. I had met him a few years before—in my active social life phase, which, coincidentally, did not stop once I once I hit the hallowed halls of Adelaide University. Back then, I fancied myself as a bit of an eight-ball player, and played pub pool for a while. It was a good gig—one was supplied with a light supper and beer for the privilege of playing. And it was an excellent way to meet people, and is how I met Terry, who was on the team I was playing against one night. I was persuaded to play pool by my then housemate who had a bit of a dubious history. He had been in gaol for a couple of minor offences (breaking and entering to support a drug habit… or was it gambling?) and and was trying to stay on the straight and narrow for his daughter. He was a friend of a friend, and wasn’t a bad person; he was always civil and polite and friendly towards me. He wanted to move out of Semaphore, he’d said, because he felt the area—or more specifically, his mates in the area—was a bad influence. I didn’t get a bad vibe from him, so I agreed that he could move in. I needed someone to help keep the garden under control, and he said he was happy to help. He was a regular and excellent eight-ball player, and frequently went back to play in the area he was so desperately trying to escape. He dragged me along one night—he didn’t have a license, and needed a lift—and they were a player short when I dropped him off, so I filled in. Don’t get me wrong, I was not the best player, but every now and then, I’d sink a ball that had my team convinced that I had a modicum of talent, and just needed to hone my craft.

I got to know Terry quite well over that time, because invariably, he’d be at the pub where we were playing, and invariably with his sister. I have a sneaking suspicion he may have orchestrated it, but I can’t confirm this, and I don’t really want to. Sometimes maintaining a fuzzy illusion is better than being slapped about the head by a spiky reality. He was an interesting character, of Aboriginal heritage, smart and articulate. He was a good athlete too, I believe, and played football for the local league. He wasn’t a tall man, but he was stocky, and his skin was a lovely dark, coffee colour. We chatted every time we saw each other, small talk, nothing too deep and meaningful, but he did mention a girlfriend. I always picked up the vibe that he was a good person and I was happy to see him each time our paths crossed, which happened to only be a few months more, because my housemate moved back to Semaphore, the area he so desperately wanted to escape, and we lost touch. He may or may not have ended up back in gaol. My housemate that is, not Terry.

We’d talk and discuss and argue and laugh and have wonderful sexy times, but his unavailability suited me, and my “I don’t have time to have a boyfriend” no demands approach suited him.

Fast forward a couple of years later, and I bumped into Terry on campus one day; I would have been 26 or 27. Actually I, with my propensity to be shy and retiring (not!) saw him and called out his name. He sauntered over to me and said hello, remembering me, sort of, but not my name. Of course, I reminded him who I was… Semaphore… eight-ball… pub competition. He was studying law, he said, but he’d love to catch up with me sometime. Later that week, we bumped into each other again and catch up we did. We went for a drink and a game of pool, then accidentally fell into bed.

I spent most of my Arts degree, on and off, with Terry, who (for better or worse) I shared with his girlfriend. And I spent most of my Arts degree, on and off, with Terry because he was lovely and warm and caring and reliable and safe and unavailable. He took me on dates; he called me; he’d visit me; he’d sleep over. All the things that excellent boyfriends do with their girlfriends (on analysis, and while it seems like he had a secure attachment style, I think Terry was actually avoidant—his convenient, semi-regular, extra-curricular activities with me being Exhibit A). We’d talk and discuss and argue and laugh and have wonderful sexy times, but his unavailability suited me, and my “I don’t have time to have a boyfriend” no demands approach suited him. After the disaster that was Brenton, I didn’t want a serious relationship. And things with Terry weren’t full-on or demanding, they were fun and sexy and low key. Sometimes, I wouldn’t see Terry for a few months, but it was easy and hassle-free to pick up where we’d left off.

After university, things fizzled out, and we lost touch. It was a relationship that had a shelf-life and was not destined to be anything more than it was, but one that I will always remember fondly. Interestingly, I bumped into Terry a couple of years ago, in what can only be considered curious and coincidental circumstances… and then later—a couple of years ago—through work. He had married his girlfriend and they had a couple of children…

Derek

Terry had certainly whet my appetite for men of a darker persuasion. Actually, that’s not quite true. There was Stan from my late teens (who was only a fleeting fancy—we didn’t date) and Eric, a huge Maori bouncer, who happened to also be a social worker (we hooked up every now and then, but didn’t date. I have a feeling that he, like Terry, was also taken). The common denominator is that they were all delicious. All were handsome men, in great shape—I loved their chocolatey skin, like smooth and luxurious velvet juxtaposed against my Irish-heritage whiteness. They always smelled so good; a musky earthiness that I just wanted to drown in. I always felt safe with these men, although none were destined to stay around for any length of time.

Derek was also darkly delicious. And charismatic. And emotionally dangerous. Derek is my daughter’s father.

I was 28 when I met Derek. I completed university with an Arts degree and not much else. I had no job and no prospects, so I went back to temp work, disappointed and frustrated that my potential still wasn’t being realised. It was at one of these temp jobs that I was dragged out to a karaoke bar one Friday evening with my colleagues, entered a karaoke competition (I sang The Carpenter’s Superstar and Bon Jovi’s Wanted: Dead or Alive and possibly Jon English’s Hollywood 7 and Sam Brown’s Stop—I was a big fan of the power ballad, in case you hadn’t noticed, and I still am), came second overall, and caught the eye of Derek. I was flattered by his attention; he was dark and exotic—an exceptionally good-looking man, and he knew it. He worked in Aboriginal education, he said. And played football, very well, I found out later. So well, that he played for the SANFL when he was younger. He was 34 when we met: only a couple of years older than I was.

Within a few months, he had moved in with me, but I had an uneasy feeling that he wasn’t being entirely truthful with me. Nothing concrete, just a prickly, knawing feeling in the pit of my stomach that he was not as he seemed. But I pushed this prickly, knawing feeling aside and ignored it as Derek shared more of his life with me, and I with him.

So Derek came home with me that Friday night where I came second in a karaoke competition, stayed the weekend, and then disappeared. He’d been away playing football, he said, when reappeared a week or so later. This pattern was set early on, and I didn’t mind. Not in the beginning. I’d not hear from him for a few weeks sometimes, then he’d show up, all loving and demonstrative and missing me and wanting to take things to the next level. And we did. Within a few months, he had moved in with me, but I had an uneasy feeling that he wasn’t being entirely truthful with me. Nothing concrete, just a prickly, knawing feeling in the pit of my stomach that he was not as he seemed. But I pushed this prickly, knawing feeling aside and ignored it as Derek shared more of his life with me, and I with him. I met cousins and aunties and uncles. I visited the mission where he was raised, and met his father and mother and more brothers and sisters and nieces and nephews. He came to my graduation (he is in my graduation picture) and played house-husband while I traipsed off to my disappointing and frustrating temp jobs because his Aboriginal education role had finished and he was waiting for something else to come through. Funnily enough, it was a role he was good at; the house was always clean, and there were delicious meals on the table. I learned, though, that he enjoyed gambling and drinking, and that he was not a nice drunk. Scary and overbearing and intimidating and different. But I was hooked, and became very attached (addicted?) to him, and when he moved to country Victoria to resurrect his ailing football career, I was devastated.

But we kept in touch by phone and I visited him while he was there, staying for a few weeks. We had a wonderful time; horse riding, walking, hiking, me watching his games, meeting his friends—in a short space of time, I felt like I had become part of this small but  thriving community. I remember sobbing uncontrollably on the bus home to Adelaide. The landscape flashed past me in a haze, and the other passengers did not know what to do to console me. I cried most of the way: I thought I would never see him again. I was wrong. A month or so later, Derek returned to Adelaide, and moved back in with me. He went back to playing football at his old club, and went back to being missing in action on some weekends.  I also had to accept his gambling and drinking. And I did.

Until, that is, I found out I was pregnant.

My pregnancy was not unplanned, but it wasn’t exactly planned either. It was a case of: if I get pregnant, I get pregnant. More than anything I wanted to be a mother, and who better to sire my offspring than a handsome, exotic man—addictive personality issues aside. I had scored a part-time job at a local credit union, so money was coming in. I dragged myself into work even though, in the first trimester of my pregnancy, I was so ill with morning sickness, I lost a lot of weight. All I could stomach were chicken noodle soup and boiled eggs and toast. Derek was still playing football, and was still missing in action some weekends, and some week nights too. I assumed that he was staying with a member of his large, extended family who always seemed to require his help.

…one evening, I had a phone call from a woman claiming to be his de facto wife. She said she was suspicious of him being away so many nights and had found my name and telephone number in his wallet, so she called me wanting to find out the truth.

At least, I thought that was the case until one evening, I had a phone call from a woman claiming to be his de facto wife. She said she was suspicious of him being away so many nights and had found my name and telephone number in his wallet, so she called me wanting to find out the truth. They had been together for some years, she said. They had met at an education conference, she said. They were going to get married, she said. I should leave him alone, she said. I hung up the phone, feeling like my stomach had dropped to the floor. Numb, I tried to call him where I thought he was. No answer, so I tried cousins and aunties and uncles and brothers and sisters and nieces and nephews. No one had seen him. I had to wait until he came home to confront him, which was a couple of days later.

Of course, he denied it. Of course, it was all lies. Of course, this woman was an ex who had never gotten over him. Of course, she was out to stir up trouble. Of course, he was the victim in all this. Of course, I said to him the baby was not his. Of course, I said to him, this is over.

And it was.

So. From the time I was three months pregnant, I knew I was going to be a solo parent. Derek has had no part of my daughter’s life; he is not on the birth certificate and has never paid maintenance. I had a peaceful pregnancy, and he has not tried to contact me, apart from once, when I had been home from hospital only a few weeks. I heard a knock on the door and there he was, large as life, all you should be pleased to see me. Except I wasn’t. I told him he was trespassing and that the police would be called if he ever came within cooee of me again. My rationale for this position was: I had enormous trouble dealing with his behaviour and his issues—how could I inflict him on my child? And if I did, what damage would it cause? So I conscientiously objected to his presence, and I’m of the opinion that it has been, for the most part, a wise decision. My daughter has grown up in a household that is stable, relatively peaceful and secure. She has no interest in knowing her father, although she knows who he is and approximately, what he was like in terms of his character.

Looking back on this relationship, which lasted probably about a year, I would say without a doubt that Derek had an avoidant attachment style, compounded by a number of other issues that I can’t begin to guess at. And even though this was a particularly challenging time in my life, without him, I wouldn’t have my daughter. And because of my daughter, I wouldn’t change this experience for the world. And for that I am exceedingly grateful.

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