‘Accidents happen, sweetheart,’ I say, ‘Bladder control is a tricky thing. I was a late developer too.’
And I help my child remove their wet pants. We don’t shame, we don’t discipline unconscious body function. Why would we? Instead we embrace what it is to be human, which means accepting that accidents–and a lot of washing–happens. What I don’t say is,
‘It never ends. You think it ends, then you have children, your kegel muscles are stretched out beyond all imagining and an unclenched sneeze can catch you and your pristine knickers off guard.’
Stress incontinence is not only about sneezing. It’s about jumping on the trampoline. Or running to catch the ferry. And this weekend, I ran. I pissed. I missed the damn thing. It sailed gaily over the horizon leaving me with a heaving chest, pumped with anxiety provoking adrenalin and wet pants.
The ferry leaves but once an hour on this island. So I waited uncomfortably for the next one and an hour later as the ferry came into view, so did my ex-husband unexpectedly standing on the stern. It was the first time I’ve seen him in five years. With him was his wife, my ex-sisterwife. And their beautiful child, looking heartbreakingly like my ex-sister in law. Then there was me and my wet pants.
They were once my family, I was not born to them but I chose them. How foolish I have been to think that I am healed, that I am whole. There is always more to work on. More wounds to re-open. So as I saw them, I remembered how much I love him, and how much I still miss him. And also how wet my pants were.
If I was to imagine a perfect meeting after five years, it would not be with tumbled haired from running, anxiety ridden from missing the ferry, cold from waiting an hour with wet pants smelling like a tramp.
But growing up in 80s Britain has its advantages. One of them was that I shook their hands from a safe distance of one metre, made an inane pleasantry and escaped into the little ferry with my coat tied trendily around my waist. I wasn’t prepared for that meeting, in any sense of the word.
I was broken by how our relationship ended. It turned out to be a good thing, and it is this now that I try to remember. Because if they were still in my life I see many futures, all of them full of pain. I do not want them back in my life, or in the lives of anyone close to me. I do not want them here, on my island. My safe haven. I did not want Morten and his girlfriend, my new sister-wife, Sophia to meet up with them for coffee the next day. And I certainly did not want my daughter to play happily with theirs during that coffee without me.
But if my study of self-esteem has taught me anything, it is that I’m allowed to choose who I want in my life. And who I don’t. I cannot and will not choose for anyone else.
I did not marry for the hell of it. I did not divorce lightly. I loved him deeply and today I find that I still do. Partly it’s some kind of wanting what I can’t have. I cannot see him without her, they do not allow it. She’s loving and passionate but toxic for me. She requires strict loyalty and invested friendship, and for my own protection I cannot give her that. So it still hurts.
Yet even after everything I know now, I would still tell the 26 year old to marry him. He’s greyer now and looks more like his father but far more handsome. Softer. He has known pain too. I love that face. I love that man. And the choices we made, how our relationship ended come back to me in an instant so strong when I see him so unexpectedly, that my hands shake and as soon as I am out of eyesight I start crying.
The unbidden push within me to see if we can try again to be friends cracks a kernel of joy in my chest, until the voice I have grown to heed whispers, ‘Don’t go there. Don’t invite trouble in again. You have children now.’ That voice, is the voice of my survival mechanisms. It flashes a red mist over my body, screams DANGER and I cannot see clearly.
For many reasons we must accept how we are, if we are ever to take responsibility for our actions and emotions. I do not want this pain, I did not consciously choose this pain but now it is here I could choose to face it. Or not. Because with too much pain comes insanity and that’s not good for me, my partners or my children. Denial might be unwise, unhealthy but sometimes it’s the only thing that preserves us.
‘I think the universe is trying to tell you something,’ said my boyfriend. ‘Unhealed wounds and all that.’
I know. The pain tells me. But right now, the only thing I can reply is,
‘Yes, I should really go to the doctor and get my bladder fixed.’