Last year I watched my mum (and her marriage) fall apart. I watched her cry hysterically, I watched her have panic attacks about the future, I watched her throw things in anger and frustration and I watched her self-confidence plummet. I tried as best I could to help her keep herself afloat in this horrible sea of sadness she was feeling, but some days I was sure there were holes in our life raft. And why did I have to watch her go through this? Because my step-father (repeatedly) cheated on her.
When I was 5 years old, my mum introduced me to the new man in her life. I wasn’t pleased. He led a complicated life that came with children and an angry ex-wife. My mum seemed to push her way through these relationship obstacles with such finesse. She wanted this relationship to work, and so she worked hard for it. And she achieved success: my mum married my step-father and actually got his children to warm to her. She helped me feel better about the situation too. They even had kids together. We were a modern family that worked. That fairy tale was short-lived.
By the time I reached my mid-teens I started noticing that my mum’s entire personality was changing. She had always been a strong, successful and independent woman but those qualities were fading. She no longer took things head-on and with a smile. Instead she was timid, unsure of herself, and guarded. Her relationship with my step-father had changed. They were no longer equals. He was dominating her, controlling her, attacking her.
At that time, my step-father had started taking a keen interest in another culture (though I won’t mention which). He started language classes once a week. No big deal; just a hobby. But then the language classes turned into “intensive weekend workshops”. Next he announced a solo overseas trip to said country. He said he needed the trip because he was stressed and made an excuse that he wanted to backpack but knew my mum was a hotel kind of traveller. I could see the desperation in my mum’s eyes; I could hear it in her voice during the midnight fights with my step-father about his trip. She was fighting for their marriage. He was cold and manipulative.
I asked my mum several times about my step-father cheating on her. Though she denied it, her face told me my suspicions were right. I said I heard her crying at night. I said she had changed, but not for the better. I said she should leave him if he was hurting her so much. She hugged me tightly and I felt her shaking with sobs. She didn’t mention it again and she didn’t leave him. But she continued to silently break down.