- Hmmm, that sure is a bit of a geographical mouthful of a title.
But, I have to discuss this here, as I fell down a hole last night, and have been working hard to clamber back out today.
We still own a holiday home together, as joint tenants in common. Our bach (kiwi for holiday home) was a labour of love. It represents so much for me. Firstly, as a marker of how hard we worked, and how successful we were in paying off enough of our HUGE mortgage on our farm. We lived so frugally with three young kids for the first twelve or so years of our lives together, and we managed to scratch up enough money to put a deposit on an undeveloped section by our largest lake. We took a risk, as we certainly could not afford to pay the balance of the purchase price in the next twelve months, and the balance would fall due for payment when title was issued. Thankfully, that took four years, and we were then in a position to pay up. Then, I took the reins to a fair degree. Rog wanted to put a little box on the section, so we could enjoy it with our family. I convinced him to employ an architect. I had seen some of this guy’s work, and I knew he could do something ‘a bit more’ with our miniscule budget. And he did. We went and saw him, with my little portfolio of homes I liked the look of, mostly by the water, and with fairly minimalist, clean lines, and a top storey that made the most of the elevations to get the best views. Rog eventually agreed that we couldn’t afford much, and getting a little design flare has helped us build something we are still proud of for the ridiculously low budget we had to work with.
When the build started, we both physically helped to build the house. Rog drove down, and worked as the builder’s labourer on many occasions, digging footings, etc, while I ran the farm alone in his absence. We camped down there, with the kids, under builders’ paper, when it was framed, but unwalled.
Camp stoves, solar showers, we had an absolute ball. We lay, curled into each other, completely entwined, under the stars, giggling quietly like idiots, as the kids were drifting off to sleep, making gentle, but intensely passionate love, hoping that we didn’t wake them, as they slept in the same ‘room’ under the stars, divided from them only by a thin a strip of said builders’ paper. I painted the entire interior of the house, the plywood features, and the steel beams on the exterior of our little love nest. Choosing colours, kitchen layout and cabinetry, problem solving how to finish the bathroom without a tiler…. we finally bought some furniture, and we were IN! It was ours! Our own little sanctuary, away from the seven day a week farming life we had been so tied up with.
When you farm, you generally get the house that comes with that productive unit. You get little say in how it is laid out, we never had much of a budget to renovate, or make great changes, and generally, I was left to live in another person’s idea of home. This was OURS. It was how WE wanted it to look and feel. I LOVED it. I can’t explain the feeling. It was like an extension of our love for each other to me. Created, and literally built out of love.
When I found out Roger was cheating on me, I discovered much of it was happening in that bach. The affair with Leanne started there. Whilst our children slept gently in other rooms, he fucked her. He also took other women there. We all holidayed together there. One lovely big happy, fucked up family. I walk into that home, and I SEE him and Leanne behind the kitchen counter, whilst I turn my back, to fold some laundry, he runs his hands over her arse, sliding them between her legs, then looks over at me, and I turn and smile at him. I recall the only time he EVER tried to refuse to make love to me in thirty years, was there. We were lying in bed in the morning, Leanne in the next room, and I started running my hands gently over his thighs, then onto his morning erection, and lifted myself over him, expecting his usual happy reaction. When he pushed me away, and said, ‘not this morning’ – whilst his morning glory said otherwise, I was VERY confused. I now know he had promised her he would not fuck me while she was in my house. (Side note, we still did it, take that, Leanne, you stupid…)
So, after D-day, I tried to reclaim my space. I took him down there, and I burned all the linen, and antibac sprayed the place from top to bottom. I burned sage, and incense to try to cleanse and clarify. And I curled up in the foetal position, sobbing, howling too many times to count. Every time I step into that place, I have no idea if today is the day I will feel the love about, or loathing for this space. I physically vomit, often. I struggle to sleep in that bed, where he fucked his women.
What is the point of this post then? He takes Trinket there. He fucks her in my bed. She gets up and showers in my bathroom, washing him off her, or lies there in his scent, glowing in their love, and the physicality of their hot, hot, sex. I am a VERY visual person, and I see him there, doing to her, what he has done to several other women (including me, lol) in giving us the most intense orgasms ever. Over and over and over.
I planned on going there for the first time since he moved to be with her, this weekend. And after my week of radiation starting, and kids coming for grad, etc, I fell in that hole. I knew I couldn’t go there. They were there just a few days earlier, and I would feel them, smell them, sense her all over my spaces. Her knickers in my bed, her face cream in my bathroom. Her vagina full of his dick…….
In the final year of my undergrad degree, we were asked to write an essay on emotion, identity and place. I chose our bach, and the village it is located in. I had started to make the connections about who I am, where I spend my time, and the emotions I feel about these. How they affect each other, are mutually constituted. I related much of what I have here, to explain how I had constructed the lake as my safe haven, my place of refuge, a place of deep love, and an extension of my loving, heterosexually coupled identity. Then, I wrote this:
“A few years ago, my safe haven was severely disrupted, when Joe (a pseudonym I used for Rog) started an affair there with one of my oldest friends. It was used occasionally as a secret rendezvous spot. She exposed the infidelity to me months after he ended it. My feelings about myself and the bach are now chaotic, and can be located anywhere on delicately nuanced emotional spectrum at any one time, and they swing wildly along it, usually with little forewarning.”
Following on from this, I examined love, with excerpts from my essay here, I have left the references as I have cut and pasted, you can ignore them. (Re-reading this, I now realise that this was why my thesis supervisor pointed me in this direction – after I proposed several other topics before writing about this further later on):
“Love has been conceptualised as “spatial, relational and political” (Morrison et al 2012 506) in a geographical sense. With this in mind, I feel my deep, romantic love for Joe has been confirmed in many ways, and in many spaces, over several decades. On falling in love with, and deciding to share my future with him, I knowingly shifted some of my power to him. A large part of my identity became entwined with his … This surrender of power was given with absolute trust – trust that we both were aware of my sacrifice, and my economic vulnerability. The feminist in me fought an internal battle at this partial surrender, however the internal pragmatist won out … When Joe betrayed me, he first did so at our bach. Our then teenaged children were asleep in their beds there, along with his affair partner’s young son. The location, this distance from our rural life and friends living in and around a small town – and the children’s presence – ensured his infidelity was unlikely to be exposed. When it eventually was, I was further devastated to find he had conducted the majority of the sexual part of their affair in our houses, and elsewhere on our properties. The scars and affective taint that has left on those spaces, especially for me, are deep, ugly and unable to be expunged. We understand that “Humans layer their own understandings onto abstract space in order to create subjective places” (Jones and Evans 2011 2319) and in the performance of our identities in these spaces, whether they be for public or private purposes, affect is then deeply embedded in place. I have queried Joe’s interpretation of those spaces in the aftermath of his affair, and his fleeting memories are mostly negative. However, any positive emotional memories also encompass deep shame and guilt in recalling these. He therefore tends to push the memories and emotions involved neatly away, seemingly almost swiping them from existence. In keeping with the enculturated methods of masculinity’s coping mechanisms he learned, he tends to compartmentalise and hide these emotions from view, marginalising them. Although he recognises these patterns, and doesn’t fully engage in the hegemonic discourse regarding gender and emotion, the masculine ideals of strength and rationality – but also his desire to not add to my emotional burden – fuel his desire to keep his emotional life mostly out of public view. There has not been a lot of focus on “the emotional registers of men” (Meth 2009 853) in the literatures of either feminist geographies of fear, nor political science’s links between emotion and politics …
Once we established he was deeply remorseful and utterly devastated at his actions, I was determined to ‘reclaim’ those spaces. We visited many of the spaces and attempted to take them back in one way or another. I saw this as an attempt to paint a layer of less painful affect over that which was tainted. The bach remained problematic for me, and I have fought waves of emotion, feelings of desperately needing to sell it, then swinging fiercely back to determination that ‘she’ – the Other – could not ruin that space for me, it was mine. I designed, built, painted, decorated, and loved it, and in it. So, I ritually burned the linen on our beds. I scrubbed surfaces clean. I practised mindfulness. We talked. We cried. We held each other in those spaces and he apologised over and over. To this day, I am still triggered with vivid mind movies of them together there, tangled in the sheets or some other intimate pose. I have clear memories and visions of the time we all spent there together, her and I giggling over glasses of wine, and platters of antipasti, her small son crying out to Joe as he wandered across the field, fly-rod in hand, for an evening fly-fish. I SEE these scenes, as graphically as they played out originally. And they pull me in agonising directions as I fight for survival from my personal catastrophe. Affairs create visceral reactions in the betrayed. Betrayed partners see, smell, taste, feel and hear the intricacies of the affair, and the affair partner. I can taste her in the back of my throat, I hear her laugh – at me, I feel her rough skin on mine, and I see my place, but through her eyes. As one anonymous betrayed spouse articulated;
Infidelity changes who you are forever. It robs you of your past, it makes your present excruciatingly unbearable and it makes your future look hopeless. It strips you of your self-esteem and your self worth. It leaves you naked, vulnerable, and alone (anonymous cited in ‘Sarah P’ 2015).
The bach is a deeply affective space for me, embodying a painful and life-changing time. One explanation of the difference between affect and emotion is offered by Thrift “that emotions are everyday understandings of affects” (2008 221) and he goes on to explain affect as a biological state with emotion being the social interpretation of this. Or, to further unpack affect “The transmission of affect, whether it is grief, anxiety, or anger, is social or psychological in origin. But the transmission is also responsible for bodily changes, as in a whiff of the room’s atmosphere, some longer lasting” (Brennan 2004 1). My emotional reaction to this affect is extreme. I will never love the same way. I feel a deep sense of the loss of my innocence at the bach …
As I feel pressed to perform the role of ‘forgiving, healed spouse’ in my everyday life. Without any form of surveillant gaze at the bach, in the form of “control of the emotions” (Valentine 2001 25) I can maybe let my guard down and truly allow the outpouring of grief to wash over me. The very presence of walls, and curtained windows allows me to ‘drop the act’. My ability to perform my healed role is considerably enhanced during daylight hours, and in the presence of other people. This allows me to cover my fear of shame and/or embarrassment in accordance with Valentine’s observance of the “importance of rational thought and the control of the emotions” (2001 25). However, at night, and first thing in the morning, the affect hangs more heavily in the atmosphere.
In conclusion, place is inextricably linked to identity in that performance of identity is heavily influenced by place, and places influence identity through emotion. Emotions shape perceptions of self, and can distort affect in certain places. Affect is not static, rather it moves according to how spaces are used, or abused. The degree of relationality of identity, place and emotion differs according to cultural and spatial contexts. We perform the representation of self that best fits the expectations of society in that space. Emotion, identity and place all influence each other, triangulating and this enables us to develop “more sensual understandings of the world” (Nayak and Jeffrey 2011 282).”
I am beginning to realise I am not ever going to be able to reclaim that space as the beloved one I thought it was. I am going to have to let that most special place go. He will either have to buy me out, or we will have to sell it. I thought I needed to give it twelve months, to see how I felt then. But, I can’t feel like I have the past two days, trying to force myself to go there, knowing I will spew when I arrive, and feel miserable as I ‘see’ Trinket cooking in my kitchen, waking her babies up in my babies’ rooms, bathing in my bathroom, lips locked around his body parts… it is unbelievably painful. There are not the words.