I knew my marriage was over when I dreamt my husband had turned into a mobile phone.
We were in bed in my dream and I turned over to find my husband wasn’t my husband anymore. His head and upper torso were a rectangular screen, his bare legs remained intact, but his love-making essentials had morphed into a keyboard.
“What happened?” I asked, sitting up.
The screen glowed blue and stayed blank. And then a small black vertical line pulsed over the beginning of a word.
“Nothing,” it typed. “Why?”
“Are you ok?” I asked.
“Yep, you?” wrote the black line.
“Where’s your head gone?”
That’s when I woke up and scanned under the covers.
Bottom. Check. Head screwed onto neck. Check.
At breakfast, we were in the kitchen and I talked to him about the dream.
“Not this again…” he said, and stormed out of the room.
I’ve often wondered why the words “happily” and “married” are fated to be together. So conditioned are we to make them stick that we often forget to question how much adhesive they actually have. Dreams question.
I fell for my husband the moment I saw him in a queue, 14 years ago. It was in a gadget shop in France. A big bang kind of moment. Endorphins and chemicals all over the place. I’d found “the one” they all talk about. And he was French. Yum. He didn’t speak the same, didn’t eat the same, he knew loads about socialism and sodomy, and man was he sexy. So aged 21, I moved from the UK to the land of philosophical frogs, and that was that.
Reason got packing and along came the giddy feeling of the unknown, fantasies fuelled by the mystery of what if. The flaws I saw later, I didn’t see now. Nope. Not even his premature addiction to the Nokia 6310i. Just a lovey-dovey duo state of wellbeing where connections formed as randomly as sense in a lunatic. Warm was this bubble, and from inside it we waved two fingers at the clichés of the past, at any future doom, and we floated, eyes in eyes. Any sporadic beep from the mobile was muted by his sheer gorgeousness, and how in-sync we looked in that photo in Dakota.
Time brought change, as it often does. As he upgraded his Nokia for a waterproof and shockproof ip67 with a standby power bank, conversations were guillotined by a beep. Connections got temporarily lost. Occasionally, the drama queen inside me stamped her feet with an erm, hello, I’m here, and she got him back a bit. Humour sometimes lassoed him too. But his eyes were lit up more often by a text message than by my joke about the rabbit who goes to the butcher’s. Of course I was jealous. I hated the thing. All those buttons. All that potential and non-stop ringing. I knew very well that I was becoming the whingy girlfriend-turned-wife, and Mademoiselle Nokia was the bitch wearing the garter belt. She was the one whispering sweet nothings now.
And so began our little ménage à trois. I even got my own Monsieur Nokia to balance things out. I called him Bernard. God, he was boring. Still, I tapped away at him. I figured that if I was only ever going to be half-listened to, half-understood, if life was about half-moments then I should get on with half-living too.
Full-throttled disillusionment came with the arrival of the smartphone though. Ooh là là. A whole universe in a rectangle it was, and my arch nemesis. Bought by his mother. It was no longer just about me, my being replaced, the world around him was being hijacked by the dogma of the screen. Real life was rubbish. Pixilated life was way better.
The smartphone was the first face he saw in the morning, and the last thing he looked at when he went to bed. Hell, the man was directionless without it. One evening I managed to hide it, and God it felt good. Necking back a beer, I watched him wriggle a while.
Sometimes I’d try and outdo its 3G performance with a blow-job, outshine its enticing flashes by parading about in lingerie, or I’d attempt to floor Google by saying something insightful about the human genome.
“What are you doing?” I remember him asking me once. I was in the bedroom, dressed in the black and white destroyer outfit of a French maid. Kids in bed.
“Seducing you,” I said, tugging at my lace pinafore.
“Ah, ok. Can I just send this?” he said.
Maybe French maid outfits weren’t actually sexy for Frenchmen, I thought. But English maids sounded very unsexy, far too farmyard. I don’t know, maybe I was overdoing it with the whip. Either way, the effort to compete with the rectangle was foiled from the start. It was like fighting a war with a wooden spoon.
“It’s a disease you have,” he once said to me. ‘Go get treated.”
We were in a motel on our way back from a holiday we’d spent with my parents in Brittany. During that holiday he’d had his back turned and I’d felt sad. In the roadside motel, the kids were in the bath, blowing bubbles, and he was on one of the flowery beds, swiping. As a kind of last-ditch attempt to rekindle something, I said, hey why not leave the phone in the room and we’ll go out for a walk. He saw red.
“Why don’t you just leave me?” he shouted. And he didn’t mean just leave the room.
I apologised. For the ninth time. Said that I was a Luddite. For the ninth time. I told him I’d back off and let him be, that it wasn’t fair to put pressure on him. It was my problem, not his. It was my disease.
Back home, I became a professional at manufacturing positives. I’d frame the beautiful happenings; the sentimental words I’d scrap together in a book. Him dancing to “It’s Raining Men” when our son was born, him lying in the grass smiling after a summer barbecue, him playing the guitar at Christmas, him telling that joke. Him holding our daughter tight, tight. I scooped up all these moments, dusted them off, occasionally twisting them into something fitting. And I’d make them part of our story. It warded off doubt, it dumbed down questioning. It helped me sleep. Happily married, happily married. Those inseparable words.
So began my role as part-time zombie. With bloodshot eyes and arms outstretched, I’d make love mechanically, think mechanically. I’d laugh at things that weren’t funny, make food I couldn’t taste, read words that didn’t ring true, switch on a smile. And on and on went the beeps and the whistles. The only time I managed to come back to the real world was when I was alone with the kids. On the swings in parks, throwing skimmers in the sea, at bath time. Or when I was walking in the woods. Without him.
Accepting someone else’s flaws is child’s play. It’s the understanding part that takes some getting. I just didn’t get it. I didn’t get the whys. Why he’d rather Instagram the kids than help them build sand castles, why accumulating followers was more important than burping the alphabet at breakfast. In French and in English. Why he didn’t want to just stick around. All those moments at home or at friends’ or in restaurants where he stood there in the hallway, stooped over like a vulture. Even our son joked that his Dad had turned into a statue with moving thumbs.
Then things got shaky. My mind was steadily populated by other what ifs. What if this was not it? What if there was something else?
While family members came with their well-meaning plasters and matrimonial post-its, my husband and I talked. We tried to realign. Reconnect. If not for us, then for the kids, for the kids.
But however much you try to believe in what you’re doing, it’s free spirits you meet on the way that nudge you to see lucidly. It’s articles you read that enlighten you, songs you hear that stir you up and make you feel brave. It’s having a dream that your husband becomes a mobile phone that acts as a wake-up call. They all prod at something inside of you. Instinct. There’s no keeping a lid on it.
I know I have flaws, a warty array of gruesome defects, but I know one thing I’m good at. Living the present. Being wide-eyed like our kids, looking up at the shifting clouds, making moments, real ones. I think it’s a fundamental part of who you are which can’t be taught. We’re either moment-livers or we’re not. And my husband is not, like many other divers of the digital deep.
Mounted on its motherboard, his brain is now a CPU, managing all the signals in and out. As for his heart, it’s been replaced by a battery. This means he can never be far from a power supply lest he keel over and die. I don’t know at what point I lost him completely, how much I participated in the process of estrangement, but I know there’s no getting him back. It wore me out trying.
I didn’t want the kids to have a zombie for a mum, mobile but technically deceased. I didn’t want to ween my husband off the screen anymore because it was his light source.
So the Luddite left, and he let her.