Like most ideas, it seemed a good one at the time. And when my bubbling daughter Claire enthused, “Great! Go for it, mum,” the decision was made.
But now I was having second thoughts.
Nothing unusual about that, really. In the twenty-five years since I made that unforgettable decision, I have been in the habit of dithering. Indecisive should be my middle name.
As I placed my shopping packages on the shelf and hitched onto a high stool, I gazed out of the Starbucks coffee shop window at the bustling activity of Broadway. And I couldn’t help but reflect on all that had happened in the thirty years since I last came to New York as a wide-eyed twenty-two-year-old…
Gerry and I were honeymooners, pinching ourselves that we really were in the middle of Manhattan, the vibrant core of the Big Apple. We drank in all the sights: the awesome skyscrapers, Ellis Island and the Liberty Statue, Central Park, the views from atop the Empire State building, the theatres, so many exotic restaurants and, of course, the stores. Especially Macy’s and Bloomingdales.
Then there was the noise and smells; nose-to-tail yellow cabs, hot dog stalls on every corner, brownstone apartment buildings with metal fire escapes, the rattling subway and clouds of warm steam billowing through the street grids. It was all so much like the movies!
And, to cap it all, I was there with Gerry, my handsome husband with the sparkling blue eyes who I loved so much.
Four years later, along came Claire, blessed with her father’s sharp features and ambitious nature. But, kindly, she says it was inheriting my long legs that really helped her to be a successful dancer, a career in which she has performed all around the world. And that includes right here in Broadway hit musicals.
I love her hugely. Without question, Claire has been the kernel of my adult life. What irony, then, that her birth should also be the catalyst of my most harrowing time… and that decision.
Gerry was nearly thirty back then and had rapidly risen to become general manager. We had everything: love, money, nice home, cars, holidays abroad and a beautiful daughter. Life and our future were rosy. Then my world crashed.
Gerry’s work often took him away for days or even weeks at a time. His diary was full of conferences, meetings and seminars. I missed him, of course, but I had my baby to look after. Claire was no trouble during the day and I was able to get on with my other household chores. But nights were another matter. It was then that she came awake - with a passion. Perhaps her body clock was already preparing her to dance the night away!
When he was home, Gerry never baulked at taking his turn with our animated night-owl daughter. Even when faced with another long working day, he would be awake into the early hours, amusing and eventually soothing Claire to sleep. For that, I was truly grateful because, after a few months, I could have slept around the clock.
I admit to being so tired that I frequently feigned sleep when Gerry was clearly feeling amorous. As he stroked my hair, caressed my shoulders and back, I would mumble, shrug and crunch into the fetal position. I loved him - but I really was that weary.
Then, when Claire was nearly nine months old, came the telephone call that changed my life.
In the early evening, an unfamiliar voice asked, “May I speak to Gerald, please?”
“I’m sorry, he’s not here at the moment. Who’s calling?”
“Not there? That can’t be right. Look, this is Sally, when do you expect him?”
Sally? Gerry had never mentioned that name but it was stated with such assurance. Familiarity even. Perhaps she’s a new client. I said, “He’ll probably phone later. He’s in Brussels for a few days on business. Can I take a message?”
“Brussels! No, that’s impossible. We’ve got tickets for the theatre tonight. Who are you? The housekeeper?”
Tickets for the theatre? Housekeeper? My grip tightened on the phone.
The stranger’s voice came again in my ear. “Hello… hello… are you still there?”
“Yes.” A hoarse whisper. I coughed and said as firmly as I could, “I’m not the housekeeper, I’m Gerry’s wife. What’s this about theatre tickets?”
“Wife? I don’t believe it. The swine. I should’ve guessed.”
When I confronted Gerry on his return from Brussels, he went ashen-faced, sank into the sofa and admitted the affair. Rather, he said, it was a one-off, a moment of weakness. I hadn’t made love with him for months. He’d succumbed… and ever since he’d tried to shake off Sally. She obviously phoned out of spite, knowing he was away. A woman scorned. Forgive me, don’t let this ruin our lives. It wouldn’t happen again. He loved me. Loved Claire. Tears.
But I was hurt, betrayed and devastated. And adamant. I ordered him out. Marriage over. Divorce. The fateful decision was made.
Over the next twenty-five years, Claire remained a natural link between us. First there was child access and, as she grew, Gerry insisted on funding her schooling and dance lessons. He was also generous with maintenance payments.
As my pain and anger receded, I agreed to partner Gerry at parent evenings and, later, we sat side-by-side in the stalls, delightedly sharing Claire’s stage debut. Then there was the wedding.
Claire, of course, was a beautiful bride. And Gerry, his hair and recently-grown moustache a premature white, was a distinguished and proud father as he walked her down the aisle. At the reception, we even waltzed together, clinked glasses in a toast to Claire and her actor-husband Gregory and, not for the first time, Gerry looked wistfully, sadly, into my eyes and said, “If only…”
“Penny for them. Or should that be a dime?”
“What? Oh… sorry, I was miles away.”
“Anything I should know?”
I looked into the pale blue eyes, reached out and ran a finger along the white moustache. I smiled and sighed. “I was just thinking that I might have made another wrong decision.”
“What’s that, mum?” Claire, our Broadway star, placed a large beaker of coffee on the shelf in front of me. “Being indecisive again? What is it this time?”
“Silly, really. When we came in, and I saw all those choices - small, medium, large, regular, decaf, cappuccino and all those types of coffee bean… well, I was flummoxed, I suppose.” I sat upright on the stool, straightening my spine and offering an apologetic smile. “Truth is, I don’t think I could drink a large one.”
Claire laughed. “Oh mum. Just leave what you can’t drink.”
“Thank God,” said Gerry. “For a moment there I thought…”
“Oh no,” I interrupted, reaching for his hand and twiddling the old gold band that I’d replaced on his finger in the registry office a week ago. “I’m certain about that decision. After all, it’s not everybody that gets a second bite of the Big Apple, is it?”