I definitely consider the Mistakes series to be my own most valuable contribution to these forums, though the competition isn't particularly strong as the majority of my 4999 posts to date have been in the MTTc monthly LC threads! For those that haven't read them, each Mistakes thread is a separate story about a particularly difficult period of my life in which I made some questionable choices and decisions. The stories are extremely long, so they're split into chapters and each chapter has its own soundtrack that's intended to reflect the theme.
My original "Mistakes" thread was removed for personal privacy reasons, but Part Two was very popular and I received a number of PMs from people who were keen to read the original story. Eventually I re-wrote Part One and posted it again, with a number of cosmetic changes to protect the privacy of some people involved.
I've been asked privately about what happened in between the end of Part One and the beginning of Part Two, as there's a significant gap. I didn't write about this at the time for a number of reasons, the main one being that the intention of the original thread was not to tell my life story! But after the privacy concerns I encountered when posting the first story, I couldn't see an easy way to write about this period of my life without disclosing an unreasonable amount of information about the lives of other people.
An old friend of mine who's an experienced editor read both threads, and offered to work with me to gather the entire series together as a single novel and attempt to get it published. Nothing ever came of the publishing idea, the interest just wasn't there in the material I'd written and I wasn't sufficiently motivated to make the thousands of changes and re-submissions that might have given me a chance. But I did write a substantial amount of new material covering the period of my life that the 2+2 threads missed out, and I decided to honour my 5000th post on the forums by releasing it. Or at least, the first installment. I'll break the chapters up in the usual way so as to make the thread more manageable and perhaps a little less self-indulgent.
This story follows on directly from Mistakes Part One.
Part One: The Walk Of Shame
The walk from Claire's house to my parents' home is mostly a blur, as my mind was totally occupied by the terror of what had just happened and the utter dread of what was to come. I remember passing a group of teenagers on my way out of Claire's estate, and being amazed that they didn't bother to mock my appearance. I also recall walking down a seemingly never-ending country lane as darkness began to fall, and cursing the fact that the road surface seemed to consist almost entirely of sharp pieces of gravel and splinters of glass.
Somehow I eventually made it back to my parents' home town, and I was within a mile or two of their house when a police car pulled up alongside me and the officer in the passenger seat rolled his window down.
"You ok?" he asked as he looked down at my bare feet.
"No" was my instinctive reply.
"What happened to you? Been in a fight?"
"Long story. Any chance of a lift home?"
"Nope. But you'd better tell us what you've been up to if you want to get home tonight."
I knew they weren't going to let me just walk away. I'd only ever had one run-in with the local police, back when I was a teenage Law student with a big mouth, and that time I'd ended up spending a night in the cells for attempting a witty remark. The last thing I needed right now was any more trouble, so I decided to explain my situation and hope they'd leave me alone.
"OK. I was at my wife's sister's house. Her fella came home and caught us together. He beat the **** out of me, and now I'm walking home."
Of course, both policemen found this immediately fascinating. The driver leaned over and asked me to clarify that I was married, and had been caught having sex with my wife's sister. I confirmed, and they both erupted in laughter. The driver began relaying the story to a colleague over the police radio, while the other instructed me to get in the car.
At least I got a lift home out of it. On the way home I attempted to explain that David had also punched Claire in the face, and that she could now be in danger. But they weren't even slightly interested in that, especially as Claire's house wasn't on their patch.
"If she wants to report it to her local station tomorrow, that's up to her" was the extent of the advice I received. They were far more interested in exploring the details of my relationship with Claire, and how she compared physically to Anna. The lads at the station would love this, they assured me.
Even when the police dropped me off at my parents' house, my humiliation wasn't complete. I had no keys, so I had to ring the doorbell and wake my parents at about 1am to get into the house. No chance of just quietly slipping into my room, instead I had to apologise for waking them and assure them that I didn't need to go to the hospital. I wasn't prepared to explain what had happened, it would all come out soon enough and I just wanted to go to bed. I did at least find a couple of cigarettes in my room though.
Waking up the next morning was particularly painful, both physically and emotionally. I could barely open my left eye, and my entire face was swollen and bruised. My feet were killing me, and my headache was unbearable. The reality of what had happened was much worse though, and there was plenty of misery yet to come. It was difficult to find a motivation for getting out of bed, especially since I could hear my parents downstairs and knew they'd be anxious to hear what had happened. No doubt Anna had already heard the gory details from David, she'd be storming round at some point to kick me between the legs and scream abuse at me. Oh God, Anna was going to be absolutely devastated..
I quickly decided that I couldn't stay in the house. I didn't want to explain anything to my parents, and I didn't want to be there when Anna inevitably arrived. My options as to where to go or who to call were quite limited however, as I didn't have my phone and just about everyone I knew would be in work. I remembered that I had an old business card of Jim's somewhere, and scrambled around for it in the pockets of my old clothes. Bingo, it had his mobile number on it. Time to call in another favour.
Part Two: You Did This
"Jesus, what happened to you?"
Jim almost spat out his coffee as I walked into the cafe and approached his table. I'd cleaned myself up as best I could, but I had a classic black eye and several smaller bruises and cuts all over my face. David's insistence on wearing a hefty sovereign ring on one of the fingers of his punching hand had produced some spectacular results. I sighed and sat down.
Jim shook his head and rolled his eyes as I recounted the details, interrupting a few times to dispute the truth of what I was saying. He couldn't believe that after everything that had happened when Anna had found the text message in my phone, I'd actually gone ahead and screwed the sister. It made no sense, I must have been screwing her all along. I explained that I'd fallen in love with Claire, and swore that we'd never so much as kissed until after my breakup with Anna, but he just shook his head more violently and screwed his eyes shut.
"You're supposed to be the smart one!" he exclaimed. "What the **** is wrong with you? In love with her? What the **** are you talking about?"
"I know it doesn't make any sense, I just can't describe it."
"You've lost it. Seriously, you've lost it. Mate, look at the state of you. What the **** have you done? Jesus Christ...."
I had nothing to say to that. He was right, of course. I could always count on Jim to deliver a few home truths, but right now I couldn't handle too much honesty. I needed to be reassured that everything would somehow be ok, that I hadn't completely screwed up my entire life. I looked down at the table, and Jim could see me fighting to hold back the tears. He'd never seen me cry, even when I'd fallen off a wall when we were twelve years old and smashed my two front teeth out on the concrete he'd proudly told everyone that I'd taken it like a man. So the sight of me struggling to hold it together in front of him must have been a shock, and he instantly realised that a public place was not a good idea for me right now. He stood up, gestured at me to follow him, and led me out of the cafe. He put his arm round my shoulder as we stepped outside, and guided me to his car.
Back at Jim's, we went through the events of the past few weeks in meticulous detail. He still found it difficult to believe that my affair with Clair had only begun after I'd split up with Anna, and he questioned me about this several times as he needed to be sure that everything I'd told him in our previous counselling sessions had actually been completely true. Eventually he accepted it all, and his next concern was how I'd managed to make such a ridiculous decision as to meet up with Claire, and to then embark on a full-blown affair with her, without so much as a word to him. Had he just been wasting his time and his breath talking to me for hours on end after the breakup with Anna? Why had I chosen to be so secretive again?
I didn't know. All I could say was that it felt right at the time, though I immediately realised that the fact I'd kept it to myself suggested I'd known deep down that what I was doing was difficult to justify. So what now? Did I still want to go ahead and tell the world about my relationship with Claire? Anna was going to find out anyway, so it was too late to protect her from another round of absolute misery. I groaned as Jim reminded me of this, and insisted that the last thing I'd wanted to do was to hurt Anna again. The sympathy evaporated from his eyes, and he gave me a stern look.
"Don't talk ****. You haven't thought about Anna for a ****ing second."
Jim was very rarely angry, especially not with me. But I could see that his patience was wearing thin with my constant self pity and I knew I had to stop attempting to defend the indefensible. I nodded my agreement, and hung my head in shame. Jim was on a roll now, and he began to berate me for the growing list of idiotic and selfish actions I'd performed. Sulking at work and essentially throwing away a good job; making no real attempt to find a new job; blaming Anna and our daughter for my unhappiness; being tempted by Anna's own sister; making no attempt to save my marriage. And after all the trauma I'd already inflicted on my wife and myself, I'd still decided to go ahead and begin a sexual relationship with Claire. I clearly didn't give a damn about the consequences, either for myself or for anyone else.
"You did all this. You decided to do all this. You're not a ****ing victim here John."
Jim lit a cigarette as he allowed his words to sink in. He looked at the packet and thought about it, then leaned forward and offered me one. I smiled half-heartedly, thanked him and accepted. We sat in silence for a few minutes, until Jim stubbed out his cigarette and announced that it was high time I put the kettle on and made us both a coffee.
"You'd better have a strong one, you're going to go and talk to Anna after this."