When loved ones suffer unexpected delays, I have to admit I am the kind of person who imagines they are dead in a ditch, rather than simply late. Of course, the degree of anxiety depends on the information available. If they are travelling from a long way away, then of course I would be much slower to react. If they only have a ten-minute journey, then worry sets in sooner. I may be anxious, but it’s generally proportional to facts.
Well, yesterday evening, at about a quarter to seven, I realised I did not know where my husband was. For many years now, Mr Litlove has had a job that allows him a pretty regular homecoming between 6 and 6.30pm. Occasionally he has to work late until 7, but if he’s going to be any later than this, he calls or sends a text. This is a system that believe it or not, we’ve worked out, as when we were first married, Mr Litlove found it difficult to organise his timetable. Some of his early jobs involved more travelling, and it was quite often the case that I would ask him where he was going, and he would tell me he’d find out when he arrived at the airport. Not that this information was unavailable to him, just that he didn’t feel the need to think about it in advance. However, I took exception, as when people asked me where my husband was, and I could only reply that I didn’t know, but out of the country somewhere, I felt it gave the wrong impression. Mr Litlove, like many a male before him, had a little issue sharing the details of his day with me, and I, as I said before, am of a nervous disposition. Over the years, we’ve figured out ways around it.
So, yesterday, and I shouldn’t even have been in myself. We bookshop girls had had a plan to meet up for more paper sculpture last night, but I’d reluctantly decided I couldn’t go. The past week has been very up and down for me, chronic fatigue-wise, but often an erratic pattern means the end of a period of ill health. I wasn’t feeling great yesterday, but I felt pretty sure that if I took good care of myself, kept calm and well rested, the end was in sight. I was very sorry to miss my friends, but in a positive and optimistic frame of mind. In fact I was planning a blog post for today in which I would tell you how optimistic I was feeling. Ah my friends, if you are to learn one thing from my errors, let it be this: never tempt fate.
At a quarter to seven, I texted him, asking where he was, but got no reply. He’d left early that morning for a meeting in London. We’d spoken about it the night before, as he had to give an hour and a half presentation and hadn’t prepared for it. But he was just introducing new recruits to the company, so we agreed it wasn’t so dreadful. Usually an early meeting means he’ll be back in the office by the afternoon. When seven o’clock came and went, I tried ringing his mobile, but it rang with no reply until it eventually switched to voice mail. I wasn’t so worried at this point. I just thought he must be held up somewhere. So I looked up his company online and rang the number for the Cambridge office. No reply. I rang the number for the London office (which I knew to be a small affair). No reply. If everyone had gone home for the day, then where was he?
I kept ringing his mobile. Same result – ringing and ringing and eventually voicemail. So maybe he’d lost his phone somewhere, or was in a place where the noise was too loud for him to hear it. Or, of course, he could be stuck on the train. I rang the station and checked: no delays today on the London-Cambridge service. If he didn’t have his phone with him, the other place he could be was on the river. Had he perhaps a practice session that I had forgotten about? I rang his rowing buddy, Roy, who was incredibly sweet and concerned, but no, there was no rowing fixed for that evening. It was now past 7.30 with no word, and Roy was worried too; he’d always found my husband very reliable in letting him know of any changes of plan.
Well, I was trying not to panic and wondering who I could ring next. Part of me couldn’t believe that anything serious had happened because my husband leads such a charmed life. On occasions, I’d heard of hold-ups and crashes in the transport system that should have affected him, only to have him saunter in at the usual time, unaware that anything had happened. On the other hand, I couldn’t think where he could be. He would surely realise he was late, and know I would be worrying. We had our agreement and we’ve kept to it for years. I was tempted to ring the hospital, but I felt sure that news of that sort would travel fast to me. Wouldn’t it? I couldn’t call any of his work colleagues as he keeps their numbers on his mobile which was with him, wherever he was. By a quarter to eight I was really concerned.
Finally, shortly before eight o’clock, he rang. He was in London still. He’d just not thought about telling me he’d be late, and he said he’d had his phone switched off because his battery had been low. Neither of us understands why his phone was ringing then, rather than moving directly to voicemail. He doesn’t know why the phone wasn’t answered at the London office. Honestly, this is the first time in our marriage that I’ve thought another woman might be involved, only in the cold light of day I feel sure a mistress would pose a logistical nightmare of such proportions that my husband could not rise to the challenge. If he can’t manage to tell me where he’s going to be, how could be possibly deal with two of us?
I have many questions which wither and die before the mysteries of the male brain. Why didn’t he tell me last night, when we were discussing the meeting, that it might go on late? How come it’s not possible to find the time to send a text saying ‘late home’ over the course of a whole day and in the light of possible mobile battery failure? How could he forget me entirely?
The thing is, I was thinking about the situation from the perspective that he would know he was late and realise I’d be worrying, and that any kind of extreme anxiety would have unfortunate consequences for my chronic fatigue.
Whereas Mister Litlove was in a meeting in London and not thinking at all.
This, my friends, is why marriage is not always a bed of roses. His friend, Roy, rang me again about 10 pm (when he was not yet back) to ask if I’d tracked him down. ‘He’s fine,’ I reassured him, thanking him for his consideration. Then I thought about it. ‘But he might have a broken leg the next time you see him.’ Roy laughed and asked very politely if I could postpone any retribution until after the weekend; they have a regatta to race, apparently. Poor Mr Litlove is still somewhat in the dog house today; he’ll be very glad to have an excuse to be out of the house on the weekend, and I will know better than to worry about what time he’ll make it back.