Saturday, 16 April 2011

The Grand Opening

Today, when my nine year old son enquired of me, "What is the best question I have ever asked?", it prompted me to think about the questions we ask of one another and the impact a simple enquiry can have.

On 2 October 2008 a good friend suggested she visit for a coffee knowing from a previous conversation I was fearful and frustrated with my husband’s behaviour and was in a dilemma as to what to do next. Suspecting a heavy handed approach would get me nowhere, I was beginning to realise something was very wrong about the way in which he was dealing with everything, including me and was at a loss where I should start.

A month previously my husband had returned to the UK from our family holiday, for what was supposed to be three days, to deal with an urgent business matter. He did not, in fact, return to the family holiday at all. Abandoned for three weeks, albeit in our beautiful but isolated apartment, in temperatures of 40C with three children and no car I knew I knew all was not well for him not to have returned. But for the kindness of neighbours I would have been unable to purchase provisions and nor would I have been able to travel to the airport for our departure. To leave my children and in this positions was very strange behaviour on  the part of my, normally, very caring husband.

On my return I discovered the urgent business issues which had been the reason for my husband's solo return not only remained unresolved but the progress on our property development was minimal compared to the claims my husband had made to while I was in Spain.. Matters were further compounded by news the sale of our home had fallen through as had the sale of an option my husband had purchased on a commercial development for a housing association. However, most worrying of all, my husband did not appear to have been opening the post and this was completely out of character.

Suspecting something was gravely wrong, I suggested we open the post and go through it together. He was quick to explain my help was unnecessary and what I saw  stacked up in the office were circulars and brochures. Desperately wanting to believe him, alarm bells began ringing in earnest when a couple of days later he stopped answering the telephone an it was at this point I insisted I be given the whole financial picture immediately. Giving me a wealth of assurances that, but for the pressures of work, he would be only to happy to give me the financial details of, in his words "a ship that was sailing close to the wind" but one he had every hope of pulling through, I waited, trying to be patient, a virtue that is not amongst one of my strengths, for an the opportunity his promise me was only a day or two away.

As the days dragged on I was still being kept in the dark. Waking up panic stricken every morning only to find him gone became the norm. Three weeks on, still no closer to getting any answers, it was my friend, who, when she came over for coffee and found me in a state of extreme anxiety, asked the right question at the right time on a dull October day in 2008. She said, "Shall we go into the office and try to find the post?" This was the best question I could ever have been asked under the circumstances. It offered me the support and understanding I required to take independent action at time when I felt paralysed by my husband’s assurances and requests to wait. It turned out to be the beginning of the most frightening time of my life but it was also the first step I took towards a resolution for our family.

What we found in the office was beyond belief. Letters hadn't been opened for months. There must have been hundreds of them. They were stuffed in carrier bags, hidden under chaos on the desk, on the floor in boxes, hidden in cupboards and stacked on the window sills. A few days after "the grand opening" I even discovered bags full of them in my husband’s car. Once I saw for myself what was obviously a long standing problem, I knew what I had to do and so, with my friend’s encouragement, we opened the post. It took us all afternoon and all morning the next day.

The contents were nothing short of mind numbing. Court case after court case, bailiff's letters, tax penalty notices and arrears statements were amongst the contents of nearly two hundred envelopes. My husband had been spending on forty four credit cards, a good many of which were in my name, and running up debt with any supplier who would let him. It took me further two days to wheedle out of him figures for even more debt relating to our Limited Company, of which I was a Director. He never ever did tell me everything. It was left for me to discover over the subsequent months. I don't think he really knew himself how big the problem was because it had got so out of hand he had become too afraid to look.

How I dealt, and continue to deal, with what I found is my ongoing story but undoubtedly the best question I have ever been ask was the one asked by dear friend Karen because it gave me the courage to take control of my life by embarking on The Grand Opening.

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