Welcome to our series, The Divorce Diaries. In the past eleven instalments we’ve covered everything from the effect of lockdown on divorces to whether they’re contagious and have now spoken to dozens of women – including one who discovered her husband’s affair during lockdown and another who found out her husband had a vasectomy and didn’t tell her – even after they’d been trying for a baby for a year.
This week we spoke to Renee, who found herself alone seven years ago, after her husband simply vanished…
When Renee woke before dawn to catch an early morning flight, she didn’t want to wake her husband – she slipped out of bed quietly and kissed him on the forehead as she left. He stirred, rolled over and slurred, “I love you,” as he went back to sleep.
They would be the last words Andrew ever said to her.
Renee and Andrew were in their mid-thirties and had been married for five years and together for seven. For the last few years they’d be concentrating on saving up to buy a house – hopefully not too far from the two-bedroom house they rented near the city.
Renee travelled often for her job, and on that particular day, it was really no different to usual. She drove to the airport, flicked through a book on her one-hour flight, landed and went about her work. She didn’t think much of it when she text Andrew on the first night to say ‘Love you, goodnight x’ and didn’t get a response back. She figured he would be caught up watching TV and wouldn’t see her message until late. It did seem a little out of character when the second night passed without any contact – but she figured it was a fleeting trip, she’d be home the next day anyway.
She felt that warm flutter of coming home as she rounded the corner to the street they lived on. Pulling into the drive, she noticed Andrew’s car wasn’t there – perhaps he was working late or had stopped into the gym.
“I was exhausted when I got home,” tells Renee. “I carried my bag in, left it by the door. I think I opened the pantry and got a packet of chips and flopped on the couch.”
It was then that Renee noticed that something was very wrong. “The 43-inch TV was gone,” she says. In a panic she looked around. The dining room table had gone too. Her stomach plummeted. They’d been burgled.
She raced to the bedroom to see if her jewellery box had been taken and felt a surge of relief when it was there – alongside her expensive perfumes, photography equipment and hard drives. She picked up her phone and called her husband – but the number went straight to answerphone, so she text him to please call her, the house had been burgled. The next call she made was to her dad, who lived 10 minutes away and told her he’d be right over. “I remember he told me to call the cops and not to touch anything, because they might be able to find fingerprints,” she says.
She went back to the kitchen to get a glass of water – which was when she noticed an envelope on the bench with her name on it. “It was a goodbye letter,” tells Renee. “It said he was sorry but he didn’t want to be married anymore and wanted different things to me and hoped I would have a happy life. It was so freaking short.”
The next few hours and days are a complete blur to Renee. She vaguely remembers her dad arriving and finding her, hysterical, in the kitchen. “I remember I couldn’t find the words to tell him what happened, I just showed him the note.” She remembers him boiling the jug and giving her a chamomile tea while she was in the fetal position, then checking around the house for what had gone.
Andrew had literally moved out in the three days and two nights that Renee had been away. He’d left her with most of their belongings and taken just the things he entered the relationship with, his clothes, books and knick-knacks – and his beloved TV.
After thinking it was some kind of grotesque joke, her dad switched into fix-it gear – he discovered Andrew had transferred exactly half the money in their two joint accounts out (a day-to-day one, and a savings account – where they’d been squirrelling away for the deposit), and he’d let their property manager know that he had moved out and Renee was the sole occupant
“I don’t remember a lot because it felt like a dream, or a nightmare,” tells Renee. “I called his number hundreds of times but he never picked up. I can’t believe that I literally got ghosted by my own husband.”
Sometime during the next few days she got an email from Andrew’s lawyer – with details about their separation. “Because we had no kids and didn’t own property they said it was very straight forward. They asked if I would sign a separation agreement, which I wouldn’t, but they said they didn’t need one because they had enough documentation proving when Andrew left the marriage.”
Renee – understandably – lost her cool a few times with the lawyers. “And with his family,” she admits. “I went to his parent’s house a couple of times, and his workplace, just asking for some answers. Why did he leave? Where was he? Why couldn’t he be a f****g adult and have a conversation with me about it? He alerted security at his work and filed for a restraining order. It was insane.”
She says she lost a few friends – some felt awkward, whilst others she badgered. Surely someone must know something. He couldn’t have moved the table by himself!
Her dad insisted that she give notice on the house – it was too much rent to pay alone – and move in with him until she got on her feet again. He got her a lawyer, who also suggested she get a counsellor, given the nature of the separation.
It’s now been seven years since Andrew left Renee and – while she’s worked hard at finding peace – she still finds the break-up upsetting. She’s since remarried and now has three step-children. “I’m the luckiest to have found my husband,” she says. “When things got serious, for a few weeks I was so stressed all the time. I dreaded going away for work. Deep down, I thought when I got home, he’d be gone. I imagined going over to his place and finding he didn’t live there anymore.”
Instead, she opened up and told him exactly what happened. “And he suggested I move in! He’s so thoughtful, he still messages me every few hours when I’m away.”
Renee has heard little about her former husband Andrew. She eventually discovered he’d quit his job about three months later and moved to another part of the country. After their divorce, two years later, she discovered he’d made a fresh start in Australia where he now has two children.
“I’ve written him letters over the years and burned them before I sent them,” she tells. “I’ve had to make my own closure, but a part of me still hopes that one day I’ll get to have a conversation with him.”
*Names have been changed.
THE DIVORCE DIARIES
Do you have a story to share? If you’d like to share your own experiences, tips or advice (we can keep you anonymous if you’d prefer!) please do email me at [email protected].