As I sit at the pool bar, I silently judge the figures of the women who walk past, and assume that the perfectly-formed ones must be as boring as fuck. I shuffle my cellulite between my tailbone and the barstool, and congratulate myself for being fascinating (despite being slightly generously-proportioned in the arse department) with another handful of nuts from the bar, washed down with a swig of the local brew. I wonder if I’ll ever enjoy exercise as much as I enjoy cake and wine.
The boys and I are on our first holiday without my husband. I was wary of taking them to a new place on my own, but in fact, all those trips we took as a family have paid off. They know how airports and hotels work, and (on the whole) how to behave in a foreign country. Apart from my son’s not-so-hilarious prank of changing his iPad home screen to a picture of Osama Bin Laden as we rushed through Frankfurt Airport Security on a quick connection, things have gone reassuringly smoothly so far. We’ve spent a few days by the pool, managed to hire a boat without a man in the family to take control of the entire transaction, and even indulged in a bit of culture (although too much culture usually ends up with a child suffering from some sort of life-threatening illness for which ice cream is the only known cure.) The younger twin tells his new friends that his dad is away on a business trip, which hurts, because it means he’s not yet able to accept the truth. On the other hand, I want people to know that I’m happily married more than I want them to know that I’m widowed. I’m certainly not on the market. I am happily married – it’s just that my husband is dead, which is why he’s not here. Even though he would have been, in a heartbeat. If he still had one.
The body and soul that we fall in love with and marry is not usually identical to the one that we die holding hands with. That’s part of the fun. We all evolve as characters, become more like each other, and kind of chill out a bit once we’ve had a slice of that great libido-killer, wedding cake. My husband and I had pretty much tried to stay the same size over the years, without doing any real exercise, and without quitting the wine, or the chocolate, or anything really. We did have a gym membership, and imagined the weight might melt off in the sauna or jacuzzi, simply because we’d made the effort to turn up. Our quitting smoking coincided with my pregnancy, and although my body changed while I ate for three, my husband raided the fridge every time he craved nicotine. By the time I was ready to give birth, either one of us could have passed for the one carrying twins. He didn’t have the luxury of breastfeeding two babies to ping him back into shape, and although I quickly slipped back into a size ten, he took eight years to really try to lose the weight, because, to be honest, he didn’t really try at all. With 25 years between us, I did recognise that it was easier for me than for him, but his lack of commitment to getting back into shape drove me around the bend. I asked if he wanted to look after his body enough to see his kids grow up. I was only being dramatic – I didn’t actually think he wouldn’t be around to see them grow up – I just wanted him to be a bit slimmer. To prove that he wanted me to find him attractive. To show that it mattered.
About four months before he was diagnosed with cancer, we went through a fairly difficult period. To get back on track, we traded searching for bachelor flats on Rightmove for a Slimming World subscription and a daily sexathon. That was an idea I found here, during a browse of an old Saturday Guardian, and it’s a technique I can highly recommend. I don’t mean flicking through the Guardian will save your marriage. I mean flicking… oh, never mind. Anyway, he lost weight, and so did I. We got on well, we laughed a lot, and we were happy. Not because we both suddenly had fabulous bodies, but because we loved one another enough to at least try to be attractive to each other again, and as extra little kindnesses automatically slipped back into the relationship, the pounds fell away from us both.
I don’t think his losing two stone was the be-all-and-end-all, but at the time, it mattered. I’m embarrassed to admit that now, because just over two years later, all that was left of the slightly unkempt and chunky fellow of before was a bald skeleton with spirit and skin, in his trademark brightly-coloured t-shirt, whose jolliness covered the physical and mental pain behind it.
The body is simply a vehicle for the soul. I didn’t marry my husband’s body. The body I married was a bonus fourteen years ago, but I actually married the laughter. The fascinating ideas. The pisstaking. The generosity. The intellect. The adventures. I also married the morning breath, the stubbornness, and the refusal to ever eat fruit. But they were all part of the package, and the package came within that body, which contained that wonderful, frustrating, hilarious soul. And he married me. Not for my lovely breasts (and they are bloody lovely,) or the bottom I’d never liked, or my dodgy complexion. The whole me.
And that’s why, without him, I’m petrified of having a part of me sliced off – a part he loved. After his operation, he was embarrassed about his scars, but the boys and I had seen him through the surgery, seen how the scars had saved his life, and were grateful for what they represented. The scars had helped his wonderful soul to keep on going for a year longer than it should have.
My soul will not disappear just yet, as long as a well-qualified person in a white mask with a big fuck-off scalpel cuts off my left breast sometime soon (preferably while I’m asleep.) But, there’s a hole inside my soul – bigger than my C-cups, and even bigger than my husband when he was at his biggest, heaviest and cuddliest. It’s why I’m baffled that I still judge and compare and hate my body, because the heart that beats inside it is as whole and as full and as generous as anyone else’s, and I wish that my husband’s body – in any shape or size – was with us now. I wish that he was here to love my body, as the husbands of those ladies-of-all-shapes-and-sizes around the pool love them; metaphorical warts and all. All I have now is a box of ashes which I can’t bear to let go of and bury in the churchyard. But it doesn’t make me laugh or tell me I’m beautiful, or reassure me that it’ll all be OK, lovely boobs (or lack of) notwithstanding. On the contrary, it tells me that I’m completely on my own.
If my husband had survived, we’d have laughed about this. We’d have called ourselves the Frankenstein’s Monsters and thrown some sort of Hallowe’en-themed party with extra added gore jokes to celebrate the ridiculousness of it all. But I don’t have my Partner in Pisstaking, and there’s nobody left to reassure me that I’m just fine being me, and to love me because of my flaws (and my soon-to-be bionic breast) not in spite of them. Not for the first time, I’m completely fucking petrified, and I miss him. Every wobbly, opinionated, unshaven, and infuriating last bit of him.
Love Fanny x