Usually I believe that second wives fare better than their predecessors.
A man on his second marriage has cut his matrimonial teeth. He’s learnt a thing or two. His second marriage can only benefit from the lessons gleaned in his first ‘starter marriage.’ That’s been my experience as the second wife to Rhys.
I believed that until my friend, Bethan, bared her soul on the truth behind what appeared to be her picture-perfect marriage to husband, Morgan. ‘He never talks about his ex,’ she said, ‘but she’s the third member of our marriage. It’s like some kind of miserable ménage à trois. Ada, Morgan’s ex, is always between us. I can feel it in all his likes, all his dislikes, how depressed he is on certain significant dates that were significant to him and her, not to him and me.’ (As always, all names have been changed.)
‘Every June 15th’, Bethan told me, ‘Morgan is silent and morose. June 15th was a dark day, year after year, but I didn’t know why. We don’t talk about his ex or his first marriage. The subject is banned so, on a hunch, I secretly Googled their wedding date. Sure enough, they were married on June 15th.’
Although Morgan and Ada have severed all contact and their divorce was quick and clean with no children to consider in the proceedings, Bethan says nonetheless she feels haunted by Ada. It’s not that Ada is actually stalking, contacting or harassing them, rather, Morgan has not moved on. He’s still ‘stuck’ on his first wife.
‘I wanted to cut my hair,’ Bethan told me, ‘but Morgan threw a fit! He gave no reasons, just created drama. It made no sense so I had my hair cut anyway and Morgan refused to notice my new style, much less give me a compliment. Ivy, it was weird! I was so hurt and confused until the day I was cleaning out the wardrobe and found photos of Ada hidden at the back of a drawer. Ivy, she had short hair.’
Certainly, that isn’t conclusive proof that Morgan’s moods and the likes and dislikes he pushes on his current wife are informed by his failed first marriage. I needed more evidence. Bethan had plenty.
‘There’s certain sexual positions he won’t do,’ she said, staring into her tea. ‘Nothing extravagant. Nothing from the Kama Sutra. Now and then, I’d like to be on top just to switch things up. Add some variety to our sex lives, but he refuses. It’s she. Ada. I can feel her haunting me. Ada was on top and now Morgan is keeping that position just for him and her. Or maybe, it reminds him too much of her. Whatever the case, when we’re in bed together, it’s never just Morgan and me. It’s Morgan, Ada and me.
That’s when the damn burst and Bethan started quietly weeping. I patted her shoulder, wishing I could help. But it didn’t end there.
‘Remember when I wanted to get that little butterfly tattooed on my wrist, Ivy?’
Yes, I remembered.
‘Morgan stopped me. Guess what? In the pictures of Ada I found in Morgan’s sock drawer, Ada had a butterfly tattoo. I almost vomited when I saw it, Ivy. She haunts me!’
Ada has remarried and moved on. Morgan has not. Oh, he remarried, but it’s just on paper. His heart still belongs to Ada, and Bethan feels there’s no room for her in her own marriage.
If I’d had any doubt on Bethan’s suspicions, what she told me next laid those doubts to rest.
‘Have you ever read Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë?’ she asked. I hadn’t.
‘It’s Morgan’s favourite movie’, she told me. ‘It tells about an older man, Mr. Rochester, who is on the very cusp of saying his vows to the young and virtuous Jane Eyre when it’s revealed his insane first wife is still living, imprisoned in a locked room in his mansion. Ivy, Morgan owns every version of that movie ever made, dating back to 1944. Watches them too, at least once a month he watches at least one version of Jane Eyre. Sometimes it turns into a marathon. Hours and hours of Jane Eyres, one right after another. The worst part is, he’s never articulated why he loves that movie so much. Now it’s plain as day.’
She shook her head, unable to believe that her ‘perfect husband’ has become Mr. Rochester and she, the deceived Jane Eyre. Perhaps Jane Eyre had it better. The marriage didn’t come off when a stranger announced the existence of an impediment, just as they were about to say their vows. Jane Eyre got lucky. Bethan, not so much.
Morgan isn’t a bad man, but he shouldn’t have married Bethan when he was still tortuously bonded to Ada. He moved on before he was ready to move on, and now Bethan is paying the price. He plays Mr. Rochester to her Jane Eyre. His ex-wife may not be physically be imprisoned in their home, but she is still imprisoned in his heart. It may be great entertainment on screen, but it’s misery to live in person.
It remains to be seen if they will have the happy ending Charlotte Brontë contrived for her book. We can but hope.