In part 2 of a 3-part series, Susie Edmonds moves on from the long years of coming out to live with her girlfriend.
Moving to Essex to live with my girlfriend was a really positive step. I felt I was starting afresh. I finally had a decent job and I was with the woman I loved. I was happy to isolate myself from the beginning and to cut myself off from friends and family. It was great to not have to answer all the awkward questions. I kept my distance from work colleagues, but was always conscious of them getting too close.
The only people we really associated with were my girlfriend’s family, who were lovely and most importantly never asked questions. My girlfriend was my boss (although she hadn’t had a say in me getting the job nor interviewed me for it). I felt like it was us against the world for a time and I was happy. I didn’t need anyone else because I had her and that was all I needed.
Or so I thought.
After a few years I started to get itchy feet, I had a desire to go out and explore the world, to meet people and to live life. My girlfriend wasn’t able to do this and she didn’t really want to. I’d never really settled in Essex. I’d always wanted to go home to Portsmouth. I felt frustrated and I began to get fed up with just being seen as her lodger, having to show guests my “bedroom” every time they visited. I was concerned about the future, could I continue to live a hidden life forever? I think we had become so isolated from reality that coming out really didn’t seem like an option, and the fact that my girlfriend was also my my boss complicated things.
I felt my mum was having suspicions about me, making negative comments about lesbians. She returned the film “Monster” that I had lent her. She said she didn’t want to watch a load of lesbians all over each other so hadn’t bothered to finish the film as it disgusted her. She missed that it’s a great film. I didn’t want to be seen as disgusting, I wanted to be normal, whatever that was.
Slowly my relationship began to deteriorate, mainly because I just couldn’t see a way to carry on living like we were. We were at different places in our lives, I loved her but I couldn’t carry on. We were in a bubble and there was no-one I could talk to. I felt stifled, completely alone and scared of what my future held.
Then, at a particularly low point, I thought I had found the answer – in the shape of a man. He was the son of a friend of my mum’s. We met and he began a charm offensive on me. After 8 years, I felt that here was my chance to be ‘normal’. It would also prove to be one of the worst decisions of my life. My relationship was effectively over but we still spent all our time together. Once I met this man, I developed tunnel vision.He was the only thing I could see and I thought this relationship was the answer to everything.
I walked out of my girlfriend’s life pretty much overnight. I will live with the regret of hurting her like that forever and deservedly so.
The relationship I found myself in with a new man was nothing like I had imagined. He was charming to start with, treating me with respect and seeming caring and supportive. My Granny had just died and he had originally messaged me regarding this. He seemed thoughtful and kind and we developed a friendship. He phoned me all the time at the flat I had bought and bolted to after the end of my relationship. I had not been able to face living there alone until now.
He told me how he felt about me and I thought that perhaps being with him could solve all my problems. However, he could never commit to the relationship; in hindsight I believe he was a closeted gay man. Only I could find someone else with so many problems! My mum was keen for the relationship to work. She had suspicions about my sexuality after hearing my ex screaming down the phone at me.
His dad was known to dislike women and he seemed to have inherited that trait. At night he would phone me up, drunk, to tell me he loved me and spending hours on the phone to me but the next day he would deny it, saying we were friends. It was like I had to be punished for making him feel like that. He would be abusive, cold and I barely had a response from him. Some days he would ignore me and some days he would phone and text numerous times. It seemed that if one day he was nice, then the next day I should expect to pay for it. I never knew where I stood; he was like a puppet master pulling on my strings. If someone complimented me on how I looked, he would let me know that he didn’t like how I looked or what I wore. He would tell me it didn’t suit me or made me look unattractive. He belittled me one minute and was kind the next.
I was isolated. I had split up with my girlfriend and not only lost her but also lost my relationship with her family. I somehow believed that I had to have a boyfriend to have any future, so I accepted his behaviour while inside I was slowly breaking down. I just didn’t have much fight left in me.
Over time, I lost so much weight my clothes were hanging off me. When I got home at night I would drink to calm down. Every night I felt a sense of foreboding at how he would be towards me. If I happened to be out when he phoned I knew I would be punished so I mostly stayed in and watched the walls close in on me. I felt like some kind of game to him. He didn’t like me associating with other people and wasn’t afraid to let me know it.
The one day, he told me a bizarre story about how he couldn’t be in contact with me for a couple of days. When he turned up again, he announced he was getting back with his ex-girlfriend. Then he just stopped contact. Maybe it’s karma, I thought.
I remember thinking that he hadn’t even give me the chance to tell people I was his girlfriend. This was my first thought, which in hindsight seems strange, but it had been so important to me to be able to appear normal even for a short time.
It’s crazy now to look back on it all now but I suppose it reflected my state of mind at the time. I believe I had a lucky escape because I would only have been living a lie. Again.
Somehow, I picked myself up with a lot of help from my best friend, who looked after me. One day, my mum mentioned that someone I had played netball with years ago had come out as gay. I looked her up on Facebook and sent her a friend request. We arranged to meet for a drink and really hit it off. It became pretty intense, pretty quickly and we both seemed to fall for each other. Being naïve to the way of the lesbian back then, I was swept along with the declarations of undying love, the desire to marry and move in with me within weeks!
My new girlfriend was out and wanted me to be too. She said she wanted to be proud of me and not to have to hide me away. I finally came out to my mum over the phone. As expected, she cried. She said she wished I had told her anything but that. She said it wasn’t normal. I was upset but the jibes of not being normal didn’t hurt anymore. Being gay and happy was when I felt at my most normal. She blamed my dad’s family for my being gay as all the women in his line had never married! I thought my dad would probably disown me but he was fine with it. He said that he was happy if I was.
Shortly after I came out, my girlfriend decided she didn’t love me anymore. Then she did, then she didn’t. You get the picture. My relationship with my family was strained because my mum did not like my girlfriend. We argued and almost stopped speaking. The woman I came out for dumped me after a few weeks. I was in debt after paying for a trip to Paris for us both that she had asked for but then refused to go on and once again I felt myself despairing. Why the hell could things not go well for me?
I continued to drink heavily, my behaviour became erratic and I hit rock bottom. I didn’t care what happened anymore and I became very depressed. On one occasion my friend rescued me from a pub in Portsmouth after a bad argument with my girlfriend. I didn’t want to go to Essex and there was nowhere for me to stay in the place I considered home. He happened to text me, I said where I was and he came and got me. I remember just crying in his arms. He took me home with him and tried to put me back together again. He did this more than once and I will be forever grateful.
My behaviour was becoming erratic and dangerous. I finally admitted defeat, got signed off work and went to stay with my parents. I lay on their sofa with a quilt over me, not speaking. I had no words left to say. My mum tried to get me to talk but I just couldn’t. I was blank, I felt like there was nothing left in me. My mum called my best friend and asked her to come up and see me. S, my best friend came in, tucked herself up on the other end of the sofa, and we snuggled down to watch the TV with few words spoken. My mum brought us milky coffee like she had done when we were kids and we stayed like that for hours.
I have to give a lot of credit to my best friend for pulling me out of my despair. In the time that I had been involved with two disastrous people, she had been laying in intensive care fighting for her life. I visited her every weekend when I came home and every fibre of my being hoped that she would pull through. Several times we were told there wasn’t much hope, but she had more fight in her then anyone I’d ever known and she finally made it home. I stayed at her home a lot when I had nowhere to go. She was the one who was ill and yet S and her boyfriend looked after me until I was able pick myself up again.
I slowly began to feel positive again although I still felt pretty fragile. I applied for a job at home and got it. I had a month to pack my life up in Essex. I was scared, but after 10 years I was headed home. I was finally out and I began chatting to someone who made me feel excited about the future. She lived 10 minutes from my new job. Could this be fate?
Photography by Sarah Cheverton.