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Absent with Leave
by Judith O'Reilly

My husband left for London for two weeks. Let me see, how long have we lived here. Oh yes, three weeks. How pregnant am I? Seven months. How many children do I have? Two and a bit. Do I want to be here? No. Excellent. He has a deadline, he always seems to have a deadline. He is the one who wants to live up here, yet he is the one who has to work away for weeks at a time. I knew he would have to go back soon after we moved; he can do part of his job down the line but not all of it. Seeing him go -- not having him here -- is about as hard as I thought it would be. He called me. He said: "I miss you." I gripped the phone, said: "If we lived in London, you wouldnapostrophet have to miss me."

Real friends I count like beads on a rosary. Among them, my Best Friend from School who knows the worst of me and still loves me. My Gay Best Boyfriend from university -- the one who knew that guy I liked was gay before I did. London Diva, ahead of me in wisdom and in life; the Perfect Mother I turn to for advice and Islington Beauty, a fellow working mother. You do not keep every friend you ever make. If you are lucky, you keep one or maybe two from the pigeonholes of life: study, jobs, children. One of the best places for making friends is, of course, the office. I have friends from all of the places I worked, newspapers and TV. If you invest wisely, you double them as they grow old and marry. Some friends become another family. Some friends you talk to once a year. A few are there in every crisis and extremity. You hurt when they hurt. There are times you put down the phone when they have read you the latest chapter of their life and weep for them. Some occasionally disappoint. Occasionally, you disappoint back. You try to listen. In sadness and disaster, you say: "I love you," and hope they can hear between their shouts of pain. You say: apostropheapostropheIapostrophem here for you," and hope they can see you in their darkness. It seems the least that you can do.

My friends. Each precious and shiny to me. They have two things in common. They love me back and, apart from my Best Friend from School, they tend to live in London. Bastards all, those London livers. I have betrayed them. I have challenged them and I do not want to challenge my friends. I want to get drunk with them on expensive wines that taste of sunshine. I want to tell them: "Whatever you do is fine with me." I want them to say the same to me. I have let the side down. My friends would not have approved if we had moved to suburbia. You can at least explain an escape to suburbia. You can shrug your shoulders and show them the palms of your hands. Sorrowful. You can tell them: "The children. Schools." You can look sombre: "Fees." You can shake your head: "Just not possible." Try telling a serious career woman, who does something indescribably complicated with television satellites, the same in husband-speak. Try saying: "My husband. His dream." Her diva blue eyes narrow. Try saying: "Love. His happiness." Try saying: "Northumberland. Itapostrophes not far -- you can visit." She spits on your stripped and polished floor.

The above is an excerpt from the book Wife in the North
by Judith OapostropheReilly
Published by PublicAffairs; August 2008;$14.95US; 978-1-58648-639-6
Copyright © 2008 Judith OapostropheReilly

About the author:

Judith OapostropheReilly was the education correspondent for The Sunday Times of London, where she also reported on politics and news, and worked undercover on education, social, and criminal justice investigations. She is a former political producer for ITVapostrophes Channel 4 News and BBC2apostrophes Newsnight. A freelance journalist, she started her blog, http://www.wifeinthenorth.com/ in 2006. She lives in England.