“Beyond the pale” has evolved into a phrase that now generally describes behaviour that is considered unacceptable or intolerable. The “pale” is actually a reference to a stake or a pointed piece of wood – in other words, a fence or a boundary of some sort. In the 17th century the pale described a territory that came within the jurisdiction of a recognised authority. Those who remain within the barrier were considered decent, civilized people. And those who ventured “beyond the pale” were uncivilized and not under control which in those days, often resulted in death. These days, as Dr Mario Martinez explains in his book, the MindBody Code, going beyond the agreed-upon standards (or the pale) can result in shame, abandonment, or betrayal.
In those final days on Mount Tamborine toward the end of 1998, all I knew was that I must get out of whatever crazy jurisdiction I had unwillingly become a part of so that I could reclaim my mental and physical health. Even if it meant venturing beyond the pale, which to my mind meant leaving my husband, taking the children and going back to New Zealand. When I told him this our relationship hurtled even faster downhill. We both got solicitors involved and once that happened, shit got real.
I was losing weight rapidly. My weight usually sat at around 65 kilograms, which for my 1.78m height was slim but not overly so, had now dropped to fifty-two kilograms. I tried to eat but my stomach felt like a balloon filled with water and my appetite had vanished without trace. I was incapable of sitting down long enough to eat a proper meal so I settled for walking around the house eating a banana or a cheese sandwich. When you’re walking on eggshells it’s probably a good idea not to carry too much weight.
I wrote fervently and regularly, every day reminding myself to stay on purpose, keep focussed, stay on track, keep going. I understood the meaning behind my mother’s words now. Her legacy wasn’t the money. It was the ability to love and laugh even when things weren’t working out well. To do the best I could for myself and the children and to stay strong and “keep going”. There were times when all I wanted to do was sit in a corner and shake violently but I did what my mother would have done … I wrote endless lists. Things to be done, goals, what I was going to do once I had ‘escaped’, things I was grateful for, things that my husband and Duncan couldn’t take away from me … and the things that they could. I was more afraid of losing my mind than losing my money and had become so paranoid I didn’t know what to expect next.
What did happen next was unexpected but not unwelcome. The fog miraculously started to clear. I suspect that he and Duncan may have had a falling out of some sort or maybe it was the lure of the ten dollar a week child support. Perhaps I used a form of manipulation of my own? Whatever it was is still a mystery but I somehow managed to get him fully on board with the idea of moving back to New Zealand. We would still separate, but we dispensed with the solicitors and worked tirelessly and reasonably amicably together going through belongings, deciding what to take, what to sell and who would keep what once we were back in New Zealand. We booked the removalists, arranged our flights and even organised a farewell party at the house.
We decided that I would stay on and oversee the removalists who would be coming two days after the party to start the three-day process of wrapping and packing of the contents of the house into a forty-foot container. It was a strange feeling watching the kids and their Dad leaving to catch the flight to New Zealand that morning. I’d no sooner watched them drive down the long drive that led to our house than the removal trucks arrived. It was a huge job and I was run off my feet during those three days. The removalists worked like storm troopers emptying cupboards and shelves and literally wrapping everything in sight. I had to be on permanent guard lest they pack things that were essentially rubbish. Before they packed the bathroom scales I realised to my dismay that I had reached an unwanted goal. I weighed 49 kilograms. Yet although it had been a turbulent time on Mount Tamborine, I was strangely sad to be leaving it.
Almost as soon as the wheels of the Qantas jet hit the tarmac at Christchurch Airport on the 8th of January 1999, I became galvanised into action. I wholeheartedly threw myself into the business of finding a house to rent, securing a job, enrolling the kids in schools, whilst attempting to deal with my husband as he lurched from name-calling and hostile indignation one moment, to begging my forgiveness the next. In a few short weeks I was able to cross the first three items off my list. I had found an unfurnished house to rent and had borrowed some furniture from friends whilst we awaited our container of personal effects to arrive from Brisbane. I’d got the kids into schools and found myself a fairly low paid job doing bookkeeping for a furniture company. I wasn’t exactly riding the crest of a wave of undiluted success, but it was a start. The fourth item on my list, dealing with my husband however, had the potential to take considerably longer than the other three.
Although I was still painfully thin, I slowly began to gain weight and life gradually become more settled. Yet I remained in a state of fear … well, it was more like sheer terror really. I don’t even know what devastating calamity I thought was going to befall the children and me, but a sense of worthlessness and guilt permeated nearly everything I did in those early days. Life would be so much easier if we could live harmoniously together but I couldn’t possibly entertain the idea of becoming trapped again in that unreal and disconnected world of control dramas and manipulation. Yet there were times when it would have been easy for me to believe that I had imagined that anything remotely negative had taken place within our relationship at all. He was still pursuing me in the vain hope that we could still salvage something and most of the time he was amicable and co-operative towards me. Although I knew it was far, far too late for this, I was almost tempted.
I wanted to grieve but I never allowed myself that luxury. I remember thinking: All I want to do is sit down and cry. I want to think and cry until I could cry no more. I wanted to think about what had happened and try to understand it. Had the whole nightmare been engineered by Duncan or was everything that my husband had ever said been a lie? But I never had the time or the occasion to acknowledge these feelings that were internally tearing me apart. I knew if I did fall apart it had the potential to be on a grand scale and if that happened in front of the children, it could be disastrous. They were relying on me to stay sane and not fall apart. Worse still, if their father found out I’d be branded an unfit mother. I had to keep going because I didn’t want to show any outward signs that the kids were being disadvantaged in any way due to my decision to go it alone. That was something I had silently promised the children … and myself. I now needed to manage my life and the children’s in a way that I’d never had to do before.
Yes, I did feel shamed, abandoned and betrayed but I’d done it. I had finally gone beyond the pale.