9 steps on from burned bridges, or how “Please come back,” becomes “please stay gone.”

When burning bridges, remember, you are destroying the only way to get back.
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“She’s gone,” he said into the telephone. At first, I laughed because it had to be a joke.

But it wasn’t…

They had three little girls together, and now their thirty-five-year-old mother had left him, left them. Well, these things happen. They watched her slip into a beautiful sports car next to a large man with a fake tan and too many rings. Tabloid stuff. Maybe she wanted to feel young again, who knows?

But at that moment she renounced her children, just as if she had closed a door on her past. The children no longer existed for her. The youngest was only three years old.

Three little questioning faces watched her go, all trying to find the meaning of this.

When I arrived at their house, he stayed silent, lost in a sea of confusion. I looked down at the crumpled girls’ clothes which littered the floor and he frowned.

“They were in the washing machine before,” he said as if apologizing.

There were dirty footprints on them, so I scooped them up and took then to the kitchen; but now there was just a dusty gap under the worktop where the washing machine used to live. And where was everything else? The place had been stripped of everything useful.

He’d arrived home from work to a gutted flat. The girls had been at kindergarten and school. When they took everything, they must have been in a hurry; they hadn’t even taken their dirty shoes off. They’d pulled the clothes from the washer and trampled them as if they had walked all over the girls.

Behind the sports car, there had been a removal van. Two getaway vehicles, but it was all completely legal.

Just like that, everything was upended. He now had to pay his wife for half of the house because otherwise, as she said, she would move into “her half” with her lover, in front of their children. It sounded like a threat, and he couldn’t actually imagine Mr Sports Car moving in here, but then stranger things have happened.

I knew he was in shock, but he had to quickly get himself together, not only psychologically, but also practically, and as good as his heart was, his hands were tragically impractical. He needed to cook, wash, clean, take care of the children, get up earlier, go to sleep later, survive on his nerves and keep his job in the face of relentless pressure from a devastating life event. A tall order, but I had faith in him.

The ripples from this would spread out for years. In time, he would have to explain to the girls where their mum went, why she was not coming home, why they hadn’t done anything wrong even though they felt they had, why she didn’t come for Christmas – just to give them a hug, not even once a year. He would have to deal with the rolling tide of his own grief and theirs.

Worse still, in ten years, when Mr Sports Car had tired of her and traded her in for a younger model, she would come knocking to soak up the adulation to which she’d always felt entitled. He would be expected to publicly approve of this known stranger with her stick-on smile; welcome her, not be hostile. He already felt that the girls were doomed to be damaged.

When someone leaves you who you thought you loved, your first reaction is to think that you won’t survive. This is because finding true inner love is not about finding someone who you can live with, but someone who you can’t live without.

Time changes you, and you finally see that you can survive. In time, you learn what they were worth to you. Absence makes the vision grow clearer, and so “Please come back becomes “please stay gone.”

But how can I manage the long journey?

How can I not harm myself during this journey?

What is the easiest way to make the past stay where it belongs?

The man I am talking about could easily be full of bitterness, bile, and the desire for revenge. Powerless and angry in other words.

Luckily, he understood that none of that would help him, or the children, who he was left alone with, and for whom he was now the only role model.

What 9 steps did we choose?

Please, continue to the 2nd page.