In Sickness and in Health: Looking back at old me is what makes me feel ashamed, now

Earlier this year, Rebecca's husband Nick was hit by a car and seriously injured. Here, in one of a series of columns, she writes about the aftermath of his accident

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The Independent Online

One way or another, I have grown up a lot in the last seven months. I was technically an adult before Nick’s accident, contributing to society and holding down a job, doing things like step-mothering and remembering family birthdays, but I realise now that, despite the fact I was in my early thirties, I had managed to coast along like a teenager in many ways. I write this as I'm sitting in the vet's waiting room after a battle with a parking meter, damp from the first rain of autumn and trying to shush a hysterical cat. While vet visits were definitely one of my (few) responsibilities in my old life, now they’re one among countless others.

On the list this week has been arguing with the garage that’s taken six weeks and a great many falsehoods to fix my car, getting the finally mended car MOT-ed then road taxed, wrangling with the health-insurance company, taking phone calls from solicitors, seeking financial advice, filling in spreadsheets, filing bills and generally paying hundreds of pounds for goods and services of an essential, but deeply boring, nature. I was dimly aware of the necessity of these sorts of things in my past existence, but now I can’t shirk them like I used to.

I’m not complaining, really - I get it, this is life. It’s just that taking responsibility for these functional facets of it are new to me. I had it uncommonly good for a decade. Nick being older and better versed in running a household than me when we met, and my not ever having lived alone, meant that he was the organiser of things and I was, generally, the bringer of cheer. I had a few domestic things on my to-do list - paying the mortgage and the council tax, taking care of all bedlinen-related matters, ringing his mum every week, but the nitty gritty was Nick’s domain, and if I ever had to step up and do something like calling the phone company, I always got so hot and cross and made such a song and dance about it that Nick would do it the next time for a quieter life. 

I used to listen to the lyrics of “Independent Woman” with a greasy feeling of guilt. I wasn’t independent, not really, and I wasn’t doing anything to change that. I used to feel the same way about the fact that I’d never lived by myself. Well, I’ve waved that guilt goodbye. Shoes on my feet? I bought them from the charity shop round the corner as a treat. The house I live in? I co-own it and now look after it, ground rent, security lights, boiler check ups and all. The car I’m driving? Yep, I’m not only driving it, I’m taxing it, filing it with oil, treating it like the expensive mistress it is. 

Looking back at old me is what makes me feel ashamed, now. I can’t believe that I sleepwalked through everyday life letting someone else take care of all the boring bits, as though I was 14, not 34. Now it’s my turn to repay Nick for those 10 years of being looked after. Cats, cars, council tax and keeping the home fires burning? I’m your - finally independent - woman. 

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