Hubby’s floozy was a fella
Snooping led to a shock
The grey naval ship loomed above us, like a mountain on the move. A band struck up, and on deck the crew stood to attention.
‘Hold the banner up so Daddy sees it,’ I told my two-year-old son, Jayden, as I rocked baby Madison’s stroller.
She’d only been a few weeks old when my husband, Leading Seaman Alan Rowe – ‘Skid’ to family and friends – set sail for the Middle East as a radar operator with the Royal Navy. Now, it was July 2009 and Skid had been away for eight months.
It was tough on my own, but being a navy wife was what I’d signed up for.
I’d met Skid online when
I was just 16. Is anyone here from Plymouth?
he’d posted. Me! I wrote, excited.
His profile picture showed him in his navy uniform. Swoon!
When Skid returned to Plymouth for a weekend’s leave, he asked me out.
I told him to meet me outside Boots, where I worked part-time.
I spotted him before he saw me – medium-height with a shaved head and bright blue eyes.
‘Is that your navy boy?’ my colleagues teased.
I took him to a party to show him off to my friends.
Soon, we were meeting up every time he was home. But my mum, Carla, 50, worried. ‘You’re only 16, and he’s 20,’ she said. ‘And if you marry him, you’ll be called Erika Rowe!’
The year before I was born, a woman called Erika Roe had famously streaked across the rugby pitch at Twickenham… Still, it didn’t put me off ! Skid proposed in our local, and I planned a big white wedding. As for Erika Rowe, the vintage car hire company gave me a discount thinking I was the famous one!
We married on Bonfire Night 2004. Talk about fireworks – some guests had a row and, at the reception, chairs and punches were thrown.
‘That was a nightmare,’
I sighed to Skid the next day on the plane to Malaga.
But while the weather on honeymoon was rubbish, the sex was scorching-hot!
In March 2006, I fell pregnant. We’d been trying for a while, but Skid was always away.
Jayden was born on 21 December, weighing 8lb, followed by Madison in October 2008, and Ella in October 2010.
Life was good, but when Skid was on deployment, I’d be a miserable cow for the first week. Then I’d just get on with it, getting used to doing things my way. When he came home and tried to help, I’d grumble he was doing it wrong.
‘Typical navy wife,’ he’d tease.
At my 25th birthday party, Skid stood up and asked, ‘Shall we renew our vows, Erika?’
I’d always joked that, because of the fisticuffs at the first wedding, I wanted a second! This time round was perfect. Jayden was a page boy, and Madison and Ella were flower girls. We had 40 guests at the service, followed by a big party.
‘I couldn’t live without Erika,’ Skid said in his speech.
A couple of months later,
I was pregnant again. Charlie was born in January 2013 and, a year later, we talked about our future. When Skid’s 22 years in the navy were up, what would he do?
Still in married quarters, we decided to buy a house as an investment, but Skid was hopeless with money – I nagged him about his credit card bills. But, on the anniversary of our vow renewal, he presented me with a bracelet from Pandora. It had charms in the shape of a mother, father and their children. So sweet.
Two days later, we went to a dinner for the naval kids. Back home, I put our sleepy four to bed and pulled on my pyjamas.
‘Do you want a cuppa?’
I asked Skid, peering into the front room.
He looked up from his computer and stared at me, a blank expression on his face.
‘Our marriage isn’t working,’ he said. ‘I’m leaving.’
I was so shocked, I felt winded. Then I started laughing. A joke?
But Skid looked serious. ‘I’ll give you plenty of money, and see the kids all the time,’ he told me.
‘But we’re looking at houses,’
I gasped, my mind spinning. ‘I love you, but I’m not in love
with you,’ he told me quietly. I burst into tears, then I got angry. ‘Are you having an affair?’ I shrieked.
‘No way,’ he said.
I told him to sleep on the sofa. But, by morning, I’d decided it was a kind of premature midlife crisis. If I stayed calm, everything would return to normal…
Sure enough, ‘What time shall we drive to Cardiff ?’ Skid asked cheerfully over breakfast. We’d booked tickets to see Olly Murs, and were staying with Mum.
It was as if Skid’s bizarre announcement had never happened. Over the weekend at Mum’s, he chatted to her about houses we’d viewed and our upcoming holiday in Cornwall.
It had obviously been a moment of madness.
When we returned from Wales, Skid dropped me at my Slimming World session. ‘See you back home,’ he smiled. But, when I turned on to our road two hours later, he was putting his suitcases in the car. ‘What are you doing?’ I cried. ‘Moving out,’ he said. ‘I told you the other evening.’
‘I thought you’d changed your mind,’ I choked.
‘I was being polite to your mum,’ he said. Then he drove off.
‘Daddy will be back,’ I told the kids – and I was right. Skid returned two hours later – he couldn’t find anywhere to stay!
So, for the next week, we lived together – Skid sleeping on the sofa. In front of the kids, we behaved normally but, after they’d gone to bed, rows broke out.
‘You’re obviously having a nervous breakdown,’ I screeched.
‘I understand your anger,’ he said. ‘I have to do this – for me.’
His calmness infuriated me, and I used language that would make a sailor blush. Not Skid – he just listened, calmly, as if I was a child throwing a tantrum!
Eventually, he moved in with his stepmum, and all I could think was, ‘Why?’
Sometimes, because I was so used to being on my own, the split didn’t even feel real.
But a few months after Skid left, I met Scott, 38, a chef, through friends. He made me laugh, took my mind off things.
Then, one Saturday in November, Skid collected the kids. ‘I’ll take them to get their hair cut – try somewhere different,’ he told me.
‘OK,’ I shrugged.
But, a few weeks later, me and the kids were out for a drive when Jayden pointed at a hair salon.
‘That’s where Daddy took us,’ he said. ‘His friend works there.’ His friend, indeed?!
As soon as we were home, I logged on to the salon’s website and stared at the
Meet the Staff page. Skid had to be seeing one of these women.
I typed their names into Facebook and snooped around. No mention of Skid…
So I typed the male stylist’s name in: Jim*. Maybe there was something incriminating there – a picture of Skid and one of the girls snogging…
There were pictures of Skid snogging all right, but not who I’d expected. He was kissing Jim!
I stared in horror at the photos, trying to make sense of them. Could this snog be just a drunken lark?
No, this Jim was obviously as camp as a row of tents. The closest he’d ever been to In The
Navy was no doubt dressing up as one of the Village People!
Bewildered, I called Skid. But it went straight to answerphone – and again, and again…
So I texted him: You’re gay. You’re seeing Jim.
Let’s meet in Costa for a chat tomorrow, he replied calmly. Scott had to pin me to the floor to stop me driving over to punch him!
In Costa, I breathed deeply to keep calm as
I sat opposite Skid. ‘I wondered how long it’d be before you investigated me,’ he said. ‘Jim’s a nice bloke – he’ll give you a discount at the hairdressers’.’
He thought a cheap haircut would make up for finding out my husband was gay! ‘Did you just use me as a cover?’ I spat. ‘Did you sleep with men while you were away?’
‘I’ve never cheated,’ he said. ‘I loved our marriage, and didn’t know I was gay. But after I left, I was confused and realised I might be. Then I met Jim.’
‘I’ve wasted all these years in a sham marriage,’ I raged.
But, over the coming weeks, I grew to believe Skid’s story. Our sex life had been brilliant – no way he could have faked that. And why would he have renewed our vows if he didn’t love me?
So, in December 2015, me and Scott went for dinner with Jim and Skid. If Jim was part of my kids’ lives, I wanted to meet him.
Seeing my husband with his hand on a man’s leg was bizarre but, despite the awkwardness, I liked Jim. He was funny.
So, two years on, I’ve grown to accept that Skid is gay – so have the kids, although Jayden struggled a bit. I’m living with Scott, and my divorce from Skid is due any day.
When I saw him the other day, I asked about the tattoo on his back – scrolls with the children’s names inside them. And mine…
‘Are you going to remove the Erika scroll?’ I asked.
‘Of course not,’ Skid shrugged. ‘You’re part of my family.’
And, despite everything, he’s right. We are family – the fact that he’s gay doesn’t change that!
Erika Rowe, 31, Plymouth, Devon
I’ve wasted years in a sham marriage
Our first wedding ended in chaos…
… so we renewed our vows in 2012
I thought me and Skid made a great double act
Skid with Madison and Jayden He’ll always be part of my life
I now live with my partner Scott
Alan ‘Skid’ Rowe says, ‘Making the decision to leave Erika and the children was very hard. But it came to a boiling point one day and enough was enough. Then I realised I was gay. But I will never regret meeting her, getting married and having children.’