I wanted to be a beautiful corpse. My eyes were red rimmed, milky and stagnant. They stared accusingly from the mirror as I bathed them with cold water, forcing me to focus on the image of someone I had come to despise. He was weak, deceitful and dangerous. The least he could do for those whose love he had betrayed was to have a decent death.
It was an automatic, numbing process. I moved from the bathroom, into the bedroom. The airy aroma of a fresh white shirt was faintly repellent, because I felt unclean. I chose a dark tie, tightened in a Windsor knot, to wear with one of the well-cut grey suits the Welsh Rugby Union issue to all internationals. A pair of black patent leather lace-up shoes completed the mask of normality.
I walked around the bungalow I had shared with my wife Jemma, in a quiet cul-de-sac on the outskirts of Toulouse, where I played for one of the great clubs in world rugby. I opened the shutters, and late autumnal sun flooded in through picture windows. It was one of those crisp, cloudless days on which running around the paddock was a reaffirmation of faith.
The house had Jemma's imprint all over it; she was such a good maker of a nest it had no stamp of my personality on it. She arranged the furniture, selected the fabrics, and ensured there were fresh flowers on the table. Things happened magically; the kitchen was spotless, the beds were always made, and the clothes were in the right place. She did everything my mother would do, everything a home-maker does.
But she had gone. She couldn't bear to live my lie any longer. I had made my confession to her three months previously, in our house in the village of St Brides Major, in the Vale of Glamorgan. Yet we had decided to return to France to work at our marriage in the vague, romantic belief that somehow things could change. All we really had was each other, and we conspired in the daydream that would be enough.
A form of madness gripped me that first night after Jemma left for the airport, carrying only hand luggage. I needed her presence, so I invented it. I climbed into her wardrobe, and sprayed her favourite perfume, Chanel's Coco Mademoiselle, around the interior. I pulled her clothes off the hangers and shelves, and buried myself within them. In my warped state of mind, it was my only way of getting her back. I sensed her spirit, savoured her scent. I was in her space, her sphere. I missed her so badly, and hated myself for what I had inflicted upon her.
I'm a tall guy, 6ft 3in, but cowered in a foetal position until dawn. Cramped and claustrophobic, I stared determinedly into the darkness because I was scared to go to sleep. Whenever I closed my eyes, even for an instant, I'd see a series of nightmare images, projected on to an imaginary screen. They were slow motion scenes of the destruction I had caused, the mayhem which was about to engulf me. If I blinked it felt like an eternity.
One thing led to another. I found the vodka. I discovered that by taking a couple of paracetamol tablets with it, I could lapse into a sort of sleep for 20 minutes. The witches were still waiting for me, but it wasn't as brutish. Everything was a little mellower, a little easier. The demons started to befriend me. They whispered: "the more you take, the easier things get, the more chilled life is." I began to think to myself 'there could be a nice little way out here.'
I ventured outside, through the back door, and on to the patio. A set of stairs and a gate led to the swimming pool, and a moment of revelation. I would drown myself. I'd never again have to deal with a vision of someone screaming at me. I'd never have to justify myself. I'd do it properly, in the grand manner. I'd dress smartly, for my mother as much as anyone. It would be a beautiful way to go.
Excerpt from Proud: My Autobiography by Gareth Thomas (Ebury Press, an imprint of Random House UK), distributed by Trafalgar Square Publishing. $16.95.