A Brief Reply and Shared Friends

His reply was a shrug of the shoulder; a nonchalant reaction to a mundane irritation he’d read while travelling on a train somewhere in a shiny suit: a stark difference to backwards caps and filthy tracksuit bottoms that he once greeted me in.

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My phone buzzed yet again. There was a delivery sent to my old house to Tom and someone had signed for it  – a delivery in my name.

I took charge of all the bills and since a phone package is a contract as such, I was unable to cancel or transfer; I changed the direct debit to his account at the back end of the summer in the hope that he wouldn’t leave me with a legacy of bad credit and pay it on time. And he did/has.

It turns out that as the contract has come to an end he had gone to the trouble of taking over the contract himself but hadn’t informed me and the delivery had been in connection with his new account rather than mine. His reply was a shrug of the shoulder; a nonchalant reaction to a mundane irritation he’d read while travelling on a train somewhere in a shiny suit: a stark difference to backwards caps and filthy tracksuit bottoms that he once greeted me in.

Still. It was in my name and someone had signed for it, and you know what? I felt rage that again I had been so simply replaced by my name sake – that she has my previous life and has now forged my signature (I had an electronic copy sent to my email) and I wanted to jump right back there and take it; I wanted to take it all back. I wanted to share the inside jokes about the nosy neighbours while scoffing apple pies that she made from the autumnal remains of the fruit fallen from our tree.

Now I know that this snake of jealousy has reared its ugly head because of last weekend.

Tom and I had a pair of mutual friends that were absolutely,exclusively mutual: our only ones in fact. And over the months they’ve been supportive to us both. I wanted to stay in touch and they asked me to bring Mr R. with me on a short visit. I crafted a short message to Tom, not asking permission but to be kind and let him know that I was about to embark on a visit; these things can become multiplied on social media; an innocent drink can be internally hyperbolised and before you know it he’d be questioning for how long they’ve been best friends. I wanted to be honest.

Just before I was about to send said message, my brother informed me that Tom had got in touch with him, inviting him to a quarterly get-together with Tom’s ever expanding entourage that he had attended since our first year together. Tom hadn’t bothered informing me. I was met with silence. And if coincidence couldn’t be any more hilarious, he’d asked our mutual friends to travel to meet him and his new girlfriend on the exact same weekend (our mutual friend had informed me), again without mentioning it to me. So you know what I did? I deleted the message and took Mr R. down with me, enjoying every last relaxed second in their company. No more Tom talking over me, no more haughty laughs at my expense or cringing as he attempted yet another debate over some passing comment regarding a political stance or (God forbid) religion. It was quiet, relaxed and nice.

But though he wasn’t there, he was everywhere. Every corner of the guest bedroom was steeped in hushed discussions; his voice echoed in my head as I sat on the toilet listening to them chatter downstairs in the kitchen as I remembered the way he’d swivel me round and round on the kitchen bar stool even after telling him, using my stern face, to stop it…

Mr R. enjoyed himself but didn’t quite get it. The shared memories were dead; I’d have to start all over again. Just like the contract… another step to the new…

 

Baggage

What special powers do these items actually hold? Why am I so adamant that these… these ‘appendages’ should follow me from house to house like a ball and chain?

 

I’m standing on the top of the stairs on the tiny landing of our old house; patterned carpets and dado rails offer me that 90s English comfort like an episode of Jonathan Creek and a buttered crumpet on an early Sunday evening. I’m admiring myself in the bathroom mirror; I can just about see all of my body if I stretch on my tiptoes and crane my neck a bit to the left. I’m 10. My new Reebok tracksuit still smells of the plastic wrapping it arrived in this morning and I’m in love with how it makes me feel. Cool. New. My friends would like it. I could feel it.

 

The t-shirt still lies in its dusty coffin, covered in blue gloss from where my teenage best friend and I decided to paint her bedroom one afternoon in 1999, under my bed in a memory box.

 

My first love. Anthony. June 2002. He tasted of Doublemint and Linx Africa and I can still put my hand on the vest top I was wearing. It again lies in the same resting place as the previous attire, asleep and full of memories of experience and pain and joy.

 

My great aunt’s broach – nothing to me. I never met ‘Aunt Dol’ as my late father would affectionately call her, but the ugly, 1950s lump of metal remains in my ‘safe place’ nonetheless – a shrine to him rather than the lady who it once adorned. And why? What special powers do these items actually hold? Why am I so adamant that these… these ‘appendages’ should follow me from house to house like a ball and chain?

 

The list goes on: My phone; Make-up; Clothes I’ll never wear; Shoes that were only worn once and discarded underneath a table in a bar after an hour in 2012. What is it that I get out of these items? Ok, I guess the phone is a useful piece of equipment. And well, the make up is a must for me: a 20 something in the Western World and yet sometimes I feel like rejecting these hegemonic ideologies that dominant my life. I want to look like shit sometimes and I’d like to not be so answerable to people on my social media.

 

I’ve been watching something on a movement called Minimalism. The premise is simple. We don’t need stuff – don’t need it. The drawers stuffed with items that we’ve forgotten about only act as a metaphorical mess; without this ‘stuff’ and the uncluttered space we are left with, the more decluttered our mind becomes.

 

I’ve been anxious lately. I’ve looked forward to the first sip of wine a little too much again to numb the guilt I’m still revelling in. Yeah, the guilt about Tom. I think I’ve mentioned this a few times – about how my feelings for Tom and Mr R. differ/differed. Slowly I’m working through these anxieties about this new relationship. It’s been a lightbulb moment and I guess it may have affected some of you too.

 

All my relationships have been laced with conflict – a constant tug of war between us. Who’s right and who’s wrong; the constant chase; agreeing to things I didn’t want to do to maintain the façade of being footloose and fancy-free; feeling less-than because I was either from a different socio-economic background or that I wasn’t intelligent enough or outspoken enough – and this, this angst –  is what I have discovered has enticed me over the years.

 

 

 

I don’t know, maybe I’m ill, maybe I have problems but it’s only up until recently that I’ve stopped daydreaming about situations – you know – creating conflict within my own mind, some imaginary argument with your partner which ends up in them chasing you and proposing there and then on the spot. Is that normal? I guess that question is unanswerable; what is normal exactly? I know that having imaginary fights in my head isn’t healthy at least. So, there’s that… the change, the vanishing of the hard-core conflict that I’ve known and have been addicted to. Instead I’m with someone whom I enjoy pretty much every second with. There is no conflict and that’s what’s so difficult to comprehend in a world where every second is filled with stuff to do, stuff to deal with a stuff to moan about.

 

And so, this stuff – whether it’s literal items I can put my hand on and admire (or despise) or whether it’s the metaphorical baggage I’m holding onto – is weighing me down. It’s time I stopped enjoying pain so much.

 

The Last Time

People don’t change. People are people and despite that beauty and adoration and love, it doesn’t mean you’re beautiful together.

I know I’ve got more to write; I know it on the frosty morning drives to work when I put Mr R’s new album on or when I’m pretending to be engaged in a conversation with a colleague about their new fitness regime or their shiteous dry January attempt (yeah, I tried that this year but my Merlot craving has now promoted itself to a Malbec obsession) – it just becomes harder the more successfully I have buried these emotions.

But for my OCD’s sake, I need to bring this story to the present day so we’ll start with that meeting with Tom.

I counted down the hours till I could finish work. It was a Monday night and I knew traffic would be bad – people would want to leave to get home to their loved ones, a thought that made me heart pang, so I added an extra 30 minutes on to our meet time.

Meet me a 5:30. In the ****.

I choose the pub because it was local; I forgot to remember the times we’d been in there for food after work. He didn’t. He thought it was cruel reminder.

I pulled up. Somehow I’d managed to cover the heavy bags that become a permanent fixture on my face with a thick layer of concealer and the forgiving glow of the street lamps on a late autumn evening.

But conscience knocked. My phone rang.  Mr R.

I covered my tears as his warm voice was like nectar to my ears. He was at home, doing mundane things and I lied for the first time to him.

“I’ve just pulled up outside my mum’s.” I breathed, pretending to cough to cover my emotion.

He wasn’t stupid. My lovely man knew that I was a liar and neither of us could say anything and it killed me much more than I thought it possibly could. But I needed this  – I needed to stand in front of Tom and to see him one more time, to really know what I wanted. 5 years. Half a decade. I owed this to the memory of us.

The heat hit me as I opened the door. I saw him immediately. His head was bowed, wearing a camel coloured coat his mother had bought him Christmas just gone, engrossed in his phone – but we both knew it was more than likely a distraction from the anxiety.

For the first time in a year he bought me a drink. A small gesture that made me want to shout and cry in one. Why? Because this insignificant act – along with gosh, I don’t know –  something like fetching me a plaster if I’d cut myself shaving or waking up to kiss me in the morning could have saved us. And this little surprise, this metaphor for what could have potentially clawed us back from oblivion sat on the bar and I struggled to sip it.

It wasn’t him when I looked at him. 12 weeks had passed since I’d kissed him goodbye at our doorstep, but 12 weeks could have been 12 years. He’d done things, been places, and met people. His voice was different too. Little inflections and idiolects I’d once be able to recognise in a room full of people had vanished. His voice sounded clipped and hollow. It was like he’d become a shell. New perhaps. Maybe I’d been the influence of his vernacular and now he was shredding me one word at a time.

He asked me if I loved Mr R and I lied. I said I didn’t. He asked me if Mr R loved me and he cried when I told him he did, clenching his fist as he gulped back his tears and pint in one.

We sat opposite each other and I stared at a table we once ate at, normal.

I felt numb. I wanted to say sorry and yet I wanted to stand up, walk away and scoff in his face. Tell him it was all his fault. Let him cry. And yet my love for Tom is more than that. Despite anything he ever did to hurt me we will always be like the roots of a tree: firmly wrapped and entwined around each other. I know that wherever he is when he is 30 or 90, we will love each other. I know that if I’d have married him, he’d have made me unhappy nine out of ten times and feel pure elation the rest. And I know that that’s not healthy. It’s not. I know it’s not; all the books tell me it’s not and my mom certainly tells me it’s not but we’re all a glutton for punishment. And that’s why I found myself sat opposite his beautiful chiselled face 8 whole years after I woke up and realised he was the love of my life.

He held my hand in his. It was cold. His fingers looked different; I studied them up close and smelt his fingertips wanting to feel a stab of nostalgia that would make me get into his car and go back to the inner city town I once called home with its hand-me-down furniture and that green wallpaper from the previous tenant – and it came, it came in waves – but it didn’t hit me like it used to.

We sat. We stared and we cried. And finally we embraced and I sniffed his hair and clung to his jacket that he never took off and smelt my old house.

I have to stop.

You know as I’m typing this three months later I’m crying. Am I crying because I’m an emotional person or because I still miss him? I don’t know. I’m here alone with a camomile tea in my warm little cottage that I’ve made home and the memory of our last meeting still makes me… sore. My heart feels sore. I want to message him. I know he’d answer. He knows I would. Always – but I know there’s this unwritten rule now, this unspoken understanding that we can’t just get into a conversation anymore because we just can’t. It’s too raw even now. Even six months – half a year since I packed that first bag.

And so we sat there in that pub. Both half-heartedly trying to convince ourselves to try both knowing that we’d gone too far without each other to need each other and yet knew we couldn’t quite sever those roots.

And in between sobs he told me as his forehead leaned against my shoulder how he didn’t want to wake up on Christmas morning without me and that he couldn’t stomach anyone else being the father of my children. And as my tears stained his jacket and I nodded along and joked about our children that would never be – children who I’d imagined since the day he saved me from being run over by a bus outside our university when he was just 20 years old; I knew that they would never exist. Because despite always loving this man till my heart thumped, until I couldn’t catch my breath or couldn’t sleep until I knew he was safe after a night out, we bought out the worst in each other. He would never stop relying on me, I’d never stop being his mother and we’d end up resenting each other. People don’t change. People are people and despite that beauty and adoration and love, it doesn’t mean you’re beautiful together. I knew it that moment that I couldn’t go back – not because my feelings had changed but because I was tired of the battle, the tug of war and I craved peace.

When I think of not knowing him, my body throbs. I can still picture his silhouette and his head shape; I know that’s something that’ll never leave my peripheral. He’ll be there like a memory I can’t shake; the sarcastic scoff I stole from him an everlasting trait that imprinted my very core.

Before he left, he kissed me one last time. He cupped my head in his hands – one last tender gesture – and placed his full lips roughly on mine. I could feel him trembling beneath his kiss.

“Thank you. Thank you so very much for making me who I am.” He whispered as he left.

I sat for a minute or two. Numb. Relieved. I’d just let him go and I didn’t know whether it was the most stupid or the most brave thing I had ever done.

I Miss You

And then two days later a message arrived.
 
“I miss you too. – T

I often think it’s harder to write when you’re not in pain. Words seem a little more ordinary when I’m ‘together’ and instead of the linguistic acrobatics that pirouette from the end of my fingertips, choosing my vocabulary becomes more of a deliberate act. I need turmoil to write and with the absence of that at 7:30pm on a Sunday evening, I have Aldi’s own Merlot instead; she can be that fuel.

I last wrote a while ago – it’s been a little over 2 months and I was rawer than I’d have liked to admit. It’s all well and good being a grown up and living off the idealistic jargon that Facebook likes to hand to us in the shape of a life quote, but unless you’re living through a breakup, positive analogies can only help for so long until the only option is to go back to your mother’s, wear last week’s jeans and develop borderline alcoholism (I shouldn’t joke about that really; my dad was an alcoholic – makes you think about how easy it’d be to slip into).

So, where was I? Oh, yes – of course… my rapidly spiralling life where I dumped the love of my life and moved to the countryside – without my cat.

Mid- October rolled round like an old friend. Autumn meant his arrival – Mr R. I can still remember him standing at my door. Dressed in black. Unshaven. Tired from his European tour and laden with all kinds of musical contraptions that I had never heard of. 6 weeks had passed. I hugged him; I can’t explain what it feels like to be enveloped in a hug from Mr R. He’s shorter than Tom – but much, much bigger. He’s muscly, stocky – has a broad chest, very man-like. He scoops me up in his arms when he hugs me and makes me feel safe. Anyway, we stood for a moment, smiling, feeling nervous and I showed him around. Everything in that moment was new. The smell of the cottage, the geographical location – him. The way he smelled was alien, good, but alien. I didn’t know how to stand in my own kitchen. Not only because of him, there in my space – but because it didn’t feel like my space; it felt like someone else’s kitchen. We had a happy two weeks. Initially it was just going to be a week but I had some holiday from work and it made sense for him to stay. We spent nights curled up on chunky chairs in the village pub, acknowledging the locals, drinking, making love (because that’s what it was), eating too much and crying laughing till our stomachs hurt. But it was too much. We visited his family down south and I felt overwhelmed. Everything about Mr R was… not perfect, not even perfect for me but right for me and yet he overwhelmed me. Nobody had ever said the things he had said to me and I panicked.

We travelled down to his family but I couldn’t stop thinking about Tom. Tom, Tom, fucking Tom. The man who made me feel like I was chasing him, that I was too clingy, too old, too different and yet there he was firmly wedged in my brain, making an appearance every time I  tried to sleep.

For October the night was stuffy – it was hot. We’d drunk too much, Mr R. and I and 2am rolled round before we knew it. I couldn’t help myself, the tears would not stay where I asked them to and I sobbed. I climbed out of bed, out of his embrace and opened the doors that led on to a balcony, drinking in the little oxygen that was offered from the stifling Autumn heat.

“What is wrong?” – I hate this question. There’s no way of not being honest  and unless you say “Nothing.” you kind of have to  which considering I’d leapt out of bed in the manner that I did suggested I was going to break up with him or tell him I was pregnant.

“I just feel overwhelmed…” I had to be honest. I’ll always be honest with him. He deserves that more than Tom ever did. He’s a beautiful man. A talented, beautiful man that I’ll never lie to; there’s an easy honesty in our relationship.

He drove me back the next day – nothing was going to change but given the proximity of where we lived, a weekend relationship was all that we could give and I bid him farewell a couple of days later when he was at the cottage. I felt relief. He was – bereft. I was cold. I wanted Tom. After all the beautiful moments of the last two weeks, I again craved normality from Tom. 

It had been 2 months since I laid eyes on him and the urge to talk to him was more than overwhelming. I’d gone cold turkey and I needed my fix…

I messaged him. I told him I missed him. His reply was again cold and formal but he asked me to ring him later that evening. I’m not going to lie, I broke down. This wasn’t just a little cry but that rain cloud that had perched itself on top of my head for a couple of months – no actually 6 months; I had been feeling down since he metaphorically disappeared within himself – well, that cloud just gave way. I could not function. Every second word was a sob. My heart was broken and he was the only person who could fix me. I wanted his touch, his morning breath, his family. God, I missed them so much it took my breath away.

That phone call was disgusting.

Unless I got a scalpel, sliced myself open and pulled apart my rib cage to expose my heart, I could not have been more honest. I told him about Mr R. I told him everything. Everything he wanted to know, I told him. His voice at times was laced with emotion but he was over me.

I cried myself to sleep. Mr R. noticed my distance and I wrote out a message ending things with him. But I couldn’t send it. Even when I thought it might be best to be alone, I couldn’t send it. Hurting him, my wonderful musician who would – even two months in – would have jumped in front of a car for me was too much to comprehend and I sunk further and further into a mournful pit, full of fake smiles and red wine.

And then two days later a message arrived.

 

“I miss you too. – T”

Here’s where the story ends…

He’d finished it; he’d finished our story.

I couldn’t find it in me to write out the words that still stung me. Just the familiar squeak of our front door nearly crippled me. I was here to finally pull the rug from under my feet, to remove the innards, one emotion soaked item at a time. Perhaps, I thought, the carcass of the spare room would stare him in the face – the realisation a short, swift punch in the nose. Perhaps then he’d mourn me; I deserved to see him dressed in black.

The rain really pelted down yesterday. I was soaked to the bone as I squashed down my whole life in the back of my shitty car – an assortment of black bags, stationary and jeans too small to fit my fatter thighs; whereas I initially couldn’t eat in the months building up to the split, I’ve drank enough red wine in the past few months to ensure that I no longer look like a lollypop head. Thanks, heartache.

I’m a romantic. Every year Tom and I would go on a summer holiday and a city break that I’d surprise him with on his birthday. I made this scrap book, a travel scrap book that held the memories: the photos, the receipts, silly facts and memoirs from the trips. Though the journey was never a surprise, the destination always was a secret. I’d wrap the scrap book up in brown paper every birthday and he’d laugh. “I wonder what this could be.” he’d smile, mockingly shaking the package back and forth. Once he’d rip open the paper – and it would always be the last gift opened – he’d see the destination but first he would go through the scrap book from the beginning; each year this process would take longer and longer. But we loved it. Revisiting the memories and the silly facts became our, his, birthday ritual. The last place we visited was Verona. The city of love… how ironic, how cruel that it was the last holiday. I’d stuck down letters from old newspapers that spelt out a few lines from Shakespeare’s most famous prologue instead of telling him outright this time. It took him a while, I admit, to figure out the destination; his knowledge of the Bard’s works, even Romeo & Juliet, wasn’t the greatest and in the end I got up, skipping around our living room, slipping on the floor in my socks as I sing-songed (rather dramatically with clenched fists gesticulating to my imaginary Elizabethan audience) the next few giveaway lines of iambic pentameter ending on “In fair Verona where we lay our scene…”

There were moments of that holiday that I’ll hold onto forever; they’ll be forever etched into my heart: The way he pushed past the crowds so he could cup Juliette’s breast for good luck, shouting at me through the thick throng of tourists so I could photograph his “Good side!” I still remember what he was wearing and how he stuffed his hands inside his coat pockets because it had clouded over and had gone cold for a few minutes. Buying a permanent marker pen to write our names on the wall by Juliette’s balcony was meant to buy us blessings. Out of those hundreds, no thousands of names engraved, I wonder who made it. I wonder who’s still together. Never will I be able to walk the cobbled streets of Verona again without touching the wall where we still exist. Together.

I never got to fill in the last pages of the scrap book. This year I’d planned to take him to Geneva to visit CERN. We were both, we both still are fascinated by science. I think that may have been the best trip yet. I don’t think I can ever go without him though. Both that or the Northern Lights were on our ‘Places to go before we die’ list. I know if I stood there looking at the green and reds that I couldn’t just stand in awe, I’d be standing there thinking about how he’d be holding back from the crowds to get the best view, staring up into night’s sky, his eyes fixed on the glory of the Earth.

 

I saw the tell-tale wrappers of some letters I’d sent him in the kitchen bin yesterday, ones that were in the scrap book. And the book itself had been removed from its home on the shelf; I knew he’d chucked it. I guess he couldn’t hold onto the past like I so evidently do. So, I swallowed the tears, said goodbye to the cat for the last time, his fur smelling warm and biscuit-y as I pressed my nose to him and closed the door behind me. I couldn’t leave without saying something so I let myself back in and grabbed our shopping pad that still lives on the microwave, my scribbles of holiday deals and unfinished grocery lists reminders of my existence.

Tom, Thank you. Because of you, I’m a little bit braver. Jo. X

I posted the keys through the letter box and with a heavy heart and my throat sore from choking back the tears, I reversed off the drive and made my way into the countryside where I will now try and carve some sort of new life for myself.

 

There’s something about somebody’s handwriting that makes you feel like you’re talking to them. I could hear him when I found it – a note – that I knew it was his. Wrapped up with a hair band, one of mine he must have found discarded underneath the bed was a letter covering the travel scrap book. He never chucked it; he was returning it to me and had cleverly disguised it within my belongings, knowing that I wouldn’t find it until I had unpacked. The letter could have been a reply to my unsent one. I can’t post it here, it’s mine. But it told me how sorry he was for the end and how he contributed to it. He told me how he didn’t give me himself for the last year and he was sorry. He also told me that we had something special that won’t ever go away. He ended it like I had mine, saying thank you and goodbye.

I folded it and opened the scrap book.

I started like he would have done from the beginning, smiling as I read and re-read the silly facts, the memories, the snapshots in time of something unforgettable. And then I got to the last pages. The pages I couldn’t fill because I never got to book that trip to Geneva. And there we were, sun soaked on cobbled streets. A sideward glance over a glass of wine. He’d filled the last few pages with handwritten memories, facts and photographs.

On the last page he’d written two simple words: Thank you.

He’d finished it; he’d finished our story.

The Letter

I’m sorry in those last few mud-grey months that I didn’t fight through the quick sand; I just sank. Let you drown too. I’m sorry.

On Saturday, nearly two months after I walked out, I’ll collect the last of my belongings. I am planning on leaving this.

Tom,

By the time you read this, I would have gone, disappeared into another world; started a new life. I apologise if what I say hurts you in any way; that’s not my intention. You aren’t going to see me again, are you?

 I remember the last time I saw you, full of emotion; your eyes filled to the brim with tears and you told me at the door, at our door that it’d be the last time I see you. I didn’t turn back, not because I didn’t care but because I knew if I did, I’d end up with my nose buried in your chest; that lump in my throat would give way and I’d fist at your chest and give in; I’d smell our washing powder, our scent. So I left you there, in the glow of the porch, your silhouette growing smaller and smaller in the rear view mirror as I drove further away from you.

I’m sorry.

I’m sorry in those last few mud-grey months that I didn’t fight through the quick sand; I just sank. Let you drown too. I’m sorry.

In the last year I’ve grown up. You know what? I think the tragedy I experienced when I was 11 – the tragedy of my childhood, of growing up with a father who was fucked up and died without any warning – not even a minute in my ignorant, childhood eyes – I think that has messed me up. I think my desire to hold on to relationships, to create new ones is the reason I haven’t had any time for myself. Perhaps. I don’t know. Maybe. Perhaps the only wrong thing about my relationships is that I’ve ended every one of them after 5 years, too afraid to work at something that was tough and real. But I didn’t stop loving you. I never did…Not even now as I’m typing it and choking back the tears with a swing of too-strong coffee, my tears stinging the back of my throat…Like I said to you: I just love myself more. In the last year, I’ve grown up. I’m no longer that 22-year-old insecure young woman on the brink of adulthood obsessed with the way you move; I no longer hang on to every word; I’ve grown up.

You know why I’m sobbing into my hand again? Because it was you; it was always you and I’m so ANGRY, not sad anymore. I’m so fucking ANGRY that you lost yourself and you wouldn’t let me find you. It was real, you know. Every last embrace, every sideward glance, every last kiss. It was all heart-wrenchingly real. And you left me when I gave you everything – absolutely everything, every single emotion I could muster, every bit of me and you sat in your fucking chair and wallowed. You drank yourself in a stupor every weekend and I was there to soothe your hangover. And you didn’t care that I wanted to go for walks in the woods or mow the grass on a Sunday. And I’ll never forgive you for that; I’ll never forgive you for making me feel like I wasn’t worth it.

God, how can I not know you anymore? How is it that I’m the one that ended it and you’re the one who’s still living?

Everything you said in the weeks after us was just a knee-jerk reaction to the situation you found yourself in. Here was me, your stability, your foundation, leaving you. From under you the rug was well and truly pulled and you begged. For a week or two. Why didn’t you beg longer? Why didn’t you contact my family? Show up at my door? Sing to me at 3am? Actually get down on one knee? Why is it that I let myself in with our keys and I lay on your lap, desperate for you to take me back, desperate for normality and you said no? Told me to leave? You know, I often think back to that evening when I’d changed my mind and I think about how much I wanted you, my home – and I think of that film Sliding Doors – and I think about how my life would have gone back to normality now. Every Wednesday I’d cook, and I’d complain you were late after football. You’d come in and I’d lay a clean towel out for you – I’d moan but I’d love it really – and you’d take a shower. Remember how I’d lean my head to one side, talking to you, feigning interest in who scored what and who tackled who as I rested against the door, a cup of tea in hand, yours waiting for you downstairs on the kitchen side, going cold – but you didn’t care; you’d put it in the microwave.

But that’s gone. Written in history. Stained in us for the rest of our days – but we can never get it back. And that is so sad – the absolution of our love – that I think it should be written down somewhere for history’s sake because it was so momentous in who I am, my entire being that I need it to be permanent, un-erased.

You know what I think? I think we loved each other as much as I think; I think it was real but I don’t think you could ever show it and I neither could I. Maybe we got used to our limited declarations, our feigned sincerity that we didn’t know how to be authentic.

Just promise me this: that the next person you meet. The next person who sends your heart a-flutter, the next person you lay in bed with on a Sunday afternoon just to look at them – promise me that you really look at them. Promise me that when you get used to them, know what turns them on and turns them off, that you won’t just let them be – that you’ll buy them flowers and let them fall asleep after a tough day on the sofa without getting annoyed. Promise that you’ll work hard and do something shitty for a while if it means that you can help pay the bills so she knows you’re in it together. And more than anything, promise me that you don’t insist on being right. Promise that their opinion, no matter how much you think it’s ridiculous or silly, that you won’t think it’s beneath you. Don’t toss your head back in ridicule, ask them why they think that way before telling them why you think it’s wrong.

 I want to thank you to finish this – and this is the hardest part for me.  Thank you for lighting up every single fucking room you walk in. Thank you for letting me be part of your wondrous, intelligent mind. Thank you letting me feel what it is to want to die for someone. Thank you for making me more tolerant, more liberal, more questioning; braver. Because of you I’ll stop and stare at the sunset a little bit longer, I’ll sing with my window down, shrug my shoulders and say ‘fuck it’. Thank you for making me stand up for myself and not being a push over. For that I’ll be eternally grateful.

I know I’ll never love anyone like I love you. And I say this in the present tense because I love you in a way that won’t go away… but it really is goodbye, the second time. The second time in this life time.

Is this loneliness?

And I cried. Not for him, but for history’s sake. I wonder in some other dimension if there’s ever another us that is playing out this very second where I sat him down before it was too late and tell him that I’m leaving him. And he tries. And I stay.

The night is sticky-hot and instead of kicking off the sheets in frustration, I welcome the suffocating heat in all its glory; the humidity an overbearing hug. As I sit here with my laptop and tea, I wonder whether or not I am going to cope with the finality of leaving the refuge of my mother’s house. Coming back here was a temporary stop -off, seeking asylum in a moment of chaos; I knew that from the get-go but now there are mere days left before I enter a world so alien to me, I feel like I’m clinging on to the shelter that childhood once offered me. How can be at one with being alone when I never have?

Days up until recently have been filled – packed even – with things to do: grandmothers to entertain, mothers to drop places, late night trips to friends to finish that bottle of Sauvignon Blanc from last time. I’m never truly alone. In the bath my iPhone is firmly clasped to my right hand, only minutes pass by without a refresh. I need company, crave it.

My job is busy; I’m surrounded by people all day and there isn’t a minute to relax. I once complained about it. Every. Fucking. Day. Perhaps that was an addition to the breakdown in communication with Tom; perhaps he couldn’t bear my irritating ‘my day is harder than yours’ diatribes that my tongue so lovingly showered him with as he sat there playing computer games … being lonely. Just a couple of months ago I would have gladly have packed it all in to run away to some far off land and write about how living in the middle of nowhere was ‘good for the soul’ and ‘about finding yourself’ – but is being alone all that? Will I  really use my yoga mat religiously and learn the art of meditation and be all Namaste this Namaste that? And now? Now the regularity of seeing those familiar work faces, the mundane structure of it, the noise… it’s what I look forward to most.

I scrolled through some old pictures today of Tom. We’d gone to a fancy dress party; to another get together packed with uncles and cousins and friends and other people: clingers-on that tried desperately to penetrate the inner circle of Tom’s fold. Party after party, dinner party after dinner party, there was always some event that would involve drinking and seeing what family members could outdo each other: drinking till they could consume no more and staying up till the sun rose again. I studied those pictures. I remember every inch of him – the skin coloured mole on the left side of his nose that he pretended not to care about; the way the left side of his mouth lifts slightly higher when he smiles… and I didn’t know him anymore. And I cried. Not for him, but for history’s sake. I wonder in some other dimension if there’s ever another us that is playing out this very second where I sat him down before it was too late and tell him that I’m leaving him. And he tries. And I stay.

There are 7 billion people on this planet and I have plenty of friends, so why do I feel this crippling solitude?  I have some really decent, solid friendships too and yet in my quest to ‘heal’ in the aftermath of Tom, late night trips to friends’ to drink till my head hates me have dwindled and been replaced by sitting in and scrolling on my phone; that magic little device that knows where I am at all times (sitting in, doing nothing, mind) and what credit card to offer me. And yet, it’s my communication, my gateway to Mr R. Without it, our relationship null and void till he returns from tour.

So this move to be all Kate Winslet – or is that Cameron Diaz in The Holiday must be a subconscious desire to learn how to exist in the seclusion of my head.

I spoke to Mr R. His schedule has changed so he’s gone for another day or two on top of the however many weeks left. What if this is what always happens? That it changes for another day or two and then another…and then another?

Will I forever be fighting off loneliness, battling to fill the vacuum that remains after Tom or will I find an inner peace that consoles me?

Moving On.

This recognition, this enlightenment has left both liberation and anger battling their way through my chest and neither are winners.

I’d been evading it for as long as I could, extending the in-between stage, tiptoeing gently around the inevitable break: severing all financial ties from Tom.

Subconsciously though I’d complained about his complete lack of initiative in the last couple of months, the truth of the matter is, with me still responsible for him, I felt like I could prolong what once was for just a moment longer: that perhaps he’d magically morph into Prince Charming, all gallant and bold, brandishing a bunch of flowers in one hand and some gumption in the other. Or, more sadly, into someone that I once thought existed. But people don’t change and I’ve been met with a wall of silence. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve not contacted Tom for his sake but he hasn’t even tried to figure out what happened.

His reply was cold. Calculated even. And then I asked him if he was ok. I could hear the clipped blasé response in his voice through his retort. I remembered his nonchalant head tilt whenever I said something important and his contemptuous tone if I got something wrong. His disapproval never too distant from his tongue…

“I’m not heartbroken or devastated. I’m not moping around or anything. We hadn’t been that close for a while and so that made it easier. Truth is we probably haven’t missed each other too much anyway so that says a lot. You seem to think I’m hurt and upset but rest assured I’m ok with moving on and I have.”

My blood ran cold, a lump formed in my throat and I swallowed it away brushing a fugitive tear from my face that escaped so easily – too easily. Why did he not care?

Reader, I know what you’re thinking – that I moved on emotionally with Mr Rock anyway so what’s the problem? But this is how I see it. If he could be so fine within 8 weeks; if he could be so ‘over me’ that he’s moved on then SURELY he didn’t feel what he should for me towards the end. And what crippled me was the realisation that it had been the right thing to do. Romanticising about Tom, his intelligence, his presence has been the reason behind my refusal to unchain my heart from the memory of us. This recognition, this enlightenment has left both liberation and anger battling their way through my chest and neither are winners.

And so, guilt who has been sitting so patiently on my shoulder has been squashed by the walls that have splendidly crashed down around my feet. And what I’ve most been scared of has come to fruition – feeling something overwhelmingly strong for someone again. What happens when you’re in love with someone who’s in a band? What happens when you’re sitting at home and they’re playing to a crowd hundreds of miles away for 5 weeks? Have I destined myself to a life of physical loneliness in replacement of the Tom-shaped emotional void that once crippled me?

I’ve not heard from Mr Rock for 7 hours. The longest since he left. And already I feel sick.

Jealousy

“Jealousy in romance is like salt in food. A little can enhance the savor, but too much can spoil the pleasure and, under certain circumstances, can be life-threatening” – Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou was a sensible woman. Just a little salt: a sprinkle, gives love that flavour. Without it to enhance the taste, our partnerships become mundane and we trudge on through, stinking of apathy.

If we think in black and white – which to the few readers I’ve acquired over the last week in this ‘project’ I call ‘Saving Jo from the inevitable emotional meltdown’, then you’ll know that I think in all shades and hues; my mind is like a fairground to a 7-year-old: all colours and screams in the midst of a dark night – then we can rationalise love. It is a chemical reaction, a necessary means of procreation and our basic human instinct to keep those around us close so that we are not unaccompanied in this vast place we call home. So our jealousy is an animalistic urge to fight for the person we deem worthy.

In my early 20s the green eyed monster dug her claws in; I remember being so ill with a case of jealousy that I’d mentally plotted the death of my opposition. In detail. Don’t worry, I never planned the cover up – that would have made it tangible.

I have said that Mr Rock and I were a slow burner, that feelings were unhurried and leisurely – a Sunday paper and an easy chair – but we aren’t really; it’s ocean deep, an inevitable truth and a glimpse at the future. Yet every time I find myself doing something that allows me to feel, to fall at his feet, I shake myself out. I’ve not allowed myself to experience any familiar pangs in case it consumes me whole and I’ll find myself in a pit without a ladder and he’ll be several time zones away in a world of eyeliner and cigarettes and I’ll be clawing myself out with my bare hands.

Last night Mr Rock, hundreds of miles away, revealed that he met up with his foreign ex-girlfriend – one who he hasn’t laid eyes on for 2 years because she cheated on him gloriously while he least expected it. I can imagine her now, all emerald eyes and Eastern European olive skin; her full lips stained blood-red with a cheap lipstick. A just-lit cigarette rests nonchalantly on the corner of her mouth that screams ‘Fuck you’. She orders a short – something strong and exotic sounding and leans back in her chair, not taking her eyes off him, crossing her legs slowly, not stopping to readjust her denim skirt that shows off her slender frame. He looks lost. He remembers the pain of losing her, the way she danced on table tops after too much Russian Vodka and the way her skin feels pressed against his from behind.

 

… there she is, that nugget of truth: the green eyed monster. The salt.

On the subject of sex

But do we as women ever actually discuss the emotional aspects of intimacy with our contemporaries or has our ‘new-found even-keel’ in regards to sex turned us into emotionless droids?

Sex. For the average stiff-upper-lipped British household, it is seldom discussed over a Sunday roast but get nearly any sexually active woman, two good friends and a bottle of Shiraz and they will scrutinise every minute detail of their latest encounter. Men don’t do it. We know that heartfelt discussions are even more frequent than the musings of their girlfriend’s orgasm face. Please forgive me for my archetypical attitude but in my experience, their bedroom conversation does not stretch to anything beyond ‘It was good’ or ‘It was shit’.

But do we as women ever actually discuss the emotional aspects of intimacy with our contemporaries or has our ‘new-found even-keel’ in regards to sex turned us into emotionless droids?

I think Mr Rock and I have had different sexual experiences. I guess we’re very different people. He and his musician, song-writing-self is sensitive and kind and isn’t afraid – almost proud –  to show it. Although I would like to think that I would be described with the same adjectives, over the years my yearning for an emotional connection has diminished; I’ve got used to the mechanics of sex – of fucking.

Tom and I. Gosh, I’m still trying to make sense of it all, to figure out what we were. To deny it was magic would be cheating on my past self; it was. But was it a deep physical attraction or were our souls as intrinsically connected like I once thought they were? For a while sex was incredible, almost more important than breathing, but it was never something that fulfilled my heart or made me believe he loved me. It was always an insatiable appetite, an itch that needed scratching immediately, usually from behind and never kissing. And so, it becomes a pattern. You expect it a certain way and your choice of vernacular with your two good friends over a bottle of wine is a reflection of this.

‘Making love’ there’s a phrase that makes me cringe a bit. Why? What is this fear of being demonstrative? Perhaps it’s the fear of revealing that raw part of ourselves to someone else – to actually give ourselves to someone else without the pretence of those walls we construct so securely, hoping no one tries to smash their way in.

Mr Rock with all my preconceived notions about members of rock bands and men and sex in general has attempted to do what I have feared: He’s questioned my choice of vernacular, asked me why I see sex as such a mechanical process that is another tick box from a long list of things to complete.

Before he went away, we had one last night together and in the early hours while he lay sleeping and I lay awake – my eyelids heavy but refusing to give in – listening to the scream of sirens outside the hotel window, I dared myself to do something I wouldn’t usually have permitted. I watched the rhythmic rise and fall of his broad chest. Its regularity enchanting, his breathing deep and comforting after what felt like a year of sleeping alone. I traced the outline of his tattoo and he stirred.

“I’ll never hurt you, you know.” He whispered into the night.

And I believed him.