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.