It’s nine o’clock in the morning and I have been driving up the motorway for a long time. The winter sun creates a strobe light effect through the bare trees as I pass by, amalgamating with scenes playing in my mind as I stare blankly at the endless tarmac in front of me. Memories of you I carry but rarely give permission to come to the fore now flood my consciousness. It doesn’t matter; I can no longer fall back into your arms as a result of remembering, so I allow them all. My eyes sting with the quick succession of penetrating light, but the tears that threaten to come are all about you. I see a sign for the services illuminated and decide to have a break. A coffee to compose myself before I see you again seems a good idea.
I vividly remember the day I met you; sitting at my desk facing another dreary day of typing when you swept into my life… and I mean swept! I was chatting to a colleague when a gust of wind from the office door opening made me shiver and turn to see who’d entered. I did an actual double take; you were easily the most beautiful man I’d ever seen outside of my television and the smell of expensive aftershave emanating from you was intoxicating. It really was that dramatic, for me at least. For a second I entertained the idea of you noticing me; then my shoulders dropped, my head fell and I resumed my conversation. Even in my fantasy you overlooked me and true to form, life imitated art as you passed by with nary a flicker of your eyes in my direction. I resumed typing in a mindless fashion allowing my thoughts to ponder my life. I was engaged but felt somewhat unfulfilled. I imagined this was just a side effect of a long term relationship, but if I was honest with myself, a part of me kept raising the ‘is this it’ question. I couldn’t leave him though, who would have me! Where would I even meet anyone new? In work I never received even a first glance from most men; my colleague next to me was the epitome of ‘blonde bombshell’ and she played the part very well. No-one chatted me up when I went out, not even a cheeky wink or innuendo; not once, in twenty-two years. It didn’t usually bother me, so why start now. I straightened my posture and deduced you were probably thick as two short planks with a squeaky voice and a tiny…
I revert to the present quickly; I don’t want to remember you in that way just yet. I am enjoying reliving those first days, first weeks of us. My cardboard cup is warm in my hands and the smell of coffee is familiar. It reminds me of the restaurant in the office where we worked together – even the same brand if coffee, Ritazza. I was holding a cup of it the furst day you noticed me.
You had been coming to the office regularly after that first visit. Outwardly I barely acknowledged you, but when you walked past me the smell of you made my head spin and I began to yearn for you. Common sense told me I was behaving irrationally, but my hormones had their own ideas.
One morning, I drove myself to work for the first time since passing my test. I was regaling half the office over morning coffee with a comical demonstration of my stubbornness to go even a mile over the speed limit while some idiot was driving too close behind me, when you turned around to face me, grinning like the proverbial Cheshire cat. I hadn’t noticed you tucked away in the corner. Flushed, I hastily retreated to the other end of the office and returned to my work, all the while replaying what I’d said to see how idiotic I sounded. You’d seen me, noticed me – I wondered if you would speak to me next time you came in.
It was strange when you did make the effort to talk to me; I couldn’t get my words to come out right at all. I became a self-conscious, tongue-tied crazy woman who had to leave the office for a cigarette every time you ventured over. It was the way you looked at me, I’d never experienced being on the receiving end of it before. Like I was… well, sexy, attractive – that kind of look. I tried to convince myself I was imagining it, after all, let me put this into perspective; with your dark brown mussed up hairstyle, milky coffee coloured skin and long lashed green eyes, you looked like a model! Combine that with your lithe body and taupe suit, you could have been pulled straight from the cover of GQ. I on the other hand was positively dowdy – pale, scraped back hair and boyish figure. When you started to throw all kinds of innuendo and cheeky comments my way, I dealt with it for a little while but eventually, I exploded from frustration.
‘Oh my god, you hadn’t even noticed me until just recently, why the sudden interest now?’
Taken aback, you responded,
‘You opened your mouth and talked! That’s why I noticed you and became interested!’ Well, what could I say to that!
Thus began our tempestuous friendship. We always skirted around the dangerous line that couldn’t be crossed. I was engaged, but I flirted along, started dressing better, taking time to do my make-up in the morning and wearing my hair down. You made me feel alive, something I never really felt before. An excitement that was palpable surrounded me and I felt free – metaphorically. At home, my other half was growing suspicious at the change in me. I no longer wanted to listen to his ranting about how no-one would ever treat me the way he did, love me the way he did and how he was protecting me from the big bad men out there who would use and abuse me. I was fed up of being held back by his emotional manipulation, which had kept me tied to him for longer than I cared to admit to anyone – especially myself. I wanted a new life that was free from the suffocating cotton wool cave I resided in from sixteen to twenty-two – he sensed it and dug his heels in harder. Every day you unknowingly kept me strong. The way I felt about you had awakened something inside me, hope – I could find the strength to be alone and discover who I was without someone telling me who I should be.
The pain of what came next jolts me. My coffee is gone, but I’m not ready to get back on the motorway yet. I haven’t smoked in years, but I feel today is a special exception.
A Thursday in February, someone told me you were leaving the company and it broke my heart. It had been a year since I’d spoken to or contacted you in any way. I never told you at the time, but my fiancé threatened to get you sacked if we carried on the way we were. I had been comforted by the fact I knew where you were and what you were doing though. I’d moved up in the company since the last time we talked and was no longer a lowly administrator. I was doing some training on another floor for my new role when I had the feeling you were nearby. I shook it off, thinking how ridiculous it would sound if I told anyone such a tale. But as I walked into our office before lunch, I could smell your lingering scent. I felt sick with anxiety; I wanted to see you but knew I shouldn’t.
‘Guess who you just missed’ my colleague said with a smirk. I didn’t need to guess, I could literally feel you. If there was such a thing as a cosmic twin or another half, you were mine. I knew you’d come to say goodbye and surely you wouldn’t leave until you had.
The next day, you returned and with both relish and reluctance I went to see you. I never thought my heart could literally skip a beat, but that day it did; as I caught your eye across the room and we smiled at each other. We had the usual banter back and forth; I was so childish in my responses. You knew how I felt and you felt the same about me. Cliché or not, it was just the wrong time. So we took a walk together, causing much speculation from colleagues, but we talked, I smoked and nothing more. I wished you luck and felt a piece of me curl up and die as I left you in the car park.
Another year passed and I quit my job, ended my relationship and went in search of myself. I came across a phone number in my ‘things from work box’ while I was cleaning one day. I knew it would be one of two people’s numbers, so there was a fifty per cent chance it would be yours. After much deliberation, I sent a text wondering who would reply, if anyone – the number could have been disconnected long ago. To my delight, a familiar cheeky response arrived and we texted each other long into the evening catching up. I made a decision the next day; I was going to have a relationship of some kind with this man who took my breath away. I didn’t care anymore that the scales were so out of balance with us, I had to be with you at least once. A few days later I gathered up my courage and called, asking to come round and see you. It was after work at my bar job so it was quite late, but you said ok.
I remember you were waiting as I approached your door; framed by the light in the hallway, you looked amazing; white shirt, faded blue jeans and bare feet. Where your shirt gaped slightly, a solid silver cross lay on your chest. I looked up at you, noting the two day old stubble and an expression showing you were as equally surprised by my actions as I was. Then you chuckled and welcomed me into your arms, ushering me inside. We proceeded to talk, have a few shots of whiskey, smoke a few cigarettes and inevitably ended up doing what you would expect. I left the next morning feeling elated and empowered.
We kept a strange relationship going for a long time off and on. We both had other relationships, sometimes simultaneously. You were the only person I felt was stable in my life, who I could talk to about anything and you’d point me in the right direction. I was never more comfortable than having a drink together, lounging around talking about everything and nothing. I could text you at some ridiculous hour in the week and ask you to come round and if you could, you would. Sometimes just to talk. I knew it couldn’t stay that way forever. I was not that kind of woman for one thing. More to the point, I loved you more than I could admit. We spoke about having a real relationship, but I knew in my heart I just wasn’t confident enough to be with someone like you. Constantly feeling insecure would have destroyed me and I think you knew that.
The tears begin to fall and I hurriedly make my way back to the car. Safely ensconced, I let myself remember the day I left you for good.
Years passed us by, until one day I looked at you across the room talking on the phone and thought, I can’t do this anymore. I knew you cared about me, worried about me; but I needed more than that. I needed a relationship with someone where I wasn’t thinking about you at the back of my mind, or I needed a proper relationship with you, which I still wasn’t secure enough for. So the last time I walked away, was the last time I saw you. But as I left, I wanted to tell you; you saved me from a life I was too naive to realise I needed saving from. I thought the way it was, was normal and I had no clue really. You changed me, helped me discover who I really was and made me confident in becoming and being that person. I wish you knew, and could understand the enormity of what you’ve done for me? I’d resigned myself to being nothing and no-one – just a crutch for someone else to live the life they wanted. You were honest with me, encouraged my dreams, picked me up and rescued me time and time again. Every time I let people damage my self-respect and make me think I was nothing. These are the reasons I love you, and I do love you and I have loved you for years now…
But I didn’t tell you those things. I always thought I would get to see you again one day, never imagined it would be too late. But here I am, going to your funeral and now there are no second chances. I walked away with the words I wanted to say left on the tip of my tongue. That’s where they will have to stay, forever.