Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Once upon a time the man I loved died

When I started my blog, I didn't set out to tell a story. I was simply in agony and writing was my way of trying to survive. I wasn't writing for an audience, I was writing for myself. But gradually my blog has turned into a story with an audience: the story of my grief's journey and also the story of a beautiful love affair that ended, like your life, way too soon. I hardly have any photos of you, so my blog is the equivalent for me - a photo album in words, a way to remember every precious moment that we shared. Because our relationship was short and restricted by the fact that I wouldn't introduce you to my children, when you died I was able to make a list of each day we spent together and what we did. I know I will keep writing until I have recorded them all. There are only a few left. And now, for some reason, at my hundredth post, I find myself wanting to put a structure to the story, wanting to write it from the beginning but I'm not sure where the beginning is.

It is always a tricky decision, knowing where to begin a story and this one is no different. I could start it back in the nineties when we first met, when Cupid made a blunder and fired his arrows in the wrong direction. Or I could go further back to when I met your future best friend. Ed, at playgroup while we were still in nappies. I could talk about my divorce and my terrible relationship with the children's father or the break up of my last relationship, to give context to the precious nature of this love story. Or I could rewind time just a short way and start last year when our paths crossed again, back to that good time when Cupid had his act together and everything was aligned, until suddenly it wasn't.

Still, I've been to enough creative writing classes to know that, these days, a story should throw us into the centre of the action and start with a bang. So, if I were going to start this story properly, I would start it with a body, the body of the man I loved -  your dead body. Without that appalling scene, this blog wouldn't exist.

And so it transpires that, at what is the true beginning of this story, I am standing in my pyjamas and dressing gown on your doorstep, staring at the dead body that is laid out on your bed. It might seem surprising to some that I can almost see your bed from the doorstep, but those people don't know yet that you are a surprising hero who lives in a tiny shack in the Peak District. Also a little odd that I am out here in my pyjamas with two male friends of yours that I don't know. They've just bashed the door of this shack in with a fire extinguisher as if we are in some kind of crime drama and a voice is saying the words, 'there's Paul'. Before they've had time to stop me, I am pushing past them into the darkness of the room where you sleep and there is a breath in time where I think you might actually be asleep now and I feel guilty for dragging your friends out here in the dark. But as soon as I am near enough to see your body properly, I know that you are dead. Either that or you have been abducted and someone has left another deformed body on your bed. Part of me wants to run to you and hold you but a larger part recoils in horror and I stay in the doorway, wanting to leave but unable to move. I stay just long enough to take a picture in my mind, a picture that I will never be able to erase. Your head is black and purple in hue and swollen so that your features are distorted. You look like the elephant man, completely unrecognisable aside from your clothes, clothes from which you are bursting, your body inflated and leaking. Your hands are clenched, there is blood on the bed and the stench makes me want to retch. One thing I know for sure. This is a body but it is not you. You are gone.

Your friend calls an ambulance. Someone on the end of the line asks routine questions, trying to ascertain whether there is any hope of resuscitation. We all know there is not but they force him to touch your skin and check for signs of life even though he is saying repeatedly, 'he is definitely dead.' And I just stand there listening to the word: dead. How can you be dead?

Afterwards, I stand on the porch shaking until someone ushers me into a car and I sit, still shuddering and stare into space. I don't know how long I am there. At some point I see blue flashing lights moving up the long drive to the shack where you live, the shack where you are dead and some time after that a policeman slides into the driver's seat of the car and asks me questions that make me feel like a terrible girlfriend. You have been out of touch for three days and judging by the state you are in, you have been dead for all of them. I wonder with him how it can have taken me three days to raise the alarm. Was it just yesterday that I was out on a day trip with a friend? What was I thinking going out for the day when you were lying dead on your bed? If this is a crime drama then I assume that I am a suspect. I'm not yet sure how you died and maybe circumstances are suspicious. So I try to justify myself, explaining to the policeman that you don't always answer your phone, that we don't live together, that we don't see each other every day because of my children. I tell them that I have been sending messages and calling for days but that you haven't answered. I don't tell them that I have been worrying that you were about to dump me but I tell them that I came out last night and that your lights were on but your door was locked. I tell them about the notes I left on the door and on your van.  I don't tell them that I was frightened and crying, banging on your door and shouting your name, pleading with you to let me in.

They ask me what your mum's name is and I feel even worse. I don't know. I can tell them roughly where she lives because you once drove me past her house but I haven't met your mum yet. We've only been seeing each other for eight months and we just haven't found the time. I can tell them the first name of your sister but that is all I know. I don't know where she lives. I could tell them so many things about you if they asked: your favourite songs, what kind of tree you would choose to be if you were reincarnated as a tree, how you have changed my life, but I can't tell them anything they want to know.

The policeman takes my number and eventually says that I am free to go. I wait for your friends and find myself browsing Facebook as if it is just a normal evening except for the fact that I am sitting in a stranger's car in my pyjamas at one in the morning. I see that a friend is up and I message her to tell her that you are dead. How can you be dead? She phones and I try to explain through my tears and I say, 'can you come?' She says that she will catch a train in the morning to be there.

Your friends drop me back at home and I stand in the kitchen wondering what to do now that you are dead. I go upstairs and climb into bed with my daughter because I need to be next to someone whose heart is beating. I hold her hand and lie awake for hours. I think about the last time that I saw her, standing at the top of the stairs as I told her that I needed to go out to look for a missing friend, that I was leaving her with a stranger, that I would be back soon. I am wondering how I will tell her in the morning that I found you but that you were dead. It is only three months since I told her that Grandma was dead. It is only a week since she met you for the first time and gave me her approval. It is too much. I am wondering how on earth I am going to get up and get the children to school. I am thinking about you and every snapshot of our beautiful time together, time that is now over, snapshots that I will record later. I am wondering where your body has gone and thinking that I never even turned back to say goodbye. I am wondering if they have found your mum or your sister and what happens next. But mostly I am just lying there thinking that you are dead. How can you be dead?

I am wondering how it can all be over now. This is not the way the story should end. It is not the way the story should begin. But it is the way it happened.