The music pulses through the warm packed room in time with the flashing lights. I wave to my friend Heather as she catches my eye and happily gives me the ‘thumbs up’, it is her house party. She is celebrating her 24th Birthday. Clearly she is having a great time, her pale face is flushed with colour, her dark brown hair is shining and she is wrapped around a tall, dark handsome stranger. His hands seem to be all over her and her sexy skin tight silver dress has risen up so much that you can almost see her bottom. She doesn't seem to mind though as she holds him even tighter as they grind along to the music. He kisses her neck passionately and she shivers with delight. She seems a far cry from the panicking, stressed out woman of earlier. Heather had been going mental because so many guests had seen fit to bring friends along with no warning, she was worried that she would run out of everything too early but apparently things now seemed to have worked out very well for her, especially as the extra guests had also been smart enough to buy some extra booze along with them. I have also had several not bad looking guys approach me since I had arrived but had politely declined their offers of a drink/dance. I am a married woman and believe me I had been very glad when I was able to leave the dating scene behind.
I had been very pleased to catch up with a few friends and acquaintances that I hadn't seen for a while although they have drifted off now leaving me alone for the last ten minutes or so. Still I am also quite happy to do a little people watching and am glad to note that everyone seems to be having fun. Although I am glad that I came to the party because it has been a good evening I am starting to feel ready to leave. I sip at my wine and stifle a yawn. It has been a very long day and I find myself wishing that I was snuggled up in my nice cosy bed.
Without any warning the song stops halfway through and changes to my favourite song; Songbird. Most people are too drunk or having too much fun to notice the sudden change to the much slower song, but I do. I look over to Darren who is guest DJ for the night and my heart skips a beat. There he is, the man I have been waiting for all night. Stood grinning in my direction, right in front of Darren is Greg, my beautiful husband. He has come straight from work but still looks amazing in his simple purple shirt and black trousers. His short dark hair frames his handsome face making me want to kiss his full soft lips. I return his grin instantly and happily exclaim "you made it!" He strides purposefully across the room towards me and even after 7 years together my stomach lurches with lust, just as it did the very first night that we met at a bar in Camden. "I slipped away early" he whispers in my ear before kissing me, even though he couldn’t have possibly have heard what I had said over the noise in the room.
He kisses me firmly before suddenly sweeping me into his arms. We dance to the rest of ‘Songbird’, the song that we had our first dance to at our wedding. I feel blissfully happy in his warm strong arms; I just love him so much that every moment we are together still feels perfect. We finish the dance and then I ask Greg if he would like a drink."I just want to take you home" he tells me with a twinkle in his eye "you look so damn hot tonight. I love you in that dress" he indicates my simple but very flattering little black number. I have added a pair of neon purple heels to jazz it up and know that I must look good given the attention I had received before Greg arrived. "Well" I whisper in to my husband’s ear "I look even better still in what I have on under the dress"
"Which is?" he plays along while seductively running his hand up and down my side.
"Take me home and find out" I suggest playfully and Greg grabs my hand and together we practically run out of the house in to the warm August night laughing like children. We don’t even waste time say any ‘goodbyes’. "Can we hail a cab round here Alex?" Greg asks breathlessly as he searches the street for any that might happen to be passing, which is not very likely in this area sadly.
"Probably not" I concede leading my husband by the hand, "we need to catch a bus. Come this way". Greg groans in frustration as we run up the side street and leave the pretty Victorian houses behind us. We rush straight up to the main road with an unnecessary sense of urgency. Greg has only just come back from a two day sales conference; it was the first time we had spent so long apart. The joy at having him home again made me feel drunker and hornier than any of the alcohol I had consumed at Heather’s party. Apparently it seems that he is feeling exactly the same way. Despite the time it is a lovely warm, bright evening. The sun is just starting to set lending a sense of mystery and drama to the night. The air feels full of promise and it is exciting.
“Crap!” I exclaim as we make it on to the high street, “Our bus is just there at the lights Greg, we won’t make it”. I point in the direction of the bus but I am looking at my husband waiting for his response. In the seconds before he replies frustration floods my body but Greg is not ready to admit defeat, he lunges forward and insists that we can make it before the lights change, we literally run into the road just as the lights change and cars start whizzing past us . Oddly, it just exhilarates us both even more and we both start laughing wildly as we dodge the traffic. Suddenly I realise that I have lost a shoe and quickly stop my husband who is still dragging me ahead and is actually on the pavement now, the bus is now at the stop and despite the long queue it is clear that now thanks to my shoe we will definitely miss it. “Babe look” I nudge Greg, “I lost my shoe it’s half way across the road!” He looks at the shoe and grins at me. “Cinders stop that bus and I’ll get the shoe” he calls.
“We will never make it” I wail in defeat as I try to pull him back to me.
“Sure we will” he insists already letting go of my hand and running back in to the road “just bloody stop that bus!” he yells over his shoulder as he runs. I immediately start running back in the direction of the bus stop. I jump with fright when I hear an almighty thump and the sound of a woman screaming. I freeze for a second and I turn round and see that everything has stopped. Everything is at a standstill. No cars or people are moving and the whole world seems to have fallen silent. A large crowd had gathered around and are staring at something on the floor. I cannot see Greg. I desperately search the crowds for my husband. Where is he?
The sound of screaming fills my ears, my head and my heart. The noise goes on and on and on. It is not until I jump awake in my bed that I realise that it is me who is screaming. I sit up and try to catch my breath, it is still night. I am home; I am in my safe bed, clearly dreaming. Immediately I feel for Greg in the space beside me.
It is empty.
It is cold.
I sob as I remember that Greg is gone, that he is dead.
Today is the first anniversary of the day that my husband was killed. My darling Greg was smashed to pieces by a van because he was trying to get my shoe out of the road. With this thought I collapse back on to my pillow not caring about what the time is but I am still aware that the sunlight is vaguely trying to fill my room, so morning cannot be far away. I roll over and bury my head in to my pillow as I surrender to the sobs which are filling my body and cry and cry and cry some more. I cannot believe that this wretched day has arrived. This year has been the longest and most painful of my whole life, but yet this hideous anniversary has arrived far too fast and I don’t know how I will survive this day. The pain of losing my husband swamps me anew as does the guilt that I carry with the loss. From that day onwards I hate the colour purple. I hate those bloody shoes and most of all I hate myself. I cannot stop the torrent of tears. I cannot stop the grief and the agony of my loss. This whole last year has just left me feeling weak and helpless. I had no idea that emotional pain could be this debilitating and I didn’t have the will to fight it. My grief and the tears that it produces are in danger of suffocating me and I wish they would. There is nothing in the world that I would like to do more than to surrender to my own death. Living is agony without him.
He was dead on arrival to hospital. I remember the Doctor, a kind man with grey hair and soft green eyes coming to tell me that they had lost him. He assured me that they had done their best, tried everything, but that there was nothing that could be done. I was nodding and nodding but not actually understanding what I was hearing. It wasn’t until Greg’s Mother and Father arrived that it sank in. It wasn’t until I had to tell these wonderful, loving people that their son was gone that it registered in my mind. His mother covered her face and screamed to God not to take her son. His father tried to hold her but she was thrashing around frantically. I was frozen. All I could do was stare at them in bewilderment. Greg was dead. It was over. Greg’s life was finished. It just didn’t make any sense to me.
I didn’t even realise that I had fallen back in to a deep but uneasy sleep until I hear the phone ringing, but I just turn over, bury my head under the pillow and ignore it. There is no one in the world who I would wish to speak to today. The caller is persistent and the noise buzzes around me like an angry wasp which I cannot swat. I sigh with relief when my phone finally stops ringing, but it immediately starts back up again. This happens six times and despite the annoyance I continue to ignore it. I feel a pang of guilt at my actions which is just enough to set my tears off again. I don’t want to cause anyone any hurt or worry, but I just don’t feel up to talking to anyone right now. Once my room is silent again, I take the pillow off of my head and wrap my arms around it hugging it tightly. My eyes fix on to the ceiling. I stare at the cool, smooth white surface and sigh as I wonder if heaven is as cool and calm and soft as my room, everything is soft and clean and calm. Greg painted this room; it is all soft pale blues and whites. It is the most tranquil place in the world. Until his death I always felt at peace in this room but now, it just feels cold and lonely. I often wonder where Greg is, what he is doing and what he is seeing. The only thing that I cannot handle is the idea that he is just laying in that cold hard box in the ground. That he feels nothing and sees nothing. That he is just gone, finished, nothing! He just has to exist in some form, he has to be somewhere, connected to me somehow, “please God” I whisper in to the air sobbing, “Please, please let me have him back. Please God” I plead sobbing “give him back to me. I will do more, love him more, be better, be anything and do anything!” I know the hopelessness of my pleas and that fact just makes me cry harder still.
I find it hard to talk to Greg, even when I visit his grave which I do at least once a week. I have actually slept on his grave many times over the last year, just because I was desperate to be near him. That is the closest I can get to being able to hold my husband’s strong warm body these days. I am not sure if I do believe that he is with me still, watching over me and all of the fables that people keep telling me. Still I often find myself wondering if he can see me where he is. Partly I hope so because it would mean that we were still connected in some way, but partly I hope not, there is nothing that I have done since he died that could make him feel any pride. To say that I have ‘lost it’ or ‘gone off of the rails’ is a massive understatement. I know that I have caused both of our families so much hurt and pain. Facts that don’t exactly fill me with pride but I just haven’t been able to handle the pain. I haven’t dealt with the guilt at all. I had tried to stay as blind drunk as I could most days to start with. I started off drinking at home in the evenings, and then at work. I threw myself in to the clubbing scene thinking that I could meet a guy and he would soothe my pain and help me ‘move on and love again’. Of course this caused massive problems. I lost my job, because the few times that I did turn up to work after my very short compassionate leave ended I turned up still blind drunk from the night before. More often than not I was still wearing the same stale and dirty clothes that I had gone out in, once my skirt was actually covered in sperm from some guy I had sex with in the toilet of a club, we had a little issue with the condom and it ended badly for my skirt. Not exactly appropriate office wear! I slept around a lot; I was looking for fun and comfort but only found more self hatred and managed to get quite a reputation in the clubs I went to. I was mugged twice, and cannot even count how many times I woke up in a puddle of my own vomit or some other bodily fluid.
Greg’s parents really tried to maintain a relationship with me but they saw the way I was living in a different way to how it actually was. They thought I was off having a ‘high old time’ at the expense of their son’s death. They are a very strict Christian family and they couldn’t deal with what I was doing. I do understand that they couldn’t handle me at that time and so eventually they just stopped contacting me, and I respected that and stayed away. My own parents were just beside themselves. They saw the pain that I was in and tried to help, they even offered to let me move back home when I lost my job instead of me destroying my savings by trying to pay the mortgage and bills. I wouldn’t hear of it and struggled on. How could I leave the flat? This was the home that Greg and I bought. We also bought everything in the flat. We had made love in every room on every item of furniture. There was no way that I could have left. It was all I had left of him. This place and our memories are everything to me. There is nothing else.
I find myself welling up when I think about the fact that finally I woke up five months ago. The trigger was an awful night when I was raped in the back of what I had thought was a mini cab after a night out at a bar. I was so off my face that I honestly couldn’t even remember what the car or the driver looked like so when Heather dragged me to the police station after I told her what happened three days later I had no information for them. Sadly even though the Police were very nice, I had bathed, thrown away my clothes and basically left them with no evidence whatsoever. The chances of them finding the guy are pretty much non existent never mind actually securing a prosecution and I know that is because I just destroyed all of the evidence in my bid to get rid of that filthy bastard from my body. I wish I could erase what he did as easily from my mind but those images remain despite the fact that I unable to picture his face. The only slightly positive thing that could be said about the horrendous thing that had happened to me is that it seemed to shock me to my senses. I am aware that it could easily have gone the other way and finished me off. The Police did arrange for a Doctor to check me for STI’s and HIV and thankfully I was free of those at least. Even though I did so in the worst way possible it really did wake me up to the mess I was making of my life and force me to stop drowning my sorrows and to start to try to piece my life back together again. I haven’t been able to make great strides but any small steps are something. I have a part time job as an administrator for a law firm now. I am sober. I am alive if not really living. I have tried.
“I am trying Greg” I whisper softly in to the room “I really want to make you proud”. The silence in the room stings me. I know that it is insane but there was a teeny little part of me that thought that he might appear before me once I finally spoke to him, like as if he was waiting for me to ‘invite him back in’ or something. I thought that I would finally get to hear his voice with its soft Zimbabwean twang one more time. Even though of course it was never going to happen I cannot help but feel a tiny stab of disappointment when nothing at all happens. I sigh again and slowly force myself out of bed.
I pee, wash my hands and stare at my red puffy face in the mirror. I look even more dreadful than I feel I conclude and that is quite a feat. It is so hard to care about how you look when you are so heartbroken. My normally soft brown hair is too long and filled with split ends. I cannot really remember when I last got the frizzy and yet greasy birds nest cut! I am not exactly sure when I even washed it last. My hazel eyes are dull and lifeless and my skin looks sallow. I have lost so much weight and am almost grateful that Greg cannot see the state that I’m in.
Sighing once again I slowly head into my tiny kitchen and put the kettle on. Slowly I make myself a strong cup of coffee and once again try not to notice that my phone is ringing. I take my coffee in to the living room and put the stereo on nice and loudly. It doesn’t drown out the sound of the phone but I do find the soft gentle love songs oddly comforting even at this volume. I sit down on the black leather sofa that Greg and I bought just after we bought the flat. We bought the sofa before we even decorated this room and only he and I know that we had to keep it wrapped for three whole weeks while we painted this room just about every colour you could imagine. We settled on magnolia just simply because it was the only colour that neither of us out and out hated. I sip my coffee and realise that I have been staring unseeingly at the fireplace. On top of it are three photos. The middle one is of Greg and me on our wedding day. We are smiling broadly. We were so very happy thinking that we had our whole lives ahead of us. The photo to the left of it is of both sets of our parents which again had been taken at our wedding. They were so proud. The photo to the right of it is of Heather’s baby; the baby that she conceived on the very night that Greg died. Mr Tall Dark and Handsome aka Marcus gave Heather a night to remember and then disappeared. He doesn’t even know that he left a little gift behind and no one who attended that party seems to know who he is! Even though I do feel sad for Heather that she has been left to raise this baby on her own, I do envy her for having someone to hold, to love and to watch out for. A little part of me hoped that Greg would have left me pregnant, and the devastation I felt when my period finally showed up weeks late was indescribable. I felt as though I had been robbed of our dream to start a family. Everything that we thought we had in front of us was gone, just because of one stupid mad night, just one stupid small mistake. How can everything be destroyed because of just one tiny moment? It just doesn’t seem possible that life could be so cruel.
The phone starts ringing once again and it is hard to resist the urge to rip it out of the wall and throw it in to the bin! Instead I decide to go and have a bath to try and relax. After rising from the sofa, I crank the music up louder still and gulp the last of my coffee down before making my way in to the bathroom once again. I tip the bubble bath in liberally and turn the hot tap on fully and then sit on the edge of the bath and watch the water swirling into the tub. I love how it churns the thick liquid bubble bath around mixing it into those soft luxurious bubbles that I cannot wait to sink in to. I try to hum along to the ballad that is playing on the radio but it cannot stop my mind being swamped with images of Greg and I in this very bath. I can see images of him soaping me and myself cleaning him too, and then memories of him kissing me, touching me and even him making love to me. We had made love in the bath, against the wall, everywhere that we could and in every possible position. There is nothing that I wouldn’t give to have once last chance to hold my husband again, to kiss him, feel and smell him. ‘Just one last time’ I wish silently.
As I lay soaking in the hot soapy water I try really hard to block him from my mind as I try to do every single day, but today Greg will not be ignored. Today his face dances before my eyes, his laughter rattles around my head and his smile stirs yet more of the never ending tears in my eyes. Because I am so lost in my thoughts, and in my memories I almost think I am dreaming when suddenly I hear Eva Cassidy’s ‘Songbird’ start to play on the radio. I can picture myself in Greg’s arms at the party, him kissing me and holding me closely. Isn’t it amazing I muse; the song that most reminds me of my husband starts off with the line: ‘For you; there will be no crying’. I half laugh, and half cry at the irony of this because truly I have never cried more over anyone else in my whole life. I honestly cannot recall having heard this song even once since I lost Greg and the fact that I am now hearing it on such a significant anniversary means so much to me. For the first time since he died I feel that there is hope that he is still here with me in some way, that somehow we are still connected. I know that I haven’t given Greg cause to be proud of me since he died, if in fact he is really able to ‘feel’ anything, but is there actually hope that he could still love me and be with me somehow? “To you, I’d never be cold, coz I feel that when I am with you, it’s alright”; Greg always said that everything in the world would be alright as long as we had each other. The trouble is that now he isn’t here, and now nothing feels like it will ever be alright again. It actually saddens me when the song ends. I feel the urge to get out of the bath and find the CD but I fight it. I know that if I allow myself to wallow too deeply I could well end up getting drunk and humiliating myself again. I need to get through the day with a little dignity. I owe that much to Greg and to both of our families. Sighing for the millionth time I immerse myself under water. The warmth of the water seeps in to my body and loosens the many knots that have formed. An hour later a very clean, hair free, buffed and polished me finally gets out of the bath. I moisturise myself, brush my teeth and climb in to a pair of clean pyjamas. Well, it’s not as if I have plans!
I settle back on the sofa with a second cup of coffee. The love ballads are starting to upset me so I turn the radio off and I am now flicking through the TV channels while managing not to even see what is on. In the end I just stick it on to the news channel and ignore the headlines while I sip my coffee and wonder if my pain is ever going to ease. People keep telling me that time is a great healer but sadly I remain unconvinced. Every day my loss seems to grow and become even more painful. Not even just for the loss of Greg alone, it is even the loss of the possibilities we had that hurt too. Trying hard to block these thoughts out I roll over so that I am facing the back of the sofa, close my eyes and try hard to fall back to sleep. That might be the way to survive this day I have decided.
Just as I am finally starting to doze someone starts to knock purposefully on my front door. Clearly I am not expecting anyone, and definitely don't wish to see anyone so I lay very still and ignore the door. At exactly the same time the hammering starts to get more urgent my phone starts to ring again. I sigh wishing that I could turn the house phone off just like I could with my mobile phone, for that matter I wouldn’t mind switching the front door off I think petulantly as the hammering gets more urgent. I hear my letterbox lift up and Heather starts shouting through it, she sounds frantic and more than a little annoyed.
"Open this door!" She yells crossly, "Alex, I know that you are in there, I can hear the TV" she tuts. "Open up!” Despite the guilt that seeps in to my skin as I think about the fact that she has travelled to my house with her tiny baby, the fact that it is a Saturday morning, and her Birthday makes it a hundred times worse, but I cannot bring myself to move. I lie very still and quietly and hope that she goes away. Heather is much more persistent than I gave her credit for, and starts knocking harder, "your mother and I have been trying to call you all morning" she informs me still through the letter box. Quite comically this sentence corresponds with the phone piping up again. She could not have timed that better if she had tried. "That's her now no doubt" Heather calls to me, “just speak to the poor woman”. When she is greeted by my continued silence Heather tries a different tact, "Alex, we are worried about you" she pleads, "If you don't open up my poor baby has to stay in a stinky nappy!" A year ago she would have said the word shitty, I think to myself and that is all the reaction that plea receives. I do feel bad but I just cannot bring myself to see her and little Joshua today. "I will be forced to call the police in case you have tried something stupid again"! Heather threatens sounding really mad now. Great, they wouldn't suppose that I have just gone out for the day, nope they have to think the worst of me as always. I don’t allow myself to think about the reasons that I have given them to think this way.
My telephone and Heather’s baby start wailing in unison and I am forced to my feet. I know that if I forced her to Heather would definitely call the police, and I don't want a big scene. I am sorely tempted to call them myself and ask them to ignore any such call, but I don't think it would work, and given that she is listening at the letter box Heather would actually hear me make that call. That is too mean and I don't have the heart to hurt her, I feel guilty enough for leaving her and Joshua on the doorstep as it is!
Josh is screaming his head off and the force of his cries hit me as I open the front door. I feel like such a bitch when I see Heather trying desperately to comfort him, with absolutely no success. His tiny face is absolutely purple with a rage far too huge for his tiny body, "he is sitting in a filthy nappy" Heather defends as she hands her baby to me before hauling the huge pram up the stairs that form the entrance to my front door. She leaves the huge thing in the tiny hallway, completely blocking the man upstairs from entering or leaving his flat and marches into the living room, she ignores my ‘I was sleeping’ lie and is already stripping her child, taking the things she needs from the changing bag and calling my mother at the same time. When did she turn in to superwoman? I wonder in awe, she just looks so confident and sure of herself. I cannot help but feel a pang of jealousy as I wonder when I might ever feel this way again. I drag the pram in to my living room and slam the door shut.
“Yes Barbara” Heather is saying to my mother as she removes the stinking nappy from her son and cleans him with wipes, on my sofa with no changing mat down “yes fine” she replies to my Mum eyeing me suspiciously, “no, no, nothing that I can see”. I know blatantly they are discussing if I am hurt, pissed or somehow on self destruct but I am not angry. I am more fascinated at how these two people have become so close all of a sudden. They had never even met until Greg’s funeral, and now they have each other’s numbers and are acting like old friends. Heather’s next sentence alarms me. She re-dresses the now clean bottomed baby, sits down on the sofa and as she stuffs her boob into his mouth she assures my mother that it is ‘no problem’ and ‘she will get her there’. I don’t like the sound of that one bit. I wait for them to finish their conversation, I really don’t know where to look but embarrassingly keep managing to accidently stare at her bare breast, so with a struggle I manage to meet her eye and ask what is going on. “Greg’s family have organised a memorial service at St. Luke’s’ she fixes me with a ‘don’t mess with me look’ and declares “We are all going. You included”.
Oh shit, I had not seen that coming!
To be continued.
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