You’ve decided. You’ll leave her. But how? The lyrics of the Paul Simon song go round inside your head as you try to decide how to make this happen.
It had all started so well, this relationship. You’d thought this is it, she’s the one. But these past few weeks had been – well…
You can’t put your finger on it, but she’s changed. Gone is the happy, beautiful young woman you’d fallen in love with, and what a struggle that was. You tried, really you did, after so many failed relationships to not fall for this one. But you did, she caught you, reeled you in, hook, line and sinker, as the saying goes. And now that she’s got you dangling on that string, she’s changed.
Now it’s temper, or silences. You’re not sure which is worse. She’s not eating properly, spending too much time either alone or with other people, people who are obviously more important to her than you are.
You can’t put your finger on it, can you. You can’t say why things have changed, just that it has. Is she bored with you? Is there someone else? It doesn’t matter; you’ve been here before, and this time it’s you that’s going to get in first, that’s going to say goodbye, so long, be seein’ ya. Have a good life. Too often in the past this has happened to you, and even though part of you still loves the bones of her, you’re training yourself to not feel that way, so when the time comes, you’ll be able to walk away.
You’ve spent the last couple of weeks making lists in your head. What in the flat is yours that you can take with you? When the time comes, you want to make sure you take everything with you in one go, so that there’s no going back for what’s left behind. Where will you live? Where will the stuff go? A lockup somewhere will have to do for the rest of your life’s stuff, but where you’ll sleep is another matter.
You look at your phone, at the text you’ve started putting together to say it’s over. You flick through some of the old texts between the two of you, and you remember when you first met; a friend’s wedding. She’d been chatting, laughing with friends.
“When I get married,” she’d said, “when I get married, I want it to be mid-summers day in the grounds of Markham House. There’s a clearing at the edge of the woods.” And she’d laughed with her friends, caught your eye and smiled. That same night, she’d taken your phone, this phone, and left her number on it. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Except now history is repeating itself. And how to get in first and finish it?
“Jake, can I see you in my office please?”
It’s the boss. You look at the text, you’ve started. No, sending a text is not the way to do it. She deserves to hear in person at least. You cancel the text, get up, go into the boss’s office.
“Jake, you’ve been with us some time now. We’ve got a temporary position in Birmingham that’s come up that I’d like to consider you for.”
“Yes. It’s to cover for maternity leave, so would only be for six months. But it’s a step up and will give you managerial experience. We will of course be providing accommodation for you within that six-month period should you accept. You don’t have to decide now. Here’s some further information as to what you’d be doing. I realise you might have personal considerations that would make this difficult, and don’t worry if you don’t think you can do it at this time. There’ll be other opportunities. Think about it over the weekend. I’m out of the office for most of next week, so let me know by next Friday, okay?”
You say thanks, take the folder and leave the office. Back at your desk, you look at your phone, wonder if you should call her now, tell her about the job offer. Your thumb pauses above the dial button. No. You need to sort out personal issues first. And this needs to be done face to face. Don’t use the job as an excuse to leave. Whether or not you decide to take it, you still need to discuss the other stuff. Maybe this was for the best, this job, this opportunity. You could present it to her, and then maybe at the end of six months what was left of your relationship would have fizzled out anyway.
But Birmingham? Do you really want to go there? Big city, yes, plenty to do, no doubt, but do you want to leave where you are, where your friends and family are? At least it would solve the issue with accommodation for the time being, at any rate, and with an increased salary you could save more for a place of your own when you got back. If you came back.
There remained the question. Should you break with her before you went, get it over and done with, or let things turn sour while you were away?
No, tell her about the job. Tell her, and when she gets mad, and she’s always getting upset about something these days, then tell her you won’t be coming back. At least not to her.
It’ll hurt, yes, but getting in first, you’ll be half-way prepared for the split, at least in your head, if not your heart. You’re making her unhappy, you know you are. Better finish it now and let her go. Yes, that’s the way you’ll play it. Let her think you’re doing her a favour. Then there will be no bad blood between you, at least you hope not.
That’s if she’s in the mood to listen. You bet she’s not.
You get home that evening. She looks like she’s been crying, but she won’t say about what. Goes into the bedroom shuts the door. You shower away the day, and when you go into the bedroom for fresh clothes, she walks out, moody, silent.
“Look, Chloe,” you begin once you’re dressed. But there’s a knock at the door. Ryan and Mike.
“Are you coming out mate? It’s Tom’s birthday, remember?”
“You go,” she says.
“We need to talk,” you reply.
“It’ll keep.” And she turns away, goes back in the bedroom.
When you get home, she’s asleep. At least she pretends to be asleep, but you know she’s not. You know how she breathes when she’s asleep, and this is not it, but you let it go. You’ve had a few celebrating Tom’s birthday, it’s been a busy week, and things will make more sense in the morning.
You wake to find the bed empty. You hear her moving around the flat. You get out of bed, your hangover hair doing nothing for your cause.
“We need to talk.”
“Can’t at the mo. Promised to meet Tilda. Going shopping. Laters.”
And she’s gone.
You get yourself ready, clean around – just to show her you’re not a complete slob – go out and do some shopping of your own, food shopping at the local market. Tonight you’ll cook something special, something nice so that there can be one final good memory together before a final farewell. Tomorrow you’ll pack your stuff, hopefully find a unit to stash it, and then find a cheap hotel until you’ve time to find something better. Maybe up until you leave for Birmingham.
Your phone beeps.
Going to see mum + dad. CU tomorrow. We’ll talk then x
So, no candlelit dinner tonight then. But a promise to talk tomorrow. That’s something. And the kiss at the end of the text? Maybe there’s some regrets on her side as well? That’d be a first.
You order a pizza, grab a beer, flick through channels, watching nothing. Go to bed early, don’t sleep. This time tomorrow, you tell yourself, this time tomorrow it’ll all be out in the open. Should you pack some things before she gets back? Should you just leave? Why didn’t you take the opportunity to just leave while she was out of the flat? How did the song go?
Just drop off the key, Lee
And set yourself free
Except you don’t really want to be free, do you. You want everything back the way it was when you enjoyed going round the Saturday market together planning dinner, planning how you’d spend Sunday.
No, you wouldn’t pack anything away just yet. You’d just have the information of the storage company where you can take your stuff that will be open tomorrow. Don’t want to appear desperate.
Sunday, and she comes in mid-morning. Quiet, red-eyed, resolute.
“Jake, I’ve something to say to you.”
“I’ve got something to say to you too.”
“Me first. This is important.”
She looks sombre. You don’t argue. The storage company is ready on speed dial for when she’s finished. She sits in the small kitchen while you make her a coffee. She’s not meeting your gaze. When you sit opposite, she begins.
“Jake, I’m sick.”
“Of me? I thought as much.”
“No, not of you. I mean I’m sick sick. Ill.”
You’re in a different kind of reality now as you begin to take in what she’s just said.
“I’ve got cancer.”
“Yes. I had it when I was fifteen, and now it’s come back.”
And now you put two and two together and this time you get not three or five, but four. Now you understand the mood swings, the silences. You hold out your arms and she comes to you willingly, the beautiful young woman you fell in love with. You hold her close as she cries, tells you what she knows, what the doctor has told her, and as she does so, you kiss her hair, cry tears of your own.
Somewhere between six months and two years, the doctor had said. You hold her tighter. You want to say there’s new treatments all the time, be hopeful, but you also know that’s not what she needs right now.
And as her tears subside, she looks up at you and asks what it was you had to say.
You didn’t really want to say goodbye, did you. It’s just you didn’t want someone else saying goodbye to you. And now you realise you must say goodbye, in six months, a year, two. Whenever God decides to take her. It won’t be your choice, but you’ll take whatever time you have left together and treasure every minute. There will be tough times, but you’ll do what’s needed, whatever that is, and create some very special memories.
“I just wondered if you fancied getting married,” you hear yourself say. “I hear that there’s a nice clearing at the edge of the woods in the grounds of Markham House. What do you say?”