Here goes nothing. I ate my pasta with a spoon tonight. It reminded me of you, and how you’d stubbornly say it was the best and only way. It’s one year to the day since I saw your gorgeous face. I miss the rebellious amber strands that refused to tuck behind your ears. I miss the little cleft between your eyebrows, worn by time. I miss the tiny mole behind your left ear that you’d scratch until sometimes it bled. I have to be honest, I haven’t been able to let you go in the way you asked.
It’s partly Jim’s fault, if he hadn’t been so kind and given me so much compassionate leave, I don’t think it would’ve gone so far. I had too much time on my hands. But I really tried. You see, when you told me ‘You’ll need to distract yourself, why don’t you get really into your running?’ I took that to heart. I started running in the morning before dropping Timmy off at school. Then I’d run for hours in the afternoon; up Greenhill Road, past Felix’s place, laps and laps around the village. It helped. The blood pumping through my veins, the burn scalding in the depths of my lungs. Feeling even a tenth of the pain that you felt. It was an anaesthetic.
I know what you would’ve said: ‘Everything in moderation, honey.’ With a playful smile on your red lips. But you know that’s never been me. Always diving too deep, going further than I should. It’s why I needed you so much. So, of course, I ended up with a stress fracture. ‘Rest for eight weeks’, they said. I really did try, but running was the only thing that relieved me from the constant, gnawing agony. The only thing that covered the hollow pit in my soul as it desperately limped on without you.
I’ll spare you the details my love, I don’t think you need to know it all. But yes, it was the wine I turned to, you know I’ve always been fond of it. It consumed me, I stumbled in the dark, trying to wash your face from the insides of my eyelids. I found comfort in the nights of numbness for months on end. And at the end, they found me trying to take a shortcut to you. I am so sorry. I failed you and I failed Timmy.
That was two weeks ago now, and I’m telling you this because I think I’ve finally turned a corner. I realised that I had been blind to anything, but my own hurt. I’d forgotten everything you wanted, everything that you asked of me, and I’d forgotten Timmy needed me too. So what this letter really is, is a promise. A promise not to turn away from you, but to cherish your face in my mind each night. To live my life with all the joy as if you were by my side. To take the long road home to you.
Things are looking up. I’ve been picturing you every night before I fall asleep and it helps keep me in touch with who I want to be.
I’ve got something I need to get off my chest though, which I couldn’t bring myself to tell you in my last letter. I was too ashamed. But the guilt has been weighing me down these past couple of years so I figured it’s best to just tell you. There were a couple of months, during that period where I lost myself, when your mum and dad took Timmy to live with them. They did the right thing. He was only six, he wouldn’t have understood why I was letting him down, why I wasn’t the father he needed. But after I made you that promise and got myself back on track, I convinced them I was ready to step up again. I haven’t left his side since, and I’ll never let that happen again.
Timmy is growing fast! He’s quieter than he used to be. When you were here. But he knows what’s right and wrong, so I think he’ll be ok. I’ve been teaching him chess; you’d be so proud! He’s learnt the King’s Indian Defence, and he’s surprised me a few times now. Still got a way to go before he could beat you though!
He hasn’t forgotten what you told him either. ‘Be strong for your dad’. He’s always running around and lifting things to show me how strong he is. I imagine you laughing, pure and loving.
I’m thinking of starting running again. I’ll listen to you this time, I won’t over-do it. I miss the breeze blowing against my cheeks almost as much as I miss your kisses on them.
I’ve reached a cross-roads. Other than that couple of months he was with your parents, I’m going to be without either Timmy or you for the first time in twenty-five years. You see he’s planning on going to Birmingham University in September to study Biology. I know I tell you about him every night, but at times like this it just feels more real written down. When I need to hear from you.
I admit, I’m frightened about how I’ll feel when he’s not in the house anymore. His mannerisms are so much like yours. He pulls that same squinty face when he’s about to disagree with me, and he can wiggle his ears just like you. He is a piece of you in our home, and when he’s gone, you’ll be gone too.
So should I stay here? Or move on, maybe downsize? We made this place our own; your little knitted oven gloves hanging from the mantel piece, the willow wallpaper I insisted on, Timmy’s paintings stuck to the insides of the windows. It will feel so empty on my own. I fear I would go back to how I was before…
‘Stop dithering you muffin,’ you’d say. ‘Rip off the plaster and be done with it.’ And maybe you’re right. It would probably be better for me to start afresh. New town, new me. Timmy keeps saying I need to go out and date some people, and you’d probably say the same. But I don’t feel the need when I see you in my mind every night, and tell you all my worries and dreams.
You’ve aged when I picture you now. It’s ok, I have too, and you’re still by far the better looking! I have flecks of grey, frustratingly clear amongst the black. I’ve gained a few pounds. Your hair is shorter, your laughter lines stay a while longer after you smile. You look a little sterner, a little more regal. You still try in vain to tuck your hair behind your ears. I’ll think about what you’ve said, maybe I’ll look at some places in the Cotswolds.
I should’ve written sooner, but time flies so fast these days. Plus it won’t be long until I see you now. I wonder what you’ll think of me, if I’ve changed much these long years? Still, I felt I should write so there’s something concrete left behind, you know? Some proof of our love left to fade in this world before it starts anew in the next.
Timmy is always here to help me as I struggle to get around much on my own. I wish you could see little Caroline and Sam too; Caroline is such a cheeky monkey, and Sam has your unruly hair, even at two! I think Timmy will be a much better dad than I ever was, he’s got time for us all.
I made sure I kept all of your things when he helped me with the move to Cotswolds. I don’t think I would’ve moved unless he’d given me that nudge, but I am so glad he did. I often imagined you sitting there with me on the patio, looking down past the fir tree at the end of our garden, out onto the endless, rolling green hills. I hope you liked the chestnuts that I brought back from my walks for you. They feel how you feel; warm, solid and wholesome.
I did try dating a few times, partly to assuage Timmy’s constant hassling, and because you said to me ‘don’t you dare be lonely.’ Once Timmy had a family of his own it did help to have someone to talk to. None of the dates panned out in the long run as, you probably know, my heart wasn’t truly in it. But I have friends here now in the care home and their conversation keeps me on my toes, keeps my mind moving.
It’s been a long journey, my love, and I couldn’t have done it without you. I’ve found comfort in sharing my stories with you and your words have been beacons of light guiding me along the way. For me, home has always been in your arms, and now that I’m tired I long to fall asleep in them. I’ll be home soon my Holly.