I complete mindless puzzles to distract me from the dead hours of your absence.I just want you to come home. You did warn me you'd be away a lot. "If you think it's worth getting involved with me at all, that is." You added, with that little boyish half-smile of yours, and an I-dare-you glint in your eye.
I dared. You were already my opiate, my straight-in-the-veins, high-as-a-kite, mainlined habit. I am a junkie, doing sudoku, and screaming in withdrawal.
I'm sweating and moaning for my next fix. A text would do. Anything.But my phone stays silent and unused adrenaline eats away at my gut.
This is the price you pay for passion.
I can imagine my mum and all my most sensible friends shaking their heads at my most foolish choice of a globe-trotting aid worker. I can also imagine, only too well, the kind of man they would consider suitable for a woman like me, with a divorce and an (unmentionable) breakdown already behind me. And, of course, the little incident with the sleeping pills. They would set me up with some reliable divorcee, home by six every night, DIY and garden centres at the weekend. He would be content to sit around watching 'Top Gear', and picking his nose, before dozing off in his favourite chair by nine-thirty.
There's a reason you're gone half the time, my love.You're not this man and never could be. I love that you're always chasing manna from heaven to satisfy the needs that don't appear on the radar of most people's lifetime. I love that you live at the very top of the hierarchy triangle, seeking what can't be found in meeting mortgage payments, three square meals a day and a bit of sex on a Saturday morning.What most men of your age accept as their lives and are wearily grateful for it.
I've made my choice and I don't regret it. This is what I tell myself and anyone else who is listening. Day by day I keep it all tightly packed in, busy rationalising. I smile, I laugh, I function, knowing you're coming home.
But on nights like this I haemorrhage loneliness, my life blood a bright stain of protest on the carpet. And I stare at my silent phone like it's a grenade with a loose pin, to be put far away from me. Its silence is an ominous live ticking of threat. I snatch it up and run upstairs with it, sliding it into my undies drawer, where I can't hear its silence any more.
I was a mess when I first met you. My ex-husband had done a number on me, taking me apart over the five year period of our marriage so comprehensively there was barely anything left to identify as me. Dental records were required.
But you recognised the Self I thought had been lost. You put me back together, spent hours (and hours and hours) listening to me rehashing the past, 'processing' as the therapists like to call it. Long after all my other friends had told me it was time to be drawing the line and moving on. You held me as I sobbed, overwhelmed by the nightmare of my husband; a walking obscenity, a shadow of death pacing through my dreams. You mopped up the mess of my grief.
When I could give nothing back to you, you gave me everything. With your hours of devotion you opened me up to you, unlocking the barricaded doors of all the secret rooms of my life. Rooms of damage, rooms of treasure, you found them all.
You expanded my world, giving me eyes to see things I hadn't imagined. You patiently taught me about dark matter and quantum theory, about the nature of time and the possibility of other worlds, other realities and universes. You spoke about supernovas and black holes and what had to happen to determine which would be created from the ruin of a star. 'It's called the Chandrasekhar Limit.' you said. 'Named after the Russian chap who discovered it.' You talked about your recent visit to Cern, and I thought to impress you by vaguely knowing what the Hadron Collider was for. But the Higgs Boson was old news.
'They're looking for something else now.' You told me with one of your gleeful half smiles. 'It's called supersymmetry, the theory that every particle has a partner.'
'Ahh' I interrupted.
'A slightly heavier mirror image, if you like. If they can prove or disprove the existence of supersymmetry, then they may have a better idea of what constitutes dark matter. Which is a big deal, considering that dark matter makes up at least sixty percent of the universe.'
'It makes up about a hundred percent of my brain.'
You rolled your eyes, squeezing my hand. 'Don't put yourself down.'
the language of science fell from your lips and entered my heart like the most exquisite poetry (poetry that I didn't really understand, of course.)
You whispered to me your vision for my future, for the strong independent woman I was going to be, reaching out from my wounds to others whose wounds were still raw. You told me I was beautiful.
'You're a very special person.' You said. You slid your big warm hands up inside my blouse, along the length of my spine, and added in your best Devonshire accent: 'As well as being a propor comely lass my lover.'
You promised me intimacy beyond anything I'd known or hoped for. You tantalised me with a glimpse of your longing to be fully known, even while there remained something essentially unknowable about you. I told you one, teasing, that you reminded me of the main character in C S Lewis 'Perelandra'
'Sweetie, your eyes are impregnated with distance.' My teasing hid my frustration that they weren't more often focused solely on me.
I sigh and console myself with the thought that there might well be no-one who knows you better than me. My lips have worshipped every inch of your surrendered body; your flesh, my own, and in return I have unfurled in the fullness of your love, turned to face the bright darkness of your need, like a flower to the sun. I drink you in, take you down to the earth of me.
Restless, the sudoku numbers swimming before my tired, adrenaline-bright eyes, I look out of the window. Longing etches your shape into the descending mist. It's a grim pea-souper of a night, treacherous to drive in. You're not coming home tonight.
I think I can still hear my phone being silent on me, so I gingerly climb the stairs and root around in my undies drawer to switch the tiny object of terror off completely. I know you hate it when I do this, when you try to callme and all you get is my voicemail; but I have to protect myself from those times when you don't call. Times like tonight.
The phone rings from within my underwear, its tinny, glockenspiel melody making me jump. I fish it out, smiling with relief as your name comes up.
'Hello sweetheart.' Your voice sounds distant. 'How's it going?'
I try for lighthearted. 'I'm currently being defeated by a ten minute sudoku. So far it's taken me an hour and a half.'
A pause. Then you laugh 'Look, sweetheart, I know I said I might make it back tonight, but...'
'I know. You can't. I already figured that out.'
'Well, the thing is... I'm not going to make it back tomorrow either....Sorry, sweetheart.'
My heart turns to water and seems to drain out of me.
'Well, when, then? The next day?'
Another pause. the line starts to crackle and I just catch '...the end of the week...' before I lose you completely.
'I love you,' I say to the empty line.
I should try and sleep. But the bed is cold, the memory of your body heat lost from the heartless sheets.
I remember our first night together. Stirring from shallow sleep to find you still there, your warm body in the darkness curved into mine. And I woke up to your kisses.
'Morning, lover,' You said, 'Looking gorgeous.'
I snuggled closer to you, whispering into your neck 'Yeah in a blearyeyed smellymorningbreath kind of way.'
You laughed. 'We can't all be perfect.'
I flicked your earlobe, 'Not even you my sweet. You know how I adore you, how I was born to kiss your feet and worship the ground you walk on, but you snore worse than anyone I've ever heard. Like a sodding pneumatic drill.'
You laughed and shut me up by kissing me.
I want you, now. I want you here with me. I'm tired of paying this price.
Like someone drowning, slowly lifting each loneliness-logged limb, I go back downstairs.
It's the not knowing that gets to me. I can't settle, can't plan, can't allow myself to fully look forward to anything or get on with my life, as I can when I know you're not going to be around.I mustn't let myself have expectations. You live your life every day for the needs of others and I can't be yet another needy person in your life. But sometimes I want to be. I want to shout and scream, stamp my foot, refuse to let you go. To face you with the question: 'What about me?' I want to confess that at times like this I don't care about the starving masses on some faraway continent or the victims of natural disasters. They don't need you more than I do.
And I think: Why can't I love an ordinary man? Even the nosepicking, 'Top Gear' watching type would be preferable to these nights of wall-climbing withdrawal.
Perhaps I should let my mum set me up with one of her safe choices.
Except that I don't want anyone else. I just want you.
I stop on the bottom stair, leaning against the bannister, trying to summon up the energy to go back into the empty, darkened living room and face the smug sudoku. Gazing wearily around, my eyes settle on the painting hanging in the hall, a present from my much-missed Granny. A sunset, an eagle, vivid colours; wouldn't have been my first choice. But underneath are the words 'They that tarry upon the LORD...shall rise up on wings as eagles.' Isaiah chapter 40 verse 31
And that's what you're doing my love.You are that eagle and you must be where you belong. I refuse to be the one who clips your wings, grounds your flight.
So I will carry on paying the price, knowing that you will come home to me.
I smile. It's ok that I miss you. It's ok that they joy of having you in my life comes with a price. And it's even ok that I complete mindless puzzles to distract me from the dead hours of your absence.
The copyright of this post belongs to Alisha Bailie 29.4.15