Sunday, September 28, 2014

My Love of the North Country by Ceinwen Haydon

Ceinwen Haydon's character gets a letter from an old boyfriend who broke her heart.

This beautiful summer's evening should wrap me in its arms and make me feel complete: starry sky, warm wind and gentle dunes. I should be happy to be here, away for several days with no obligations. Away in Northumberland, staying by the coast I love the best; lingering by the wild, unpeopled ocean's edge.

I should be happy, but I am not. All I can think about is the letter, the one that came last week. He, Tom that is, wants to come back. Tom wants our life together to be reprised. The words scramble my brain, making it impossible to concentrate, or to submit to gentle mindfulness in this lovely place.

I'd thought that Tom was my alter ego, my soul mate. After years of rollercoaster relationships, the ups and downs of frenetic pairings, lust making, disillusionment and separating, I'd been ready at the age of 35 to be steadier, to explore more deeply. To maybe have a child. Enter Tom: the man who sat next to me on the train from London to Newcastle, a random meeting as I headed north to Hadrian's Wall. I'd planned a week's walking. We talked; he made me laugh and I spent the week in bed; lying prone in in his small flat in Jesmond. No, not having wanton, orgasmic sex, but being nursed to health by this apparently kind and gentle man. Somewhere around Doncaster, a fever had broken, and influenza surfaced. I'd left London strong and purposeful, and arrived in November's North Country as a trembling, perspiring child with fetid breath.

As I recovered, we talked and talked. I had no pride; he had seen me, smelt me at my worst. We grew closer than I thought possible. He shared my idiosyncratic view of the world: global pessimist but personal optimist. We both reframed the disappointments of our lives through glorious technicoloured humour. Our joys we celebrated without embarrassment or guile. Great softies, on the same page (or so I thought), we let each other in. When our love making began, I was weak with the connectedness, with the beauty of openness, and the shared undulating rhythms that brought us to such peaks; then cast us ecstatic upon the foreshore of our own intimate sea to rest awhile. Before I left to journey back down south to home, friends, job and the everyday, we had agreed that I would return. Rash and risky, but I wanted nothing more than to be with Tom.

Looking back, I should have questioned why we'd never thought that he might move to be with me. I was so overcome to be asked to move into his world, his life, corny dreamer that I was, I'd have followed him to the ends of the earth. I channelled this energy into necessary prosaic tasks: found a new job (this was before banks had played havoc with our lives), sold my house and completed my valedictory tour of my friends' houses and favourite haunts, promising not to lose touch. A promise, that in the throes of my new addiction, I was ill-equipped to keep.

We made a good life together when I came to join him. I adored learning about his life, his work, his friends. I did not notice that he rarely asked about mine, though mine were good too. I listened to him, rapt, and he clearly blossomed under this tending. After many moons, well a year or so, we went away to Rome. Our holiday was perfect, good food and wine, a fine hotel near the Spanish Steps and time to love freely: a reminder of the intensity of our first couplings. I decided to speak, articulate the only thing that I wanted for myself that was not apparently at the forefront of Tom's mind (although I was sure that he would understand and let us do this thing).

I rolled over to face Tom, after a sticky afternoon of love behind closed, wooden shutters.

"My darling, could we think about a baby soon?"

I could never have foreseen what would come next: he jumped up from the bed and snarled with venom.

"You bitch, is that all you've wanted me for, my sperm? Waiting, were you, to make sure that I needed you, and then you could get your own way? Well think again, I'm out of here, you have betrayed me, used me and that's it. I'm out of here, and you are out of my life."

My heart broke that night, my capacity to trust shattered and I didn't know if I could ever recover. It was not the fact of him denying me his child; it was his cruelty and venom as he prioritised his own needs and sense of entitlement.

We travelled home to England on separate flights. I cleared my belongings from our flat when he was working and I returned to the capital. I was injured, barely functioning and pretty much alone for quite a time. My friends had seen me disappear into their 'Once upon a time I had this mate...' horizons. I could not blame them for being slow to come closer to me once more, and let us rebuild our links and affections. Slowly, I began to recover enough to work, socialise and have a life if not in colour, then at least not simply grey. My friends became the keystone of my existence and I valued them more than ever. In all this I denied the need for intimacy or love, beyond the odd one night stand. I would never reveal myself, and trust again: I consciously decided this.

Fast-forward to the present: this lovely mellow August evening near Low Newton in the dunes, by the coast. The dark shadows are falling fast. The letter from Tom came after ten years of nothing. I've agreed to meet him for lunch in Alnwick tomorrow, and I don't know why. To my shame, I don't know how to deny him. My precarious recovery is about to fail, and I cannot save myself. At 46 years old, no baby now ever, because of what he did. He did not let me go with kindness, or explain his reluctance fairly to see if I would stay anyway. He killed my optimism and my self-belief and any chance I might have had of motherhood, or even of voluntary childlessness.

In Alnwick, a small restaurant in Bondgate Within awaits us. Tom steps out of the shades of the arch in the town wall, a perfect holiday setting. He smiles, and opens with, "My darling, come back, you made me whole and I need you now: please don't say no. You were so good for me, this has to happen."

By some insane compunction, I nod my head, acceding to my servitude. Free of will but entirely lacking in capacity.

10 comments:

  1. you´re making a mistake and you know it but.....you don´t feel you have a choice?
    has a horrible ring of truth about it, particularly liked the 1st Person
    well done

    Michael McCarthy

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  2. This story shows the vicious cycle of heartache. Very sad but very true! Well done!

    Charlotte Hayden

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  3. ...Trouble is, once you've had your heart broken, you can never quite love again in the same way...another - let alone the one who broke it in the first place. I sense petitions from 'women's groups' if she goes back to him, rather like in Henry James' Portrait of a Lady...phew, the trouble that caused...
    The writing has a lovely rolling rhythm. I know it was short, but I couldn't put it down!

    Brooke

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  4. Honest and painful. A very personal-sounding story, that begins perhaps as a confession and ends as a lament, "Free of will but entirely lacking in capacity."
    It is interesting that love is only mentioned once in the story, and then it's connected to the word, 'making', which begs the question: can we make. love? We try. Over and over again, we try.
    So if it's not a love story or even a love-lost story, what is it? For me it's a story about need. It's a feeling. It's a rush, intense, euphoric. But what happens between two people when those needs are not met, or they are different, or they don't have the same intensity--or need is all there is? Even Tom says, "...I need you now..." Why doesn't he say, "I love you. I 've always loved you."? To paraphrase Tina, because love has nothing to do with it. And in the end the "insane compunction" takes over and she gives into her needs too "...entirely lacking in capacity."
    I liked this story very much, its style, its nuance. It is complex, disturbing, and for me opened many doors on many levels. Accomplished, polished, insightful.

    James Shaffer

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  5. Don't do it! He's no worth it the scumbag.
    Very compelling and insightful, you've rendered the character's internal world convincingly. Well done!
    Nick

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  6. It took me a couple of days after reading this to finally not want to grab this woman and shake some sense into her! The author has done a fabulous job of making this personal, emotional - dragging the reader, kicking and screaming, into the story. James Shaffer's comments above, I think, have nailed the essence of this tale, it in that this is about NEED as opposed to being a love story. Very nicely done and very effective.

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  7. Thank you to everyone for their kind and helpful comments, and for taking the time to post them,
    Yours,
    Ceinwen

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  8. Run for the hills...Tom's back! Don't be seduced by his selfish manipulation again!...Oh sorry...I got rather wrapped up in the story...I demand a sequel!

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  9. ouch. a thought-provoking story. I too noticed the lack of the word love. very nice touch.

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  10. Vivid descriptions of a chilling heart-breaking story. I wanted it to end differently but it is so like life. Excellent writing.

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