Winter Of Love

Entry by: Seaside Scribbler

23rd November 2016
A short, intense Spring

He swept me off my feet, literally. We were both a little drunk, on beer, on lust, and he picked me up and staggered up the stairs under my weight. Laughing, he chucked me on the bed and I giggled in utter joy. I'd been so lonely; and I felt this was a good beginning. A great beginning. Almost a love at first sight beginning. I wrote in my journal about him, I dreamed about our future. I coulnd't quite believe he felt the same; when he said, I love you, first, after a night of dancing, I could only squeeze him back and whisper a reply. It hardly felt real and yet it was, a heady rush of early love.

We walked and talked and drank and swam and went on holiday. Under the hot Asian sun we danced our new dance, our feet finding their steps, occasionally treading on each others toes but not minding, laughing it off. We made plans. I moved in. We chose furniture, painted walls, cooked meals and sat long and lazy in bed in the mornings reading the paper, made love in the afternoon's heat. We ate out, we talked, we met each others families and they loved us both.

A long, sultry Summer

We moved home to the UK, still faintly in awe of fate which had brought us together hundreds, thousands of miles away. But life in the UK was different. Without ex-pat contracts, money was more scarce. The hedonistic stress-free lifestyle we'd been used to all but disappeared under the weight of unpaid bills dropping on the mat and the need to balance books and buy food that was on offer and wear jumpers instead of sticking on the heating.

Still, we loved. We talked about children, one day, one day... we said. We dreamed of going abroad again - life in the UK was harder, why put up with that? - but neither could land the right job that would take us there. We got on with it and did what everyone else did, survived, played the pools.

One long, hot summer's evening, we argued. It tore me to pieces. Five years since we'd met and never a cross word - not one, not at all - even we'd struggled to believe we got on so well. But this argument was alcohol-fuelled, centred upon money, bled out into other areas and stabbed at our love. It shook my world. What was I doing?

Bruised inside and out, both of us, we tried to make sense out of what had happened. Neither remembered how we'd ended up fighting. Easy to blame alcohol, easy to blame each other, easy to blame everyone but ourselves. The apologies, when they came, were heartfelt and full of, I'll nevers and, I'm so sorrys, and I love you so muches... We stayed in bed for an entire weekend to heal the wounds.

But wounds itch, and scars don't go away. Once our bubble had burst, we couldn't quite fill it again. We'd get it so far and it'd burst again. Within a frighteningly short space of time, we were arguing weekly, then daily.

I thought we were headed for the end. I cried every night but didn't know how to fix it. He came back from the pub, late, and didn't know how to fix it. He refused marriage guidance. We stopped making love. I stopped taking the pill. What was the point?

After a party one night I remembered the point. I wasn't ready for a baby, but one came anyway, a pink yelling bundle after nine months of us trying to mend things. We did quite well. We painted the nursery and painted over the cracks in us. We learned to stop arguing, except in emergencies. We buckled up, and got on with it.

When Daniel was born, we fell in love all over again and though tested to the limit, we lived and we loved. We never found the ex-pat contract again but we found a bigger house in the country and Isobel, Daniel's sister filled the empty room and things got better and better.

For a while.

An even longer Autumn.

He sat and I sat, night after night, watching TV. The kids were off doing their own thing and though I desperately wanted to bring back those years of madness, those years of small children and mess and early nights and no sleep and being thrown together through exhaustion, they were gone. The years went in a flash. We had teenagers who did their own thing, and we'd forgotten how to be together. The TV saved us the hassle of having to make conversation. The teenage hormones in the house saved us arguing - it was all done for us and we were too weary, even, to take sides. Money never went far enough; all our energies went on making sure the bills were paid. Recessions came and went, governments changed but nothing else did and I looked at my partner and wondered how it felt to be in love.

One day he proposed. In those days it wasn't normal to be like us, not married but living together. Nowadays everyone does it but back then we were different. I liked being different but I thought it might bring the love back.

We saved up and planned as a family and got married, and for a while, things were wonderful, all over again. The teenage hormones calmed down and our children became good young people, then adults, then people all of their own, living away, juggling their own lives.

The house got too big. I felt my husband looking at me sometimes and I knew what he was thinking: who are you? Because I felt it too.

The Winter of Love

The world's gone mad. I don't understand it any more. I don't know where my dreams went. I don't understand economics or politics or the internet or any of this modern stuff. It seems to be the only thing Derek and I have in common - this feeling of being out of time. In the wrong time. Left behind, somehow, as the world's turned without us. The chidlren now have their own children and to see our genes so spread out and yet so present is strange; I see my eyes and my daughter's chin and her husband's nose all rolled into one. I don't know where her hands come from; I can't remember if they're Derek's which are old man's hands now. I don't remember what his looked like.

We talk more, now. TV seems foreign. Everyone swears, I don't know who all those bright young presenters are and I don't get 'reality TV'. Why? Isn't there enough reality all around us not to have to watch other people's every night?

I watch Derek when he thinks I'm not looking and I think back over all our seasons and wish for lots of things. I wish we'd never fought, because it never resloved anything, we only drifted. I wish we'd gone abroad again, instead of still rattling around in this big old house in the country. We should move, but neither of us has the energy.

One night, I'm sitting there with him. We'd eaten dinner and for some reason, we'd got out an old photo album. As we thumbed through the pages of faded photographs taken a lifetime and a continent ago, I felt him reach for my hand. He took it in both of his and stroked it, softly.

'I remember holding your hand that very first night we met,' he says. 'I remember this mole. And I remember thinking that I wanted to still be looking at it when I was seventy. Here I am, still looking at it.' And he looks at me, almost shyly.

For a second, I don't know what to say. Because it's not the sort of thing he's ever told me before. He's not much of a romantic - flowers, occasionally, but he's not a man given to romance. I look into his eyes. Could it be, that after all this time, I'm seeing a different part of him? His eyes are watery, now, and I realise I've not looked at them properly for a long time. The skin is soft and droopy, wrinkles around the edges have changed the shape of his eyes. But they are still blue, the blue of that sky the first day we met. In a rush, I remember -

looking at him and my breath catching in my throat, his eyes were so intense. The touch of his hand on my arm. How my hand felt in his, when I used to hold it on the beach, on our first holiday. How I'd squeezed the life out of that hand when Daniel arrived, wanting to never, ever let go.

His eyes start to shine and I realise he's crying. I am, too. It's like looking in a mirror, our faces changed but our eyes the same. We've seen so many of the same things.

'I still love you,' he says, and I realise I've not heard those words for a very long time. Life wiped them away. 'Getting on with it,' made me too busy to give them space to be formed.

I start to see all the things we've seen together, rushing before my eyes. Maybe I'm about to die - that's what people say, isn't it? Your life flashes before your eyes. My heart beats faster and I am certain this is it - none of this is actually happening, I'm dreaming and I'm having a heart attack. But my heart beats on, and my gaze is stuck to Derek's, and I feel all the love I'd forgotten about.

'I'm glad we are still together,' is what I say, but I want to say so much more than that. How, through everything we've shared, we've stood side by side and we've not given up, like so many of our friends. When it's Christmas, the children and grandchildren have only one home to come to and how glad I am of that. How glad there was never anyone else.

By three in the morning we've got up to the birth of our first grandchild and we're looking at the photos of us meeting her for the first time. We look so much younger, even though it wasn't that long ago. We've talked until we're hoarse, our old voices not quite capable of telling all of our stories.

In the morning when I wake we're tangled up in a way we've not been for years; and for a second I don't know which is my leg, or arm. I make us coffee and we sit, just like we used to.

But it's not the papers I've brought up to bed, it's my laptop, a thing unfathomable that Isobel bought me last Christmas. I switch it on and we wait while it hums and whirrs to life.

Derek looks at me with respect as I squint at the screen. He's not much good with technology, either. We're quite similar, like that.

'What are you going to Google?' he says, the unfamiliar word getting strangled on his tongue.

I take a deep breath, because he's probably going to disagree about this plan. 'I think it's time we took a trip,' I tell him. 'Back to Asia, for starters.'

For a second he hesitates. Then he smiles. 'Yes,' he says, simply. He takes my hand in his and kisses it. My eyes fill with tears again and the world goes soft and blurry. I look at our hands and the lack of clarity softens them, smoothes out the wrinkles. For a second they look just the way they did that first night, all those seasons ago, smooth, new, ready to make a life together.