This story is by Catherine Heiberg and was part of our 2023 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Time doesn’t move on. It is like I am paralysed and stuck in the moment. Not by what he said, but what he did. I struggled for weeks trying to find myself in the mess. The mess of everything. I was in it for the good. Even the bad. We were rare and real. But to him, it appeared we were nothing.
It was autumn with the leaves changing colour in the tree-lined streets. Masses of orange and red. There was an iciness in the air as the season moved closer to winter. Tears were present every day as each promise was relived. They broke my heart into tiny fragments over and over. I loathed that I felt battered and bruised reliving it all. But isn’t that the process of grief?
Maybe he was a myth, a ghost or someone my mind had created. But I remember it all too well, and that is what scared me the most.
A few months before my twenty-first birthday, he came into my life like a breath of fresh air. He was kind, charming and generous. He remembered pieces told to him in conversations and he said he loved me in a matter of weeks. No other man had been a significant part of my life. There had been a few casual relationships, but this man was my everything. The few friends who had met him said we were the perfect couple.
Studying interior design at university, he showed interest in my portfolio and bought me a few books from artist who had become a part of my studies – Elsie de Wolfe, David Hicks and Anouska Hempel. He would sit next to me on my sofa holding my hand as we watched television shows about the industrial design era to tiny cabins with a minimalist look. He would ask where my inspiration came from with my designs and what career path I was planning to take when my studies were finished.
He would stop by a couple of times a week at the hardware store where I worked part-time. He’d bring me a take-away coffee, or we would talk over sandwiches in the nearby park during my lunch break. Everything had me believing we were going somewhere and that our love was the real thing.
Late on a Tuesday afternoon, he called saying he had to travel urgently to another state for his work as an accountant. He hoped to be back within the week, but it was dependent on the work emergency with their top paying client. He would be missed and promised he would call me every day.
For six long days he didn’t call or text. It was silent.
On the seventh day with some encouragement from my best friend, I rang his work. The receptionist told me he was on his honeymoon and would be away for another week. The call ended when she asked if someone else could assist me. My life stopped in those few seconds.
The next few days were difficult. Faking a head cold, I called in sick to work and missed a few days of classes. I bared my pain to my family and friends. Shame stopped me from letting them know he was a married man.
At night when time wouldn’t fly by, I would imagine what she looked like and if she loved him as much as I did. Were they planning to have a family and looking online at houses where they wanted to live? Was she pretty and smart? Did she know about me? Of course, she didn’t know about me. I didn’t know about her.
Every day I woke in a different mood.
Monday, it was a force of anger. Any items he had left in my house were thrown in the bin. A bottle of deodorant, a shaver, a few random items of clothing were tossed out along with a couple of financial magazines and the photo of us that was stuck to the fridge door with a magnet. In the heat of the moment, I had wanted it to help me forget. But it didn’t.
Tuesday, it was madness. Searching for the smallest detail he may have said that I had missed in alerting me to his marriage. Or did I say something to stop him telling me. Words went around and around in my head twenty-four-seven.
Wednesday, there was blinding tears. At everything.
Thursday, absolute stupidity. Like the three prior days, everything said or done was relived over and over in my mind. Lots of chocolate and ice-cream were eaten this day with take-away pizza for dinner.
Friday, drunk mindless sleep. Three friends dragged me across the city ensuring a drink was in my hand for the hours we spent in pubs and bars. For those few hours in the cold city, he wasn’t given the time of day.
Saturday, waking with the hang over from hell. I needed order back in my life. After a long hot shower once my house was cleaned, it followed by shopping for food. Nothing warms the heart like a big pot of pumpkin soup.
Sunday, the first day of winter and my twenty-first birthday. It was time to let the healing process begin.
Three years later standing in my booth at the regional house expo where I was showcasing my industrial chic designs, he showed his face and the battle scars tugged at my heart and the chill was impossible to shake.
He wore the wedding ring on his left hand and his hair was a little longer. Marriage suited him. Or maybe my mind was playing tricks. But in that moment, I remembered never thinking I would find a way out of the mess he had left me in. He had never called to explain.
My boyfriend of eighteen months appeared with two take away coffee cups and my past left with a quick look over his shoulder.
Sometimes you don’t need to know why. Silence is your answer.