This story is by Catharina Hof (pseudonym) and was part of our 2017 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
I walk on the woodland path, my feet crunching on the twigs on the path. Leaves cover the twigs, they rustle as I walk along. I pretend to feel his hand in mine. His hand is cold and dry. His hand is like a warm glove. The sunshine forms a halo around the golden trees, they are only look golden with the sunlight behind them. Once I get closer, different hues of leaves become apparent. I inhale the fresh air, mingled with a sharp pungency and a cool dampness. It is fresh enough to need a jacket, but not cold enough to do it up.
The forest floor between the trees reflects the multi-coloured foliage from the trees above. Some trees are bare. Mushrooms, some dome-shaped, others flat, intersect the coverage of the forest floor. Some mushrooms are small like a thimble, and others large as a saucer. Even a tree stump is a rich growing ground for the mushrooms as they collect on its table top.
I have a light spring to my step as I imagine I walk with him, his hand now moist and warm from the exercise. The sunshine and the bright blue sky create cheer in the forest as well as my heart. Our fingers interlinked, my pace quickens and I feel I can take on the world. The world seems prettier, happier and friendlier because he is in it, and I am with him.
The sunshine warms my face as I remember how we met. He singled me out, and it amazed me that a guy like him chose a girl like me. I never felt I was good enough for him. We were great together though, everyone said so. His love and regard for me lifted me up. We soon moved in together. When we were together smiling and laughing was easy.
I didn’t mind doing all the chores at home. He chose me, so I felt blessed to look after him. I could feel a bit down about him not helping with things in the house. He would tell me when I asked him to help out that I ought to be happier, more content. I felt guilty for not being a better person, for expecting more from him. And when told me at other times how much he needed me, I felt exhilarated.
A dark cloud covers the sun. Shivers run across my arms as I feel goosebumps appear. The movement of the fabric of my jacket against the goosebumps stings. The colours of the wood dull down, as if a haze of grey covers their brightness. The cool dampness feels like the onset of rain. The empty tree branches look gnarled and knotted against the dark blue and grey sky bearing down in a heavy way. I wonder when the sky changed colour.
I know I am alone, like I am alone all the time now. It started to go wrong when he got home from work before I did, it infuriated him. He told me he needed me to be home when he got home. I quit work. He didn’t ask me to, it was easier that way. But then I felt guilty for spending his money, and gave up my gym membership. After some time I stopped going to the hairdressers to have my hair cut. I didn’t even go out food shopping. I ordered off the internet instead, which made it all too easy to stay indoors.
In the early days we used to socialise, and it was always with his friends. I never realised until Paul left and I had no friends left. I hadn’t seen any of my friends since the start of our relationship. All our friends had been his friends first. This made the loss greater still.
I also neglected my family. My dad told me he didn’t want mum hurt and disappointed by me again. I have not seen or spoken to my parents since. I didn’t care enough at the time. Since Paul left I have not tried to get in touch. I am too ashamed of my behaviour to my parents, and to my friends. I deserve to be alone. It disgusts me when I think of my behaviour. I prioritised Paul at all times.
My indulgence was chocolate, my comfort. I ate chocolate bars, muffins, cookies or cakes. I wasn’t fussy about the type of chocolate. I eat little other than chocolate now, as I try to stop spending too much but cannot do without my comfort blanket.
I knew I wasn’t enough. He started working late, and sometimes would not come home all night. If I asked him about it he would tell me I was holding him back. He felt I constricted him, prevented him from progressing in his career. And I would feel ashamed for my loneliness, and my needing him more than he needed me.
As time went on, the lack of exercise and chocolate indulgence led to a muffin top appearing over my jeans. It was there one day, I didn’t notice it coming over time, even though it must have.
The sun has drawn me out today. I can’t remember the last time my body moved like this, or the last time my lungs got fresh air to breathe.
Paul wanted to live in the woods. It would be romantic he said. He liked being close to nature. I liked that about him, even though we never went out for woodland walks after we moved here.
It feels wrong to have gone out today. It just makes me miss him more. In a way he moved out well before we broke up. I just miss him more now.
My pace remains fast even though the lightness in my step has gone. My feet land heavy on the path, tears stream down my cheeks as I think of him with that other woman. He was vague about who she was, but I imagine them happy. He told me I had driven him away, like I had driven away my friends and family. He told me he couldn’t live constricted by me any longer, and he could not give me what I asked from him. He said I was a bad influence on him and that this other woman brought out the best in him.
Thinking of him with that woman, a hot burning sensation rises in my chest and it grows until it reaches my throat. What she has, what she is doing, is what I should have had. If only I hadn’t been so stupid. If only I had kept myself fit and healthy and kept going to the hairdressers. If only I hadn’t nagged him as he said I did.
Tears stream down my face, at least, I think they do. The dark cloud has opened up and is crying down on me. I don’t feel the cold, my steps continue hard and fast as my hair sticks to my face. My jacket and t-shirt stick to my body. I keep on walking. I could take the short-cut home, but I don’t want to. I like feeling the rain, it cleanses me.
I break out in a run. I feel my jelly tummy wobble with the unfamiliar exercise, yet I run faster.
As I run I feel the anger I dared not feel before. It seems so unfair. I gave up so much to be with him. I gave up my job, my friends, my family, my whole life, and he left me. I am angry with him for making me do that. I am angry with myself for trying to please him so much I lost everything, even my personality. I wonder who I am as I feel the stinging in my chest with each breath I take. I used to like running, I cannot imagine why.
I continue to run, my feet beating on the soil. I feel the vibration going up my legs and into the small of my back. The movement, the air and the changeable weather are forcing me to feel where I was numb before.
A ray of light appears. I stop. I look to its origin. A break in the clouds lets the ray through. I am mesmerised by the transformation it causes. The bleak forest is not as dark as it was. Colours shine through the grey haze again, dull as the colours are.
The light gives a sense of hope, as if that ray of light opens up my broken heart and shows me it can heal. A warmness grows, dispelling the hatred and anger, or softening it enough to see reason. I have a choice. I made a mistake in letting myself go like that, in behaving like a maid or slave to Paul.
I start to walk with slow and determined steps following the ray of light to find myself.