It’s always the hardest part. No matter where you go the memories will follow, haunting your every step, lurking in every familiar, once-friendly place, poised to ambush you and destroy your carefully constructed aura of calm. They’re persistent and plentiful enough in a normal life to hamper your every attempt at rehabilitation, but when you’ve made your home on the far side of the world they’re inescapable.
That food shack under the bridge by work? The scene of so many lunchtime liaisons in the past, I see her sitting at every table. The wine I bought last night, hoping in vain to be able to hide from reality until I could catch my breath? Naturally the same we’d drank together on so many wonderful nights.
Even this coffee shop, shunned in the later days of our time together, is beaming her at me from every angle, forcing me to hear her soft laughter, feel her gentle touch and stare once more into her wonder-filled eyes.
Naturally the worst is the bedroom. Not for the obvious reasons, far from it. The physical reminders are everywhere, literally everywhere. I’d already taken the photos down in a pre-packing session but still they lie in a pile, under the photo album she made for me, just daring me to flick through them one last time. The angelic pastel drawing she made for me, the gift that had me speechless and close to tears at its sheer beauty, lies against the wall watching my every move. The love-notes, simple Post-its plastered with sweet nothings, wrapped around every other coathanger in my wardrobe. The ring by my bedside, the t-shirts she gave me, the backpack I was bringing home to her.
There is no escape.
Even turning this computer on brings me face to face with her, the desktop shamelessly portraying us arm-in-arm on the bed, each rapt with joy in what was my favourite photograph in the world. Should I leave it idling too long I’ll be tortured with a torrent of images, a chronological document of our lives together and our love for each other.
And even as I type I remember the photograph in the wallet, a reduction of that favourite photograph, placed so I’d be able to see her smile wherever I went, the smile which melted my heart at every appearance and could reduce me to a speechless schoolboy at the briefest flash. And the sticker she cheekily placed over it, speech bubble at her mouth asking innocently, “Do you love me?”
I did. More than you’ll ever know, and with every fibre of my being.
The memories are everywhere I look, everywhere I go. It’s a small town, there is nowhere I can go that I haven’t already been with her. For the next three days I have to endure this torture, seventy-two hours during which every minute will seem a lifetime. I’ll try my best to keep my head up, to tell myself that there’s an end in sight, light at the end of the tunnel, whichever cliche you prefer as they all fail miserably to communicate the desperation, the pain, the loneliness and the sense of utter futility. I’ll soon be home and free to face this on my stomping ground and on my own terms.
Until then there is no escape.