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Day thirty-six

December 6, 2016

Where was I? Oh, that’s right. I was, in the back of a cab chugging through early morning London, an ear to ear grin I could not stop, spread across my face. What the hell had just happened? There were two possibilities:

  1. A complete and utter married bastard who fancied me had just got the shag he wanted and that was probably the end of it.
  2. I had monthly fantastic sex in my future.

Obviously my preference was the second option, but if it really was the first, I could live with that, because this man had just brought me back from the dead. Feelings I thought I was never going to experience were coursing through my veins. Whatever happened I would be grateful to him for a long, long time.

Turned out it was option one. The texts became decidedly less flirty. There was no invitation to lunch or dinner in September. October’s lobbying would be in Blackpool at the Labour Party Conference. Okay, I’d been had, but I’d been had very well indeed. While it was disappointing that I’d been wrong about someone I liked very much, however much of a bastard he was, he’d still done me a big favour.

Meanwhile, I’d decided I needed to find another job. What had started as a one-year maternity cover contract had turned into a three-year permanent position. I loved the people with whom I worked, but I honestly didn’t really care about the issue. It was 2005, the year of the big Make Poverty History push. I’d made small donation to a couple of charities and I’d been wearing the white plastic bracelet, but I really wanted to be more involved.

In October I spotted two ads for jobs with charities working on aid and development. I applied and was interviewed on the same day for both. As I came out of the second interview I had a call offering me the first job. I accepted. I’d had a bad vibe during the second interview and didn’t think it was the job for me. Of course, I got a call from the second charity a couple of days later, offering me that job. I declined, saying I’d already accepted an offer for a job that, aside from anything else, paid £4000 a year more. They offered to not just meet, but top that salary and assured me I was the perfect person for them at a time when they wanted to move to more active campaigning. Perhaps I’d got things wrong at the interview. I accepted the second job.

I did send the bastard a text to tell him about my new job. He texted back to congratulate me, said he’d buy me a celebratory drink next time he was in London. That was the last I heard.

As it turned out, my gut was right. Despite the assurances I’d been given that I’d be playing an active role in developing a proper campaign strategy, the organisation was, as I’d feared, simply too corporate. There was no appetite for taking a more confrontational stance. Despite this, I will never regret taking the job, because it took me to both Nigeria and Malawi, two amazing trips where I met many truly remarkable people.

My six month probation review was scheduled. As it approached I was told by a woman in human resources that I could, if I wished, bring another member of staff as my support person. My what? Turns out this wasn’t a probationary review, it was a complaint review. Apparently staff members had indicated they found it difficult to work with me and I had managed to offend one of the organisation’s big corporate sponsors. I’d be surprised if there really had been multiple staff members complaining about me, but I wasn’t the least surprised at the thought that one particular incompetent weasel might have. And I knew exactly which corporate sponsor might want me gone – a nasty, misogynistic executive who’d been on the Malawi trip.

I was about to take three days off to move home. My friend and flatmate had decided to move out a zone where we could get an entire house for the price we had been paying for a flat. Part of the move was to get more space, but one of the main reasons we’d looked in Walthamstow was that it would give me a much easier commute to work. As I headed home I read the multi-page complaint about me lodged by the executive. It was filled with malice, half-truths and downright lies. Obviously I should not have told this prick to get his hand off my ass.

I stopped off at my local and drank two pints in quick succession, after which I’d shifted from shell shocked to furious. Unlike the other members of staff at this particular charity I was a member of a trade union. The next day I went to talk to an NUJ rep, who said he’d be more than happy to come to this hearing with me. That was his job: protecting members. He asked me what I wanted to accomplish at this meeting. I could have challenged these complaints, possibly successfully, but I was too angry. The fix was in. I’d offended a corporate sponsor and that was not allowed. I told him I wanted to walk into that building with my head held high and walk out of it for good with some compensation for the bull shit they’d put me through. And that’s exactly what the NUJ rep (whom they were not particularly pleased to see) accomplished, God love him. I walked away with a tax-free payment of three months’ salary, without ever having to listen to the bull shit complaints piled up against me. God bless unions.

Why am I detailing all this here? Because when I got home that day, even though we had not been in contact for months, I sent a text to the bastard to tell him what had happened. For some reason I needed him to know. He responded immediately with commiserations. We were back in touch.

In a series of texts and phone conversations over the next few days I discovered that he was currently on medical leave. The black dog had come crashing back into his life. Sometime in the next month he would be diagnosed as bipolar and the long chemical experiment would begin to find the right combination of drugs to treat him. There would be a lot of bad reactions along the way.

I meanwhile, with my payoff in the bank, decided to take some time off over the summer, work on the garden at the new house. I bought a new laptop. I took an intensive two-week conversations French course. By late August I still had money in the bank, but I was ready to start looking for another job. I couldn’t find one. Some applications didn’t lead to interviews, the interviews I did have didn’t lead to offers. I began to wonder if, despite the confidentiality agreement signed which specified that factual, lengths and terms of employment references would be given, with no bad mouthing, there was indeed some bad mouthing going on.

By October I was starting to panic. There was still some money in the bank, but not much. Then I got a call from the agency that had placed me in the job before the one that went so badly awry, asking if I could do a three-month contract with a homelessness charity. I said I would be very happy to do so. No interview. Just turn up for work. Fantastic.

Buoyed by this news, I agreed to meet some friends for a drink at a south bank pub. Towards the end of the evening, I went to the bar to buy a round of drinks and discovered my wallet was missing from my bag. I’d had my wallet nicked on more than one occasion in London. I’d once had my bag stolen from a pub. I did not leave my bag casually hanging off the back of my chair. I was cautious in pubs. I had been careful where I put my bag that evening. There was no way anyone could have got into it to steal my wallet and yet someone had. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I was fucking cursed.

I left my friends, headed home. I was weeping as I walked home from the tube. I tried to ring my rock, but it went to voice mail. I left a message, sobbing, basically saying I couldn’t take any more. I was home when he rang back. I don’t remember any of the conversation. I remember pacing around my bedroom as I talked to him. All I know is that I was teetering on the precipice that night, ready, I truly believe, to top myself and he pulled me back, talking to me until I’d stopped crying, talking to me until I’d calmed down, talking to me until I thought I might be able to sleep. The next morning he rang to check up on me. I told him I was fine. “No, you’re not,” he said. “You need to get some professional help.”

He was right, of course. I made an appointment to see my doctor. She prescribed anti-depressants, arranged for the first of six counselling sessions the NHS would pay for, set up regular check-up appointments. And there you have it. In these entries I’ve talked about this time and the last time, as if there have only been two times. No. There was also a first time and that was it.

I’m not going to detail every time during the next couple of years that we turned to one another for the support that was always available. It would take days. There were checking-in texts most days, regular phone calls, some from him late at night, when his wife and kids were asleep. There were major fuck ups with drug combinations, one of which saw him hospitalised. There were fits of rage and fits of melancholy. There were good days and bad days for him. My own journey was less dramatic. The three-month gig with the homelessness charity ended up lasting nine months. I liked the people and they liked me. It was the antidote to the poisonous experience I’d had with the aid charity. I was still on the meds and I was seeing a psychologist, because I thought I should, despite the fact that she and I had virtually no rapport. (Much of Cynthia in  Rum Do was based on this, including the ginger tom on the roof of the house next door.)

As I went through another summer of job seeking, his marriage was collapsing. I tried pointing out to him that whatever his wife’s faults might be, she hadn’t really signed on for what he was going through and maybe he should cut her some slack. I got the job at Free Tibet. He was finally prescribed the right combination of meds.

Just after the new year began in 2008, a surprise phone call. “I just wanted to tell you how much I love you,” he said. I wasn’t expecting that, but I didn’t hesitate in telling him I loved him, too. And I did.

Not long afterwards he told me his wife was being unfaithful. It wasn’t the pot calling the kettle black. He wasn’t objecting to the infidelity. Given what she’d been through with him over the past couple of years, he was surprised it hadn’t happened sooner. It was her flat out denial that infuriated him. He wasn’t, he said, stupid. No, he was many things, but he was not stupid. In late January she admitted that yes, she’d been having an affair. He wanted to know if the marriage was over. She said she wasn’t sure. I asked him if he wanted me to come up. He hesitated. I said I could find a rental cottage nearby, I didn’t have to stay at his house. We could talk in person. He said, yes, he would appreciate that very much. I found a rental cottage, borrowed a friend’s car and headed to Wales for a week.

I did want to help him, but I also had an ulterior motive for that trip. There was a question that had been plaguing me for some time and I really needed the answer. Did I love this man or was I in love with him? I really wasn’t sure, but I knew I would know as soon as I actually saw him. And, yes, I admit, that if there was any possibility that I could once again wake up in his arms, I wouldn’t say no. The funny thing is, that really was what I was thinking. Not the possibility of hungry, passionate sex, but the possibility of feeling safe in his arms. So I probably already knew the answer to my question.

I rang him when I got to the cottage (which turned out to be quite lovely). His wife had taken his stepdaughter away for the weekend. He was in charge of his son and their daughter. We couldn’t go out for dinner, but he could cook something for us at the farm. Fine, I said. Did I want directions, he asked, or should he come and fetch me? Well, I told him, considering my intention to drink quite a bit that evening, I would be in no condition to drive back later. He had no intention of staying sober, but apparently Dai the Taxi could be summoned to get me back. He came to pick me up and I did know as soon as I saw him. I loved this man.

The kids were given their dinner, headed off to their rooms and he set about cooking what was quite possibly the best steak I’d ever eaten. We washed the dishes, settled down in the lounge. His six-year-old daughter came in and said she wanted to show me something in her room. I don’t remember what it was, but showing one thing led to showing another and it was half an hour before I got back to the lounge.

We sat on the sofa and talked and talked. Eventually it was time to summon Dai the taxi, but there was no answer. After two or three attempts, he rang someone else. Turned out Dai the Taxi was away for a fortnight. There was no other taxi to be had. I could, he said, sleep in his stepdaughter’s room. Fine, I said. And then I finally asked him the question I hadn’t asked since we’d been back in touch: Didn’t he think he owed me an apology for taking me to bed and then fucking off, never to be seen again? He sighed, looked at me and said that he really wanted and had been trying to make a success of his third marriage, but he’d reached a point where, if he didn’t get me into bed, his head was going to explode. He knew that if he ever saw me again the same thing would happen and that would be it for the marriage. I looked at him, shook my head. I asked him why the hell he couldn’t have just told me this? I might have been selfishly disappointed, but I would have understood and I would have respected his decision. “Because,” he said, “I’m a complete knob head. And a coward.” Fair enough.

After that we curled up together on the sofa and talked and talked some more. And then it was five o’clock in the morning and we’d fallen asleep in each other’s arms. (Be careful what you wish for.) We staggered upstairs and I went to sleep in the boy band posters plastered bedroom of his thirteen-year-old stepdaughter.

The next morning (or rather later that morning), we had bacon and eggs for breakfast before he showed me around the farm. He pointed to a hook in one of the beams in the barn and told me he’d checked and it would take his weight. I looked at him, appalled. He shook his head, said not to worry, that it was good to know what your options were. I told him I wasn’t so sure about that. We went for a walk with the dog and the kids, and then they drove me back to the cottage. We would get together on Tuesday, spend the day together. It would be good. Monday I took myself to Shrewsbury, had a good old wander around.

Tuesday he collected me after dropping the kids at school. It was a Mother Nature day, up hill and down dale, forests and lakes and a stunning waterfall. The following week, back in London, I posted some of the photos he took that day on Facebook, including this one.


Several friends commented that I looked extremely happy in this picture. And I was happy that day. Happier than I’d been in I don’t know how long. We spent the day walking, talking and holding hands. Completely connected.

We were supposed to have another day out on the Thursday, but Wednesday evening he sent me a text. His wife had just dropped a bombshell: she’d found a flat in Oswestry and intended to move in there with her daughter and their daughter. This announcement had not been made just to him, but to the entire family. The kids were in bits and he needed to spend time with them. Of course, I said in my reply. He must take care of them – and of himself.

I drove over to the farm on Friday. If it weren’t for what it was doing to the kids, he said, he’d simply be relieved to know exactly where he stood. We went for a hand-in-hand walk, he made me lunch. He apologised that we hadn’t seen more of one another. I told him not to worry about it. Life, like shit, happens. He told me I had no idea how good it was to see me, how much the little time we’d spent together had meant to him. I told him I had a pretty good idea, as I knew how much it had meant to me to spend time with him. He hugged me tightly and I returned the hug. We said goodbye. The next day I drove back to London.

A few days later I wrote the first poem I’d written in years (and to date the last poem I’ve written):

You are not the one for me.

It crossed my mind, but now I see.

There was time, some time ago,

I thought you were. What did I know?


It seemed so right, so long ago,

Two sides, one coin, it must be so.

A flash of joy, the will to be,

Those were the gifts you gave to me.


Then you were gone

And time moved on.

Others came and went away.

Not one ever tempted to stay.


Then you were back, right in my life,

Bringing with you love and strife.

All those things I’d put aside,

All those things I’d tried to hide.


Too many things, it seemed the end,

But hope returned. I had a friend.

You saved me twice, I wanted more,

The cupboard’s bare and that’s a bore.


I came, I saw, I didn’t conquer.

There was a hug, but not a stonker.

Make light of it, that’s what I do.

If I make light, it must be true.


And so it’s true and that’s okay.

I live to fight another day.

I fight alone and that’s a must.

I have no faith, I have no trust.


Soul mates I seek are never there,

Fantasies plucked from the air.

There is no need of me, you see.

No love to set the demons free.


And it’s just fine to have a friend,

If friend you be to journey’s end.

You made me laugh, you made me smile.

I got some peace, just for a while.

Yes, there was a part of me that thought, perhaps even hoped, as I set out for Wales, that I was in love with him and he was in love with me. There was a part of me that seemed to hope that something that seemed so right would turn out to be that way, that this man and I would end up together and I would somehow get the happily-ever-after ending I’d long since given up on. Rereading the poem now, it seems so bitter and despairing, but it wasn’t really. It was me saying goodbye to happily ever after. Whatever this man and I were to one another, it wasn’t that.

In April, after an absolutely frantic couple of months at Free Tibet, I went to Vancouver to see Mike. When I got back from, I sent my dear friend a text to let him know I was home. He asked how it had gone and told him I was a bit worried that Mike was hoping I would move back. (At that point, with the prospect of chemo doing the job, I had no such plans.) This was his reply: ‘A man needs something he can hold on to – a nine pounds hammer or a woman like you.’ Quite poetic and really rather cryptic. What exactly was that supposed to mean?

I found out a few days later when an Amazon package arrived containing Ray Lamontagne’s Trouble CD. There was no explanatory note with the package, but it was a CD he’d told me he’d been listening to a lot, so I knew who it was from. I started listening to it. Not normally my cup of tea, but I did like it. Then, halfway through one of the last songs, Jolene, there were the words: ‘A man needs something he can hold on to – a nine pound hammer or a woman like you’. There was a recurring theme in most of the songs: sad and lonely men and women able to hold it together with the help of the other’s love. His marriage was over before he came across this CD. Was he trying to tell me something? I don’t know. I never asked him.

Over the summer he seemed to be adjusting quite well to his new life. He’d started doing some work in carpentry. It was tough only seeing his daughter on weekends, but he and his son were muddling along. And he had me, which meant a lot. I knew that was true, because I know how much having him in my life meant to me.

In September I returned to Vancouver to see Mike again. After what amounted to his death sentence was delivered and I decided to come back for a few months to ensure what time he had was spent here on the island, I had to extend my trip by a week to come over here and make arrangement.

When I got back to London and switched my phone on, there were several texts and a voice mail message: “Hey, there. Are you still in Canada? I guess I got the dates wrong. Never mind. I just called to say I love you.” I dialled the number straight away. It went to voicemail. I left my own message: “Love you, too. I’m back. Give me a shout.” No call back that night or the next or a response to the text I sent.

On the third day my mobile rang and when I looked at it, the number was his. “Hey, stranger,” I said, when I answered. “How are you?” There was a moment’s pause before a woman spoke, identifying herself as his sister. They’d only just found the charger for his phone, she’d only just heard my message and seen my texts. I knew before she said the words. After deciding he was doing fine and going off his meds, he’d killed himself. How? I asked. He hanged himself. Where? I asked. In the barn. I dropped the phone. I picked it up. When? I asked. She told me. It was the day after he’d left the message on my phone. The day after I was originally supposed to be back from Canada.

The next day I hired a car and drove up to the farm. He’d been cremated. There was no grave to visit, but I didn’t need a grave. I needed to go into that barn. I needed to look at that hook. Unless I did, I was never going to get the picture out of my head of him hanging from that beam. A friend warned me against this, said it would only make things worse, but I knew I had to go. For the entire drive I could see that body slowly swaying. I walked into the barn. The body wasn’t there. Even the hook was gone. “You stupid, stupid man,” I said. And then I wept and then I drove back to London.

I knew Mike hoped my temporary return would become permanent. I thought about it. I wasn’t sure it was a good idea. I tried to balance the pros and cons. And then one night I realised there was one person with whom I really needed to discuss this, one person who knew and understood me better than anyone else ever had, one person to whom I could say absolutely anything. But I was never going to have a conversation with him again. Ever. And realising this, I realised something else. I could not face continuing to live in the UK knowing I would never see his face or hear his voice again. Decision made. I came back to the island permanently.

There are no words to adequately express how much I loved that man. Nor have I ever found the words to explain how I loved him. It was a love like no other I’ve ever experienced. If my feelings had once been erotic, they no longer were. Nor was the love I felt platonic or fraternal. It was so much more. It was a to-the-bone kind of love. It feels a bit mad to say this (especially as I’ve seen this used to describe everyday romantic love), but if I had to try to explain it, I’d say it was as if there was some fundamental piece of me missing and some fundamental piece of him missing that somehow the other had. As if we could only be whole with one another.

I know he felt this way, too. In the end it just wasn’t enough to save him.

Before I returned to the island, I started having this dream. In the dream, I would wake up in my bed in Walthamstow, surprised, but not alarmed to discover someone is in the bed with me, an arm draped around me. I turn my head and see it’s him. He opens his eyes. I tell him I thought he was dead. “No,” he says, pulling me closer, “I just needed to go away for a while to get my head straight, but I’m here now and I’m not going away again.” I always wake up at that point, but in that second or two between sleep and wakefulness, I still believe the dream is real  and I am all too briefly enveloped in happiness and contentment. Then I wake up properly and it’s all painfully gone. But the pain of reality was always worth it for that fleeting moment of absolute peace. I don’t know how many times I had this dream. I woke up from it the morning that Mike died. I haven’t had it since.

I wish that dream would come back.

From → Black dog diary

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