The (Long Overdue) Visit

From the moment I woke up this morning I knew it wasn’t going to be a good day. The weather made it worse – it was a gorgeous day for this time of year, a bit chilly maybe but there wasn’t a cloud in the sky and when the breeze came it was soft. It was nice, refreshing. The sky’s been clear since we got into the car, a perfect blue as far as we could see. I can’t tell you the last time I remember that being so.

In the six years since it happened I lost who I was and became someone new before falling apart again. Only recently did I start to pull myself together and resemble the person I once was, but I know I’ll never be the same again. There’s no way to go back completely and for better or worse, I’ve brought things with me I never expected. The journey has been long, cold and lonely – and largely that’s down to me. I would often beat myself up over the littlest things even if I had no control over them. Funny, then, that people often say I’m back to my old self. I don’t feel it but maybe they just haven’t noticed the change, in me or themselves.

The last four months have been hell, though. I don’t really know what made me open my eyes to the world again; I just knew it was time. I haven’t recovered yet and maybe I never will. I figured my friends would have moved on after years of little or no contact. I didn’t make the effort and, sure enough, some had. Others hadn’t though and when they noticed me back on Facebook, Twitter and such they pounced.

Most of the friends who had waited were angry and I don’t blame them. They had a right to be and they wanted answers to questions, answers I sure as hell didn’t have. Years may have passed but they didn’t understand that just because I was back in the world again didn’t mean I was ‘fixed.’

After this, more of them fell away. I wasn’t who they remembered anymore and they weren’t prepared to help me get back there. Again, I didn’t blame them. I was still surprised they had been waiting. The others kept me close, making sure I didn’t fall apart again. It was nice to know they cared but it didn’t help. I always felt like they were watching. I was never given my space again.

As time passed, they relaxed a bit. I wasn’t going to run away or break down at the first mention of it anymore. I was able to smile a little and be happy with them – at least on the outside. That’s when they started to get the idea and slowly they started to plant the seeds, hoping I’d step up.

I wasn’t ready then and I’m still not now but, somehow, they’ve made it happen.

I’m filled with questions. I thought I had all the answers before this happened. I thought I knew everything for what might come my way. The arrogance of youth, it’s something I can bitterly appreciate now. This isn’t the way I would have chosen to learn the lesson, though. I suppose that’s what makes it a real lesson.

Is it ironic that I would have given the advice my friends are putting into practise to anyone in my situation before this happened? Am I a hypocrite because of this? There is a difference though, and it’s I wouldn’t force anyone to do it if they didn’t feel ready. My friends know this. They’re trying to help but I’m not sure it’s the right time. We’re not far away now so it’s definitely going to happen and I have no idea what to feel or how to react.

Then again, I wouldn’t have gotten into the car if I’d have known this was their plan! They turned up without warning and smiling away, it was a genuine moment of happiness. I had no plans and they had come a long way to see me. It wasn’t a big car, tight with four of them and cramped with five. I didn’t even ask where we were going.

When I asked where we were going everyone fell quiet. I had a feeling then that something was up and the road signs proved me right. I moved just before it happened and hadn’t been back since. Again, I wasn’t ready. If we were going back to see people, they’d have said. Instead, we turned off and I knew we were going to see her.

To say I was the only one that suffered is wrong. I was hit hard, definitely. Harder than some others too, sure but did I suffer the worst? I don’t think so and by rights, I shouldn’t have suffered that much at all. We would spend hours talking of our plans, our dreams, places we wanted to go and see as well as things we wanted to do. We shared this with each other, asking questions and making plans. We knew we’d go our separate ways but we always planned to come across each other again. We tried to make the most of our time whenever we had it to spend together.

Were we running out of time from that first moment? I’ve always said no but as time passed it seemed more likely. Early on, only the darker, more negative answers made any sense. It was comfort of a sort but definitely self-destructive.

I still couldn’t tell you what the right or wrong answers were, are or will be. I came out of that dark place and I was able to remember her a bit better, the things she said and did as well as imagine what she would do.

If she had seen me these last six years she’d have a thing or two to say, at the very least! Then again, I’m pretty sure she’d smack me first. I can only imagine how pathetic I’ve been. That thought always brings a small smile.

I smothered that smile before anyone else could see. I didn’t want them to get any idea that I was happy with their plan. I knew I had no chance of convincing them. I shivered sometimes as we got closer to her. The nerves were growing and I wanted to say something but I had no idea what.

I tried to start off friendly. I had long given up dancing around the subject – I said what I felt. I wasn’t happy about where we were going, I wasn’t ready and I had no time to prepare. That was the gist of it but needless to say an argument broke out. They had thought long and hard about this and knew what they were doing. I had no doubt they were trying to help but I wasn’t sure this was the best plan. Who knew me best?

“You’ve put this off for too long. It’s time.”

Those words silenced me instantly. I couldn’t exactly jump out of the car and they knew it.

The whole car fell quiet but my mind seemed to explode. The reality finally sunk in – I was going to see her. It was the first time since she had gone, the first time since I fell apart. I’ve imagined doing this countless times but they all end in tears. That’s how I knew I wasn’t ready. Crying in those scenarios often result in tears outside of them too. What do I say? What do I do? What should I ask? Which of the hundreds of speeches I’ve practised on myself should I pick?

With my head against the window I watched the world pass me by. I’d always wondered what it’d be like to see things in slow motion and it finally happened. If I hadn’t been on the verge of freaking out then it’s something I’d have been fascinated by. Everything passed me by, stored in my mind to be looked at later, after this had finished.

When the car finally stopped I didn’t move. With no other option, I held on to the hope that this was all a dream and I was about to wake up. Before I knew it they were all out, the door opened and I fell forward, jerked to a stop by the seat belt. I was definitely awake. I’d been avoiding this place for years but it looked no different to when I was last here.

The wind has picked up a little bit but it’s still not too cold. I left my jacket in the car as I got out slowly. The rustling from the moving leaves and branches is the most soothing thing around. My friends are standing a short distance away. They’re watching me, waiting to see what I do. I ignored the light click of the car being locked.

The funeral was just over six years ago. The weather was almost the same then as it is today and that didn’t help one bit. I expected grey clouds and rain, it seemed wrong that it was such a nice day, both then and now. Then again I don’t want to remember her with such awful weather. It doesn’t match my memory of her.

I was facing a small hill where a line of tombstones were silhouetted against the sun. That’s where I had to go but even the thought of it was proving to be s touch obstacle to get over.

The wind picked up a little more, pushing me from behind. It felt like it was trying to push me to her but that’d be crazy. The leaves rustled overhead again, leaning in her direction. Was this all in my head? I still hadn’t decided what to say or do. I needed more time.

I heard the footsteps approaching, just one set. Before anything could be said or done, I set off. I didn’t want to hear what they had to say, I was close to breaking already. Who knows what would push me over the edge.

Everything that I wanted to say or ask deserted me on the walk up. Time seemed to slow down again and every step took a lifetime. I knew which one I was heading for, it had been ingrained in my mind since I was last here and I recognised it the moment we arrived. I couldn’t take my eyes off it. I was breathing heavily but not because of the shallow hill – the nerves kept growing. By this point, that’s all I was.

I was left with a blank, numb mind. I can’t describe exactly how numb feels, it’s just something you seem to know when you’ve felt it. My thoughts didn’t seem to quite connect properly and at any moment I thought I might blink and see myself making the journey in some sort of out of body experience. This walk was worse than the last six years – it was worse than the car journey before it.

Before I knew it, I was here. I was at her grave. I looked at the words, I looked at her name and it was instantly etched into my heart all over again.

I felt heavy. Just heavy, but it was now or never.

“Hey,” my voice is quiet, hoarse. “Sorry, I’m a late…”

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