It was exactly ten years to the day that Helen found herself sat in her car, tears flowing freely, on a street just minutes away from her home. As her loud sobbing began to subside and her shaking body began to calm she glanced quickly around. Her sight, momentarily blurred from the infusion of tears took a little while to clear, but as it did she realized that she had stopped only a few feet away from where he lived. Without warning an intense heat began to rise from her chest to her neck, then like flames in an uncontrolled fire began to work its way up, encircling her face as the full force of the emotion she was feeling surged through her body. All she could do was sit and wait, knowing from experience that it would eventually pass.
Life for Helen over the last decade, had been messy to say the least. A cacophony of mixed feelings, difficult relationships and entangled lives. A roller coaster of emotions and Helen hated roller coasters. She detested most fairground rides with the exception of the merry-go-round, which even as an adult she still couldn’t resist. The brave colours and enchanting music had drawn her towards it, and with a little girls dream of riding her own pony, it was the closest she came to getting her feet in those stirrups. As an adult the gentle turning and up and down motion of the brightly coloured horses was calming, and gave her the sense of safety and control that she so often craved. Other than that the fairground would always be enjoyed for the sweet taste of candy floss and the excited screams of her children as she watched them from a place of safety, feet firmly on the ground.
As her panic began to fade, and feeling more relaxed Helen began watching passers-by and wondered if their lives were as complex as hers. A tall, elegant young woman being pulled eagerly along by a lively Red Setter, passed by on the other side of the road. She threw a quick glance at the tear stained face in the car, then carried on her way. Helen hastily emptied her handbag on the passenger seat in search of a tissue and began to dab her eyes, trying to remove the stains of waterproof mascara that were now tatoed onto her cheeks. After a few attempts she realized that this would have to wait till later, she also made a mental note that waterproof mascara didn’t behave as it should, at least not the brand that she afforded.
A few more cheerful dog walkers passed by. Children were happily riding their bikes in the midday sun, whiling away the long summer hours. In her now slightly dreamy state she only just managed to duck as a figure she knew ‘oh so well’ came out of his door to place some rubbish in the bin. Trying to breathe calmly Helen wondered at the irony of finding herself in this place so many years after they had met, and knew that a torch was still being carried, if only in her own heart. Amongst all the chaos of her life emotions had been buried but not dealt with. It was one of her fortes ..’why deal with today what can be put off till tomorrow?’ she really did need to work on that one and maybe her doctors suggestion of cognitive therapy wasn’t such a bad idea after all. Something else to add to her long list of ‘things to do’ to improve her mental and physical well-being.
An hour passed. Calm and quiet were replacing the turbulent state of mind which had caused Helen to jump in her car, in search of a bit of space where she could collect her thoughts. Being a single mother had not been what Helen had in mind when the words “I DO” had poured eagerly and naively from her mouth. A blushing bride, gazing adoringly into the eyes of her husband to be, dreaming the dreams of a young girl brought up on fairy tales. Fifteen years later, the only bit of him she adored was his contribution to the procreation of their children. Any further contribution was on his terms only and definitely not so enjoyable.
The warm sun shone through the car windscreen and landed on Helen’s long, already tanned legs. She had always had an enviable figure and one that would often be the reason for a turned head in the street, but the kind nature in her possession didn’t allow her to use her looks for her own gain. She did however take a little secret pleasure from the male attention she received, whilst still nursing a broken heart.
Sitting in the safety of her car Helen wondered what was going on in the house she had left behind. She hoped that moods would be changing and apologies being prepared, if a little unwillingly. On a good day coping with four teenagers and their raging hormones was challenging enough, but there were many occasions when she felt totally out of her depth, and leaving the situation was the only way she could keep some form of control, if only of herself.
Looking around and taking in the all too familiar surroundings brought difficult memories flooding back to the forefront of her mind. She tried in vain to squash them down to a place where they no longer caused her pain. Did he suffer like this? She thought not, and once again a fresh stream of tears began to flow down her already mascara stained cheeks. She really did need to invest more money in herself and made a mental note to give Chanel a try.
Catching sight of the clock in the car Helen knew that it wouldn’t be long before she had to make tracks and return home. She hoped that putting some space between them would have helped calm a difficult situation. How she longed for the support of a partner at these times. A male voice to guide her boys through teenage trials and a strong pair of arms around her to provide comfort on stormy days. Helen did her best but boys needed men in their lives to look up to, and above all to learn how to treat the women in their lives with respect. How could they learn this with no resident role model. An idea travelled through Helen’s mind and made her smile. ‘Rent a role model’ maybe she could start a business providing struggling single mums with positive male role models or maybe just male models…..what single mum could resist. Uncles might have been a close substitute but Helen’s brothers all lived abroad and at times this had left her feeling very alone.
Looking at her reflection in the wing mirror of her car she noticed the hair bobble holding it in place. She laughed to herself as she remembered the light-hearted teasing of the mechanic as he had put her car through its M.O.T., bobble intact. The Fiat Punto, which had cost a mere £300 had served her well and in the three years they had been together it had been completely faithful. Sadly, more reliable than the men in her life.
Helen’s upbringing had been strictly religious. She had been discouraged from dating outside of the church and had grown up with a shallow experience of the world and its ways. Meeting her lover whilst still grieving a failed marriage had been the starting point of change in Helen’s life, and although he had brought a lot of additional pain to her door, she found it hard to forget him.
Helen could scarcely believe that the years had passed so quickly. The fact that she had pulled up just minutes from his home-made her realize that feeling close to him, or to memories of the times they spent together, still brought her a sense of safety in her troubled day. She wondered if this constituted stalking and contemplated starting the engine only to take her hands of the keys and let her mind wander and relive, if only for a moment the way he had made her feel. Looking back it was as if he had been all the men she had never met, all the experiences she had never had. As a young woman in her twenties when all her piers were just enjoying life, she was knee-deep in nappies and domesticity having never really known herself. The way he touched her had made her feel like a goddess, sexy, attractive adored and beautiful. His body was youthful, tanned and muscular and the thoughts of being wrapped in those strong arms made her feel safe. She needed them now when she was alone, not knowing which way to turn. She needed to hear his voice comforting her, and she needed to feel the passion to which she had become so hopelessly addicted.
Helen knew her time of reprieve was fleeting, but those precious moments of escape had been just what she needed to pull herself together. The sun was getting warmer and she felt cramped in the limited space. Deciding to stretch her legs before returning home she opened the car door and let the fresh air cool her warm body, blowing away what was left of the cobwebs in her mind. She could now return home with a slightly renewed sense of self, although could she have afforded it a holiday might have been more beneficial. Bringing all her senses into action she tried to recall memories of holidays taken. Her small children playing happily in the sand and splashing in the waves, not a care in the world. Donkey rides and buckets and spades had now been replaced with X boxes and I pads, a natural progression through life but Helen knew which she preferred. Watching her children beginning to discover life for themselves was causing her to feel anxious, and although she knew it would come right in the end she still had to squash down an overwhelming sense of fear and loss.
Having only walked a few paces from the car Helen suddenly realized that she could now clearly be seen from his house. Her previous feelings of safety wrapped up in familiar surroundings were replaced by a rapidly beating heart and she knew she had crossed a line. Hurrying back to the car she opened the door and sank into her seat, and as her racing heart began to slow she started the engine. Glancing in her rear view mirror as she drove away, she knew she had to let go.
Pulling into her drive Helen could hear laughter and music coming from the house. Her daughter came to the door and smiled, genuinely pleased to see her. Walking into the house she could see that the washing up had been done, not to her standard but done none the less. Picking up a tea towel she started to dry the dishes and smiled as she listened to the concoction of music travelling down the stairs.
Her life wasnt perfect, but it was her life, and for that she was grateful.
By Alison Fielding x