I recently read ‘The Year I Met You’ by Cecelia Ahern and I loved it. So I thought I would share an extract with you. Here’s chapter three and four for your reading enjoyment. I guarantee you will dying to find out what happens next!
I am not a stalker but you make it difficult for me not to watch you. You are a circus act all of your own and I cannot help but be your audience. We live directly across the road from one another on this suburban cul de sac in Sutton, North Dublin, which was built in the seventies and was modelled on an American suburb. We have large front gardens, no hedging or shrubs to separate the pathway from our gardens, no gates, nothing to stop a person from walking straight up to our front windows. Our front gardens are larger than our back gardens and so the entire street has taken pride in maintaining the front, each one pruned, groomed, fed and watered within an inch of its natural life. Everybody on our street, bar the occupants of your house and mine, is retired. They spend endless hours in their gardens and, because they are outside, in the front, every- body knows about who comes and goes and at what time. Not me though. Or you. We are not gardeners and we are not retired. You are probably ten years older than me but we have lowered the age of the street by thirty years. You have three children, I’m not sure what ages they are but I guess one is a teenager and the other two are under ten.
You are not a good father; I never see you with them. ￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼You have always lived opposite me, ever since I moved in, and you have always bothered me beyond belief, but going to work every day and all that came with that for me – distraction and knowing that there are more important things in the world – took me away from caring, from complaining and marching over there and punching your lights out.
I feel now like I’m living in a goldfish bowl and all I can see and hear from every window in my home is you. You, you, you. So at two thirty in the morning, which is a rather respectable time for you to return home, I find myself, elbows on the windowsill, chin resting on my hand, awaiting your next screw-up. I know this will be a good one because it’s New Year’s Eve and you are Matt Marshall, DJ on Ireland’s biggest radio station and, despite not wanting to, I heard your show tonight on my phone before that too died. It was as intrusive, disgusting, repulsive, unpalatable, foul, nasty and vomitous as the others have been. Your talk show Matt Marshall’s Mouthpiece which airs from eleven p.m. to one a.m. receives the highest number of listeners of any show on Irish radio. You have been at the helm of late-night talk shows for ten years. I didn’t know you lived on this street when I moved in, but when I heard your voice travel to me across the road one day, I knew instantly it was you. Everybody does when they hear you, and mostly they get excited but I was repulsed.
You are everything I do not like about people. Your views, your opinions, your discussions that do nothing to fix the problem you pretend you want to fix and instead stir up angry frenzies and mob-like behaviour. You provide a hub for hatred and racism and anger to be vented, but you present it as free speech. For those reasons I dislike you; for personal reasons, I despise you. I’ll go into them later.
You have driven home, as usual, going sixty kilometres per hour down our quiet retirement-home-like street. You bought your home from an aged couple who were down- sizing, I bought mine from a widow who’d died – or at least from her children, cashing in. I did well, buying when houses were at their lowest, when people were taking what they could, before anything had risen again, and I am aiming to be mortgage free, an ambition I’ve had since I was five, wanting everything that’s mine to actually be mine and not at the mercy of others and their mistakes. Both of our homes looked like an episode of The Good Life and both of us had extensive work to do and had to fight with the management company who accused us of ruining the look of the place. We managed to compromise. Our houses look like The Good Life from the front; inside, we have extensively renovated. I, however, broke a rule with my front garden that I am still paying for. More on that later.
You drive dangerously close to your garage door as usual and you climb out of the car, leaving the keys in the ignition, the radio blaring and the engine running. I’m not sure if you have forgotten or if you are not planning on staying. The car lights are on and are the only light on the street; it adds to the drama, almost as if the spotlight is on you. Despite the wind, which has died somewhat, every word of the Guns N’ Roses song is audible from the car. It’s ‘Paradise City’; 1988 must have been a good year for you. I was eight years old, you would have been eighteen, I bet you wore their T-shirts and had them on your school bag, I bet you engraved their names into school journals and went to The Grove and smoked and danced all night and shouted every word of their songs to the night sky. You must have felt free and happy then, because you play it a lot and always when you’re driving home.
I see a light go on in Dr Jameson’s bedroom; it must be a torch because it is moving around, as though the person holding it is disorientated. The dog is barking like mad now and I wonder if he’ll let him in before some little girl wakes up in the morning to find Santa has left a dizzy Jack Russell in her back garden. I watch the torch moving around the rooms upstairs. Dr Jameson likes to be at the helm of things, apparently. I learned this from my next-door neighbour Mr Malone, who called to my door to let me know that the bin truck was coming and he’d noticed I’d forgotten to put out my bins. I sense Mr Malone and Dr Jameson are at loggerheads over who should be in charge of the management company. I had forgotten to put my bins out because not being at work means I often confuse my days, but him calling to my home to tell me annoyed me. Seven weeks on, it wouldn’t bother me. I find it helpful. Everything neighbourly and anything helpful bothered me then. I had no community spirit. It wasn’t because I turned my back on it, it was because I was too busy. I didn’t know it existed and I didn’t require it.
You try the handle of the front door and appear full of shock and dismay that it isn’t unlocked for you or some masked gunman to freely enter your home. You ring the doorbell. It never begins politely, it is always rude, offensive. The amount of times you ring, the length of time you ring it for, like the burst of a machine gun. Your wife never answers straight away. Neither do the children; I wonder if they sleep through it now because they’re so used to it, or if she’s in there with them, all huddled in one room while the children sob, telling them to ignore the scary sounds at the door. Either way, nobody comes. Then you bang on the door. You like the banging, you spend most nights doing this, relieving your tension and anger. You work your way around the entire house, knocking and banging on every window you can reach. You taunt your wife in a sing-song voice, ‘I know you’re in there,’ as if she is pretending that she isn’t. I don’t think she is pretending, I think she is making it quite clear. I wonder if she is asleep or wide awake and hoping you will go away. I guess the latter.
Then you pick up your yelling. I know she hates the yelling because that above all embarrasses her, perhaps because your voice is so distinctive – though we couldn’t ever think it was any other couple on the road behaving like this. I don’t know why you haven’t figured this out by now and just cut straight to the yelling. She remains resolute for the first time I’ve witnessed. You do a new thing. You go back to your car and start blowing the horn.
I see Dr Jameson’s torch moving from upstairs to a downstairs room and I hope he isn’t going to go outside to try to calm you down. You will no doubt do something drastic. Dr Jameson’s front door opens and I hold my hands to my face, wondering if I should run out and stop him, but I don’t want to get involved. I will watch and when it turns violent I will step in, though I have no idea what I will do. Dr Jameson doesn’t appear. The dog comes running around the house at top speed, almost falls over himself on the flooded soggy grass in the race to get inside. The dog runs inside and the door is slammed. I laugh in surprise.
You must hear the door slam and think that it’s your wife, because you stop honking the horn and Guns N’ Roses is all that can be heard again. I’m thankful for that. The honking was above all the most annoying thing you’ve done. Almost as if she was waiting for you to calm down before letting you in, the front door opens and your wife steps out in her dressing gown, looking frantic. I see the dark shadow of someone behind her. At first I think she has met somebody else and I seriously worry about what will happen, but then I realise it’s your eldest son. He looks older, protective, the man of the house. She tells him to stay inside and he does. I am glad. You don’t need to make this any worse than it already is. As soon as you see her you jump out of the car and start shouting at her for locking you out of the house. You always shout this at her. She tries to calm you as she makes her way to your still-open jeep door, then she takes the keys out, which kills the music, the engine and the lights. She shakes the keys in front of you, telling you that you have the house key on your set. She told you that. You knew that.
But I know, as does she, that your practicality belongs with your sobriety, and in its place is this desperate, wild man. You always believe that you’re locked out, that you have been deliberately locked out. That it is you against the world, or more that it is you against the house, and that you must get inside using any means necessary.
You go quiet for a moment as you take in the keys dangling in front of your face and then you stagger as you reach for her, pull her close and smother her with hugs and kisses. I can’t see your face, but I see hers. It is the picture of complication, inner silent torture. You laugh and ruffle your son’s head as you pass, as if the whole thing was a joke, and I detest you even more because you can’t say sorry. You never say sorry – not that I’ve witnessed, anyway. Just as you step into the house the electricity goes back on. You twist around and you see me, at the window, my bedroom lights on full, revealing me in all my sneaky glory.
You glare at me, then you bang the door closed, and with all that you’ve done tonight, you make me feel like the weird one.
One of the things I liked about the Christmas break just gone was that nobody was working, it put us all on the same level. Everyone was in holiday mode, I didn’t have to compare and contrast me from them, them from me. But now everybody is back at work, so I am back to feeling how I felt before the break.
Initially I felt shocked, my whole system felt shocked, and then I believe I went through a grieving process as I mourned for a life that I’d lost. I was angry, of course I was angry; I had considered Larry, my colleague, my firer, to be my friend. We went skiing together every New Year, I stayed in his Marbella holiday home with him and his family for a week every June. I was one of the few invited to the house for his daughter’s over-the-top debs gathering. I was one of the small inner circle. I had never considered that he could take this course of action; that, despite the often heated arguments, our relationship would come to this, that he would very simply have the balls to do this to me.
After the anger, I was in denial about it being a bad thing that had happened. I didn’t want losing my job to own me, to define me. I didn’t need my job, my job needed me – and too bad, it had lost me. And then Christmas came and I got lost in social events; dinners and parties and drunken festivities that made me feel warm and fuzzy and forgetful. Now it is January and I feel as bleak as the day outside, for I am overcome by a new feeling.
I feel worthless, as though a very important part of my self-esteem has been utterly diminished. I have been robbed of my routine, my schedule which once determined my every single waking and sleeping hour. Routine of any kind has been difficult to establish; there don’t seem to be any rules for me, while everybody else marches to the beat of their own important drum. I constantly feel hungry, metaphorically and literally. I am hungry for something to do, somewhere to go, but I’m also hungry for everything in my kitchen because it’s there, right beside me, every day and I have nothing better to do than eat it. I am bored. And as much as it pains me to say it, I am lonely. I can go an entire day without any socialisation, without a conversation with anyone. I wonder sometimes if I’m invisible. I feel like the old men and women who used to bother me by engaging in unnecessary chit-chat with the cashiers while I was stuck behind them, in a hurry, wanting to get on to the next place. When you don’t have a next place to go to, time slows down enormously. I feel myself noticing other people more, catching more eyes, or seeking out eye contact. I’m now ripe and ready for a conversation about anything with anyone; it would make my day if somebody would meet my eye, or if there was someone to talk to. But everyone is too busy, and that makes me feel invisible; and invisibility, contrary to what I believed before, lacks any sense of lightness and liberty. Instead it makes me feel heavy. And so I drag myself around, trying to convince myself that I don’t feel heavy, invisible, bored and worthless, and that I am free. I do not convince myself well.
Another of the bad things about being fired is that my father calls by, uninvited.
He is in the front garden with my half-sister Zara when I arrive home. Zara is three years old, my dad is sixty-three. He retired from his printing business three years ago after selling it for a very good price that allows him to live comfortably. As soon as Zara was born he became a hands- on husband and father while his new wife, Leilah, works as a yoga instructor in her own practice. It is lovely that Dad has had a second chance at love, and also lovely that he has been able to fully embrace fatherhood, properly, for the first time in his life. He fully embraced the nappy-changing, night feeds, weaning and anything else that raising a child threw at him. He glows every day with the pride he has for her, this remarkable little girl who has managed to do such incredible things all by herself. Grow, walk, talk. He marvels at her genius, tells long stories about what she has done that day, the funny things she has said, the clever picture she drew for one so young. As I said, it is lovely. Lovely. But he views it with a first-time joy, a beginner, someone who has never seen it happen before.
In the last few weeks it has made me think, because I’ve had time to, and I wonder where was his wonderment, his absolute shock and awe, when Heather and I were growing up? If it was ever there at all, it was hidden by the mask of inconvenience and complete bafflement. Sometimes when he points out something wonderful that Zara has done I want to scream at him that other children do that too, you know, children like Heather and I, and how incredible we must have been to have gotten there first over thirty years ago. But I don’t. That would make me bitter and twisted, and I am not, and it would create an energy around some- thing where there is nothing. I tell myself it’s the idleness that leads to these frustrating thoughts.
I often wonder, if Mum was alive, how would she feel seeing Dad as the man he is now – loyal, retired, a dedicated father and husband. Sometimes I hear her on her forgiving, wise days being all philosophical and under- standing about it and other days I hear the tired voice of an exhausted single mother that I grew up with, spitting venom over him and his insensitivities. Which of her voices I hear may depend on what mood I am in myself. Mum died from breast cancer when she was forty-four. Too young to die. I was nineteen. Too young to lose a mother. It was most difficult for her, of course, having to leave this world when she didn’t want to. She had things she wanted to see, things she wanted to do, things she had been putting off until I was finished school, an adult, so that she could begin her life. She wasn’t finished yet; in many ways, she hadn’t even started. She’d had her first baby at twenty-four, then me the accident at twenty-five, and she had raised her babies and done absolutely everything for us and it should have been time for her.
After she died, I lived on campus and Heather stayed in the care home she had moved into while Mum was under- going treatment. Sometimes I wonder why I was so selfish and didn’t decide to care for Heather myself. I don’t think I even offered. I understand that it was necessary for me to begin my own life, but I don’t believe I even thought about it for a moment. It’s not selfish not to want to, but it was selfish not to think about it. I look back and realise I could have been more helpful to my mother at the time too. I feel like I let her go through it all alone. I could have been there more, accompanied her more, instead of asking her about things afterwards. But I was a teenager, my world was about me then, and I saw my aunt being there for my mum.
Heather is my Irish twin: older by one year. She treats me as though I am the baby sister by many more years. I love her for this. I know that I was an accident, because my mum had no intention of planning another child so soon after the birth of Heather. Mum was shocked, Dad was appalled; he could barely cope with a baby in the first place, let alone one with Down syndrome, and now there was a second child on the way. Heather scared him; he didn’t know how to deal with her. When I came along, he moved further away from the family, seeking out other women who had more time on their hands to adore him and agree with him.
Meanwhile my mum dealt with reality with such strength and assurance, though she would admit later that she did it with what she called ‘Bambi legs’. I never saw that in her, never saw a shake or tremble or wrong-step, she always made it seem as if she had it all under control. She joked, and apologised, that I raised myself. I always knew that Heather was more important, that Heather needed more attention; I never felt unloved, it was just the way it was. I loved Heather too, but I know that, when Mum left this world, the one person she did not want to leave behind was Heather. Heather needed Mum, Mum had plans for Heather, and so she left the world with a broken heart for the daughter she was leaving behind. I’m okay with that, I understand. My heart broke not just for me but for the two of them too.
Heather is not happy-go-lucky, as people with Down syndrome are stereotypically thought to be. She is an individual who has good days and bad, like us all, but her personality – which has nothing to do with Down syndrome – is upbeat. Her life is tied up in routine, she appreciates it as a way of feeling in control of her life, which is why when I show up at her home or when she’s at work, she gets confused and almost agitated. Heather needs routine, which is something that makes us even more similar and not at all different.
Zara is hopping from one cobblestone to the other and trying not to step on the cracks. She insists Dad does the same. He does. I know this about him now and yet, seeing him, his Christmas belly hanging over his trousers and bouncing up and down as he hops from stone to stone, I still can’t help but not know who this man is. He looks up as I pull in.
‘I didn’t know you’d be here,’ I say, lightly. Translation: You didn’t tell me, you must always tell me.
‘We were taking a drive along the coast, watching the waves – weren’t we, Zara?’ He scoops her up in his arms. ‘Tell Jasmine about the waves.’
He always gets Zara to say things for us; I’m sure most parents do, but it infuriates me. I would rather have a conversation with Zara that isn’t dictated by Dad. Hearing her tell me things is hearing it twice.
‘They were huge waves, weren’t they? Tell Jasmine how huge they were.’
She nods. Big eyes. Holds her arms out to show what would be a disappointingly small wave, but an enormous stretch for her.
‘And weren’t they crashing up against the rocks? Tell Jasmine.’
She nods again. ‘They were crashing against the rocks.’ ‘And the waves were splashing over on to the coast road in Malahide,’ he says, again in his childish voice, and I wish he would just tell me the story directly instead of relaying it like this.
‘Wow,’ I say, smiling at Zara and reaching out to her. She immediately comes to me and wraps her skinny long legs around my body and clings to me tightly. I do not have anything against Zara. Zara is lovely. No – Zara is beautiful. She is perfect in every way and I adore her. It is not Zara’s fault. It is not anybody’s fault, because nothing has happened and it is merely the annoyance of my dad making a habit of dropping by since I’ve been at home that is beginning to create something that is not there. I know this. I tell my rational self this.
‘How’s my spaghetti legs?’ I ask her, letting us into the house. ‘I haven’t seen you for an entire year!’ While I’m talking, I glance at your house. I do that a lot lately, I can’t seem to help it. It’s become a habit now, some ridiculous OCD thing where I can’t get into my car without looking across the road, or I can’t close my front door without looking, or sometimes when I pass a front window, I stop and watch. I know I need to stop. Nothing ever happens during the day time, not with you, at least; you barely surface, it’s just your wife coming and going with the kids all day. Occasionally I might see you pull a curtain open and go out to your car, but that’s it. I don’t know what I’m expecting to see.
‘Did you tell your dad that we made cupcakes together last week?’ I ask Zara.
She nods again and I realise that I’m doing exactly what Dad does. It must be frustrating for her, but I can’t seem to stop.
Dad and I talk to each other through Zara. We say things to her that we should be saying to one another, so I tell her that my electricity went off on New Year’s Eve, that I met Billy Gallagher in the supermarket and he has retired, and various other things that she doesn’t need to know. Zara pays attention for a while, but then we confuse her, and she runs off.
‘Your friend is in trouble again,’ Dad says when we’re sitting at the table with a cup of tea and biscuits left over from my enormous drawer of Christmas goodies that I’m consistently working my way through, and we watch Zara tip over the box of toys that I keep for her. The noise of Lego hitting floorboards takes away his next sentence.
‘What friend?’ I ask, worried.
Dad nods in the direction of the front window that faces your house. ‘Your man – what’s his name?’
‘Matt Marshall? He’s not a friend of mine,’ I say, disgusted. All talk always turns to you.
‘Well, your neighbour then,’ Dad says, and we both watch Zara again.
It’s only the silence dragging on for too long that causes me to ask, because I don’t know what else to say: ‘Why, what did he do?’
‘Who?’ Dad says, snapping out of his trance.
‘Matt Marshall,’ I say through gritted teeth, hating having to ask about you once, never mind twice.
‘Oh, him.’ As if it was an hour ago that he first raised it. ‘His New Year’s Eve show got complaints.’
‘He always gets complaints.’
‘Well, more than usual, I suppose. It’s all over the papers.’
We are silent again as I think about your show. I hate your show, I never listen. Or rather, I never used to listen but lately I’ve been listening to see if what you talk about has any direct link to the state you return home in, because you’re not trashed every single night of the week. About three or four nights a week. Anyway, so far there seems to be no direct correlation.
‘Well, he tried to ring in the New Year by getting a woman to—’
‘I know, I know,’ I say, interrupting him, not wanting to hear my dad say the word orgasm.
‘Well, I thought you said you hadn’t heard it,’ he says, all defensive.
‘I heard about it,’ I mumble, and I climb down on all fours to help Zara with her Lego. I pretend our tower is a dinosaur. I use it to eat her fingers, her toes, then I crash it into the second tower with a great big roar. She’s happy with that for a moment and goes back to playing by herself.
To recap on your New Year’s Eve show, you and your team felt it would be hilarious to ring in the New Year with the sound of a woman’s orgasm. A charming treat for your listeners, a thank you in fact, for their support. Then you had a quiz to guess the sound of a fake orgasm from a real orgasm, and then a full discussion about men who fake orgasms during sex. It wasn’t offensive, not to me, not in comparison to the filth you’ve spoken about in other shows, and I hadn’t been aware of men who faked orgasms so it was slightly informative, if not disturbing, maybe even personally enlightening – with regard to the man I didn’t regret in the office, who regretted me, possibly – though the douche-bags you had on the show to tell their side of their story did little to educate. I sound as if I’m defending you. I’m not. It just wasn’t the worst show. For once the issue is not you and your lack of charm but the right to hear the sound of a woman climax without it being
‘How is he in trouble?’ I ask moments later.
‘Who’s that?’ Dad asks and I count to three in my head.
‘Oh. They’ve fired him. Or suspended him. I’m not sure which. I’d say he’s out of there. Been there long enough anyway. Let somebody younger have a chance.’
‘He’s only forty-two,’ I say. It sounds like a defence of you, but I don’t mean it personally. I’m thirty-three and I need to find a new job, I’m concerned about age right now, particularly the attitude towards age in the workplace, that’s all. I think of you suspended and I immediately feel delight. I’ve always disliked you, have always wanted your show off the air, but then I feel bad and I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because of your children and your nice wife, who I’ve taken to waving at in the morning.
‘Turns out it was a real woman in the studio,’ Dad says, looking a bit uncomfortable.
‘Well, it hardly sounded like a man.’
‘No, she was really . . . you know,’ he looks at me and I’ve no idea what he is implying.
We are quiet.
‘She was really pleasuring herself. Live in the studio,’ Dad says.
My stomach turns, both because I’ve just had that conversation with my dad and also because I can see you orchestrating that in your studio, the countdown to twelve o’clock, the team all guffawing over a woman, like idiots.
I once again loathe you.
I lift Zara into her car seat and plant a kiss on her button nose.
‘So I could talk to Ted, if you like,’ Dad says suddenly, as though continuing a conversation that I don’t remember having.
I frown. ‘Who’s Ted?’
‘Ted Clifford,’ he shrugs like it’s no big deal.
Anger rises within me so quickly I have to fight the urge to lose it right there. And I’d come so close. Dad sold his company to Ted Clifford. He could have sold it for three times the amount in the good times, he likes to tell every- body, but it is not the good times now and so he settled on a reasonably good sum of money that will ensure month- long holidays in the summer with Leilah and Zara, dinners out four times a week. I don’t know if he paid off his mortgage, and this annoys me. It would have been the first thing I’d have done. I’m not sure how me and Heather have come out of this, but I’m not bothered, though I might sound it. I’m financially okay right now, I’m more concerned about Heather. She needs security. As soon as I made enough money, I bought the apartment she was renting. She moved out of residential care five years ago, a big deal for her, a big deal for anybody. She lives with a friend, under the caring eye of her support assistant, and they are getting along perfectly well together, though it doesn’t stop me from worrying about her every second of every day. I got the apartment at a good price; most people were trying to get rid of their negative equity, that second property where it was suddenly a struggle to meet the payments. It was something I expected Dad to do when he retired, instead of buying the apartment in Spain. He thought she was fine in the care home, but I knew that it was a dream for her to have her own place so I took control. Again, I’m not angry, it’s just that things like this come to me now and I can’t help but ponder them . . . I need distraction.
‘No,’ I say abruptly. ‘Thanks.’ End of.
He looks at me as if he wants to say more. To stop him, I continue: ‘I don’t need you to get me a job.’
My pride. Easily damaged. I hate help. I need to do things all by myself, all of the time. His offer makes me feel weak, makes me think that he thinks I’m weak. It has too many connotations.
‘Just saying. It’d be an easy foot in the door. Ted would help you out any day.’
‘I don’t need help.’
‘You need a job.’ He chuckles. He looks at me as though he is amused, but I know that this is the precursor to his anger. That laugh is what happens when he’s annoyed; I’m not sure whether it is supposed to wind up the person he is annoyed at – which is what happens now and has always happened to me – or if it is his way of covering up his anger. Either way, I recognise the sign.
‘Okay, Jasmine, do it your way, as usual.’ He holds his hands up dramatically in the air, in defence, keys dangling from his fingers. He gets into the car and drives off.
He says it like it’s a bad thing: do it your way. Isn’t that a good thing for anyone to do? When would I ever, have I ever, wanted to do it his way? If I wanted help, he would be the last person I would go to. And then it occurs to me again that there seems to be an issue, when there really never has been an issue, and it startles me. I realise I’m standing out in the cold, glaring down the street at where the car has long since disappeared. I quickly look across the street to your house and I think I’ve seen a slight movement in an upstairs curtain, but I’ve probably imagined it.
Later, in bed, I’m unable to sleep. I feel as though my head is overheating from thinking too much, like my laptop when it’s been used for too many hours. I am angry. I am having half-finished conversations with my dad, with my job, with the man who stole my space in the car park that morning, with the watermelon that I dropped carrying from the car to the house which burst all over the ground and stained my suede boots. I am ranting to them all, I am setting everything right, I am cursing at them, I am informing them all of their shortfalls. Only it doesn’t help, it is just making me feel worse.
I sit up, frustrated and dehydrated.
Rita the Reiki woman I’d seen earlier that day told me this would happen. She’d told me to drink lots of water after our unusual session that I feel didn’t alter me at all, and instead I had a bottle of wine before bed. I’d never been to Reiki before and I probably won’t go again but my aunt had given me a voucher for Christmas. My aunt is into all kinds of alternative therapy; she and my mum used to do that kind of thing when Mum was sick. Maybe that’s why I don’t believe in it now, because it didn’t work, Mum died. But then the medicine didn’t work for her either, and I still take that. Maybe I will go back. I made the appointment when everybody went back to work, some- thing to do, something to keep myself busy, something to put in my new yellow Smythson diary with my initials in gold on the bottom right corner which would usually be filled already with appointments and meetings and now is a sad depiction of my current life: christening times, coffee meetings and birthday celebrations. At the Reiki session I’d sat in a small white room that was filled with incense and made me feel so sleepy I wondered if I was being drugged. Rita was a tiny woman, bird-like, in her sixties, but she twisted her legs into a position on the armchair that showed her agility. She was soft-faced, almost out of focus, and I’m not sure if it was the incense smoke that blurred her, but I couldn’t quite see her edges. Her eyes were sharp though, the way they took me in and held on to every word that I said so that it made me take note of my own voice and I could hear how clipped and contained I sounded. Anyway, apart from a nice chat with a supportive woman, and a relaxing twenty-minute lie-down in a nicely scented womb- like room, I didn’t feel in any way altered.
She’d given me one piece of advice though for my busy head. I’d immediately disregarded it as soon as I’d left, but now I am barely able to formulate a single thought for long enough to be able to see it through, to process it, to get rid of it, so I take her advice. I remove my socks and pad around the carpet for a while, hoping I’ll feel ‘rooted’ to stop my head from drifting again into ranty angry terri- tory. I step on something sharp – the end of a clothes hanger – and curse as I inspect my foot. I cradle my foot in my hands. I’m not sure how rooted is supposed to feel, but this can’t be it.
She’d suggested walking barefoot, preferably on grass, but if not, generally barefoot as much as possible as soon as I returned to the house, The scientific theory behind the health benefits to walking barefoot, is that the Earth is negatively charged, so when you ground, you’re connecting your body to a negatively charged supply of energy. And since the Earth has a greater negative charge than your body, you end up absorbing electrons from it. The grounding effect has an anti-inflammatory effect on your body. I don’t know about all that but I need to clear my head and as I’m trying to cut down on the headache tablets, I may as well try barefoot.
I look outside. There is no grass in my garden. That was the terrible, unspeakable thing I did when I moved in four years ago. I wasn’t a fan of gardens, I was twenty-nine years old, I was busy, I was barely at home, I was never home long enough to notice my garden. To avoid the effort involved in its upkeep, I had the relatively nice garden that was there when I bought the place dug up and replaced it with maintainable cobble-locking. It looked impressive, it cost a fortune, it horrified the neighbours. I put some nice black pots outside my front door with plants that stayed green all year round, pruned into clever modern twisted shapes. I cared a little bit about how it affected my new neighbours, but I was never home to discuss it with them at length, and I reasoned with myself that it would save me paying a gardener – because I wasn’t about to do it myself; I wouldn’t know where to start. There is still grass on the pathway outside of my house, which is maintained by my neighbour, Mr Malone, who did this without asking me. I think he sees it as his because he was here first, and anyway, what do I know about grass? I am a grass-defector.
I’d thought that buying my own house at the age of twenty-nine – a semi-detached, four-bedroom family home – was quite a mature and grounding thing to do. Who knew that when I dug up the garden I was losing the very thing that could have kept me grounded.
I check your house and your jeep isn’t there and all the lights are out. I never need to worry about anybody else’s house. I never seem to care. I put on a tracksuit and go downstairs barefoot. Feeling like a sleuth, I run on tiptoe across the cold paving down my driveway and straight to the grass that lines the path. I check the grass for dog poo. I check for slugs and snails. Then I pull up the ends of my tracksuit bottoms and I allow my feet to squelch into the wet grass. It is cold but it’s soft. I chuckle to myself as I walk up and down, surveying the street at midnight.
For the first time since I’ve moved in, I feel guilty for what I’ve done to my garden. I look at the houses and see how mine is dark and grey amidst the colour. Not that there is much colour in the gardens in January, but at least the bushes, the trees, the grass, break the grey concrete of the paths, the brown and grey of my paving.
I’m not sure if going barefoot in the grass is helping anything other than the onslaught of pneumonia, but at least the cool air has soothed my hot, over-wired head and freed up some space. This is unusual behaviour for me. Not the walking on grass at midnight, but the lack of control. Sure, I’ve had stressful days at the office where I’ve needed to regroup, but this is different. I feel different. I’m thinking too much, focusing on areas that didn’t require thinking about before.
Often, when I’m searching for something, the only way I can find anything is to acknowledge out loud what it is, because I can’t see it unless I fully register and envision in my mind what it is I’m looking for. For example, rooting around in my oversized handbags for my keys, I say either in my head or aloud, ‘Keys, keys, keys.’ I do the same in my house: I wander from room to room, saying or muttering, ‘Red lipstick, pen, phone bill . . .’ or whatever it is I’m looking for. As soon as I do that, I find the thing quicker. I don’t know the reason for this, but I know that it makes sense, that it’s true, that Deepak Chopra would be able to explain in a more sophisticated, informed, philosophical manner, but I feel that when I tell myself what it is I’m looking for, then I fully know what it is that I must find. Order given: dutiful body and mind respond.
Sometimes the very thing I am looking for is staring me straight in the face, but I can’t see it. This happens to me a lot. It happened this morning when I was looking for my coat in my wardrobe. It was right in front of me, but because I didn’t say, ‘Black coat with the leather sleeves,’ it didn’t appear to me. I was just idly searching, eyes running over clothes and not finding anything.
I think – in fact, I have come to know – that I have applied this thinking on a larger scale, I’ve applied it to my life. I tell myself what I want, what I am looking for, I envision it so that it’s easier to find, and then I find it. It has worked for me all my life.
So now I find myself in a place where all that I’ve envisioned and worked hard for has been taken away, it is not mine any more. First thing I do is try to get it all back again, make it mine again, straight away, immediately; and if that’s not possible – which it usually isn’t, because I’m a realist, not a voodoo practitioner – then I must find something else to look for, something else to achieve. I’m obviously talking about my job here. I know I will get back to work eventually, but I have been put on hold. I have been stalled, and there is nothing I can do about it.
I’m on what is called ‘gardening leave’. It has nothing to do with gardening, thankfully, or I’d have a very long year power-hosing and weeding between the cracks of my cobble-locked garden. Gardening leave is the practice whereby an employee who has left their job or who has been terminated is instructed to stay away from work during the notice period, while still remaining on the payroll. It’s often used to prevent employees from taking with them up-to-date and perhaps sensitive information when they leave their current employer, especially when they are leaving to join a competitor. I wasn’t leaving to join a competitor, as I’ve already explained, however Larry felt certain that I would work with a company we were in relative competition with, a company I had tried to schmooze to buy ours. He was right. I would have worked with them. They called me the day after I was fired to offer me a job. When I told them about the gardening leave they said they couldn’t possibly wait that long – twelve months gardening leave!! – and so they went off to find somebody else. Not only has the length of my gardening leave chased away other employers, I have absolutely nothing to do while I wait. It feels like a prison sentence. Twelve months gardening leave. It is a sentence. I feel as if I’m gathering dust on some shelf while the world is moving on around me and I can’t do anything to stop it or join in. I don’t want my mind to start growing moss; I’ll need to continuously power-hose it, to keep it fresh.
Blades of wet grass stick to my feet, working their way up my ankles as I walk back and forth on the patch of grass. So what happens when I’m put on hold for an entire year and there’s nothing I can do about it? What do I do?
I pad up and down on the wet grass, my feet starting to feel cold but my mind buzzing with a new idea. A new project. A goal. An objective. Something to do. I must right a wrong. I will uproot the very ground I walk on, which will be easy because I feel as if I have been uprooted already.
I will give the neighbourhood a gift. I will bring back the garden.
You can buy The Year I Met You from Amazon and is available to buy from good bookshops.