The park bench was wet when I sat on it and I had to spend the rest of the day with a patch on the back of my jeans. I didn’t realise it had rained; I thought it was just cold so I’d stayed there for ages twiddling my thumbs and listening to a podcast about feminism to build up my courage.
Too early but with not quite enough time to go home and change before I met him, I tied my jumper around my waist and shivered instead, still able to feel the damp denim sticking to the backs of my legs. This wasn’t the composed, sophisticated start to the day I was hoping for.
I walked around the park to warm myself up, visiting all the places I’d hung out as a teenager, drinking cans of White Lightning in a bid to look cool rather than get intoxicated. I walked over Rainbow Bridge, where we used to jump into the filthy river in the summer; I walked to the lawn where my friend told me that Tom had said he fancied me in Year 9 (we went out for a few months until I dumped him over text on a whim, and then regretted it for ages). I wondered what he was doing now?
I had revisited most of my teenage years by the time Andrew messaged to say he was there. My stomach dropped. I began to regret committing to this. Was this a terrible idea? Was it too late to sneak out of the other entrance to the park? Why did I think here would be a better idea than London? Here, where we both grew up – the place we had in common. Did I think that ending it all here held some kind of significance, that I could draw power from the place that raised me? I never felt particularly powerful here. It was a totem of uncertainty and distrust in myself, doing things to impress other people rather than find my own course to follow. Maybe that’s it. I could end it here and leave it lying in the wet grass with the memories of adolescent angst and doubt. Let it fester there while I go back to London, live my life. Free.
I messaged him back. 5 minutes. Remember your promise.
“The silence between us billowed. I let it. Without him speaking, the silence was mine.”
His silence was answer enough. I trudged back towards the bench, kicking up leaves, looking at them fall. As I rounded the corner, I congratulated myself on the forethought to take this route, so I could approach from behind. I didn’t like the idea of walking towards him, staring at each other, smile-less.
He jumped, and swivelled around. He almost spoke, but stopped himself from greeting me.
The bench had dried now, so I sat down next to him. I didn’t put my jumper back on; my blood was pumping with such force around my body that I didn’t need it.
Deep breaths, sit up straight, look like you’re in control.
The silence between us billowed. I let it. Without him speaking, the silence was mine. I was doing it. Hearing him not talk was like music to my ears and I wanted to cherish it, just in case he broke the rules.
Finally, I said: ‘I’m glad you decided to come. I’ve wanted to speak to you for a while, but I couldn’t figure out how to do it justice.’
‘I don’t want this to take too long. I don’t want to labour the point. I just want this to be over. I’m not trying to get anything from you, really. It’s just about saying all of this to you.’
He nodded again.
I spoke to my feet.
‘I’ve spent such a long time not saying anything because I didn’t want to give you the satisfaction of having an impact on my life. Because I thought that’s what you’d take from this. Not my pain, or any remorse, but the knowledge that you still affect me. That the control worked.’
I looked at him to see if he was going to try to reply, but he was just looking at me. Waiting.
I took another deep breath, steeling myself for whatever words were about to come out of my mouth. I’d written a list, ten lists; I’d written it out in prose; I’d written out an imagined conversation; practiced it in front of my mirror. None of these things had prepared me for seeing his face.
I launched. I spoke for nearly an hour. My voice started to crack and become hoarse, but I continued relentlessly, as eloquently as I could. Not looking at him once. A couple of times, I wished he would interrupt me, so I could have cause to be angry, to hear him shout, to have an argument with him that I could win, for once. But then I remembered the shouting from before, and knew I never wanted that again.
It’s all a bit of a blur now. Five years worth of noise erupted from me, each next thought hot on the heels of the one before. A volcano of humiliation and anguish, fury and pain. It felt strange to hear myself speak the words I’d been hoarding. I’m not entirely sure what I said. But I was surprised to realise that, when I finished, I had nothing else to say. I was done.
Was that it? Was I supposed to feel something? Something other than a sore throat and Raynaud’s in my fingers. I pulled my jumper from around my waist and put it on.
Closure is stupid, I thought to myself. I realised that I was waiting for him to say sorry. I stood up and looked at him for the first time since I’d finished speaking. He was a block of ice.
The adrenaline had gone, and I was cold and tired. I wanted to leave. I wanted to go home. I wanted to never see him again. More than anything, I wanted to finish my podcast.
I put in my headphones and pressed play. The sudden voices and audience laughter made me smile. He looked up at me and his mouth said something, but all I could hear was the sound of women discussing tampon tax.
I walked away. I knew that if I looked back, I’d see him melting and I didn’t want to feel sorry for him.
I wanted to leave him there on the wet grass, surrounded by the remnants of the skin I had shed and the exorcised ghosts of what we had been.