short stories

~ A Brush With Normality ~

a brush with normality

~ A Brush With Normality ~

It ended with a crash. The pieces finally fell down as I sat there reading her texts. “You need to sort your head out,” she told me. “I mean that in a caring way.” The previous couple of days had been a mess of emotions, arguments, excessive drinking and brushes with self-harm. Something had been brewing for a while, and it was the inevitable end to events we both knew was the fate of our short and sweet romance. With the realisation it was over, I left her dad’s flat covered in empty bottles of spirits and headed to the train station to retreat back home.

Alone once again, I reflected on a story that had started three months previously. It was a strange time to meet a girl, I guess. The world had just gone into lockdown due to the outbreak of the coronavirus. In most countries, people were restricted to leaving their homes except for food, medicine, exercise or essential work. Perhaps it was that surreal turn of events which led to a change in my character. I was never one to pay much mind to the settled life with a girl; in many ways, I had already resided myself to a life of solitude and isolation, but every now and again there was a moment of connection with another that caused me to imagine strange and foreign scenarios. Apparitions appeared in my mind: visions of a peaceful existence with a girl by my side, holding hands while walking in the park, lying in bed and caressing her cheek as the sunlight came through the window – that feeling of knowing that everything would be okay for that day just because I had her next to me. Like I said, it was something that I wasn’t really expecting for my life, but I was soon to find myself daydreaming about more and more.

At first, it was just a bit of virtual chit-chat via a dating app; just two people keeping themselves busy and wanting someone to talk to while undergoing lockdown of the virus. We chatted about movies and music. We chatted about poetry and philosophy. She told me about her pets and I told her about my backpacking adventures. It was nice. There wasn’t much to do in the world at that moment, so sitting around and chatting with a stranger kinda made sense. Plus, it was something I really needed at that time. It was soon to be the weirdest few months of my life, and she would be there to help lead me through it. With lockdown messing up my travel plans, I had to move back in with my parents and get a job at the local Amazon warehouse. My days there would be spent alongside a conveyor-belt while sorting packages for ten hours a day. It was a depressing reality, in all honesty, but having her to chat to allowed me to exist in an alternative world. It was a world of romantic escapism. A world of sharing your soul with a stranger. A world of exciting possibilities such as going camping together while the whole country was under quarantine. 

After talking some more, we finally arranged to break lockdown measures and meet up. We were living in different cities and she drove fifty miles down the highway to come and meet me for a walk. Normally, I would be nervous meeting a girl for the first time, but due to the connection we had already formed over a month of chatting online, I was strangely calm. I met her in a pub car-park near the entrance to the park where we got walking and talking. Within ten minutes, I knew this wasn’t just another date. Speaking to her was a surreal experience; it was like meeting someone I had already known for many years, two long-lost companions reconvening from another life. With that connection fueling our conversation, we strolled idly through the countryside; we petted horses and sheep; we lay in the grass and talked about our lives.

It soon became clear we were two people who had walked very different paths in our twenties. She had led the settled existence in one place with a long-term partner, and I had been out travelling the world on my own. Yet, although we were different on the surface, it seemed we were surprisingly similar at our core. I already knew we shared similar interests in nature, fantasy films and philosophy as well as having the same personality type, but meeting her showed me just exactly how much of myself I saw residing in her troubled eyes. She even told me how she had always wanted to do the things I had done, but had left it as a sort of distant dream for another lifetime. I told her something similar as we shared our first kiss before heading back to her city where we got drunk, cuddled up in bed and watched a Lord of the Rings movie.

Our story continued to develop and I soon felt like I was somewhat in a fantasy movie of my own. The world continued to get stranger by the week as the crisis turned society into a dystopian state. Entire countries continued to lockdown, people lost jobs and businesses, strange new rules were implemented. There were skies without planes and shops without food. In the meanwhile, I went to work every day before coming home and spending the evening chatting to her on my bed. I continued to get lost in that world of romantic escapism until we met up again to go camping. It was a glorious spring day and we sat in a farmer’s field at sunset where everything melted into a perfect mixture of human connection. The wine, the weather, the music, the conversation. At one point she started telling me how much she missed her grandad and started crying. I think it was probably at that moment where I fell for her. Once the sun had fallen below the horizon, we retreated to the tent to eat pot noodles, make love and listen to music under the stars. Holding her in my arms, those grand visions appeared again in my mind: taking our campervan out together in the peak district; walking her dogs in the park; drinking wine together and making love in a drunken evening haze. I even imagined telling our grandchildren how we met during the great crisis of our generation. I wasn’t quite sure what was happening to me, but by the time we did our next camping trip and sat by the stream drinking wine again, I was convinced the gods had put some sort of temptation in front of me to change my lifestyle.

Before lockdown began, I was just as committed to the life of bohemian travel as I had ever been. In fact, I was right on the verge of flying one-way to Colombia. But the life of flinging myself relentlessly into foreign lands was on hold and suddenly my mind entertained new possibilities. Could I lead an adventurous life at home with a girl? Buying a campervan, going on weekend adventures, getting drunk and writing poetry together? Maybe I had it wrong all along; maybe the happy life was within grasp right here under my nose in my own backyard? It was a thought I couldn’t slip as those apparitions continued to grow clearer in my mind. Dreams of wandering alone in foreign lands quickly changed to living a more settled existence at home. I imagined our days and years together. The summer vacations. The lazy Sunday mornings lying in bed. The flowery dresses she would wear to our anniversary meals. By the time summer had arrived, I knew something had struck me deeply. I looked into the mirror and questioned the very essence of who I was. This is what a woman can do to a man. Every person thinks they know what is going on in their lives, but at the touch of love, we crumble and lose our minds. We go crazy, deluded, insane. We wander off into the woods and lose ourselves in places we didn’t know existed.

I continued losing myself in those places until the inevitable troubles arrived. It was gradually becoming clear that our story was not going to be a straightforward one. She had made me aware that things weren’t completely finished with her ex-boyfriend, and that the door was still open for them to return to their relationship once he had sorted some things out. We had flirted with the idea of being in a relationship, but it was becoming apparent that she would have to decide between pursuing this new connection with me or sticking by her ex. Someone was clearly about to get hurt. Her ex to me represented her past eight years of her life: comfort, security and familiarity. I was a strange new thing to her: a being of a different form and territory. Emotions were getting deeper and it was reaching a tipping point where she would have to choose. The inevitable crash came one morning. She messaged me saying it was messing her head up continuing things between us because of her ex. She now wanted us to be just friends. It came at a bad time. The night before, I had laid beside her in bed and decided for the first time in my life that I wanted to be in a relationship with someone. A foreign thought, quickly proven to be a foolish one.

Following the argument, I hit the bottle and delved into a darkness I hadn’t quite known before. Those apparitions that had almost become reachable faded back to mere visions in my mind. Ideas of sharing my path were revealed to be illusions. Our summer plans of adventure disappeared into smoke. Her flowery dresses disintegrated before my eyes. There was nothing I could do and I stared into the mirror and saw myself for the deluded dreamer I was. That delusion even continued as I kept hoping she would see a light and decide to start a new adventure with me rather than return to the past. But it became clear that wasn’t going to happen and what was left to do but to keep spiralling out of control in a drunken blur of despair and pitiful self-hatred.

Over the next few weeks, I collected myself and tried to make sense of what had happened. Clearly, I had felt something that was foreign to my heart and allowed myself to get lost in it. I simply hadn’t ever experienced a connection like that with another person. All my life, I had stared at the passing faces of lovers. I watched their hands connect and their lips touch. I watched their warm embraces. I observed the happiness and contentment in their eyes. It had taken me twenty-eight years to find a girl I had a real connection with and now it was gone in an instant. Back alone in my own world again, I looked into that mirror and saw myself for I really was. I could see it in my eyes. I was a gollum, a wretch, a creature belonging to a cave. I was banished to a barren wilderness while she would return to her ex and live a peaceful existence with her dogs and her kids. Outside the comfortable homes of lovers, my feet would tread that earth of solitude and isolation. The warm fireplaces would not warm my flesh. The pillows would not support my head. The dinner tables not know my company. I knew in my heart this was the way it was destined to be. Some of us are just destined to be lone wanderers til’ the end of our days. It is written in who we are and visions of sharing our path with another soul will always remain as mere apparitions and daydreams as we stumble on alone through life’s wilderness. It was the way it was and I knew the sooner I come to terms with it, the more straightforward my life would be. 

One month later, I booked myself a ticket to a foreign country and prepared to hit the open road once again.

“Girl, I was always a bit of a solitary soul, but for a second there I saw this thing with you. To wake up on Sunday mornings with the light coming through the window. To caress the skin on your cheek as you smile with contentment. To know that I have another day by your side as my eyes open and for everything to be okay, if only for that day. I saw this thing with you. Some call it the normal life I guess. To stroll through parks hand in hand; to make love in an evening haze; to smell the scent on your neck and to not have to look anywhere else because all that I desire is there right in front of me. I saw this thing with you – this thing I now know is not gonna come. I have held you in my arms and because of that I have held happiness in my arms – that foreign thing, that strange concept. I would have given you everything of me. I would have thrown myself to your wolves, drowned myself in your sea, got lost in your forest. Yet we want different things; so it must be that we drift like ripples on the surface of water, and go separate ways. But you will always stay with me, like the other ghosts that linger inside me, those apparitions of happiness that haunt the hallways of my mind. Apparitions of something I can only see and not touch. Apparitions of another lover lost, another path not taken, another happiness not felt.”

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