Today's another day of my wretched life. It's a frosty autumn afternoon in 1996, and I'm standing here at Bishophill Cemetery, gazing down at a Rustic Style Tablet Tombstone. The colours around me are darker, browns and purples mostly, warm patchwork quilt hugging the hillsides, repudiating the chill yet to come. To anybody else the beautiful tranquil nature would radiate a warm comforting feeling in them, but to me it emits a feeling of remoteness and melancholy. Peering at the sea of satin flowers, blue violets and apple blossoms, I am lost in deep contemplation about my beloved fiancée. She meant the world to me, but it's impossible to carry on when the events of her death circulate in my conscience like the scenes of a disturbing horror movie. Though it has been a full year since her tragic loss, each day has become increasingly unbearable. It is said that time heals an individual's bad memories, but in my world that ideology seems non existent. With each new day, my thoughts are met with added turbulence; they remain ceaselessly haunted by the past.
It was a morning like every other; a morning of doom and gloom. We would be arguing in the car like a couple of immature teenagers. Annoyed, I would make matters worse by pointing out how insecure, paranoid and distrustful Jessica was for kicking off these petty quarrels. You could never win an argument with a stubborn, over talkative woman like Jessica; her way of arguing was screaming and shouting until one's eardrums would burst. And opening my mouth to contradict her views or playing mind games with her to gain the upper hand, would just backfire. As she approached five months into her pregnancy, her stress levels and emotions were spiralling out of control, making her argumentative nature more prevalent. The bickering began ever since I was stupid enough to have been caught kissing the office supervisor Lauren; a brainless moment sparked by a few glasses of strong red wine we had drank for her twenty forth birthday. It only happened on one occasion which I know is not acceptable, but what had followed was wholly unacceptable; rumours soon spread that we were having a secret love affair for months. Who was spreading these rumours? Didn't this sad jealous low life have anything better to do than interfere in my love life? Before the insignificant kiss with Lauren, somebody at work must have planted a random hotel bill in my inside coat pocket and as expected, all hell broke loose when Jessica discovered it. How low does this scumbag have to stoop to do such a thing? Did this person just happen to call Jessica into work when I would be working overtime with Lauren on Wednesdays?
Whatever information was reaching Jessica had turned her abnormally paranoid and emotionally cold. It's not like everything ran smoothly in our relationship before the Lauren incident, because like every average couple we encountered occasional disagreements, however, ever since Jessica witnessed the kiss and heard ridiculous rumours, her sweet sincere love for me quickly turned sour. From thereafter her bad tempered mood swings became more recurrent; every minute with her felt high-voltage and quite dangerous.
It's hard to believe things had gone so downhill between us, because in the good old days our relationship seemed like it was blossoming everyday. It sounds cliché but it felt like we were the two main characters in a Hollywood romantic film; our first meeting producing the same spark felt by the hero and heroine in their first encounter. The day we met at Glaziers Hall is one that remains etched in my memory; it feels like only yesterday. My best friend Ricky had invited me to his cousin's wedding party which I somehow ended up agreeing to after my plans to attend a boxing event got cancelled. Dressing up for that wedding party was a drag, especially since I had to squeeze into a small white shirt, much to the amusement of Ricky. Nonetheless, I was delighted that I had tagged along because the venue was breathtaking; it sizzled with youthful gusto, in the shape of elegant, sophisticated young women. They had patrician accents, outstanding composure and unusually long legs. It wasn't your traditional wedding party where the odd woman in her late thirties stumbled around drunk, exposing indecent amounts of cleavage; everybody appeared smart and dignified.
From looking around, the one thing which had stood out more than anything was the aqua blue dress tightly wrapped around Jessica's curvaceous body. It was not only what she was wearing, but the way she pulled it off, and the angle of the long ivory neck, so delicately carved, the strands of her perfectly straightened brown hair and the depth of the amazing hazel eyes which sparkled brightly like her diamond earrings. It must have been around half nine, and I'd wasted the majority of that evening considering a hundred potential ways to go and approach her. The amount of time I had been sneakily staring at Jessica was enough time to draw a picture perfect portrait of her. If only it was a couple's portrait with our heads leaning against one another I had thought, a jovial smile painted across my face.
Although I had thought there'd be about a ninety percent probability Jessica would turn me away, I somehow plucked up the courage to sit beside her, because it's better to know your fate as opposed to losing sleep wondering 'what if.' Realising exactly what my intentions were, Ricky gave me a cheeky grin before pouring himself another shot of Jack Daniels. I had casually sat alongside Jessica, and waited a few seconds before tapping her arm to initiate conversation. Without turning around, she let out a deep sigh of frustration and seemed ready to give me my marching orders, much to my disappointment. Her mood was rotten because she had misplaced a silver necklace her late grandma had given her; a necklace I would later give her as a birthday present. After spending a couple of minutes sympathising with her lost necklace, there was an instant spark between us, her face filling with exuberance as we continually flirted. I wittily ridiculed her simple dance moves, and carried on teasing her about her aristocratic ways, while she made fun of my tight shirt. The second she smiled into my eyes with that lopsided grin was the moment it became believable that she was half interested. Absorbed completely by her posh voice, it had seemed as though it was just the two of us in that crowded hall.
"Let's go home, I'm feeling sick.
"I want to go home."
"Hurry up please, and let's go!"
Ricky, who was completely wasted at this point, had apparently sent me several text messages and missed calls expressing his desire to leave, if the annoyance in his texts was any indication. The world around me came back into razor-sharp focus the second I read Ricky's texts and caught a glimpse at his intoxicated state; he was sat with his head hanging to one side like a boxer badly beaten after a gruelling fifteen round brawl. So with Ricky in mind, I had hurriedly requested Jessica's number, which after some deliberation she gave. And the rest as they say is history.
In those days everything seemed kind of complete; I had a decent well-paid job, kind reliable friends and a beautiful intelligent girlfriend with whom I would invest a new house and share all my innermost secrets, feelings, and experiences with. Maybe it was all too good to be true? Maybe fate was biding its time until it would transport me back into the real world; a place of struggle, discontent and constant money concerns. Maybe people had recognised how good we were for each other that they couldn't stomach our happiness, and financial success? Ever since that jealous, pathetic excuse of a human being had tried to jeopardise our relationship, all these questions had begun to congest my thoughts, plaguing my mind with exasperation and paranoia.
These questions had seriously intensified my stress levels, but on that particular morning they didn't really bear thinking about because Jessica was driving to work quite recklessly without a seatbelt on; she claimed that in her pregnant state, the seatbelt irritated her whilst driving. Therefore, more importantly, I had to focus on calming matters down or get her to pull the car over to resolve our dispute. The fury on her face was evident; she was hazardously cutting corners of the road in third gear cursing and swearing. Stamping my authority, I had shouted at her, incensed, "Do you want to die?"
"Yes! Anything's better than to have lived the past few years based on a lie" That she was particularly livid was quite noticeable as she was struggling hard to contain her emotions. Jessica had serious trust issues from her previous marriage because the ex husband had strung her along for several months with two other mistresses. After a year into our relationship, and with no great surprise, Jessica became very possessive of me, arguing and moping on any occasion I arrived home late from work. She was expecting a baby soon and wanted me to take days off work to be alongside her. Over breakfast that morning, for example, she even mapped out the next few months, counting the days until the birth, her tongue held tight in her teeth when she focused, being let loose only when she felt a slight kick or pain in her stomach.
That morning we had had one of those repetitive strain arguments in which Jessica did a lot of repetition and I took the strain. The argument heated up as we merged onto the dual carriageway; the deafening tone of her voice reached a whole new high and had inflicted shooting pains in my brain.
"I should have noticed you're just a seedy cheat like my ex husband," she said with a grimace.
"Baby listen, have you ever heard of dark jealousy? Somebody's got it in for us because I've never had a secret affair with anyone. Honest."
"Give me a break; I've heard all the nonsense before. The hotel bill in your jacket, the late nights at work; it all adds up. Plus it's easy to establish when you're lying; your voice starts to develop a nervous edge to it."
"Well that's because I'm concerned you're not fully concentrating on the road! I have no idea who put that hotel bill there. I've never bloody been there." My anger had begun to surface.
"Whatever! I know you slept with her. It probably would've been better if we never met at that stupid wedding party," she yelled, a clear look of annoyance on her face as she tried to reassert some authority.
That was the last straw and I lashed out at her with a death wish, "Oh my god, how many more times do you want me to tell you I'm not having an affair? Just get it into your thick skull and slow down. If you want to die, go jump of a cliff or poison yourself! Why kill me?" I was peeved.
That was unquestionably the harshest thing I'd said to her in a long time; one I'd live to regret forever. Upon hearing this, her attention immediately shifted from the windshield in shock. By darting a sudden glance at me, she lost control of the wheel, and the car smashed into the side rails of the motorway. Shattering sounds of metal pierced my ears as we collided with an array of oncoming traffic. Just when I thought all substantial damage had been done, a large vehicle struck into us with immense force. The impact was so great that it had knocked us both unconscious.
I was first to regain consciousness, the first to endure the agonising pain caused by such an impact. Terrified, I had managed to turn my head over to Jessica with every ounce of strength. All those times Jessica drove without a seatbelt proved to be very costly on this occasion. She was still lying motionless, bleeding heavily from her forehead.
"No...!" was the cry that came out my mouth, along with a pool of blood. I was cut in several places as blood trickled down my left cheek. Knowing that my arm was almost certainly broken, I had still somehow lifted it up to feel for Jessica's pulse. The realisation dawned on me that she as well as the baby may have died. Hearing the sound of sirens, I flopped back into my seat and everything momentarily blacked out.
When my eyes slowly reopened, I had found myself lying on an uncomfortable hospital bed with a bandaged arm; pains were shooting through my left shoulder, now at short periods. The first thing that came to my mind was Jessica's whereabouts. I had wished for a miracle to happen, praying that the next woman to walk into the room was her. She would run up to my bedside, embrace me lovingly, and everything would return back to normal.
"Please God, let her be in good health." My heart was in my mouth with fear. Trying desperately to lift myself up from the bed, the nurse heard my slight whimper of pain, and rushed over to me. "Don't try to get up; you need to rest sir. You're not in a good condition to go anywhere."
"I'm fine, where's my fiancée Jessica. Is she alright? I need to see her," I requested frantically.
"She's is in the middle of an operation on the third floor. You'll get to see her in a little while. Please remain in your bed sir."
Going against her medical advice, I had gingerly got up from the bed and headed for the third floor. The nurse tried to offer me assistance, but once again I bended the truth by stating that my condition was okay. I couldn't wait another second to be near Jessica. What sort of state would she be in? The walk towards the operation room is still fresh in my mind; a feeling of dread had swept over me. I felt as though my heart was telling me that Jessica was leaving this world, and with that dispiriting thought, my heart had begun to pound uncontrollably. Just like a terrified, abandoned child locked away in a dark empty room, trembling in the formidable, ghostly atmosphere. Walking across the dim lengthy hallway to reach the elevator felt like an eternity. When I had eventually got there, I frenetically jabbed at the silver button, waiting for the door to open, but to my distress, nothing appeared to be happening. Aggravated, I decided to take the stairs to the third floor.
An extended flight of stairs led up; long, white, and shining. Incandescent white stairs leading up to the white rooms upstairs bathed in light. Looking up at the long staircase, I had thought it would be difficult for me to manage it; I couldn't have climbed those steps in my condition, but knowing Jessica was up there was all the strength I needed. Hurriedly, I began climbing the stairs, step by step, holding the handrail, making sure I concentrated on my foot coordination with every step. The stairs, broad, white and shining, led to the white room upstairs, light was up there, where Jessica was. The aches and pains throughout my body had begun to worsen. After a few steps up, the pain became more recurrent and uncomfortable, through my upper spine, left arm and knees. Cold tremors ran down my entire body, drops of perspiration covered my forehead. With a small white tissue, I wiped the beads of sweat off my face. "She's going to be fine", I muttered from under my breath, hoping for the best.
In truth, I feared the worst; her face was so pale after the car crash, and the chances of the baby surviving in her pregnant state were more unlikely. All this had happened because I had lost my temper in the car. Demons of guilt were screaming inside of me, taunting me, reminding me of those malicious words I had shouted at her. As I walked over to the desk to enquire about Jessica's room number, it felt as though I was walking on burning hot sands without shoes in a nightmare.
"Jessica's in a critical condition. We'll bring you news as soon as the operations over, but meanwhile you'll have to wait outside," a nurse said, a solemn look on her face. Not wanting to hear the details of her brutal injuries, I slumped down onto a lonely bench in the waiting area, praying everything would be well...she had looked so stationary in the car when blood was running down her face. So badly injured, she probably didn't have any strength remaining; she must have been suffering unbearably. Pain had gripped my heart as I sat there waiting, impatiently. Thoughts of us lying on the couch, cuddled up together at night watching TV ran through my mind. "You're going to be a fantastic father" she used to say to me at these times, smiling prettily. Now she was in that emergency room, fighting death.
Occasionally I got up and stood by the closed door, possessed by a type of madness, pacing up and down; then returning to the bench where I sat fidgeting, restively. I stared into the empty space with dark distended eyes that saw nothing. By my ears strained hard to hear that door open. When it eventually did, Ricky had appeared simultaneously, rushing over to my side. Before the doctor had a chance to come out of the door, I walked into the emergency room. Everybody's eyes panned onto my face; the writing was on the wall. The doctor walked over to me in his stained green gown, and after some hesitation said, "I'm sorry." Seeing Jessica lying there covered in a white blanket caused all the energy sap out of my body; my legs had begun to tremble and I found it hard to stand on my own two feet. Ricky was also left speechless; his face was the embodiment of a man in complete shock. He tried to comfort me, but this was only the beginning of my mental torture.
I stand here now, looking down at Jessica's tombstone. A solitary tear trickles down my left cheek, landing on my upper lip, irritating me, bringing my thoughts back to reality; a miserable reality spent reliving guilty memories. As I move a couple of inches closer to place her favourite flowers on the grave, a rush of blood saps through my veins. Without her there doesn't seem like a meaning to life anymore; all my happiness has been stripped away. The strong wind ferociously roars across the sky, but I don't feel anything. My inner self feels like it has turned into an empty dome, with harrowing darkness, and no doors or windows for any light to shine through. Everything seems lifeless apart from my heart which is burning in flames.
"Bobby... Are you all right," a familiar female voice murmurs from alongside me.
My eyes spring open. I see a blur of red from the corner of my eye and instantly recognise it as Lauren's red coat. I gradually turn my head to look at her and see an anxious face gaping back at me. Her eyes are so wide open; one could have glanced right into her soul. Only she could have known I'd be here; I had told her about visiting Jessica's grave on our anniversary. Though she wasn't aware of the exact date, she probably noticed my disconsolate mood at work today and put the two pieces of the puzzle together.
Realising the extent of my distress, Lauren takes me back to her place. She tries to console me, but that uptight facial expression tells me she's worried by my negative body language. She puts her arm around my shoulder, and thinks carefully before saying, "If you ever need to talk about anything, "I'm here for you." Not wanting her to bother herself, I continue to sit in total silence; my thoughts once again wandering off into the wilderness. Disconcerting suicidal images of holding a gun to my head run through my mind, but I soon disregard them because to kill oneself is to plunge into the fiery pits of hell, and take the cowardly way out. Excessive bereavement is causing these ominous visions to appear in my mindset. In the many stages of bereavement it becomes difficult to feel in touch with reality as the mind naturally goes into a state of numbness. When a partner passes away, it is alleged that the joyful memories are everlasting, even if they are touched up by a falsely bright light; yet when you're partially responsible for that innocent death, every joyful memory becomes threatened, and the good times can quickly blacken overnight. In such circumstances it is easy to side with the devil and carry out acts of irrationality and insanity.
Several minutes pass and the cup of tea Lauren prepared has turned cold.
"If only that bastard never existed, none of this would have happened. I loved Jessica so much." My voice was brimming with loathing
"What are you talking about," Lauren inquires with a hint of nervousness.
"Look Bobby, you can't carry on living in the past. I know it's extremely hard for you to move on considering what's happened, but sometimes the best thing to do is just take each day as it comes."
"What's the point anymore? It's impossible to move on because none of this would have happened, if I had just kept my mouth shut!" My head sinks into despair.
Looking completely bewildered and alarmed, Lauren asks, "Huh, what do you mean? What happened?"
"I mean...some jealous scumbag cleverly tried to plot my downfall with Jessica. This person spread lies about a love affair going on between me and you. When Jessica bought up the issue in the car again for the hundredth time, I aggressively swore at her, causing her to lose concentration of the wheel." Upon hearing this, Lauren's face goes pale; the red colour in her cheeks turns white; a look of anxiety and guiltiness is slapped across her face. She hastily walks out the room, crying.