Loss & Regret
Lana longs to maintain the memories before a terrible accident, but is overcome with guilt and regret, for that time and her choices after.
Do you ever look back on moments of your life, typically before it took a downward turn, and questioned whether your memories reflected reality? It’s easy to maintain this idyllic picture in your mind, as if what came before was sitting on the edge of perfection, before it was ripped away from you.
I don’t believe this is the case here. I truly do believe that in those hours before the fateful news, life was brighter. The blues of the sea were purer, the whites of the sand were sparkling, and the air was crisp. I sometimes close my eyes and try to recreate that feeling in a meditative state. I never want to not remember what that felt like.
We had been at dinner the evening before. The service was slow but we didn’t particularly care, as we’d had more than our fair share of cocktails, and we’d stumbled home giggling like schoolgirls. I recall tripping over the doormat as we entered our apartment, knocking over a mug that I’d forgotten to wash before leaving, giving Raef the opportunity to jokingly chastise me for my lack of domestic priorities.
Those were undeniably happier times. That kind of happiness feels lost forever, so I’ve tried to preserve it in my head. I read that your mind misremembers details every time you think of something, meaning that you lose a fraction every time you revisit it, but I try to keep it pristine in my thoughts.
I had been sat on the veranda overlooking the sea front when I got the call. I had toyed with the idea of going inside to get my glasses, as I thought I could see a ship on the horizon, but couldn’t make it out with my blurry eyed short-sightedness. I was too lethargic to move and was enjoying the warm breeze that only comes in the summertime.
I could hear my phone buzzing inside but knew that I would have missed it by the time I dragged myself up. I try not to torture myself with whether it would have changed anything had I gone inside. Of course, it would have scraped mere minutes off my speed of leaving the apartment, making little difference at all, but I still feel a stab of regret.
It can’t have been more than a minute or two before my phone buzzed once more, indicating a text message. If someone repeatedly calls you, then you know something is up. Someone calling you and then sending a text? They knew they could summarise it without conversation. I closed my eyes and was dancing with the temptation to fall into a slumber in my comfortable chair.
Buzz, buzz, buzz, my phone went again. Most unusual for this early in the day, I thought, and had a brief moment of panic that I was supposed to be in the office. I groaned as I got up, and shuffled my way into my trainers, not bothered enough to untie them to fit properly.
It took a second for me to piece together the display of my phone. First, a missed call from Rafe’s brother, who I barely knew at this point, followed by a text alert. Then a call from a landline number I didn’t recognise. Right there, I feel like I knew something was horribly amiss. My heart felt like it dropped within my chest and my mouth was dry. The text message confirmed why:
Lana. This is Chris, Raef’s brother, please call me ASAP. There’s been an accident. Get to the Royal Infirmary and call me on the way.
My head was in a blur, but my body was on autopilot. It wasn’t until I was frustratedly trying to tie my laces with shaking hands that I realised I was fully dressed already. I grabbed my keys and headed to the car, trying to get my Bluetooth headphones to connect so that I could call Chris. It occurred to me that I’d never had reason to speak to him on the phone one-on-one, which seems like an odd thought to have, now I look back.
Chris answered as I started the engine, and I realised that my throat was too dry to speak, which thankfully I didn’t need to.
“Lana. I’m glad you saw my message… it’s Raef. He was hit on his way to work… on his bike… someone drunk from the night before. Are you on the way to the hospital?”
“Err.. yes, I’m in the car” I said, as I stalled the car audibly in the background, suddenly feeling embarrassed like someone learning to drive in front of the bigger kids in school.
“Look, don’t worry, breathe and take your time”.
“No, no, I’m coming”. I snapped, as if taking his patience as an insult. “Is he… okay?”
“I don’t know. I’m on my way there. They wouldn’t tell me anything. Just… I don’t know… I’ll see you there”.
And with that, Chris hung up. I realise now that he was probably sharing my panic, but in that moment, I felt completely alone. I was fifteen minutes into my journey there without even realising and had to take a last-minute turn onto the slip-road to the hospital. The simple act of parking felt too much to handle, so I pulled up straight onto a well-maintained lawn and made a run for it.
A&E was filled with people, as always seems to be the case, all of whom are impatient and fed-up. The weird old British sensibility kicked in, and I found myself queuing to get to the reception desk. Looking back now, I’m astounded by the abandonment of my priorities, but I wasn’t thinking clearly.
My name was shouted out of the blue, as if permeating some kind of hazy bubble I was in. Chris was behind me, sweating and ruffled, having run from what was most likely an appropriately parked car.
“Screw this, we’re not queuing”, he grumbled, as he took my arm and dragged me to the front of the queue. “Raef Matthews?” He shouted at the Perspex separating us from the receptionist, who was looking over her glasses at us. “My brother, Raef, was brought in here. There was an accident. On the motorway, I think”.
This was the first time I’d had a clue of what may have happened. I had always begrudged Raef’s recklessness in purchasing a motorbike and began to feel like I’d jinxed him with my constant whining about safety.
The receptionist typed something into the system and said that someone would be with us shortly. I could tell that she was trying to get us out of earshot so that she could make a call. She was disguising the contents of the conversation in her single word responses to whoever was on the other end of the line.
I’ve watched many a medical drama in my time so I knew what the ‘Family Room’ meant. It meant that they had bad news that they didn’t want to deliver with an audience. I perched apprehensively on the threadbare sofa and, with shaking hands, accepted a glass of water from the now kind-eyed receptionist. The change in demeanour infuriated me, as she clearly knew something I didn’t.
Chris squeezed my leg reassuringly as we were told to wait for a doctor to come by. It didn’t feel uncomfortable, it felt like we were united.
A young doctor entered the room and coughed uncomfortably. I would guess from his age that he wasn’t experienced at this, but then again, who would be? It was then that we received the news I’d been dreading.
“I’m sorry to have to tell you this, I really am, but Mr Matthews passed away from irreversible injuries moments ago, from a road traffic accident. We really did do everything we could and –“. He said slowly and carefully.
I’d zoned out at this point. The entire world seemed to slip into a blur and I could hear my own thoughts, as if two characters were in conversation in my mind. I can’t tell how long I was like this, for by the time Chris touched my shoulder, the doctor was gone, and a blanket had been put around my shoulders.
“There’s so many people I need to call. His work… his work will want to know why he’s late!”, I exclaimed, as if it was the most important thing in the world.
“Come on, let’s take a walk”, Chris murmured, lifting me from the sofa. I could feel a quiver in his arm that suggested he was putting on a brave face for my benefit, just as Raef would have done. It felt crazy that you could be delivered this news and then sent on your way. It felt like we were leaving a shop… Not like we were leaving the hospital having lost a loved one seconds before.
I’d worked in that area and knew the roads like the back of my hand, yet I still can’t tell you where we went or for how long. It felt like years since I’d been sat on that veranda, looking out at the sea and the ship breaking the horizon, and thinking of that peace sent shudders of guilt through me. How dare I think of something tranquil while this was happening?
I sometimes feel that way now, when I think of earlier that morning, although I moved out of that apartment to avoid the memories. I like to keep the sounds and the smells in my head, to preserve the memory of the last time I felt like a normal person, but it frequently feels like torture.
This torment doesn’t even begin to touch on what I did next. It’s not good enough to excuse it as part of my grieving haze, and I don’t think I’ll ever forgive myself, but Chris was kind and I know he must feel the same way as I do now. That evening we got drunk, and not sitting around reminiscing drunk, but intentionally black-out hammered. He had called his parents and broke the news, but they wouldn’t be able to make it down to the coast until the next morning, so it felt like there was little else to do.
He had insisted, innocently, on taking me back to the flat. He could tell I wasn’t in any fit state to get myself home, plus I had no idea where I’d left my car. For all I knew, I’d parked miles away and ran to the hospital.
Raef and I had loved to host people and he’d built a tiki bar over a weekend, of which he was very proud. Chris and I made our way through the spirits, even though I knew I wasn’t good at mixing drinks, but right then I was up for anything that would get me obliterated. I didn’t care how hungover I was, because I knew nothing could be worse than the pain I would feel upon waking up with an empty bed.
Of course, an empty bed isn’t what I woke up with. What I woke up with was the brother of my recently deceased brother. A happily married husband and father-of-two. He was still asleep as I crept from my bed and threw on whatever clothes were nearby.
I slammed the front door furiously, intending to wake him up and prompt him to leave, to avoid any conversation about what had happened. I walked to the seafront in joggers and my slippers, feeling the stones permeating the threadbare soles, and looked out into the sea. There, ironically, I saw another ship on the horizon, and realised that I would never be able to look at one with the same intrigue and curiosity ever again.
About the author
Lover of writing without previously having a platform (or the confidence) to put it out into the world.
I write from experiences I've had and the people I've met.
I welcome any and all feedback!