I think about Laura every day. It's been just over six months but I still see her face whenever I close my eyes. It's true what they say; you really don't know what you've got until it's gone. I know I messed things up and I didn't treat her the way I should have. I know all that. And it's too late. But it doesn't mean I don't still love her.
There's a girl at work. She's not like any girl I've ever met before. She scares me. It's not that she's particularly scary- she just scares me, because she's nothing like Laura. She's attractive- but again, in a way that's completely different to Laura. She's funny, and she's friendly, but she's intense.
She wants something from me that I know I can't give her, because I gave that to Laura, and I haven't been able to get it back. I'm not sure I ever will. I made a mistake, because I got involved with this girl in a way I suppose I shouldn't have. We were both drunk and we ended up back at her house. It's not that I don't fancy her, because I do.
I'm only human, and on several occasions, I admit I've been weak and given in to my biological impulses. But that's all it is to me, as cold as it may seem- biology. I don't want a girlfriend. I only want Laura; but Laura doesn't want me.
Laura is—was—my best friend. I don't talk about her to anybody. She's too precious. I guess in a way I thought the girl at work would make me forget Laura, but it only reminded me how much I miss her, and that sucks.
"So, good weekend?"
This is the girl. She tries to speak to me sometimes, at work, although I sense like me, she is anxious. I wish that I didn't have to see her, because she makes me think about Laura, and I think about Laura enough as it is. I try to ignore her, but when you work in the same office as someone you're trying to avoid that's pretty much impossible. I don't look the girl in the face as I reply.
"Yeah...." She trails off. I'm not being fair, I know. I'm making it very difficult for her to speak to me, and I'm doing it on purpose because it's too painful. I wish she was Laura. I wish every girl I speak to was Laura. The girl looks at me a moment longer before putting her mug down in the sink and leaving the kitchen. I stand against the draining board feeling like a bit of a wanker but quickly suppress it before making my way back to my desk. At least I sit with my back to her, so I don't have to look at her when I'm working.
"I don't love you anymore."
I hear that voice, that sentence, in my head at least once a day. I want to gouge that memory out with a blunt instrument. I'm fucking sick of it. Every time I hear her say those words it sounds so painfully real I sometimes have to look round the room to see if anybody else has heard it.
I'm back there, in Birmingham, in that hotel room and I'm looking down at my shoes, noticing the tiny hole in the right toe for the first time, and suddenly I'm acutely aware of my watch ticking, and the air feels so thick that I'm choking. I can't speak, and all I can hear is those five words reverberating around my skull like a pinball, those five words that destroyed everything.
The first time I went to this girl's house, I made dinner for her. It was my idea, and if you ask me why I suggested it I still couldn't tell you. I suppose I asked her because I like the way she looks, and I knew she was a sure thing.
Which yes, is wrong of me, but I'm a man. I didn't have any profound feelings towards her beyond the fact that we have things in common and were sexually attracted to one another. Life is all about opportunities. I'm not stupid; I knew it was never going to be like it was with Laura but she was a distraction for me.
It's a cliché and I hate cliché but she was a rebound. I'd been dumped and my ego was bruised—actually, scratch that—it was fucking mutilated. Then she showed an interest in me and I was sucked in. Sucked off, if you want to be crass. I keep telling you, I'm a man, this is what men are like. We are fucking despicable bastards.
We're only out for what we can get. Women say this about us, facetiously, but they don't know how right they are. I'm vile, and I know it. But it's my nature, it's our nature as the male species. We like sex, and we want it whenever we can get it, whoever we can get it from. It's cathartic. And for those minutes when we're engaged in the act of sexual intercourse with a woman we forget everything, it's like being on smack, we feel nothing but intense waves of pleasure coursing through every vein in our bodies, an elation that can only be matched by....well, smack, I imagine.
Laura broke my heart, Laura, Laura, Laura. She was the first woman to really reach inside me and hold it in her hands, before closing her fist around it and crushing it until it shattered into infinite fragments, sharper than glass.
I gave everything to Laura. She saw inside my soul. I can't take that back. She's moved on and she takes that with her. I feel naked. I feel exposed. I feel humiliated and angry. I want to ask her what right she has to end what we had, to take everything away from me. I want to hurt her. I want to make her feel what she made me feel in that hotel room. It was Valentine's Day.
Fucking Valentine's Day. I was exhausted after driving down the M6 and I'd paid way over the odds for the hire car. I took her to a play, for fuck's sake. We had dinner. We had cocktails. I had missed her—Christ I had missed her. Just to touch her skin was like receiving an electric shock that tingled all over my body. But when she kissed me I knew something wasn't right. And when she told me. Oh, when she told me.
"What.....what do you mean...?"
My response was barely audible.
"A few months. Since Christmas. We hardly see each other-"
"- You live in fucking Birmingham!"
"I know." She looked shy. "But you've moved back home, and-"
"I had to. I had nowhere else to go. Fucking hell Laura."
"I'm really sorry Phil."
"Fucking hell. So this is it? Really?"
"I just....I've got so much on at the moment, my PGCE, and it's so far from Lancaster...."
"I don't know what you want me to say."
"I thought you loved me. I thought that was the most important thing."
A pause. Then that sentence.That fucking sentence.What a fucking idiot. Why did I think that I could move back here, and still keep her? I should have stayed in Leicester. I wish I could have. But who wants an archaeologist in Leicester, when they've got more than enough experienced archaeologists already saturating the market looking at fucking Richard the Third? Who wants to talk about Roman archaeology there?
It's all about him. I'm just another exile, a nomad wandering free from the constraints of educational institutionalization, with dreams beyond my station. I dream of digging in the dirt on my hands and knees making groundbreaking historical discoveries, having been credited in various archaeological literature, being credited in national and international museums for artefacts I've uncovered.
It's a big dream, I'll admit it. But that's all it is, at least for now. For now, the only things I'm discovering are the shambolic administrative processes deployed by the modern university's bureaucratic system. I'm earning money so I shouldn't turn my nose up at it, but I'm dissatisfied, like so many other graduates today. It's not a personal injustice, I accept that, but it doesn't mean it grates on me any less.
Laura. Oh, Laura. If only I could tell you, that you're the first person I think about when I wake up in the morning, and the last person I think about when I go to sleep at night. You're the person I think about constantly, at least fifty times every day. It doesn't matter what I'm doing, what I'm saying or where I am. You're burnt into my brain. You're the residual image from a flash photograph. You're the magic eye image I only see when it's too late. You're the piece of the puzzle I add to a jigsaw so it all makes sense. You're the language only you and I can speak. You know me like no other, and like no other will ever know me ever again. You're you, and you're everything- you're all I want. I wish you could see this, but I'm too cowardly to show it to you. You have a new life now and I have to accept it.
You sent me an email, in July, before I went to Portugal:
Dear Phil,How are you? I hope you are okay. I know you're going to Portugal soon on an archaeology thing- I hope you enjoy it. I wish we could keep in touch, but I know it's been hard for you. I understand if you don't think we should stay in touch. Things are going well with my PGCE- I should be a qualified teacher soon. I'm really excited. I hope things are going well for you. I still care about you.Love, Laura x
I didn't know where to begin. Laura. Why did you contact me? It's okay for you—you ended it, you're at peace. You don't know what it's like to feel short-changed. I feel inadequate. I'm working in admin and you're qualifying as a teacher. You're the success story I always knew you would turn out to be. And I'm proud of you. I'm really, really proud of you. But I'm not sure that means anything to you anymore.