Thursday, August 20, 2009

Perception of reality

In late 2005, shortly after arriving at Girton College to begin my undergraduate course in Engineering, I met a young lady who would change my life forever. She was tall; she was slender; she was a stunning brunette; she was intelligent; she was witty. She was the most wonderful woman I had ever met.

She was also quite shy, which meant it took a long time -- months -- for me to win her trust. We chatted online most days of the Christmas vacation, and in the Lent term we drank late night cocoa together while commiserating about the length and difficulty of our examples papers. Just after Easter in our first year at Cambridge, we began going out. It was the 17th April 2006, and it was the happiest day of my life.

We had a wonderful time together. I remember one evening in June 2006, after finishing our exams, we packed a dinner of boiled eggs, rocket, cheshire cheese and crusty brown bread, cycled into the fens to the north of Cambridge and enjoyed a relaxing picnic on the verge outside the Queensholme Bloodstock Stables near Willingham. I remember her laughing as she snapped a photograph of a big green caterpillar crawling around in the grass near her lap.

I remember my 21st birthday, at her house in the Alps, with a delicious carrot cake and beautiful, hot continental weather to travel up a funicular railway and enjoy a meal overlooking the mountain lakes.

I remember a second year in Cambridge, living next door to each other on a corridor of our friends at Girton's Wolfson Court. I remember fondue evenings followed by games of Mario Kart 64 in my room, with people sitting on the bed and huddled on the floor to gather round and watch. She always won, no matter how hard we tried! I remember visiting her home again -- this time at the New Year -- and travelling far into the highest mountains to find a resort with ski-able snow. I remember carrying her new kayak to the river on her 20th birthday in the pouring rain, and watching the fireworks with her at the First and Third Trinity May Ball.

I asked her to marry me, and she said, "Yes." We went to a jeweller together, and together we decided to have a beautiful ring made to order: a sapphire flanked by two smaller diamonds. It was the second happiest day of my life.

At College again in our third year, we lived next door to each other again. I remember my happiness and her joy as I watched her win all of her kayaking varsity events, and I remember her endless months of struggling with mountains of horrendous maths problems. I remember punting on the Cam, our finals behind us, and not a care in the world. I remember her graduation, and looked forward to her being there at mine.

But then things changed. In September 2008 she went to York, to do a PGCE in secondary mathematics, while I remained in Cambridge, plugging away at the final year of my MEng. And suddenly it was not "we" who told the story any more, it was "she" and "I." I dutifully dragged her bicycle and her clothes and her books up to York on the train, longing to spend as much time as I could with the one I love. She seemed unwilling to make the time to come down from York to visit me, and when she came seemed to wish she hadn't. When I was there, it was as if she resented my presence, as if I was intruding into her privacy. Something had changed, and I was bewildered and confused.

She spoke to me less and less on the telephone, and never seemed to want to chat with me online. I was distraught. "What is going wrong?" I wondered. "Was it something I have done? Was it something I didn't do?" Yet I loved her still, with all my heart, and arranged a surprise visit to her in York. It was a cold night in March, but she was icy. It seemed like the relationship I cherished as much as life itself was hanging by a tenterhook.

The final examinations of my MEng began on the 17th April 2009, and it was on the 19th April I received the letter that I had expected but which I hoped would never come. Just over three years after our relationship had begun, it was over. It was the worst day of my life.

That was four months ago, and now she is with a new man, or at least, that is what her Facebook status says. Four devastating months, in which my life has crumbled to pieces around my ears as if struck by a tsunami; not only my future, but my past as well.

I looked forward to marrying her, starting a household together and eventually starting a family together, and now that will never happen. All my hopes, all my dreams are the wreckage of jagged splinters left after the box of Christmas baubles is hurled down the stairs. My heart is a broken mess of mingled sorrow, love, jealousy and anger.

But worse, I find myself doubting whether the way I saw things was in fact the way they really were. Towards the end of the relationship, I was fooling myself when I told myself that she loved me and that this was just a hiccough that could be put right by showing her that I loved her. But for how long? How long did she hide the way she felt about me? Did she do it out of some misplaced wish to avoid "hurting my feelings," or because she was afraid of how I might react? What did I do, or not do, or what about me was it that drove her away from me? Is the truth of the matter that I was too devoted, too trusting?

I fear -- I so dreadfully fear -- that even when our friends were sending us cards to congratulate us on our engagement, even then she was doubting whether I was the man for her, and she didn't tell me. And that would mean that, for more than a year and half of my life, the reality I perceived did not exist. I was living in a dream world.

How I wish, how I so terribly desire for that dream world to be real. Because, at the same time as I continue to love her wholly, I know now that we will never -- can never -- be together again. She has changed my life forever; but I hadn't expected it to be like this.

My days are swifter than a weaver's shuttle, and are spent without hope.

--Job 7:6

3 comments:

Stephanie J said...

Hi Peter,

I came across your blog just now by accident and found myself really engrossed in what you've been writing in this blog entry.

I felt compelled to say that I've experienced the same sort of thing that you've gone through and wanted to thank you for writing so honestly here.

Steph x

Peter said...

Hey Steph,

I think that this sort of thing happens a lot, and in real life it's very different to the way it's often portrayed in books and films.

Someone needs to talk about how it feels.

Peter

Dani Colman said...

I wondered what had happened - I noticed your Facebook didn't have any relationship information on it any more. I can't say that I know what you've been through, but I can say that you have my love and my support, and I hope - I know - things will get better for you. Keep your chin up: it's the only way to see the stars.

Love Dani