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Every day, in imperceptibly tiny ways, I become someone he never knew

Life is changing every moment of every day, says Ella Risbridger. And it makes the death of a loved one all the more present

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By Ella Risbridger on

There is a brand-new timetable for trains through London and the south-west. Did you know?

You’ll know, of course, if you take the train regularly; you’ll know because there’s a recorded announcement that tells you so at every stop. The man says, “Times are changing! Times are changing!” He has a nice voice. The bass reverberates through the tinny train speakers. He tells you to go online to check what times your new trains will be, from this station to that. Then he says, “Times are changing!” again, and he’s gone.

And you sit there – listening to the sound of wheels clicking over rails and two foreign-exchange students arguing over whether Bermondsey is the same as Borough and whether either might be near Bristol – and all you can hear on a loop in your head is: “Times are changing! Times are changing!”

Because they are. That, after all, is what times do. They change, as everything changes; life is all change, all the time. A blade of grass pushes its way through the tarmac on the corner of the street. You sign a contract for a new job. You fall in love, or go on holiday, or order something different at the coffee shop. One coffee shop closes. Another one opens. You move house. Get a new phone. Do something different with your hair. The train that used to go at half past now goes at twenty-five to. Everything is always changing.

And that’s why I’m sitting here, with the South West Trains spokesman on a loop inside my head, because times are changing – because life is change – and the person I loved most is still dead.

Operative word here, obviously, being “still” – nothing moves, nor changes, for the dead, at least not in my belief system. The world, as far as he was concerned, ended about six weeks ago. But ours goes on without him and this is unbelievable to me.

My best friend moved house last week and it struck me, as I helped her carry boxes to the recycling, that that was the last one gone: the last house where he would have known where to find us. I’ve moved, since he got sick. We’ve all moved. My phone number is different. I’ve deactivated my Twitter. Right now, I’m nowhere he’d think to look for me – I’m in a café in Paris and he has got absolutely no idea.

(He couldn’t find me if he tried, which he won’t, because he’s dead.)

The world, as far as he was concerned, ended about six weeks ago. But ours goes on without him, and this is unbelievable to me

Oh, don’t talk to me about ghosts or an afterlife; I don’t care if he’s watching me from a cloud or hovering somewhere above my left shoulder hoping I’ll get it together in time to finish this piece. I don’t get any comfort (at least, not today) from the idea of being haunted by some incorporeal and/or angelic form of the person formerly known as my boyfriend.

(He was the most corporeal and least angelic person I have ever met.)

I don’t care about anything, except that he hasn’t texted me in weeks and weeks. I am wounded that he doesn’t seem to care about the new projects I’m working on; furious that he doesn’t even seem to care about the exciting things our friends are doing; baffled and hurt that he hasn’t even said a word about my new T-shirt with the Point Horror print. He hasn’t even said anything dismissive or cutting about my enormous new hoop earrings. He hates hoop earrings. He especially would hate these – turquoise enamel the size of a baby’s fist. And yet – inexplicably – he’s said nothing. Nothing!

And you, of course, reading this at home, are thinking: “Of course he’s said nothing; he’s dead, and she, poor thing, is deluded.”

I’m not deluded. I know that he’s dead. There’s a reason I’ve made myself write it four times in the preceding paragraphs. I’m not in denial.

But the fact of his death is less a constant presence than a constant series of presences; a constant series of small revelations, every hour, every minute, every second. Every new project; every new T-shirt; every time the new turquoise hoops catch in my hair and tug insistently at my earlobes, it’s astounding to me again that he still isn’t here. These are the small reminders that we get further and further from the world he was a part of; the world in which he was mine and I was his and that was as complicated as it got. Every day, in imperceptibly tiny ways, I become someone he never knew. How will this be in six months, a year, a decade? Who will I be then? Who could I possibly be without him? How will he know how to find me? What am I even asking?

I am accustomed in these articles to try and find a solution to the questions I catch myself posing. I don’t have the solutions any more. The more I read, the less I believe that anybody does.

This is not an advice column. This used to be a column to try to help people, but I don’t think I can help anyone now. So, why write, then? I’m writing, I suppose, for the same reason I’ve been writing since I was 17: for him, of course.

I’m writing to say to the person I loved – whether ghostly or angelic or plain old non-existent – that this is what it is like here without you.  

I thought, when he died, that it would feel like an ending. In that – as in so many things – I was incorrect; death is not the end, and that’s the whole bloody problem. Death (or rather life) is just one more thing after another, and I am inexplicably still alive, taking the train onwards, further and further away, and my new turquoise hoop earrings are swaying slightly in the inevitable incremental movement of the carriages along the tracks.


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