Odyssey, Pt. 7


On the third of January 2006, I came home from work to find SG in what would be the finale in a long line of sulks. On pressing what was wrong, she told me she thought we should split up. We’d been together seven years. We’d shared this house in Calmore since September.

It had been less than a year since the death of my mum. When one of the worst possible things in your life happens to you, the premature loss of a loved one over an excruciatingly slow and painful period of time, things change in you. I am not saying I am over it, because I don’t think I ever will be, but getting through this had changed something in me. Hardness and perspective. I felt like I’d been battered into some of other form. If I could get through that

I decided to go quietly. There was no sense in friction as this had been coming for a while. I can’t say I wasn’t upset, because this had been half of my twenties seemingly down the drain, but deep down, I didn’t truly see it that way.

I was good friends with my colleague Nick by this time, and short term he let me stay at his digs in town just a street off from Bedford Place. Nick, on his good days, always knew what to do. He took me out to lunch and we had some chips and a pint as I lamented things. Just then, Coldplay’s ‘Fix You’ came on the jukebox, and we both burst out laughing, because it reminded us of this:

Nick, It turned out, would have to vacate his current place as the landlord decided to renovate and/or sell up (I don’t remember the details). We would look for a place together.

There was a friend on the Eastern side of the Itchen River Nick wanted to be close to. We looked at one or two places, but this whole area was Mordor to me, I didn’t like it, too far out, involved a bridge, and orcs (probably). I wanted to be close to Work and the city. We eventually settled on a little rental on Avenue Rd, a very short distance from my last house with the gang on Middle St. SO14 had pulled me back in.

All but two of my addresses up to this time were in that same square mile. I can’t explain why, and there would be two more during my time in Southampton.

The snag was, this place would not be available until February 15th. I would be at the house in Calmore until that time, and we’d just have to deal with it. Six weeks. It sounds awful, but actually it wasn’t bad, SG was out frequently with her mates and the bloke she didn’t know that I knew she was seeing. I didn’t particularly mind. What difference does it make? She would be out on holiday for a week during the day of the move.

I was getting on with my HNC and completed the first module, and was surprised how well I took to the academic side. I found I could sit down and sweat out study for hours on end if I needed to, which was revelatory to me.

Moving day came around, and Nick recruited his cousin George (I had a lot of time for George) and a Sprinter van from SixT (why do I remember this shit?). I realized I actually owned very, very little, which made things easy. It was about an eight mile shuttle between Calmore and the new place, and we did it in one trip. We did not, however, have room for my bicycle, a Halfords heavy old thing which had kept me sane in Calmore. I decided to leave it and collect it later (editor’s note: never). I’d also left my ironing board, which would be returned to me during a puzzling reunion with SG a bit later.

We emptied the van and headed to Nick’s, and after collecting what I estimate was about 300 tonnes of comics and the rest of Nick’s stuff, slammed the van door shut and headed to Avenue Road.

That evening, I remember looking out just after sundown at the melancholy blue light on the dusty roofs of the houses opposite, and having this sinking feeling of starting all over again, back here in that same square mile, like a giant fucking loser. It was odd and left me feeling quite low. The mood was gone by morning, and never came back.

80 Avenue Road was a small, two bedroom house with a garden. I was sharing it with Nick and his Dalmatian, Anya. I came to absolutely adore that dog, she was such a character. The house was unfurnished, we had very little stuff, and this minimalist setup (front room was a TV and futon) would remain for the duration. I even had to buy a bed, but I had my desk, shelves, and a basic chest of drawers. I made it work. Money was still tight at this time, and living in the city meant much higher rent, but the tradeoff would be worth it.

Nick, from his time managing the local comics destination, seemed to know half of Southampton. I met an incredible number of people through his network of acquaintances and the Friday evenings in Goblets (long gone, sadly) were a highlight for me.

About two weeks after moving in, I got a cryptic text message from my ex SG, telling me she needed to meet in person for some very important news. I had a brief moment of panic wondering if she was pregnant (it was possible), as did Nick, whom I had of course immediately shared the text with.

It turned out the purpose of the meeting was twofold: Firstly, I needed to know she had met someone – she considered it important because she believed that I thought it possible we could get back together, oh, and here’s your ironing board. Okay.

None of it was anything I didn’t already know, I was completely over it by this point. There is obviously more to all of this – there always is – but my dad told me once that it doesn’t do to dwell on these things, so I took his advice and moved on. I wished her luck and asked that I be allowed to get on with my life, no more texts, chats, or any of that. And that was that. I would never see her again.

I have nothing but good memories of Spring in that house. Carefree sunny days, dog walks on Southampton’s spacious common, sitting in the garden on the rickety lawn chairs. I don’t remember much about work, because it was all routine at this point. It was a 2 mile walk there and back, and I lost a bunch of weight, not least because I’d regressed to a decidedly student diet of beans on toast, and various pasta creations. Weekends I’d splash out on a kebab from Lodge Road, or – if I’d just been paid – the hallowed Chinese takeaway feast.

I’d spend long hours sitting with Nick watching LOST (red hot TV at the time) and the excellent reboot of Battlestar Galactica, or sometimes watching him noodle about on the Xbox, with the ubiquitous can of Fosters in my hand (4 for a fiver from the corner shop!). I reconnected with my older sister in London, and started going up there regularly on my weekends. I had started to see a wider world, one I could maybe be part of. I was single, debt free, and could do whatever I wanted, go wherever I wanted. When you’re 32, that’s a superpower. I toyed with the idea of going to London in the future, but never that seriously. Nothing was keeping me in Southampton.

Our friend Stacey came to visit our house at Easter. She was the daughter of one of the library staff, and I’d spend many work lunchtimes with her. It is safe to say I had no small feeling towards Stacey, but she always seemed to have a boyfriend or something going on. She had bags of charm, and had that quality of treating you like you were the only person on earth, on the occasions you got her attention. Nick was of course greatly amused by it all, and gently ribbed me whenever she visited, although he was kind about the clearly unrequited nature of it. She stayed very late after one night after an evening out, and we of course didn’t have anything to eat, but she had previously spied my Lindt Chocolate easter treat in the fridge, and demanded that. That was Stacey to a tee. Stole my heart and my chocolate bunny. We’re still in touch.

Summer Brought in a change of mood and tempo. Nick had met the person he would eventually marry, and I was spending lots of time with Alexandra, a recently-divorced colleague that I had developed an on/off thing with. She was from Northallerton so of course I liked her. I was still very carefree and didnt care that it was nothing serious, but I liked spending time with her. She was highly intelligent (a mathematics graduate and trained teacher) and seemingly very sorted out. She’d bought her own flat at 23 (miraculous given the housing market at that time), got married young, and had it all fall apart on her. I just liked being around her, but she had some latent, severe mental health issues I would come to see in time.

Out of the blue, my younger sister got in touch and asked me if I fancied a trip to New York with her. She’d pay. I could not believe it. This was an act of incredible generosity – there is no way I could otherwise have afforded it – and we would go for a few days in July. I went up to London to stay with her prior to departure.

What followed was five perfect days in the Big Apple. I loved every second of it. The city was all I had thought it would be, Paris being the only other place I’d been that really delivers what you expect of it. There was a heatwave but it didn’t slow us down. It was pivotal for me, it created a spark in my head that life could be so much more. There’s an electric, thumping can-do attitude that seems to crackle in the streets. This markedly positive first impression of America would play a big part in what came later.

Times Square, New York City
Times Square, by me

I came back, utterly exhausted, feeling a bit like NYC had thoroughly had its way with me (it had) and got the National Express back to Southampton.

I was late completing my HNC. the new, compressed format of the course had meant some reorganisation of of the delivery and subsequently deadlines, and it wasn’t yet critical, but I had to get it done before July ended. It felt like the last mile of a marathon (not that I’d know…) but I got it in just under the wire.

I’d started to recognize some issues in Alex. She would periodically keep me at an arm’s length, but when she wanted me around she was aggressive about it. I went out for her birthday, and she introduced me to her friends, not as a partner, not even as a friend, but as a colleague.

I remember telling myself there was no point putting myself through this, it just didn’t fit my low-drag lifestyle I presently enjoyed, so I told Alex I’d be stepping back and letting things cool for a bit. This was fine, for a time. Until it wasn’t.

Days later she ordered a cab to collect me at 2am after I’d told her I didn’t want to see her, followed by a torrent of abuse on the phone. When that didn’t work, she responded with threats of self-harm. I didn’t bite, and kept my distance. I told P about this, who had plenty of professional experience at the sharp end of mental health support work. He told me to block her number and change my locks. P knew what he was talking about and I took his opinions seriously. I stayed away. Not long after, she didn’t turn up at work, and it turned out she had taken an overdose while previously at the office, and they’d put her on paid leave. Whatever contact I had with her would always end in the same way – late night phone calls and erratic behaviour. Eventually she changed jobs and I heard she was working in Basingstoke, had been put on anti-psychotics and seemed to be doing well.

We lost touch, but much later on, in 2009 a mutual friend informed me she had returned home to Northallerton at some point, and had subsequently taken her own life. I was shocked, but not completely surprised. On her day she was an amazing person, someone I loved being around, but there’s a terribly high price for untreated (and she’d implied she’d resisted help for years) mental health problems, and when it came out, it consumed her.

Between Christmas and New year I would see P for the first time since the previous December. I travelled up to his new home in Hertfordshire, and spent the break there. This would set a pattern, as I don’t remember P ever coming South again.

It had been a decade since my first set of visits to Southampton from York.






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