In which, as the year comes to its end, our friends and collaborators look back and share their moments;
The year began in the darkness of the North, in the quiet streets of suburban Leeds. I had come here to avoid the place where he would be, to find comfort in somewhere crisp and new. We saw in the year with a big bit of meat, a crackly TV and a bucket of wine, and spent the next day with the hair of the dog, three sheets to the wind, playing guitar with Helen’s dad under the stairs. I felt comforted, as if I’d asked Yorkshire to wrap itself around me like a downy blanket, and it had been happy to. After that, the return journey home was very different – a stumble into blackness, a homecoming that now felt so very unhomely.
Two weeks later, all his things were gone. I painted the flat red and yellow, covered the walls with postcards and album sleeves – New Order, the Mo-Dettes, colour, fire and noise – I stamped myself upon it, made it all mine. Emily came when the snow did, bringing her plays, her strong teas, her deep, dirty laughs. The flat started breathing again. I worked hard, I met men, I went out, I went on, my chin in the air, and my lips freshly painted; I even wrote a story to get him out of my system for Caught By The River, about the kingfisher we had spotted together, in the village I’m from, at the point in our lives when everything was going wrong. I’d said everything I’d wanted to, but I still couldn’t shake him. Like an angel on my shoulder, he was still there, making me remember, keeping me warm.
He returned when the spring did, a cold, windy night at the turn of the seasons. I was about to leave England for America for three weeks, for a holiday we’d talked about taking together, before that Sunday night came, and we’d struck out alone. A long night, a bright morning, the sun rising again, then the plane leaving from Heathrow, through the clouds like a bird, my heart rising with it, my wings beating once more.
Those three weeks were meant to be a new start, and in many ways they were. Four days in New York in Hotel 17 and the Chelsea, the glamour of old places, the sawdust of old restaurants, the heat of old memories, the fug of new friends. Then the only two days of the trip by myself – the overnight train to Chicago, the glossy surface of Lakes Ontario and Erie, a blustery morning exploring the stark, windy city. And then the bus that ran the red, the driver’s face as she hit me, my fall to the pavement, the soft hands that picked me up, the bruises that rose on my arms and my legs, the marks that reminded me of my mortality. Half an hour later, on the bench in the park, shocked into tears, realising what could have happened if I had been two steps further on. The afternoon after it, the lift up the John Hancock Centre tower, the stiff, strong mojito, the rain that fell later – relentless, uncompromising – the dinner for a queen that cost the earth, but was worth it, my whole life in sharp focus, the future that I wanted becoming clear with the wine.
The holiday wound on wonderfully. Playing Scrabble in the snowy mountains of Oregon with Sarah on the Pacific Coast train; our feet in the ocean at San Francisco, cold, clear and blue; the seals near Carmel, singing for us, out of tune; our four-girl car, shaking with hip hop, speeding into LA; the two nights with Richard and Joey in Loz Feliz, another downy blanket of friendship swaddling my body; the trek across the desert to Las Vegas with Lesli, the sun turning the desert valley shadows into deep, lunar craters; and my last day, that bright morning, taking off from the airport, the helicopter rising and rising towards the Grand Canyon, its descent to the floor like a glorious eagle, the red rocks parting before us. Having my photo taken on the edge – this is me, I am here, I have done what I set out to do – the flight home, my return, the greeting he gave me when I walked through his door, the day we came back.
I sent him three postcards from the trip – one from Chicago, on the day I nearly died, one from LA, written in a bar with his friends, the writing misty with margaritas, and one from Northern California. This one was of a snowy plover, a little white-bellied, grey-legged shorebird that I had seen when we’d stopped on our way from San Francisco to Carmel, wading near the marshes, looking strong and resilient. It is here with me now – taken from Dan’s bookshelves just to my right, next to his CDs and his headphones and an old picture of me that he likes on a library card. It tells me about how rare this bird has become, how it nests from March to September when humans surround it, how it needs somewhere quiet and warm to continue to live. “I saw one of these on the beach yesterday,” my inky scrawl goes on the back of it, “so when I saw this postcard, I couldn’t think of anyone better to send it to. Off to Monterey today, and the rainclouds have parted. Sending you a sunny smile from California xxx.” It’s the same smile that I gave him when I came home back in April, the one that stayed on my face throughout our long, lovely summer, and remained when we told everyone we were trying again. It was there when the plane lifted through the clouds in September as it left for Majorca, when we told our parents our plans for 2011, and when I kissed him this morning as he left for work. It will still be there when our new decade begins, when New Year’s Day brings a new light to the South.