by Lucy Goodwill
Picture this. You are running across the common, trying to take the largest strides that your short legs can manage and your heart is beating out of your chest. You aren’t sure if this was the fastest way but it felt like it at the time. You reach the bus stop just as the doors are creaking closed and you pound on them, peering at the driver through the weather worn glass with a pleading look. He lets you on.
It is twenty minutes before you arrive but this is normal, this is the countryside after all. You hop off, dash across the road and onto the train platform. No one ever said socialising when you live in a village is easy. You go to the next stop and take the underpass, through the wafting scent of lemon chicken from the dodgy Chinese on the other side, and emerge through the gate to be greeted by your friends. You are going to the party together, you’re already late but fashionably so – missing the bus would have pushed you into rudeness. You try not to think too hard about where your parents think you are.
Except, wait. That picture doesn’t fit. The closest you ever got to youthful rebellion was that time you told Mum you were ill when you weren’t; she called your bluff, took you to the doctor, only to find out you had tonsillitis. You were both surprised. Let’s face it – even if things had all worked out for the best, this version would never have been you.
Okay, so maybe you’re at a sleepover and – as usual – you’re one of the last ones standing. You and your best friend are lying face to face giggling uncontrollably over some in joke from school and in the darkness you whisper you’ll be friends forever. You reach over in the shadows and pinky swear just to be certain. That would have been nice but it’s hard to imagine. Forever friends don’t disappear during the worst times.
So, perhaps we ought to think about some other moments instead. Perhaps it is your sixteenth birthday and you’re sat in the dining room. Mum is hovering with the camera taking years, as usual, to get the shot she wants, so you’re stuck in pose. Your “I’m blowing out the candles” face is fading into a grimace but you let her have her moment, given she spent so long on the cake. Eventually the photo is taken, your family cheer, you blow out the candles and cut a slice. You enjoy the warmth of a hug from Mum which celebrates 16 years of her having you, which is far better than the real day, which marked 6 months since losing her. Birthdays are never quite the same.
We could think about what it might have been like if school hadn’t stated that the chronically ill aren’t suited to studying theatre at A Level; the performances that might have been, the potential change of path that may have ensued. A clear mind, healthy body and clean attendance record could have changed it all. You always daydreamed about life as an actress, always most comfortable on the stage. We’ll never know what might have come from the performance you never gave – the one you couldn’t bring yourself to do after she died. Listening to the lines she rehearsed with you spoken by your peers feeling all too sharp and grating.
“Did you choose your path in life or did the world choose it for you?”
Let’s for a moment pretend and see you at the heart of a loving crowd. Friends you have held dearly for years, a boyfriend who supports and raises you up instead of pulling you down. You are smiling. You look around and catch yourself, heart full and grateful to have forged such beautiful and lasting bonds. You do not sit and question your worthiness of their affection but instead feel hope that these are the people who will populate your life for many more years to come. I’ll admit, I sometimes wonder what your relationships would have looked like if you hadn’t felt buried by the weight of being a burden, if you hadn’t spent far too long questioning if anyone could love you, if maybe you might have rejected the ‘love’ and the ‘friendships’ that hurt you so much. Could you have demanded better, known you deserved more, seen through the dual faces that smiled at you as often as they grimaced? Perhaps that was a lesson you always would have needed to learn, perhaps you were designed to be a solo traveller through the world with only a chosen few making the grade. Perhaps you were supposed to wait until now to find out what the love of a good man should feel like.
Imagine the possibilities – I could see you as a journalist or perhaps in a publishing house. I wonder if you might have ended up in a sleek, corporate office with clothes to match – so far from the casual everyday you wear in this reality. If none of this had happened – if you had lived through a quiet youth, would you still have ended up here? Did you choose your path in life or did the world choose it for you?
Picture this – you never raced through fields, chased by a herd of cows, the day before your A Level results with the dog your dad bought to be your companion when you were housebound. You never moved back a year to meet the very best school friends you could have asked for. You never traced the path that led you to all of the beautiful people who adorn your life now, the lives you’ve changed and the change you’ve made do not exist. The lessons taught by heartbreak, by isolation, by unimaginable grief fade into nothing. Would perfect, scar-free younger years be worth the loss? Would it truly have been better? Would you still be you?
Lucy Goodwill | @lucygoodwill | Insta: @lucy.goodwill | lucygoodwill.com
Lucy Goodwill is a writer and freelance charity consultant based in North East London. She is currently embarking on her first novel (when she’s not on Twitter, that is).