by Alexandra Burton

It takes five hours to reach you,
each way battling three modes of transport, and
each time we lament that two days feels so short,
but now technology sends our words into the heavens
we can tell ourselves that we’re always together.

We share nightmare bus journeys to work, traffic crawling,
and giggle at memes to brighten grey Monday mornings,
or feed each other’s burgeoning feminist rage
by quoting a horror from another #metoo exposé,
or furiously typing as a man twice our age
spreads his legs into our personal space. Again.

It’s not the friendship I imagined when we were thirteen:
I envisaged us sharing a house with a huge TV screen,
and each evening we’d watch movies,
and talk about our day.
It didn’t once occur to me that you might move away.
I’ve still not accepted that I’ll never live with my best friend –
though the wonders of WhatsApp and budget airlines
mean that occasionally we can pretend.

To read over my shoulder we’d appear quite brazen,
but with you there’s no such thing as too much information.
So if I’m stuck at work with a hideous period
it’s certain that you’ll be the first one to hear it.
You’re privy to regular updates about my pubic hair,
and you told me the horror of your recent pregnancy scare,
and on my next visit I need your help picking out underwear,
because you know my body better than he does,
I swear.

I confided in you first when he and I were having doubts,
and you showed me endless patience whilst we figured it all out.
But you also showed me honesty: I remember your tone
as you asked, ‘is it love, or are you just scared of being alone?’
A question we’ve posed to each other over the years,
occasionally met with stony silence, or stubborn tears.
But generally speaking (and excuse the clichés)
we’ve offered the other a shoulder to cry on,
a rational voice, a rock to rely on –
though mainly in spirit, not often in person –
because, for an evening, two hundred miles is a long way to traverse.

We’ve made our fair share of emotional calls,
though the one I received that weekend morning
was the worst of them all.
Sobs racking your body, after months of near-silence
you coaxed your voice from the cage
he’d created with his violence.
Cruel words spat freely with no provocation,
he engineered your shrinkage into self-imposed isolation.
Turned you into an island, so you could be his possession,
dispossessed you of your agency,
so you’d be hush-hush with his transgressions.
And as I listened in horror at the end of the phone,
you told me how he’d convinced you that you were all alone.

Eyes welling with tears, voice trembling with rage,
I calculated how quickly I could reach you by train.
But you needed to leave, and the journey would take hours,
so I found myself waiting by the phone, feeling powerless.
By the end of the night, you’d set yourself free;
found shelter with a friend, but that friend wasn’t me.

Three years have passed, and now you’re with a man
who I trust to raise you up, not break you down
just because he can.
I know this isn’t my story,
it wasn’t my pain to bear,
but it was agonising to know that I hadn’t been there.
That I’d buried my suspicions for all those months of quiet,
because the distance between us made it too easy for you to hide
and for weeks after that call, I tortured myself with the question:
could I have protected you
if we had lived closer together?

Alexandra Burton | @alxndrabrtn | Instagram: @alxndrabrtn
Alexandra Burton lives and works in the North of England. When she’s not writing you’ll find her on the yoga mat, at the climbing wall, or tackling her growing TBR pile. | Medium: @alexandraburton

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