I went to Brighton last week to catch up with some dear friends who are staying there, visiting from New Zealand. It was great catching up with them, but perhaps more surprisingly, it was also great catching up with Brighton too, because Brighton holds a special place in my heart.
It reminds me of when I fell in love with my Englishman.
I didn’t meet him there at all, but it was in Brighton that all the jigsaw pieces clicked into place.
In June 2007 I stood on the Parisian train station platform and choking back emotion I waved goodbye to this funny Englishman I’d met in the garden of the Musée Rodin, and then again at the Musée D’Orsay. Love story cliches command that I write here that it had been a whirlwind 24 hours, but it hadn’t been like that all all! It didn’t feel like a dream, or fantasy, or even a page ripped from a Mills & Boon, set to life.
It had been like being run over by a ten tonne truck.
My feet ached from walking, my face ached from smiling, my body ached from… well you know. And now standing on this train platform aching some more after the mad dash to catch the train, my heart started to ache as I realised that I may never see this man again.
How could that be?
I’d promised myself I wouldn’t do the one night stand thing. I’d promised myself that I would not seek out love in the city of lovers, and I hadn’t. I had literally fallen over him twice, and now 24 hours later, here I was leaving.
We’d swapped email addresses on the train and I had smiled at the tidy script that revealed his full name and his email address. It was the first time I’d heard his surname. I still didn’t know what he did for a living, as he had never given me a straight answer. I looked over the short hair cut and considered his fitness and the determination with which he diverted my attention away with elusive answers and I wondered again.
An international man of mystery? With better teeth?
Our goodbye was hurried, made awkward by my tardiness. I kissed him quick and ran for the train, and then the plane, not stopping to think at all. I closed the Parisian chapter in my mind and focussed on the rest of my trip. After all, New Zealand is a hell of a long way from England and it was unlikely I’d ever be this way again.
Pressing onwards. Not looking behind. Onwards. Upwards. Eyes forward.
I flew back to England and after a quick stop over in London caught the train down to Brighton, as I wanted to see the typical British seaside town. I wanted to see with my own disbelieving eyes – the pier, the cafes and the murky sea. I wasn’t disappointed. I laughed at the sign that claimed swimming in the sea was forbidden. That’s madness. If you don’t swim in the sea what do you do in it? Look at it?
Well in England, maybe…
I chuckled at the amusement arcades and the rollercoaster on the pier. So far removed from the natural get-away-from-it-all beaches at home. One of the stall holders, a lardy gentleman, beckoned me to his fish stall, gesturing at the donuts.
“No thanks, I’m more a seafood eater thank you,” I declined politely.
“You look more like a donut girl to me!”
And you just lost yourself a sale!
Miffed, I wondered aimlessly around the lanes, picking up a charm of the Eiffel Tower and one of Big Ben to remind me of England. The cafes with their striped awnings spilled out into the middle of the pedestrianised streets and families were fussing over babies in pushchairs and lovers were holding hands and flirting over their cappucinos.. and all of sudden I felt a sense of dislocation. I was missing the kids! That was it. I’d only been away from them for two weeks but already I was missing them.
I sat down at a cafe and ordered my own cappucino as a cool wind gossamered off the sea, and cupping my warm drink, I recalled all of the things about my life back in Auckland that I loved so much. I remembered the seaside cafes at St Heliers and Mission Bay, the friends I partied with, and the beauty of the beach and the bush. Then all of a sudden my wistful imaginings of life at home seemed forlorn and empty. Something had made them obselescent, out-of-date, sepia toned and confined to history.
All my newly won independence was sullied by something missing. My mind gingerly rifled through my memories, of the farewell in Paris, back to the serendipitious intensity of that moment. I carefully pulled back the callussed skin, not wanting to bleed…
We had exchanged emails, I was running late, he was unusually quiet and shy, no longer smiling. I remember holding his hand tightly and thinking of how much we had shared of ourselves, in such a short time.
I think grit from the subway made his eyes water.
The train squealed to a stop and as we jumped off onto the platform I said something inconsequential to fill in the cavernous distance that was rapidy opening up between us. He said something carefully nonchalent – I think it was au revoir (‘see you later’).
As if we might meet for coffee in a little Soho cafe next week.
What do you say to the man you’ve only just met who is now stealing part of your heart away?
And as I sat there at that Brighton cafe I remembered something extremely important about that farewell in Paris. It changed the course of my life.
He didn’t ever say goodbye. Not once.
The realisation winded me. I didn’t know how it was possible, or what would be involved. Would he move to New Zealand? Could we move to England?
I didn’t know….but sitting at that cafe in Brighton on that chilly June day in 2007 I knew that continents would not come between us.
I simply knew that I would see him, my Englishman, again.