Written by: Pauline Charalambous, (Advanced Nursing, 2015)
She turned the letter over in her hands and wondered if she would ever open it.
The handwriting on the envelope looked strikingly familiar, the long confident strokes and bold hand the same after all these years. The house was quiet. She could hear the steady, persistent tick of the clock determinedly marking time.
Reaching out with sudden decision she tore at the wax strip and hungrily read the words like a starving man in urgent need of nourishment. Cramming the words down in one binge she read, ‘Dear Jane’.
A formal start-could this bode well?
‘I hope I haven’t worried you by making contact after all these years but I heard about Adrian and wanted to offer my sympathies.’
She stopped reading. It had been nearly a year since Adrian had died. Guilt mixed with relief and yet a lurching sense of loss which caught her off balance, she was still struggling to regain her equilibrium.
The rest of the letter was a generic invitation to meet up on ‘their’ campus. Maybe a chance to start again?
So this was it. The letter she had waited for all this time had finally arrived. An itch that she could not scratch had resurfaced. An old wound which had never healed, reopened once again.
She had never forgotten her idyllic student days at the University of Nottingham. Pleasant days spent basking in the sun on the manicured lawns of Lenton Hall listening to the lazy click of a croquet ball, waiting for the bar to open and fun to begin.
She usually suppressed the memories of those days as they were too painful. But sometimes the chirp of a bird, or the smell of roast lamb, would remind her how she first met Alex and of their time there. They were inseparable. How they loved to hire a boat and rock on the lake laid side by side, listening to the latest 80’s pop on the radio. They would often walk to lectures together and sometimes stop to explore the caves under Portland building. A magical time suffused with love and happiness; one’s first love is hard to forget.
On returning home for Christmas, Jane’s mother had disapproved, ‘it will never work’ she prophesied as she served up dinner with the usual side order of bitter resentment. She didn’t like Alex, nor the working class background which defined ‘such people’, and certainly didn’t like anyone with piercings and short green hair. She didn’t hold back in telling Jane that their backgrounds were too different, society simply wasn’t ready for such a mismatched and misfit couple. ‘It may be the 80s’ she warned, ‘but people should still know their place’. Her dad didn’t say much, his stoic public school background left him opaque yet a man of few words. He wanted her to be happy but his silence weighed heavy upon her conscience and made her wonder that maybe their differences were, after all, too great for it to ever work.
Spring had been an especially happy time as they had insisted they would always love each other. Yet the bitter sweet memory was tinged with poignancy and regret as this also marked the time that they decided to part. Buds on the trees promising a new life cycle a mocking reminder that this was a new beginning which would never materialise for them. The daffodils were waving their yellow heads across the pretty entrance to Trent building when they said their last goodbye. ‘It’ll never work’ they both agreed and went their separate ways.
Jane soon met Adrian, and Alex married someone else. Yet in the last 30 or more years they had never forgotten each other.
This letter marked a change of direction for Jane. She talked it over with her children and they encouraged her to go. She felt so lucky to have their love and understanding and silently thanked Adrian for his unfaltering support throughout the years. She knew that he always felt second place, knowing full well about Jane’s first love. He never blamed her or tried to muscle in on it, just stayed by her side. Their marriage was, in the end, a success by any estimation. Two people who had worked hard together, brought up a family to be proud of and lived a decent life. But now it was time for Jane to reclaim her identity and be true to herself.
They arranged to meet the following week. It was already autumn and the campus was bathed in a miasma of wet fog. Coppery leaves cast a sepia tinge, reminding Jane of lives lived long ago. She sat on a damp bench overlooking the lake and watched a saucy squirrel rustling in the foliage.
She reflected on the changes over the years.
The campus had gone from an almost village feel to a global phenomenon, even reaching as far as China with its magnificent Ningbo campus.
Large buildings had sprung up here in Nottingham, and a short distance away was now jubilee campus with space age buildings and bold architecture sat within what anyone would recognise as a nature reserve. The mix of old and new sat together comfortably, a testament to the clever bods at the department of architecture and built environment. A reminder that postmodernism, that eclectic mix of old and new, had come too late for them.
Hearing footsteps behind her, she turned to see Alex walking down the path. The unmistakable heavy tread pulled at her heart. She suddenly felt anxious and a little shy. But apart from being older, nothing else had changed, she could immediately see that Alex was the same person; strong, kind, and eager to please.
Alex was a little more rounded than when they last met but Jane would recognise her anywhere; piercings gone and her hair still short but now toned with auburn. Locked in each other’s gaze, Alex nervously took Jane’s hand, smiled at her and said ‘is it too late to start again?’