What might have been


What might have been

A lake in Orlando, Florida

It’s two years since my previous blog post. So much has unfolded during the era of the covid-19 pandemic that it’s hard to know where to start. I suppose it might help if I explained what I thought was going to happen.

At the start of 2020 I have to say I was very happy. I had a great girlfriend and the kids were doing as well as could be expected. Work was hard going but I was on the cusp of starting a new project that I was pretty excited about.

We I had plans for a big holiday; a visit to Orlando, en route to Tampa where we’d attend Wrestlemania. My girlfriend had no idea but on our last night in Orlando, I was going to propose to her by a lake that we’d found ourselves beside when we were there together in 2018. The idea had taken shape in my mind in the time since.

I also had my annual trip to Indianapolis all booked up with no idea how I was going to pay for it once I came back from Tampa. But that was all in the future and, at the time, I had no cause to worry about the future. All I knew was that I’d be engaged to the girl I was in love with and I couldn’t wait for life to unfold.

Toward the end of 2019, the covid-19 epidemic was developing in Wuhan, China and I’d watched various news reports in detached horror. It was so far away and seemed like something that couldn’t possibly happen here in Scotland. I don’t feel especially stupid for thinking that. Just naive. Hindsight is a wonderful thing.

The first warning that things were going to unfold differently than planned was my team being called into the office meeting room one morning to be told that our project was being parked. We were making great progress, were already ahead of schedule and feeling confident. But our client, in the leisure industry, had had to shut down all of their premises in Italy and South Africa. That was an eye opener. It confirmed that the virus was spreading fast, globally and that the business might not be as sheltered from the impact as I’d let myself think.

Within the next couple of weeks, Elisha had developed a really bad cough and when I indicated I needed to stay home to care for her, I was told by my work that I should isolate for 2 weeks in case it was covid-19. I didn’t think that was likely because if Elisha had it, then it would have spread through her entire school like wildfire. Testing wasn’t prevalent at that point but I was sure a local epidemic would be public knowledge by now.

So as Elisha coughed a lot in her bedroom above me, I worked from home and was happy to do so. Twelve years of getting the train to Glasgow every day had worn me down so the thought of a couple of weeks without a commute appealed to me. I had no idea that I would never work in that office again.

Like a rubber-necker driving past an accident scene, I kept a browser tab open on one of my screens to monitor the breaking news on the pandemic. It was scary stuff. Things were accelerating at a frightening pace.

Then the first lockdown was announced. Everything felt hyper real. My girlfriend was a zero hours contractor and it was heartbreaking that the job she’d only just started came to an abrupt end. The implications of the lockdown were sketchy but my girlfriend, her daughter and the cats moved into my house because the directive was that you weren’t meant to travel between dwellings.

I continued working as best I could under the bizarrely oppressive blanket of tension that afflicted all of us. For the kids it was exciting in a scary way, for my girlfriend it was miserable because her dream job had evaporated and for me it was terrifying. I was now trying to support a family of four or five on the income from a job that I was fearful might also suddenly evaporate.

I was trying to maintain a positive demeanour but was so stressed that I couldn’t sleep and when I did I’d have bad dreams. Every day when I woke, the nightmare continued. For a few weeks, life consisted of uneasy silences until we became kind of, maybe not normalised, but numb to the situation.

Summer came early, with a glorious heatwave in April. It was no replacement for the dream trip to Florida that we should have been on but it at least ensured we got out for the one hour a day that we were allowed to be outdoors during lockdown. We spent plenty of time in the garden too and this kind of took the edge off it. It was a horrible situation but I was enjoying being at home more.

Then my girlfriend got a job in a lab and that meant she was earning again but out of the house all day every day. She was my rock and when she arrived back in the evening, I don’t know whether me or the cats were more excited to see her!

As we tentatively stepped into the summer proper, life was a balancing act of dealing with the new normal imposed by the pandemic and trying to regroup mentally.

When lockdown ended, my girlfriend, her daughter and the cats moved back to her place and we got back into the routine of seeing each other on the nights we had done for the three years before the pandemic. It was nice spending quality time with one another in a way that felt a lot less claustrophobic than the conditions imposed by lockdown.

Unfortunately, that was as good as things ever got again.

Early on a rainy Sunday afternoon, a bizarre confrontation with a stranger in the local supermarket led to my life coming apart in nightmarish fashion. I tried to regroup but the malicious rumours the man had spread lead to a bit of witch hunt. An incident where Jason was being bullied by some other kids escalated due to my now tainted reputation. I was stunned and numb from it all.

Eventually, my relationship fell apart in September. The following month, my uncle John died from the terminal lung condition that had robbed him of his health. To say it was the lowest ebb of my life is an understatement.

I had made the hasty decision to move house just after splitting up with my girlfriend. Primarily to escape any further repercussions from the events of the summer but also to try and get a fresh start. It was a panicked move and I regretted it somewhat when my girlfriend and I reconciled after my uncle’s death.

Events felt like they were unfolding relentlessly and as the moving date loomed it was incredibly stressful. I had great help from Felicity on the final weekend of packing as I was struggling badly to box up 12 years of life and memories from a house I hadn’t realised I’d gotten attached to until the reality set in that I’d be leaving it behind.

After the trauma of the move, I settled into the new place pretty swiftly. The surroundings were peaceful and the flat was comfortable and secure. I felt safe but also a little isolated. Video calls with people at work and my friends on a Friday night really kept me going in terms of human contact, such that it was.

My girlfriend and I tried to rebuild our relationship but after several false starts that took us up to the summer of 2021 it was clear to me that anything we could salvage would be a pale imitation of the near-perfect bond we enjoyed before. It was painful but it wasn’t meant to be and I had to let go.

I spent much of the summer catching up with friends when I could but I was emotionally unstable. Without warning, I’d end up in tears and struggled to keep my emotions in check. I hadn’t really recovered from all the slings and arrows and the smiley face I was putting on in company was a facade.

When it came, the summer heatwave of 2021 was healing for the mind and body. I was in the park almost every single day with Jason, playing frisbee or skateboarding. We took a family trip to Skye for a few days and it was sweet to just be far away in a place with breath-taking scenery.

As the summer drew on, I started spending more time with a girl I’d become friends with over the months previous. Different people hold the keys to different aspects of your personality and she easily held the key to the part of me that was able to laugh and joke without a care in the world. I treasured every moment we spent together and hanging out as friends gradually became something more.

However, I maybe read too much into that and thought we had the makings of an unlikely relationship on the cards. Sadly, after a good couple of months she abruptly broke things off because, in her opinion, I was taking things too seriously. It hurt to lose someone else in such a short space of time but I had to concede that I had needed a lot more breathing space between relationships than I’d given myself.

Heartbroken again, with one disaster after another occurring at work and long-covid impacting my health, I staggered to the end of 2021 in as miserable a mindset as I had been the year before. It just seemed like I couldn’t win at anything and my confidence was at a new low.

Things began to change when I got a new job just before the Christmas holidays. For the first time in a couple of years, I was actually excited for the future rather than afraid of what pain it might hold. To draw a line in the sand, I spent a fair bit of time over the holidays just processing my thoughts, wondering what might have been.

I realised an interesting yet obvious thing. Everything I hoped for at the start of 2020 was gone and I couldn’t get it back. I could close my eyes and imagine proposing to my girlfriend as the sun set in Orlando, light sparkling off the lake as she said yes, with tears of happiness in both our eyes as we embraced.

I could imagine things turning out differently with the short-lived relationship that made me incredibly happy for a time. The smiles, the laughs, the growing sense of trust building between us and, perhaps, finding new love.

But that’s not the way things went and I just had to let it all go.

That wasn’t going to happen in an instant, of course, but for the first three months of 2022 I’ve strived to maintain a positive outlook and remain focused forward on life being better.

So, as I stride into the “good bit” of 2022 – i.e. the summer months that bring me so much joy, I feel like I’ve begun to let go of the weighty emotional burden that was dragging me down. I’ve been working out regularly for months, I’m eating healthily, my new job is going great and I’m genuinely feeling positive about the future.

It’s still sad when I reflect on what might have been, but it wasn’t what came to pass. And that’s okay. For now, I want to live in hope for what could be.