Sitting on a camping chair 2,531 metres above sea level surrounded by the Moroccan mountains, I exhaled deeply and felt a peace so pure that would have seemed inconceivable to my twenty-three year old self. It was the evening of the fourth day of a week-long hiking holiday and I had left my fellow trekkers back at camp, to find a secluded spot for my daily meditation practice. The expansiveness of the landscape took my breath away and the silence of the mountains was unlike anything I had experienced before.
I was ten years sober and after another Christmas spent being the ‘single one’ amongst coupled up family members, I decided to book myself onto a walking holiday as an early birthday present. Hiking was something that I’d always wanted to do more of but rarely seemed to find the time for. I chose Morocco because it was the only reasonably priced country where the weather was good enough to trek in February. I was due to depart at the end of the month but because of limited numbers, I was asked to join a trip a few weeks earlier instead, to which I agreed. I didn’t know it then but this decision would change the trajectory of the next year of my life and leave a blemish on my heart, that I’m unsure will ever fade.
I noticed him at the airport – he was in the queue in front of me at the baggage check-in. I watched as he checked and re-checked his bag before finally releasing it onto the conveyer belt and into the baggage abyss. The screen informed me that we were heading to the same destination and as I took in his dark hair and eyes, I wondered if he was travelling back home. However, his name as it appeared on the screen, was distinctly un-Moroccan so suggested otherwise. A few hours later after landing, I discovered that we were to spend the week together as part of the same walking group.
In the van on the way from the airport to the hotel, I listened as he chatted easily with other members of the group. In contrast, I’ve always felt more comfortable as an observer of others rather than drawing attention to myself. Over the course of the week, we developed a strong bond as we discovered how much we had in common. The days were spent walking, talking and laughing – we laughed a lot. At night, we would watch the stars together while the others retired to their tents quickly after sunset.
The saying goes that, ‘you know when you know’ and after a few weeks, part of me thought that I’d found the person that I’d spend my life with. After so many years of being single, it felt like I had finally found my soulmate. I took it for granted that we’d have a lifetime full of things to talk about and do together. When our relationship came to a crashing halt, I realised that there were so many questions I hadn’t asked and so many pieces of information that I’d left undiscovered. These were the questions that I thought I’d have the rest of my life to ask.
When we returned home, I slowly felt him disappear and an invisible forcefield developed around him that I couldn’t penetrate. I tried to give him the space he so obviously needed but in the end, it felt that the distance he needed from me was limitless. It had become too painful to try to love someone who didn’t seem to have the capacity to accept, or want, that love. I breathed a brief sigh of relief when I let go – if it was meant to be, it wouldn’t be this hard, I told myself.
Over a year later and I still think about him every day – some days he’s just a thought gently passing through my mind but on others, the memories of the times we spent together come cascading back. There are so many things that remind me of him. I still see the ghosts of us in the places we visited together – I’m reminded of the night we broke up every time I pass the pub where it happened. More often than not, whenever a cyclist rides past, I look to check whether it’s him. When I overhear that his football team are playing, I wonder where he’s watching it and with who. There are songs I find it hard to listen to and TV shows that I can’t bring myself to watch, as they remind me of our time together.
I miss the way I felt around him, the safety of his embrace, how we laughed, my stomach filling with butterflies at the sight of him, the way we kissed. The thing I miss most is the way we kissed – it felt like we were made to kiss each other.
In the year since we broke up, I’ve been on a few dates and every time, my heart breaks a bit as they aren’t him. The fear that I’ll never connect with someone the way I did with him still scares me but I have hope that one day, I’ll find love and all the heartache will have been worth it.
I now ignore all the text messages he sends enquiring how I am and I avoid answering my phone when he calls, as I worry that the sound of his voice will set off an avalanche of longing so intense that it’ll encase me. Despite my best efforts to convince myself that I’m better off without him (and most of the time I actually believe it to be true), there are times when my heart still cries out for him in a high-pitched howl. It’s in these moments that I miss him so much, I can’t stand it.