I thought seriously about killing myself. There, I have said it. It’s not something I ever thought I would hear myself say or indeed admit to, but I have now. It’s out there, done, it has now been said.
I have had a dark couple of years, but I’m still here. I’m in a new home now, my friends Ron and Holly have given me a room, just this week, in their house until I can sort out the issue with my competent (?!) authority, and hopefully get a job and start again. Four months to the day after I applied for my new professional qualification licence, and still I have nothing to show for many years of hard work, study, giving up just about all of my free time and neglecting the people I love and that love(d) me, and, investing my entire life savings into it. I completed everything – and I still cannot work as they still have not issued the licence.
Late last year I had a mental breakdown just after she left. I could not spend Christmas and new year in the UK without my parents and without her. I had been running and walking almost everyday since late July and my FitBit watch and associated App showed I was averaging only 2 hours broken sleep per night. Most days I would cover at least 15 miles and on one particular day, 31 miles, followed the next three consecutive days with 20+ miles. I was not eating properly and I was descending into a place where I would consequently find it very hard to climb out of. My running gave me time to think, to clear my thoughts and to breath and it helped boost my mood, but, it also took me further and further toward a place where one day I would stand and decide I had literally had enough.
The day after my breakdown I climbed out of bed to beautiful sunshine, just pushing its way through the dust covered blinds in Marks tiny back room, and I made a conscious effort not to take a particular running route that day. Instead, I made a phone call, climbed into the car with a weekend bag, my lap top and my wallet and made my way a few hundred miles north and away from that particular tree. I went to see my Brother and away from what I was about to do that day. While at my Brothers house, I spoke to my cousin Robert in the USA on Face Time. He was in the know about the preceding months from July to then and there in Mid December. He and Helen, his wife, had a plan ….. and with a credit card in my wallet, I booked a flight to the USA and within 36 hours, I was on their doorstep and 5400 miles away from that fucking tree. There was simply no way I could spend Christmas and New Year in Marks tiny flat living out of bags with her just a few miles away, with no job, criminal charges looming, my entire career and my new professional qualification and all the years of hard work now in jeopardy and, without being able to see mum and dad, I wouldn’t have seen January the 1st 2017 if I had stayed in the UK, and more than likely, I wouldn’t have made it to December the 26th.
I arrived on the 17th December. For the first week in the USA I found my feet, unpacked my bag slowly into my new room and either slept, or read books at 3am fighting the jet lag, tears and gut wrenching feelings of nervous apprehension, grieving loss and love sick heartache. I went out every day just for a few hours and got lost in the myriad of streets and alleyways in this suburban town on the outskirts of one of the USA’s biggest and most vibrant City’s. If I had said 200 words in that first week it would be an exaggeration. I was mute, sick, suffering from terrible nervous diarrhoea, heartbroken and grieving. However, I wasn’t in the UK, the sun was shining and the triple wound parachute cord noose that had lived in the bottom of my running rucksack for the last week was out of reach in the boot of my car, which was parked in a tree covered carpark in the South of England, just behind Marks tiny apartment.
Applebees is an American bar and restaurant. It’s an informal place and after the first couple of weeks hiding out in the spare bedroom of my cousins beautiful, and by UK standards amazingly large, home, I ventured alone toward its large welcoming doors. One thing you really struggle to do in the USA is walk anywhere. Now, to a Brit that sounds madness, because we have more pavements than a telephone book has numbers. In the USA however, you drive, you drive everywhere, pavements just end when roads start. Applebees is only 200 meters from the front door of my cousins home, but once off the actual street the house sits upon, you are onto open roads. 3 lanes and full of traffic. The Americans call this a street, we in the UK call it a Motorway. As I dodged the headlights of the oncoming traffic and climbed the grass verge toward the carpark, I spotted through the large glass windows a tall blonde girl with a stunningly amazing, amazon-esque figure dressed all in black. The lights of the interior of the bar and the darkness of the grass verge I was still scrambling up, meant I could see clearly into the venue. Her large blonde bun sat atop her well defined and beautifully made up and bespectacled face, and it made her look at least 6 feet tall. Before I had passed through the first set of doors, I could see her turning to greet me. There were typical booth type tables running away left and right at 90 degrees to me, lining both sets of large well lit windows. The booths were only a quarter full and the noise from the chatting, laughing and eating couples and families barely made any difference to the sound that came from the multitude of sport channels on the plethora of large flat screen TV screens which sat directly above the booths. In the center of this perfectly square building, sat a perfectly square bar area, 3 sides of it devoted to the customer and the furthest away side lined with beer taps and shorts bottles. From anywhere along two out of the three sides of the customer devoted bar, you could see the banks of TV’s above the heads of the families and lovers sat in the parallel booths. I had no idea so many different sport channels existed.
“Hey, where did you come from? Can I help you?” Becki was the first human being to get more than a basic ‘yes, no or maybe’ response from me in an entire week, even the woman at the Customs desk had to work me hard just to get me to tell her that I had indeed packed my own bag. “Hello, yes, erm, can I just sit at the bar please? Thank you.” I spluttered in a very English, stuttering way. Becki smiled, lowered her head, looked over her glasses at me and said “Sure honey take a seat, anywhere you like – Can I get you a drink?” …. After spotting it on the back wall of the bar, my reply was immediate. *
I was still removing my jacket and still some ten feet from the bar stool I had visually chosen as she started pouring my pint of Sam Adams Boston Lager from the large wall tap at the far end of the square. I sat along the furthest side of the customers part of the square with the door to my half left and the beer taps and bottles of spirits to my half right, looking out at the edge of the carpark and the busy traffic on the street below and to the left, from where I had appeared from the darkness of the steep grass verge. “There you go mate” she said in her best English/Australian accent as she pushed the black paper napkin under the descending, overflowing beer glass. “Wow, that wasn’t bad – for a yank” I said, with a smile, she laughed and without a single second of hesitation said “It’s on me, anyone who crosses that road in the dark and climbs that grass hill must be crazy, I figure you need that beer, right? I’m Becki, what do I call you handsome stranger?” “Rhys, I’m Rhys” I replied.
Becki was beautiful. Not a typical magazine type of visual beauty that is rammed down young women throats nowadays straight from the workspace desk of a computer airbrush editor, but a beautiful that went a lot deeper. I knew it from the beginning, but I didn’t know why – yet. She was a great looking young woman, I guessed about 25 years of age, with superb long blonde hair, great bone structure and immaculately made up and presented and with a real feminine figure, all the curves in all the right places. She had a great voice, it was commanding yet subtle and she had a flow of confidence that could fill a pint glass just by looking at it – from 50 feet away. She was front of house in an American sports bar for a reason. The food service was carried out by other staff, who, shall we say, were not quite as pleasing to the eye or the ear as Becki was. Becki ran the bar, the other staff, and she took the orders and payment.
I spent three months in the USA recovering and fighting my own head, heart and soul and many of those evenings were spent in Applebees, not once after that first 30 seconds did I need to ask for a particular seat, what beer I wished to drink and my name was never forgotten. After the first few visits, a “RESERVED” sign appeared at my randomly chosen bar stool, and I rarely sat down without a pint of Sam Adams either having already just landed there, or on its way to my part of that square. Such is great American service. Us Brits have a lot to learn.
I ran every street in that particular town and most of the streets in the neighbouring towns too. I found short cuts and cut throughs that even my cousins didn’t know existed. “But how did you get there?”, was a regular evening question from them. I found grass tracks at the rear of housing estates and ponds full of singing frogs hidden in re-routed river beds that had been redirected to make way for more large houses. I found places to cross rivers by foot that had never seen human feet at all and I found hills that had paths all around them, but neither up nor down. I made new footprint paths as I carried out shuttle run after shuttle run, day after day, up, down and back again. The air was clear, the sun shone, people said hello as they walked their dogs and a woman even shouted out of her car window one afternoon “YOU’RE AN INSPIRATION BUDDY, I SEE YOU EVERY DAY ! KEEP AT IT MAN.” I would run everywhere. To the coffee shop, to the market for milk, to the Chemist (Pharmacy) for diarrhoea replacement powders and of course up and down every hill I could find. The last thing I thought about packing when I left the UK was multiple sets of running gear. A single pair of sandy coloured combat trousers, a black T shirt, my trail running shoes and my little green rucksack were all I had, all I needed and all I ever wore.
The only time I didn’t run, was to Applebees to see Becki. Part of my own system to get myself straight and back on track again, has always been to shave every day, dress smart with the minimum of a collared shirt, smart jeans and shoes, never trainers or flip flops; polished shoes. I would run all day, maybe stopping at Peets Teas (an American coffee/tea shop) to talk to Darla, who was born in Croydon in South London but married an American man, to answer her questions about what the UK is like now. Darla had all but lost her London accent and it had now been replaced with the easy speaking Californian drawl that slips out of the body’s largest, external orifice with absolute lazy abandon once you’ve been there for a while. At one point, I was disgusted at myself for entering a shop and catching myself saying “can I GET a bottle of coconut water please?”. I had to have severe words with myself, I can tell you! I hear British people saying that all the time now here, “Can I get..” and it makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand to attention.
I love Americans, genuinely I do. They have a wonderful outlook on life that us Brits just don’t have. They do tend to over egg things but, they know how to actually live. One thing they cannot do however is dress themselves without looking like they did it one handed, blindfolded and from a box of clothes left over at a church jumble sale; either that or looking like they have ram raided a sports shop, naked and accepted whatever multi coloured, labelled sportswear happened to land upon their body in the impending crash through the front windows. To that end, with a smart, collared and always Ironed shirt, (nearly always blue) smart dark blue jeans, polished brown Chelsea boots and a wax cotton Barbour Steve McQueen style motorcycle jacket, I stood out like a Bulldogs Bollocks, in this American sports bar full of grey Nike tracksuits, knee length baggy surfer shorts, flip flops, baseball caps denoting many different NFL Football teams, and the odd pair of Dad type chinos worn waaaay to high on the belt line, with white socks, luminous green branded running shoes, a bum bag (known in the USA as a fanny pack) and a woollen jumper knitted in 1975 by a blind, fingerless, ex lumberjack from Nova Scotia . I was about to stand out even more than the proverbial Bulldogs Bollocks. You should have seen the looks I received when after my first mouthful of beer, I pulled from my jacket pocket, a paperback book, opened it up, placed it on the superbly lit bar, and started reading. Less people would have looked around if ET, Bill Cosby and a Unicorn would have walked in together and asked for a cheese Pizza.
There are no tourists in this particular town, so who was I? Why was I here? Why did I dress like the love child of Hugh Grant and Steve McQueen? Why would a man come to a sports bar, surrounded by every conceivable sport (albeit absolutely American biased) – and read a book? Becki found out over a three month period and in turn, I found out about Becki. She was not just the best bar keeper I have ever come across.
TO BE CONTINUED.