If you’ve read any of my past blogs, you’ll know that I usually try to put a comedic quirk to my memories of falling for my husband. However, today I have to warn you, I’ve gone a little heavy with the emotions. You see, the other day, week, month, (who knows when you’re stuck in the middle of a lock-down with an emotional nine-year-old and a pre-schooler who has a fiery split personality) my eldest asked me when I knew I was going to marry her daddy. You must understand this girl is beyond romantic and strives for love above all else. She cries over adverts, had an emotional breakdown during one particularly tense episode of Ben and Holly, and loses her ever-loving shit if someone threatens to come in between the heroine and her romantic interest. God help me when she finally crosses paths with ‘Romeo and Juliet’.
However, back to her little, confused face, wanting me to impart some sort of wisdom about relationships to her. By the by, when she asked us what ‘sex’ is, the husband’s answer was to pull his t-shirt over his head and play the role of an ostrich. I, on the other hand, managed to bullshit over it, thus putting that cringe worthy conversation off for another day, when future me will have to fumble her way through it. Who knows? Perhaps, like me, she’ll have the most popular girl in school tell her how babies are made. It truly was a shocking day, one that had me looking at my parents with a little horror over the week following this revelation.
Point, Taylor! Keep to the point.
So, yes, when I hit the delightful period of one’s life known as ‘puberty’, or what I like to call, ‘hormonal bitch of a time’, I have to admit my body didn’t handle it so well. You see, I suffer with anxiety, always have done, but when I turned eleven, I started exhibiting strange behaviours. Some of these delights included frequently washing my hands, repeating mantras inside of my head and generally associating everything I did with intrusive thoughts, all of which I believed could be prevented if I carried out certain rituals (don’t panic, I’m not talking sacrificing wild animals before dancing around a bonfire naked. Just a repetitive course of actions which were often irrational and very time consuming). At the time, I had absolutely no idea what was going on with me, just that I was weird and slowly suffocating with it. It literally took me hours to allow myself to go to bed, with the whole process bringing me to what felt like the brink of insanity each and every night.
I now know I suffer with OCD, a condition which is flippantly thrown about. I guess everyone does have it to a certain extent, but when you truly believe that the act of washing your hands will somehow stop you from losing someone you love, it becomes a bit of a problem. And when I say ‘problem’, I mean it can be completely debilitating, not to mention misunderstood. Like most people suffering with mental health issues, particularly during this stage of my life, I tried to hide it as much as I could. It was hard. It was lonely. It caused bouts of depression. No one noticed at school, no one seemed concerned by my looking under the tables or ever questioned why I frequently had cracked, bloody hands. When my dad began to see some of my ‘quirks’, I was simply told to ‘just stop’ doing them, and all with a stern frown upon his face. The trouble is, all this did was make me try to hide it and to feel even more awful over the fact that I was different, unusual, something to be questioned. I was envious of my friends who could simply eat their lunch or go to bed without having to do a whole load of handwashing, checking, and mentally praying for everything to be ok.
Now, you’re probably wondering what the hell this has to do with me deciding that my husband was the man I was going to marry. I am getting there, I promise. You see, I did have someone to comfort me, to look at me without judgement, to let me do what I needed to do without trying to cover it up. Her name was Bronwyn, and she was the most placid, beautiful dog in the whole world to me. We went through a lot together, me and Bronnie, and I never felt alone when I was with her. Just her presence made me feel safe and more ‘normal’. She was with me when things went wrong at school, when I had to prepare for that first date, when I was drowning in my dark space of depression because life simply felt like it was getting too much. When I couldn’t tell anyone my secrets, I told her, and she listened.
The trouble is, dogs don’t live as long as people do, and when I was twenty-two, having just secured my first teaching job, Bronwyn began to have frequent spells of fitting. I remember we were on a run the first time I saw it. I can recall how scared I felt, instinctively knowing something was about to take her from me and how I couldn’t do anything but watch her go through it. She went downhill rapidly, had surgery on her spleen, only to succumb to her cancer about a week later.
After a particularly bad fit, which had left her paralysed on the floor for most of the night, I took her to the vets with a sense of dread. I knew, deep down, she wasn’t going to be coming back with me. An old neighbour, called Irene, came with me for support and to also criticise my driving the whole way there. I didn’t mind for this was just her way of trying to keep me calm. Plus, the woman had no filter and if she thought you needed telling something, she damn well told you. Bless her, she was one of those people who seemed to get away with it as well as befriending everyone in the process.
Once at the vets, they confirmed my fears, then asked me if I wanted her to be put to sleep. It wasn’t a real choice but one I still felt horrified to be making seeing as she was technically my parents’ dog. They were in South Africa for my sister’s wedding and had no idea this was happening. It felt like Bronnie had saved her end for me and now I had to be the one to effectively give her the death sentence. The vet, a young guy who can’t have been long out of training, was now having to deal with a hysterical me, while trying his hardest to reassure both Irene and I that poor Bronnie would just feel like she was going to sleep.
When I had enough breath to speak, I finally gave my permission for them to do it. After making some sort of peace with that decision, I was then asked if I wanted to stay with her during the procedure. Well, let me tell you, if you have never had to live through an ordeal like this, it is bloody awful. I refused to leave her alone, even though the very thought of staying was making me feel like I could redecorate the clinical little room with vomit, so cuddled her head and closed my eyes to it all. It felt like an infinite amount of time passed by, being that they were trying to find a vein, which they couldn’t because all of them were now collapsing. When they finally gave the word, I broke down into floods of tears, squeezed her one last time, only to then see her glassy eyes staring into nothing. My neighbour, being a bolshie kind of sort who no one would dare argue with, declared we were taking the dog with us, so she could be buried in the back garden where she had loved living.
The first person I called was my future husband. We weren’t together, but he was all I wanted at the time. For the last seven years or so, he had been the one person I could depend upon to be there for me no matter what. This time was no different. He phoned his boss from onsite, told him he was leaving and arrived at Irene’s house only minutes after we had. I broke in his arms while Irene filled him in on everything. At the time I felt numb, but thinking back on it now, I realise this was one of those moments they try to create in romantic films. The ones when you know they’ll end up together but you want to keep watching anyway.
Once I had calmed down into a more rational state, the husband grabbed a spade to begin digging a grave for my best friend. Irene dragged me inside to make a cup of tea, like any true Brit would in times such as this one. If you read any of my books, you’ll understand how much tea is important to me. But this tea tasted bitter. It felt like acceptance of the fact that the dog who had lived with me through a tumultuous period of my life was now gone. After I had forced the beverage down my throat, I went outside to check on my future husband, only to find him crying as he hacked his way through the ground below. I tried to find words to offer comfort and thanks but could only stare into the hole in front of him. It had been dug with care, with perfect sides and was in the shape of a flawless square. The depth was enough to have him covered in sweat from having to dig so far down, where it looked cold. This must have been what I eventually said because I remember him putting his arm around my shoulders and giving me reassurances that he would wrap Bronnie inside of a blanket before burying her.
If the fact he had dropped everything hadn’t been enough to convince me he was the man I was meant to be with, then watching him cry until the sad task at hand was finally complete, certainly set any doubts to rest.
I cut some curls of fur from her neck, kissed her goodbye, then watched as he wrapped her in a blanket to put inside of the ground. I couldn’t stay for this part, but I knew he was still fighting back sobs. Being a Virgo, he has always been very ‘black and white’, stoic one might say. Over the years, I have accused him of being unromantic and lacking in any kind of sentimentality, but there are times when he does let slip just how caring he is. That day, it was like watching one of your parents cry, being that it was is both heart-breaking and unsettling to see him let go of his emotions too. But he kept going, all for me.
After the deed was done, I ended up staying with him that night, in his bed, which was devoid of any sheets because he was sharing a Batchelor pad with Pete, (they would literally save the week’s washing up for Sunday, when every surface was covered in gross cutlery, and asking for a drink meant you would need to find an empty vase or saucepan to drink out of). We weren’t there as a couple yet, but he was my friend, my best friend. The boy still is, even if I do hate him sometimes. I will never forget what he did for me, or how he had given me the comfort I needed, even though we weren’t anything beyond exes. He had my back and I hope he knows I will always have his too.
We didn’t get back together until a few months later, just before New Year’s Eve, over the phone, just on the brink of him giving up on the idea of ‘us’ forever more. When I saw him the following day, we finally had that kiss, the one you might have been expecting when I was hiding under the table in Year 9. We’ve been together, without breaks, ever since.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I frequently have to remind myself of this story when he’s fogging the room up with his flatulence, leaving his dirty washing on the floor, directly in front of the washing basket, and when he calls me ‘old girl’. But husband, if you’re reading this, know that you sometimes pull it out of the bag. Thank you for being there for me when it counts.
To Bronwyn, you were my best friend who looked out for me till the very end. Rest in Peace ‘Rubblers’!
I promise my next blog won’t be as heavy as this, but sometimes it’s good to get it all out there. My husband will tell you the same, especially when you go the cinema to watch a film like ‘Marley and Me’, filled with teenage girls who all dart their heads around to hear the roughy, toughy, slightly-too-hairy builder, taking a large inhale of breath to make it through his sobs. Wouldn’t have you any other way hubby!
My next blog will be about me (even though I hate talking about me) but will hopefully explain more about me as an author. Thanks for reading!