“Can’t we just hide and pretend not to be here?” Emilia posed the question as she sat up in bed adjusting her pillows, before eagerly taking the mug of freshly brewed coffee from Matt’s hands.
“Well, we could…” Matt looked at Emilia smiling at the absurdity of her suggestion. “What do you suggest, when they knock on the door, we should what… simply hide in the bathroom until they’ve gone?” He proposed imagining the two of them cowering in the bathroom from Emilia’s parents like two small naughty children whilst they knocked loudly on the front door slowly becoming more and more agitated.
“What, you don’t think that’s a clever idea?” Emilia expressed her disappointment over Matt’s ridiculing of her idea with mock pleading eyes as she took a sip from her mug before holding it close to her lips in that particular way which was so endearing to Matt. “We would have to turn our phones off,” she continued ignoring Matt’s look of amused contempt towards her imaginary scenario, “or, at least turn them onto silent so she could not hear them from the front door. You know what ‘the witch’ is like; she’s a persistent beast at the best of times and would definitely call us.”
Matt slipped under the duvet beside her as he continued to listen to Emilia. This was his favourite time of the day; his natural body clock having woken him just as the sun was starting to rise. However, rather than immediately getting up he would lie silently beside Emilia as she continued to sleep, studying every peaceful feature of her face still lost in dreams and as much in love with her as the very first time he’d met her. Before finally rising he would kiss her just behind the ear and watch as she’d start to stir ’If this is my last day on earth,’ he would always think, ‘then so be it, for perfection lies before me and it can get no better than this.’ Even after a year and a half of them being together he was still unable to fully comprehend how lucky he was.
“Well my gorgeous, as I’ve never met the woman, in truth I’ve only your word as to what she’s like.” He jested at the fact Emilia had up until today refused to allow him to meet her parents.
“Well think yourself lucky,” she giggled as she protested against the coolness of his body trying to cuddle up next to her, “because once she’s met you that’s it. Your life will end as you know it. ’Resistance is futile’ I promise!”
Matt laughed at Emilia’s reference to the Star Trek episode of the same name, where the famous Jean-Luc Picard went up against the Borg Collective. That was another thing he loved about her - she was as big a geek as he was. Yet, he recognised the deeper meaning behind the statement. Emilia’s mother had dominated and controlled every aspect of her childhood, and only in the last few years had she started to gain the confidence to start extinguishing the years of negative influence. However, she’d never been able to fully escape, so when every so often her parents seeped back into her life through no control of her own, Matt witnessed how she suffered.
“So, she’s not a witch at all, she is part of the ‘Borg Collective’. It makes sense now! That’s the truth as to why you’ve never wanted me to meet her!” He jokingly responded purposely skipping over the deeper meaning of her remark with regards to her mother.
“Damn right lover, always afraid she would assimilate you in some way.”
“Wow Emilia, that’s just put some uncomfortable images in my head!” Matt giggled having to put his coffee mug down out of fear of spilling it over himself. “That just sounds wrong, the idea of your mother assimilating me!”
Emilia stared back unable to hide the grin which had started to form across her face.
“Hey, you just keep to yourself any dirty thoughts about my mother! There‘s only room in this relationship for one assimilation, and that privilege is all mine.” With this, she straddled Matt’s lap and gave him a long sensuous kiss. “You baby are all mine, and no one is ever going to get in the way of that.”
As she settled into Matt’s chest a comfortable silence settled between them and Emilia shut her eyes listening to the heartbeat of the man who’d become such a strong influence in her life. He was her rock, that one thing where no matter what else was falling apart around her, she could come to for the reliance and peace she’d always craved. Of course, she’d had other relationships before Matt, but no one even came close to what he brought into her life. In his sparkling blue eyes stood not only a continued glint of mischievousness, but his loyalty and zest for life stood as a bridge for her to cross from the depths of melancholy she often felt herself falling into.
There had been several people who’d helped mould Emilia’s life and the woman she was to become, yet she considered there only two positive influencers - her grandfather who’d given her the confidence and means to escape, and Matt, who reminded her so much of her grandfather, who’d recognised her spirit and given her the confidence to find her true self.
Yet, as with all things where there was a positive there existed a negative, and her parents suffocating dominance of her childhood left her even now battling against the influence they’d imposed. Emilia could never remember as a child being allowed to make a decision on her own. Every waking hour was organised in such detail by her mother to the extent when not at school, Emilia would either be completing homework or being taxied to some extra-curricular activity such as learning an instrument or participating in some dance class; an activity which she’d particularly hated. Endless car rides had played a major part in her childhood, and many hours of her existence had passed watching the world go by through fogged-up car windows.
Of course, later her parents argued that all they wanted was to give Emilia as many opportunities as possible, yet it all seemed to her a little too convenient so that they wouldn’t have to spend time with her. They had an ideal view of what their own lives should be and how the inconvenience of a child should fit into this. She could never escape the feeling that she’d been brought up to live the dreams of her parents, rather than to create any of her own. Play for the sake of play was never a part of her life. Emilia never experienced the simple joy of a play date with one of her school friends, and with no siblings, as she looked back her childhood was one of isolation with only her parents imposing into every aspect of her early life.
‘Positive reinforcement’ was a phrase her mother never understood, or if she had, discerned the concept so preposterous as to never be installed in her daughter.
“You need to stand taller, jump higher, work harder, concentrate more, stop daydreaming, do you want to be a quitter.” Those were the phrases of her childhood she remembered the most, along with the face of the woman full of scorn and disappointment saying them to her.
Her mother’s inability to show any affection meant even from an early age Emilia gained the impression that she was an inconvenience, a resulting accident of a process between her parents where the outcome hadn’t been expected, predicted, nor wanted.
Emilia’s memories of her father as a child were no less forgiving although she’d always felt closer to him. Her impression of her father was always of a determined and serious man, who was mainly there to help her in the evening to complete her homework. She couldn’t recall a time laughing with him or playing a game unless fused with a learning experience or some mission of his to impart knowledge. He’d always found it difficult to give physical affection and she could count on one hand the times she’d received a hug from him, and when it did happen it felt detached and forced.
Her father’s remoteness manifested itself in a total lack of emotion, and Emilia would later try to explain this as his ‘God Complex’, a result of his position as an eminent Cardiac Consultant. When once she’d built up enough courage to ask him why he always maintained an emotional distance from her his answer had been typically short, if not somewhat emotionless, but for him perfectly logical; “My role as a father is to instill in you preparation for life. I will never be your best friend Emilia, but I will always be your father.”
Yet, the one exception to this was her grandfather, a man she’d loved and adored from even her earliest memories. As a child, Emilia had grown up in Sweden, and traditionally like many middle-class families, she’d spend a few weeks each summer with her parents and grandfather by the water; an activity embedded into the Scandinavian psyche.
Her Grandfather owned a traditional wooden cottage in Edshultshall, a small fisherman’s village nestled on the Bohuslän coastline behind by a series of small rocky outcropped islands through which her ’Grandpapa’ would take immense joy teaching her the intricacies of sailing a small dinghy. On those sailing trips, he’d recall tales of his childhood and the adventures and mischief he’d got up to on the same coast as a boy. She would listen intently to his every word, dreaming of the day she too could experience those same exploits. It was only on those hot summer days when the water lapped gently against the shore, did she get to experience the true taste of freedom as her ’Grandpapa’ would usher her out the door without her parents’ knowledge to allow her to escape and explore the coastline all by herself.
Her sense of joy and freedom came from the memories of this one man, as they would wade bare feet through rock pools whilst picking out small crabs which attempted in vain to pincer her small fingers, or cuddles in the evening as she lay exhausted on his lap in front of the fireplace whilst he rocked on his chair puffing at his ’never-ending’ pipe. Even today, whenever she smelt the unique aroma of someone smoking a pipe, she would be instantly transported back to those heavenly days of summer.
Emilia’s ‘Grandpapa’ was also infamous for being the first person whom Emilia heard call her mother a witch. She could still to this day recollect him playfully smiling at her when he’d whispered it in her ear following some forgotten incident and Emilia gawked back awestruck with a newly gained respect for her Grandpapa’s audaciousness as he held his finger to his lips to signify her mother’s newly christened nickname was to remain their little secret.
Yet, even in those blissful few weeks each summer when the welcome long day-lighted days simmered into each other, Emilia’s parents would always manage to claw back some level of control over her, and the time her father taught her how to swim was one particular memory which stood out as an example of this.
“Today you learn how to swim Emilia.” He’d announced striding up to her at the end of the jetty where she sat with her feet dangling over the edge watching fascinated as a small jellyfish pulsated in the water below her feet.
His proclamation was typical of the man, an unplanned moment of realisation that would seep into his head, and then become the focus of his attention in every manner, conversation, and planning until finally executed.
“Ja Pater.” She’d responded automatically without questioning her fate for what was to follow.
On her father’s instructions, Emilia had immediately stood up trusting him implicitly when he’d instructed her to jump into the water and start swimming towards the shoreline. Emilia had never swum before, but she trusted her father’s confidence, and on his command immediately jumped off the jetty to thrash desperately in the water struggling to maintain her mouth above the surface.
Even now she could recall the moment of terror when she thought something was wrong, but she didn’t at the time relate her panic to the fact she was possibly going to drown, only to the fact that if she didn’t succeed she would be letting her Pater down. He’d stood unemotional on the jetty above her holding a long pole which he dangled tantalisingly in the water ahead of her thrashing arms instructing her to reach for it. Just as Emilia in desperation would grab for it, he’d move the pole beyond her reach, forcing her to repeat the same exercise. This was repeated time and again until the point, she’d made her way through the water and crawled exhausted onto the pebble beach at the foot of the jetty.
“Now you can swim!” He loudly proclaimed jubilantly as she still lay on the shoreline gulping in large gasps of air to counter the feeling her lungs were about to explode. He was clearly more delighted with himself for the lesson taught than for any regard to her achievement or the possibility of being responsible for drowning his daughter. He never did congratulate her for her accomplishment as if her success had been pre-ordained by the fact he was the one instructing her.
“Same again tomorrow Emilia,” he announced before placing the pole back on the jetty for the following day’s lesson and striding off towards whatever task was next on his internal checklist. The rest of that summer had been spent refining Emilia’s technique, so by the time they’d driven back to Gothenburg at the end of the holidays she had mastered the front crawl, and this could be ticked off her parents’ list of necessary skills.
Encouraged by her Grandfather who gave her both the emotional and financial means, at the age of eighteen Emilia had applied and been accepted into Kent University in England. It was he who understood that Emilia needed to escape her parents, not that there’d ever been any encouragement by them for her to stay, her mother showing great enthusiasm for the entire idea. The day she left for university was the very last time Emilia would ever stay in the family home. She returned to Sweden only for the formal family occasions, and even when six months before she’d returned for her Grandfathers funeral, she’d chosen to stay in his house, rather than with her parents.
Then almost ten years to the day from leaving Sweden Emilia met Matt, having spent those intervening years in what she would describe as her ’emotional wilderness’, flittering from one relationship to the next never knowing what she truly wanted. When Matt stepped into her life, he came with an openness and positivity which had been instantly magnetic, and within no time the two of them had moved in together. That had been a year ago, and since then they’d never looked back. In that time, she could sincerely put her hand on her heart and say there’d never been a moment of regret or doubt to that decision.
Matt had wanted to come with her when she’d returned to Sweden to attend her grandfather’s funeral, but it was one of the only times in their relationship that Emilia had declined his moral support. Secretly she’d wanted him desperately to be there with her and had entertained the idea of them taking a couple of weeks off and travelling up the west coast to her grandfather’s cottage which she’d inherited. However, knowing she would have to face her parents for the funeral, Emilia didn’t want Matt being infected by the coldness and formality which her family seemed to exude in abundance. She couldn’t get out of her mind that by him being exposed to them it would somehow change how he saw her. She decided the trip could wait for another time when she could show him all the places she loved as a child without her parent’s imposition.
Yet even Emilia understood the impossible reality in trying to keep her past away from her present, and that at some point her prior life would invade and Matt would see all the scars she’d tried desperately to leave behind.
Emilia had been stepping off the Tube heading back home when the message had beeped through on her mobile as the signal returned.
“Emilia, I’m in London for a conference the week after next and your mother and I thought we would come and visit you on the Saturday morning before we fly back out to Gothenburg. Shall we say 10:30 am at yours? We won’t stay long as the flight leaves Heathrow at just after two in the afternoon. We thought it was about time we met Matt.”
The left voice mail had infuriated her. There was no, ‘can we’, or ’would it be alright’ or asking, ‘to phone back if it’s not possible.’ Her parents had stated their intent and it was for her to conform to their wishes. Her father’s message was just another announcement, a statement of fact for Emilia to drop everything as if she’d been summoned. In her eyes, her parents were still trying to control her.
Over the last couple of weeks, her anxiety over the pending visit had steadily grown to the point on a couple of occasions her anger had surfaced and boiled over at the thought of being treated like the little child. Unfortunately for Matt, it was he who had taken the blunt end of her outrage, yet, on every occasion he’d stayed calm, choosing to absorb her stress rather than add to it, empathising with the internal battles she was going through. He realised he could never fix what she was experiencing, only be there for her. So, he’d also taken it upon himself to do what he could although it felt like a token gesture - tidying and cleaning the flat. He believed if he could do this then at least one aspect could be mitigated from Emilia’s mind for what she foresaw were her mother’s critical eyes seeking out any fault to latch onto. Although it had been a simple gesture as a result, her love for him had grown to a new level, absorbing his strength as she witnessed him undaunted by the impending visit of her parents.
The previous night Matt had gone out of his way to give Emilia the perfect evening before her parent’s arrival, firstly dining out at their favourite restaurant before coming home and Matt running her a bath. As he’d insisted on completing the final touches of tidying, she’d sunk into the hot water with tealights burning around her and sipped a glass of her favourite champagne as her stress levels slowly ebbed away.
“You do know that there is nothing that can come between us. ’Car, vois-tu, chaque jour je t’aime davantage, Aujourd’hui plus qu’hier et bien moins que demain.’” He’d whispered those words to her as they lay in bed with Emilia starting to drift off in his arms. It was something he’d said to her before, but it wasn’t till that moment she truly comprehended its meaning with regards to how he felt about her. ’For, you see, each day I love you more, today more than yesterday and less than tomorrow.’
This morning when Emilia had woken to Matt’s touch, she felt as calm in her belonging as she’d ever understood. As they lay now in their comfortable quietude, she wondered how many couples had these little never spoken of intricacies that she and Matt performed but remained hidden to the rest of the world. The occasions where he would simply lie beside her intimate in their tranquillity were the most precious to her, and she loved him for understanding the importance of their unspoken moments.