Kyle was my world. My beautiful baby. The moment he was born, I fell in love with him immediately. I didn’t know you could love someone so wholly and so profoundly.
Ben was ecstatic. At 26, he was readier than me to settle down and start a family.
When Lucy came along 18 months later, we moved to Oxford. That was where I went to college, so I knew the place quite well, and I still had friends there. Cindy was also still living in Oxford, so my social life came ready-made.
As the kids got older, I was more available to take part in Cindy’s antics. She would just call saying she’d be over in half an hour and to be ready. No hint as to what we were going to do or where we were going to go. It was always a good treat, though.
Kyle and Lucy went to the local schools and were both popular kids, although the teachers would use a slight variation of that term, especially for Kyle. He was boisterous, he was one of the lads, and he loved the attention. But at home, with me, he was the most caring and loving person I had ever met. I couldn’t hope for better.
Our house was always a refuge for one or the other of Kyle’s friends. They all lived locally but seemed to think that our home had some positive vibes. And surely the fact that Lucy was growing into quite a stunning young lady had some sort of allure too. I didn’t mind having them around. I was fine with them packing in my kitchen after school and ransacking my cupboards.
Ben was more critical. He was a lot more agreeable to Lucy’s friends. Much politer and more acceptable he would say, while addressing Kyle’s friends as bulldozers with Tourette’s. But I liked them, and I liked the banter between them, it made the place echo with laughter.
Then things changed. My radiant boy became unreadable. His dark moods were unpredictable. He would shout and throw things without reason. He would shut himself in his room for days, only escaping it in the middle of the night. He would give no explanations. He didn’t want to talk to us. His friends changed. We didn’t meet these new friends; they wouldn’t come to the house. Kyle’s behaviour was shifty. He would constantly ask for money, and he would never make it to school.
The shouting in the house became unbearable. Ben would not accept Kyle’s behaviour. I couldn’t do anything but hope that this was just a phase and everything would blow over. Kyle’s words would cut like a knife. He hated us and couldn’t bear to be with us. He was approaching his 18th birthday, he was becoming an adult, and we had no hold on him.
One morning I just found a note on the kitchen table under his front door key. Gone forever. Don’t look for me. K.
Life took on only different shades of greys and blacks from then on. The police did not want to do anything. He’s an adult and he left voluntarily, there’s nothing we can do. Music and laughter stopped, hushed whispers and shifty looks started all around me when I ventured out of the door.
At first, I trailed the streets of London, stopping to talk to everyone sleeping rough. I would show Kyle’s photos and just receive endless empty stares and shaking heads. I tried Brighton, Birmingham and Manchester. But after months of searching, I had to conceive that he didn’t want to be found and I needed to respect that. I couldn’t forgive myself for not being there for him. Everything became so difficult, and I would just stay in bed all day and wish I could sleep forever. I wanted my baby back; I needed to know he was okay. I could not function.
For the first few months, I kept seeing him in everyone. I would look for him everywhere. I caught myself time and time again scouring crowds, convinced he was there. Anyone with a similar build or a similar haircut would send me into a frenzy. I would push through the crowd, eyes fixed on the person that inevitably turned out not to be him. I don’t do that anymore. I have let him go. I still grieve for him, but in a different, less raw way.
My extended illness meant that I had to abandon my beloved job.
Ben and I just continued drifting apart, only from that day on, the speed of our estrangement was accelerated beyond belief.
We have not really been talking. He dived into his work even more than before and has hardly been at home. I don’t know if he has another woman. We have never talked about it and I really wouldn’t mind if he had. We don’t hate each other, we just don’t love each other anymore. I know I could always count on Ben and he on me, but we are not lovers’ We have not been lovers since well before Kyle’s disappearance. Our lives have nothing in common anymore except for Lucy. But we can’t use her as an excuse to keep a dead marriage together. She has now grown into a beautiful young woman with an independent life and, since last month, an entirely separate home too. She is happy. She is not my responsibility anymore.
Just after Lucy moved out, Ben came home one afternoon and announced, somewhat shyly, that he had been offered a position opening the company’s newest branch in New York. I took some time to process the implications, while my body sank a bit deeper into our cream sofa, but I was happy for him, and I told him so. He deserved the opportunity to do something exciting. Did he want to do it? He nodded, looking down at our patterned carpet. Well, then he absolutely should, and we should celebrate his offer. When was he leaving? In two weeks. I gasped, wow, that was quick! I ignored the little chill travelling down my spine and the panicky voice in my head – now what?
He looked up at me sheepishly. The project had been in the pipeline for months. He had never said anything because he wasn’t sure he wanted to go, but ’There isn’t much left for me here, is there, Maddy?’ and I couldn’t do anything other than nod. He was right. An empty house hosting a moping withdrawn husk of an estranged wife wasn’t really worth sticking around for. Despite the shock of realising that we had indeed arrived at the end of our journey together, I had to tell myself that, really, it was just a new beginning for him and it should be for me too.
I knew then that I needed to find something else to focus on. And I should start with myself. That’s why I accepted Cindy’s offer to take me away.