Here’s a really old story I thought I’d put up again for those who have never read it.
(Inspired by the song “Carrying Cathy” by Ben Folds)
Cathy never dyed her hair. Not even once. It’s a realisation that has just come to me. Her hair was always the most brilliant shiny black. Never once was there a highlight, a colour. There were styles and there were cuts, although these were also few and far between. Her hair would almost always be shoulder-length, straight black hair, occasionally wavy. The fact that I have only really just noticed this characteristic trait goes to show how she would hide herself. In reality, it’s probably better explained by my self-absorbed nature. As a twenty-year-old man, I found that I was and would become the most important thing in my life. Before that it was Cathy. Before that, it was someone else. I don’t remember her name now. Something beginning with an ‘F’ probably. But thirteen years ago, for some reason or another, probably as a result of my actions, we split up unceremoniously. This led to me visiting an art gallery. Whatever possessed me to do that I don’t know. I hate art. Actually maybe hate is too strong a word. I disliked the stigma around art. The blue-blooded critics and collectors who would discuss the aesthetics of a piece over a fine garnish pretending to be a salad, served on a huge plate. Cognac would follow with cigars and stock markets and on and on. Possibly the want to find some sort of escapism that I had never experienced before was the catalyst for this particular outing. I looked obviously out of place. I felt obviously out of place. As soon as I got in there, I realised that I was undoubtedly in the wrong place for me. I looked at the art, stale paintings of English landscapes. The kinds you would find on the plates advertised in Sunday Newspaper magazines. The pictures got bigger and more “picturesque” as I went along, until I bumped into Cathy. Literally bumped. Not paying any attention to where I was going, I stumbled straight into her. She was looking at a tall painting, about the size of a window frame. It was of a bay window, which justified its size. It caught my eye as it was the only painting that showed something different. The window was divided into three different frames. One showing the normal landscapes that the other had shown. The middle had a mixture of colours and stokes which looked like it represented some kind of storm. You could almost see an outline of a mushroom cloud. The final frame showed a tale of horror. You could pick out several things that frightened and appalled you in the apocalyptic nightmare on display. As I followed this intently I bumbled straight into Cathy. She did not budge. Not an inch. I offered an apology that I can only assume was accepted as she tilted her head towards me and then back towards the picture. I then took this as my cue to leave the gallery as I had already made enough of a fool of myself in one day as I had cared to. I think back to that day and at the time I remember thinking that she was a bitch. Now, I know that I didn’t look at her. I didn’t even acknowledge her existence. I woke up several nights ago from a dream, which was a perfect memory recall of that moment. I realised, thirteen years later that she was crying. That’s why she didn’t give me an apology or say anything or even fully turn her head. She was masking the fact that she had tears running from her eyes. That was Cathy’s nature though. She would hide herself away from the world and herself. I never noticed at the time but I must have registered it then to remember it in later life. My arrogance would never allow such a glaring acknowledgement of someone else’s feelings, especially after the break up I had just gone through. Women, dating and most certainly falling in love were farthest from my mind. Let alone this black haired art snob that begrudged me even a bit of speech from my misdemeanour. But looking back on it now, I might have saved her that day.
Rain poured. Rain always seemed to pour then. Maybe it didn’t, but I only remember the rain. I also remember how late the bus was. Not content on being a fool earlier on I had gone to get the bus home, taken leave of my senses in a music shop and missed my bus. What made it more annoying is that was the last bus going in my direction. Meaning a lot of changing and waiting around. So just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse, someone came running into the bus shelter with a newspaper on their head as a shield from the rain. When you felt this stupid, you really wanted to be left alone and far away from any human company. Until I realised that it was Cathy. First I made a “tut” sound in my head. I panicked that I might have said this aloud and immediately looked at her, expecting a rather unsympathetic glare. Instead I got something far worse. Something I was not prepared for. As I was glancing at her, she glanced at me, retracted the gaze and started at the floor with a little smile on her face. The kind of wry smile you get when someone compliments you and you don’t want to seem too happy about it. I knew she recognized me from the gallery. I could just tell. Embarrassment seeped from every pore and her red cheeks showed very openly. I am a sucker for a smile. I believe it brings out a lot of personality in a woman and some fantastic impressions of a person. If you believed in love at first sight or some kind of fate then this felt like it. I now noticed her eyes. They were a slightly strange green colour. Not quite hazel and not quite green but somewhere in between. Not huge but big enough to show you that she was open and accommodating. An awkward silence filled the air for the next minute. It was obvious that neither of us was going to talk and I didn’t see any point in it. I’d just got out of a relationship. I don’t have time for women, especially not this one. I just want to go out and be me for a change, see my friends and… “I’m really sorry for bumping into you earlier.”
I’d said it. Uncontrollably. There was no thought process that went into what I’d said or any brave encouragement from myself to put me up to it. It just happened. The words blurted out from my tongue like they were just meant to be there. Cathy turned to face me and replied “Oh no, that’s quite alright. Probably my fault too. I get a bit lost sometimes.” She giggled a little at the end of it. As if it was a private joke that only she would understand. Maybe an exaggeration or an understatement. But that’s how it started. We exchanged names and talked about the gallery while we waited for the bus to arrive. Cathy admitted that whilst she did appreciate good art that the exhibits on display were a fairly poor example of art. This led to much mockery from myself on what I had seen and a few laughs were had by both of us. The conversation lasted for another minute or so until the bus came. At which point I felt suitably comfortable with her being around me. Like I’d welcomed her into my life already. When she got up to get on the bus I noticed her in all her beauty. She was about five feet, 6 inches. She was wearing a flowery skirt with a white sleeveless top and a plastic yellow raincoat, which helped show her body finely. She had the kind of figure that was nice. Not too big, not too small but perfect, although she could probably quite happily fit into some kids clothing still. We both got on the bus and sat next to each other, looking out the window. I commented on how many takeaways and kebab shops littered the street whilst secretly feeling quite hungry and fancying some kind of kebab. Cathy then said that she didn’t eat any of that stuff apart from some occasional burgers or a pizza from one of her local restaurants. I immediately changed my diet in my head. Anything that would please or impress her enough during the short time we had together on this bus journey home. The bus had arrived at the stop that I needed to change at and I piped up a bit of courage asking her out to for a coffee. She obliged saying that she knew a place where we could have a coffee and she could show me some proper art. We exchanged numbers and I gave her a little kiss on the cheek to say goodnight. I of course asked her to send me a text message as soon as she got in as the chivalrous gentleman that I was, to make sure she was safe. Then I left the bus. It was almost as if I was on some kind of autopilot and the last thirty minutes had now become a total blur. I felt a little out of my depth and slightly ashamed that I had caved in to this woman. But sure enough, I got home, she messaged me and I smiled. That was that. I was sold to this beautiful fascinating woman that only moments before I thought was a total bitch. We met up for that coffee which overlooked a marketplace showing street artists. Mime, dance, juggling, fire breathing and sword swallowing to name a few things of this carnival of talents on display and all we could do was laugh. We had spotted this rather portly gentlemen that had to keep holding his comb over down on his balding head. Every time he applauded an act, the breeze picked up and his hair would rise to attention, much to his fretted anguish. This amused us for the entire duration of our meeting. We agreed to meet again for a spot of drinks but this time at night at a local trendy bar. I kissed her on the other cheek this time and we gave each other a little hug. We met again a few nights later and whether the alcohol or just our ease around each other had allowed this, we kissed outside the bar. It was a passionate kiss. I was a passionate kisser when I cared and I suddenly cared more than anything. Although a kiss is never a kiss unless it’s returned and Cathy was also a tender, but passionate kisser. After the most perfect moment, where we pulled away, I opened my eyes first so I could just see that she had hers closed for just a second longer, we both smiled and walked along to the bus stop where we kissed again and she left.
Four months later, we were an established couple. We were most certainly in that honeymoon-style bliss. I had met two of her friends and she had met most of mine. Some of whom she didn’t really like. All men have girls who are good friends with them. I had one that happened to be an ex-girlfriend as well, but one from when I was too young to really know or understand anything. But Cathy really didn’t like her. She complained about her being around me and was ultimately jealous of her. I tried my best to understand Cathy’s feelings and reasoning for this but I never really could. She really didn’t like one of my male friends because he had said under his breath that she was a bit weird and she had overheard this. She kept quiet about it until we were alone and then I got a big argument in my direction due to it. Her friends seemed fine to me. Although I didn’t really know them that well and I got the impression that Cathy didn’t either. They were more like acquaintances. It struck me that Cathy had not had a female best friend for a good many years, possibly since school. I later found out that this was the case due to a betrayal of trust and that she considered me to be her best friend. Things moved quickly even though it seemed like forever at the time. A little trip away here and there for a weekend, day trips out, staying over at each others houses for nights to weeks on end. Going out and meeting each other’s respective lives. Greeting friends, family members and the accidental bumps into ex partners. Before we knew it, eight months had passed and we had moved in together into a tenth-story flat of a fourteen-story building. The rent was cheap and the one-bedroom accommodation suited us and our simple needs. All we had was each other and we loved it. I had almost forgotten my friends, especially the ones she didn’t like, and committed myself fully to her. This seemed natural. I never even thought about it or the repercussions of doing this, financially or otherwise. I was nearly twenty one and had no grasp on the responsibilities before me. Cathy had got to a stage where she controlled my every move. About a month or so later, I woke up from a long sleep at about 2.30am. Cathy was awake and in her t-shirt and kinickers, staring out of the window. Tears were in her eyes. We lived in a flat and the bedroom window was a bay window. She said it reminded her of the picture when we met and how happy that memory made her. I gave her a hug and brought her back to bed feeling very happy with myself. A week later, it happened again. She was up, staring out of the window and crying. At first I pretended not to notice but eventually asked what was wrong. “Nothing’s wrong honey, go back to sleep.” Cathy replied, which I duly did.
On and off this happened for about two months. I gave up trying to find an explanation. I began to notice certain things about Cathy that I hadn’t before. We had sat in and watched a TV series that I had brought for her, on the DVD player that I had brought for her. I looked around and realised this pattern of things which “I had brought for her”. I didn’t mind spoiling her. I loved her and it seemed the right thing to do. She didn’t really ask for it. She said it would be nice and I obliged as a gift because of how strongly I felt for her. I noticed as well at this point that her friends had begun to change. New acquaintances had appeared. I got on as well with them as I did the others, but couldn’t shake off the feeling that these were interchangeable and as a result, so was I. A fear began to grip me that she was losing interest in me. A fear that I decided to confront her with. This was my first mistake. A horrendous argument ensued which ended up with her with a knife in her hand threatening to slit her wrists. I say that pretty casually but believe me it’s not. I went through many emotions the moment she picked up the knife: fear, panic, remorse, embarrassment, regret. You name it, it occupied every fibre of my being. Somehow I managed to convince her to put the knife away and I hugged her deeply. We sat holding each other on the kitchen floor until the exhaustion of the events meant we were too tired to stay there and went to bed. During the time we sat there, she explained to me that she had done this before. “I’m so sorry.” She said. “Look it’s not the first time I’ve done this. I used to suffer from some kind of depression when I was younger. The doctors could never diagnose it but I knew I had it so I was given happy pills. After a while I stopped taking them and I became very depressed and threatened to kill myself several times until I had therapy.”
At the time I took this revelation in its stride and was blissfully unaware of its implications. The next few weeks I had seen some friends who had said that they also did not like her and found her controlling and overbearing. I defended her of course, claiming that it was different when it was just her and me together and that she was a special person to me. I had also seen one of her previous friends who said that she was, in her words, stupid and psychotic. She wished me well and hoped that I was ok with her as Cathy obviously was not. I later asked Cathy what happened to her previous friends to which she replied, “We just stopped hanging out really.” Some work colleagues pointed out that this is what had happened to me with my friends as well. Ever distant, apart from the small selection that Cathy liked. Even then, it was a forced effort on her part which made our relationship appear more rocky and destructive than it was. Things had begun to sink in. I felt over my head and responsible for everything that happened or was going to happen. Before I knew it I wasn’t just in love with her, I was scared of her.
Another four months had gone by and I had one friend left who I spoke to on a semi-regular basis. I’d almost become a prisoner of my own making. The flat was now becoming littered with little things and possessions that I had brought Cathy to keep her happy. Trinkets of days out, stacks of DVD’s and CD’s little notes or pictures of us separately that she had stuck together. Even tickets from gigs we had been to. It was almost a shrine to our relationship, all of it hiding the sadness and anger with each other. Neither of us was happy. Neither of us would admit we were unhappy. Some kind of pride and fascination about the way we met and the connection we had seemed to keep us from the growing truth that we were two very different people and that I was not the person that Cathy needed to keep her in check. Save a few magical nights where we would go to a restaurant or we would drive out to some random lake and dip our toes in the water. One night we even stripped off and skinny dipped in one. It was almost like it was a perfect moment and everything we had experienced was preparing us for an ultimate happiness. This became a pipe dream though. We would talk less and less to each other whilst watching TV. Those little chats and jokes that you have curled up whilst on the sofa became forced silence and proper posture. We would engage each other less in general conversation. We would see our sex life stall. I even turned my phone off at times to be unreachable so I could see my friends. Having not seen them for so long and forgetting the freedom that I had before Cathy, I didn’t want her to spoil this moment with constant jealousy of everyone else around me. Such was the control Cathy wanted over my life and our relationship. I knew my flat battery story would only go so far however and convinced myself that this wasn’t working anymore. Especially seeing I now had to lie. I didn’t choose to lie. I had to lie to rescue my sanity from what little was left in the confines of our flat. I wondered though how I could broach this issue without incurring some sort of wrath or episode which was bound to happen. I even toyed with the idea of making her break up with me through whatever means. I got home one night and decided that it was the night I would confront her. Her friends, by now the fourth set of acquaintances had just left and we discussed going on a break. She seemed keen on the idea saying that she had also thought about it and her friends had come to the same conclusion when consulted. I felt a little aggrieved by this as if I had asked my friends and mentioned it to her she would have gone on the war path. But none the less, I volunteered to move out for a bit while we had a break. Cathy agreed and that was that. By the end of the week I had gone. Cathy had got closer to one of her new friends; much closer than the rest had ever got before. She was staying around, going places with her that we had gone and I slowly felt replaced. By the end of the month we had decided that we would finish totally. A week later I got a phone call from Cathy. Deeply upset and in fits of tears and hysterics, she apologised to me claiming it was all her fault and that she could change. I honestly believed her. I really did. But I couldn’t risk putting myself through it all again in case it didn’t pan out. I was open to her with this and she understood and in a slightly defeated upset tone, she hung up the phone. I felt free. For the first time in over a year I was back where I was before. Single, man of the world and ready to prowl. I had regained my pre occupied sense of well-being and realised that it was me that meant the most to me. I realised that I had heavily spent whilst with Cathy and as rage set in at what I had done, I blamed Cathy for my debt, my feelings of anger and most importantly all my shortcomings. Of course I now realise that these were my own actions and my own fault but at the time, Cathy was the focus of these energies. That was the end of me and Cathy. Some time went by and we lost touch. My friends welcomed me back, I binged, I fornicated, I did many things that I should probably have done some years previously. I understood that she had a boyfriend or two over the years but never kept up or really cared. That was until a letter came through my door. It was a plain white envelope with some fairly neat handwriting on it, which I immediately recognised as Cathy’s mothers. My initial reaction was that this was a wedding invite so I could see how happy she was in her new bliss and utopia she had found. I opened and pulled out a card. Simple and elegant it had white lilies which were Cathy’s favourite flowers on the front and small impersonal writing inside saying I was invited to… I paused and dropped the card in disbelief. When I mustered the courage to pick up the card and read it again to make sure I had got it right, I sunk into the wall and onto the floor. It was an invitation to a funeral.
Cathy was dead.
The funeral was in this Church where Cathy was baptised. I sat towards the back but not so far back that I was an outcast. I distanced myself from her family but went to offer my condolences and place a wreath of flowers down. Some of her old friends were there and some new ones as well that I didn’t recognise. It was then that I started thinking about the little things about her. Many of which I overlooked. The reason she cried at the window was not because of our first moment, but what the picture portrayed and how the window reminded her of it. In her eyes everything that had ever happened to her had gone from green hills to stormy weather to disaster. The picture almost had a meaning to it and she couldn’t shake off the terrible fear and pain that this is what her life was. In her mind she wanted to rip up the picture and cast it away and place a blank canvas in the window’s place. She had been taking more prescribed medication, which was believed to have made her hallucinate as well as describing the poignancy of the window to her therapist. Her destroying her inner demon in reality became her running up to the frame and crashing through the window of our old flat and falling. Whilst I had always known the window wasn’t just a moment of happiness for her, I never could have imagined it being such a vivid picture that she perceived. I thought back to her smile, her eyes and her hair. Cathy never died her hair. Not even once. The pallbearer walked past me and I caught the coffin slowly coming into view. As it passed and went to the altar, the man beside me tired to engage in conversation with me. “It’s sad.” He muttered is a disappointed tone, “It’s always been this way.” I turned from his gaze and looked at the coffin. Remember how people changed. Friends changed. Situations changed but Cathy never did. She was always just Cathy and I was at one time her rock. Her hope. Suddenly I didn’t feel so alone and I knew that in all that time, she never did either. Although she couldn’t keep her problems to herself and ended up losing everyone around her, she was never alone. Someone was always there. I turned back to him and agreed with a sense of optimism in my voice by saying, “You’re right. There was always someone carrying Cathy.”