A few weeks ago, it was my ex-boyfriend’s birthday – the one who died.
I went back to his city, where I used to live with him. I went to see his Mum in the morning.
She had suggested we feed the squirrels in the park. I thought this was a good suggestion, as he loved animals and it was the sort of thing he would’ve done. The park feels very him, as we walked through it together all the time, and he was a park sort of person. He loved animals and nature and walked or cycled everywhere.
In the past, she has been keen to go to the crematorium together, but I don’t like doing that.
I really don’t feel at all connected to him there, but it feels unbearably sad. It’s in a part of the city he may never have been to, and it’s a place that just doesn’t feel him. He wasn’t a religious person, even though he believed in some spiritual things.
He had quite different taste to the rest of his family, and I think his gravestone reflects their taste more than it does his (there’s a poem and I can so easily imagine him making fun of it).
Seeing his name on his gravestone makes me feel really devastated, but not in a cathartic way.
So, I was glad this year, when his Mum didn’t pressure me into going to the crematorium with her. She went on her own, the day before.
My relationship with his Mum has not always been easy. We got on well when he was alive. He had mixed feelings about his family and felt like the black sheep. For example, sometimes he would spend a lot of time making homemade birthday cards for them, and they just wouldn’t understand why he hadn’t bought them a shop one.
Sometimes I would encourage him to see them or stick up for them if he was being unfairly negative. I know he felt like they didn’t understand him, but sometimes I thought he missing the fact that they did love him and want to see him. Other times I did agree with him that they had let him down.
He was notoriously difficult to get hold off and bad at answering his phone, so by the end, his Mum would just contact me if she needed to speak to him.
In the first year after he died, she texted me a few times, saying she blamed me for his death, because I broke up with him right before the fire which killed him. She said some really awful things but did apologise.
It’s got a lot better.
So, I went to her house in the morning, and she made me a cup of tea. We sat and chatted about people we knew and what was new with us. We talked about him a lot but also about other things.
She asked about my love life. I gave her the edited highlights.
“You won’t find another one like Balthazar.” She said.
“No. I know.” I replied.
She said that a few times as the day went on. It made me feel sad.
At one point, she asked me why I broke up with him, right before he died. She has asked me this so many times and I always find it really awful.
Some of my friends say it’s no one’s business but mine and Balthazar’s, and I do think that’s true, but I also appreciate she is trying to make sense of this awful thing that happened and our breakup feels like one piece of the jigsaw. However, I don’t know why she’s asked me so many times and keeps asking now, 5 years on.
I’m between a rock and hard place. If I answer with a good reason for leaving him, it’s shit for her because I’m saying something negative about her dead son.
If I don’t answer with a good reason, it’s shit for her because I had no good reason for causing him all this pain, right before he’d died.
I could tell her some things that might help explain it, which she probably doesn’t know (e.g. that he had a problem with alcohol and prescription painkillers, that he owed me thousands of pounds) but none of these are answer.
I don’t even know why I broke up with him. I look back with rose-tinted glasses and can’t remember any bad feelings I had towards him.
I think the truth is I fell out of love with him. But I can’t even comprehend that anymore, when I miss him and long to see him again so much.
I answered with something vague but true. I really tried to emphasise how much I tried to work on our relationship in the final year, because one other time, when his brother asked me, I said we weren’t making each other happy anymore and his brother said “but you work at a relationship.”
Other than that, the day was pretty good. After spending some time at her house, we walked through the park and tried to feed the squirrels, but there weren’t many around.
Then we went for lunch. It was probably the best it has every been between us.
After that we said goodbye and I walked into the city centre. I listened to a playlist of songs he liked. I have called this post ‘the Everlasting Blink’ as that’s the name of an album by Bent, an electronic act he liked. He put some of their songs on my iPod and I loved them (‘Swollen’ and ‘So Long Without You’).
It felt good to be back in our city again.
He lived there most of his life, and he kind of embodied what is great about that city (another city in the south of England, smaller than London but still quite big). I did some shopping for a bit, as I find it easier than London, as it’s smaller and more manageable. I bought a nice dress from a shop I always liked. Some of my other favourite shops had gone.
I had decided I wanted to do something symbolic to mark his birthday. I chose a place that, to me, felt the most Balthazar part of the city.
The first time we went for a drink together, he was describing where he lived, and said “do you know the Banana Bridge?” I didn’t. It’s a yellow bridge that goes over the river that runs through the city.
It feels very him, because it’s near his house, but also because it’s yellow. His favourite colour was actually orange, but there isn’t an orange bridge, and he was still quite a yellow person too. He had yellow trainers which he loved.
I loved the way he called it the Banana Bridge, like it was its official name, when I don’t think anyone else calls it that.
I thought it would be nice to stand on the bridge and think of him, and throw some flowers into the river. However, I was a bit worried I might get sectioned if I stood on the bridge, tearfully pelting bouquets into the river.
The night before, I stayed with my friends – a couple who used to live around the corner from us. We discussed my plan, and my friend suggested it might be more Balthazar to steal some flowers, rather than buying a bouquet.
I absolutely agreed. He did occasionally steal things – not in a distressing cat burglar way, more like a ‘sticking it to the man’ way.
When I first met him, he had two lodgers, and had quite a relaxed attitude to whose food was whose. He would always eat their food but every so often buy them loads to make up for it.
One time, we went into my work when it was closed because I needed to get something. In my deserted office, he looked in the stationary cupboard and said “shall we take these batteries?”
I said “why, do you need some batteries?”
He said “no, but it would be nice to have some nice free batteries.”
One of his favourite armchairs he had rescued from a skip outside an old people’s home.
One of his favourite jumpers he’d found on the ground, in the mud at Glastonbury Festival.
So, after I’d been shopping, I started my project of picking some flowers, as I walked back to the Banana Bridge.
The first ones I came across were outside the University. I felt really guilty and conspicuous as I made a show of looking my watch before tearing off a flower and chucking it into my bag.
I spent the next 25 minutes shiftily sidling up to flower beds. I saw some really juicy ones on a table outside a pub, but I wasn’t ballsy enough to steal them. There were also some good ones inside a roundabout but they seemed too risky as well.
I found a walled, Quaker garden which I must’ve walked past hundreds of times without noticing. I went in and saw all kinds of flowers, but then realised a really, really drunk couple were having a really loud, aggressive argument on some benches, so I settled for a couple of low key flowers before turning back around and leaving.
By the time I reached the Banana Bridge, I had a good selection of flowers.
It was around 5-6pm by that time, and a lot of people were around, on their way home from work. I felt a bit embarrassed as I started getting my flowers out, but people just walked past without paying any attention.
I took a photo of the flowers on the bridge, before the breeze gently blew them into the river.
Also, you can see the spice factory in the background. That was really near our house and you could see it from our window. We always used to text each other saying “Bart Spices” when we walked past, so the other person would know we were nearly home.