Today was a day of work and I made no progress toward my move on Wednesday. Things will start in earnest on Sunday.
Meanwhile, back in November 2016, I flew to England and stayed with my brother Tone and his wife Sharon. He helped me to find clothes suitable for a funeral and I told him about the situation with Tatiana. Tone and Sharon have had more than enough real, actual tragedy in their lives and yet they remain positive. Tone was generous enough to send some positivity my way.
"You haven't lost her," he told me while making one of his magnificent breakfasts.
"No, you haven't."
I went to the funeral, very conscious of the fact that Nick's wife and kids, his twin sister, his whole family were experiencing a sorrow I could barely imagine. It put my Victorian Romantic Poet sadness into perspective and I concentrated on the real and permanent loss of Nick being gone. He had done wonderful things in his life and I was proud to have known him, but he never travelled. He didn't want to and now he never would. I began thinking about the time we have left, and what we should be doing with it. I began to think about South East Asia again.
I was in England for a week and checked my emails constantly but the usual cheery messages were no longer coming. Tone reassured me, but with every email that wasn't there I pretty much decided they never would come again.
When I got back to Slovenia she was waiting for me at the airport and for a moment my heart sang and I thought that Tone was right. She was back. But it took only a minute to see that she wasn't. She was just picking me up. We had a coffee in Bled and I wasn't enjoying the experience very much because she had turned into a Stepford Wife. Not the remake, I hasten to add, but the original, dark, disturbing version where women were replaced by robots who said the right things at the right times. All hint of life was gone. She didn't seem too upset. She didn't seem too not upset either. She was just moving and saying things and it was almost as if the past year was no more than a collection of events that she could remember but which held no weight. I became angry, and by the time we reached the magic house I slammed the car door and told her that I'd bundle up any of her stuff and leave it out for her to collect. She drove off.
The reality was different of course. I couldn't see it then, but now I can. She was as hurt as I was. She had made a decision that she hated, but having made it, she was going to uphold it, no matter how hard it was. No histrionics. No drama. No...anything. A walking dead. I should have been a bigger and wiser man, but I wasn't.
Being in the Magic House and knowing she'd never return to it was more than I could stomach, so I decided to leave it at the end of December and go on my aborted travels. I was running away.
I sent an email to Tat after about a week and wanted to know what to do about her things. "Just throw them away," she said.
It wasn't long after that email that we wrote again. I honestly can't remember why, but it wasn't a deep and meaningful exchange, just fairly business-like. I said that I was going to South East Asia, and she thought that was a good idea. She had been pleased that I hadn't gone before, but also felt responsible for it. She also had some news. Our two attempts to go to England had failed for one reason or another and the visas ran out the day after Christmas, so she and her daughter had decided to go.
Once again I was upset. It was going to be our trip. I was going to show them the land of my birth, to drive them around and introduce her to my family. It was going to be wonderful, and now they were going without me. I swallowed that bitter feeling and asked how she would feel if I came too, just as friend. I had been looking forward to it more than she had, I think.
She said that, to be honest, she had only told me because she had hoped I would want to join them. We could have Christmas together. It seemed like a nice way to end an incredible year. I agreed.
"I think that you should come here and collect your things first," I said. "I want to know that we are okay enough to do this. It would be awful if we weren't."
And so she came, for the last time, to the Magic House. I made her coffee and we sat at the table and we talked. That's how I know how she really felt. That's when I got my first real insight into her life before, and the choices she'd had to make now. The girl I knew appeared, albeit briefly, as if afraid of what she might find, and disappeared back again. We had a plan. This incredible year would end with Christmas in London.
We took separate planes to England because life was complex enough, and I met them at Stanstead. Off we set for London, her 14 year-old daughter's first trip to England, and we had a hotel about half an hour's tube trip from the centre. The ladies had a room downstairs and I had a room upstairs. On that first day Tat had to work via Skype, so I took her daughter into the city for sightseeing. I didn't know her and wasn't sure how good her English was. The last time I'd seen her was up in the bell tower on New Year's Eve.
We began in Trafalgar Square and then the houses of Parliament and she took a thousand photos and then we discovered...Oxford Street. Now we're talking. Lights and shops and street performers and everything a girl could want. On the tube I nearly lost her in the crush and our hands had to reach over commuters when it was time to get out. I was not about to lose Tat's daughter!
We were gone for hours and when we got back we did a spontaneous high five in the corridor. She may have loved the shops and the lights, but the high five I will always remember. It went very well indeed. A few hours later a tired Tat came to my room, absolutely beaming. "She had a great time!" she said.
It was a wonderful week. We got tickets to a pantomime, because you have to show foreigners a panto, and that turned out to be a great success. We went on a boat trip up the river and got a guided tour of London, even a Harry Potter walk and photos on the famous platform 9 and three quarters at King's Cross. We had Christmas dinner in a wonderful old pub in the West End, which was perhaps the most expensive but most memorable Christmas dinner I've ever had. Tat would come to my room when her daughter was settled. We were in love with each other. We had always enjoyed every moment together. We just didn't know what to do with that knowledge.
On Boxing day, they flew back to Slovenia and I went back to my brother's house. I wasn't sure if I'd ever see her again.
My son David had obviously learned to ski so well that year that when he asked his girlfriend to marry him she had said yes. She's Polish and the wedding was planned for January 7th in snowy Sopot on the coast near Gdansk. My packing for this trip was therefore fairly complex. I had given up the Magic House and packed for Christmas in London, a wedding in Snowy Poland, to be followed immediately by five months in the tropics, flying out of Heathrow. I was trying to repack my things in my brother's living room when I got a phone call. SPY.
"Do you still want me to come to the wedding?"
I could hardly breathe. It had been a running joke. I'd asked her long ago if she'd be my date to my son's wedding and she had said she'd love to! But that was so far in the past it was only the audacity of youth that caused me to ask. It was never actually going to happen, but oh how I wished it would.
"YES!" I said.
"Okay. I'll be there."
I ran back to wherever my brother was. "Guess who's going to be my date to David's wedding!"
"I TOLD you it wasn't the end."
He did, and I began to think he was right. Tatiana and I had often laughed at the notion of her being my plus one. How would David's mother -- for years happily married to a farmer and living a good life and probably quite cheerful that I was living alone in exile -- how would she react to me arriving at the wedding with a beautiful girl who is only 18 months older than my son? Would she have some kind of fit?
It was time to find out.
[ps...Have you tried the Armchair Detective Challenge yet?]
Slovenia, writing, other things