The nape of his neck began to hurt as a result from the positioning of his head. The cold wind sought out any exposed skin and burrowed down into bones and joints. He could feel his the skin on his face drying and ever so gradually tighten. Yet, he was planted and unmovable.
Tony just stood, neck bent, body temperature dropping and gazing wistfully at the glorious heavens above. This, in more ways than one, was a breathtaking moment. He shared this moment with his best friend, Cheryl, his wife of 15 years. She was quite a bit shorter than Tony who was acting like a windbreaker. She was very cold.
Three months ago, Tony had sleepless nights, times like these were quickly going to be a thing of the past. He had convinced himself he was going to die.
That day had been engraved into his memory.
“Your home early love. Is everything ok?” his wife said as Tony slowly closed the door behind him.
“Fine, everything’s fine. There’s nothing to worry about. Everything is good.” he said as he forced his lips to form a smile. He walked towards her. He took her hands in his and pulled her towards himself and kissed her forehead. “Everything’s fine. John said I could leave before the rush hour tonight.”
He hoped his rehearsed charade would fool her. Yet, he wasn’t. “How could I fool her!” he told himself. They had a very open marriage. They both shared everything with each other, no secrets, no skeletons. Subsequently, each other knew when matters of the heart began troubling the other.
“Cup of tea?” Cheryl enthusiastically asked as she helped Tony off with his coat. Tony worked in the City. Including his commute by bus, train, underground and then a brisk walk to the office via Starbucks and a Grande Americano, black no sugar his working day was close to a 14-15 hour day. It had been like this ever since they were married. “He’s never home this early.” she thought to herself as she held Tony’s coat on the peg for an extra couple of seconds.
Cheryl was a hardworking, loving and dedicated Mother. They had 2 lovely children, 11 and 9. Tony loved having boys, he’d just taken them both to their first Division 2 game. Family life was good.
Tony trudged slowly into the kitchen and took a seat at the table. He picked up and fiddled with two coasters that he found on the tabletop, and lost himself in his thoughts of how was he going to tell her. He felt cold and queasy. Cheryl briskly walked past Tony as if nothing was the matter. She picked up the kettle and started to make a brew. Suddenly, the back door opened and in came his two boys from the garden.
“Your dad’s home early boys. Isn’t that lovely.” the Mum said, looking over to where Tony was, zoned out staring at the coasters in his hands. “Would you like me to make you both a sandwich and drink.”
“Why you home so early Dad?” Philip the eldest asked. Philips energetic questioning brought Tony momentarily out of his quandary.
“Don’t interrogate your father Philip, dear. His boss allowed him to come home before the rush hour.”
“Shall we go to the fields later, and have a kickabout?” Dan, the youngest said. “I’ve been practising some new freestyle tricks.”
Tony jerked his head up as if there was an invisible hand that had just grabbed him by the hair and yanked his head up to face his son. He felt a panic coming over him, he imagined his throat closing up, the pain in his chest cavity was changing from being punched to electric shock treatment. Tony’s primary thoughts had been solely on the method he would use to break the news to Cheryl. That was hard enough. Now, though, he felt overwhelmed at how could he possibly fathom out how to explain, what words would he use to honestly but gently let down his two champs that sadly there would be no more kickabouts. He wanted to throw up.
“That’s a great idea. Can we Dad?” Philip asked.
Tony’s mind quickly flooded with more and more emotions. The pressure escalated. Anxiety, fear, shame, guilt, and loneliness were the strongest, and they were stabbing him because his heart felt so much pain. As a result of trying to control his emotions, he had unintentionally found himself emptily staring at his two boys with wide open eyes. The whites of his eyes had lost any brightness and took on a grey dull colour. They were like rain clouds unexpectedly ready to dump their load and cause people to run for cover. The tears came, and they didn’t stop.
Tony had become fixated with the gloriousness of the heavens above. He felt happy to be alive, standing there in the garden of the rented guest house with Cheryl snuggled up tight both trying to keep hypothermia at bay by means of a coat, woolly jumpers and body heat only.
“I’m getting really cold Tony. Can we go in?” Cheryl said. “I’ll put the kettle on, make us a hot drink and we can unthaw in front of the fire. It would be a shame to let it go out.” now pulling at his coat as a gentle encouragement and coaxing to follow her.
“Ok. Give me 5 minutes. I’ll be straight in.”
Even though his body had succumbed to the cold, his body felt relaxed. The past three months had been far from relaxed.
When the doctor had confirmed that the presence of what seemed to be a growth or abnormality which required a small operation so they could send the tissue to the laboratory for further results, he had not anticipated how much he would lose himself in the manner he did. Even though John, was his boss, he was also his friend. They had played squash together every Thursday for years. John and his wife had looked after Philip when Cheryl went into labour with Dan.
Despite that history, after that day of all days when the Dr confirmed Tony’s worst nightmare, he completely shut John out of his life. He stopped playing squash. He didn’t join him for a drink at the end of business before he started his commute home. He became snappy, irritated and impatient with everyone in the office. His colleagues brought this to John’s attention, they were concerned. However, when John tried to talk to Tony, he told John he was a traitor for taking his colleagues side.
It wasn’t much better at home.
Cheryl, Philip, and Dan were the light of his life. Yet, since that day he had turned the light off. Tony would come home and not want to do anything with the family. He would shut himself away in the shed at the bottom of the garden and stare, cry and mope. He felt so ashamed that he couldn’t be stronger. He told himself that he was a failure as the supposed cornerstone of the family. “What did it matter, he was dying anyway,” he said to himself. That would make him cry some more.
This pattern of action carried on until the day that he was scheduled to receive his test results back. Due to some human error at the laboratory, and delays caused as a result of industrial action by postal workers the results had taken longer than first anticipated.
“Do you want me to come with you to the Dr?” Cheryl carefully asked, on the morning of the appointment. Despite Tony’s anger and spells of isolation, Cheryl had stayed strong. She’d given Tony his space, whilst reassuring the two boys that their Dad was going to be ok.
“Would you?” Tony responded. “Of course, I will.” Cheryl grabbed and squeezed his hand. “We are in this together, whatever the results may be.” She laid her warm palm on his cheek to try and bring some colour back to his drawn face, looked him warmly in the eyes and smiled.
The guest house was in the middle of a field. Isolated, Dark, and Windy. Just what the Dr ordered. Around midnight, on the first night, after a couple of glasses of red wine, he’d stepped outside to put the empties in the plastic box supplied. As he opened the top section of the stable door, he was struck by the awesomeness of the sky ahead. He questioned himself why he didn’t remember. He called Cheryl, and they both stood there snuggled up tight leaning on the bottom section of the door. It was truly magnificent.Tony decided there and then that he was not going to be caught out the following night. He would put on a few extra layers, and stand outside and do a little star gazing. He hoped Cheryl would join him.
He kept true to his word. He had traced the skies and picked out some of the famous constellations. The Orion, Great Bear, Seven Sisters. Tony wasn’t an avid star gazer and he wasn’t really a deep thinker. The past 15 years of balancing marriage with a heavy workload and then two boisterous but wonderful sons had not left him with either time or capacity to be a deep thinker. Saying that, standing there in the middle of the guest house one-acre garden, he felt himself drawing comparisons.
Tony started to think about the constancy and consistency of the constellations. Every night, wherever you stood in the Northern Hemisphere you would find those same stars in the same place. Glorious, radiant, comforting.
On that day, the Dr’s confirmation had rocked his world, more than he realised was possible. However, those around him had proved to be as fixed as the constellations he was admiring. Whenever his emotions had taken him from slight irritation to volcanic anger, his friends and families had not budged or wavered in their love and loyalty. They had been glorious, radiant and comforting.
Being given the all clear by the Dr had not the ending that he had negatively narrated and played out in his mind . The play in his head had most definitely been a tragedy. He was going to die, that had been the outcome in his mind which in turn had caused him to his push all friends and family away from him so that they could get used to him not being around. He had been convinced he was going to die.
Over the next few days and weeks as he gradually came back to himself he had been hit by those similar feelings of anxiety, shame and guilt. Not because he thought he was dying, but because he realised that his “flight” not “fight” response had brought out a severe bout of selfishness that had nearly killed, if not damaged all of those that were close and mattered to him.
Tony was a good man at heart. He personally went to all his colleagues at the office who had unfortunately found themselves in the firing line; apologised and asked for their forgiveness. He sat down with his two champs and talked through his emotions with them. He wanted them to learn from his mistakes, but of utmost concern to Tony was whether his actions had harmed his sons in any way. He had a lot to thank Cheryl for.
He spent many an evening after his long commute sitting with, talking, and apologising to Cheryl. He promised her that he would make it up to her. He came up with the idea of going back to where they had spent their honeymoon 15 years ago. It felt like a reset and a restart.
He pulled the end of the sleeve over his hand, raise his arm and wiped a tear from his eye. He had so many reasons to show gratitude towards his friends, sons, and wife. The health situation had just proven to be a scare, but it had knocked him. It had made him aware of his life, health and how he would spend his time. He was determined that he would not allow himself to fall into that selfish vortex again. He wanted to be like a constellation to his family and friends. He owed it to them.
“Your 5 minutes is up Tony. There’s a cup of coffee waiting for you.” Cheryl cheekily and invitingly said.
As Tony walked back to the guest house, the yellow glow of the fire was getting closer and closer. He knew what he had to do and this special trip away would be a suitable springboard. He had to start repaying the constancy and consistency of those around him. His family and friends had together pulled him out of a very dark and deep hole. “Let’s Go Again Tomorrow!” he said as he closed the door, not only to the house but also to the despair he had experienced the past three months. “Let’s go again tomorrow, and write our own future.”