So, this is a sort of prequel to the Dylan and Evelyn stories.
1. I Will Not Be That For You
2. Not What I Expected
3. Everything I’d Hoped For
4. Because I said I Would
I just can’t work up any enthusiasm for Evie so once again I’ve made her a bit player, a reference point, to tell the background story of Dylan. Hopefully, it fills in a few gaps about how Dylan came to care so ‘quickly’ for Evie. There’s also some stuff about the Presence, because that seems to capture peoples’ imaginations.
Most people mean well; I have to keep telling myself that. After Chris died and when we’d settled in England, I thought it would be a good idea to take Helen to a counsellor. The poor kid had lost her mother long before her mother died. I thought Helen understood it was the effects of the tumour that turned Chris into a monster, but I wasn’t sure she comprehended what that really meant. What I know is that she was scared to let me out of her sight and, a lot like me, I guess, she kept things to herself.
Helen did well with counselling, drawing things she thought of but didn’t want to talk about, until in her own time she was ready to talk. I sat with her at home, twice, nodding my head in understanding of her words and holding her as she cuddled into me. I know Chris loved me, but I have never been loved by anyone as much as by my own daughter. I count my blessings a hundred times a day. To know what it feels like to be loved, to have someone so devoted to you and your happiness that it feels like you’re the luckiest person on Earth.
I know what my superpower is. I helped to give life to it: Helen. I will love you through lifetimes.
When times became tough after she died, and they did, I can in all honesty say the only thing that kept me alive was my dead child. I had to make meaning of my life so that hers wasn’t just a brief flame, snuffed out and lost in the records of births and deaths. I am the last of my family, and I intend to make it count.
There were aspects of my life I changed, and I think they were for the better. I owned a good business and a nice house, but in the months after losing Helen I took time away from both. I went home to Caerphilly, not knowing what would help me by returning to Wales, but I needed to be home for a while.
Wales is the Land Of Our Fathers. Cymru am byth! Y Ddraig Goch Ddyry Cychwyn! For many of my kinsmen and women, that has proud national overtones. Wales Forever! The red dragon will lead the way! For me, it was much more personal. I am imbued with Wales, and it with me. It doesn’t end at physical borders because wherever I am, Wales is. I think what I needed from being home was for the Red Dragon to rise again, as ever it does when the bobloedd, the folk, call upon the Presence.
I spent many of my days wandering Caerphilly Castle and the farms in the area where my people still lived and worked in a rural setting. I can’t tell you the number of times I simply walked the land or sat at the base of a tree and cried my heart out for the lives I’d loved and lost.
Time. In the end, I think it was time away that helped me the most. I had retreated into a small part of myself where darkness couldn’t get in, but light couldn’t get out. I felt numb all the time but I became very good at seeming. I seemed to be ‘getting over it’, whatever that means. I suppose it means I acted well enough so that other people didn’t feel bad when they were around me. Try as I might, I could not go into the Silence and I couldn’t feel the Presence. At least for a time, they were lost to me, too.
When I arrived back in Wentworth I tried to sneak into the village. It would have been easier, as the saying goes, to pass through the eye of a needle. I was loved there, and I knew it, and so I went through the motions of loving those good people back, but inside something was broken. Where the real, genuine feeling of love used to sit, there was only a numbness. I knew the motions and actions and I played my part well, but in quiet moments when the world was asleep, or when I simply sat in the dark next to Helen’s grave, I wondered if I had lost the ability to ever again do more than act as if I loved.
The men I worked with had become close friends, but I surprised and concerned them when I rewarded them for it. I had a contract drawn up in which each of them received a share in the business. They could opt out simply by not signing, but I encouraged them to opt in. I explained that my thoughts had always been that I was building a legacy for Helen, and now that she was gone I wanted these great-hearted men to carry on and build legacies for their children. It was a compelling argument, and I put it forward well. Eight days after the contract completed and full ownership transferred, I closed up my home and went out into the world.
Bristol is a lively city. I’ve always loved it. There’s the Clifton Suspension Bridge, which is still a marvel of design and engineering; the long canal boats that ply the River Avon and dock right there in the town, and the S.S. Great Britain, another of Brunel’s masterpieces. I had always thought Long John Silver was a myth until I arrived in Bristol, which is where he was from, apparently. If you love music, Bristol is the place to be. The pub scene is alive at night with amateurs who often make professionals look ordinary.
I stayed in a Bed and Breakfast, a charming little place I’d used before, until I found a share house. It was lovely and the woman I shared with was nice, but I think she was hoping for someone more social. I was out by daylight and, except for the dinner we sat at the dining table for, I pretty much kept to myself.
After a few weeks Kerry, the owner of the house, asked me to join her and her friends for a night out. I really didn’t want to go, but it was an obligation job; I felt it best to socialise just to make the house keep running smoothly until I decided on my next step in Bristol: stay or go.
Kerry was fun and easy to be around. She was a petite little thing, looking as if there was some Spanish in her family tree, and with boobs two sizes too big for the rest of her. She had a cute little pixie face. Nice legs, too. Guys notice these things. She was in some sort of administrative job and I think she was a supervisor, but she only shared the barest of details and I didn’t ask for more. Kerry was divorced and seemed quite happy about that. I suspect she was five or six years younger than me, but if you’re looking for someone to get age wrong every time, I’m the man for the job.
As the time approached to leave, I felt less and less inclined to go. Kerry was getting all excited about the night out, and I was getting all anxious about losing my night in. Could I beg off? Toothache? Headache? Malaria? Probably not, so I plastered on a false grin and feigned excitement I didn’t feel, and we went.
It wasn’t really a night out; it was more of an ambush. I was the only rooster in a henhouse of female company, and it made me uncomfortable. Where Kerry had gently asked questions and seemed to know where to stop, ‘the lasses’, especially after a few drinks, had no such circumspection. They tried to dive into my life and rummage through it as if it was great entertainment. I kept some information firmly locked away, answered a few of the least intrusive questions, and I lied about the rest.
Lying doesn’t come naturally to me, thank God. For all the places I’ve been and all the experiences I’ve had, I’m still hugely naive in many ways. The thing is, you can be aware of being naive but it doesn’t mean you know it when it’s happening, how to deal with it, or where its borders lay. Even though I’m nothing special, it’s been brought to my attention several times that I’m frustrating because I don’t pick up on ‘feminine signals of interest’, whatever that means. Just come out and say it, I reckon. All this dancing about is useless if the target of your affections doesn’t know the moves. I just think people are being friendly, or politely nice or attentive. See, I told you I was naive.
In spite of my earlier reservations I had a fun night. By the end of it, most of the girls were as drunk as lords, and I’m pretty sure one of them excused herself to vomit. Kerry and I had taken a taxi to the pub and we taxied back home, so I escaped the perils of being the designated driver. I forgot to say, I don’t drink alcohol; never have done, really. It’s been a point I’ve been roundly paid out on in the past, because when I very occasionally – maybe once every few years – have a drink I’m shit-faced after half a glass. The standing joke, because I get deadly quiet when I drink, is to make the opposite hilarious: “Half a glass and he’s anyone’s. A full glass and he’s everyone’s.”
So, we got home as safely as a taxi driver could get us there, because taxi drivers are of a type the world over; they are brash and foolhardy, which is never a good combination. Kerry went to pee and I made my way upstairs, intent on having a shower and getting into bed with a good Internet. Yes, I am of that lowly breed who blog, but the world is safe; I have about five actual readers. Four if you don’t include me. I know. It’s a disgusting habit but it’s the only bad one I have.
As I came out of the bathroom I nearly bumped into Kerry, who was standing or, more accurately, swaying, with a bottle of something alcoholic and a single glass in her hands. She held them up like trophies, smiling, and said: “Anything I can interest you in?” That was really artless. I’m not that naive, but I didn’t see this coming. “Thanks, m’dear, but it’s been a big night and I need all the beauty sleep I can get. A year or so should do it,” I said, smiling a little and hoping to deflect her. She looked a little surprised. It’s a thing I’ve noticed often; men are used to ‘no’ but women? Not so much. I think it hits them harder than it does when it happens to a man. At least, that’s what I’ve observed.
I slid past her and into my room. I heard her going downstairs and I got up, silently turning the key in the lock. I turned my light off and relied on the glow from my laptop. About ten minutes passed and I heard Kerry coming upstairs again, probably going to her bedroom. Nope. She knocked softly on my door. I didn’t answer. She knocked again and called my name. I still didn’t answer, and I hoped she’d think I’d fallen asleep.
No such luck. She tried the doorknob and found the door locked. “Are you okay, Dylan?” she called out. Shit. I wasn’t going to get out of this alive, I just knew it. “Hang on,” I called back. I opened the door and Kerry surprised me. I liked the negligee she was almost wearing, and I’ve always been a huge fan of stockings. She had a smile on her face, the bottle in her hand, and that look in her eye. “Keeping out the wolves?” she asked, pointing to the key in the lock. “Force of habit,” I said, “When you travel a bit little things like that become second nature.” That was true, but I had also lied again.
She held up the bottle and asked if I wanted some company. There it was. I played my best ‘misunderstanding the implication’ game. “No, not really, thanks. I’m pretty tired,” I said. Her smile faltered a bit and she said: “We’re both adults. We could just have a bit of fun. No harm done, and no commitments, okay?” It wasn’t okay to me. “Maybe some other time? You’re a bit tipsy and I’m a bit tired. Maybe some other time,” I said. She stood there, looking at me as if I’d just arrived from a galaxy far, far away. I smiled a little. “Goodnight, Kerry,” I said softly as I began closing the door. In an instant she was angry, slamming her hand on the door. “No, Dylan! Good night to you!” And then she marched off and I heard her bedroom door slam. So, yeah, that went well.
Five minutes later Kerry was back, knocking very softly on my door. She didn’t try the handle. In a soft voice she said: “Dylan? I’m sorry, Dylan.” Just as softly I said: “It’s okay, Kerry. Now go to bed, okay? I’ll see you in the morning.” I heard her shuffle away, and this time her door didn’t slam.
I didn’t see her the next morning. I didn’t sleep that night, either. I just very quietly packed my things and made my way downstairs just as the false dawn was starting. Packing my car, I drove to the nearest ATM and withdrew a good amount before driving back to Kerry’s place and letting myself in for the last time. I left her the two week’s rent we’d agreed on when I moved in, as payment for the notice period I had to give when I moved out. I left her more than enough to cover my share of the bills, and I put the keys on top of the money.
Slowly climbing the stairs, my heart nearly stopped when one of the steps creaked loudly, as one always does at night or when you’re trying to be silent. I folded up the bedclothes and took them downstairs to the laundry, setting the washing machine timer so as not to disturb her now. Just as I was about to leave I glanced up the stairs and I saw her legs at the top of them. She was up, and in a second I had quietly closed the front door and I was gone. Later, when I turned my mobile phone on it went nuts, beeping at me to let me know there were a lot of missed calls and new messages waiting. I deleted them all without reading them. We were done.
Cash wasn’t the immediate problem so work wasn’t the immediate priority. I liked Bristol; I liked it a lot, but now it felt too small and the chance of running into Kerry, too high. I know now that it was an overreaction, but I was emotionally raw and not playing my best thinking game. Perhaps somewhere between Bristol and Sheffield the right answer lay. I knew I was fucked up in all kinds of ways, and I knew I wanted to heal what was broken inside of me, but I needed time and emotional distance and freedom if I was to have a chance. It shouldn’t be hard; I’m no oil painting and I’m quiet and self-directed. So you’d think …
After a few more weeks of B&B stays, I lit on another place I liked: Surrey. England’s full of beautiful places, and for a small country with a relatively big population it’s surprising how many towns and villages are located a stone’s throw from cities. Surrey’s like that; part thriving metropolis, and surrounded by quiet high streets and towns. It was to become my base for the next eight years.
I found a home to rent easily enough and finding work was even easier. Given my credentials and experience I thought it might be difficult to come by work in the size of company I most like, but Nathan, my new boss, was easy to convince even though I took a chance with my strategy. I expected the usual, that I was overqualified for the position and that I ‘wouldn’t stay’.
“How long have you known me?” I asked, rolling the metaphorical dice. Nathan seemed surprised by the question. “It’s just that you seem to know me better than I know myself, without having asked a single question about my motivations.” There was dead quiet for a few seconds after that. In these situations, the first one to speak loses, so we just regarded each other for a while longer. He cracked first. “Unique interview statement,” he said. I grinned. “I aim to please,” I said. He asked me what I was looking for and I told him, and then my application made complete sense to him. I’ve worked for him ever since.
My job is in assisting livestock growers and significant landowners to maximise their breed selection based on individual land management strategy. Most think they want to maximise stock holding -growing the herd – to make more money, but this is usually quite foolish. Their land degrades quickly and soon after their herds must be cut back in light of the new reality. They get deeper into debt that becomes unsustainable and when that happens they often ‘lose the farm’ and end up with considerable debt and less than nothing to show for it. I help them benchmark for sustainability and success. It’s a satisfying feeling to help build something, rather than rebuild or close it like I used to.
I won’t go into the details of every potential relationship misfire I’ve experienced, because when you know one backstory the others take on a stunning similarity. I will say this, though, that I think my main issue is in not reading romantic signals correctly. I find them confusing, probably because I’m not expecting them, but also because most people are less than truthful.
Before I come to telling you more about Evie, because there’s a story there that isn’t obvious, I’ll tell you a little more about why I stayed very single for so long. It’s easy, really. Had it not been for the tumour, I believe Chris’ personality wouldn’t have changed substantially. We were very happily married and I think we’d one day be one of those ‘married for 60 years’ couples who still adore each other.
Before I met Chris I thought there were a few times when I’d loved someone, but in hindsight I didn’t, because I don’t love them now. Situational attraction and affection isn’t love; I learned that. I promised myself that I wouldn’t live with anyone or marry anyone I didn’t really love, and I stuck with that. The promises I make to myself are still promises and when I make them, they stay made. I suspect many people are willing to break their own promises, and that’s a matter for them, but I’m the welcome guest in my own life.
Now, about Evie. While it’s true that we didn’t actually meet until the day we went to the horse show with Nathan and Claire, I had seen Evie a few times before that. We work in the same industry, just in different parts of it and at times they overlap. The first time I saw her was in a glossy brochure being put about at an industry roadshow, where the company she worked for was touting for business. I remember thinking she’d probably be quite attractive if she hadn’t gone for that overly made-up look women seem to think they need when there’s a camera around.
The next time I saw her was at a cattle breeder’s exhibition, and one of our clients, a fairly major player, had invited all the smaller firms it worked with to fill up a few tables. I saw Evie, or Evelyn as I knew her name then, sitting a few tables away. Without the fifty shades of warpaint she’d been wearing in the earlier photo, she really was attractive. For nearly two hours I tried to work up the courage to say hello to her – in the supposed context of ‘industry contact’ – but I lost my resolve half way to her table and I veered off.
I saw her a few more times from a distance at other events, and it was impossible to tell if she was with a significant other. Then I saw the wedding ring on her finger and that was that, even though it turned out to be a fake to keep the flakes away. I was surprised it hurt me so much, and that weekend I retreated to my home in Wentworth. Going there was probably a mistake; I felt worse.
Visiting Helen’s grave, as I did every time I went home, I felt even more miserable. I would never get back what I’d lost, but would I ever win anything again? I felt as if the war for my soul had been fought and lost before I even knew the battle had begun.
Five, nearly six years had passed since I’d buried my daughter. Where had the time gone, and what had I done with it? Sitting next to her headstone, I closed my eyes, with a heavy sense of futility weighing down my heart. I felt myself swept into the Silence. Time exists in the Silence, but it’s measured and sensed differently.
I think I was gone for nearly forty minutes, but it felt like the blink of an eye to me. It was only because, coming out of it, I felt I’d gone so deeply into it that a significant amount of time must have passed. A thing I knew, and very deeply, was that something had happened to me; something was different. I felt an emptiness, a hollowness, I’d never experienced before. I felt heavier than my physical weight; that’s the only way I can explain it.
It can be difficult for many people to understand my relationship to the Presence, and it can be frustrating for them and me when I try to explain it, but I’ll try again now.
I am not separate from the Presence, and I rarely have been. From my earliest memory I knew it and accepted it as normal. I thought everyone felt the same, but I learned over time to keep it to myself when I discovered few people feel the Guidance.
In the order of my experience, I’ll say it works this way, at least for me. There is the Silence, which is like a state of meditation. Sometimes it spontaneously calls to me and other times I reach for it, and rarely do I have difficulty entering. In the Silence there are different states, and the one I find easiest to enter is Guidance. I seem to just ‘know’ things. People have commented on that a lot over the years and decades, sometimes in awe, sometimes in jealousy, sometimes in fear, and very rarely in understanding. The Guidance leads me to experience the Presence.
There was a time, over about five years, when people I knew told their friends I’m psychic. I had a lot of people ask me for ‘readings’ and I had to look up what that meant. I dabbled with Tarot for a while, to see if I had a channel switched on that I hadn’t considered, but that wasn’t it. I don’t think I’m any more psychic than anyone else, and here’s where it can become infuriating. The trick to being open is to not be closed.
My working theory is that this is about upbringing and culture. From a very long line of Celts, I can trace my ancestry and retained family records back through Pagan priests and Druids. I grew up free of the angst and distraction associated with the major religions, because the way of my people is simple and natural. To us, there aren’t any moments when the Presence isn’t with us. Most other beliefs teach separation, sin, atonement, and general unworthiness. Life, then, becomes struggle and survival and, worst of all, aloneness.
The only times I feel disconnected from the Presence is when I’m angry and wilful, and I deliberately push It away. Want to know what always brings me back? It’s the Guidance. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve spontaneously heard-felt the message: “I am with you always.” Maybe that’s the difference; I know this. I don’t need convincing or conversion or hopefulness.
So, I told you this in part to help make sense of the rest. Coming out of the Silence, there in the cemetery, I felt I had lost something and found something. It took me a few weeks, and they were miserable and tortured, but I finally worked it out. Until that day visiting Helen’s gravesite, I had never felt lonely in my life. To be clear, I wasn’t an emotionless robot; I could and can feel everything you can, with that one exception. I sometimes missed people, but I never felt lonely. Maybe because I never lost connection to the Presence.
It hit me suddenly when I finally made the connection; I was lonely. It’s an awful feeling, especially if you’ve never experienced it before. I quite like missing people. That sounds strange, but there’s an undercurrent of expectation when you miss someone; it’s such a joy to see them or hear from them or even think about them again. Loneliness, however, blows really large and unattractive chunks.
Knowing that I felt loneliness didn’t open a door, but it was the key. My emotions were all over the map. I tried to nail them down, to identify them, and to go into Guidance for answers. It took more than a year, but when I stopped striving it came to me naturally. The loneliness was driving me in the right direction; toward love. Well, that scared the shit out of me. I’d had two great loves in my life, and they were both dead. I didn’t think I could handle another loss like them, and I’m still not sure if I can.
Now I felt lonely all the time. I wondered if finally the stress of losing my family was bubbling up, so I saw the same counsellor who had so helped Helen with her grief. We had half a dozen sessions, and I was open and honest about everything. “Sometimes,” she said, “there’s nothing that needs healing. In your own way, you’ve dealt with the grief. It isn’t that. The lonely feelings you’re experiencing are telling you something else.”
I was none the wiser, at least at first. Can I tell you why I like the middle of the night? Because my side of the world is asleep and I have it to myself. All that subtle energy, milling about, building and shaping things. The potential for change exists in those small, quiet hours. I lay in bed, wondering what this lonely feeling wanted me to know, and then it came to me. I was in love, I just didn’t know who with because I hadn’t met her yet. She existed in the potential. It still brings a smile to my face when I think that.
Only a few days later Nathan mentioned the horse show and he invited me to go with his family and a few friends of theirs. It was on the tip of my tongue to say no, but something compelled me to say yes. I asked who was going and he rattled off a list of names, and one stood out above all others: Evelyn. It freaked the shit out of me. I was enervated, so much so that I went home to Wentworth that weekend.
Visiting Helen, I bumped into an old man I hadn’t met before, and there was just something about him that calmed me. I felt the Silence approaching and I went with it gladly. It was then I had the vision of the woman holding something in her hand. It was Evelyn, and she was holding a key. I knew with certainty then that she was significant to me and the fear inside me exploded out. Badly rattled, I couldn’t keep my connection to the Presence.
You know almost all the rest. I met Evie at the horse show and I was so overwhelmed by feelings of love for her that I had to leave. I doubted very much it’d be a good opening line to tell her what I’d seen, although I suspect it’d be a great conversation starter for everyone else there, for years after.
I tried to convince myself that it was all a mistake, that I was deluding myself, that perhaps I had some seriously fucked-up and undiagnosed mental problems. I ran away to Scotland, where Addy set me up and made me choose between eating haggis and hurting his mum’s feelings. Driving back, my heart and mind were no quieter. I diverted through Sheffield and out into Wentworth, where I spent a short time.
On my way out of the village later I slowed to let a visitor drive past the horses taking up half the road. The visitor was Evie. My heart lurched, and all the fear I’d been bottling up came rushing up anew. I drove around in circles for hours, trying to clear my head, until I couldn’t safely drive anymore. Pulling over, the Presence was right there with me. It spoke to me with such clarity and love that it transformed my fear. “I am with you always,” It reminded me. “Why?” I asked. It was a question I really needed an answer to right now, and it was one I’d always wondered about but it seemed … I don’t know, wrong to ask. “Why me?” I felt the glow of love that is perfect, and the Presence answered me: “Because I said I would.”
I went back to Wentworth and sat for a time out of Evie’s line of sight, just taking it all in. She wasn’t perfect, but she was perfect for me. We connected, really connected, and I felt something going and something else arriving. The loneliness had gone, and love had taken its place. From the day I first saw her to the day I knew beyond any doubt, nearly three years had elapsed. It was the longest non-romance I’d never had.
After I left her in her room at the pub I went home, got my coat, and went out again. There was just one more thing to do. Kneeling at Helen’s gravesite I laid a hand on her headstone and I went into the Silence. I felt Helen’s life force then, happy for me and loving me, and I felt her soul gently touch my forehead before she drifted away.
“Helen, I think I’m going to be okay now.”