Content warning: This story deals with the subject of suicide, and will not be appropriate for all readers.
At seventeen, I was forcing myself to make eye contact with you when we awkwardly met that winter in your cosy living room. I was braced defensively, waiting for you to size me up and deem me unsuitable for your son. Instead, you sat us down and were genuinely interested in the girl who had spent the long days of summer passed with your eldest child. You had a gentle and loving soul and it was impossible for me to keep my guard up as you asked about my university course, my career plans and my family. Your son grew bored and went off to his Xbox while we chatted for the remainder of the evening.
My relationship with your son grew as we spent more and more time together, declaring ourselves soul mates, in that way young, smitten couples do. I know you were wise enough to see things differently, but you didn’t deny us our feelings, despite you knowing we were headed on wildly different paths. When I considered taking a chance to work overseas the next summer, you told me to embrace the opportunity and that you were jealous you’d never had the chance to do such things when you were our age. You said if we were really soul mates then it would all work out and that if we weren’t then I would kick myself for missing the chance to embrace my spirit of adventure. I went, he broke up with me, like you surely knew he would, but ultimately you knew I would get over it. I have such fond memories of that summer and understand how it was the catalyst that propelled me into the person I am today. I regret nothing.
Upon my return we reconnected, we were soul mates after all, or so we thought at the time. At eighteen, you awkwardly approached my mother at her work, introduced yourself and explained what you were there for. You were a shy introvert and to this day I cannot imagine how long it took you to build up the courage to approach a total stranger and start discussing if we were you know, doing it, and doing it safely. You also wanted to make sure your son was respectful when he visited and that I wasn’t being put in any uncomfortable situations, with him being that little bit older. I always felt safe with your son, you raised him well. That’s who you were – a woman who looked out for others, no matter how uncomfortable it was for you.
I was nineteen when I got the call. At first, your husband hadn’t been too concerned, a little later back from the bingo than you’d said, a little out of character, but not yet cause for alarm. As the night went on, the police got involved and by the time I knew of your disappearance your friends and family were at red alert. All possible avenues had been exhausted, no one had heard from you, you weren’t at any hospitals and your bank account was untouched. As night turned into day and back into night, being the lesser of two evils, we hoped you had run off with another man. Even at that young age, I knew that wasn’t a possibility, your love for your family was too strong. We went back to waiting.