MY THANK YOU TO BEN
BY ALISON CARTER
The bond between us may be unconventional, but it’s unbreakable…
It’ s good to be walking with you along the lake, Ben. I love this path, on the quieter side where the trees overhang. We seem to disappear here, the two of us, under the willows.
Spring is just around the corner and everything is fresh. You don’t look so different from the day you asked me to marry you, right here by the water.
How long ago is it that we met? Thirty years next month. We know each other so well after all this time; our relationship is the most precious in my life.
You played the piano like Lionel Richie
I was seventeen when you turned up, the new boy in the class, and I set my cap at you. You were beautiful, with your brown locks and gorgeous smile, and you played the piano like Lionel Richie, so I was hooked.
Although you were popular, handsome, the life and soul of the party and brainy, you stuck by me, visiting when I was at uni, remaining loyal when you could have been dating anyone. All the girls in our town adored you but you wanted me.
In fact, you drove me to Freshers’ Week at university and watched over me while I stumbled about, trying to make new friends, making a fool of myself. You picked me up when I metaphorically fell over, and you travelled the hundred and fifty miles regularly for the next three years to see me, although by then you were studying hard yourself.
Ben, you were my rock and my star, I don’t care if I’m mixing my metaphors!
Friends at university, and afterwards when I began work back in our home town, said how lucky I was to have you, and they were right. You rang me every day at work, just to see that I was OK, and I felt safe, comforted, comfortable. Who wouldn’t appreciate that?
I suppose your profession made you a caring person: paediatricians have to love children, don’t they? Or maybe your love of children and your nurturing character made you train for that job – I don’t know. Anyway, you’ve always put others first, and that’s quite rare.
You were always there to catch me
I wanted to travel; you couldn’t because of your job, but you saw me off at Gatwick and were there to fetch me on my return, with a hot meal waiting back at your place, and an ear to hear all my outpourings about India, or Botswana.
You didn’t mind that I kept swapping jobs, couldn’t settle. You always say I share my father’s wanderlust. I knew you were there to catch me – when I got malaria, when I had everything stolen on a train in Indonesia.
Your marriage proposal was the most carefully-planned, most perfect, most romantic event. I was working for a small charity by then, doing irregular hours, constantly exhausted.
You said we were going to a swanky restaurant for my birthday, and to see a show, and it made me feel tired just thinking about it. However, the treat in store was actually a walk by this very lake, a picnic from a wicker hamper, and a diamond ring.
The day was beautiful like this one, and it nearly destroyed me to look into your big brown eyes and turn you down.
Because, Ben (and I know you probably realised it then, in your heart), I could never marry you. I’m not the marrying kind. You did make me feel “comfortable” and in the end that began to suffocate me.
Yes, I have my father’s restlessness, my mother’s lack of interest in children. You say that’s comical, because I work for a big NGO, going to disaster zones and trying to save children from hunger and disease. But I’m no mother.
I couldn’t marry you
You and Livia, on the other hand, were destined to have those four children and to be brilliant parents. Thank goodness I said no, I couldn’t marry you – lovely, kind Ben.
If I had, Livia wouldn’t have got you in the end, and I wouldn’t have my fabulous godchildren. Livia’s nearly as wonderful as you, because she puts up with her husband having another woman as a best friend.
What if you had walked away forever when I turned you down? What would my life have been without you?
Ben, thank you.