We worked together. We sat next to each other for over five years. In that time, we talked about most things. We had routines; on monday I would buy a few women's mags and we'd laugh and gossip and rejoice in Trashy Magazine Monday. We talked about our families, recipes, houses, furniture, jobs, gardening, pets and partners. He never really spoke of his illness much, but we pondered life and our place in it. He was about 5 years older than me, and he was someone who quietly encouraged me and that I looked up to. At work we were partners in crime. Another friend at work used to call us her 'demented children'.
That same friend made sure everyone visited Robert when he eventually had to go into hospital, and then palliative care. Some people seemed to handle this well, and could help dress or feed him. I was in my early 30's and felt awkward and clumsy. I didn't visit as often as I should, or would have liked to. It just seemed so hard. And then one morning at work I got a phone call from his partner to tell me he had died. I was in shock. Even though the last time I saw Robert he was barely conscious and physically fading away. I spoke quietly to him, held his hand, and as I got up to leave, I kissed his forehead. He tried to lift his head from the pillow and made a weird groaning noise. I freaked out. I look back now and laugh, wondering if he was trying to say something. But maybe, nothing needed to be said.
Some things he said to me stay with me to this day. He said that I shouldn't compromise on everything in a relationship, and to fight for things important to me. Believe it or not, this advice came from a discussion about a garden statue! A beautiful sand coloured concrete replica of Botticelli's Birth of Venus, which I loved and my now Ex partner hated the idea of. Venus was bought, and is still adored by me as she sits in the courtyard. This notion that Robert instilled, came to me again as I travelled to the U.K. Standing in the house that Shakespeare grew up in was inspiring. In the giftshop I found a fridge magnet with something that has become one of my favourite quotes - from Hamlet - 'This above all; to thine own self be true'. It is a constant reminder not to lose myself.
It was a weird sensation turning 36. This was the age at which he was frozen in time. I had caught up to him. And now I am 42 and older than Robert. It is a strange thing to contemplate. I often wish he was here, so I could get his perspective on things. I also realise how much he has taught me in the ten years since his death. He may have stopped aging, but he still has an influence on me. I wish he was here so he could see who I am now, thanks in part to him. One of the weirdest things is that his birthday was the 30th of January. In the last few years I have met two great people who share that birthday. One of them happens to be my husband. I feel a kindred spirit, and share the same fun, support and chats about life with my new 30th of January buddies. I am very grateful indeed for that.
I have spent a longer time with Robert being dead, than I did with Robert alive. I think there are moments when anniversaries and numbers act as great reminders of important things. And as sad as it is to look backwards and contemplate the loss, I also celebrate how this lovely person is still in my mind and life, influencing me.
Here's a photo of us from a work Christmas Party. I miss you Bertie.