Looking back on that brief summer in France, I can’t help but think how different my life could have been. Regrets are such wretched companions: they nag me, laugh at me and bully me.
I remember the picnic with Peter (how could I ever forget it?), by the tree stump, on the small oak-shaded hill overlooking the vineyards. Insects buzzing around us, and birds of prey swooping down on unsuspecting rodents in the fields around us, we were the only two people in the world that day. Or, at least, that’s how it felt to me.
I had always loved Peter. He had been a dear, dear friend for many years. He could always make me laugh, even when I was in “one of my moods”, in my darkest of days, at university. It wasn’t just the way he spoke, but the way he used his eyes, in the expressions on his face.
It was that day, by the tree stump that I realised that my love for Peter went past that of mere friendship. I didn’t just love Peter: I was in love with him.
I often ask myself what my life would be like now if I had just said it. Right there in the moment, when he was passing me the brie, or later when he used a napkin to mop up up wine, spilt on my shirt.
By this time, the day of the picnic, I had already spent two whole weeks with Peter. If I had realised my feelings for him before that last afternoon, would I have had the courage to tell him?
That night, whilst he slept in the room next to mine, I wrote him a note. A love note for heaven’s sake! Young as I was I was no brooding adolescent. It was short and to the point. I decided I would give it to him at the station, ask him to read it when I was on the train. I remember that I had a ridiculous little fantasy that he would quickly devour its contents and run after the train, like the hero in a romantic black and white film. I would lean out of the window and we would kiss….
We said our goodbyes. Not on the platform: my silly fantasy was dashed upon the cobblestoned pavement outside the station. We hugged and told each other how much we had enjoyed our brief time together, and that we shouldn’t leave it so long next time, and we must do it again soon. Really, we must.
All the time I felt awkward, nervous. Thinking of the note in my pocket.
And then it was time to leave and I stuck my hand in my pocket and searched for the note. I thought it must have fallen out, but no there it was at the very bottom. I took hold of it and…
…and then I ran for my train. The note remained crumpled in my hand, in my pocket.
At first I told myself I would forward the note on. Or rather rewrite it, make my feelings clearer, and on a rather less tatty bit of paper.
But the weeks went on, and I did not write. The crumpled note found its way into a drawer in my writing desk.
Peter wrote to me at Christmas, and after that we exchanged letters. It was before the time of skype, of course, before the time of emails. Communication was slower, more formal.
Some thirty years have sailed past me. The river of my life seems to flow faster and faster. Peter got married. I did not, of course, but I had my fair share of adventures. I received the invitation to Peter’s wedding, But things were difficult for me, at that time, and I didn’t go. We lost touch, after that. My fault, I suppose.
And then a few weeks ago I had a friend request from Peter. His wife died five years ago, cancer he said. He has a couple of children, grown up now. He doesn’t see them as much as he’d like, he said. He still lives in France, he invited me out there. He even suggested we go back to the oak-shaded hill with the tree stump for a picnic.
I still have the crumpled note. Perhaps this time I will give it to him.
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