I’m falling. I’m spinning and crashing, plummeting through the cracks in time and space, back to the beginning. It all began here. This is the place, this is the time, when I met him and everything changed.

I gain my bearings. I’m not here, not really, this is not my time and though I can see them they can’t see me. I am an observer only. I was sent here to see, not to remember, remembering changes things. To remember a thing is to drag it through your mind gathering the grass stains of your perspective and the thorns of time. I was sent here to see. See it as it was.

The pub is bigger than I remembered. I had thought that the curtains were red but they are actually patterned, as is the carpet, the chairs and stools have red upholstery. The bar is dark wood. The lighting is low. It’s in the days before smoking was banned in public spaces and the air is thick with it; a smog of cigarette fumes is actually visible in the air. I remember that I barely noticed it at the time and then was overwhelmed by the smell in my hair and clothes in the morning. I wonder how I could have been so immune, the stench is overpowering to me now, even filtered through the years.

I see myself. I’m sitting in a corner with friends, they’re talking and I am trying to look interested but my eyes are not focused. They’ve lost me. I was a dreamer then. I’m actually pretty. I always thought I struggled with my looks; with fashion and make-up. I always thought I looked a state. I never understood the attention I got from men but looking at me now, I understand. I want to wrap that girl up in my arms and soothe her fears, tell her to believe in herself. But I can’t. I’m here to see.

The bell of the door chimes as a group of young men enter. We turn, both she (young me) and I to see them walk in. He is among them. This was the first time I ever saw him; a handsome man in a trench coat, fashionable floppy hair. He seemed so sophisticated to me then. He was so young; older than me but still so very young. I drink him in, the sandy hair, the blue eyes, the unkempt stubble on his chin, the easy animal grace of his movements. There it is, a stirring deep in my womb, spreading through me like fire and making my heart thump. After all these years an echo of you as you were once still has the power to do this to me. Tears prick my eyes.

I look at her, the other me, the young me. She can’t take her eyes off him. She is spell bound.

He talks and jokes with his friends while they order their drinks. He has the most wonderful laugh, raucous and free, there is no affectation in the man. As much as his looks point to a fashion conscious fool, his ways are easy. He’s quick to smile. He has eyes like a child. He looks round quite suddenly, even from here I can’t see why, what drew his gaze and he sees her, sees me and pauses. He catches her eyes and he stops.

They gaze at one another. I can almost hear their hearts beating. Was it really like that? So instantaneous? So overwhelming? I look at her. The colour has drained from her face. My tears are flowing freely now, the dam in my heart is breaking and it hurts, it hurts like a broken heart. I had forgotten. But now I see and the memories flood back.

I remember feeling a thing I had never felt before. I remember my body reacting more fiercely to just a presence than ever to any hand and yet all of that being forgotten in the face of conversation, of kinship, of meeting a like mind, until your eyes met mine and then all else forgotten. I remember being lost and found and terrified and elated. I remember you.

Time passes differently for me than for them. I remember that the night rushed by and yet here I am watching the two of them talking for hours. They discuss so much. They have more thoughts to share that I ever remember having. When did I stop thinking? When did we stop sharing? They laugh, loudly and frequently. When did we stop laughing?

I had forgotten what it felt like to be me back then. I had forgotten that there had been an unpressured world. I forgot hope. I forgot faith. I forgot to find fascination in the world. I forgot that there was anything outside of the day to day. I forgot laughter. I forgot enjoyment for enjoyment’s sake. I forgot how to read a book to be challenged not distracted. I lost my thirst for knowledge. I’ve grown so tired and so grey. When did I loose the energy the get the most out of life? When did the colour drain out of the world?

They fall out into the street, young me and young you. They are drunk on each other as much as alcohol, their drinks left untouched as they were absorbed in conversation. They take the long route home. An innocent time, they would never have dreamed of spending the night together, but neither do they want to be apart. They walk.

I watch them, two familiar strangers walking through a chilly autumn night. Hand in hand. I’d forgotten the thrill of such a simple touch. The contentment just in the company of the other seems like a beautiful fantasy now. We wanted so much, we pushed and pulled to achieve and to earn and yet what have we lost? It is a beautiful night. The sky is clear and the moon and stars light the streets in a hazy silver glow. The cold is an excuse to move closer together but they are glowing with a different kind of warmth. When was the last time we just went for a walk? When was the last time we even noticed the stars? When was the last time we really noticed each other beyond a requirement for the other to fit in with our own plans and desires?

I feel like I’m floating. I’m drifting like a spectre next to their reality. I am a pale reflection of the girl beside me. Would she even recognise me? What would she think if she could see me now? For all that I have achieved I now feel I have lost myself. I look at the core of me and I find nothing. It’s all on the surface, ambition, routine, what needs to be done. But who am I? I made myself a success but I see now that I also made myself into someone else and the new me is little more than a character sketch of a ball breaker acting as jailor to the girl I used to be. My passions and sensibilities buried in an oubliette so deep I can’t even hear those voices anymore.

It’s cold and it’s late, every long route home has been exhausted and finally they stand awkwardly outside the door to my old block of flats. They have exchanged numbers. They have told each other what a wonderful evening they have had, they have sketched out a date at an art gallery and now they stand facing one another, nervous to take the next step. I watch myself worry at my nail varnish, a bad habit I have taught myself out of and I see him anxiously waiting for me to look up, both eager and terrified to make the first move.

He brushes a strand of hair out of her eyes and tilts her face up toward him and for a few moments he just looks in her eyes. He moves closer, hands at her waist. He leans in, till focused on her eyes, a smile playing at his lips. I know she can feel his breath on her face and the warmth of his hands. I know her heart is racing and that she is shaking and preying he won’t notice. At this moment he is everything she ever wanted. He breaks from her eyes and his gaze falls to her lips. I know that everything inside her is tensing in anticipation. His lips are warm and soft and all the tension melts to a sudden weakness. She wilts against him allowing his arms to engulf her.

How could I have forgotten this? That moment, I never wanted it to end. I am smiling and crying and I realise that I am shaking too.

They part, finally, reluctantly, smiling, letting theirs hands drift apart last. I watch as my former self fumbles with her keys, still trembling. The door opens and I feel a rush of familiar warm scented air, the relief of home-coming, I long to go inside with her to sit and relax and process what has happened. I long for familiarity and comfort but it is not to be. I am here to see. And at this moment I am not here to see her.

The door closes in my face and I am left alone on the step. I take a moment to observe the familiar sights. I see the light turning on in my old room and then the curtains being drawn. For a moment nostalgia wraps around me like a warm blanket and I am protected from the cold but I am not permitted to wait here long. I am compelled to follow you.

You’ve already disappeared around the corner: you’ve a good half hour’s walk before you get home. I picture your jaunty stride. I imagine you smiling to yourself, the picture of confidence. Nothing ever could phase you, always relaxed and in control. Everything always came so easily to you. I hasten, imagining that I may struggle to catch you up.

I turn the corner and find you there. You are not rushing. There is no jaunty step. You’re leaning against the wall looking down at shaking hands. Though you are smiling you’re white as a sheet. I stop, bewildered, somehow I never imagined that I had this effect on you. You were always in control, always calm, quick to laugh and slow to temper: never cold but never given over to emotional excesses. Not like me. Yet here you are: standing just around the corner: hiding your vulnerability.

I stand close to you. I look at your face. Your blue grey eyes as yet untouched by the smile lines that have become so familiar to me. You are so young. I touch your face. You cannot feel me of course but I want to give you comfort, I hold your hands and try to steady them, to calm you. You have a beautiful smile. I feel something almost maternal for the young vulnerable you. I want you to be happy. I realise with gut wrenching clarity, that in your future I am hurting you and hurting you badly. I do not want to hurt this boy. I ache suddenly to take it all back but I don’t want to run round that corner and tell this girl, this young me, not to fall in love. I know that I don’t want to have never entwined my life with yours. Besides I know it’s too late to stop the fall, she has already fallen. I was only brought here to see. I can’t change the past, only the future. If I could change it, I no longer know what I would wish to change.

You run your shaking hands through your hair and finally bring yourself to your feet. We walk unhurried back to your flat.

You’ve not lived here long. As yet unpacked boxes still furnish otherwise naked rooms and paintings lean on walls unhung. This was never a home for you and you had barely unpacked before we moved on to our first house. You feel your way through the dark unfamiliar space, picking your way through boxes as best you can. You turn on the lights in the kitchen to make yourself a cup of tea before entering the bedroom. You lie, still clothed, on the bed where we are to share our first time in a few short weeks, looking up the ceiling, I wonder what you’re thinking. Not far away a younger version of me is planning her life with you. Are you doing the same?

I lie down beside you. In the midst of all of this, of everything I have seen and remembered, in the tumult of my churning insides, the familiarity of this is nevertheless calming. I rest my head on your shoulder. I want to wrap my arms around you. I want to crush you to me, to crush away the blossoming pain in my chest and stomach. I have felt so lost. Yet here in the past I am found. The thought of this starts my tears again; I screw up my face and bury it in your shoulder. I long for you too see me, to hold me, but I’m not really here. This is not my time, I can’t stay here and who I am to you? You are hers. I am someone else now, changed by time, changed by care, changed by pressure, changed by the pressure I placed upon myself.

I find that I envy her. I envy her for having you and for being young and for having her life ahead of her and then I laugh. I laugh because I know what her life will be and her life will bring her here and hate myself for what I’ve done to her. I look for her inside myself. Will I find her curled in a foetal ball in a dark corner of the prison I have locked her in? When I find her will she be too traumatised to step back into the light? Have I destroyed her? This girl I used to be.

I close my eyes. I feel you breathing next to me. I hear my own heart beating. I fall.

I fall again, tumbling and spinning through time and mists and reverie. I fall back.

Another bar, bright lights and wooden floors, loud voices and bustling flesh. There are no filters here. I am returned. I blink at the harsh light of reality and, shaking, raise my glass to my lips. I am alone. Sitting and waiting. A sophisticated, well dressed woman, that most men are too scared to approach, sitting as if in a bubble, an invisible force field holding everyone at arms length. But I do not feel safe. In this moment I believe I feel more vulnerable than I have ever felt. I used to be so sure.

A man walks in and comes toward me. For a few seconds he appears to be a stranger and then I see that he is you. You look tired. Your stride is neither jaunty nor confident instead you tread carefully as if you approach a tiger. You greet me but I find I do not have words to respond. I invite you to sit with on a nod of the head.

Sitting opposite me I study your face. The lines around your eyes and mouth speak more of laughter but I see sorrow and trepidation in your beautiful eyes. You look at me with regret and almost fear. I remember the way you looked at me when we were young. I gulp at my drink.

You’re talking, you’re telling me you can come and pick up the rest of your things. I can’t hear it. My mind cannot take these things in. I shake my head. I try to speak but words do not come. I try to raise my glass to my lips again but my hands are shaking. You’re looking at me now, asking if I am alright. I shake my head again. I reach out across the table and I take one of your hands. I try to breathe but all I hear is a sharp sobbing gasp. I start to cry again. You reach out your other hand and you’re holding both of mine now. Your face is etched with concern. How can you care so much? How can you have it in you after I hurt you so? How? You brush the tears out of my eyes and you’re asking me to talk to you, to tell you what’s wrong. I still can’t speak. I shake my head again.

You extricate yourself for a moment and come back with two glasses of brandy. You place one in my hands and help me guide it to my lips. Then you just sit with me, holding my hands, soothing me. I feel the warmth of your skin and the warmth of your love. I cling to you. As I always should have.

I breathe deeply. I am working to regain my composure and struggling to find words. What words can I use to convey all there is to say? How can I show you what is in my heart? What I have seen? There are so many words and they are all so inadequate. You wait patiently. What do I want to say? You have such kind eyes.

And then it’s all so clear. The words are spoken rapidly, strangled by emotion.

‘Don’t collect your stuff.’ You frown, confused. ‘I mean, oh shit, I mean, I mean come home. I want you to come home. I don’t know what I’ve been thinking of. I’m sorry.’ I look at my hands, awkward and uncomfortable, full of hope and expecting the worst.

Then I hear you laughing. I look up. Frightened, horrified. What could be funny? What have I done? I think I see affection in your eyes. My lips tremble.

‘You idiot. Is that what this is about?’ You’re still laughing.

I’m confused, wounded and unable to perceive what you’re trying to say.

You stop laughing. Your eyes are soft. You touch my face.

‘Of course I will.’