Authors: Nick Alexander
Fifty Reasons to Say Goodbye
Nick Alexander was born in Margate, and has lived and worked in the UK, the USA and France. When he isn't writing, he is the editor of the gay literature site BIGfib.com. His latest novel,
The Case of the Missing Boyfriend
, was an eBook bestseller in early 2011, netting sixty thousand downloads and reaching number 1 on Amazon. Nick lives in the southern French Alps with two mogs, a couple of goldfish and a complete set of Pedro Almodovar films. Visit his website at
Each time the losses and deceptions of life teach us about impermanence, they bring us closer to the truth. When you fall from a great height, there is only one possible place to land; on the ground, the ground of truth. And if you have the understanding that comes from spiritual practice, then falling is in no way a disaster, but the discovery of an inner refuge.
My father was born in the top floor bedroom of his parents' guesthouse, the mysteriously named “Donnybrook” â my grandmother told me all about it. It overlooked the beach, and on the cold stormy November night he was born, the rain lashed against the rattling sash windows. Between bouts of searing pain she glimpsed the raging sea, wondering if this was in some way not-meant-to-be; she was always looking for signs.
But as soon as he was born, the storm moved on and she dozed exhaustedly watching the sunrise, listening to the screaming laughter of the seagulls on the roof, the baby sleeping in her arms. She knew that everything would be OK after all.
Dad said his only childhood memories were of the beach. Long, endless summers of buckets and spades and adopted aunties, of gritty sandy sandwiches and cold, deep, wet burials by adopted brothers. Of dribbling chocolate flaked ice creams and sandy dams failing, crumbling against the incoming tide. As an adult he would forever wonder what city kids did all summer long.
It was on the beach he met his wife, my mother, not a mile away from Donnybrook. She was a Londoner on summer holiday alone; her parents were working. She looked like Rita Hayworth. Sometimes she laughed easily, sometimes she stared icily at the sea; he was intrigued. They slept together twice, she got pregnant, they got married.
His first girlfriend was heartbroken; she married the best man instead.
The baby died at birth; apparently Mum nearly died
too. The war stopped them trying again for seven years.
Dad told me that in the drifting stifling sands of North Africa, he had thought of the beach all the time, a taunting symbol of a carefree past. That's why when he returned he wanted to live there again, that's why they moved into his parents' house.
He said that the war had changed him, that the sadness of it all had softened him. My mother had changed too â she'd been hardened by rationing and air raid shelters.
They had a child every three years, regular as clockwork for as long as it was possible. I ended up the last of four.
Dad's parents died only three years apart. They finished their lives in the top rear bedroom, his old room, with only the railway station to look at.
The sea view rooms were saved illogically for absent but ever-imminent paying guests, but people no longer went to Eastbourne on holiday, preferring exotic sands with foreign names.
Eventually they bought carpet for all of our rooms, mine was orange â it was the seventies. When the wind blew off the sea, the carpet lifted as the air pushed through the floorboards.
Our house slowly passed from being a screaming nursery school to a bubbling cauldron of adolescent and menopausal angst.
Of course, we were fine; we were busy being adolescents. We just reacted to Mum's hysteria and Dad's sulking by shouting even louder. We hated everyone anyway â society, grown-ups, each other; our parents were just part of the dÃ©cor. But for them,
it was hard, Mum spent a third of her time in bed with an endless series of mysterious illnesses, Dad spent the evenings walking along the beach, looking for calm and refuge.
During the endless summers they would pack us off with picnic, buckets, windbreaks. They would stay behind to do the adult things, the shopping, the repairing, the decorating, and the arguing. I think they envied us, with our friends and our games and our laughter.
Mum came to resent Dad's friends. I don't know how that happened, but one by one she found a reason to dislike them and slowly, one by one, they stopped coming. She never seemed to laugh anymore. I guess that was when he started to doubt.
One by one my brothers left, for wives or distant jobs or college.
One summer, sitting on a green, seaweed encrusted wall, with his feet dangling in the water, Dad admitted that he didn't love her anymore. Three summers later on the same wall he decided to leave. He told me first. I felt sad, abandoned, but honoured to be the first to know.
When he told her, I was watching from the back garden. The window was open and by holding my breath I could hear. She stared out of the front window.
She said, “Well, whatever you want. I mean, why would anyone else matter. It's always been all about you.”
She said, “I want the house, and if you're dumping Mark on me, enough for us to live on. Hopefully he'll be leaving soon enough anyway.”
She said, “And I want you to leave right now.”
When they said goodbye it seemed very formal, very correct, very businesslike.
Dad moved out into a flat; it looked out over a tiny backyard with a broken motorbike in it.
Every weekend he would walk to the beach. Sometimes he would spend the day with me.
When she was there he would watch from a distance.
If I saw him first I would wander casually down to the beachfront, escape so that we could spend the time together. He would sneak me into a pub, buy me a beer â I was sixteen. When they met she smiled tightly. There was never any drama.
I moved out only six months later, escaped to a rented room in a friend's house â Mum's new regime was all the motivation I needed; it felt like rationing was back.
I worked for a few years, studied enough to get the exams I had dropped out on, and then went to college. Sometimes I used to visit her, but she always seemed bitter, always depressed.
She ended up all alone in the big house and complained about it, said it was too big â as though it had been imposed on her. I used to come down to see Dad too. I don't know why but he never visited me once in Manchester.
At night we would sit on the concrete steps leading down to the beach, now littered with indestructible McDonalds' boxes. Mostly he was happy, but sometimes, without explanation he would weep.
Sometimes we saw Mum gazing from the window, just before she closed the curtains.
Dad always asked, “How's your mother?”
I always replied, “Oh, you know, the same.”
I'm sure she saw us, but she never made any sign.
He died while I was at college.
He was with his girlfriend, big surprise! No one knew.
She was at the funeral too, a thin woman with wild red hair. She wept hysterically. Our mother went home the second the service had finished. Strangely, we, the brothers, went to a pub. Guiltily we got drunk, laughed, had fun.
I think that that was when we realised that without our parents we got along just fine. It was our first ever get-together without them, it felt illicit and strangely relaxed.
The funeral was the last time the whole family was together in the same room. Reunited to say goodbye, â goodbye to our father, and then one by one to each other.
Jenny is lovely. She has a set of keys to our house. She used to go out with John, my flatmate â she had a set of keys in those days too, probably the same ones. My big double bed catches the afternoon sun. Some days, when I come home she's asleep in the sun with my cat Sizzler.
We spend so much time together. We have our favourite coffee shop, our favourite pub.
She doesn't have a car, can't get to the out of town stores, so I take her on Saturdays â people are always assuming â¦ I don't really know why we're
together. She probably doesn't fancy me, she goes for swarthy Italian types, although it has to be said that John is neither swarthy nor Italian.
He kissed me once, as we crossed on the stairs. I think he was drunk. No one knows about that, not even Jenny. I don't tell anyone. It was quite nice, a bit of a surprise really, but nice. Still we're very close.
I only had three girlfriends while I was at college. The first one slapped me the first time we kissed. It was apparently because I got a hard-on; I suppose she wasn't ready. The second was beautiful, Spanish. Her ex-boyfriend hit me over the head with a crowbar. I hadn't even slept with her and I'm not even sure that I wanted to, but I was in love with her. She used to make me laugh and I used to walk across town to see her. I used to go to sleep thinking about her. For some reason she didn't want to see me after that, as though it was my fault!