The Door I Never Opened
Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden.
TS Eliot – Burnt Norton
I cling to my regrets. They are milestones and millstones. Without them I would not know where I have been, or the doors I did not open. I would not feel the acute pleasure of permanence and drowning.
That does not mean I would not change some things I regret. But most of those are actions or decisions of such monumental personal proportions that I cannot unravel the consequences. Life, death, love and loss are contingent on those turning points.
There are little moments, almost inconsequential incidents that also haunt me: a choice of words, a second’s hesitation. Given the chance to do these over I would take a different path.
This is one.
AB and I had the best set in college. A little suite of rooms with its own kitchenette and bathroom, two bedrooms, and a living room larger than some of the flats I later lived in. Our ten-foot wide bay window, complete with a window seat broad enough to sleep on, looked out over the river and the Bridge of Sighs. Sunlight bathed the room.
There is much I regret about that final year. My glittering academic career, punctuated with awards and scholarships, came crashing to earth. I chose the wrong modules, and rather than change them, I ignored the syllabus and threw myself into night long discussions on metaphysics, maths, syntax, and the recipe for the perfect mozzarella salad. I wrote a lot of bad poems. A lot, and really bad. I spent hours tapping them out two fingered, but I could not bring myself to spend a fraction of that time in the library reading about my course.
That is not what I would change. I’d change the two words I said to you one summer afternoon before we sipped elderberry cordial under the shadow of Woolf and Wittgenstein.
There is a lot I don’t remember about that year, twenty have passed since then. I do remember you. I remember smoking with you on the window seat, our legs dangling towards the river three storeys below, when I should have been revising for my finals. You asked me to turn you into a vampire, and I bit your neck.
I remember how much you loved those windows. I remember I didn’t kiss you.
I remember the night four of us walked across the scholar’s garden, and the moon through the branches striped the lawn. I took off my shoes and went third, it was our Abbey Road, but not Belsize Park. “Do you remember barefoot on the lawn with shooting stars?”
And I remember the day I went to beg my Director of Studies to remark my finals papers to tip me over the edge to an upper second. He refused because I had done no work all year, and did not deserve it. When I came out on the street you were there, you played Torro and charged at me. You were going on a trip upriver, and either I invited myself, or you insisted I go with you. There was a gang of your friends, and of them I remember nothing at all.
We watched the trees pass overhead from the bow of the boat, wading through the unreal beauty of Cambridge. You pulled me back as the others strolled to the tea room and said, “I do love you, you know.”
I said, “I know.”
Those words cut me today, while you have undoubtedly forgotten them. I don’t know what I was trying to prove, or what coolness and aloofness would achieve. I should have said anything but that.
It would change nothing. I forget now if I ever saw you again after that day. Perhaps once in a fleeting goodbye and a promise to write. Perhaps never again. Those facts would remain unchanged. But the burden of two careless words in my memory would be lifted, and I would tread a little lighter, even two decades on.
If you are interested in my storytelling look here
More memories from college collated here