“A girl is sitting on a park bench looking around for somebody. Whom is she waiting for?”
I was sitting on this exact same bench when a boy, a couple of months older than me who I had never seen before, comes and sits next to me.
I was sixteen at the time, so I was rather shy around boys. Admittedly, I had never had a boyfriend. Yes, I’d kissed boys at parties but I’d never actually gone on a date; no one had asked me to be their girlfriend; no one had wanted to be with me.
Out of my group of friends I wasn’t the prettiest. My hair was a main of brown curls that I always kept tied out of my face, my eyes were a bit too close together and my nose wasn’t perky, it was just round and sort of there. I was short. I was a little chubby at that age. My wardrobe didn’t go as far as a graphic tee that quoted a favourite TV show or book; jeans of multiple colours styled with converses that were battered and written on with sharpie, quoting band lyrics that I thought were cool and edgy. I didn’t find myself the most attractive, and I guess I was okay with that, but that didn’t mean that I didn’t want a boyfriend.
When this boy sat down next to me, he didn’t say much at first. All he did was take out a sketchpad, placed a pencil, rubber and sharpener by his side and started drawing.
All I was doing was reading a book, enjoying the sun at my local park that I liked to visit as much as I could. I even went there when it rained, just to get out of the house and escape my forever rowing mum and stepdad, stuck-up stepsister and stepbrother. I sometimes visited my dad but he was usually out working so I would just be left on my own in his house that seemed too big for a single man that worked way too much.
Sitting there, I started to realise that this boy was not only drawing, but kept looking at me. It took me a while before I realised that he was in fact, drawing me.
I said nothing of it, of course, being too shy to ask him why he was drawing me of all people, so I just sat there and carried on reading.
An hour went by before I felt the bench shift slightly, and when I looked up the boy was gone with a piece of paper left in his place, held down by a rock.
The drawing of me. It was beautiful.
After that day I went back to sit on that bench every day, waiting for him to come back.
It was exactly a week later that the boy came back, sat down next to me and again started to draw.
A month went by with this happening every week. Me, sitting on the bench reading, while he drew me in his sketchpad and then left, leaving me only the drawing to remind me that he was real and I wasn’t just having delusions.
On the fifth week I chose to spoke to him.
After half an hour I bookmarked my page in my book, turned to the boy and just sat there, watching as he clenched his jaw while he concentrated, nibbling at his tongue; watching his short hair flop down and frame his face as he looked down at the paper on his lap. He was stunning and unlike any of the boys that I had to deal with at my school.
When it was time for him to look up at me again, he paused. He froze as he realised that I was no longer in my normal pose, hunched over my book – instead, I was looking straight at him with a smile hinted on my lips.
‘Hi.’ he breathed.
His voice was warm and was syrup to my ears.
‘Hi,’ I said back, ‘I love the drawings that you’ve been leaving me.’
That took him by surprise. He must have thought that I hadn’t been taking them at all, and instead balling them up and throwing them in the nearest bin. He didn’t know that I had stuck every single one of his drawings to my wall just above my bed.
‘Thank you,’ he said.
‘What’s your name?’
It took him a second to answer. ‘Martin,’ he answered, ‘You?’
‘Kyla,’ I told him.
‘Kyla,’ he repeated, as if he was testing my name out in his voice to see if it worked. I thought it did, and I think he did too, ‘I like it. It suits you.’
Since that day, we met up every week at that exact bench.
For the first hour we would sit in silence as he would draw me and I would read.
Once he was finished he would hand me the drawing and then we would talk; get to know each other; tell each other stories. It was nice to have someone. He seemed to understand me, and I seemed to understand him. He drew as his way to try and see reality as a blissful, beautiful place like it should be, while I read about the world being as wonderful and wholesome as it could be. We would sit together in our own content realities, and then break out of them and chat in the real world. It was nice. It was something I had never had in my life before.
After another month we started seeing each other out of the park. We would grab a coffee. We would go to the Art Shop. We would go to the Book Store. We would just walk around a bit and all of the time we would be talking.
After a year he asked if I wanted to be his girlfriend.
I said yes.
I introduced him to my friends. I introduced him to my family. I introduced him to my fat cats Bert and Bumble, my crazy dog Lula, my guinea pigs Susan and Bubble, and my bunny rabbit Tweedle.
I met his friends. I met his family; mum, dad, little sister Julia and big brothers Matt and Ryan. I met his pet fish Dumbledore, his snake called Snape, and dogs Myrtle, Luna and Ron; he then went on to tell me about his everlasting love for Harry Potter which then went on to me staying the night as we stayed up having a marathon of all of the films, taking fan quizzes and baking Hogwarts Houses inspired cakes at five in the morning that actually turned out tasting and looking amazing.
Through our sense of style changing, our ups and downs going to the same college, our looking around university, our changing friendship groups, we stayed strong. And most of all, we made sure to go to our special bench every week to just talk.
I ended up finding a love for floral dresses, lost a bit of weight and grew out my hair, finding a new love for makeup. He grew a lot taller, towering over me, found a love for video game design and turned into a man who wanted to travel the world.
So, between college and university we took a gap year and went to Asia, saying goodbye to our special bench and started exploring new parks. The money had come from years of saving, days full of working and many swear jars dotted around the house.
We were out in Asia for around six months until something started going wrong.
While we were travelling Martin started to get sick. He would have ongoing discomfort in his stomach; he would start getting fevers; he started to loose weight rapidly but he was eating all of the same; the glands in his neck started swelling extremely. We had to get home and see a doctor right away.
The doctor took a blood test.
It was Chronic Lymphocytic Leukaemia.
Actions were put in place immediately.
He started Chemotherapy and lost his hair, had multiple doctors appointments, hospital visits, stays on the Ward. However, through all of that, I never left his side.
I would come and visit him when I could. I would come with him to the doctors. I would sit in his support groups, his socials and some of his meetings. I would do everything I could to remind him that I wasn’t going anywhere because I loved him.
Every week I would take him to our bench, to try and keep things as same as they once were, but it was clear that Martin could see how different things were now.
When university came around, Martin was insistent that I went.
I told him over and over that I didn’t want to go without him, but he was not having it, so I moved into Halls and attended a University close to him and home to study Journalism without him, when I was nineteen.
Every week we would still meet up at our bench and talk, but it was clear that Martin was getting more and more fed up with being sick, and soon we were just back to me sitting reading, while he drew me.
In my second year of university Martin started to come less and less to our bench.
I would wait there for the whole day, reading and waiting for him to show up, but he never did.
After a month straight of nothing but texts and phone calls, I had had enough. He would not meet me at our bench. He would not video chat. He would even barely let me hear his voice for longer than ten minutes before saying that he had to go.
Admittedly I got angry. I swore to myself. I stormed over to his house and demanded that he saw me because I was his girlfriend and I cared a shit tonne about him, and would not stand to be ignored any more.
But it was his sister that answered the door, and she told me that Martin was in hospital and had been there for weeks.
I drove straight there, jumped out of the car and ran to the ward.
When I saw him in his hospital bed I burst into tears, admitting that I was a terrible, selfish girlfriend and that I was sorry that I got angry at him. I didn’t know what I would do without him.
He turned to me, and just simply handed me a folded up piece of paper.
I opened it up and saw a sixteen year old Kyla sitting there, hunched over her book and hair tied out of her face to show off her serious expression as she took in every single word she was reading.
That girl was me, and yet she looked so different compared to the woman that I had become. It was like looking back in time to the day that Martin and I had first met. That first drawing was hung up in my new flat, just above my bed with all of the other drawings that he had done of me over the years. I had never got rid of any, and never will.
‘You’ve been there since that day five years ago,’ Martin told me, ‘you are the best girlfriend I could have ever dreamed of and I love you. I wish I could spend the rest of my life with you, but I most likely won’t be able to and I hate myself every day for it. You are my sunshine that wakes me up every morning and encourages me to keep moving. You don’t need to apologise as I know that this is hard on you. You’re human. Of course you’re going to be upset. I love you, please never forget that.’
‘I love you too,’ I told him through tears, ‘And you will get through this. We will have our future together. We will grow old together. You’ll live.’
‘Kyla,’ Martin was calm as he took my hand, ‘you need to be realistic.’
‘I’m not giving up on you.’
‘And I will never give up on you.’
He died weeks later.
I cried every day.
I didn’t turn up to class.
I locked myself away in my room in my flat and just sobbed.
My family tried to consol me but I turned them away. My friends sat me down with ice-cream and pizza, put on a cheesy television show and cuddled me close, but all I did was cry on their shoulders and over the food, paying no attention to the television at all. Martin’s family came over to see me a couple of times, and most of the time we would sit and cry together and talk about all of the funny things that Martin used to do.
I went to that bench every day for the next three months, each day placing a flower onto the place where he sat. I engraved his name into the wood, signed with little love-hearts. I cried some more.
His family would sometimes come with me. We would sit down on the bench and hug each other, not speaking, just accompanying each other during the dark days.
His family are still my family, and I don’t think I’ll ever want them out of my life.
It’s been a year since he died and I’m sitting here on this bench, his sketchbook in my hand, flicking through all of his incredible art work that was the way to my heart when we first met.
Every day I miss him, there’s no denying that. He was my best friend.
A little bit of hope stays in me that one day he’ll turn up at this bench, sit down beside me and hug me close.
But I know that that’s never going to happen.
Yet, I just wait.
I wait and wait…