I’m a grumpy old man now so I can’t pretend to know much about Kelly Clarkson or her music but I’ve always liked this song. Although it was released five years after I left England (and didn’t reach the top 40 in my homeland), it immediately made me think of the last time I ever saw Charlotte.
If I could write one song about that experience, this would be it. I had gone to Wisconsin for Christmas 1999 and the Millennium New Year and flew home on Saturday January 8th, 2000. At some point during that trip, I had been thinking about her and made the decision to leave her life.
J, if you’re reading these entries in the order in which they were written, then this might not be 100% clear yet – I’ll talk about Charlotte properly another time. Suffice it to say, I guess she was the proverbial “one that got away” and after our relationship had ended in April 1999, we had continued to be friends.
Frankly, this was very difficult for me, since she had been the one to end the relationship and I was still in love with her. Months later, I still had feelings for her and I knew I had to move on. I honestly felt that I was also holding her back emotionally and that the only way for us both to move forward was to break the tie. There were other factors too. One was selfish – I would find it difficult to see or hear about her in another relationship. Also, she was a lot younger than me and would be going to university shortly so I knew I’d have to face that separation anyway. I just decided to face it sooner rather than later.
I never discussed this with her. I believed she might try to persuade me otherwise – or, more likely, that I would persuade myself. There was no point in continuing the self-delusion that someday, somehow, over tears, coffee and reconciliation, we would be back together again.
I can’t remember how I arranged to meet her or exactly what day we met for the last time. I know it was within two weeks of me coming home. I remember very little of our meeting – I went around to her house one evening and told her about my trip. I wasn’t there for very long, perhaps no more than ten minutes, and we never left her hallway. I gave her the T-shirt I had brought back from Madison for her and then made my excuses to leave. I never said a word about this being the last time and she really had no idea until I was literally stepping out the door.
I didn’t know how else to let her know, but I did it in the most direct, yet subtle way I could.
See, when you visit friends and family and it’s time to go, no one ever says “good-bye.” They always say “take care”, “catch ya next time”, “have a good week” or whatever.
I stepped through her front door, into the night outside. As she began to close the door behind me, I turned, looked her right in the eye and said “Good-bye, Charlotte. Take care.”
Her eyes immediately changed; understanding flashed there, momentarily, and I felt certain there was a sudden stab of emotion behind her realization. I don’t think she said anything and I can’t remember for sure what happened next, except that I got in my car and drove away. I didn’t look back.
I never saw or heard from her again. Occasionally, in the years that followed, I thought I saw her face in a crowd but I highly doubt it was ever her. She often crosses my mind; I sometimes second-guess myself and wonder “what if…” – what if I had revealed my intentions? What if I had called her again? What if we had always remained friends?
Did I do the right thing? Love and regret, J, love and regret.
I hope she’s happy.