Twenty years it's been. Twenty years I have been happily married with three beautiful children. Well, that's what the rest of the world sees. You may feel envious that I have such a steady, studious life. I admit that many don't have half of what I have, and I am forever grateful for that, but it would take a fool to think that my life has been effortless.
On the eve of my sixteenth birthday, there was a rustle outside the door, followed by the shrill sound of the doorbell, which awoke my older sister from her slumber. She arose, grumbling and groggy from a lack of sleep, and shuffled towards the door. As soon as she opened it and stepped outside, I felt the icy blast of the strong north easterly storm pierce my cheeks, the bitter gust of wind numbed my fingers. Standing outside our home, looking solemn, were two army officers, with the news that both me and my sister had had nightmares about since we were old enough to speak. Our Daddy, our beloved father, was dead. He was killed whilst fighting in the Second World War. This was tragic, but even more so because I have no mother. I've never had a mother. Not since the day I was born. She died in childbirth, and although I have heard many wonderful stories about her, I never knew who she was. All I knew was she had a sister, of whom I would soon become very familiar with.
It had been six months since that day, the day that evaporated every inch of joy and love from my being. That was the day that I finally met my mother's sister. I was still reeling from my father's death, my heart had not yet restructured to its former state. I will never forget the look of sheer repulsion on my sister's face when she emerged with my aunt from the games room and glared at me. Yes, my sister was my aunt's child. I, on the other hand, was the housemaid, the cleaner, the slave. I was imprisoned and only allowed from my quarters to do the weekly shop. I felt so alone; no one in my world understood the extent of my heartache.
One murky morning in mid December, I traipsed out the cellar and up the stairs, unhooking my coat from its hanger and tossing it over my shoulders, turning my back on the institution that was their house. As I started out towards the local market, the lights were turned out and East Sussex was plunged into semi darkness, the only light coming from the jagged shaped bolts crackling through the clouds in the sky. My eyes followed the raindrops as they began to patter against the frozen ground. The fallen leaves were crisp and crunched underfoot. The market was surprisingly busy as bustling bodies battled to purchase luxuries from the stalls before they had been cleared. I could almost feel the bruises appearing from where I had been shoved aside. Every week I did this, and every week I was the last to get to the stalls, the last to choose from the stale bread and mouldy vegetables, every single week.
I battled through the crowd, until my feet flew from underneath me and my nose became one with the solid stone floor. My eyes spied the cause of my fall, as an extended palm came into view; nail bitten fingers outstretched towards me. By the size of the hand, I could tell this was a young man, there were no wrinkles but his skin was rough as I grasped it, an indication of manual work. As I clambered to my feet in a rather unladylike fashion, my eyes reached his face. He immediately apologised for tripping me, and strove to gain forgiveness for his clumsiness by offering me assistance in the collection of the groceries for them.
To my surprise, he was amiable company. He asked my name, I told him 'Rosie'. He introduced himself as Ethan. I got the impression he was holding back too, which made me feel more comfortable in his presence. He asked if I would take a walk with him, I accepted. After all, I was in no rush to get back and he was a pleasant distraction. We strolled, clambering up a slope, pausing for breath at a monument commemorating those who gave their lives to the wars, and admired the sun breaking through those threatening clouds.
That first day will cement in my mind forever as the day the sun shone through the dark exterior that had enveloped my being. I tugged my coat tighter around my body, trying to shield myself from the bitterness of the wind, as I trudged up the drive back to my aunt's house, my sister's home, weighed down with festive grub. I never describe this house as home, it isn't my home, and it will never be home to me.
Over the next week, I learnt a lot about Ethan, his parent's death, his heartache and pain which rivalled my own. We hugged, we kissed and we embraced each other in every possible way. The tender moments we spent together gave me the solace that I hadn't received since the day my father's heart stilled forever. In that week, I smiled and laughed for the first time in months. In that week, I loved and was loved by another for the first time in my life.
New Years Eve, usually a joyous occasion, but not for me. This was the night my Aunt crushed all hope of me having a happy existence; free of the burdens of being a servant. This was the night she told me I was to marry a noble, a man who would bring their family much wealth and prosperity. I cannot bear to recall that night, but then I cannot blame my husband for my aunt's cruelty. After all, it was only because of his name that we were married; it was never due to love.
My love never left Ethan, the orphaned boy from Middlesbrough, who brightened my life. This love aches, snaking and piercing its way through my heart, leaving a vacuum where he should be. Twenty years, I dreamed, hoped, wished to see him again, just a glimpse would have consoled my fears. Twenty years with nothing.
Then came the 23rd January 1965.