Right Place, Wrong Time 

It began when I was 19. It was my first field project as part of my degree, which I’d signed up for fairly last minute due to broken legs, surgery and degree changes impacting heavily on my first year of studies. Basically, I wasn’t really meant to be there.

He was part of the team as a PhD student, but from a different background. He had interesting, hard hitting and hilarious stories from his ‘former life’, before he started his MA in my field. The student team, and staff supervisors, gravitated to him, and his anecdotes and views on life lit up the room.

Throughout the day we would catch each other’s eye, smile, and I’d look away immediately. I fancied him, of course I did. He was intelligent, down to earth, had a wonderful smile and a dreamy accent. I brushed off the attention as something that probably was nothing. Offering me tea from his flask, which we’d sit and share the stash of biscuits we would select the morning of; inviting myself and my roommate over to the cottage with all of the guys in, because we all got on so well and he’d make us all porridge because he knew it was my favourite- it was all in my head. Everyone adored this guy, and there’s no way he could single someone like me out.

The last evening of the project was a teammate’s birthday. We drank all of the wine imaginable, he opened up and told me about how his previous relationship ended, I told him about the domestic violence I had encountered growing up, and we draped a blanket over our lap, held hands underneath and later watched the moon in each other’s arms. Probably nothing special.
The next morning I left. I was devastated, and we didn’t speak for a year.

The next year we greeted each other with a hug, as we all arrived to start the same project again for the following season. We spent longer together, and a few more times alone. Our hugs started to last that fraction too long, but never transpired into anything else. Again, I was utterly convinced this was all a figment of my imagination, of which I constantly assaulted for thinking I was deserving of any sort of special attention. He would tell me how obvious it was that another member of the team was harbouring affections for me and I ‘should go for someone like that’ as the guy walked through the kitchen between one of our late night chats.

We said our goodbyes before we even left, because we knew the hug in front of the team, as we all said our goodbyes, wouldn’t be enough. We needed that extra fraction of a second, and the extra tightness, and the deep inhale of breath, to complete the ritual.

Then it changed. We started to occasionally text, flirty but not suggestive. He was based away from my university city, and came in periodically for research purposes. We met up, and spent a lot of time together, both alone and with our field team. Everyone was desperate to see him, yet I would relish in the fact I’d been for dinner with him, and I knew we would walk an odd way home to lose everyone and hug. The hugs became longer. They became around corners, in shadows, so no one would see. They became as long as we could manage, I’d wrap my arms around his neck, and run my hands through his hair. He would nuzzle my neck. These hugs became the make out sessions we never had.

The following summer was the most intense. We returned to the same project. We spent more time alone- he would take me away from the team to help him in his research, which was similar and useful for my own. We would research, and he would teach me skills, watching me get frustrated at my lack of skills brought on by my paranoia of being practically useless. He’d let me cry, make me tea, and we’d try again. And again. Until I got it right, and I’d jump for joy and beam, and he’d beam back. We would wait until everyone went to bed, and meet each other in the library of the house with peppermint tea, a jar of Nutella and two spoons. We would sit close, just be together, and give each other one of our long hugs goodnight. I felt on top of the world until he started to talk to me about the guy who returned this year, who obviously quite fancied me. ‘You should be with someone who can make you happy, and treat you right’. At the time I interpreted this as friendly, albeit unsolicited advice, but now I realised he was trying to work through his conflicts.

We became a pair on the fieldwork, friends who maintained a relationship that went beyond the field season, a constant part of the team, whereas many of the team came and went- except for the guy mentioned before (he becomes important).

Three weeks later we both travelled to a different project abroad. We travelled together, on the plane, and across this new country. This time we arrived as a pair, to a whole new team. We often left the group for walks or drinks together, but also spent a lot of time with the group.

We thought we were being inconspicuous, until the day before he left (2 weeks before me) a few of the team asked me what was going on. I was dumbstruck, and was still worried as to whether this was all in my head. They told me it was clear he was crazy about me, and he always looks at me when my gaze is elsewhere. When I flirted with other boys on the team, mostly as a joke, he quickly vacated the room (and, embarrassingly, I didn’t pick up on this).

I confided in one of the guys I felt most comfortable with- who I am still very close with to this day- and explained the whole story. This story I’d kept secret for so long, and a tide of relief washed over me when he confirmed it clearly wasn’t in my head.

That evening, his last on the project, we all drank wine and told stories and stargazed in the bottom of the abandoned swimming pool. We both ended up in an inflatable dinghy (we’d bought two weeks earlier for our attempt to row across the river), in each other’s arms, before the confidant and friend decided to leave us to each other. We held each other. He told me what a magical person I was, with all I’d achieved in the face of the adversity I’ve faced in my life. I told him the same. After what seemed like hours of silence, he tilted my chin so my eyes met his, and just as he got the words out I cut him off.

I know

We moved in to kiss, closer than we’d ever been before, and instead I nuzzled against his face.

I wanted to kiss him, of course I did. I wanted to taste him, and touch him, and have him touch me. I wanted to fuck him, in an inflatable dinghy in an abandoned swimming pool, underneath the stars. But we didn’t. I nuzzled him, and went to bed alone.

When we said our goodbyes the next morning on the landing of the accommodation, after our strangely perfect summer of being ‘us’, we both cried. We knew it was over, as we would never be away together again. We’d missed our moment, as I told my confidant as the team watched me hold back tears as he caught the train.

Do you regret it?

he asked.

No. I mean I’d thought about being with him for years, and would be lying if I hadn’t.

The thing was he had a partner, whom he never spoke about to me. I had a partner for some of this time, about whom I never spoke about to him. This was a conscious decision, as we both knew of the existence of the other. I began to date the guy he’d told me I should be with, because he was right that I should be with someone who I could be with completely. Our relationship faltered after that, owing to the fact that my new partner and him were also friends, and even though I’ve moved on from both, they keep in touch.

He was 49 when I last saw him. I was 24. When he left, I found an envelope under my pillow. It had a necklace he’d made for me inside, and a note. The note simply said 

Right Place, Wrong Time

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