As you have probably gathered, the past few years have not really been the best. However, as you may also have gathered, there is also one thing which has more than made up for every bit of the bad stuff. Seeing as yesterday marked our first anniversary together I thought it would be a good time to introduce Gareth to you properly and share the tale of how we met. It's quite a cute story if I say so myself!
Life for me this time last year was, shall we say rather settled. The highlight of my week days was watching Shortland Street and My Kitchen Rules, topped only by the omnibus edition of Come Dine With Me on weekends. Most days I did nothing and saw no one. Even so, I was actually quite happy. Lonely but happy - after all, the loneliness was my choice. I didn't WANT to see anyone. For the first time in my life I was completely comfortable with myself and I was relishing it.
One thing was for certain, I did NOT want a relationship. Which was just as well as I truly believed there was nobody out there for me anyway - ever. As far as I was concerned, Ali and me had just over one more year together before he left home like his brother and from then on it would be just me and the pets, forever and ever. If you don't let anyone get close to you, they can't hurt you. And nobody was ever getting close to me again.
Although it was just Ali and me at home, I was becoming increasingly frustrated at the cost of food for the both of us and I remembered an article in a Simple Savings newsletter from years back, which said basically the only way to combat rising food prices was to grow as much as you could yourself. So one day I decided to take matters into my own hands and give it a go. I didn't know what I was doing really, but anything was better than nothing, right? Being a really adventurous sort I decided I would start with a herb garden. I prised myself away from Come Dine With Me and headed down to my local Bunnings to see what I could find.
I wandered through the store towards the outdoor area and suddenly came face to face with a tall, blonde haired chap with twinkling blue eyes and the warmest, most genuine smile I'd ever seen. 'Hi Jackie, how's it going? Can I help you with anything?' he asked. This guy knew my name? He'd never spoken to me before! 'I'm good thanks, I'm just looking for some parsley', I smiled back. Jeez Jack, what an inspiring answer. 'No worries, well just sing out if you need anything, OK?' he grinned at me one more time before going on his way. 'Yes! I want you to come back and talk to me some more!', I was shocked to find myself thinking. A tad flustered, I got my parsley along with a few other bits and pieces and went home and planted my herb garden.
Mission accomplished, I was on my way to saving. Next step, planting a vegie garden! There was just one thing bugging me. Try as I might, I could not get that smiley blonde guy out of my head. What the hell was wrong with me? I knew his name as he did mine - when you live in a town as small as ours everyone knows who everyone is, even if you don't know them. For a brief moment I contemplated sending him a friend request on Facebook but immediately gave myself a harsh talking to and a slap on the wrist. 'For goodness sake, he's much younger than you, what on earth would he ever see in someone like you? Stop acting like a silly schoolgirl and let that be the end of it!' I told myself.
But it wasn't the end of it. I checked my phone the following day and almost fell over to see a friend request pop up - it was him! I immediately accepted but again resigned myself to the fact that he was probably just being nice. Besides, I knew I would never have the courage to talk to him anyway. Even so, all of a sudden I found myself taking on all manner of home improvement and gardening projects which necessitated regular visits to Bunnings. My vegie garden was enormous and a true sight to behold. I even built a rockery - my garden had never looked so good! And every time I hoped that smiling blonde chap with the lilting Welsh accent would serve me, even if it was only to exchange a few sentences about our opposing teams' performances in the Rugby World Cup.
It was the World Cup, in the end which finally brought us together. Feeling brave one afternoon, I tagged him in a cheeky Facebook post I had seen about the Welsh rugby team. He responded and that was it, we messaged back and forth that night for six hours. We talked about everything, our homelands, our travel aspirations, his recent months spent in Canada, music - despite our difference in age we had so much in common. He was articulate, intelligent, creative, funny and refreshingly honest. Now here was a change for me - someone who could hold a real conversation! All I ever wanted was someone who actually wanted to talk and get to know me; instead all I had ever got before now was drunken texts or phone calls from blokes I barely knew who thought I would like nothing better than a 3am visit from them, or even better, a photo of their willy. Honestly, who says romance is dead?
Gareth on the other hand seemed genuinely quite happy to chat and so we did, night after night, from the moment he came home from work until it was time to go to sleep, when he would wish me 'Nos Dda' - goodnight in Welsh. Before long, he confessed that he had felt the same as me the day I had come in to get my parsley and both of us were feeling that perhaps we might really have something special. The only thing standing in the way was me. I was petrified of dating someone new, was still adamant I didn't want a relationship and besides, Gareth had talked many times of his intentions to go travelling again, I didn't want to get attached to him only to get hurt again. There was also someone else I had to worry about and that was Ali. He was my steadfast protector and bodyguard and he and his brother had had a lot to deal with over the past couple of years with young men stalking and hassling me; he even used to sleep next to me armed with a cricket bat and we had called the police more than once. When it came to men and me, he trusted no one and neither did I. I also worried that he wouldn't like me dating a younger man and I was right, he didn't.
But in typical Ali style he had his own way of dealing with things and in typical Gareth style, so did he. I was still working evenings at the local club back then when I realised I had left my wallet in my car and I needed it. 'Could you please drop off my wallet to me?' I texted Ali. 'Nah I can't sorry, I'm busy', came the reply. I was about to text back 'What are you doing that's so important that you can't spare two minutes to bring me my wallet?!' when he messaged again, 'I'm with Gareth, we've been hanging out for like three hours already', it said, followed by a smiley face. I couldn't stop smiling to myself, those two! Without my knowledge they had got together while I was safely out of the way so that Gareth could assure my son that his intentions were honourable and so Ali could see for himself that this guy was not out to hurt his mum. After that, Gareth finally persuaded me to go out on a date and although I was still absolutely terrified, I agreed to go bushwalking up one of the local tracks. I was worried that I wouldn't know what to say; after all, it would take a good couple of hours to walk the Parakiwai Valley track - and what if I was too unfit and collapsed in an unattractive heap like a sweaty, hyperventilating hippo?
Needless to say, I didn't collapse and we didn't run out of conversation either. In fact, we were both gobsmacked when we finally got back to the car park and realised that we had been in the bush for seven hours! We'd been so busy talking about everything under the sun and watching the world go by we hadn't even noticed the time passing. This guy was an old soul, a beautiful soul, no doubt about that. But even after that I was still putting up a fight. I couldn't bear being hurt again, I just couldn't and if I kept everyone at arm's length, well then nobody could hurt me. And then something really scary happened. Gareth told me that he had been offered a three-year apprenticeship, which would mean he would be committed to staying here instead of going travelling. 'I never had a reason to stay before - but now I do', he said. Crikey - he meant me? That was real relationship talk that was! I was so happy he had a reason to stay - but could I really let anyone get that close to me?
'For God's sake Mum, this guy is willing to change his whole life to be with you, the least you can do is give it a go!' Ali said exasperated, as I mumbled my concerns. Maybe he was right - but not tonight. I was getting ready to go out with a group of friends for the night and it was going to be fun because that's what I was after all, a strong and independent woman who could do whatever she flipping well wanted! Except it wasn't fun. I was bored, I felt as though I was in a meat market and as I wandered around aimlessly hoping to find a decent source of conversation to no avail I realised there was only one person I wanted to be with. 'Go! Just go!' urged my friend Gail and I did. I went straight to Gareth and I never had even the slightest glimmer of fear or doubt ever again.
As a couple, we have probably been through more together in our first year than a lot of couples ever do. So much sickness, sadness, stress and drama. But every morning we still wake up smiling. I don't know how he has managed it, I really don't but he has stood by me through the worst and most trying time of my life. For a good part of it he was also extremely unwell himself; there were many days where he could barely move for weeks at a time, to the extent that he had to leave his apprenticeship just a few months after he started. And I think it's safe to say he's definitely not after me for my money! But I do think a lot of my frugal ways have rubbed off on him. Even yesterday, our anniversary or 'Parsley Day' as we affectionately call it was celebrated modestly but perfectly. 'Look - it's 'Steak Out' night at The Lincoln!' I spotted as we walked past yesterday. 'You can get a steak dinner and a beer or cider for $22', I smiled at him, knowing how much he loves steak. 'Hmm - but if we go to the club it will only cost $22 for BOTH of us if we get a burger and chips!' he pointed out. 'True - tell you what, how about we just go to the supermarket on the way home and get something nice for dinner and I'll make us chocolate mousse for pudding?' I said. So that's what we did and it was just perfect! As for the parsley I bought the day we met, I still have it and do my best to nurture it, although I have to say our relationship has thrived a lot better than my plant!