They say when someone dies that they leave a hole in your heart but I don’t think that’s true.
Instead, they add something to your heart. It has the shape and weight of a large boulder and its forever in the way. It makes it hard for your heart to keep working. Hard to breathe. I tried explaining that to a woman at work and she told me about someone her friend knew who had a tumour inside their heart the size of a pea. I think she thought that would help. Empathizing by sharing a parallel story. They did both involve hearts. Maybe the emphasis was lost over text message.
That is why I bought him online.
The day after my dad died started like any other. I woke up and pulled my phone from under my pillow. I checked Whatsapp, Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram then twitter. In that order. Always in that order. Instead of making me smile, other people’s posts and images, other people’s lives continuing as if something awful hadn’t just happened— it made the boulder in my heart expand, till the boulder was taking up too much room. It would soon be visible through my skin. I know the importance of sharing your feelings, of not letting them sit inside you, festering like mouldy bread at the bottom of the bin, growing their own life. So I shared them, naturally. My status reflecting my current mood, missing my dad, not sure I’ll ever feel happy again *sad face emoji*. I stayed lying in bed, watching my phone, waiting for love to show. Hearts started flooding my phone with support, lifting mine with them.
— Stay positive hun
— Everything happens for a reason
— Thinking of you
— Focus on the good times #SoBlessed
Yasmine tagged me in a meme, it was so sweet, an image of two hearts that crashed into each other, confetti and the words Thinking Of You erupting out as they hit.
My lifting heart was short-lived. It crashed even lower, even harder. The sense of missing splashed out the sides as it hit the very bottom. I tried calling Yasmine. It rang through to voicemail. Whilst dithering over whether or not it was appropriate to leave a message, my phone beeped.
A text from Yasmine:
— What’s up? Everything OK?
— Yeah I was just hoping for a chat?
— Very retro *crying smiley face* can’t right now?
— I know, who talks on a phone right?! *diagonal crying smiley face x2* I’m just feeling a bit crap.
— I bet hun, its complete shite.
— Are you free to meet for a drink tonight?
— Soz hun, working. I’ll text you when I get home.
— Okay, thanks.
— Just remember I’m here for you. Whatever you need I’m totally here for you *double heart x4*
— *double heart*
I tried ringing a couple of people over lunch. They all text me back straight away, letting me know how concerned they are. I get it. Honestly, I’m not complaining. I know I would do the same but…
I logged on to Empathy4U.com. What kind of empathizer would you like? Male, Female or Transgender? Gay or straight? Young or old? Country of origin? Shit, I don’t know! I clicked on a man named Adam. He was the number one rated empathizer based on customer experience. That had to be good, right?
Hi, my name’s Adam and I just want you to know that I’m here for you. Whatever you are going through, you shouldn’t have to go through it alone and I would love to support you. I have a strong ability and want to understand and truly feel what you are experiencing and I am able to place myself in another’s position, whatever your situation may be.
It continued at the very bottom in very small writing. I opened out my screen.
Prices start at £200 an hour for standard empathizing. Additional extras such as hand holding, arm around the shoulder and hugs are available on request and charged at an additional £50 each. Email for full quote. All requests must be made through the website.
Adam was already waiting in the bar when I arrived. Seated at a small table at the back, a quiet corner, already he knew what I needed. He had an easy smile. Not stunningly good-looking but there was something about him. An unknown quality. It made me feel at ease. That and the wine he had already ordered for me. He really thought of everything. It was only once he did it, that I realized how long it had been since I hadn’t had that lingering feeling underneath.
They were words. Just words. Individually there were nothing but together — together they created a sea and stroked the sides of the abyss. He laughed with me. He cried with me. He filled all the clichés, letting them spill over the sides of me.
‘I’m so pleased I contacted you,’ I said, somewhat clumsily. Somewhat shyly. ‘I do have friends…’
‘Honestly, you don’t need to explain.’
‘We are all so busy, you know? And it is a bit much of me to expect anyone to have the time for a one-on-one get together.’
‘Of course, and there has to be emotional regulation right? I mean surgeons need to control their emotions when operating on a patient right? And friends need to be able to hold it together and protect themselves from someone else’s negative emotions too. It’s just how we are nowadays.’
‘You’re so right.’
‘Look, I don’t normally do this,’ his hair fell across his face like something from a movie, ‘but can I give you a hug?’
‘Usually hugs are an extra charge but, I feel we really have connected, you know? But only if you feel comfortable doing so.’
It was one of those amazing hugs. One that envelops you in warmth. He was taller than me, meaning that I could rest my head on his chest and let my breath sync into time with his. I actually couldn’t remember the last time that I had been hugged, been touched for no other reason than to bring kindness, been listened too and heard, felt so at peace.
I couldn’t believe it was him at first. He was facing the other way but then he laughed, throwing his head back and pushing his hand through his hair as he did so, then I knew, it definitely was. We hadn’t been in touch since our date. I had rated him as excellent, obviously, and my fingers had hovered over the ‘book again’ button but it really wasn’t feasible until after payday. Remembering the feeling of really connecting with someone, the warmth of being held, that had to be enough for now.
He sat at a table near the bar, a small group fixated on what he was saying. Good friends, I guessed, from their easy manner and constant laughter. I manoeuvred myself around the group I was with, getting a little bit closer. I kept looking over, subtly, hoping that he would turn around and see me. That he would sense my presence, but he was so engrossed. I downed my drink, signalled it was my round and shifted to their end of the bar. I was so close I could reach out and tap him on the shoulder.
‘Don’t you feel bad?’ a woman at his table was asking.
‘No one asked them to book me. It’s their choice.’
‘Yeah but, they think they are getting something real from you.’
‘They are! Human interaction! That’s a prized commodity these days.’
‘Can’t believe you hug them as well. And for free! Thought this was a get-rich-quick scheme. You can do that hugs-for-free bollocks with those weirdos in the park on a Saturday afternoon.’
‘Ahh but that is where you a wrong. Think of it like this… Empathy from me is two hundred quid right?’ She nodded. ‘A hug is fifty. Now if I give you the hug for free, make you feel special, make it feel like we have a connection – that’s the word I always use by the way “connection” they love it, especially the chicks – they feel like there is an extra connection. Next time they need empathy, who are they going to book?’ He hits himself on the chest like a Silverback asserting his importance. ‘I’ve just made myself a hundred and fifty pounds more.’
‘Not just a pretty face are you!’
The boulder in my heart has grown, I think it has spread to my head. I don’t remember leaving the bar, or getting home. I’m just here. Laptop open on my bed. My fingers are hovering once again, this time over the ‘delete account’ button. I shut it with a sharp snap. Not right now because, who else is going to be able to understand?
NICOLA BOURNE was born and raised in London before moving to Hertfordshire in 2010. Nicola recently completed a BA in Creative Writing and English Literature at the University of Hertfordshire and is currently working on her MA in Creative Writing at the University of Cambridge. Nicola lives with her husband, two children and particularly gorgeous French bulldog.