17 – Paradise Regrets
John often thought about her, he couldn’t help it, they had been a couple for the vast majority of his life and he had known her before he could remember anything else.
Carol Ann had always been a part of his life.
His earliest childhood memories were playing with her in the small plastic pool in her family garden, their mums sitting together on the patio, knitting and making casseroles or stews waiting on the fathers to come home on the train to Cambuslang from their offices in Glasgow.
In their teenage years, lying fully clothed in her single bed, cuddling and laughing. They had agreed that they must have been about three at the time. Aged three, but they had known each other since birth as the evidence was in the photographs tucked away in the family album from each others christenings. Those grainy faded images showed that they played together as babies, crawling round under tables, playing with teddies, slept together in his parents large bed surrounded by pillows.
They had looked at these old albums many times over the years, laughed about them.
But although the evidence was there, they were far too young to actually have any real memories, only those pseudo-memories that the brain magically manufactures when you get told the same story time and time again, making it real.
Having such close documented memories was very reassuring, it was something that they had both held close to them. These secure memories kept them together even when things were tough, when he was made redundant in the early 80s when Thatcher made her cuts and mortgages rates went sky-high a year or two later.
Times were hard but they had each other.
Isn’t that the way it’s always meant to be?
As was expected, and had been agreed by their parents, they got married, both of them aged 21, because her dad wouldn’t allow it any sooner.
Their wedding was a huge affair, 400 guests at Saint Brides Church for the formalities and the reception at The Burnside Hotel, back when it really was quite a plush place and it was difficult to get a booking for a Saturday in June then.
But they were both well known in the area and Carol Ann’s friend Julie worked in the reception and made sure that they had their name down for the first cancellation.
They must have heard the phrase “childhood sweethearts” at least a zillion times, as their aunts on both sides, neighbours and everyone they knew from growing up next-door to each other in Wellshot Drive had called them over the years.
Childhood sweethearts, a match made in heaven, now Mr and Mrs John and Carol Ann McIver and fulfilling their destiny of carrying on the family lines.
Well so everyone thought.
But John, Carol Ann and her mum Ruby knew a little differently.
Carrying on the family line had been the least of their problems in the days before the wedding. The only good thing was that the timing was fortunate.
Carol Ann was a good Catholic girl, she’d told him straight “If you want to get into my knickers John McIver then you’ll have to put a ring on that finger” pointing the said finger into his face and letting him know her expectations in no uncertain terms.
He’d begged her for a little, just a little, but eventually relented, it was going to happen anyway, their future was already mapped out for them and the parents were already talking about where they would live and the size of house they would need for a growing young family.
“He could remember everything thing as if it happened only yesterday”
A line from Meat Loaf’s “Paradise by the Dashboard Light”, how they loved that song at the time, it had been one of their favourites when they were 15 and now at 20, engaged to be married this summer and John almost finished his apprenticeship as an engineer at the Hoover factory just of the main street.
Whenever they could, they would tell their parents that they were visiting friends or going to the cinema and would spend their nights kissing and fumbling in the back of his dad’s Ford Cortina parked at the top of the Cathkin Braes.
Those fantastic night views of Glasgow being totally ignored for a glimpse at her bra, then months later her breasts, then as time passed her nipples, a kiss at them, a small suck at each of them, just for a minute but that was as far as she would go.
There was no way she was going to do anything else or let him do anything else.
Well not until that night that they went to see Julie’s baby, a short drive from Cambuslang to Carmunock to Julie and Roberts small flat.
They had already seen the baby in the hospital of course, but this was more a wetting-the-babies head, a small party for close friends with Julie’s mum taking the baby away at 10pm so that the young ones could have a bit of time on their own to celebrate.
Carol Ann didn’t really drink, she never has so the wine went straight to her head.
She was drunk quite quickly, not falling around, but giggly and laughing because she couldn’t get up from the sofa to go to the loo.
And of course she loved everyone, hugging Julie and telling her and Robert that she wanted to get pregnant as soon as they were married.
By the time they were heading for home at 2am, John had to help her to the car as she wasn’t very stable on her feet. He was working the Sunday morning overtime and wasn’t really drinking, but back then everybody drove with more than the legal limit, it was only the four pints, who can’t drive a car on four pints, eh?
Carol Ann, hugged him the minute he got in the driver side, sliding across to hold him, slobbering over the side of his face and telling him how much she loved him.
A few minutes later, driving up the hill to the west end of the braes, he was shocked when she put his hand between his legs and told him that she wanted a baby, that she wanted to make lots of babies.
John took turned off the main Cathkin Road that crosses the Braes into the road that looped around the farms and led up to East Kilbride. They pulled into their usual place at the entrance to Coulter’s Wood, a quiet little spot where he could park the car behind the trees and they were shielded from any passing cars, not that there were many cars passing this way at any time of day and even less so at this time of night.
John wanted to hold her,, kiss her, tell her how much he wanted her, that he couldn’t wait to be married to her and that he would love her forever.
But she beat him too it, as soon as he pulled on the handbrake, her hands were behind his neck pulling him to her, telling him for the second time that she loved him, that she wanted him and she wanted to make lots of babies with him.
John had never saw her pissed before and liked her in this giggly state.
He allowed her to pull his head towards him, leaning over the seats of the Cortina, kissing her then running his right hand from her waist to her breast without any resistance or attempt to push him away.
She kissed him deeper, lustily, pushing her tongue in his mouth.
This was a new experience for John, he’d spoke about this in the factory, with the other apprentices and young tradesmen. Those bawdy conversations about the women they had fucked. John was sure that most of it was made up, guys all bull-shitting each other, it was setting a pecking order, he knew that.
But it was also informative, those little bits of secret knowledge about how to touch her, what girls like and how you can tell if they want you. Apparently if a girl puts her tongue in your mouth she wants you to fuck her.
He didn’t actually believe that Carol Ann wanted to have sex, but he was happy to go with the flow. He wanted her, they were getting married in a few months time so what difference would it make?
He tested his luck, unbuttoning the front of her red blouse, pulling away from her so that he could look her in the eye as he did so.
She looked doe-eyed, frightened and bit her lip as he undid the buttons. Pausing slightly before he pulled the blouse open to reveal her.
“You do love me John? Tell me that you love me and you’ll never leave me”
“Baby, I’ve loved you all my life, we’ve always been together, we’re getting married in June, we’ll make our promises in front of everyone, but I’m telling you now, I will never leave you.” He held her eye, making sure that she knew that she meant it.
“And now our bodies are oh so close and tight, it never felt so good, it never felt so right”
They made love right there on the front seat of the Cortina, the seat reclined and his jeans at his ankles. There was rushed desperateness about it, he wanted to fuck her before she changed her mind. He wanted to know what the fuss was about, he hoped that if took this chance and they did it once, then she would always let him do it.
But she wasn’t changing her mind, she wanted him, pulled him towards her as he entered her, then held him as he came inside her thrusting and grunting in ecstasy within moments of being inside her.
Then she started to cry, her tears sliding down her face.
He didn’t understand and asked her why. He wasn’t really used to dealing with female emotion and this was all new to him physically and emotionally. Not that he could have verbalised that at the time as he didn’t have anything like the necessary life experience.
“Because life will never be the same now” And she kissed him, saying that she had no regrets, but he had better marry her now.
Looking back at it now, it had felt so good and so right.
He had no regrets and would not change a thing. Back then he loved her with all his heart. He still loved her, he knew that would always be true.
“You got to do what you can, And let Mother Nature do the rest”
Sometimes what you regret are things that you can’t change, you just wish that it had turned out differently. That somehow it had meant to be and if you believe in angels that you’re angel had been looking after you better that day.
The car crash was small, a bump, but Carol Ann had been thrown forward, no-one wore seat-belts back in those days. A week later, she was ill and it wasn’t getting better.
Her doctor at Stonelaw Road surgery ordered an emergency ambulance for Rutherglen Maternity, where after a few tests, she’d lost the baby that they never knew they were having.
This was the week before the wedding, the day itself became traumatic rather than joyful.
There were brave faces from the childhood sweethearts and promises that he would never leave her. Their dads looking so proud showing them off to all their friends. Ruby crying the tears of the Mother-Of The-Bride trying to put a happy face on for her girl and sobbing for the loss of the baby that never was.
John promised Carol Ann, that they would have another baby, that it happened once and that it would happen again, but his words were empty, despite all the tests, despite trying desperately, it just never happened for them.
Now lying beside Aileen, his new partner, heavily pregnant with their child. His only regret was that the loss of the baby had left him feeling unfulfilled for the vast majority of his life and that it hadn’t happened with Carol Ann.