from the heart: after 30 years apart... i loved him even more
Karen Woods, 48, had forgotten all about her teenage romance until a face she recognised popped up on her screen…
Stepping out of the car, I saw a familiar smile. It was March 2016 and this was the first time I’d seen my ex-boyfriend in 30 years, yet it felt like yesterday. Despite the crow’s feet, his eyes were still as blue and twinkly as I remembered. And when he grinned, I still felt that little giddy excitement inside.
‘Hello Craig,’ I said, smiling. But as soon as the words left my lips, doubt set in. What was I thinking? We were in our mid-forties, our lives had swerved in different directions. We weren’t the same naive kids we’d been all those years before. How could this ever work?
I first met Craig Mcdaid at secondary school in Manchester in the 1980s. We were just friends until we went on a school trip aged 14.
Sitting side by side on the coach, I suddenly noticed how good looking he was. As my hand reached for his, our friends spotted us. ‘Go on, kiss!’ yelled a voice from the back of the bus. Craig turned to me, but he just shrugged and smiled. It wasn’t until another two days later that he arrived on my doorstep.
‘I want to give you a kiss,’ he stammered, leaning towards me. From that moment on, we were inseparable.
Even our parents approved of our relationship. During the summer of 1985, I went to Wales with Craig and his family, and he joined mine for a week in Blackpool. We spent every day at the Pleasure Beach, laughing as we rode the rollercoasters.
Relaxed and good-natured, I sensed Craig would go far in life and, back home, I loved being around him. But after we’d been together for nine months, I heard whispers that he’d kissed another girl.
‘It’s not true,’ he insisted, but it sparked a huge row between us.
for the rest of term. I met someone else and, after leaving school, I focused on having a family. My son Ashley was born in July 1986, Blake followed four years later, and in 1993 I had Declan. I loved my boys but my relationship with their dad was unhappy. Finally, aged 28, we split.
The following year, I met another man. Kind and caring, he proposed to me and in 2002 our daughter Darcy was born. I had a settled life and after doing a literacy course, I even discovered I had a passion for writing. My first novel Broken Youth was published in March 2010, but, despite my success, my husband and I were
‘We were talking all the time in secret’
starting to grow apart. There were no rows, we were just more like friends.
Then one night, Ashley, then 24, helped sign me up to Facebook. Flicking through profiles, I gasped at the sight of familiar faces from school.
I’d not really thought about my school days in years, but one face in particular stood out. ‘I’d recognise that smile anywhere,’ I thought.
Craig hadn’t changed a bit. I added him as a friend and he quickly accepted. I couldn’t resist sending a message. ‘Long time no speak,’ I typed. He replied within minutes.
We had lots to catch up on. I was a published novelist, married with four kids; Craig was a successful businessman living in Dubai and had a wife and child.
‘I never cheated on you when we were kids, you know,’ he said. ‘It’s water under the bridge now,’ I reassured him. As months went by, we kept in touch. Sadly, my marriage was crumbling, but seeing Craig’s name appear in my inbox every few days always made me smile. He confided that his marriage was also struggling. Although I felt slightly guilty that we were chatting, I figured that we were helping each other through hard times. We’d been chatting every week for three years when, in 2013, Craig suggested we have a Skype video call. I was worried what he would think of me, but my nerves disappeared when I heard him speak. ‘Your voice is definitely deeper than I remember,’ I laughed. Craig smiled, too. I’d never felt so comfortable with anyone in my life, yet something stopped me from telling my husband about my Skype call with Craig. Soon we were talking all the time in secret. In December 2015, my marriage finally ended. Shortly afterwards, Craig told me that he and his wife had split. It was sad, of course, but we consoled each other in our chats on Skype, and Craig told me he’d be visiting the UK soon for two weeks. ‘Shall we meet up?’ he asked.
Although it was exciting, I felt worried, too. Despite speaking most days, it was still three decades since we’d actually been face to face.
But Craig carried me along with his enthusiasm. ‘Meet me at the Lowry,’ he said, referring to a hotel near my home in Manchester. ‘There’s a nice restaurant there.’
So, in March 2016, I styled my hair and make-up, and tried on four outfits before settling for a figure-hugging dress. My heart was racing as I pulled up outside the hotel and saw Craig.
As we embraced, I knew he was still the handsome boy I’d fancied years ago. During dinner, we didn’t stop laughing. The spark between us was obvious.
‘I’ve never felt this way about anyone,’ he admitted.
‘You make me feel alive,’ I told him. ‘It’s like we’re 14 again, but better.’
As we shared our second ‘first’ kiss, the years fell away.
We saw each other lots for the next fortnight until he flew back to Dubai. The following month, he booked me a ticket to visit him for five days. We had an amazing time – we took a helicopter trip over the desert and ate dinner under the stars.
That summer, Craig came to the UK and brought his son with him. We took all the children to Cornwall for a week together. Thankfully they got along well.
But each time Craig and I had to say goodbye, it got harder. ‘I don’t want to be apart from you,’ he told me finally in December 2016.
I told him I felt the same and by May 2017, he’d found a job in the UK and had moved back permanently. Now we’re planning our future and want to buy a house together. ‘I never want to lose you again,’ I told him.
Craig and I missed out on so many years together, but we’re making sure we catch up on all that lost time now. Our love story has even inspired my latest novel,
Whisper My Last Goodbye. After years of heartache, it turned out my ‘happy ever after’ was with my first love. It just took us 30 years to realise it. For information about Karen’s novels, visit karenwoods.net
‘We missed out on so many years together’
‘That’s it, I’m dumping you,’ I cried. Heartbroken, I steered clear of Craig
Karen aged 14
After catching up online, Karen visited Craig in Dubai