b3ta have a weekly competition - Question of the week - where users answer a specific question, and the best ten or so get voted for the by the users and are put on the "best of" page.

The questions range from silly to serious, and the answers have the same degree of difference.  This week just gone the question was "What’s the nicest thing anyone’s ever done for you?"

I like answering the QOTW as a rule.  It’s a chance to flex the writing muscles and leaves me feeling a little more constructive than normal.  However, equally, I normally find that I have no stories to tell that match the question.

I found myself stuck in work last Saturday, bored beyond belief.  There were no customers, no work to do and generally I was wasting 4 hours by being there, so I decided to start writing an answer to the QOTW.  It started as an idea of what I wanted to say and as I wrote it, it seemed to evolve into a huge response.

I’ve pasted it below.  Everything in it is true.  I didn’t even lie about not wanting to be with Tasha, which is something written at the end.

Anyway, it’s here for posterity.

Apologies in advance for such a long story. Even greater apologies for the fact that I still don’t think I’ve told it very well, nor that I’ve expressed what a big thing this was for me.

The tale of Tasha.

Firsty, some background.

In Feb 2000 I met, fell in love with, and moved from South East London to the middle of Essex to be with Mrs CaffeinatedDan. I’d never felt this way about anyone and clearly she felt the same about me. Despite being opposites in many ways (things we liked to do, fave tv programmes, musical tastes, film genres) we clicked. Never before have I felt so strongly about someone, and for the first time ever I suddenly understood why some couples could stay together forever – a concept I’d had trouble grasping before.

In June 2005, Mrs CaffeinatedDan officially became a Mrs, marrying me just down the road from our Chelmsford home. Our three children were bridesmaids (luckily we had three girls, as I’m not so sure we wouldn’t have dressed a little boy in a bridesmaid outfit just so he matched!)

In July 2006, Mrs ST gave birth again, this time to our only son.

In January 2007 we moved about 200 yards down the road to a beautiful house. Enough bedrooms for each of the kids to have their own, and bang smack centre in the part of Chelmsford we wanted to be.

In July 2007, after a very honest and open talk, we made the decision to split. The decision was based on a few things, primarily the fact that we had grown apart, and that what had started as a lust-fuelled love had slowly ebbed away to just a mutual fondness. We spent very little time together, and the time we did have together was spent doing our own things. We’d grown apart, and despite still loving each other, it wasn’t enough. We agreed to split because as we saw it we were going down a rocky road that we’d been down (and back) before, and we could forsee us trying to stay together and ending up hating each other, whilst at that moment we were still friends and in the long term we’d be better off splitting and staying friends than staying together, running the risk of causing misery to each other and THEN splitting up. Mrs ST moved out of the marital bed that same night, and the two eldest were excited to be told that they’d be sharing a room. We also made the decision not to tell anyone about the split for the time being, as we had the Christening coming up of the three youngest which would be the first time we’d seen many friends and family in months (and in some cases years) and we didn’t want our split to overshadow the day.

At the end of August 2007 we had the Christening. Much fun was had, we caught up with old friends and things were fine.

In September 2007 we told everyone about the split. Until this time only a handful of people had been told, and they had been sworn to secrecy. From my point of view everyone I told seemed to be shocked. I’ve never had so many people tell me that they viewed my marriage as perfect, and one that they thought would last forever. Maybe it was the fact that we’d had 4 kids, maybe it was because people didn’t know us as well as they thought they did.

After answering the same questions over and over again (“Did either of you cheat?” No, not as far as I’m aware. “Whose decision was it?” Both of ours. “Will you get back together?” No…) people finally began to realise that this wasn’t a flash in the pan. Mrs ST and I made plans for the future: I would move out between Christmas and the New Year, which would give the kids ample time to get used to the idea of daddy living somewhere else, and also allowed them to understand a certain timeframe (ie., just after Christmas and just before you go back to school).

A few months go by and I am getting ready to leave. The whole of December seemed to be taken up with me talking to the kids about my leaving, and them being generally apathetic to it all. The eldest seemed to understand and was happy that she was “in the loop” and understood what was going on. My middle daughter, two years younger and aged 5, also seemed to understand but every now and then would pop up with a new question that she’d just thought of.
As 2007 turned into 2008 I found myself packing up the car and driving the 400 yards to my mum’s house, unpacking my stuff and settling in to the spare room. My possessions were few: clothes, PC, mobile phone. That was about it. I’d agreed that I’d keep paying the mortgage as a form of Child care payments, and as such wasn’t able to afford to rent anywhere else. Living rent-free at my mum’s was a blessing then as it still is now.

So what’s the nicest thing anyone’s ever done for me? Well, I suppose I could name my mum here. The woman who, from when I was 7 brought me up single-handedly. Who, with part of her spine missing and with heart troubles for the majority of her life that culminated in a quadruple bypass in 2002, taught me how to be an adult, who sheltered me from the harshness of life and who, despite times when I’ve acted like an arse, has been there with unconditional love and support every second of every day.

I could also put forward my 4 kids, who saw their mum and dad split, saw their dad move out and had their lives jumbled up at such a young age, yet who have remained fairly unperturbed by it all, and seem to have taken things in their stride when neither their mum or I had any reason to expect them to.

But no, instead I am going to nominate Tasha. 

You see, as my world was crumbling around me, life carried on as usual. On Halloween 2007 I had to attend a sales conference for work at Stansted. Ten different branches of our company came together for the first time in years, and although it was not unusual to know a few faces and recognise a few more names, it was common to not know most of the people in your surrounding branches.

As I walked in to the reception lounge, I saw what I can only describe now as a vision of beauty. Long blonde hair, styled carefully into curls, a beautiful and welcoming smile, and an aura of goodness. Being the shy sort that I am, I nudged a friend and commented on the beautiful woman who’d I’d seen, dribbling slightly as I did.

Ben, despite being engaged, was quick to go and introduce himself. Ben is the type of person that could create conversation at a Mute Person’s convention, and within no time at all he and Tasha were chatting like old mates. I stood a few feet away, listening in, chiming in with the occasional remark all whilst being blown away by the charisma eminating from Tasha.

After the conference had begun, and we’d stopped again for a break, I jumped on the back of Ben’s conversation to tell Tasha that we were all going for a drink after the conference in Chelmsford (which was a blatant lie, but one that I knew Ben would back me up on), and would she like to come? It turned out she lived in Southend (another 20 miles away from Chelmsford), but that yes, she’d come out seeing as everyone was going. Result.

In the end about a dozen people came out for a drink. Tasha chatted politely with Ben and I, and I had a good time. I didn’t chat her up, for fear of rejection with her being so out of my league, but I had a good time anyway, and finished my drink before saying goodbye.

The next day at work I emailed Tasha to ask her out on a drinking session with some friends the next month. She replied saying that she’d try and come but that she was fairly skint, so no promises. We emailed back and forth a few times, generally having a chat, and seemed like we were getting on ok.

A few days later and I was out on the piss with some friends from work in Chelmsford. Tasha refused to come, claiming she was skint and more importantly, couldn’t be bothered. My boss at the time, Derren, called her at work and basically badgered her all day, convinced her to give him her mobile number and then when we were out called her to see if he could get her to come out. Eventually she caved in and came to meet us.

At the end of the night, after we’d all had far too much to drink, Tasha, who had remained sober, said that she’d drop us all off. One by one she dropped us all in and around Chelmsford as some Godforsaken time in the morning when she looked shattered and obviously just wanted to get home. Derren stayed round mine that night and I persuaded him to give me Tasha’s phone number so I could send a text saying thanks. 

A couple of nights later and Tasha and I are texting back and forth like we’re best mates, and although the conversation steered clear of anything naughty (not for my want of trying it has to be said), we chatted via text until the early hours. 

A few nights later and once again I was out with people from work in Chelmsford, and this time I offered to pick Tasha up and drive her home later that night so that she could have a drink, as a way of saying thank you for her doing the same previously. I’ve never been a great fan of going out and not drinking, as it normally means everyone finding things hilarious that, being sober, you know aren’t funny at all. I also despise karaoke with a passion. Yet this night we stayed in a bar with karaoke all night, myself, Tasha and about 4 others from work. No one else was in the bar except bar staff and to this day that night remains one of the best I’ve ever had. Tasha had fun (though was the first person to tell me I was crap at shoulder massages (see, I tried!)) and at about 3am we called it a day and I started dropping people home, getting in at about 5am, before getting up again 90 minutes later to go to work.

That night was the start of a true friendship between Tasha and I, and over the next 6 weeks leading up to Christmas I spoke to her every day via email or text, saw her every couple of weeks, got squarely told very early on that there was no way we would ever get together: Me: You know I like you in more ways that as a mate? Tasha: Yeah, I do, but you’re cool being just friends, aren’t you? Me: Yeah, course. The strange thing was that I meant it too.

So come New Year, I find myself sitting in my bedroom. My heart broken as I no longer live with my kids, no longer have the house of my dreams, no longer have the money to afford my own place, and generally hating everything around me. As we started back at work the day after New Years Day, I would talk to my kids on the phone as I drove to work each day, and for the best part of six weeks, each phone call would end with my telling them I loved them, putting the phone down and crying my heart out as I drove along for the best part of half an hour or so.

I realised very quickly that my life seemed to be falling apart. I needed a distraction. I needed to get out of that spare room and do something. Anything. What I needed was company.

I consider myself to have quite a few friends. None that I would ever want to be a burden on, but plenty that would help me out when I needed it. So when I looked around at the start of January to try and find someone – anyone – to reach out to me, I couldn’t find anyone. Friends that I worked with didn’t know what to do. Friends that I spoke to weekly started to keep out of my way. Long term friends offered their support but were generally too far away.

I never told anyone how down I was. How much everything was affecting me. I’d always been a private person, and perhaps with hindsight I was a little too private. Had I told anyone of my deep despair at the time, I’m sure I’d have had a whole support network around me. Instead, I put up barriers, pretended I was ok and tried to get on with life. All the time hoping beyond hope that someone would take me under their wing without me resorting to having to ask. Depression is a strange thing, and I honestly felt that asking for help would have tipped me over the edge.

So when I would text Tasha saying “I’m bored” at 9pm, she’d text back “come round if you want. I’m not doing anything.” And so, for just about every night for over a month I’d find myself sitting on Tasha’s sofa, doing nothing but watching tv. When it got late, she’d bring out a pillow and a blanket and tell me to kip the night rather than drive home tired. 

What I learnt those few weeks was that Tasha and I were very similar. We had the same sense of humour, we seemed to like and dislike many of the same things. We had an empathy with each other. 

Spending so much time at Tasha’s house helped me get through a very dark patch. It was a place - and a person – that had only just come in to my life, and therefore I didn’t associate it with my ex, my kids or anything to do with my life at that time. It was a hideaway, somewhere I could go and feel loved and wanted, and not have to worry about anything.

What started out as lust for Tasha turned into a deep respect for her. When we’d first started texting and I’d asked her why I didn’t see so much of her, she responded “With all due respect Dan, I don’t see my friends as often as I want or need to, let alone work colleagues.” Yet here she was, less than 2 months later, spending time with me when I’ve no doubt a lot of the time she had other stuff she could be doing.

People ask me now if Tasha and I will ever get together, They’ve seen as out as friends, and see the way that we laugh at the same things, bounce off each other and generally get on really well. “You look like a perfect match” I’ve been told, in sentiments that echo what was said about my marriage. The answer is no, we’ll never get together. There was a time when it was all that I wanted, but now it would be too strange. I wouldn’t risk having sex with Tasha for fear of losing her friendship, and I wouldn’t risk a relationship for fear of the same. On one level it makes perfect sense, and on another it makes no sense at all, but I trust my instincts on this one. 

That’s not to say I don’t love her dearly, because I do. She was the only shining light in an otherwise extremely dark period, and I say that fully aware of the love that was a stones throw away from both my mum and my kids.

So the nicest thing anyone has ever done for me is when Tasha was a friend for me at the start of the year.

Sometimes the smallest things can make the biggest difference. And sometimes it’s almost impossible to put into words just how much that means.

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