A gorgeous husband, two beautiful children, a job she loves—Claire’s got it all. And then some. But lately, her mother hovers more than a helicopter, her husband, Greg, seems like a stranger, and her kids are like characters in a movie. Three-year-old Esther’s growing up in the blink of an eye, and twenty-year-old Caitlin, with her jet-black hair and clothes to match, looks like she’s about to join a punk band—and seems to be hiding something. Most concerning, however, is the fact that Claire is losing her memory, including that of the day she met Greg.
A chance meeting with a handsome stranger one rainy day sets Claire wondering whether she and Greg still belong together: She knows she should love him, but she can’t always remember why. In search of an answer, Claire fills the pages of a blank book Greg gives her with private memories and keepsakes, jotting down beginnings and endings and everything in between. The book becomes the story of Claire—her passions, her sorrows, her joys, her adventures in a life that refuses to surrender to a fate worse than dying: disappearing.
Praise for The Day We Met
“[Rowan] Coleman executes another incredibly powerful novel that is beautifully written. The story is so well-crafted, it’s impossible to put the book down. The tale is so poignant and heartbreaking that readers will be completely engrossed with the characters while experiencing a wide array of emotions.”—RT Book Reviews
“[The Day We Met] is, at heart, a book about mothers, daughters and the strong bonds that exist between women even during heartbreak. Coleman will make you cry with this emotional, beautifully written novel.”—Kirkus Reviews
“As with Me Before You, by Jojo Moyes, I couldn’t put this book down.”—Katie Fforde
“Rowan Coleman’s heartbreaking, humorous novel about a family in crisis vividly reminded me about the fierce, resilient core in all kinds of love. Readers of Lisa Genova’s Still Alice and Elin Hilderbrand’s Beautiful Day will especially savor this book.”—Nancy Thayer
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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
I’ve just got to get away from my mother: she is driving me mad, which would be funny if I wasn’t already that way inclined. No, I’m not mad, that’s not right. Although I feel pretty angry.
It was the look on her face when we came out of the hospital appointment; the look she had all the way home. Stoical, stalwart, strong but bleak. She didn’t say the words, but I could hear them buzzing around in her head: “This is so typically Claire. To ruin everything just when it’s getting good.”
“I’ll move in,” she says, even though she blatantly already has, silently secreting herself in the spare bedroom, like I wouldn’t notice her, arranging her personal items on the shelf in the bathroom. I knew she would come when she found out. I knew she would and I wanted her to, I suppose; but I wanted to ask her, or for her to ask me. Instead she simply arrived, all hushed tones and sorrowful glances. “I’ll move into the spare room.”
“No, you won’t.” I turn to look at her as she drives. She is a very careful driver, slow and exacting. I am not allowed to drive anymore, not since I killed that postbox, which carried a far more expensive fine than you would perhaps imagine, because it belongs to Her Majesty. It must be the same if you run over a corgi: if you run over a corgi, you probably get sent to the Tower. My mother is such a careful driver, and yet she never looks in the rearview mirror when she’s reversing. It’s like she feels that, in this one aspect, it’s safer simply to close her eyes and hope for the best. I used to love driving; I loved the freedom and the independence and knowing that, if I felt like it, I could go anywhere I fancied. I don’t like that my car keys have disappeared, gone without me being allowed even to kiss them goodbye, hidden away in a place where I will never find them. I know because I’ve tried. I could still drive, I think. As long as no one put anything in my way.
“It’s not come to you moving in yet,” I insist, although we both know she has already moved in. “There’s still lots of time left when I won’t need any help at all. I mean, listen to me. I can still talk and think about . . .” I wave my arm, causing her to duck and look under my hand, which I tuck apologetically back in my lap. “Things.”
“Claire, this isn’t something you can stick your head in the sand about. Trust me, I know.”
Of course she knows: she’s lived through this before, and now, thanks to me, or strictly speaking thanks to my father and his rogue DNA, she has to live through it again. And it’s not as if I’ll do anything sensible like dying nice and neatly with all my faculties intact, holding her hand and thanking her, with a serene look on my face as I impart words of wisdom to live by to my children. No, my annoyingly quite young, reasonably fit body will linger on long after I’ve checked out of my mushy little brain, right up until the moment when I forget how to breathe in and out and in again. I know that’s what she is thinking. I know the last thing in the world she wants is to watch her daughter fade away and shrivel up, just like her husband did. I know it’s breaking her heart and that she’s doing her best to be brave, and stand by me, and yet . . . It makes me so angry. Her goodness makes me angry. All my life I’ve been trying to prove that I can grow up enough to not need her to rescue me all the time. All my life I’ve been wrong.
“Actually, Mum, I am the one who can stick my head in the sand,” I say, staring out of the window. “I am the one who can completely ignore what is happening to me, because most of the time I won’t even notice.”
It’s funny: I say the words out loud, and feel the fear, there in the pit of my stomach, but it’s like it isn’t part of me. It really is like it’s happening to someone else, this terror.
“You don’t mean that, Claire,” Mum says crossly, as if she really thinks that I mean I don’t care, and not that I’m just saying it to annoy her. “What about your daughters?”
I say nothing because my mouth is suddenly thick with words that won’t form properly or mean anything like what I need them to mean. So I stay quiet, looking out of the window, at the houses slipping past, one by one. It’s almost dark already; living room lamps are switched on, TVs flicker behind curtains. Of course I care. Of course I’ll miss it, this life. Steam-filled kitchens on winter evenings, cooking for my daughters, watching them grow: these are the things I will never experience. I’ll never know whether Esther will always eat her peas one by one, or if she will always be blond. If Caitlin will travel across Central America, like she plans to, or whether she’ll do something completely different that she hasn’t even dreamed of yet. I won’t ever know what that undreamed wish will be. They’ll never lie to me about where they are going, or come to me with their problems. These are the things I’ll miss, because I’ll be somewhere else and I won’t even know what I’m missing. Of course I bloody care.
“I suppose they’ll have Greg.” My mum sounds skeptical as she ploughs on, determined to discuss what the world will be like after I’m no longer in it, even though it shows a quite spectacular lack of tact. “That’s if he can hold it together.”
“He will,” I say. “He will. He’s a brilliant father.”
I am not sure if that is true, though. I’m not sure if he can take what is happening, and I don’t know how to help him. He is such a good man, and a kind one. But lately, ever since the diagnosis, he is becoming a stranger to me day by day. Every time I look at him he is standing further away. It’s not his fault. I can tell he wants to be there, to be stalwart and strong for me, but I think perhaps the enormity of it all, of all this happening when really we’ve only just started out on our life together, is chipping away at him. Soon I won’t recognize him at all; I know I already find it hard to recognize the way I feel about him. I know he is the last great love of my life, but I don’t feel it anymore. Somehow Greg is the first thing I am losing. I remember it, our love affair, but it’s as though I’ve dreamed it, like Alice through the looking glass.
“You, of all people.” Mum cannot help lecturing me, telling me off for being in possession of the family’s dark secret, like I brought it on myself by being so damned naughty. “You, who knew what it was like to grow up without a father. We need to make plans for them, Claire. Your girls are losing their mother and you need to make sure they will be okay when you aren’t capable of looking after them anymore!”
She brakes suddenly at a zebra crossing, causing a chorus of horns to sound behind her, as a little girl who looks far too young to be out on her own hurries across the road, huddled against the rain. In the glare of Mum’s headlights I can see she’s carrying a thin blue plastic bag with what looks like four pints of milk inside, bumping against her skinny legs. I hear the break in Mum’s voice, hovering just below the frustration and anger. I hear the hurt.
“I do know that,” I say, suddenly exhausted. “I do know that I have to make plans, but I was waiting, I was hoping. Hoping I might get to enjoy being married to Greg and grow old with him, hoping that the drugs might slow things down for me. Now I know that . . . well, now that I know there is no hope, I’ll get a lot more organized, I promise. Make a wall chart, keep a rota.”
“You can’t hide from this, Claire.” She insists on repeating herself.
“Don’t you think I know that?” I shout. Why does she always do that? Why does she always push me until I shout at her, as if she isn’t satisfied I’m really listening until she has made me lose my temper? It’s always been that way between us: love and anger mixed up in almost every moment we have together. “Do you think I don’t know what I have done, giving them this shitty life?”
Mum pulls into the drive in front of a house—my house, I realize a second too late—and I feel the tears coming against my will. Slamming out of the car, I don’t go into the house, but instead walk into the rain, dragging the edges of my cardigan around me, heading defiantly up the street.
“Claire!” Mum shouts after me. “You can’t do this anymore!”
“Watch me,” I say, but not to her, just into the rain, feeling the tiny droplets on my lips and tongue.
“Claire, please!” I just about hear her, but I keep walking. I’ll show her; I’ll show them all, especially the people that won’t let me drive. I can still walk; I can still bloody walk! I haven’t forgotten how to do that yet. I’ll just go to the end of the road, where the other one crosses over it, and then turn back. I’ll be like Hansel following a trail of breadcrumbs. I won’t go far. I just need to do this one thing. Go to the end of the road, turn around and come back. Although it is getting darker now, and the houses round here all look the same: neat, squat 1930s semis. And the end of the road isn’t as near as I thought it was.
I stop for a moment, feeling the rain driving into my head, tiny cold needles of icy water. I turn around. My mum isn’t behind me: she hasn’t followed me. I thought she might, but she hasn’t. The street is empty. Did I reach the end of the road and turn around already? I am not sure. Which direction was I walking in? Am I going to or from, and to where? The houses on either side of the road look exactly the same. I stand very still. I left my home less than two minutes ago, and now I am not sure where it is. A car drives past me, spraying freezing water onto my legs. I didn’t bring my phone, and anyway I can’t always remember how to use it anymore. I’ve lost numbers. Although I look at them and know they are numbers, I’ve forgotten which ones are which, and which order they come in. But I can still walk, so I begin to walk in the direction that the car that soaked me was going. Perhaps it’s a sign. I will know my house when I see it because the curtains are bright-red silk and the light shining through them makes them glow. Remember that: I have red glowing curtains at the front of my house that one of my neighbors said made me look “loose.” I will remember the red glowing curtains. I’ll be home really soon. Everything will be fine.
The appointment at the hospital hadn’t exactly gone well. Greg had wanted to come but I told him to go and finish the conservatory he was building. I told him that nothing the doctor said would make our mortgage need to be paid any the less, or mean that we don’t have to keep feeding the children. It hurt him that I hadn’t wanted him there, but he didn’t realize that I couldn’t cope with trying to guess what the look on his face meant at the same time as guessing what I felt myself. I knew if I took Mum she would just say everything in her head, which is better. It’s better than hearing really terrible news and wondering if your husband is sorry that he ever set eyes on you, that of all the people in the world he could have chosen, he chose you. So I wasn’t in the best frame of mind—pun intended—when the doctor sat me down to go through the next round of test results. The tests they had given me because everything was happening much faster than they’d thought it would.
I can’t remember the doctor’s name because it’s very long with a great many syllables, which I think is funny. I mentioned this as Mum and I sat there waiting for him to finish looking at the notes on his screen and deliver the bad news, but no one else was amused. There’s a time and a place for gallows humor, it seems.