Glad to care, but hurting anyway

I’m a man and too often these days we’re portrayed as insensitive and brutish. It’s true that I have a robust nature, but the waters run deep. All the same, I can’t remember when I was last left hurt by a woman. I think last night it happened.

I’ve charted the journey with the woman at work, and I now think it’s probable that at some point a few months ago she decided she won’t get fooled again, a decision which has informed our relationship ever since. In the last couple of weeks, it has warmed up some, though nothing to get excited about. There have been smiles again and shared moments, jokes and laughter.

Helping this along is the work I was asked to do to help her in an event she was planning. She is a part of the office engagement committee, and she’s very dedicated and conscientious. There are other members of the committee, but fair to say she is the driving force – it’s one of the attributes I admire her for, and which I find an instinctive allure.

She asked me to arrange some trophies for awards being given out on the night, partly because she didn’t have the time, but mostly she wanted to keep independent of the process. I was happy to take it on. I wanted to help her, plus I’m one of those people who like to see things go right. I don’t like to standby, I’d rather be hands-on doing it myself just in case.

As it turns out it was quite a demanding task coordinating between managers to find out who their winners were; with the trophy company in Brisbane organising the trophies, the inscriptions, as well as payment and shipping; and composing for each winner a summary of their achievements to go on a certificate. A lot of it was last-minute because people left it to the last moment to get back to me. In the end, it all happened as it should, in large part because the trophy company were so accommodating.

A was relieved and grateful, but I think she expected it to go well. We don’t know each other intimately, but we know key parts of the other because of our involvement, and because there is much in ourselves, we recognise in the other. I’m just as wholehearted as she is, and she knows it.

In the background, I was guiding what was to be the introduction of cocktails into the evening, which was my idea. I guess I was the technical consultant when it came to that, helping to determine the cocktails, sourcing the ingredients, the set-up, and so on. I even made a batch of sugar syrup last-minute because no-one else had.

And mid-afternoon yesterday I clocked off work to help set-up the room and get it organised with her and others.

The event kicked off. The cocktails were a hit, and there was a vibe, unlike any previous events. Come the awards ceremony I was in the background handing the trophies and certificates to the manager to present. As I knew, and she didn’t, she was one of the winners, and very worthy too.

The pressure was off, and we could relax and enjoy the night. The night went on, longer than usual. I mingled, occasionally bumping into her, but mostly not. I had offered to help with the clean-up, but as the crowd was slow to disperse began to do some in the background while they were still there – disposing of rubbish, cleaning up the cocktail table and the remnants, carting stuff up and down the stairs, doing dishes, and so on. It was exhausting work, but I was happy to do it. If you start something you finish it, that’s how I was brought up.

On one occasion, another guy came downstairs with me carrying a load. He’s only 25, a fascinating character, but with a good heart. He’s a bit of an extrovert and has taken to me. Earlier we’d had a candid conversation about his father basically being a drug addict, and I’d shared with him some of my stories. We continued the story downstairs, alone in the kitchen.

I found out he’d got in with the wrong crowd and had become a drug dealer. He was making $7,000 a week working a few hours, but then some of his friends got arrested, and he realised how it wrong it was and he got out. He told me of a harsh childhood and how he was trying to get things back on track. Weaving through this conversation was my story as he asked questions and I answered explaining how I was lucky to have good friends and how I’d survived by telling myself this is not how I want my story to end.

A couple of girls came in then, and I left to continue the clean-up. Outside the kitchen, I met the girl. She made mention – and I don’t know why – that she had been sitting at her desk the last 20 minutes. I presume she might have approached the kitchen, got wind of the conversation, and backed off. Even at her desk, on a vacant floor, it’s probable she could hear us. Maybe that’s what she was telling me.

Anyway, we finished cleaning up, and the last three of us went downstairs to the bar we go to Friday’s. Someone bought me a beer, and I stood chatting with my best mate in the place. She did the rounds thanking people and saying her goodbyes. It had been a big night, but it had gone well. Earlier she had told me she felt proud, just as she should.

Then the thing happened. Or rather it didn’t. She’s doing all this and then comes to leave. I’m standing by the door, and in fact, had been opening and closing it for people. I open it again, my arm above her head holding it open for her. She doesn’t even look at me. No goodbye, see you Monday, no thanks for your help, no nothing. Off she went.

That got to me. I wasn’t hurt then but disappointed without understanding why it felt significant. The thought crossed my mind: am I so bad? It’s not as if she could have forgotten or overlooked me – I was right there. She chose not to. But even as I wondered that I was sure it was not because I was so bad. I think fundamentally she likes me, and behaviour like that is not in her character. So what, then?

I went home with it full in me. At one moment I wondered if the problem was with me, but then there are people who sit around her who like me enough to give me a hug or a kiss on the cheek, and I can’t even get a handshake out of her. Above all, it felt unfair.

My dreams were all about it. I shared a house with a woman and a couple of other guys. The woman and I had a similar thing to A and I. Mostly she favoured the others. Sometimes she wouldn’t even acknowledge me. But then there would be moments of unexpected intimacy. Moments when eyes caught, a smile developed. Moments when you knew that it’s not because she doesn’t like you, so then…what?

I woke up this morning, and I was hurt. The bruise had darkened overnight, and I felt a little sorry for myself. I can live without thanks as such, it’s the lack of acknowledgement that hurt. I got profuse thanks from two of her colleagues, plus a senior manager, but this was her chance and – Butkus.

I’m weary of it right now. I want to be able to talk to her. I want her to trust me. Like I haven’t for many years, I feel hurt, but not aggrieved. I wonder if she knows what she’s done. Seems to me she either doesn’t like me or likes me an uncomfortable amount, nothing in between.

I ask myself why I care. I harbour no intimate desires for her, but I value her as a human being. I would like to be friends, and I guess it’s hard when someone you respect doesn’t return the favour. Funny, never used to worry me much before.

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