Untrue friendship


There was a period of about an hour yesterday when I felt as near to being depressed as I ever do. I was abruptly struck by the full gravity of losing a friend who once upon a time might have been thought of as my bestie – certainly I was his. I felt that queasy feeling in my stomach. For a while I felt close to being overwhelmed. I felt hurt and betrayed, bewildered and desperately disappointed. I knew there was nothing I could do – even if I thought differently, I know I couldn’t believe in him, or our ‘friendship’ any longer. It was over, and for all my sorrow I felt a contempt for what I thought of as an inadequate character. I wondered how it got to this. I wondered what stupid conceit led him to act as he did, though by now I should know. More than anything I felt my self, the thing that is me, deeply wounded, like a bruise on my soul.

Who really cares about me, I wondered. Who do I matter to? In whose thoughts do I feature? Anyone? If I can be so casually disregarded, what does it say about me? His indifference to my sistuation made it even worse. At a time when I need friends more than ever he casually trashes our friendship, and me. What do they say: you find out who your true friends are when the chips are down? It seemed like another cruel twist in what has been a miserable year. It seems hardly conceivable, yet I think I’m bound to lose another by years end. Seems careless.

I’m sad now. It’s right to be sad. For all this crap now, we shared some good times, and forged a deep bond. To lose something like that is not easy, nor should it be casually discounted. So I’m sad, but the best thing I think I can do is turn my back on it. I’ve got enough to worry about. I don’t need people adding to my woes, I need friends by my side who will help ease the burden. Ultimately this is just another thing to deal with, and I will. So I forget this, hopefully, tomorrow.

directlyThe Free Dictionary: In a direct line or manner; straight: The road runs directly north.

I’m alright Jack


There are things I’d rather not speak about, or even write of in the relative anonymity of this site. Remaining silent makes no difference, no more difference than if I piped up and said my piece – whatever that may be. All the same much runs through my mind. If I am silent on the outside I am busy inside wondering at the situation I have found myself in and scheming at myriad ways to get out of it, and occasionally feeling sorry for myself.

I don’t share much with the people around me – I am of that generation that keeps mum about our sorrows. Some of it is embarrassment, some of it is an inability to find the right words, but a big part of it is the refusal to burden others with my problems. They are my problems, my issues to deal with, and the very last thing I wish to become is the person you avoid because they’re always miserable. And so I remain positive in the face of other people.

Occasionally I do share some of the latest things happening – it would be ridiculous not to. I open up a little, reporting without inflection on the latest developments – or non-developments. I am conscious despite my innate reluctance that I must share something with my dearest friends. Some, I think, yearn for me to do that, to have faith in them by baring my soul. I think perhaps there is a part of me that wants to do that too, and consciously, thinks that I ought. Yet I don’t, but for little tidbits and reports given from the side of the mouth with a wink of the eye. Most of all I fear being pitied, which is like poison to me.

I need my friends though, it goes without saying I need them now more than ever before. I have begun to wonder how near they are.

Inadvertently I’ve found myself testing that friendship. I don’t believe in testing things like this. People give freely. They share and reach out because that is what they wish to do. It’s not for me to demand that of them. Should I expect it though?

What happened is that for whatever reason I didn’t make my weekly call to a couple of friends. Often we speak much more frequently than that, every few days, and will meet up for coffee or a drink or whatever. But a week is about the minimum standard. And so I didn’t call for whatever reason and without thought. Then I realised that it had been a little while since I called, then I realised that they hadn’t picked up the phone in my absence and I thought, well, let’s see how long it will take until they do call. And so I left it.

It’s been over a fortnight now. There’s been a couple of insignificant text messages, but nothing more. I wish they would call, but even though they haven’t I don’t know that I feel disappointment. I think they should have made the effort, especially given the combination of circumstances, but understand the reasons not. They have their lives, other distractions. And what news could I have?

There is one friend I have opened up to with all the gory detail. I tell him and he understands, but I feel frustrated often that I think he doesn’t understand what it means. He understands the pieces, but the totality eludes him – and it’s the totality that is the real killer. Even in my frustration I recognise the irony in this – I share little with few, but the one person I give it all to can’t grasp it.

I asked a favour of this friend. I was desperate – am desperate – and I swallowed my pride and spat it out and he knocked me back. That was his right. He has helped me many times before and I am thankful for that. I accepted his rejection and moved on. I told myself it was fine, knew it was fine, but found that despite all of that I felt bitter. He doesn’t deserve that, yet I can’t rid myself of it. I speak to him and I think I am as always, but underneath I feel this tremulous resentment, even a mild sense of outrage. Don’t you know what you’ve done, I think. Now of all the times I have asked for it, now is when I need your help most. I don’t say it though. It’s not his fault – it’s my life, my responsibility, and yet I wonder how he can’t understand what he has condemned me to by his refusal.

One day I will open up about this time, to others, to these pages. For now I must remain cryptic for the reasons I outlined above. I know you can take being stoic to a ridiculous level, but I can’t face the alternative. I have to fight my way out of this, and then I will tell it as it was looking back over my shoulder. That’s what I had to suffer through, but I beat it.

Right now it’s beating me and that’s not a tale I want to tell.

PS Common sense tells me I should put an end to this and pick up the phone. Reality is that I can’t get by without the help of others – too much has moved beyond my control. I can’t though, I won’t. I’d rather go down alone than call for help now.

Passing through


This morning I had to pay mum’s old paper bill. As I’ve become accustomed to I explained that she had passed away and the service was no longer required or applicable. As on pretty much every occasion I was offered polite commiserations; and as on every other occasion I felt uncomfortable responding to them. Everyone is nice, their sympathy genuine. I appreciate it, but any response of mine seems inadequate. Rather than saying anything I now respond with a nod of the head.

It’s feels so odd to tell people that my mum is ‘deceased’ or has ‘passed-away’. They seem such mealy-mouthed phrases, acceptable cliches to denote death – but, as I’ve come to understand, so much easier to squeeze out than to express the blunt truth that mum is ‘dead’. It seems to me a ritual we fall into by conventional habit to manage an awkward situation. We skate across the surface of things with words like this, but there seems a touch of the absurd to it when I stop to think about it. They are like scripted lines, I say mum has passed away, the other responds with conventional platitudes, and I am left as I walk from the newsagents recalling the famous skit from Monty Python about the dead parrot.

Of course there is something stranger than the mere expressions of sympathy. Odd as the words are, they seem occasionally to be incredible when I utter them in relation to my own mother. Is she dead? Really? Really? Though it has been 2 months now it often seems unreal still. It’s such an enormous concept that it’s hard to grasp that the person who was ever there will never be there again – and in fact has gone, deceased, passed away.

There are times it feels very real. Over the weekend I decided to go through some of mum’s cupboards and drawers to begin the slow process of dismantling the story of her life. There were a lot of memories there. At one point I picked up a pile of old cooking magazines and sat down to go through them. I discovered that in many mum had made little notes. Perhaps in every second magazine there was a sheet of a notebook taped to the inside cover with a list of recipes she fancied alongside the corresponding page number in mum’s distinct and flowing handwriting. I sat and looked at the words, so banal really, while somewhere in the back of my mind I pondered at the time and situation mum first scribbled those lines. I felt a kind of controlled sadness, and a sense almost of waste. Mostly I carry on, but there are regular moments when I feel the grief spill over in me. At times I feel like a little boy who has lost his mother in the crowd.

At times I am different, almost blunt. The phone rings, it is someone trying to sell something. They ask for mum. She’s not here I say. Sometimes I tell them that Mrs Davis doesn’t exist. They get confused. When will she be back? They ask. She won’t be back I tell them, she’s passed away. Mostly they apologise and go away, though one then tried to sell something to me. No thanks.

Besides the grief there are times I feel guilty. I try and understand what it is I feel guilty at. Could I have done more? No, not really. I did all I could in the end, and she appreciated it, but before then… I realise finally that I feel guilty that I didn’t appreciate mum sufficiently while she was alive. And guilty that I had no real conception of what it would be like to lose her. These are not things I can change now, and are sufficiently human I think to be forgiven at some point – I’m the lose after all. It’s for this reason though I get so angry at the shenanigans related to her will. They seem so small, so petty, in perspective to mum’s death, and so disrespectful of her.

When I look back, as occasionally I do, I see people disappearing from my life like so many green bottles. Grandparents, then aunts and uncles, and now my mum. Once upon a time I was in the middle of a loving family. I felt loved, even adored, and sometimes spoilt. One by one they exit, until there are so few left. With the passing of mum I know my greatest supporter has gone, and the person who loved me best in all the world. I feel guilty at not properly acknowledging that, and miss it now that life feels so trying. Time goes on, these wounds will heal, I’ll find others to love and be loved by, but for now, sometimes, I feel isolated and more alone than I ever have before knowing that there is one less person pulling for me.

Grief is personal. We pine not for the person who has gone, but for what we have lost in their passing. It’s a process of perfectly understandable selfishness and, I guess, a process that must be passed through.

Strange birds


When I was about 21 I started a job at the NAB working in international operations, or IOV as it was called. I worked through the department learning all facets of international trade, documentation, currency trading and management, and so on. Joining me were a bunch of similar people, all of us pushed through the sausage machine with some falling by the wayside, and others in a continuous loop joining us. There was little to tell us apart. About 80% were male, pretty well everyone was in the 20-23 age bracket, in my recollection most of us were playful, competitive, spirited and keen to party. I know I was filled with the sense that the world was at my feet, and I acted accordingly. I enjoyed learning the ropes, and felt as if I was poised on the verge of a glittering career. I enjoyed the camaraderie too, the playful and occasionally silly interactions and, with so many males crammed together, the testosterone driven competition – in which I felt I had a natural advantage.

For the most part I enjoyed the extremes of banking life back in the mid-eighties, hard work and demanding deadlines followed – and occasionally interrupted by – hard living. One of the managers there held the record for drinking 15 pots in an hour lunchtime back when he was in a similar role to me. Three days out of five we would have a beer over lunch, and the regular Friday night drinks in the office would often spill over into something more when someone would place a wad of cash on the bar. Through the week it was not uncommon to have a drink or three after work (Tomasetti’s was our local), and a couple of us would occasionally be out for so long that we might get an hour of sleep before turning up at work bleary eyed for another day of work. You smiled, weary, a little worse for wear, but feeling like superman really, and as if you were in the middle of a great and luridly coloured adventure.

I remember too there was rivalry, and occasionally hostility, between the hard-bitten veterans of the department – the supervisors, all pretty well chain smoking drunks – and us young’uns. There was a distinct gap between us, between what we saw as rough-edged bogans with little life outside of work, and us, ambitious all and young. For some reason many of us had a private school background and wore our two button suits and silk ties as proof of our superior style – even if we got down and dirty ourselves too regularly. These days that old guard has just about died out, but back then there were plenty still stuck in the corners of different businesses just like the bank. It was no surprise that often they looked upon we precocious wannabe’s with disdain. You could earn their respect by knowing your stuff, or having the balls to occasionally challenge them, or if you made them laugh. If you didn’t you copped it bad – I remember one Friday night one of my colleagues was quietly set upon in the men’s toilet. I was ok generally, good at my job, a little cocky and smart mouthed probably, which gained their approval. All but one (Ian Wotherspoon?) who for some reason took a instant dislike to me – maybe it was my mouth. In any case he would take every opportunity to have a go at me, to which I would always respond in kind, enjoying it in a way. I saw him – in that cocky adolescent way (which I still was really, a colt) – as an embittered and ugly old man (though he was probably no more than 30). Most of us would look out for each other, and if trouble arose would stand together.

Then there were the women, of course. This was a time when there was no such thing as a personal computer, and each section had a typist, every one of whom was a woman – or girl really, with none of them any older than us. Naturally there was a lot of byplay and flirtation, and often on a Friday night, much more. I never got with a typist though I was friendly with plenty. Instead I got involved with some of the women I worked with directly, or in other areas altogether. There were regular, free spirited functions, and I remember once a mid year Christmas party at a rowing club on the banks of the Yarra where many of us had a nominated CPT – Christmas party target. Mine was a curly haired woman from currency trading with the largest breasts on the floor – we called her big tits Rowney, in that very sophisticated way that lads have. Though I was junior to her I later discovered, much to my surprise, that I was her CPT. Sadly we never got together – instead I found myself spending the weekend with another and gradually falling in love – but that’s another story.

I made many friends and acquaintances through that time, some of whom I still see occasionally and would consider second tier friends. There was one guy though with who I formed a very strong friendship, and for many years to come – Dave Mc. He was a bit different, tall, about my height, but lean, he played tennis every weekend, and occasionally basketball, and though he would binge occasionally like the rest of us he would more likely abstain because of his sport. He had a very Scottish way to him, though he was very Australian – he was famously tight with his money, and had something austere and spare in his personality. I wouldn’t say he had a strong personality, but it was fixed, and, as I came to observe, occasionally intimidating. While there was plenty light-hearted about him – I remember singing old Police songs (Roxanne) with him at our facing desks at work – he was also one of those personalities that measure, weigh, and ultimately judge. I measured up obviously, but to those who didn’t he never cared much if they knew it or not. He could be quite confronting and aggressive, not caring what people thought of him. We were different, but somehow we trusted each other and clicked.

The reason I take the time to describe him today is because one day he dropped out altogether, and yesterday we bumped into each other.

In the years after we started working together our careers went off in different directions, but we still maintained a friendship, going out for drinks or dinner, to the footy, or off skiing. I remember he had a very attractive girlfriend he’d been with for years (Debbie?). One day she broke up with him, much to his shock. I remember the two of us discussing it on a trip back from Mt Buller. I can picture it still, one of those bright winters days with the sky blue but outside the cold like chilled steel against your skin; and the road straight heading down from the hills and heading towards others in the distance where the road curled. He was driving. He spoke to me of it as he watched the road ahead. He had always expected to marry her, to have children with her and live that life. She probably knew it too, but he had never really said anything to her, and in his spare way had never bothered to tell her what he felt for her. He was never a man of strong emotions, and it would never have occurred to him to actually tell her what he felt. Except on this day, unusually, he opened to me. I listened and I realised why she had left him – a smart (she had a masters in physio or something), attractive, vibrant woman wanted more than a childhood sweetheart of limited ambition who never said anything. It might have been different had he told her something of what he felt and what he wished for, but he never did. Perhaps he never really knew. I didn’t say that, but I remember suggesting to him that next time he should be more expressive.

By now I was his best friend, and he was the equal of any of mine. In time he met an English backpacker who wanted to stay in Oz and they married – I was best man at the registry office. Our friendship continued, flourishing almost as Nat, his wife, was such a friendly, engaging character who adored me, and others. Then a frew years later they split. By this time I probably had as much to do with her as I did him, mainly because of her greater energy. Gradually Dave backed himself out of the picture until he wasn’t there at all. In the years after one or another of our extended group would bump into him, an announcement which was akin to a yeti sighting. The amazing thing was that he had cut ties with every one of us, childhood friends as well. Every time I met him he would be friendly, we would chat, I would suggest we should catch up, and never once did it happen. I always wondered if he was so embarassed/ashamed at having failed with Nat that he couldn’t face us. He always was different.

So again yesterday we met in a Hawthorn street not far from where I used to live and chatted for 10 minutes. He looked little different, except he seemed smaller than before. He was in a suit, his balding head shaved as it had been when I knew him then. His career had come along, I knew that, but almost by accident. I always remember how insistent he was that he didn’t want the pressure of leadership, whereas I always sought it. Yesterday he told he had just started at a new job for the same money as the last, but better because he no longer had anyone beneath him. We spoke about getting old and the variety of our ailments, and caught up on some of the news as people walked by us in the street. I sensed without asking that he had not married, and recalled how little interest he’d had in the things that motivated so many of us – namely women, and sex. I can recall how he would jokingly complain how Nat always wanted to have sex he had no inclination to.

So we parted, let’s catch up, sure. both of us knowing it wouldn’t happen. He’s a strange bird, but I guess I am to. That’s the way it goes sometimes. Seems a million miles away from those halcyon days at the NAB.

 

That which I will not name


Amid all the indifferent and occasionally nasty stuff I’ve had to manage over the last 6-8 months there has been one, very sweet introduction into my life. The world moves in mysterious ways, and while chance plays a big part so too does intent. I was oblivious, fixated on the issues that demand so much of me day after day. In that zone I seek pleasure and distraction where I can find it. As it so happens that I found in one of those outlets someone waiting for me – though waiting is hardly the word. I thought nothing, then I began to think something. I began to wonder. I was intrigued enough to look deeper. What I found surprised me.I looked about me as if I had been asleep and just now roused. I felt conflicted and torn, my head thinking certain things while my heart and other places said otherwise. I felt flattered too, and somewhat beguiled, amazed to find such fascination in myself. I did not know what it meant, but then that was some of the allure I sensed. Yes or no; go or stay? What choice is there really? I stayed; I said yes.

Months have passed now, though not that many. I know I made the right choice. To my utter surprise I found myself slowly falling for an entrancing woman. That has passed now. There is nothing slow now, though there is delay. I have fallen. I am there but for a whisker.

It amazes me. It feels not like me, even though I feel more me than for many years. I am amazed at how much I have opened up. I am a man so full of pride and attitude and independent obstinacy that I hardly believed I could be anything other. Part of me never wanted to be anything different to that. Yet look at me today. The moment came that I let all that go. I shared things I could never imagine, not even with my dearest friends, not even here. Rather than embarrassment, or even shame, I felt liberation. I told of the things that made me feel abject, I opened up on the things that make me feel. I shared my weaknesses, willingly, the words slow at first growing as I spoke more as if this was something I needed and this person, here, the woman who might love me, the woman I needed.

I wonder often. I try to trace how I came to this place from where I was before. I try to discern a key thread, a magic ingredient. Then I think there is none, it is the cloth complete.

When I am not with her IO think of her. I miss her. I think of the things I want to say. I imagine the things we will share. I feel it, her, in me, in everything I do. Then when we are together again I feel enlivened. I feel like I can feel again, like the nerve ends have been exposed once more to this delight. I smile. I feel generous, warm. I want to please her. I want to adore her. I want to please and cherish her. I want to fuck her. Again and again and again.

Desire plays a huge part. I am that sort of man. I am sensual by nature, and strongly, sexually attuned. Every woman I am with I will want to know in that way deeply and repeatedly; desire as an expression of… As it happens she turns me on. We turn each other on. I can taste her in my mouth, and when I don’t I want to taste her again. I think of her. We talk of it. I want to slip my hand in her clothes. I want to see the glow in her eyes. I want for her to hunger for me as I do her. I want to feel her desire and sate it, today, tomorrow, forever. I walk around like this, my whole body a raw and juicy nerve. I can’t get enough.

What does this mean I ask myself. I hesitate to answer. For a long time I held back. I thought to be sensible despite my feelings. I told myself, don’t get ahead of yourself H. But then somewhere that became irrelevant. What place did common sense have in this scenario? Why hold your present hostage to the future? Why abbreviate your pleasures in the blissful now for fear of what might – or might not – happen in the future?

I don’t know what will happen. I hope for a lot, more than I have for a long time. It is not simple though – when is it? If we are to be then we must overcome some obstacles in our path. I don’t know how that happens, but I am hopeful. I think, somehow, that we are more likely than not to be together. Still, I cannot know that and right now it matters only that I feel this right now for her as she does for me. Though I can’t speak for her I think the feelings I have expressed here would be reciprocated by her. It feels wonderful that so marvellous could feel the same way for me. Right now it is an intoxicating mystery, one neither of us can possibly get enough of.

What can I say about her? She is an attractive, extremely sexy woman of grace, intelligence, wit and attitude. She is a wonderfully warm person with an unselfish and naturally generous nature. I can’t imagine her being anything other than a friend of choice and a wonderful lover. I am flattered by her company, moved by her loyalty and devotion. I trust her with my life because I believe in her. I hope to journey a long way with her; I want to share all that I have, and give of myself again and again.

I will say no more of her now until…I don’t know. I wanted to share this, and sit here now surprised at and how much I have put out there. It feels nice to articulate it, but I need to cherish her close to me, privately. Till the time comes I’ll revert to the enigmatic H.

 

The Prince and the pea


I went to lunch last week with a former colleague, Ibsa. Amongst the usual chit-chat, the catching up on recent events, gossip and reminiscence about the old office, there were two notable pieces of information he revealed to me.

The first was pretty innocuous, but has a bearing on what I am to write. A couple of weeks ago I caught up with him on a Friday night for a drink or two. In the bar that night were also a few work colleagues – someone was leaving – and the night grew large and raucous. Somewhere in the course of the night, he tells me, one of my colleagues, Shui, spoke to him about me. He admitted he was jealous of me, that he envied how, in his words, all the women want to be with me. I smiled at this as I was told, surprised but not displeased.

The second piece of news was more substantial. Quite casually he spoke of the girl I had liked at the place we had worked together, Amy, the girl I had looked to be with. He told the story as if I already knew it, as if it was common knowledge – but if it was, it wasn’t to me. He mentioned it as if it was understood how the girl had been on the verge of leaving her man for me, had made that mental leap and was preparing to come across. Except in this case she was talked out of it at the last minute by her friends, how can you leave your boyfriend?

Had I been told this a year ago my reaction would have been very different. Today I listened and took it in, surprised once more, stunned almost, so that I did not follow up with the questions I might have, and did not confess that it was news to me. The timing of this news seemed odd. I had not thought of her for ages, yet had found myself dreaming of her a few days before, and she had been on my mind since. Then this. Still, though I was stunned – and maybe a little sad – most of what I felt was distant and remote, as if a long way distant at the far end of a long tunnel.

As always women figure large in my life. There is the other of course, Jen, somewhere over the seas, distant also, but tied to me still, for now, a tenuous link that neither of us yet are willing to completely sever.

Then there are the others. There is the woman who would come to me if I beckoned, who sees in me the perfect man for her, the man she has claimed she will marry one day, as if it is written in the stars. She is always close by, hovering, intelligent, fun enough, interesting in her way, but not right – not for me. No matter what she wishes or how hard that will never be.

And there is another, fascinated by me I think, drawn to me and resisting it sometimes and other times letting it be. She is with someone too, a no-hoper, an ex-dopehead who lumbers around genially but without purpose. He seems such a strange match for an intelligent, strongly-natured woman like her, but perhaps it is easier like that, unthreatening, unchallenging. I am almost the total opposite to him.

And so she clings to me. We lunch, we have drinks, we part late. Ibsa asked what the deal was. No deal mate, I told him. She follows you around he said. I shrugged my shoulders. I enjoy her company. She is irritating sometimes, but interesting too – sometimes I want to make her life better. I look in her eyes and ask what she wants. I wish she were happier and at times I wish I could make it so. I am drawn to her but I also know she is not for me. I think almost inevitably we will end up in the same bed, and if nothing else intervenes, may even be together for a while. But not forever.

There is another falling for me too, I know the signs now. I like her a lot, I respect her, care for her, enjoy her company. It’s hard for me not to linger with her; but I don’t want anything to happen with her. Her boyfriend is a bit of a dick but I am not Mr Fixit. I like her, I’ll be her friend, but I can’t do any more.

There is all this but really, still only the one. Funny how it’s so hard to find that person just right. You can go through a lot, you can like them plenty, but… Like the Princess and the pea if you remember your fairy-tales, or may be Goldilocks. How few there are just right…

She


It’s time to write about B. I can safely say she is the woman I have loved most in my life. She is the woman with whom I shared both my happiest and unhappiest moments with. There were days, weeks, of ecstatic joy; and weeks, months even, of utter misery. That’s what love can do to you I guess. I wonder sometimes, when I think of her, of what she did to me. She changed the course of my life, and I can’t say if that was for good or ill. I know that for a while she changed the person I was, and that was to my detriment, though I didn’t know it then. I’m grateful to have known her for all that, and glad to have loved her. I can’t forget her, and don’t want to. I fear she was the love of my life. Now, she is the tragedy of my life.

God, it’s amazing how things can start so innocently. She turned up one day at the place I worked and I hardly noticed her. I was 25 going on 26. She was a few months younger. I was in that exuberant period of my life, tall, good-looking, master of all I saw, or so I felt, and with the world at my feet. She was different. I flew while she was earthbound. In many ways that was the pattern of our relationship to come, something she liked, and often commented on. She was from the country and had that earthy common sense country folk so often have; I was from the city, and a typical product of it, in her mind. I was slick and charming, a townie, she called me, with the soft hands of a man who has not done a days hard work, or so she mocked. It was in that dichotomy we fitted though, and it was what made each of us fall for each other – and in truth, like most generalisations, neither characterisations were strictly true.

The first time I ever really noticed her was one day when we left to go to lunch at the same time. We talked as we walked down the street to the market, and she asked questions of me. I had the feeling that she liked me, and more than that, was attracted to me. Like so many times when that happens, I looked at her differently and, flattered, came to appreciate her also.

From that moment on we walked to and from the station together, Flagstaff, and to catch the same train. On some occasions she would drive, and give me a lift home. One day I asked her in, from politeness. I showed her around, we had a drink. Now I can imagine you at home, she said as she left, and to that comment I clung with growing hope. In the weeks following I often missed my train stop and continued on to hers, accidentally the first time, but deliberately every time after. One night she told me she would give me a lift home, but had to go to her hairdressers first – did I mind? No, of course not.

While we waited she picked up a magazine. Without prompting she started to read out my horoscope in a happy, theatrical voice. Turning to hers she began to read aloud and then stopped, without explanation. While she had her hair styled I opened up the magazine and turned to the horoscopes, and read hers. You are going to meet a tall man, it read, and will feel attracted to him. Don’t fight it – he could be the one you’ve been waiting for!

Reading that I felt a warm glow spread through me. I looked up to see her watching me in the reflection of the mirror. She smiled, knowing what I had read, and I smiled back.

From that point on I felt as if the die was cast, but it didn’t stop me from feeling nervous and uncertain. I can recall the first night I rang her at home. I sat on the floor and stared at the phone and picked it up and put it down again. Finally I rang. Her sister answered. Can I speak to B, please, I said, like a pimply boy. I had lived through my wild years, had partied hard and often, had become familiar with all manner of women and felt thrilled and aroused by them. I was far from being wet behind the ears, but here in this simple call I felt my life hanging by a slender thread.

Of course it was alright. I think she felt just as nervous as I did, but relieved also. And so we talked and relaxed and in the background I heard her sister and her boyfriend talk, and felt as if they were smiling at us – and I didn’t mind. And that was the start of us.

She was a marvellous woman. She had dark, Irish hair, and had gone to school at a catholic boarding school up country. I always argued that you couldn’t beat that background. It seemed to me there was something earthy and sensual about catholic women, as if they were fully aware of the sins they committed. It seemed doubly true of those who had gone to boarding school, as if living with the nuns and having the commandments daily drilled into them instilled in them the desire to commit sins so long repressed. There was some of that to B, though it was weeks before we slept together.

As I wrote earlier, she had that earthy common-sense of country folk, and called a spade a spade. She was generous and warm and intelligent. She was silly sometimes, in ways that made me love her more, and sometimes meltingly girly. When she was on there was this irresistible life to her, a shiny thing that compelled people to her and made them smile. I was one of them. What I remember best of her perhaps was her wit. I considered myself a great raconteur then, I was a big man full of ideas and hope and humour. I beamed with these things, high on the possibilities, and there were times I’d be riffing so well that people would just sit back and smile. All but B. When she was on she’d join in, giving me as good as I got and sometimes better, while everyone watched, vastly entertained and somehow happy to have witnessed something like the two of us. It was not because we were so brilliant, but because it was clear in all the to and fro how much we liked each other, and well suited we were. It made people feel benevolent and wise: here was something good.

Our relationship was like that, full of verve and friendly abuse, pooh-bag she might call me, or slime. Ms Scumbag I might respond, or catching sight of her might poke my tongue out, to which she would respond with a pulled face. Sometimes we would wrestle each other to the ground, or else try and trip the other up. Sometimes she might tease me: “you love me, you love me…”, to which I would answer with a horrified rebuttal. It is true though, I knew it, and so did she. It was exuberant and joyous and not always good.

B had her issues, that became frustratingly clear. In some ways she was like a man in her inability to commit. We would go so far and then she would back off. She was subject to moods, in the morning she might be delightful, and in the afternoon, silent. It tore me this behaviour. I didn’t know truly what to make of it, what it meant and how I should respond. Over the coming years we went through a pattern of breaking up and getting back together. Everything would be sweet between us and would then gradually sour until the inevitable confrontation would occur, and we would break up. Each time I was left bereft and confused, but gradually I to understand the cause of all this.

She had in her background a terrible episode that I never got the full story about. I’m not sure I wanted to know. She had travelled to Europe some years before and had hooked up there with another man. He had treated her terribly, in ways I pieced together only in random comments and in her behaviour. He had basically used her, had dehumanised and abused her. She had been left a hollow shell, ashamed I think, and desperately lost. He had abandoned her finally with no money, alone in a foreign city with no-one to call on. She was broken, I think. Eventually her parents had to bail her out to get her home. This she felt desperately ashamed of. And so she had returned home, irretrievably scarred. What was left was the core of her, the core that I loved. She could not love herself as I did though, and that was the pity of her life.

Every time I heard the story of those days, rarely told, I felt a kind of hopeless rage. I felt wild. I wanted to punish the man who had done this thing to the woman I loved. And I wanted to hold her, to shelter her from misfortune and whisper in her ear, everything is alright, you are loved, you are wonderful. And this I tried to do.

I figured out that each time we started out she was full of hope. For a little while she was willing to suspend her disbelief. She felt, as I did, those lovely tendrils of love. And for a little while all would be good. We would laugh together and speak of the future. We would go to the movies or dinner, or sit at home together snuggling, watching a video. Slowly though the mood would turn. Did she become afraid of her feelings? Did she remember how she had been hurt before? I think so, sub-consciously if not consciously. She would turn from me to protect herself – it was better to feel nothing than to risk that agonising hurt once more. And somewhere in all that I became tainted. Groucho Marx once said he wouldn’t want to belong to a club that would have him as a member. B felt something of that. Her self esteem was such that if I loved her, as clearly I did, then there must be something wrong with me.

I grew patient with this. I tried not to get upset. I turned the other cheek. I tried to turn things around and there were occasions I seemed to succeed. Often I was full of hope, thinking we had turned some invisible corner. I can recall one occasion in the middle of one of these episodes where I spoke to her softly, soothingly. You deserve love too, don’t you? I said. I remember, my voice was low, coming from my chest. I spoke quietly, looking into her eyes as my words caressed her. She watched closely without words as I continued my incantation. Slowly I began to unfold her, physically and mentally, until she came to me. That night she believed.

Yet it was always short-lived. This cycle repeated itself 8-10 times. It was hardly surprising I questioned it sometimes, and yet there was never any real chance of giving it away. I loved her, with my heart and soul. And I wanted to make her better.

This went on for 18 months or so. We had some wonderful times through that period. I remember at a party sitting by her on the couch all night, 6-7 hours of it, not stirring, just talking while the party whirled around us. We would walk down Brighton beach often and talk, and something in the simplicity of that touched me. She had studied horticulture, and I can recall often sitting in the park she would pluck an innocuous piece of greenery from the ground and explain to me what it was, testing me afterwards in her mischievous way. And many nights when we would drink wine and listen to Cat Stevens and Van Morrison, laughing and teasing and talking before finally snogging to all hours of the night. There were nights we would smoke cigars together staring up at the stars. Once I tapped dance for her to cheer her up – she laughed: I was very bad. And there days we sat in the sunshine and discussed dispassionately our wedding – in a garden, we figured. Interspersed throughout that were the bad times too, and they were just as true as the good.

Then one weekend there seemed to be a critical breakthrough. We had seen a movie, ‘Thelma and Louise’. We went back to her place and I stayed the night. We made love in the morning and we talked afterwards.

B had always found it hard to express in words what she thought and felt towards me. The most she had ever said to me, but repeatedly, was that I had a ‘mighty heart’. There seemed some attempt at consolation in that: she knew how difficult she was. More than that she found hard to admit. She was wary of her feelings, doubting them and reluctant to say something she may later wish to withdraw. Saying them aloud was something like hope, and hope led only to pain and disappointment.

That morning though as we lay side by side in her narrow bed she told me that she trusted me. I said nothing, but my heart somersaulted. I could think of no higher accolade from her. Her life was about trust, about the betrayal and the withholding of it. Trust somehow led to hope, and yet as we lay there she told me she trusted me. I probably felt very emotional, probably felt some kind of vindication. I doubtless thought this was it. I know I felt a sense of wellbeing flood through me. And why wouldn’t I? I lay beside the naked body of the woman I loved with all my might, the woman I had strived and suffered for for so many months, the woman I had hoped for beyond hope. All that had paid off, or so I thought. She trusted me.

At that moment the phone rang. She jumped out of bed and into the adjoining room and answered the phone. “Hello mummy,” I heard her say in a girlish and very happy voice. I listened as she spoke. I have given you that joy, I thought. I have made you happy. That voice was for me, and I felt so proud.

As she spoke I sat up in bed and leaning over, flipped open the lid of a small wooden box she kept by the bed. Inside were scraps of paper and small objects. As I looked at them my curiosity grew: I knew what they were. There was a little pebble in it, rubbed smooth, that I had given her some day as some silly token. The scraps of paper were little notes I had written to her over the years, tiny, even insignificant sentiments, every one of which she had kept. They were some charms I had bought for on a visit to the country. And so on. The box contained every little thing I had given her, every little token of my feelings, it was all there. My happiness was complete. My heart was full. All the dark days were forgotten. I felt as if in some way I had been wrong all these months, that all the moments I had felt despair there was existing this little box of keepsakes that she had continued to add to. All this time she had said nothing she had felt. Here was her heart, in this box. And in this heart was me.

That was the high point. If I could go back now to that moment I could. It was like I had finally climbed some rugged peak and caught sight of the bountiful land beyond. I stood and surveyed it and felt full of satisfaction and happiness: I had only to descend now, the hard work was done. It was the last I saw of that valley though. I stood and saw, then tumbled back down the way I had come.

Even now I don’t know the right or wrong of what was to happen. We went to work the next day and while there I found out by chance that B was going away the next weekend, skiing. I felt strangely put out, but wasn’t sure if I had the right to be. I didn’t mind her going away, what I minded was her not telling me. But was that reasonable? I said nothing, but brooded. It seemed typical of her behaviour in trying to assert her independence: I won’t tell him because I don’t have to tell him. No, she didn’t have to tell me, and I would never presume to dictate to her. That was not the point though. You share those things not because you have to, but because you want to. There is nothing to prove when you are in love.

That night I got in the car and drove over to see her. I sat in the car outside her home and thought about what had brought me there. I sat for 10 minutes debating the rights and wrongs of it. Was I being oversensitive? Several times I nearly drove home. I should have, but what was to happen was not really my fault, but the rather a cruel twist of fate. I got out of the car finally, still deeply uncertain. I began to walk up the road that ran alongside her building. I walked up the end of it and then turned back. Halfway back a car cruising slowly up the road stopped where I stood. Two men got out and approached me. What are you doing? one asked. What’s it to you? I responded.

He reached into his pocket and took out a badge: both he and his partner were plain clothes cops. They explained that they had had a complaint about someone sitting in a car in the dark. Then they asked me to empty my pockets. Reluctantly I complied. They asked me what I was doing out walking. I told them I’d had an argument with my girlfriend. They’d have to check that out, they told me. Did I mind? Sure, I minded. Well, that was tough but they couldn’t do anything about it. They bundled me into their car and drove down to the corner. Knocking on her door they asked if she knew me. Yes, she knew me, and they left.

As soon as they were gone she exploded. “What the fuck do you think you are doing H”, she exclaimed. I could understand how my police escort would alarm her, but her reaction angered me. I had done nothing wrong and made to feel like a criminal. I exploded back. Soon I left, but in the conflagration hidden was the death of our relationship. For the first time I went to work the next day thinking it was not worth the effort. I was angry still, and would be for days to come. And somewhere in that we had a brief conversation calling it quits for all time. And so it proved.

Naturally I came to regret it later: I really did love her. I could not unlove her so easily. I remember I wept. I felt consumed by a grief I found embarrassing. Over the coming months we came close to getting together again several times. It felt as if we were bound together, no matter what we pretended. I knew her so well. She would walk into the room and immediately I knew her state of mind. And I think she knew just the same. I couldn’t turn this off, couldn’t suddenly disconnect.

It was hard for both of us, but in one bitter way she had her consolation. In this outcome was confirmation of her worst fears, but in that confirmation there was a kind of sad vindication also. It was foolish to hope, after all, and here was the proof of it. And it seemed to me as I watched her distantly in the year that followed that she had given up on ever hoping like that again. It was a game for fools, or at least a game for women stronger than what she was. Seeing this made it even harder for me: I wanted her to hope, wanted her to be happy, I wanted her to live happily ever after, just as we had spoken of.

We continued to work together for a year after our parting and with each month that passed it became harder. No matter how much we tried what was there could not be denied. We had parted, foolishly, prematurely, but nothing now could bring us back together – much to my agony at least. And so from that there came conflict, conflict that grew as the year went on until one day a friend of mine at work came up to me. Something has to happen, he said, it can’t go on like this. You two need to sort things out because it is disrupting the office.

That night I spoke to her. I told her of what he said. We can work this out, I told her. I think I still hoped for the fairy tale ending.

The next day the first thing she did on coming in was to see the manager. There she resigned. Her last day was Christmas Eve.

Can you imagine how I felt? I was distraught. I felt in a way that I had betrayed her. She was leaving because of me and going to her family home in the country, without a job. And I was losing her.

Come her last day we had our usual little Christmas break-up. All day I felt the tension in me. I didn’t want to see her go but didn’t know how I could stop it. Early in the afternoon she said her farewells one by one and left. We said nothing beyond goodbye and good luck. I watched as the lift doors closed on her, then rushed to the window to watch her walk to her car. I watched, knowing that she was leaving my life, knowing I would never see her again. As she drove away I felt something in me burst. I could not stand to remain there, I had to leave.

I went in to see the manager to let him know I was going. As I started to speak I felt my vocal chords tighten until I could barely whisper. Tears sprung to my eyes; I turned away. I was tall and fit and good-looking; I had fought for years for something, had loved with all my heart and now all that was for nothing, gone, driven away. I felt the master, not even myself. I wanted to sob. Looking out the window I tried to complete what I had began to say. Finally the manager contemptuously waved me out, go, go… I have never forgiven him for that, though later I was to get my unintentional revenge.

I worked for another year there until I resigned. I too finished on Christmas Eve, not by accident. From the day she drove away I never saw her again, nor heard from her. I loved her still, but in time that mellowed into a deep, unspecified affection. In my heart B was someone I had loved dearly; she was someone I had trusted with all my heart. I believed her still to be one of the ‘best’ people I had ever met, and one of the most tragic. At times of uncertainty I would often sit down and write letters to her, explaining my circumstances and always affirming the kind feelings I had towards her. I never sent them.

I was a different man though. Gone was that bright and shiny boy, gone forever. The words were still in me somewhere but unspoken. For a while I was barren, like soil with the nutrients leached from it. I had become numb. I changed in other ways, consciously. I had felt so embarrassed at my unchecked grief that I determined that it would never happen to me again. I was single-minded, and managed to eradicate from me those elements I considered weak. Now I ruled my emotions. Now I was the complete master of myself. What I failed to realise was that the qualities I had squashed were the same qualities that made me gentle and warm. I became invulnerable, to the eye at least, I was the man who needed nothing, admirable perhaps, but hard to warm to. I was the man without a chink, bulletproof as so many thought me, but without the openings to let people in. And I paid for that.

In time I reversed that, but the man I once was is gone forever. The man who writes these words today is some compromise between the two. And the fact I write these words can be attributed to the ongoing attempt to be more open, to show my soft underbelly. This is my therapy.

For years I thought I had done all I could in our relationship. It failed despite my best efforts. With the knowledge that time gives and the maturity that goes with it I know now that is not true. I could have done more. I could have been different. I wonder what could have changed had I been more mature. I wish desperately that I had have been, because then maybe I could have saved her life.

That is another story. One day I discovered she had died. I was shocked, but somehow not surprised. Our paths had crossed, before going in separate directions. I had hoped always that hers had taken her to happiness and peace. I had imagined sometimes that she might be married. She had not found happiness, or peace, and this was the outcome.

And so it ends. I wonder if it was meant to be between us but wasn’t for reasons I’ll never understand. And I wonder if she was the great love of my life and spoiled me for all others. But then I don’t what to become a tragedy as she became. I can’t forget her, and don’t want to, but I realise I must make things good again for myself.