5 Surrender

There are plenty of reasons to suppose that we should, and should be able to, learn. In every other sphere of life this seems to work just fine: you burn your hand on the hot handle of a saucepan on the hob, you know better next time. Maybe not next time, but the time after. You wobble on your bike a few yards as a boy with your older brother or your friends or your dad holding on to it and they shout ‘go!’ and ‘faster!’ and you go faster and they let go of the bike and you stay upright and you have the hang of it and you can now ride a bike. You may still fall off occasionally, but the principle is down and you can tick that off your list. You practise and practise and practise the piano and if you have a modicum of talent and a bit of a musicality in your ear you will become passably good at playing. If you have a lot of talent and a great deal of musicality and love what you’re doing you may become exceptionally good and turn into a professional musician, a concert pianist; if you are god’s gift to improvisational jazz, you may become Keith Jarrett. Languages. Mathematics. History. Even writing, people even teach writing, which suggests people learn it. Chemistry. Not love though. Not the chemistry of love. Not the mystery of love. Not the vexation of love. Not the love of love.

Lukas (who’s not really called Lukas either, I’m changing his name too, though I doubt he will read this, and if he does, I doubt he will recognise himself) does to me what dozens of men before him have done, never deliberately, hardly ever even aware, most certainly not with any ill intentions: he infatuates me. In him. Is infatuate a transitive verb? In a passive sense? If I am now infatuated, that would suggest I have been infatuated and since I can hardly infatuate myself—unless I sport a substantial streak in narcissism—the person who infatuates should, if logic had anything to do with it, by definition be the infatuator, with the person who’s infatuated the infatuatee. Logic has very little to with it. Lukas is a little taller than me and a little younger. I’ve always wanted to be a little taller than I am (though I am not, by averages, short) and while I spent the whole of my teens wanting to be older, and never really in that sense since have wanted to be substantially younger than I actually am, I relate well to people who are a little younger, partly because part of my brain has not really caught up yet with my actual age, and partly because another part of my brain has always been far ahead. Age doesn’t really matter to me. Or so I like to believe, though the seconds ticking away so implacably, two and a half billion of them, give or take a few: that troubles me.

Lukas (and I like the name Lukas, not least because I now associate it with the man I have off the top of my head given it to), is German, though you wouldn’t immediately think so: his accent makes him sound more like a Dutchman who’s spent a lot of time in the States, or a Europeanised American. He and his girlfriend have joined the choir together, and on the first evening of the new term he sits next to me, and I feel like a schoolboy. I feel like the schoolboy precisely who fell in love with Michael when he joined our class, he aged seven, most of us then aged eight. This is ridiculous. I know it is ridiculous, and my young brain infuriates at the idiocy of my heart, while my old brain manages a smile that sits halfway between condescending and indulgent. Of course you are now infatuated, it says, my old brain, to heart. Worry not. Like all previous infatuations this one shall pass, and you will laugh about it later. Soon, in fact, because I have so much experience now, so much insight—very nearly wisdom—to give you and to ease the imminent transition from infatuation to friendship imbued with love of the friendship kind, a love that is unentangled, appreciative, mutual, but free.

You idiot! says my younger brain, you child, you pubescent teenager: you, at the age of fifty are allowing yourself a crush on somebody who has just introduced you to his girlfriend and who is absolutely certain to fancy you about as much as his grandfather’s drinking pal Ralph. (I like the idea of Lukas having a grandfather with a drinking pal called Ralph, and I feel slightly flattered that I should remind him of him. That’s how absurd I am at this moment…)

There is nothing to be done. When he misses a couple of rehearsals, I miss him. When he returns, my heart leaps. In the break, when he’s standing, chatting to his girlfriend, I join them. I make a point of talking to her as much as to him, so she doesn’t feel left out, but I really only have eyes for him. It is ridiculous, even pathetic, but thoroughly enjoyable too.

Maybe that’s what this is about: maybe the reason the heart won’t learn is not just because it doesn’t really have to, and not so much because it can’t, but simply because it doesn’t actually want to: the pleasure of being a little in love, of being infatuated, of being just a tad drugged by endorphins is just too great to forego forever. And why should it: this kind of love doesn’t cause any harm. It’s not even causing pain, curiously. In the past it did. In the past, I would get over my infatuations through pain. That is no longer the case. Probably because while the heart steadfastly refuses to learn, the head is really quite capable now of putting it all in its place.

Also in the choir is another sweet man who is quite a bit younger and quite a bit shorter and maybe also a little bit rounder than me. And he’s roundly adorable too. I just want to hug him, every time I see him. He reminds me of Paddington Bear. How could you not cuddle Paddington Bear? And until not so long ago there was a young man who was just very beautiful. Or so I thought. I don’t think I ever spoke more than about three and half sentences with him. And of course there was Edward…

George looks at me puzzled. ‘I think you should go with the heart,’ he finally says in a calm measured tone, looking me straight in the eye. I’m momentarily stumped until—dragged out of my reverie—I remember my question: what does he make of the heart?

Really?’ I surprise myself with my surprise. I mean: I agree with him, but isn’t he the one who too often has precisely not done that, and now he’s telling me?… ‘Yes.’ He speaks with a slight accent and a tone that makes him sound a little aloof and a little bemused and a little detached and a little curious, too. I remember being all of these very well, but I don’t remember sounding them. ‘The only times I’ve ever been unhappy was when I did not follow my heart. You know: “you regret the things you haven’t done, never the things you did…”’ Yes, but: you’re telling me? If I knew this then, and he’s probably right, I knew this then, then how come I still make exactly the same mistakes?… hang on. Did I not just say they’re not, maybe, mistakes, at all, they’re maybe just: my modus operandi.

‘Assuming, George, you could find the ideal partner for yourself, who would that be?’

‘Oh I don’t think such a person exists.’ – He doesn’t even have to think about it.

‘Why don’t you think so?’ I’m beginning to feel a little inadequate, talking to myself, aged twenty-one.

‘Well, because there is no ideal person. For anyone. People just accommodate each other and get used to each other’s foibles, and when they find somebody who they can bear more than they can bear being alone, they settle with them, for as long as that’s true, and sometimes quite a bit longer, mainly because they can’t be bothered going through the hassle of separation. Or because they’re comfortable enough. Or because they’re afraid.’

‘And you?’

‘Oh I’m not afraid.’

I thought as much, but I need to be sure: ‘Can you bear being alone?’

‘I love being on my own. I love being with people, and I love being on my own. I need a lot of time and a lot of space for myself. I function exceptionally well on my own.’

That is so true. That was true then, that is true now. Thank you, George: I function exceptionally well, on my own. Thank you. But does that necessarily mean I couldn’t function even better with someone? Ah, here we go again…

{Contentment}

If everything were perfect, as it is, how much would we crave disturbance?

The variants that made matter congeal. The idiom that expresses just what needs to be said. The waves within waveforms that ripple through time.

There are connections that never make sense, but they make me feel that I am a part of something. No-one knows what. The friend of my nephew who is so gentle, so unassuming and yet so lovely. His exquisite taste. His mild and agreeable manner. His beautiful face. His warm and unfussy friendship. His ease that isn’t untroubled but that knows how to hold on to the core. His generous smile. His diligent gestures as he cooks us a meal that tastes like a dish for the gods. The faintly-haired legs that end in two so shapely feet. I could be here. This presence is one I could glow in forever. I’m sure.

Will ever I be able to find this and know that I have found it? 

4 Maxl (Still Here)

I wake up to a horrible dream. It’s so horrible I don’t want to think about it, it could well be the second most horrible dream I’ve ever had, and I take issue with horribleness, so I go back to sleep once again and I don’t continue to dream, which I’m glad on.

Maxl knocks on the door and wakes me up; I’m already half awake but that means I’m also half asleep and I’m hugging a pillow for comfort. He asks if I’m all right; I am puzzled: he’s never been this concerned about me before. He says he’s concerned about me.

Maybe I made horrible noises in my horrible dream, it’s possible. I blink at him and say, ‘yes,’ and I’m about to go back to sleep once again; he says ‘it’s nearly half two,’ which in German means half one but means nothing to me at the moment because they’ve put the clocks forward last night and I don’t do mornings at the best of times.

Maxl rustles about in my room while I drift back off to sleep. He keeps much of his stuff in my room, so it’s a bit like having a live-in partner, without the partner, it’s a bit like a lose-lose situation: the worst of both worlds. The good thing I suppose: we don’t argue. Though he moans at me.

Maxl moans at me about England. For England: every day he comes back from college or from the bank or from the tube or from the post office or from the supermarket or from the park or from the cafe or from the pub or from the pavement, moaning at me. Every day.

He is German so he’s used to hyper-efficiency; he also lives in Berlin when he’s not here, so he’s used to an agreeable level of anarchic socialism. Objectively, I agree with most of what he complains about, but the complaining itself bugs me, every day, about everything.

That and the fact that he moans at me in German: he makes it sound as if I were responsible. Maybe I am responsible. Maybe my quiet acquiescence to all things British, to all things English, to all things London, has made me complicit in bringing about a college that charges an arm and a leg but that has embarrassingly poor facilities and a bunch of students who, instead of standing up for their ideas and their rights and their freedoms, do everything they’re told, as they’re told, and for a bank that charges an arm and a leg in fees and makes opening a bank account as much of a deal as if you were asking the Emperor of China for a slice of Tibet, and a tube that charges you an arm and a leg but shuts down for weekends at a time and that runs late because one of their drivers has a bout of the sniffles and that goes on strike at the whiff of a comma in a staff manual being changed and that stops running at midnight when half the population is still about town enjoying themselves, and for a post office that I can’t think of what they might be doing wrong off the top of my head but I can easily imagine that in Germany they run their post offices in a way that is altogether more, well, German, and for a supermarket that installs machines that talk at you instead of employing people who serve you, and for a park that is actually pretty much perfect if you ask me but that if you’re German you’ll probably nevertheless find something to moan about, and for the cafe that I can’t I’m losing my will to live…

The pubs close too early, I know, and the trains are a nightmare, get over it, it’s London, this, innit.

I can’t be doing with this much moaning, and I realise that much as I love him, if Maxl were my husband I would have to ask him for a divorce now. That would be terrible. Fortunately he’s only a very good friend, and I can love him even though he moans at me because I know I don’t have to own any of this beyond the level to which I just have to own my share of this culture that so irks him. Better still, much as I love Berlin—and I love Berlin, and I always, always still keep a metaphorical suitcase there—I don’t have to move to Berlin with him just because he doesn’t like London. I actually think he quite likes London, which also makes me think that maybe moaning is just a default state of his, and so he maybe also moans about Berlin! At his girlfriend! (Phew!)

I don’t know, and I don’t want to speculate because I’m troubled by my horrible dream, which I don’t want to think about, and I also don’t want to seem ungrateful or ungracious or ungenerous. I don’t want to seem or to feel un-anything. I love Maxl (I’ve changed his name here, by the way, because I don’t want to get him into trouble, nor do I want him to think that I don’t love him just because he moaned at me), and I am grateful to him for being a good, loyal friend, and I graciously accept the gift of insight that even someone you love can get on your nerves to the point where you are quite prepared to wrestle them to the ground and slap them with a very wet fish, and I want to retain and hold on to the generosity of spirit that says live and let live, love and let love, be and let be. And I realise I am actually moaning about somebody moaning at me. Which is a little ironic. And I like little ironies. Though I still don’t like moaning. Which I suppose makes it doubly ironic… And the whole experience reminds me acutely why I so much enjoy being single.

I feel tempted to tell George about this, but obviously I don’t because I don’t want to prejudice him against Maxl or against me. And I certainly don’t want to tell him about the horrible dream, which he’d be bound to want to know more about, the way I know George…

3 Chaos

This makes me wonder what, in a multiverse of all possible universes, my life is like right now in the world where Benjamin and I are together.

So often have I tried to find him in others—repeatedly have I attempted to find him himself—that I’ve lost all concept of what the reality would be of us actually having done what other people do. Do other people do this? It’s certainly the impression I get: other people I know meet someone, fall in love, have some ups and downs, decide to give it a go, give it a go, stick together, or sometimes not, and if they don’t then most likely they have a break and then either give it another go, or do so with somebody else. I have good examples at close range of things working out well between people, all around me. My family, especially, are exemplary. So it shouldn’t be difficult.

Still, it mystifies me.

Benjamin has fallen out with his father, this much I know. I know this much because the last number I find in my old address book for him is his old home number, and at one point, while I’m in the country, I phone that number and I get his dad on the phone who tells me that he doesn’t know where his son is. Nor how to contact him. He says this quite categorically, and I’m surprised, of course, and a bit stunned, and about to end the conversation, but before I do I ask whether anybody else might know how to contact him, and he says, yes, his mother might know. Ah, I say, and would he happen to still have a number for his mother. I sense I need to tread carefully as I don’t want to upset or offend him, and I feel sorry that they’re no longer together, but at least that offers a plausible explanation as to why his father does not know where he is or how to contact him: his parents must have separated many years ago, maybe on bad terms. But: ‘this number here,’ he says; ‘she’ll be back later, she’s at work now.’

This now saddens more than it puzzles me, and it puzzles me a lot: clearly Benjamin’s mother and father are still together, still living in the same house where I once or twice came to see him, where I met both of them, once or twice; where in fact I interviewed his dad for my final school project, which I wrote on racism; but while his mother ‘may know’ how to get in touch with him, the father not only doesn’t know, he obviously doesn’t want to know either. His son is dead to him. A wave of abject sadness washes over me. He is, has always been, so alive to me.

Should it surprise that your first love is your strongest, your most intensely felt, most devastating and also most exulted? To this day I remember getting drunk on coffee with him on the sofa. That seems surreal now, but we drank so much coffee over so many hours all through the night until it was getting light outside, I started feeling high. Caffeine and adrenaline and serotonin. And that other thing. Is there that other thing, that indescribable thing, that thing we sing songs about and write poems over and feel we could die for?

I phoned up again a day or two later (or maybe it was later that day) and spoke to the mother who remembered me and may have remembered me fondly, she certainly sounded warm and kind, and she said, yes, if I were to write him a letter she would forward it onto him, that might work.

I wrote him a letter, and she forwarded it onto him and nothing happened for a very long time; and I remembered—as I spoke to his mother and before I wrote the letter—the birthday for which I had sent him a flower. He lived outside Zürich then, I outside Basel; his birthday was and still is six days before mine, and because I couldn’t see him on his birthday, I went out and bought him a flower—I can’t be sure now what kind of flower it was, but I like to think and am fairly certain it was a yellow rose—and I asked the florist for one of these small vials that would keep the flower fresh for a while, and I sealed this around the stem of the flower and wrapped it in tissues in case it should leak and sealed that in foil, I believe, and then put the flower into a long box, and I must have used some padding, and then I posted it to him, with my birthday wishes. I didn’t wonder then but I wondered now what his mother made of this at the time.

I wrote him a letter and sent it to his mother, and she forwarded it to him and nothing happened for a very long time until one Sunday the phone rang and it was Benjamin. Out of the blue, except for the letter of course. He’d received it and now he was living in Guggisberg. He’d moved to Guggisberg because of the song, did I know it? I didn’t, but I know it now.

We talked for maybe four or five hours. I don’t remember what we talked about, but then that was that kind of connection: where you can talk for four or five hours and not remember what you talked about, nor really care. For those four or five hours it was as if he were there. 

And all of a sudden I can feel it ease, the pain of not knowing what had become of Benjamin. He’s not had an easy ride. ‘I have a son,’ he says. ‘I have a tooth missing.’ He’s been through addiction and rehab and back, and other things. He lives with his partner, who isn’t the mother of his son.

‘You’ve done a good thing here,’ he said, meaning my writing to him, and after the afternoon had passed with us talking, he said, ‘and now I’m going to get drunk.’ We were a bit drunk already, again, both of us, this time on the beers we each started to open, he in Guggisberg, I in Earl’s Court. ‘And I’m going to hear Jane Birkin in concert,’ I said, and it was true. He wasn’t online but he would write back to me now, he said; but I didn’t think he would, and he didn’t.

After a few months or so, maybe a year, I thought I’d just write to him one more time, although I was myself no longer sure of the wisdom of doing so, and I sent another letter, this time directly to him, at the address he’d given me, on the Guggisberg. It came back as not delivered: the addressee has moved away. But now I don’t mind. My heart is light and free. I hope before either of us dies I’ll see him again, maybe when we’re quite old. Maybe when we’re quite old we can sit together on a bench or in a lakeside cafe and spend a whole day talking, maybe getting drunk a little. On whatever.

I look at George looking at me, and I remember I’m not alone. I’ve never been alone, I’ve always had George, but George has been very much on his own at times; he has chosen a lone path, and I can’t blame him for that. ‘Tell me about Benjamin,’ I want to say, but I now know everything I need to know about him, and I know that George knows much less now than I.

I walk into a room full of people. It’s the Christmas Bazar at the Steiner School in Zürich. I’ve gone there with a friend from Basel, to visit a couple of people we’d met at a Whitsun Camp earlier in the year and stayed in touch with. I don’t remember anything else about the day, not how we arranged to meet, or who else was there. Most likely we’d just arrived, and most likely we’d said: in the cafe, around then. The cafe is just a class room, converted for the day; or maybe it’s a small hall. I remember the feel of a converted class room. The room is full, there is a table with five or six people at it, in conversation. Two or three of them we already know. To the others, we introduce ourselves. One of them turns around: ‘Ich bi dr Benjamin.’ My world has never been the same again.

‘Tell me, George,’ I finally say, the mojito giving me licence to talk: ‘what do you make of the heart?’

{Petals}

I think I can count on one hand (plus maybe one finger, perhaps even two, three at a stretch) the number of people I have actually fallen in love with. This surprises me, because I think not all the hairs I now have on my head and in my beard combined would suffice to account for the number of people I think I have fallen in love with. There is, as always, a margin of error, but it is nowhere near as wide as one might imagine:

Benjamin (First and Most Deeply). Stefan (Under Special Circumstances). Janey (Somewhat Unexpectedly). The Man Whose Name I Can’t Remember Who Stage Managed One of the Tours I Was on (Though I’m Not Sure How That Even Happened Because The Moment I Fell Out of Love With Him I Wondered What Did I Ever See in Him and Wrote a Song to That Effect). The Willow (Of Course, and Still Am a Little, and He Knows it). Probably JayJay (In a Singular Way). Certainly Dominic. A Little Bit Edward. And Indeed Moritz. Actually that brings me up to nine. But already I’d need to qualify. Was I really in love with Stefan? Or was I just blown away by how beautiful, charming and unimaginably cute he was?

There are many, many more I have at some point been a little in love with and still am, somewhere on the scale where it nearly registers, sometimes a bit more, then back to a bit less. And there are many, many whom I simply love. Roundly, completely, for who they are. And there are borderline cases. Michael, at school. Was I actually ‘in love’ with him, or did I ‘just’ love him, as I most certainly did. And before him the English boy who came to our school in Switzerland on some exchange programme.

He was almost certainly the first person I ever had a genuine crush on. I was maybe eleven or twelve and he’d arrived into one year below or above, I believe, and I was so smitten that I bought him an ice cream. That was all: on our way to school there was a kiosk where everybody bought their sweets, and although he wasn’t in my year and we hadn’t been introduced and I didn’t know his name, I just felt compelled to let him know that I liked him and so I bought him an ice cream. I gave it to him and he smiled and said thank you, and I don’t remember ever saying another word to him, but to this day it makes me happy to think of the moment he smiled at me, a little surprised, but friendly, and gracious in a way I had never seen anybody smile before and have rarely seen anyone smile since: that brief and simple but in retrospect devastating moment when innocence meets recognition.

I realise this is something I should ask myself. Something that maybe could help me today. I could learn maybe something from George. That makes sense. Much more, in fact, than the idea that he could learn anything from me. I could perhaps learn from him how he did that. How he set up a pattern that to this day I haven’t escaped; he’s much closer to it, he’s in the process of doing it now: what is going on in his head; what, more to the point, in his heart? Obviously I can’t phrase my question like that, I obviously have to go about it smidgeonwise more dextrously.

But if I played this one right, I might actually gain some insight…

2 Memories of the Present: Hangover

There is a connection; the connection may well be the pattern. I did this back then, I do this right now; I will be doing this in two years’ time, most likely in ten, maybe even in twenty. I understand it, I can put reason to it, but I can’t make any sense of it, because reason doesn’t really come into it.

I have to sometimes save myself from myself, but more often than not the universe protects me from what I want. If the universe and my subconscious were in tune with each other, then that would explain a lot, even if my conscious still struggles. And it still struggles. I think. And I think sometimes I am my own worst enemy, because I think matters through; I most likely overthink them.

My sitting here now may well be a case in point: I should probably just get drunk with myself on cocktails and not care one jot why I am here now reminding myself of my incapacity to fruitfully fall in love.

Even the idea of fruitfully falling in love sounds like a great misunderstanding. Of myself, by myself. Of other people. Namely the people I somehow find myself falling ‘in love’ with. I wouldn’t know the first thing about what that would actually entail. But I know more or less what it wouldn’t.

I’m reminded of something that is happening simultaneously, even as I’m talking to George, right now; although of course it isn’t, it will have happened either just before or just after, or a little earlier or a little later, but at this moment it might as well be happening right now for the presence it has, the way it imposes itself: I wake up surrounded by paint pots – pots of paint small and large, some tin, some plastic, plus white spirit. 

My head aches like Alaska, I open my eyes and close them again and open them once more and then close them again. I hear the voice of my friend who is staying with me talk to his girlfriend on Skype. His side of the conversation goes, ‘uhm… yah… – … – …yoah… – … – …hmmmyoh.’ He’s German, more specifically, Bavarian. He may be the first Bavarian I have ever fancied. I used to go much more for lean, lanky tall men, and while I still have a residual primal propensity towards tall people quite generally, I was here for the first time smitten with somebody of a more stoically solid build.   

I listen with my eyes closed, though I try not to hear. I used to think that his girlfriend was the most boring person alive, but that may well have been just the tint of jealousy. I don’t like the idea of being jealous any more than I like the idea of being angry or ungenerous, but since he’s been staying with me, I’ve realised that my friend—whom I used to have a very soft spot for and whom I continue to hold in a great deal of affection and high professional admiration—when he feels like it (my in this moment murky mind wants to say: when he’s under her spell), can be almost as boring as her, even though his name doesn’t suggest it; his name suggests mischief and a boyish irreverence and a sense of adventure and a laugh and a roll in the hey and an ice cream too many and a drink on top, and calling on Freddie at two in the morning quite tipsy, and an eagerness to discover. None of which is currently much on display, but we did once call on Freddie at two in the morning after a party, as Freddie happened to live on the way home, in Berlin. That was fun. (The girlfriend wasn’t amused…)

Maxl. He sleeps a hell of a lot. Maybe he’s depressed. Or maybe his girlfriend tires him out. She is very hard work, I realise. He sleeps more than I think he’s awake, and sometimes he’s asleep when awake, and even when he’s awake he often might as well be asleep. He’s been here for five months now and he still doesn’t speak English. That puzzles me. I must be hungry and hungover. Hence, surely, my state of mind which, to my own baffled unease, seems to signal malfunction: I’ve never known myself so discomfited by a person I love.  

My brain hurts.

One of the paint pots has leaked pinkish paint onto my pillow, it looks oddly svelte. There is no better cure for an infatuation with someone than to have them stay at your flat for a while. I used to think he was the one, and I came close to telling him so. I certainly told him his girlfriend was boring. I don’t regret that, it was true. Right now I wish myself buried under twelve thousand pebbles. Not dead, just buried. The pebbles would soothe me and ward off the ‘yahem… – … – och – … – nyah’ litany of… what exactly? I keep my eyes closed and try to drift off. It’s not easy…

1 Juice

Of course, I think for a moment, he didn’t actually say that, I just heard that, I just imagined him saying that, I just made that up, because I think it would be interesting. Or would it?

I realise I need to press pause. But he looks at me with this frankness, still, with this openness. If only I could remember meeting me then, then it might make more sense for him to be saying he imagines himself meeting someone like me now. Or was it a joke? I don’t remember being much given to jokes. I don’t think I was humourless, though I was, undoubtedly, earnest.

I need to press pause, metaphorically, on these ‘proceedings’ (they’re not really going anywhere fast) and allow myself to remember what mattered. And what didn’t. Before I say anything more. But can I leave him just hanging there, right in front of me? I can’t. Can I just ignore what he’s said as if he hadn’t said it and I had just imagined him saying it? I could, but that might be rude, and rudeness is unacceptable, therefore I can’t. Can I ask him if he really meant that, if he actually knows who I am? Well, I can, but say he doesn’t know who I am, say it was just a throwaway remark, say it was just me being a little bit clever, a tiny tad ‘interesting’ all off my own bat, at the age of twenty, twenty-one, then how do I explain to him what I mean, without disturbing his own reality? Is his reality not already disturbed? Mine certainly is. But then I also realise I’m suddenly rather enjoying this.

Up until almost this precise moment I had been greatly disconcerted—not in a profoundly distressed or let alone panicked manner, just really, really unsure of what on earth was going on—but now, maybe jolted by his answer, I feel I’ve just come up for air. I can float in this sea of uncertainty now. Accept it for what it is, even not knowing what it is. That, it strikes me as suddenly obvious, will have to somehow become my new state of being, for quite some time.

I give him a smile that says, ‘I do understand,’ although clearly I don’t, and enquire just a nudge further: ‘I mean in life, what do you see yourself doing?’

His skin is incredibly smooth. I don’t recall touching my skin when it was that smooth, that soft. I don’t feel like touching it now, though I do wish I could hold him, just to make him feel safe. Then again, I rarely if ever did not feel safe at that age, and seeing that this is me not some stranger—although for all I know about or of him, he might as well be an alien—I just look at him, look at me. ‘You’re a writer,’ I say, not questioning, stating.

‘I am,’ he says, happy, it seems, that this is so evident; though: ‘how did you guess?’

Ah. That turns everything around once more. He doesn’t know who I am. How could he, in his life I don’t yet exist, other than perhaps in his imagination, but then I remember that at his age I was certain—not vaguely inclined to believe, but convinced—that I would never make it to forty, and here I am, pushing fifty.

I had said so, to my best friend, Peggy: she was appalled. ‘How can you say a thing like that!’ she’d exclaimed upon my assertion, aged nineteen or twenty, that I would not make it to forty. But I saw no reason to be scandalised: for me, when I was aged nineteen or twenty, the idea alone of ever being as ancient as forty was simply absurd. Surely everything—but everything!—worthwhile experiencing, doing, saying or, for that matter, writing, would have been experienced, done, said and most certainly written by then.

I have already outlived my target then by some ten years, and I know now of course that he can’t know who I am because not only doesn’t he know yet that I exist, he doesn’t even believe that I will ever exist. Not because he’s being obstreperous or deliberately controversial or simply obtuse, but because he genuinely can’t imagine it.

This is my chance, this is my opportunity for a pause: if I can make him think then I’ll get the time to think too. There must be, there must be a link between him and me.

‘I saw your notepad and pen,’ I say, playing the ‘I’m an observer kind of a person’ card.

He now for the second time does something that moves me: he shows me the pad. I take that, before I can think it through, as a signal of trust. And I read. As I read, I remember well having written those words. I have my pause button. I have a clasp on my heart. I have left the dimensions I was travelling through to get here. I can, at last, reconcile.

Or at least I can try…

*

i should point out

that i’m not real

the

juice

that courses through my body

is not

squeezed

by ordinary means

i want to know how things happen.

i want to know how it happens that you see somebody

not even meet them

see somebody

from a distance

enter a room, for example

and think

(you don’t

think, you go, though

just to yourself:)

‘yes

that’s him

that’s

the one’

(even though you know

it will turn out

that it isn’t)

how does this happen

it’s ludicrous

you don’t even know him:

it is

insane

i

undress him in my mind, imagine him

naked.

i don’t do this immediately

it’s not something i

jump to

like a conclusion

it’s something i resist for a moment

then for another

and for another

until enough moments have passed

an hour or so later, maybe two (sometimes

a whole day or more may pass before i feel it is

acceptable

before i feel ready) to imagine him

naked. i

touch

his body in my mind, his

chest, my

extended fingers spread, gently run

over the mound of his biceps:

delectable

my

other hand now cups around his waist, just above his

hip

and draws him a little closer, close enough that i can

when i lower my head

just a little

inhale

the scent of his

body

musk with a warm sweet sweat of

excitement

i

zonk out of it

just in time: i don’t want him

there yet

not yet, we have not even yet said

hello.