Where is the line between flirting and falling? Who will be the object of my next affectionate moment? When does the moment become a long, interminable series of moments? When do I become inexorably entwined, flinging my self-respect on the pyre of passion? Patterns. Maps. I am decoding. I am identifying the warning signs. I am saving myself from the possibility of uncontrollable passions. Fatal attractions.
I saw one of those fatal attractions today. The hardest one. The one I have found most difficult to extract myself from. He walked into the bookshop. He recognised me, which was a positive development. We had ended in a screaming match which cleared the whole building. The residents of several flats evacuating as if a fire alarm had been sounded. I had had six months of silence, hoping that my easy going nature would win his heart. I had already wrestled his body from his clothing and climbed it from all angles, a mountain to conquer. I had conquered. His heart was another complication, and one that was too difficult for me to locate.
We had struggled through a period of time cohabiting. His only rule was that we would not have sex while we slept under the one roof. I agreed to this, thinking he would succumb to lonely sexless evenings. He proved to be a master of abstinence. My flat had no doors, and my furtive masturbation had to be played out late at night, after he had settled, curled up against the belly of his guitar, warm from music.
Now we faced each other after all these years.
"Hello." He didn't' remember my name. I said his into the silence that came after.
"So what are you doing?" He was half here, half gone. Nothing had changed.
"Working here, writing." I handed him a card with this address. The key to my innermost secrets, my furiousvaginas, my crazy head-long shout into the dark emptiness of cyberspace. He is the repetition of a theme. There are moments of our time together glaring defiantly out from amongst the flotsum and jetsum of a my online rant. He might recognise himself, or perhaps he will find himself transformed beyond recognition by my affections.
I considered myself to be in love with him. I never said the word but I was bitten by the idea of his disdain for me. Mauled by it. Ravaged.
The night after I met my husband I sought him out and laid it all flat in the night. Pieces of a puzzle, none of them connecting. Was there any chance that this might change? This terrible holding pattern, this ridiculous to-ing and fro-ing with me on the advance and him on the retreat. I would have abandoned my potential future, a turning point. I wanted him to tell me to turn back but he refused. He told me I had nice eyes. He stroked my hair away from them and let me go.
So then the slow hiss of our daily grind and him in the flat next door and me, distracted from the potential for something long and enduring right there in the bed beside me, listening for the plucking of strings and the voice that sounded like a broken heart. Then the day when the hiss became a shriek. Boiling over. Everybody left their respective flats and congregated on the front lawn of the tumble-down house, looking up, shading their eyes, as if to catch the rare moments of a solar eclipse. All those things I said. All those true things shouted. And him pinned by the force of it, saying, 'now I respect you. now'.
"OK then," I said, and, "Bye."
A farewell to things long gone. A farewell to madness and the kind of passion that could kill a girl. A farewell to youth and what little beauty I had once laid claim to. Farewell then. Farewell.
So I sit at the end of a week of farewells and I am emptied out. I am solid with love and support and the scaffolding of a life unfolding day by day. I have friends I love and I spend my spare time punching down the possibility of loving them too much, too fiercely. I am exhausted by the effort.
"You look flat," she tells me as we share a lift later in the afternoon.
Flat. Emptied. Hollow. Sad.
Goodbye. Goodbye. Goodbye. I have said it so often this week that the word rolls off my tongue.
"Really? I'm OK." I tell her.
And really, truly, I am OK.