102. Tony’s Theme

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Photo by Florencia Viadana on Unsplash

“History, as they say, will always be written by the victors.” 

Anthony Bordain, Medium Raw

I knew I’d have to introduce myself and talk at some point. I’d planned what I wanted to say, written it down, tried to practice it. I didn’t want to wing it. That wouldn’t be right. He’d been gone for longer now than the for the whole time I ever knew him. There were people in there who’d lost a lot more than I had.

“I wish I’d told him how I felt. I thought there’d be the perfect opportunity, that I’d find the right words, then we’d look right into each other, and we’d know. But we didn’t, and now it’s too late. I’ve been over it a thousand times and changed the outcome but it’s still there all the time. The first thing I think about when I wake up, the last thing at night. I’m so stuck and I don’t want to live in my head any more. I can’t change what happened no matter how much I want to. We all get the same amount of time as each other every day and I want to make it matter. I try, I really do make the effort to look people in the eye. I give them my full attention. I smile at strangers, I hold a gaze, I’m affectionate and I share the moment. And it’s really fucking hard to be brave like that. It’s scary to give yourself like that. And I’ve never cried more in my life these last few months – with people I don’t even know. I’ve shared really private stuff with people I’ve just met. Held hands and hugged people and I don’t even know them. Just look at me now. Look at the state I’m in. It’s worse now than at the time. I need help. I can’t go on like this. This isn’t living. But it’s too fucking hard to do it on my own. Um… God.. I’m sorry for swearing”

I’m way too hot, what’s left of my heart is screaming. I want to get up and run out but can’t. This is the safest place for me right now. I lean forward in my chair, elbows on my knees, hands covering my face and sob. There’s a beat of silence then the group leader says,

“Thank you for sharing.”

Someone is rubbing my back. My breathing slows. I look up, sniff loudly, wipe my nose on the back of my hand and take the crumpled tissue from up my sleeve. Snivelling, I take a huge breath, purse my lips and let it out with a long, quiet “whooooo” that sounds just like the wind on a blustery night. There is no dignity in this rawness. I turn to smile at the woman who was rubbing my back and she opens her arms to me as an invitation to hug.

After the group, us two go to the wholefood cafe near the park. As I sip my thick acai smoothie and pick at a malted flapjack, Angie tells me bits of her story. How her life is either ‘before’ or ‘after’ her husband and child died in a car accident. That people she knew for years now treat her differently, how they avoid or pity her, how being a widow defines her. Some would rather not talk to her because they feel uncomfortable, and can’t stop saying how sorry they are and that they think they can’t talk about what happened because it might upset her. Consequently, none of the good times are ever spoken about either. That her life was full of children and now there are none. So she wants to meet new people who understand, and will get to know her as she is now, not then.

There’s so much they don’t tell you about loss. That time is fluid. You waste hours thinking about just one moment. That you have to make a real effort every single day to eat proper food.

Angie tells me that she can’t yet look at old photographs or videos because those images might record over the memories she has inside her own head. Those pictures of them as a family with so much promise for their future life together, make her feel bitter and resentful with hindsight. Then she feels guilty. That she cannot ever imagine meeting anyone new, and doesn’t want to, but still wants to find a way to live now. She used to refer to it as ‘her afterlife’ but realised that was morbid, so now calls it ‘Version 2.’ She says she’s writing letters that will never be read, and feels sorry for people whose entire lives are captured on social media, being replayed over and over again. How she’s had to change her online presence because their ghosts live on inside the machine. They pop up from time to time to remind her of ‘on this day two years ago…’ or ‘it’s Sam’s birthday soon’, and how an algorithm will never replace human interaction.

I say that after the initial shock, I felt like I craved human contact. That I’d deliberately go out of my way to attach myself to people who needed rescuing. I wanted to help, to feel needed. I was so vulnerable that I think I numbed myself with compassion fatigue, which is how I ended up in the group. It’s too soon to know whether it’s helping me through, but I’m prepared to put in the work to try. I don’t want to become lonely, but I also don’t want people to feel obliged to be in my life out of duty, guilt or pity.

Incredibly, as we swap numbers, we both realise that we each have two phones for the same reason. Our old lives and our afterlives. I didn’t have to explain it. She’s the first person I’ve met who not only gets why I’m still paying every month for a piece of outdated tech that I can’t bear to lose, but she’s also doing it too.

When ‘Life on Mars’ comes on in the cafe, I sense a prickle and her mood changes. I say, “Too soon for Bowie?” She nods.

I say, “I’m the same with Anthony Bordain. Tony and me used to watch his programme together every week. I hate that I can’t even do something I used to love anymore. I even went to Cambodia and Vietnam after… y’know, because we’d always planned to go and Bordain made them sound so beautiful. If someone who travels the world for a living finds a place they could live in forever, then it must be good. I think going there helped. The people have nothing there and they’re so peaceful and contented. I dunno. Sometimes, I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m just going round in circles.”

As we walk towards the park, we both stop at the same time to look in the window of the gift shop. There’s a display of bright plastic storage boxes that look like giant Lego pieces. “Sam would have loved those.” She says, and we link arms and stroll on.

 

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58. Not on a School Night.

People, jobs, houses and food in real life are hardly ever like they are on the telly. So why do so many believe that the sex they have will be exactly like it is on screen? The most popular misconception (ha! no pun intended) is that people go out for a massive dinner and loads to drink on a date, and then find they are completely, intimately, perfectly compatible their first time with each other.

All we ever wanted as teenagers was privacy. We had so much free time but no-where to go for an hour of uninterrupted, guaranteed privacy, without annoying little siblings or parents poking their noses round the door without knocking. Couldn’t parents remember how they felt when they were young? This was biology and wasn’t illegal. We were over the age of consent and were a loving, committed couple who genuinely cared for each other. No drama, but respect and adoration. Wasn’t this exactly the kind of first love you hoped for?

Teenagers are going to have sex. You can try to think you can stop them or you can give them a little space now and then.

When we were happy, flirty, relaxed, and the kissing went on for ages, we were sometimes tainted with anxieties or alcohol. Too much pot made me feel lazy, hungry and sick. Safe experimentation. A real Shakespearean tragedy.

The opportunities at college were endless and fun, but does anyone ever really make the most of those few years? After college, not so much. I have no interest in any form of identifying potential partners where choosing someone based on their looks is initially the most important factor (niteclubs, internet dating) I think I’d miss out on too many people I’d find fascinating.

Goalposts move again. We now have as much privacy as we like, but no time.

I haven’t had a shower today.

I’m ovulating in a couple of days, so it will be amazing then. We should wait.

I was supposed to have an early night tonight because I’m really busy tomorrow.

We should have done it before I ate so much food.

It’s timing, luck and being open to trusting someone with your heart. I know people who say they want to meet someone, but appear (to me) to be afraid of making any moves or looking as if they are even interested, because they’ve been hurt and disappointed, so now want to remain in control. The one who is least invested in the relationship holds the power. They make potential partners prove their worthiness, or play passive aggressive emotional games. Isn’t risk a part of love?

Holding out in case someone better comes along is a waste of a chance at building a life with someone you already love. If ‘the one’ did exist, then it is a miraculous coincidence that so many people find their one and only soul mate, who is exactly the same age as them, living in their very own home town, maybe even at the same place of work or school. What are the odds on that?

Sorry, but meet cutes are for teen drama Sunday afternoon rom coms. I’ve never heard of anyone ever meeting their dream partner like this.

“She felt a jolt of electricity as their hands lightly touched when they both reached for the same avocado from the display in Wholefoods. Shy blushing smiles over soya lattes an hour later, they made plans to meet up for brunch and walk their dogs together at the weekend.”

*clicks fingers in the air twice* Hello? Your life is not a Molly Ringwald film.

No-one could ever possibly know us like we do. No two years are ever the same. We make our own rules for ourselves that are no-one else’s business but our own. Why would we ever compare our lives to other people? If we do make comments then it’s usually “thank god we’re nothing like them”.

“No it’s not like any other love.

This one’s different because it’s us.”

‘Hand in Glove’ by The Smiths 

And if we all do end up in ‘San Junipero’, then we can all live out our parallel lives for eternity, with those travelling on other paths that we’ve met in this life.