Monday, 11 August 2008

The one who got away... that I've caught up with

Originally uploaded by Simple Dolphin
So we meet again.

When I left the country, over a decade ago, I was madly, and I think truly, in love with one of my best friends.

Now I am here again, and I know that he lives a 20 min cycle ride from my house, with his "new" girlfriend of course. She is not at all new, they have been living together for at least three years now, I think.

We met today, at the pub, where I went to see another mutual friend of ours, with whom I've done a better job of keeping in touch.

It is odd. I used to dream about him, imagining colourful soft-focus scenarios where he would ring my doorbell in the pouring rain, in the middle of the night, to see me, to tell me something, to validate me.

Of course he never did. Even if he did want me, he was never the doorbell ringing type.

When I walked into the pub today, he looked at me. That really is all it takes. We barely exchanged a word while we were there, before I went home with my friend to see her flat, and he went home with his girlfriend.

Maybe I am finally over him. I don't want the life he has, I don't want to have a boyfriend who spends most weekends sitting inside smoking cigarettes, talking about life and having the not so occasional beer. I don't think he's the father of my future children.

But part of me will always remember that he was the first person that I loved, and made love to, and how my head was bursting with pleasure with every touch, that feeling which can never be replicated once the novelty of sex has worn off.

I wonder if he is sitting somewhere across town now and thinking about me, in his flat where he doesn't have the internet because he objects to computers, holding on to his girlfriend who never quite knows what to say to me, I think I unnerve her, though I don't know why, I knew him when we were kids, I don't know him as an adult, he chose her, he could have chosen me, begged me to come home, to be with him, to be.

I used to say to him that I wouldn't come home until he wanted to marry me. But a girl can only wait so long. And I was too homesick to postpone it till we're 56 and both divorced. Though I think he remembers as well as I do.

And there are dangerous opportunities. He recently completed the course I'm about to embark on, he probably has all the books I will ever need and naturally he knows the ins and outs of the department better than any of my other friends here. It would not be odd of me to meet up with him for a supportive chat.

Yet I don't know if it would be so clever, because he offers precisely the one thing that J doesn't, that unconditional attention, that way of looking at me without saying anything, which just makes me feel like the most interesting person in the world. He does that to everyone, not just to me. Though he is not by far the best looking friend I have, he has more broken hearts in his wake than any of the really handsome ones. I was one of them. But of course, the way he looks at me makes me think I also left a mark.

Softly, softly.

I am waiting for the phone to ring, a decade later. I know it will, and that it will be J, and that when he rings, I'll be happy. I miss him, I really do, and I count down the hours to our daily chats.

But part of my brain will play that alternative tune, Sliding Doors style, of what would happen if it turned out not to be J at the other end. I am back, and my number is the same as it was over ten years ago.

Sunday, 10 August 2008

Northern rain

Northern rain
Originally uploaded by kjetil_vatne
I am sitting here in my new flat, my new flatmate and landlord, a very odd-seeming guy (though he claims to have no mental health problems) just left on a late night errand.

It is pissing it down, the way it only can when you are a certain number of metres above sea level, yet completely exposed to said sea.

The flat has an amazing view of the fjord in this place which is now my new home town and place of study. However, due to the wall of water relentlessly hitting the south-facing window in the living room, the lit-up bridge which usually echoes the Victoria and Albert equivalent in London from across the fjord, is completely obscured. Outside there is blackness, and nothing but.

It has been a turbulent day. I have spent most of it painting the above-mentioned room. The Landlord, as I shall hencefort be referring to him, is slightly behind on his refurbishment schedule which he seems to think must mean I want to spend these first days here making up for his procrastination, brush in hand.

I have painted the walls a warm white with a tinge of yellow in it, hopefully it should keep me warm on dark winter evenings to come. The plus of the room not being finished was that I got to pick my own colour. I didn't feel yesterday, after several hours in the car with my father, that I had the mental capacity to consider creative colour choices, so I just went for the simplest and most obvious.

And maybe it was good to spend this first full day here, brush in hand, rather than just sitting around ruminating about what will happen to J and I, now that he's there and I'm here. When I woke this morning I didn't know where I was at first, I just keenly felt his absence next to me in the narrow bed.

But maybe I'll like it here. And if I do, and J does too, the flat next door is for sale. And hey, I already know what colours suit the light up here.

Saturday, 2 August 2008

To my best friend on her wedding day

You told me yesterday that I have ten minutes. And I said, that is too much. How would anyone want to hear me talk for ten minutes straight? I think a good speech is a short speech.

But of course, the opposite is actually the case. How can I span the depth and width and duration of our friendship, our love for each other, in ten minutes? It really is, in the words of Crowded House, like trying to catch the deluge in a paper cup.

A teacher once told me, back in high school, that when you're young you meet these people with whom you have an incredible connection. And then it stops.

We have lived apart for over ten years now, and for each year that passes in my transient life, I treasure our friendship that little bit more. Its uniqueness shines a little brighter, like a diamond among dull gemstones I've never really found the time to polish.

When we first met, we were about four. You moved to my home town with your doctor parents, you had a posh accent and long, blonde hair which your mum plaited very tidily every morning.

Our mutual friend brought you to my house. I still had the apple green carpet, and the white wallpaper with red hearts on it, and I had a box of treasures. I let you have a lion button. It was from London, my dad bought it for me on one of his travels. And what a coincidence, or Morissette-esque irony, that it was London which would keep us apart for so many years.

As I stand here and come to terms with just having moved home, I would like you to know that you are a large part of my homecoming. We were joking on the phone that we will be only a five hour drive apart. But it is closer, a lot closer, than we have been. And closeness is important.

Closeness should be treasured, because we are growing up, growing older, and hopefully wiser. The past few years have not been easy for either of us, and some people who should be with us here are not. I am sure we are all sending our thoughts to your husband's mother, who died so tragically and in so much pain at Christmas, before she reached 50 and before she saw her grandchildren take her first steps. How she would have cried had she seen you today, so radiant and beautiful, the best woman any mother could ever hope to find for her son. And you yourself, I almost lost you in child birth, and it was a wake-up call for me. We should not put our friendship on the back burner while we wait for the right time to come. The right time might never happen, the right time is now.

We need to treasure each moment we get with each other on this earth, and that is what the two of you are saying that you want to do here today. And as for the two of us, well, five hours is a lot shorter than a slog to Heathrow, a lengthy flight and then another train ride.

So back when we were four, and you still had a posh accent, you were a very well-behaved and well-raised little child, who told other children that they would go to hell because they were not baptised. The staunchness with which you profess that particular belief might have faded somewhat, but you are still a firm believer in your values and wild horses could not get you to do something you are not one hundred per cent behind. And maybe that is why we have worked so well together, despite being different. We realised early on the importance of agreeing to disagree, and we have happily done so for over twenty years.

When you were eight, you were spotted silently crying in class, and when the teacher asked you why, you sobbed that you had left your pencil case at home. You were a sensitive little girl. But somewhere on the way your skin thickened, you joined the scouts (for which I would like to take credit but I'm not sure I can) and learned to handle both yourself and nature. And boys.

You are such a very special person, which I think is illustrated by the variety and number of friends who have made the journey here to witness your wedding day. You have moved around so many locations, from tiny villages to large cities, and in each one of those places you have put down roots, spread your sunshine. I have been asked innumerous times by boys and men how they can win your heart. And I have always told them I did not know. It cannot be denied, you have broken a fair few hearts along your path across the country. I

And a chair. You and your somewhat overweight boyfriend broke an antique chair at our friend's house by sitting on it, do you remember? Back in primary school you were forced into a date with this guy and he was so revolting that you left him in the cinema in the middle of Moonwalker. And then there was the guy in the eigth grade who gave you a lovely present for your birthday: A photo T-shirt with himself on it, railway style braces and all. And there was the guy in Bergen who just could not bring himself to believe you did not want him. There was the guy who came to visit you in Stavanger, just to be told by one of our friends that he looked like a Lego cube. There were skiers, kiters, it's a wonder you didn't end up a footballer's wife, you've always attracted a lot of boys, but sporty ones in particular. And maybe there were a few who were the ones who got away. If they could see you today, I know they would eat their hearts out.

So, to your husband, I do not need to tell him how lucky he is. OK, so he has to put up with your bad mood every morning (which you say you have gotten over but I don't really believe you) and you do fart rather a lot, especially if you've eaten dairy, but you have already allowed him to become the father of two beautiful children and your daft sense of humour is unquenchable, even at the toughest of times.

You have made an impeccable choice. When you started going out together, I knew immediately that something was different about this one. It was not just the fact that he was so bowled over by your first kiss that he started leaving your flat without putting his shoes on. He really had a unique quality, a calmness and maturity I had never seen in any of the other boys chasing you (cause it was mostly them doing the chasing).

And it took time for you to decide where you were headed, you went slowly, when you moved in together you had separate rooms for the first few months at his behest as far as I can remember. Very courteous, but I am sure some IKEA bed was left feeling pretty lonely during that period. But, I remember, I was visiting you while you were studying together, and you were fretting about your first proper argument, which had concerned garlic. You liked it, he didn't. You were really quite distraught after the quarrel. And I guess that is when I first thought he would really be the one. You don't quarrel about those things and last, unless you are bound for marriage.

The two of you have lasted though as tough of times this last year than many other couples endure across a lifetime, but together you have pulled through, and you so thoroughly deserve this day as a celebration in front of each other, family, friends, and the manager who sits upstairs and probably enjoys this as much as we do. I cannot, as a maid of honour is meant to, give you advice as to how to make your marriage last. However, as a budding psychologist I can say that what separates the happy couples from the ones who don't last, is not the number of quarrels in itself. It is the proportion of bad times to happy times. If there are significantly more smiles and cuddles and intimate exchanges of glances where you think your kids really are the cutest (usually while they are asleep) than there are fights and swearwords, then you are likely to last. So, your husband will really just have to do his best to laugh at your jokes. Because, they are funny, really. I have heard them for much longer than him, and you can still make me double over just by giving me a look.

I have no doubt that you are as supportive of a partner as you are a friend. You have always had time to listen, even when you've had three hours sleep for the last week because the twins have been coughing, and your car has broken down and your electric heating is not working. Heck, you'd probably take an emergency call if your house was on fire, provided you'd made your husband jump out the window with the twins first, onto a trampoline you built yourself (scouts, very handy with bits of wood and rope).

When I have been feeling down, you have told me, it's only a phase, each difficult day is a step in the right direction. And you were correct. Things eventually fall into place, it can be a painful process but it is always worth holding out for. That is your outlook on life, and it has held you together through periods of stress under which many a weaker person would buckle, or curl into a little ball and cry for mummy.

So in place of that aforementioned advice, I could wish you the best of luck, but you don't need it, you make your own luck, because you seem to know that this is the only way to achieve true equilibrium, true happiness. The way you work on your patients to coax them to perform things they might not at first think they are capable of, that is the way you coax your friends to be better people, and I am pretty certain that is how you treat yourself.

You are relentlessly positive, incredibly hard-working, you hate losing and you are always chasing the next peak, but never without taking time to smell the flowers along the way. I am so honoured to be chosen as a witness to this greatest event of your life so far, and I am hoping that your wedding will become a beautiful gate to the road ahead for you both, that you will be able to smell the roses and hear the cheers when you turn your heads back for decades to come.

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