Monday, July 10, 2006
‘I think I know what the problem is’, he said.
‘You don’t let anyone in.’
I watched his face for sarcasm, and saw none. He blinked at me slowly, letting me absorb what he had said, and I moved my glance to the table, reaching over to self-consciously circle my beer glass with my thumb.
‘You know I’m right: I know you’ he said firmly, his voice quieter than I remember it from all those years ago.
I felt something in the pit of my stomach: a sensation that seemed overpowering, even with its distance to my rational brain. I picked up my drink and took a long gulp, hopeful that each swallow would fill me with calm; that the alcohol would neutralise and numb whatever lay beneath.
‘It’s because you don’t let them in' he continued, 'that’s why. You’re a rock – you always have been. You’re always there for other people, you’re strong, you’re confident, you’re happy, but you don’t let anyone see the real you – the person that needs and deserves to be loved.’
Whatever was in my solar plexus surged and began to gnaw away, moving swiftly upward into my throat until it was so tight that I couldn’t hold it anymore: I felt overwhelmed with emotion, my vision becoming blurry as the first tears swelled up in my eyes.
‘Abby. Look at me.’
I looked up, slowly, knowing that as I did, the dam would burst. He gazed at me softly, as the tears began to stream down my face, and smiled.
‘It doesn’t need to be this way’ he said, gently. ‘You just need to open up, and show people who you really are, be open about your fragility – be open with your heart.’
I took a deep breath and wiped my eyes with the back of my hand. ‘God I’m a twat, aren’t I?’ I said, ‘It’s been more than ten years since I’ve seen you and now you get me going all soppy; how pathetic.’
He shook his head. ‘No, that’s just my point. It isn’t. Crying is good – it shows you’re vulnerable, and that you have needs. That’s the real you and that’s what you have to show these guys so they get to know you, not just the fact that you’re a strong capable woman – you’re so much more than that.’
I nodded. ‘I’m trying, I really am. It’s just, you know, well, I’m so used to that wall, that front, being confident, coping, so doing anything different feels alien to me. And it’s hard for me to trust people with that.’
‘What are you scared of?’ He fixed me with direct eye contact and I felt compelled to look away; his ability to stare straight through me, leaving me feeling naked and exposed.
I played with my beer glass once more. ‘Oh, you know, the same as everyone: rejection. It’s the same old story: if you give your heart to someone, you get burned. It’s far easier just not to give your heart, in my opinion: less risky for all involved.’
‘You don’t mean that’ he said questioningly. ‘You’re not being serious?’
‘Partly’ I replied. ‘But you know, what sort of bloke is going to want an insecure, neurotic, overly analytical woman like me? It’s not like those are attractive qualities – if they were, I’d be surrounded by men, right?’
He laughed. ‘Don’t be so hard on yourself: you’ve got far better qualities and they outshine all that. Anyway, I put up with you and survived.’
I grinned at him. ‘Yeah, and look where it’s got you now.’
We both laughed out loud, given his current predilection for, shall we say, the more ‘rugged’ amongst us, and took long gulps of our beers. I sat there, smiling at him, glad for the swift suppression of my tears, but more glad for the compassion and love that I felt for this man: time and life may have come between us, but our feelings for each other have never changed.
‘You do know you’re going to make some man very happy, don’t you?’ he said, looking serious.
I shrugged. ‘There’s always hoping…’
‘You never know: you could be walking down the street, drop your bag and bump into an amazing guy where you both click instantly. True love, and all that.’
‘Life is not a romance novel’ I said, flatly.
‘Yeah, and life is not about being so fucking cynical that you’re blind to opportunity when it crosses your path’ he replied.
‘Fair point.’ I said, quietly.
We were both silent for a moment. I suddenly remembered how he used to wipe the hair away from my eyes when we were in bed together; funny how so much of my past seems a blur, but moments like that seem sharp in their realism. I watched him and wondered what he was thinking about.
He took another deep swig of his beer. ‘Anyway, more importantly, are you still a nymphomaniac?’
I spat out the beer I had just begun to swallow and laughed. ‘Fuck you! Don’t call me that!’ I reached over to give him a half-hearted slap round his face and he moved away in mock fear.
‘I didn’t call you that, YOU did: that’s how you used to describe yourself when we were together.’
‘Oh. Fuck. God, I was a right twit when I was a teenager, wasn’t I?’
He laughed and leaned over to pinch me on my thigh. ‘Yeah, a little. So, are you?’
‘What? Still a nymphomaniac?’
‘Damn right: if anything, I get even hornier now I am in my thirties.’
He beamed. ‘Thank fuck for that. Come on, let’s get another beer, I want to drink to your wonderful sex drive – long may it continue.’
We ordered some more drinks and talked until the early hours. And as we finally said our tearful goodbyes at the train station, he made me promise him that I would open up more and let a man into my heart; that I would finally allow myself to be loved.
With his trusting eyes on me, and his steady hand on my arm, I knew I couldn’t lie to him. So I told him I would. And I meant it.