Of course I remember your name, but I also respect your privacy. And I remember your poor memory for names and faces; and your tactic of a smile, a hug and ‘Hey You’. All flirtation and false intimacy – to cover the fact that you had no idea who the person was, delivered with lots of eye contact. Male or female, you didn’t discriminate. You wanted everyone to love you, yet you only loved me. All puppy love and kitten kisses. I loved you too, for a time.
I don’t keep exes in my life – you know that about me. Never have, never will; except almost, always you.
For me, running into an ex is like an experiment in quantum physics: time bends. You re-live the lifespan of your relationship in a matter of minutes. The initial attraction, often helped along by the adrenalin spiked by a chance meeting. And a voice inside your head purrs: ahh yes, I remember why I fancied you. The polite to-and-fro of the catch-up conversation, each showing an interest in the other and demonstrating that you remember the details of each other’s lives. You think: ohh we really did share so much together. And then 30 seconds or 30 minutes later it comes. It could be something they say; their reaction to something you say, or maybe even a memory triggered by a familiar gesture. It could be sparked by anything, but it’s the inevitable: Bang! and there, that’s why we broke up. And then I’m bored, and it’s awkward, and I just want to disengage as fast as possible and return to now.
Dipping my toe in the past is only fun for me in private. Never better shared. Except maybe served up with wine and synthesised humour as a spectator sport for friends – or almost always you.
I was 19, you were 20. You have to admit we were children magically, indulgently in love. Remember how we spent practically every night and every other day together? The whole world seemed difficult, and yet we still felt like we existed inside our own bubble. We would walk down the street and remark to one another that it actually felt like we were walking on air. Finishing each other’s sentences, I could forget to breathe when I looked into your eyes. Sometimes we would even dance down the street like we were in our own music video. Real life could wait: we had puppy love and kitten kisses. That bubble lasted 2 years! The last 6 months was admittedly grim, our differences grinding. In the end, we became too difficult as well. You didn’t do anything bad to me, and I didn’t do anything bad to you. It was a relief when it was over. Our relationship felt complete. But when I think of my past boyfriends – it’s almost always you.
A town of a million people is smaller than anyone credits, and every year or two we ran into each other on the street. We would arrange to meet for coffee, lunch or a drink. I used to think we did it more to flirt with the memory of our teenage selves than with each other. It was never dinner, and never sex.
Every time we start with all the polite to-and-fro of the catch-up conversation. It’s easy because we really did share so much together. The questions start safe, but we start diving deeper, getting increasingly more personal, until inevitably there is a lull in the conversation. We exchange sideways glances, and one of us says it.
Over the years we’ve tried multiple different approaches to the same end:
‘Do you ever think about … ?’, or
‘How would our lives have been different if it had … ’, or
‘Just imagine, we would have been the parents of … ’.
There is no need to finish the sentence, and we never make eye contact.
It’s emotional nadir, the basis of our remaining bound: always, almost baby. We sit in silence. For a moment quantum time opens up on the table between us. We never discuss the details; our alternative lives, and the multitude of possibilities. At the time I was only just starting to show and we hadn’t told anyone. Even then it seemed sacrilegious to mark the absence of a life with anything but silence. Although once, over a drink, you did admit that you still sometimes looked into the faces of children and tried to imagine how our child would look, what they would be. They would have been 10, then.
The moment always passes, and we are both socially proficient enough to ensure that the rest of the conversation flows. We never stay too long. And almost always split the bill with a smile, hug and leave.
In a few months you’ll be turning 40, always that half a year ahead of me. It’s been 8 years since we last met. Living on opposite sides of the world now, with no friends in common, it’s unlikely that we could meet by chance. Unless we decide to, I doubt we will ever see each other again. I’ll probably send you a brief email to mark the occasion, and all this will go unsaid. Twenty years is a long time and it’s shown me that time changes things, a lot. But no time never changes, at all. It can’t. It’s always almost, never.
Written by Sine Dellit.