We met in York, in person, that first time. I was still young enough that I didn’t wear make-up regularly (I barely knew the rudiments of applying it, at age 20) and I made sure not to wear any, before meeting him. That was one of the last times I remember wanting a man to see me, really see *just* me, before… well. Before meeting my husband, to be honest.
I still love York, and York Minster, and some coffee shop I’ll never remember the name of (was it in a library, or a bookshop?) for his sake. But I was married to my first husband then, and I stayed married to him for years, after that; and more to the point, marriage aside, I treated him so very badly, in the end. Some days, I can hardly think of him, without cringing–that’s a hard-to-admit fact, considering we’re still friends, and chat online a few times some weeks, and at least a few times most months–but it’s true. I hope his knowing that, won’t damage his affection for me.
But I won’t talk about that, today. It’s my prerogative to tell my own past as I wish, and it’s not as if he’d object, is it? He messages me, not most days, but many days, and I’m married to someone else now, I’ve had 2 kids since I broke his heart, and he’s engaged to a lovely woman, with a child of his own, and I can recall the bits *before* I ghosted him (near enough) if I want to.
I was still young enough that I was wearing a perfume (body spray?) I’d bought from a drugstore, that I liked better than the Dior fragrance I got one Christmas when I was about 14. It was sweeter, and I didn’t mind the hint of alcohol underneath the sweetness… when I think back, that seems like a metaphor for something–some childish refusal to look beyond the surface of anything, including things far more important than which $10 scent I wore–but what do you expect? I was young, young in years, wise in some ways (my friends’ mothers would tell you I was always abnormally wise, well beyond my years–“a sage at age 9,” one called me, earlier this year) but in the realms of human interaction, especially where physical attraction was concerned, I was woefully, embarrassingly, tragically naïve.
We kissed and held hands. I was married to someone else, but we kissed on street corners and held hands, and walked all over the city, for 9 hours or so. On the train home, I wrote 3 poems about him, and 1 about me, from his point-of-view, and I shared them all with him, and I couldn’t wait to see him again.
I remember I was still American enough then, to think that he sounded posh. (He does not have a remotely posh accent–it’s just a South-eastern English accent–but what did I know, then, about British accents or anything else?) I was fascinated by the way his mouth formed the words, the glottal stops and slight lisping over “r” sounds and the near-disappearance of “th” (which was usually replaced by something like a cross between “f” and “v”). Does he know that he almost never sounds a “th,” or is it something you don’t hear, growing up where he did? I’ve never been *quite* rude enough to ask him: a rarity for me, to deny myself an intrusive question (especially one about words/accents) but then, I suppose I figured I’d hurt him enough, and gratuitous rudeness at him was never to be tolerated, even from myself.
I said I wouldn’t go on and on about my guilt, didn’t I? Stop it.
His eyes were so shockingly blue I’m not sure how to describe the colour, and his mouth was such a deep, rose pink, it almost looked as if he’d worn lipstick. Navy blue and rose pink are my mother’s favourite colours, and the appeal is easy to see, when they show up next to each other on a human face. I’ve always been more attracted by colour than by shape… I’m pleased to say he photographs well, and even now (when I have faded and wrinkled and gone more silver than I care to admit) the startling blue and unparalleled pink are still very much trademarks of his general countenance, and his hair still looks mostly dark sable, as it did almost a decade and a half ago. But then, he’s led a good life, considerate, compassionate, and I? I’ve spent too much of my life either running from my mistakes, or trying to atone for them. Neither is conducive to retaining a smooth brow, hair pigmentation, or healthy colour in the lips and cheeks.
Fucking hell. I knew this would happen, if I tried to write about him. Back. On. Task.
He did a dozen little things, that still make me love him, so many years later. When a cynical voice whispers in my ear that he’s keeping tabs on me to see if I suffer as I deserve to, I remember the things he said to me, when I was 20; you’re too clever to work for a bank for the rest of your life, you should apply to a university, you should read more, write more, take more care of yourself, be kinder, kinder, kinder to yourself; and he still says the last two now. (He can’t tell me to go to uni, anymore–I finally did, and he was there to help me with my dissertation, an unsung hero who never got a thank-you on my acknowledgements page, because he didn’t want to be named.)
He’s still the yardstick (pardon me, but I *am* American) by which I measure other men; I don’t always listen to my own better judgment, but if I did, I’d have spent a lot less time hurting myself with poor choices, in the past 15 years. The guy who poked me in the face for smiling (not even laughing–smiling) about him? Never, never, never, if I had held him to the appropriate standard. Our relationship would have died an instant death that very day, IF it had even made it that far (he’d pitched verbal tantrums long before that day, hurled wild accusations, been deliberately hurtful, etc). All things… the guy I’m writing about now, I can’t think of a pseudonym for him… would never have done. (I know this, because I hurt him far worse than I hurt Face-Poking Eye-Blacker, and he never retaliated in any way; just told me I’d hurt him, and forgave me, and it was awful in its way, but it was the kind of awful a person actually deserves, unlike abuse, which is never the appropriate punishment for a partner or friend.)
My current husband reminds me a little of every person I’ve ever loved, and it’s that gentleness, that sweetness of spirit, that he shares with Guy Who Has No Pseudonym. My husband is not infallibly sweet and gentle–we’re in each other’s pockets A LOT, we’re raising 2 kids, my mental health is not as robust as we’d all prefer–but he never hurts me deliberately, and he forgives me if I hurt him. You would think that wouldn’t be so terribly rare, yet it is. He offers real forgiveness, not saying nothing at the time and using his pain as ammunition weeks, months, years down the line…. no, my husband–like Guy Who Has No Pseudonym–tells me in the moment if I’ve hurt him, and waits to see what I’ll do, and I am humbled into gentleness myself, by his sweetness and willingness to forgive me (the humbling happens much faster than it used to, now, as I’m ever so much more than 20–yes, that’s a line from Peter Pan–and I hope I will improve more, as I continue aging).
It’s a funny happenstance, when someone from your past is both a fond memory, and a cautionary tale; I don’t think it happens often. Most of the cautionary tales I know centre around people or behaviours I should avoid, red flags in relationships, tricks that people use to lull you into a false sense of security and then laugh at you, etc… it’s refreshing to have the converse happen: this is how not to treat a person who treats you well, this is what real kindness looks like, this is both a type of person AND a chance you don’t want to squander.
I would like to think that this time, I’ll actually hold onto the lessons I’ve learned, and by extension, the person I’m with now. Like I said, he’s the first man (the first person, possibly) since No Pseudonym who’s actually looked at me, seen through my bullshit, and found the person underneath the façade… at almost 35, I should be better than I was at 20, at holding on to someone who–despite my myriad flaws–loves me exactly as I am.