"It's such a perfect day, I'm glad I spent it with you." - Lou Reed
I've been angry at David for almost three years now. That's how long he's been gone, to Australia, his new job, and new boyfriend. After a third of a lifetime together, he's cut me out so totally, it's like I never even existed. But I do exist, and, like a fool, I still love him. I wish I didn't, wish I could emulate his cool detachment; but I can't.
So, instead, I feel angry with him; and I grieve for what I've lost.
I do most of my grieving in the dead time before the alarm goes off, when I wake alone in the double bed we used to share; or later, as I cycle to work, on the bike he bought me once as a birthday present. I try to keep the crying down to those times, so no-one notices. I do it almost every day. And that's the grief part.
The anger comes in the endless arguments I have with him, in my head. I imagine conversation after conversation. I hone and refine my points, a jab here, a thrust there, all calculated to wound, to hurt, to draw blood, or guilt, or at least... acknowledgement.
But the conversations are all one sided. Since that time in December 2006 when he told me, via a curt little email, that he never, ever, wanted me to contact him again.
So now I'm the only audience for my brilliant, incisive comments, the irresistible arguments that prove, conclusively, why he should never have left me, despite the sex change. Not after twenty four years together; not after I promised him my life; not after he told me he would love me, always.
I know this anger is not good for me. Friends keep telling me 'let it go; face facts; he's moved on.' And of course, I know he has. Yes, he's moved on. But I haven't. Even though I know that what I feel is corrosive to me, I cling to it. Better to feel this, than nothing at all.
Once, in the throes of our break up, when he was already sailing into the clear blue water of his new life, and I was just - drowning - in grief behind him, he suggested therapy. I refused. "Because you think it won't work?' he asked me. "No," I replied. "Because I'm frightened it will."
I read a piece in a magazine a while back. One of those 'Best of Times / Worst of Times' things. They were talking to a man, some kind of artist, I think, in his fifties now. But his wife, whom he loved, very much, died, completely unexpectedly, only a few years after they married, in her late twenties.
Now, over thirty years later, he said : 'Life with her was in colour; life without her is in black and white.' He grieved, every day he said, for what he had lost.
And his friends had grown weary of it, moving from sympathy to irritation, to annoyance, at the limitlessness of his sorrow. Why don't you, they told him, move on. And all he said was: Why should I? When I know that the best thing that will ever happen in my life has already been taken from me.'
Why should I?
The piece gut-punched me, and I burst into abandoned, racking sobs, attracting uneasy glances from the other commuters crowded about me that night on the London to Brighton train. 'What' they were wondering 'Is that crazy tranny on?'
So I feel the anger and the grief in roughly equal parts, and I don't move on, and I can't shake the feeling that every happy time in my life - ever - was with David, and now that he doesn't want me any more, those memories are just trash, each bright, shining moment made over into just another twist of the knife, my fault for ever believing there was such a thing as true love.
Only: in spite of myself, I need to remember that there were good times, before the knife went in. That I once had perfect days, and every one was spent with him, David, my one and only love - who doesn't love me any more.
I was so spendthrift with them, never realising how precious they would become. There were so many, and I squandered them, because I thought there would always be more.
...Like our first Christmas, 1980. We were deep in the grip of first passion then, a mere three months into our shared adventure.
We screwed so often, so many times a day, between lectures, before dinner, at bedtime, in the morning, David making up for his years of provincial virginity, me at the sheer thrill of sex with someone my own age, who actually liked me, and wanted me to stick around afterwards - screwed so often, that, eventually, my bollocks literally withdrew in protest, sucked themselves up into my groin for a break and wouldn't come down until they got one. It took about a week. I never even knew they could do that...
So it was Christmas, and all the other kids at university, all those fledgling boy and girlfriend pairings, were heading to their separate homes, but me and David - we were together, and we weren't going home at all.
Beginning that first time, Christmas became a kind of wedding to us, and our anniversary too In those far off days before civil partnerships, it became our own special token of commitment, ahead of family, ahead of all others. A ritual which would be unbroken for a quarter of a century: Christmas was ours.
So we blew the last of that first term's grant on good food and booze and stupid, sentimental gifts - he bought me a pocket sized teddy bear, I bought him a carved wooden cat - realising too late that we had left no money to buy a Christmas tree with.
So we got a sheet of green paper instead, and cut out the shape of a tree, and stuck it to the wall, and decorated it with tinsel and crappy little decorations we made ourselves. And it was the best, most loving Christmas I had ever had. A perfect day...
... And there were so many more after that. But I let them all slip through my fingers, carelessly, because we were meant for each other, we would always live together, and grow old together, and eventually die together...
... Many of the best days were holidays. Not particularly because of the glamour and novelty of the locations, though David, as his salary increased exponentially with each new job, saw that they were both these things.
It was just that, with the passing of the years, as our respective, driven, adult careers began to cut more and more into our lives, holidays were increasingly the only times we really got to spend in each others' company, long enough to relax and enjoy each other as we had when we were just kids, students with with all the time in the world.
Once, on one of our many trips to the States... We had grown almost jaded with America by then, we had seen so much of it - we took a chance.
A leaflet in a truck stop somewhere mentioned a resort, Lake Chelan Lodge, high up in the North Cascade Mountains of Washington State. What the hell, we thought.
We drove all day to a dead-looking little town on the shores of a gloomy, dark glacial lake - a fjord in fact, unfathomably deep, and shadowed between high rocky bluffs. We were out of season - early March I think, another three or four weeks before things got going again - and there were dirty dregs of snow still on the peaks about us. Stuck overnight in a charmless b&b, we both wondered if we'd made a mistake,
But in the morning, the sun shone as we boarded the ferry that took all day to get us the ninety miles up the lake to a place called Stehekin. We virtually had the lodge, a cluster of log cabins at the lakeside, to ourselves. And then...
Just before dinner, we found there was a hot tub room. I opened a bottle of good Californian Merlot, and we sat in the tub together, sipping the wine and looking through huge picture windows to the jaw-dropping beauty of the mountains above the lake, and the sun dropping behind them, and his arm was around my shoulders... And it was perfect.
...Or the time, nearly a decade later, in California, at a restaurant in Big Sur called Nepenthe; a beautiful redwood and glass space clinging to a hillside above the Pacific, the looming vastness of the giant redwood forest behind us. We're sipping cocktails on the terrace, inhaling the resinous perfume of the trees mixed with the salt tang of the ocean, gasping in wonder as a school of whales break surface just a few hundred feet from the shore. I remember thinking: if I die, and have to pick a single moment to relive for all eternity, it would be this place, with this man, right now...
...Or again, towards the end of our adventure. November 2003, the run up to the last Christmas before I change everything forever.
David has surprised me with a weekend break to Edinburgh. He books a quietly tasteful boutique hotel near Castle Rock. It is a cold, crisp night when we set out to find dinner, and the combination of the city's Gothic architecture and the frost riming the iron of the gate we push open, the railings marking the steep footpath we descend, gives everything an otherwordly, Narnian feel.
Then we turn a bend in the path high above Princes Street Gardens, and some municipal genius has threaded thousands of tiny white lights through the canopy of the trees there, and I am transported, as David's warm hand finds mine, and we kiss, alone on that high, dark path, and for a moment it is as if we are suspended in air, stars above and stars below, and the universe belongs wholly to us.
...And now it's almost over, or, perhaps, already is.
It's September 2nd, 2006, some time in late afternoon, and I'm dimly aware I'm back in my room at the Brighton Nuffield Hospital. The tightness and the drug-dulled ache between my thighs tells me my ten thousand pounds has been spent, the irrevocable step taken.
And I don't know if this is a perfect day, but it is the last day I remember David being kind to me.
He sits beside the bed. How long he's been there, I don't know. I have an oxygen mask on my face, and I drift in and out of consciousness.
I realise that he is holding my hand, as he has so many times before in our long adventure together.
He's asking me a question, I realise. He repeats it.
"Have you done the right thing?" Squeezing my hand gently.
"I don't know," I say, woozily. "It's too soon to tell. But at least I don't feel like a drag queen any more."
And David, my David, my only love, is sobbing, as his hand drops away.
? Irena Svetlovska 2007
© Copyright 2016 Irena Svetlovska. All rights reserved.
Short Story / Memoir
Short Story / Memoir
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