For once I wasn’t facing the corner.
For once I wasn’t sporting a sore backside.
(If you’ve been keeping track on our household, you’ll know that displays of temper normally result in me getting walloped. . . this time I was being hugged and petted and I, for one, wasn’t complaining at the change in consequences.)
I was still hurting though.
I’m Peter, by the way. . . you do remember me, don’t you? Yeah, I know it seems like I haven’t had a lot to say recently but that’s not strictly true. I’ve had plenty to say; words screaming to get out but putting them in some semblance of order was beyond me. Alex will say it’s a miracle and he’s never known me to be at a loss for words before and I could talk for England if they ever decided to widen the games options at the Olympics. Says I am a shoo-in for the Gold. Not this time though. Not over this. All you need to know is that it’s been a bad couple of years and I really didn’t have an idea of how to cope. Alex was with me every step of the way however and in the end it was his support that did it. He coped for me when I would have given up.
When tragedy strikes, as much as you may sometimes wish it, you don’t stop living. By hook or by crook and sometimes, just because your body knows better than you, you get by and move on. Heal. If you’re lucky, you have a partner who gives you time to grieve and come to terms with it. If you’re lucky, you have friends who stand by you and listen to you waffle on or just sit with you in your silence. Friends who, when you push or hide or occasionally let slip a comment about not believing they want you any more, tell you that they will never turn away from you.
And then they do just that.
Do you get sent those stupid Powerpoint attachments all about Friendship and Love and God Knows What? I used to. Until I made it clear to those people who didn’t know me enough to know better that I thought they were daft and a total waste of my time and that I never ever opened one, let alone passed them on. I don’t need some flowery picture telling me in the most maudlin way possible what a true friend was and what they would be willing to do for me or how to know when I had found a soul mate. I thought I knew how to recognise that without crap music being played in the background or trite words. Seems I was wrong. I still won’t be opening any PowerPoints though!
So what, I hear you asking, have these friends done to me to get me so worked up? Stolen from me? Killed my pet dog? Slept with my partner? No, nothing so dramatic. . . just show me that words are cheap.
I had spent another restless night after a day filled with poorly disguised bad temper and ire. Hours spent going over things time and time again; questioning, arguing with myself, replaying past conversations, remembering details, raging with anger and disappointment. And betrayal. And all the time trying desperately to not wake up Alex. The man has enough on his plate without a lack of sleep being added to the list. The crisis had hit the housing market hard; he’d already had to let one of his staff go and the two remaining agents had agreed to a reduction in hours in the hope of staving off the decision to lose another. He had me and all my recent dramas to deal with. . . the least I could do was let him rest properly at night. I was doing my best to keep my unhappy state from him and I think I was managing it. You have no idea how hard it was though – I’m not generally one for keeping my gloom to myself.
My usual philosophy was ‘Care and Share’ and that meant that if I was pissed off or in a mood, then everyone else had to be involved. Mind, being a contrary so and so at times, I generally only made people share the hassle from the stupid, petty things that rile me. Anything serious and I keep it to myself like a miser hoarding his last farthing. No one has shorter arms and deeper pockets than me when it comes to letting my real worries see the light of day where, God forbid, someone might be able to offer a solution. I’m the emotional equivalent of the hypochondriac who whines like mad over a paper cut but refuses to give in and take a pain killer if his leg falls off.
Eventually I slept thanks to the sheer survival instinct of my brain – I swear it told itself ‘Stuff this for a game of monkeys, I’m off for the night’ and forced itself to switch to standby. I woke with a heavy head around 7.30am the next morning, which for a Sunday is not like me. I lay awake for a moment or two before I told myself that ‘No, this was too much like before – I’m not going back there!’ No more looking at the walls with unseeing eyes while the day passed me by. I slid out of bed leaving Alex gently snoring under the blankets and made my way stealthily downstairs to the chill of the kitchen.
I hopped and curled my toes to stave off frostbite while the kettle boiled and then went gratefully through to the carpeted lounge where, with a mug of tea in hand, I curled my feet under me on the sofa and brooded and thought as the sun filtered weakly through the curtains. Alex came in some time later and gently prised the cold and untouched mug from the loose grip my fingers had on it before placing it away from the danger of being spilt. I found myself being lifted and settled again, this time against his chest, as he insinuated himself into the corner of our sofa and covered us both loosely with the throw he’d snagged off the backrest and that I hadn’t had the sense to use. I felt I ought to say something but I didn’t know what and was saved from the need as he shushed me and pulled my head to him to rest and listen to his heartbeat. I thought briefly about telling him not to twirl my hair in his fingers as we sat there in silence because, really. . . it was ages since I’d had it cut and it was far too long; if he kept on I’d end up with ringlets. In the end I decided that a bad hair day was a fair price to pay for the comfort he provided me.
He asked nothing of me and I loved him for it.
My poor boy. I knew something was bothering him but he couldn’t bring himself to share it with me yet. He would though. . . and whatever it was, it was different from before, that I could tell. I had begun to see glimpses of the old Peter from time to time. I don’t know if he’ll ever be quite the same as he was before but he’s slowly coming back to me. Gone, generally, were the blank absent looks on his face as though he was only a 3-D drawing of himself without that indispensable spark of life that allowed movement. He was much more introspective nowadays than he had been when I first met him – let’s be honest here, when I first met him he hardly thought about anything in depth - but he was better than he had been for a long while.
Those days when it seemed like his spirit was broken and he would break suddenly from a trance with a look of confusion on his face as though he didn’t quite know where he was or what he was meant to be doing. This wasn’t that. This was simmering anger and I was happy to see it. Okay, that sounds odd coming from a Top who has been trying for however many years to keep his Brat from going off the rails at people for no good reason but I rejoiced at seeing authentic emotion in him – it proved he was alive and not just existing. I almost longed for some mischief from him but I think that will be a long time coming, if at all.
For the time being, I was happy to see something more than Nothing and whatever it was that was upsetting him, he knew that I was there for him when he was ready to tell me. I was prepared to wait . . .
The loss of a parent is shattering and it doesn’t matter that you’re an adult when it happens. Yes, of course it’s much worse for a child; no one would even try to deny that. But adults are meant to handle it better – they’re meant to be ready for it. . . prepared for it, especially if a long illness was involved. It doesn’t help though. You’re immediately catapulted back to childhood and that fear that overcomes you if you’ve ever managed to lose sight of your Mum or Dad at the shops or the park for even one instance. Total utter loss and a feeling that you’re in a wilderness that no one else can possibly understand. A feeling that you don’t know who you are any more because you have no one to belong to; no one to act as your anchor. That the world as you know it has suddenly ended and nothing will ever be the same again. You can have your own house, a responsible job; you can be married and have children of your own – none of it matters much against that feeling that if all else fails, the person you instinctively turn to is no longer there.
No, I hadn’t experienced it yet but when Peter’s Mum died last year it soon became clear he was barely functioning. He was so lost and adrift that I got some pamphlets from the grief counselling service for him which was about as far as I could push him to accept professional help. I think I read them more than he did. The joy had gone from him and for a long time I thought it had gone forever.
I awoke just over an hour later to find myself alone on the sofa cocooned snugly in the throw with a cushion now placed under my head instead of the torso I was expecting. The sound of whistling from the kitchen and the smell of bacon frying told me where Alex had scooted off to. As I stretched and tried to untangle myself from the constraint I’d somehow fidgeted myself into, I examined my state of mind. It seems that one hour of sleep shored up against the steady heartbeat of my boyfriend had had some magical effect. My anger was still there but it wasn’t loose now. . . I’d lost that feeling of being at odds with the world and wanting to take it out on the household woodwork.
After a quick detour to the bathroom to take care of pressing needs and to wash away the evidence of patterned cushions I made my way back to the kitchen muttering, not very seriously, under my breath about ‘frigging ringlets, I knew it!’ to arrive at the table at the same time as a plate of doorstop style bacon sandwiches and a fresh mug of tea. I fell on them as though they were my Last Meal and I was hungry enough and adept enough to steal one of Alex’s before he could keep count. The sparkle in his eye told me that he didn’t mind.
When we’d finished eating, Alex began to clear the table while I sat back and absently ran my finger around the rim of my mug; eeking out the feeling of peace and contentment brought on by the total normality of a morning ritual no doubt being echoed in hundreds of kitchens up and down the country.
As I finished my dregs, he turned from loading the dishwasher and, drying his hands with the aid of a tea-towel, leaned back against the counter, crossed his legs placidly and looked at me. No, not Looked at me, just looked.
Waiting. Willing to follow where I led.
“I’m angry,” I said before I could talk myself out of it.
“Yes, I know. Want to tell me why?”
His face showed no surprise at my statement; no shock, no horror, no demand to know the details so he could fix it. Just acceptance of the fact and gentle curiosity as to the cause.
“It’s a bit complicated,” I offered in case he wanted to have an idea of what was coming before it arrived and there would be no backing out.
“Darling, I’m used to complicated, trust me.”
I snorted at him and fiddled with the handle of my mug some more. Trying to explain it to someone else meant I had to sort it out in my own mind first.
Get things in order; include the necessary without letting it become a diatribe of details that meant nothing. I took a deep breath.
“You know the graphic work I did for the charity down on Rossmund Estate? The drop-in centre for families with kids who have learning difficulties?”
He nodded to show that he did. Well, of course he did. I had been involved by way of providing free graphic design for their newsletter and their advertising plus any image work that the carers and volunteers thought might be of use to engage the imagination of the youngsters. By dint of that, Alex did his part - as a show of solidarity to me I think - by letting them use one of his premises for free as long as they paid their own utilities. He didn’t lose by it as business premises just weren’t being rented much these days and their presence there kept the place from being vandalised by the estate kids too bored to think of anything more constructive to do. Both sides gained from the deal.
“Well, I got one of their newsletters last week. . .” and as something occurred to me, I asked “Didn’t you get one too?”
“Probably, but it would have gone to the office and Mandy or James may have filed it away without showing it to me. We get one by rote I think, but I don’t think they expect us to actually read it. Why, what was in it?”
“Not me, that’s for sure.”
“What? I don’t understand.”
“It seems like they have changed designers.” I tried hard to not let that come out as sulky.
“Yes, precisely. Oh! That was more or less my reaction when I opened it.”
“So I take it you didn’t know they were changing?” he enquired delicately.
“I did not, no!” Even I could tell that was said with moral outrage trying to break through a stiff upper lip.
“Okay. . .” He waited for a moment to see if anything else was forthcoming and when it wasn’t, put his mind into gear to locate and find the problem that I clearly wasn’t telling him was there.
“And John didn’t mention anything about the change when you saw him last week,” this was said more as a statement than a question but I still answered it as such.
“Nope! Not last week nor any of the previous dozens of weeks that it must have taken to organise.”
“Right. Um. . . so who is doing the graphics now,” He eventually asked.
“Yes. . . Ah!”
Okay, you’ll need some additional information at this point or it all gets terribly confusing. You might want to get yourself a biscuit or two – this could be a long one.
I’m gay, yes? Well, you knew that anyway but I thought I’d mention it again.
So, quite a few of my friends are gay. . . not all of them; I have a varied selection of genders and orientations and races on my Friends list and they have a varied selection of likes, dislikes and interests. Some I’m closer to than others but that’s normal, right? There’s no Equality Clause built into friendships that say you all have to like everyone in equal amounts. No European Court of Human Rights issue about not being allowed to be closer to Bert than you are to Barney for example.
Okay, that’s the first thing.
Second thing is, you build up different groups of friends as well. You can have work friends, school friends, Uni friends, knitting circle friends, gay pub friends, football team friends, whatever. They don’t all have to know each other or even be expected to like each other if they ever all met. They just have to remain your friends in the defined circle that you met them.
Sometimes those circles intermingle and the lines blur a little and you then have a bigger circle that includes more of them without the smaller circles being broken. In the bigger circle, all friends are on a level pegging – no one is more important than the next.
Does that make sense or do you need an example? Okay, here’s one.
Let’s say you have two friends from work. You get on well with them and the thing that connects you is work. Then you have two friends from Uni, for example. . . the connection this time being, yes, you’ve guessed it, Uni. But those four friends could also be part of your football team friends. Groups within a group that unite you all on one level but takes nothing away from the individual connections you have with them. Listen, if that’s not clear enough you’ll just have to take my word for it.
So. . . where was I? Oh, yes, got it. Sometimes a Work Friend and a Uni Friend might find they have something else in common, just between them. I dunno. . . deep sea diving or cake decoration. Anything, it doesn’t matter.
They have the right to develop their friendship based on that connection and it doesn’t detract from the friendships they have with the rest of the group, right? That’s the theory, anyway.
And if they go off on deep sea diving weekends – can’t really see the cake decorating working here – then, great! They both have a good time, meet other divers, frighten a fish or two, have a post-decompression booze up; develop their friendship. All’s good. When they come back to the main group (football team, in case you’re lost already), then yes, it’s normal to tell the others what they did, how they enjoyed it, etc. But the idea is to come back to the group as individuals once more, not as a couple – no, we’re not talking sex here, try and behave, you lot – who now only like deep sea diving and want you to like it as well or be damned. And unless the rest are meant to convert to the cause, the normal thing is to carry on with the focus you originally had with maybe the occasional comment thrown in about other hobbies.
Come on, we’ve all sat in on conversations with people who blather on and on about things you have no idea of and little interest in, about people you don’t know and are never likely to know. The first fifteen minutes or so are fine but after that it just becomes boring. The point of all this is that just because Work Friend A and Uni Friend A now claim each other as Diving Friend A & B, it shouldn’t mean that your friendship with them diminishes in direct relationship to how much their new friendship grows. This isn’t Asdas - there aren’t friendship club-card points that you have to manage to the degree of thinking ‘Right, he’s got fifty and she’s got fifty which would be fine but I want to go deep sea diving with him so I have to up his points to seventy – that means she has to lose twenty so I have to stop talking to her so often’.
Got it now? Okay, good.
Right, now you can have details.
I have a group of friends. You don’t need to know what our common interest is, because it’s not relevant. No, I’m not telling you, don’t be so bloody nosy!
Right then, let’s see, who started it off. Well, for me, it was Stuart. I met him and we became friends. He introduced me to a friend of his, Charlie, and then we became friends as well. Individually, mind.
Stuart and I chatted. Charlie and I chatted. Stuart and Charlie chatted.
Then I had the bright idea (!) of suggesting we all chat together – I thought it would be fun for all three of us. And it was. . . great fun!
Then Charlie introduced me to Sam as a new casual acquaintance of his and he also became my friend, quite a good one actually. Enough so that I suggested that he come and meet Stuart and Charlie properly instead of waving from the sidelines. So far, so good.
Our circle was opening up and we were still having fun. Then Sam introduced me to a friend of his, John. They had become good friends before I even knew of his existence but I met him via Sam and we seemed to get on well enough although basically we just exchanged ‘Hellos’ and ‘Hiyas’ in passing.
Right then. . . so you have us all in place, yes? In order of appearance to the group. . . Stuart, Charlie, me, Sam and then John? Okay, good.
So. A little bit of background info about John because this is where the problem comes in that I’m pissed off with. His girlfriend has a cousin with special needs and attends the charity centre I told you about. Because his girlfriend is a volunteer, he also started to go and help out and that’s great. . . it’s a good thing to do. Basically, he helps in organising their funding for them and keeps their records straight on what is needed and where can they go to get it. He also volunteered to sort out the newsletter they sent out periodically and write ups in the local press to get more coverage for the cause. It was quite a lot of work for him; I’ll give him credit for that.
Now, Sam is also involved in charities (which I suppose is how they met, I never did ask) and at the time of their meeting he hosted an online charity round-up information site that he invited John to take part in. It was designed to cover various aspects of charity life and provide multiple links for the readers depending on their interest. It was a good place for John to find his feet with.
Anyway, apparently he was talking to Sam one day about wanting to get his newsletter in better shape. . . have it tidied up, more attractive to the reader and Sam said, ‘Why don’t you ask Peter for some ideas, he’s not too bad in that department’. When John said No, that he didn’t know me well enough to be so bold, Sam took matters into his own hands and asked both me and Charlie if we would be interested in helping out.
Charlie was asked because he’s good with words and putting out snappy public documents was something he had experience with as well as having a lot of contacts out there who could help further John’s visibility.
However, Charlie said no, he was too busy (with a new job, if I remember rightly) and I said yes, no problem, tell him to get in touch. That’s how I ended up helping John out. That meant that we had to talk to each other. . . obviously!
So we did and we became friends as well. Was it ever the same level of friendship that I had with the others . . . ? No, probably not but as I explained earlier, there’s no Equality Clause in all this. After a while I encouraged John to make himself known to the rest of the group and after some reservations, he did.
I say ‘reservations’ because he had heard about Stuart and Charlie and seemed a bit awe-struck at the idea of speaking to them personally for some reason even though their names constantly littered his conversations with me. To be honest, I suggested he get in touch with them if he was so keen on the idea just so that I didn’t have to talk about them all the time to him and so he could see that they were normal human beings and not God-like creatures. Anyway, in the end, he did.
Not with a note from me saying ‘This is John, let’s invite him to our group pub meetings’ but that’s what happened. He was included after the first introduction and seen as one of the group. It’s good to widen your circle of friends occasionally because if you don’t, you stagnate – I get that. But if you don’t have control over who comes into the circle, you’re not always going to be happy with the results. So. . . now we had five of us meeting more or less weekly for a quick drink after work and catching up with each other’s news and gossip backed up by the occasional mid-week text or e-mail.
We all gelled well together and some friendships developed further. As it turned out, Stuart and John have a lot of common because they have similar upbringings; mixed marriage parents so there was a culture mix element involved – that was bound to give them something to talk over together. John and Charlie both do the same sort of job, so there was a common specialised interest straight off between them.
Also, Charlie is really quite well known in their professional world so I think John hero worships him a bit. Actually, quite a lot. I won’t use the word ‘fawning’ but it’s near enough. At first it was quite amusing but then, frankly, it became irritating to watch. But what can you do. . . it wasn’t my place to say anything and if Charlie enjoyed the attention, that’s his right. And just because I don’t like people all over me and being bright and gushy 24/7, doesn’t mean that others have to feel the same.
The same applies to John and Stuart. Stuart is the font of all wisdom as far as John is concerned and I have to admit that, yes, he’s a sound bloke and can normally be relied on to see through the mire and get to the bottom of things. No nonsense and says it like it is. I’ve always considered him extremely loyal as well; the type to stick with you no matter what and someone who knew how to keep confidences.
And the dynamic of the group changed. As I said, it’s expected but your hope always is that it changes for the better of everyone involved, not just one or two while the others begin to feel marginalised.
Gradually Sam stopped coming out for a drink so regularly. He’d still drop by maybe once a month for a quick half lager but then he was off out the door and on to other things, always in a rush. We kept in touch though and remained friends even though no cake decorating was involved. Alex says we don’t have anything in common other than the fact that we are both nutters! He could be right.
I know for a fact that his friendship with John went kind of cold. Apparently, after we starting meeting as a group, their individual friendship slacked off gradually. I can’t say why that happened or who was at fault because I just don’t know. Maybe it was just one of those things. What I did know was that the level of friendship I had seen John show to Sam, was now being directed at Stuart and Charlie. What I didn’t know at the time was that it was no longer also directed at Sam. Their contact outside of the group had apparently dwindled to next to nothing. Did Sam feel used or think that he had served his purpose by getting John introduced to the Inner Sanctum? No idea, but it wouldn’t surprise me.
But he moved on and got over it. Mind you, not before he went off alarming one night at the pub. Now, as I said, a year or so ago Charlie got a new job, and he kind of went AWOL for a while as he sorted himself out with a different schedule and getting up to date with his new responsibilities so our group contact was a bit sporadic with him at that time. I found out afterwards that Sam sent him an email saying ‘Oi lazy boy, don’t forget about us, we miss you!’ or something similar and it seemed to work because the very next pub date, Charlie turned up, got a round in, explained that Sam had given him a bollocking and apologised for his absence.
I also found out afterwards, but a long time afterwards, that when Charlie had gone home and Stuart and I were in the loo or getting some more drinks – whatever it was, it was something that meant we were absent from the table – John had a go at Sam. Something along the lines of ‘How dare you bring Charlie to task when he’s so busy with his new job, he needs peace and quiet and total support not people pestering him to show his face and you don’t understand what pressure he is under, you don’t have the right to talk to him like that!’
Can you believe it? No, I couldn’t either. And bear in mind, John hadn’t been part of the group that long so it was a pretty odd stance for him to take.
Anyway, basically Sam told him to shut up, that he would talk to Charlie as and when he wanted and that he didn’t need John’s permission to do so.
Well, as you can imagine, that didn’t go down too well but nothing more was said and we muddled along. The crack in the group was visible though if you looked close enough.
Some time after all this happened, my world fell apart. I know Alex has already clued you in so I won’t bother repeating other than to say that I didn’t know which way was up.
I was still getting spanked but for different things than before. Honestly...? I didn’t have the energy to be a Brat. It’s not that I brat on purpose, please don’t let Alex ever get that idea because I don’t think my arse would survive the experience. . . it was more a case of it being enough of an effort to get up in the morning and go to work; I didn’t have anything left after that. I was practically dead to all external events and influences other than my own misery. Let the word be spread. . . all neighbourhood pizzas were safe from kidnap!
Slowly Alex became part of my world again; his expectations of me, his fears for me, his hopes for me. . . they made their presence known. I became aware of him as something more than a body on the other side of the bed who rubbed my back and held me while I gave in to the silent tears that threatened to choke me.
He was no longer the vague shadow that moved about our house and put food in front of me and made me shower and get dressed when I didn’t want to. In that period I got spanked for not eating. Not ‘not eating properly’, you understand; not eating at all. I can understand him being frightened by that. . . I mean, Me? Not stuffing my face? Come on, even I would have called in the National Guards on that one!
So when it became clear that I could make a miniscule forkful of rice last 20 minutes and then claim that I wasn’t hungry any more, Alex gave up on the cajoling and the rational explanations of why I needed to eat and resorted to clearer issues. Eat or be spanked. Clear instructions that became my tools for survival. Eat. Shower. Go to work. Talk.
And I got better. Not back to how I was – maybe I’ll never be that way again but that’s normal isn’t it? We experience, we learn, we grow, we change!
I slowly began to laugh again and was somewhat surprised that I knew how.
And all my friends were there for me. They stood by me, they supported me and they helped me get through one of the worst periods of my life. I’ll be forever grateful to all of them for that.
Once I got over the immediate shock of what happened, I started on the road to recovery but. . . it’s not easy. Just because some time has gone by doesn’t mean that things are easier. . . sometimes the recovery period brings its own problems. You question everything. Or at least, I did. The thing with trying to find yourself again is that you have to know who you are looking for and sometimes you find that who you are isn’t who you believe you were meant to be. Which brings about more questions. If you don’t know who you really are, how can your friends know the real you? And if they don’t know the real you but have accepted the ‘you’ you’ve shown them up till now, how will they react to a different you? It was too much.
I told them that I needed some time to myself to work it out and that I couldn’t do that amidst so much noise and chatter. I left the door open though; said that I was still about to any of them who wanted to get in touch individually, just that I couldn’t cope with the group get togethers at the moment. Basically I didn’t know where my place in it was anymore and that was only exacerbating the issues I was trying to work through.
Months went by. Sam had never lost contact; I reckon I’d have to use dynamite on him to drive him away if I ever felt the need. I got a few notes from Stuart from time to time. Gentle conversations that didn’t wear me out and that I could answer or not to the extent I felt comfortable with. I had a small amount of contact with Charlie but generally only when I went to him – nothing the other way round unless he popped up on Messenger late at night after a drink or two.
Nothing whatsoever from John. Particularly no messages about any newsletter or help that was needed from me.
And then I came back. And I explained why I had left in the first place and was calmed by assurances all round that I had been missed, that I was needed and an integral part of the group; that they would never turn away from me and that if I had a problem with any of them I needed to tell them so and we would sort it out. But I felt it wasn’t my place to tell them some of the things I was feeling. What right did I have to say ‘I don’t like it that you’ve turned away from me’ when I wasn’t sure it was true and could have been a left over from my insecurities. I thought it best to just come back and see how things developed. Force myself to be more involved in the chat. The trouble is, you can’t force someone to talk to you if they only want to talk to someone else.
Things carried on much the same as before I took myself off and I gave up trying. Often when I got home from a night out with them, Alex would ask how it went; had I had a good time, where did we end up – the standard questions from a partner who was happy for you to go out with your own mates while he stayed at home and watched TV or did his own thing. And I suppose after a while my answers of ‘Yeah, it was fine’ became less and less convincing. To the extent that he asked why I still went if I didn’t enjoy it.
I didn’t have an immediate answer to that, perhaps because I didn’t want to admit, even to myself, that I wasn’t having a good time with them any more.
Yes, there could be fun moments but on the whole, sitting there like a lemon listening to other people carry on private conversations with oblique references to earlier chats that you weren’t included in, didn’t understand and weren’t getting explanations of, becomes pretty damn boring. And rude! And Christ, if I had to listen to one more frigging conversation about exercise and the joys of trail bike riding I was going to scream. I mean, for how many weeks and months can you discuss whether platform pedals are better than egg beater pedals? God save us from fanatics who think that their hobbies are the centre of the universe.
Still, I was determined to keep at it, maybe out of respect for the level of friendship I first found there. And then I got the newsletter!
“Have you spoken to them about it?”
“Well, I’m not sure you can call it a conversation, no. The thing is, not only has John changed designers, he’s changed where the online version is shown. And that is mentioned in the newsletter, so I checked with Sam to see if he knew about it and he said that he’d been told a couple of months back when John wrote saying that he was going to move it at some point.”
“So, John has changed everything then?”
“Did he tell Sam why?”
“Not as such, no. Apparently he said that he wanted the newsletters to be more active and updated more regularly and that he ‘knew’ that Sam didn’t have the time or inclination to overhaul his site anymore what with being so busy with other stuff these days. Which is a bit unfair because Sam updates when he’s sent something to update – he can hardly invent stuff that isn’t there.”
“How did John ‘know’ all that?” Yes, he had heard the quote marks I had used around that word.
“Telepathy, presumably. According to Sam, John hadn’t spoken to him personally about anything going on in Sam’s life so had no idea if he was willing to carry on with it or not. He just assumed he wasn’t and went with that.”
“So, you didn’t know about that either?”
“No, nothing at all. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter where the newsletter is placed, as long as it is. Sam didn’t tell me because he assumed that John would mention it at some point knowing that I collaborated with him on it and the individual set up behind the links he lists is nothing to do with him and beyond getting me and John together, it was no longer any of his business.”
Alex thought about that for a while.
“Yes, they’re two separate issues really, aren’t they? You working with John on it is one thing and John organising its distribution is another.”
“Yes, of course. No one using Sam’s site is obliged to have me do any work for them.”
“No, but maybe the new site required John to change designers? Perhaps they have in-house people who do all their work? Is that possible?”
“I suppose it could be. Whatever the reason, it was still rude to not tell me.”
“I wouldn’t argue with that, no.”
It felt good to hear him say that; to know that it wasn’t my mind tricking me into feeling things it shouldn’t. Validation from a third person gives you belief in yourself and as much as Alex was my partner and loved me, he wasn’t above telling me when I was in the wrong. Yes, well. . . we all knew that, didn’t we?
“So, what happened after you spoke to Sam? Did you ask John about it?”
I shrugged my shoulders. “Not exactly.”
“Come on, horror. Spit it out. What happened?”
“Okay, this all happened last Friday. . .”
“Friday just gone or the one before?”
I didn’t need to answer that as he saw the answer written on my face.
“Right, the Friday before last then! And you’ve been sitting on this for well over a week and that’s why I’ve had to put up with you being in a snitty mood, isn’t it?”
He wasn’t angry about it, no matter how the words may make it seem that way. He was teasing and I smiled at him guiltily knowing that he didn’t really mind.
“Sorry. Anyway, stop interrupting with trivia, I’m trying to explain.”
“I apologise, Sir. . . do carry on. What happened last Friday?”
“I spoke to Sam, found out what he knew and what he didn’t and then waited to see if I got a call from John to actually tell me about it. I didn’t. Come Saturday morning I had it planned that I was going to speak to both John and Charlie and tell them I wasn’t very impressed by what they had done, but I was wanting to calm down a bit first.
The thing is Alex, what the hell was I supposed to do when no one had bothered to tell me? Phone them up and say ‘Oh, by the way, congratulations’? Or wait until Monday evening in the pub where we could all sit round and study the bloody great elephant in the middle of the public bar!
Something had to be said at some point and seeing as they didn’t have the gumption to do so, I thought I would.”
“Yes, I can see that would be a problem – they can’t have expected you to just ignore the fact completely. Go on.”
“Well, it didn’t work out quite how I planned for a start. When you went to the office on Saturday to pick up those files Mandy had left for you, I shot off to the dry-cleaners, and I happened to meet Stuart in the car park in town.
The problem being, I knew that if I spoke to them about this then things were going to change – especially if John thought that I was criticising Charlie in any way. That’s tantamount to a battle-cry for him. I knew that as soon as I said something, it was the end of my involvement in the group – it couldn’t be anything else. And when I saw Stuart, it occurred to me that I ought to warn him because he was stuck in the middle and would, so I thought, know nothing of all this. So I gave him a heads-up.”
“What did he say?”
“Not a lot. He didn’t seem very surprised, truth be told. More or less said that John was under the impression that Sam’s site was no longer running and if John had told Sam he was moving, wasn’t it down to Sam to tell me about it as it was his site.”
“That sounds like a cop-out to me and he knew all about it from the beginning.”
“Yes, I began to think so as the conversation went on. Anyway, it didn’t bother me what he thought, I was still going to speak to John and Charlie. And if my grumble with them was over not telling your friends something that affected them, then I could hardly not say anything to Stuart beforehand! But he advised that I sleep on it and think it over and also said that he was staying out of it completely as it was between us three and nothing to do with him.”
“Well, that sounds okay to me. He should be able to stay neutral – it’s not as if you’re all kids in Junior school who demand that ‘if you want to be my friend, you can’t be friends with him!’
I looked at him wryly.
“Apparently, ‘staying neutral’ doesn’t include not going straight to John and telling him I was on the warpath and explaining why. Next thing I know, I receive an email from John, all righteous hurt with Sam in copy on it.”
Alex’s hissed intake of breath was noticeable in the silence.
“That was out of order!”
I snorted my agreement.
I rose from the table and busied myself putting the kettle on after shaking it in question at Alex and receiving his nod of acceptance. With my back to him and in a voice barely loud enough to hear over the hiss of the heating water, I continued.
“I didn’t expect that from him, Alex. That was a kick in the guts.”
I made the tea in silence as Alex bristled with indignation on my behalf behind me. . . the atmosphere was heavy with it. As I turned and placed fresh drinks down for both of us, I retook my seat and turned my head to look through the back door at our frosted garden.
“Neutrality isn’t what it used to be!”
What I told Stuart wasn't what I would have actually said to John, and Stuart will have told him with a different perspective and John would have listened with yet another perspective altogether so there would have been a big difference between what I was going to say and what John eventually heard.
Alex covered my hand with his and gently squeezed, almost as if trying to press some of his strength into me. I won’t even try to deny that my eyes were watering by this time and I took a deep breath through my nose to stop them spilling over.
He rattled my hand and then patted it firmly once or twice in encouragement.
I took a sip of tea and did just that.
“John wrote saying that yes, it was rude of him and that he was sorry for that – said it was more cowardice than anything else. What he was afraid of, I don’t know. . . fear that if he told me he was changing designers it would affect the group friendship? So not telling me at all was the better option? That worked out well, didn’t it! I can show you the letter later if you want but basically there was half a line for the apology and two whole paragraphs listing the ‘reasons’ and coincidences to explain how things led him to now working with Charlie. Basically he said that he knew I had a problem with him, that he knew he was the reason I drew back from the group; that he knew I wasn’t interested in collaborating with him anymore, that he assumed Sam would tell me about the move. Also that he’d now told Stuart and Charlie to stop inviting him to the pub because he would refuse to go.”
Now it was Alex’s turn to snort and I glanced at him in time to catch the face he uses to say ‘I’m not impressed with that’.
“Seems like John ‘knows’ an awful lot without asking anything of the people primarily involved!”
There was no answer I could give to that without getting snippy so I kept quiet while he continued.
“Hmm. . . wasn’t John the bloke who complained last year about something like this happening to him? What was it. . . ? Oh, that’s right, something about people putting his name down to provide a reference for a job and them not having the manners to run it by him first. That was it, wasn’t it? He even complained about not receiving a word of thanks from them either. . .”
I had to cast my mind back a bit to think about that.
“Yeah, you’re right, I had forgotten that. But it’s not quite the same, is it?”
“Okay, why isn’t it the same? asked Alex patiently.
“Well, for a start, on the newsletter, he does say thanks to me for past efforts, so that’s one thing. I’m not fussed over that, he’s said thanks in the past for my help so I don’t need him to keep saying it. And, actually, being thanked is nice but his effusiveness always struck me as a bit. . . false. Or done for show. I was never comfortable with it because I always felt that he wanted me to reciprocate in the same way and I just can’t be that gushy without feeling stupid.”
“Okay, so the issue of thanks doesn’t come into it for you, but even so, it’s important and there is a difference.”
“Because publicly recognising someone’s help – which is standard practise in any business that doesn’t want to give the idea that there have been problems - isn’t the same as coming to you beforehand and saying it because saying it in person makes it more sincere. Okay, forget that if it doesn’t bother you but. . . the rest of it sounds the same problem to me. I was there that night, I came pick you up, remember? He was moaning about people not having the decency to speak to him beforehand and now he’s done exactly the same thing to you.”
“Yes. How ironic is that!”
All credit to Alex, he was willing to keep listening to this sorry tale.
“And is that the end of it or is there more?”
“There’s more,” I said apologetically.
“Come on then, let’s get it over and done with. What happened next?”
Deep breath. Get on with it, Peter, you’re nearly finished. . . spit it out.
“I wrote back. And I put all of them in copy. . . not only Sam, but Charlie and Stuart as well. I had been going to speak to Charlie in the beginning anyway so there was no reason to leave him out of it and John made it clear that he had already spoken to them and put across his point of view on what Stuart had told him I’d said, so I thought ‘Bugger it, I’m fed up with all this speaking behind people’s backs and the ‘He said that she said that they said’ crap’. Tell them all at the same time and then there can’t be any misunderstandings. So, basically I queried everything he listed and called him on his assumptions. Said that I didn’t accept his reasons as valid and I wasn’t going to be cast as the bastard who had forced him out of the pub. They could carry on going there without fear that I was going to show up and ruin it for them. Alex, I didn’t get the chance to say what I wanted to them because he got a head start on me and by then I was forced into a defensive position and I won’t deny that annoyed me. John wasn’t reacting to my words, he was reacting to Stuart’s version of my words and those were words that I didn’t expect John or Charlie to ever hear! Not because they would have been two opposing stories but because I would have said things in my own way. The point is, I was resigned to the fact that I would probably be leaving anyway but I wouldn’t have rubbed salt in the wounds on my way out the door so I should have been given the chance to say my piece. Obviously I don’t know exactly what Stuart told him but I’m sure it can’t be the same as the mail I still have sitting in my Saved folder. Not by design, I wouldn’t accuse Stuart of that. I think he was just trying to ‘manage’ things - make sure I didn’t go off alarming and preparing John and Charlie - actually, I don’t even know if he spoke to Charlie at all or just John. If he didn’t then Charlie would have been told by John afterwards. And then it went tits up.”
“Well, it’s true that in a mail you can think out exactly what you want to say and make sure that it gets ‘said’. In a real conversation, you’re restricted by having to respond to the other person’s comments so it’s harder to follow the script you have in your mind. And if you’re responding to a mail that has its own agenda, then it’s pretty hard to get it back on track.”
I was glad he understood.
“Part of me wanted to not say anything at all; just let it go and not rock the boat. But I also thought ‘No, enough! Why the hell should I put up with being treated like that’ - I had a right to say my bit and that opportunity had been taken from me.”
I remembered struggling with my thoughts when I read that bloody newsletter. That was a big part of why I held off sending that first message. Puzzling over how justified I was in being angry. In a way complaining to them felt wrong, but. . . just because they were good to me when I needed them, and I’m not denying that they were, because they were, does that mean that I was expected to ignore this now? Does it make it okay to not even consider my feelings over something as small as my voluntary help because they thought they had done enough for me already? Debt cancelled – is that how they saw it? And if I complained, who is then at fault? Them for being blind to their rudeness or me for being ungrateful? Stuff that. It’s precisely because they had done so much for me that this hits so hard! I don’t expect loyalty from strangers; if someone I hardly know is rude to me I can ignore it because it doesn’t really affect me. But friends? People who had told me not three months previously that I was sorely missed and that it wasn’t the same when I wasn’t there and that they wanted me back? That’s betrayal and it fucking hurts! Unless the messages they gave me then were false and that’s just as bad!
“But you’ve said it now?”
“I said what I could in response to John’s mail. There was no point in trying to say anything else as it was clear it was all done and dusted.”
“So, what did John say?”
“Hang on, I haven’t finished yet,” I said laughingly as he rolled his eyes in humour at the length of the saga. “Sam sent a mail after my one saying that it wasn’t his business to tell me about John moving and certainly not about him changing designers because apart from anything else, John hadn’t told him that was happening. Okay, that’s all of it.”
“Fine, now tell me what John said in response to your mail. Or to Sam’s mail.”
“I did. That’s all of it. I haven’t had an answer from anyone at all.”
I don’t think I’ve ever seen Alex so comprehensively speechless before. His mouth hung open and he looked at me as though I had been speaking in a foreign language.
“Wh. . . Bu. . . you literally mean ‘Nothing’? As in ‘not one single word’ kind of nothing?”
“Yup. Nothing! Zilch. Zero. Nada. Not even a ‘Fuck off, you prat’.” Even though this was a serious time, I was actually quite enjoying this one tiny moment. His face was a picture!
He rubbed his hands over his face a couple of times and peered at me over the top of his fingers.
“Really? Nothing at all? That’s unbelievable. I don’t think I know what to say.”
Nor did I. I was out of words so I just shrugged my shoulders in agreement while Alex sat and worked his way through all that I had told him.
After a while, he placed our cups out of the way and taking my hand, led me through to the front room to sit once again with him on the sofa. The room was still chilly so we covered ourselves with the throw and cuddled up. Him to think and me to breathe a big sigh at the relief I felt at finally sharing it with him.
“So, what happens next. . .?”
“I guess nothing happens next, not as far as the group goes.”
“Okay, we’ll come back to that. What about Sam’s site or your graphic work?”
“Well, I won’t suffer from not collaborating but it was known that I did help out so in a way there’s an element of loss of face involved. And it won’t look good to the other charities who still use Sam’s list. John’s clients still visit the other sites mentioned there; the other charity organisers for example who are always keeping abreast of what is going on and even if they don’t notice its absence straight away, sooner or later John’s new advertising will catch up with them. Everyone in that world is closely associated one way or another and they sometimes work in tandem. It will make people talk for a while but I don’t think Sam is bothered – except for the commotion it’s caused amongst us all.”
“I’ve already had two people ask me if something is wrong; am I stopping with the work? It’s a small community; they’re bound to think that something is up and that we’ve fallen out or something. What am I supposed to say to them? ‘No, John has gone with Charlie’s work because… er, actually I don’t know why, you’ll have to ask him’. That’s hardly confidence inspiring, is it? The problem isn’t that he’s gone; it’s that I don’t have a valid reason for it! And people will assume that he has moved because there is a problem between us whereas the truth is, there is now a problem between us because he’s moved in the way he did. I can’t say that to anyone though, it sounds like sour grapes. . .”
Alex interrupted as quick as a flash.
“Was there a problem between you?”
I was starting to worry about how my brain would cope with all the proper thinking it was having to do so early on a Sunday morning.
“I suppose there might have been. But not to an extent to warrant this, I don’t think. I found his friendship with Charlie irritating at times. And the way we got constant proof of how they were such good friends; that was childish. It was like John was trying to rub everyone’s nose in it. Silly, picky little comments. . . ”
“Why do you only say John? Not Charlie then?”
“Oh, Charlie is too scatterbrain to realise. For someone so bright he can be a twit at times. Anyway, he’s not got it in him to be nasty.”
“And you think John does?”
Well, that went without saying – so I didn’t. Not with words anyway, but my silence spoke volumes.
“Are you annoyed that they built a closer friendship with each other than they did with you?”
God, was that it? Was I jealous? I hate to say it but I suppose I was. Jealousy is an ugly trait but it is a human one. I may not have a PhD in Psychology or Sociology but I don’t need one to acknowledge my own faults. But jealousy isn’t always wrong – unless you act on it. Don’t go getting the idea I’m a saint, because I’m not. I can be as horrible as the next person if I’m riled – Alex says I can be horrible enough for two next persons - but I’d like to think the general consensus is that I stand by my friends.
I got the feeling that Alex knew my thoughts because he pulled me tighter to him and held me while I came to terms with my own character. It took me a while to understand that I could, with honesty, deny the charge of jealousy but not that of resentment.
“Not entirely. I honestly didn't mind that he became friends with Stuart and Charlie. But it's that my relationship with them had to suffer because of it. And it did. I felt frozen out, there's no other word for it. I couldn’t compete with the level of friendship they were throwing at each other and all of a sudden, it’s like my friendship isn’t good enough because I’m not as showy as everyone else. I understand that you can have special friends out of a group of friends – I’m closer to Sam than I am with them but it’s different...”
“Why? Because it’s you?”
“No! It’s different because Sam and I don’t let it affect how we treat them when we’re all together. We don’t shove it down their throats and we don’t cut them out of conversations.
“Okay, let me see. . . Let’s say that Sam and I have spoken during the week, or even met up and something funny happens. So when we next all meet up, one of us will tease the other over what happened and it could be by just saying ‘You’ll never guess what this twit did or said on Wednesday’ or by sneaking in a funny comment and then saying ‘Dare you to explain that one’. But we tell them what happened so they are included and we can all talk about it. Together! With them, we get the ‘sneaking in a comment’ – generally always from John - but nothing else. Then they’ll go on to talk about it with each other, making insider jokes about whatever it was but we weren’t included. It’s like waiting for a punch line that never comes.”
“But doesn’t that normally happen in a group – that people will have conversations just amongst themselves?”
“Yes, of course it does. But if you have four people sitting round a table and two people are speaking while the other two are doing impressions of watching a tennis match, heads going from one to the other while they talk, then won’t the other two feel left out after a while? We can’t join in because we have no background information on what happened.
“Perhaps it was a private conversation then.”
“In which case, why hold it in front of us when we’re all there and they know that we can hear what they are saying?”
“Okay, I get your point. Could it be that they were trying to fill a silence?”
“Oh, come on, Alex. That’s grasping at straws. There’s hardly ever a silence when we get together – apart from which the ‘funny comments’ come in the middle of a conversation that’s already on-going.”
“So, what’s your theory then – that they were doing it on purpose?”
“No, not really. Oh, I dunno. Maybe they really weren’t aware of it. But they should have been! They aren’t idiots and they pride themselves on being astute so why did they not see it!”
“Right. But that could only happen occasionally, surely?”
I snorted once again.
“Don’t you believe it! It happened all the time. You’d think they’d catch on by the fact that the rest of us stopped talking but apparently not.”
“Okay, so you thought John was being ‘catty’? Did you tell him so?”
“No. Once I realised how I felt about it, I couldn’t ignore it – I just kept recognising it more and more often - but I was determined to not say anything because I knew it would sound petty and childish and stupid and all the rest of it.” Silence.
“And do you think that John was aware of what you thought?”
“No. I just said that I never told him.”
“I know, but there are other ways to show your disapproval of someone, isn’t there? Sometimes a silence shouts loudest. Or a roll of the eyes that he caught?”
“I suppose that’s possible.”
“Could that be why he didn’t tell you about the newsletter? Because he thought you didn’t consider him a friend anymore, no matter that you had been close at one time?”
“Maybe but it doesn’t excuse him completely if it is true. What happened to the concept of taking the moral high ground? Even if he did think that, basic common decency should have pushed him to say something. This took months to set up and he spoke to me weekly without saying a word. You can’t say that wasn’t deceitful. And if I wasn’t friend enough to warrant politeness, how come I was friend enough to still go to the pub with?”
“What bit out of all of this has upset you the most?”
I had to think long and hard over that question. I recognised what Alex was doing; he wanted me to not get caught up in a whirl of offense over the whole shebang and analyse each bit. If not I would start adding ‘And another thing...’ to the list and before I knew it I would be blaming them for everything under the sun including world inflation and the fact that West Ham is a crap football team.
“I think the worst bit is not getting any sort of answer after my mail to them. That’s beyond rudeness and I wouldn’t have expected it of them. I can tell myself they haven't responded out of a sense of guilt at being caught out – I think most people would think it was that. If it is that, then it makes them cowards who don’t have the balls to show their face let alone think about apologising. The other option is that they just don't give a damn.”
“Are those the only options available?”
I was reluctant to answer, he saw that straight away.
“No. There’s a third option.”
“They are so ‘upset’ at my audacity that they have all been struck dumb simultaneously.”
“You think flippancy helps?” The eyebrow rose as he spoke and instinct made me flush and look down so as not to meet his eye. “Come on, what’s the third option?”
“They’ve made a pact to stay away because I’ve offended them.”
“A pact? That makes it sound as though you think there is a conspiracy going on?”
“Well, you can’t claim that they won’t have all spoken about it and decided the best way to go forward to show their disapproval. And no, not a conspiracy as such, but people putting their heads together to decide how to show a united front, yes, I can believe that.”
“Okay, I’ll give you that, just. How do you feel about that option being the one?”
“Angry. Confused. Disbelief. Take your pick.”
“Can you explain those feelings?”
“They can be offended by what I’ve done but I’m not allowed to be offended over their actions? How can anyone justify that to themselves?”
“But you’re justifying it, aren’t you?”
Again, another pause while I thought over his question.
“Not really. Or yes, but with reason. I’m justifying my anger at the actions they took; they would be justifying their hurt feelings or whatever by my words. But my words came as a result of their actions!”
“That sounds an awful lot like the ‘he started it’ argument.”
“Alex! That’s unfair!” I was very inclined to be offended again.
“Okay, calm down, I happen to agree with you – I just wanted to see your first reaction to the idea. Next question. Who are you most angry with . . ?”
Alex didn’t ask me to say ‘why’ but I gave him that information anyway. He was in terrier mode where he just doesn’t give up and if I didn’t offer it, he was going to ask for it at some point.
“Oh God, I don’t know. I’m more ‘pissed off’ with John than anything else and just because of his rudeness over not speaking to me first. The tone of his mail to me I can dismiss because. . . well, mainly because I’d already decided he wasn’t worth my time so his opinions don’t worry me now. Although I didn’t like that he tried to put the onus on me in his mail!”
Watch it, Petey, that was getting way too close to sulky.
“That’s a rather harsh attitude to take, don’t you think? Aren’t friends worth a second chance?”
I refused to answer, even when he repeated the question and with a glare he let it go. I knew he wasn’t done with it though; sooner or later we’d be coming back to that point.
“So, who’s next on the list?”
“I don’t know, Alex. It’s a close thing between Stuart and Charlie. Stuart shouldn’t have told John what I said – I expected better from him. But I know him and I know it wasn’t done with malice. That doesn’t make it okay, just that I suppose I can tell myself that he made a mistake.”
“If he apologised to you, would you forgive him?”
“Yes.” Instant response. No hesitation. That actually helped me, knowing that I could be so sure of how I would act.
“But you wouldn’t accept John’s apology?”
A moment’s pause before answering slowly.
“No. Well, I might but only if he offered it in front of witnesses and I was forced into doing it. I dunno. I could accept it if I thought he was apologising for the right thing and it went with ‘I won’t bother you again’. No, no, I can’t. I don’t want his apology because I don’t think he’d mean it.
“Charlie. I thought I meant more to Charlie than that.”
It didn’t occur to me to think it odd to mention how much I might mean to another man – Alex knew he was the only one for me and he understood how important my friends were and how they had helped me.
“Why are you angry at Charlie?”
“Because even if John didn’t want to tell me about the newsletter, Charlie should have suggested it to him. And if John refused, Charlie should have taken a stand.”
“Either do it himself or refuse to work on it with him. He colluded with John by keeping quiet. And then he hasn’t answered either.”
“Do you trust Charlie?”
“He’s always been honest with me. A slacker at times but upfront about owning up to things – it’s one of the things I admire about him.”
“So what does that imply in this instance?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, if Charlie hasn’t apologised, what could that mean?”
God, I was beginning to wish I’d kept my mouth shut this morning – this was turning into a Spanish Inquisition and I didn’t like where this was leading.
“That’s he’s turned into a prat.”
“Peter!” Said warningly. “Stop it! Why would Charlie not apologise?”
“Because he doesn’t think he’s in the wrong, that’s why!”
“And how do you feel about that idea?”
“I don’t know. Confused, mainly.”
“Do you think you should write to him and talk about it?”
“No. I’m not ready for that. I don’t think I can separate the two issues yet.”
“Fine. Then leave it for now. Maybe a bit of breathing space will let everyone involved get things clear in their minds, you included. So, summing up, you were angry at not being told about the change, angry because you weren’t given the chance to tell your own story, angry at John’s excuses, angry when no-one answered your mail and then angry that they may be offended by your words? That’s an awful lot of anger to be carrying about. No wonder our windows have been in danger with all the door slamming that’s been going on.”
I had the grace to look slightly abashed.
“Yeah. Sorry about that. Am I. . .” I had to think hard about asking this question in case it gave him ideas he hadn’t thought of yet. Yes, I knew I was punished differently these days but this might be the first thing in ages that I’d done that he could consider misbehaviour. “Am I in trouble?”
“No, definitely not! Had you broken one I might have said differently but no harm has been done and I think you’re entitled to your anger.”
I couldn’t help myself. . . I needed so much to have confirmation.
“Do you?” I asked quietly.
He took my hand again, looked at me steadily and spoke with a conviction that I would have been a fool to doubt.
“Yes, I do. I really do, Peter. If you’ve told me the facts exactly how they are and without putting a spin on them or bending them to your own meanings, then yes, I do. Do you have doubts yourself?”
“I don’t think so, no. But it’s not just one incident, is it? If it was it would be easier to see what is right and what is wrong but that isn’t the case here. And I know that I haven’t been. . . well, I haven’t been thinking right for a while, so. . .” I trailed off, not wanting to go further.
“So, you wonder if your thinking is right this time, yes?”
“Yes. Also, it’s what you just said. Am I putting my own spin on things because I want to be right?”
“Well, there’s no denying that there are always two sides to every story and their take on things won’t be the same as yours but there will always be some facts that can’t be changed, whoever is telling it. But knowing what happened and what didn’t is not the same as knowing why. What does your gut tell you?”
“That I’m right.”
“And do you trust your gut?”
I couldn’t answer that.
“Will you trust mine then?”
I couldn’t stop the one tear from sliding down my face as I nodded to show that I would. That I did. I sat with my hands clasped in front of me and awaited his judgement and then cried freely as he began to talk.
“I love you, Peter. I love you and, more importantly, I know you! Putting aside any situation that involves pizzas or garden walls, you’re one of the most honest people I know. Not only because you think it’s the right way to be but also because you’re a dreadful liar and that proves that it’s alien to your nature. I’ve never known you to not take into account another person’s point of view. I’ve never known you not to put other people first. I’ve never known you to turn from a friend. You give people the benefit of the doubt, always, and you make excuses for them time after time. You’re honest to the point of it being detrimental to yourself at times.
"Now, I know that none of these apply to me and you’ll try to wrap me round your finger to get your own way and lie at the drop of a hat over things like who ate the last of the carrot cake – and I know it was you so don’t even try to deny it - but none of that counts because I’m not your ‘friend’, I’m your partner and with me you let yourself relax completely and not worry about being ‘seen’ to be fair. You’re very rarely taken in by people because you’re suspicious enough to question everything and slow to place your trust in people. Because of your over-developed sense of fairness, you are capable of seeing falseness in others. Yes, your imagination gets carried away at times but something inside you knows the truth and when you’ve come down off your sugar-high or whatever it is, you recognise it and acknowledge it.
“You don’t know what the other three were thinking or feeling and unless they told you so, you couldn’t honestly be expected to know. What they think is their problem, not yours. Maybe they think they had no responsibility to tell you their plans, but they have to live with themselves over their decisions. You could only act on the information that you knew to be true, and you did so. Yes, you had your doubts about some things that went on in the past but I can’t see that you acted on them in any way that affected them negatively. You didn’t say that you weren’t going down the pub if so-and-so was invited. As far as I know, you didn’t talk about any of them behind their backs to the others or try to break their friendship.
“I know you think you should have mentioned your resentment to them and that it would have helped things if you had done so, but you don’t know that. Yes, it may have brought them up short and helped or it may have just brought about the end earlier than you anticipated. In hindsight that may have been easier so the pain you’re feeling now would have been less but it could be that you got what you needed from them when you needed it. And vice versa; they got from you what they needed when they needed it. Maybe you all served your purpose for each other and it wasn’t meant to be permanent.
“Who knows, when things calm down a bit, the people who are your real friends may come back and you’ll find a way to be friends again – if they don’t then they weren’t meant to be your long term friend from the start. Don’t forget, you got introduced to half of these by other people – you didn’t find them yourself so the choice of friendship wasn’t necessarily yours. Had it been, you may not have made friends with them in the first place purely because there wasn’t enough of a connection to tie you together. But when new people come into a group, you find your way and establish ties that keep the group going. Sometimes it works and other times, it doesn’t. When it doesn’t, it’s not a failure – it’s just the way things work out.
“I’m proud of you, Peter. Proud that you meant to do the right thing and sad that you didn’t get the chance. John and, yes, Charlie as well, were rude to you and I think it’s okay that you feel that way about their actions. Whatever other problems you may or may not have had with them, or them with you, doesn’t detract from that one single fact. Pet, I don’t believe you have anything to recriminate yourself over.”
Today really was my day for snorting. “I bet you never thought you’d ever end up saying that to me.”
“Point taken,” he admitted with a smile. “So. Are we at the right place now?”
I scrubbed a hand across my face and nodded.
“Yes. We are. You’re wrong about one thing though.” I angled my face round to look up into his.
“You are my friend as well.”
“Thank you, I’m honoured.”
With those words he leant forward to kiss me and chased away the last of my demons.
With friends like him. . . I can conquer the world!
So. I lost my friends. Was I at fault? Maybe. Was all of it my fault? No, certainly not. But if I’m the only one who can recognise that, then they’ve lost a better friend than I have and I can hold my head up high.
I will sleep well tonight!