I’ve been to Steve’s a couple of times since I had a meltdown in front of him about my mum, but each time he’s been out, presumably at work.
The worst thing about my line of work is the loneliness.
That may seem strange given the tales of some of my exploits, but they’re not exactly daily occurrences. Before I became fully self-employed I always worked in environments with lots of people, whereas now, I spend many of my working days not communicating with a soul. For someone like me who enjoys socialising, it can be challenging and frustrating at times. Having all my kinky friends on Twitter helps…a lot! It helps to have a radio on while I work, and I always have one with me. My radio can take a micro-SD card and I filled one with my favourite tunes and used to listen to it while I worked, which was great for a while. However, the radio feels more… interactive, and I find myself getting cognitively involved with the DJ’s chatter.
Anyway I’m rambling, although having said that, writing is cognitively stimulating too. It helps me organise my thoughts which has been especially useful during the painful period dealing with my mum’s illness. I also like reliving my interactions and exploits with my customers. It’s affirming somehow, and strangely it helps satisfy my social needs.
I’m rambling again aren’t I?
Back to Steve…
He was at home today, and I was really pleased to see him.
‘Cuppa?’ He says after letting me in.
‘I’d love one, thanks.’
‘Coffee? Milk, no sugar.’
‘Have a seat,’ he says. ‘I’ll be back in a minute.’
I hear him in the kitchen, filling the kettle, rattling cups and grinding coffee beans. I park myself on his leather sofa. I’m not normally a fan of leather sofas but Steve’s is really comfortable, and the leather is soft and feels quite warm, which is surprising. I might be biased though. It might be because the last time I sat here Steve was comforting me while I had a breakdown about my mum.
Steve appears, standing in the kitchen doorway. ‘Kettle’s on,’ he says. ‘How are you doing?’
‘Better than the last time I was here,’ I say. ‘I’m sorry you had to see me, break down.’
The smell of freshly ground coffee drifts through from the kitchen and it makes me inhale deeply. I love the smell of freshly ground coffee and a bean grinder is the best Christmas present my brother ever bought me. The smell from Steve’s kitchen triggers feelings of being safe and secure, like being at home.
‘Carla, there really is no need to apologise,’ he says. ‘You’d obviously been carrying a lot around with you. It was inevitable it would come out at some point.’
‘I guess so,’ I say. ‘I just feel a little foolish.’
‘As I say, there’s no need.’
The kettle boils in the kitchen and switches itself off.
‘Back in a tick,’ he says.
A minute or so later he renters the lounge carrying two hot cups of coffee and places mine on a coaster on the coffee table.
How come they’re called coffee tables? Why not tea tables? Or drinks tables…?
‘How is your mum?’ He says, sipping his drink.
I hold my cup to my nose, breathing in the aroma. It’s rich and thick with nutty, chocolatey overtones. ‘She’s doing much better,’ I say. ‘Don’t get me wrong, she’s not better, better… I don’t think she’ll ever get back to how she was. It seems like the strokes were really the beginning of…’
A lump solidifies in my throat and I find it hard to find the words.
I don’t want to find the words.
If I say the words I’ll be admitting the truth of them, the power of them, the reality of her situation… the pain I’m ultimately going to have to go through.
I’m not ready for that.
I’m not ready.
I’m too young to lose my mum.
That’s the kind of thing that happens to people in their fifties, and not to people like me, not to people in their thirties.
I’m not ready.
Steve seems to sense my inner struggle and he looks at me with a look I don’t often see on a man’s face. He looks concerned.
‘I lost my mum when I was fifteen,’ he says.
His revelation stops my mind wandering like a slap in the face. For a few moments I sit completely still, stunned into silence.
‘Cancer.’ His eyes drop as he speaks. ‘Fucking cancer,’ he says, shaking his head. ‘Pancreatic. Malignant. It went undetected for way too long. By the time it was discovered it had spread throughout her body.’
‘Oh Steve, that’s awful.’
‘It’s nearly twenty years since she died and there are still days when I miss her.’
I shuffle forward on the sofa and reach out taking his hand in mine.
‘I sometimes think it would have been better if she’d died when I was much younger, so I wouldn’t have had so many memories of her. Then I feel bad for wishing she’d died younger. But I was fifteen.’
I squeeze his hand.
‘Fifteen years old and I thought I new everything – I thought I was in control of everything, just like a typical teenager. Then the universe showed me how wrong I was.’
‘I can’t imagine what that must have been like,’ I say. My words feel inane and inadequate and his words leave me feeling helpless, unable to help him in the here and now.
‘Cancer took my mum away and couldn’t do a thing about it. All I had was a big hole in my life… and memories.’ He looks me in the eyes, despondency no longer present, replaced with an intensity I can’t describe. ‘Carla, do you know what the problem with memory is?’ He asks.
‘No.’ I’m puzzled. I have no idea where he’s going with this.
‘The problem with memory is that it’s mostly haphazard, based on those moments we were actually paying attention to.’
‘How do you mean?’ I’m still puzzled.
‘Until we have a realisation that tells us to do otherwise, we drift through life remembering only the things and events that had some sort of impact or meaning, and they can be either big things or little things. For example, our first boy or girlfriend and our first kiss, the time a teacher told us off in front of the whole class, the day your dad lost his temper with you in the middle of the supermarket and clipped your lughole, the time when how to make a calculation in maths suddenly makes sense.’
‘Go on,’ I say. ‘I think I know what you mean.’
‘When my mum died I realised there was so much I couldn’t remember about being with her, because I’d been too distracted, or hadn’t tried, or been to busy. I have a lot of regrets about those lost memories.’
‘I understand that but…’
‘Sorry, hang on,’ he says. ‘There’s more. The other problem with memory is it’s subject to change.’
‘Okay, I get the last bit. I know I’ve had times where what I thought was the truth about something changed after I learned something else, something new. But, as for having regrets… you were who you were at the time,’ I say. ‘And you couldn’t really have done anything else.’
‘I know,’ he says, nodding. ‘I do know that, and it’s one of the reasons I started learning martial arts, and studying eastern philosophies.’
‘You’ve lost me…’
‘There’s a lot of emphasis and training to be more present in the moment. You’ve heard of mindfulness right?’
‘Yes, meditation and that sort of stuff.’
‘That’s right. Martial arts are really just a form of mindfulness practice, just with a more combatative emphasis. I have other reasons for doing martial arts but they’re not relevant right now.’
‘So you started martial arts so you would miss less in your life and have less regrets?’
‘Pretty much, yes.’
‘Okay, I think I get it,’ and I think I do.
What Steve says makes me realise I’ve been spending so much time worrying about what might happen, that I’m not enjoying and making the best of the way things are with mum.
I’m clinging to my memories of how things were and making the present painful, because that’s not how things actually are.
‘You haven’t lost your mum yet Carla, even though I think you’re worried about it happening. Is that right?’
‘Yes. Yes, it is,’ I say with a sigh.
‘Maybe it’s time to make some good memories with her.’
‘Carla, it’s the only way to avoid having regrets. It’s also a way to take a bit of control back, at least the feeling of control anyway.’
I’m still nodding. ‘Steve, that’s really helpful. Thank you.’
‘Thank you for sharing that about your mum,’ I say, giving his hand a squeeze in both of mine.
‘Well,’ he says. ‘She might be gone, but in telling you about my experience it means her life, and her death, still have value. She’s still having an impact, even though she’s not with us anymore.’
‘That’s quite profound,’ I say. ‘And maybe a little comforting?’
‘Yes it is,’ he says, a smile returning to his face. He gently pats my hand with his free one which tells me it’s time to let his hand go.
We both reach for our drinks from the coffee table.
‘So,’ he says, resting his cup on his lips. He has a cheeky smile in his eyes. ‘You tried to kiss me.’
The last thing I would have expect him to bring up was me trying to kiss him, especially after the deep, meaningful conversation we’d just had. I’m so surprised I find myself laughing.
‘Steve! You, bugger!’
‘What?’ He says, his face a picture of mock innocence. ‘What do you mean?’
‘I can’t believe you’ve brought that up.’
I feel so embarrassed.
‘I’m sorry,’ he says with a laugh. ‘It’s just that I wanted to talk about it.’
‘Why? I was upset at the time. It didn’t mean anything. I was just looking for comfort.’
‘And kissing me and maybe going further, that would have comforted you?’
‘Yes,’ I say. ‘Well, I think it would. I don’t know, I was a bit messed up that day.’
‘I know,’ he says. ‘That’s why I said no. It would have been for all the wrong reasons.’
I’m a bit angry and I hear it coming out in my voice. ‘Since when has comforting someone or seeking comfort been a bad reason?’
‘I would have been taking advantage of you in your vulnerable state, and that’s not the kind of bloke I want to be.’
‘Taking advantage? I tried to kiss you, not the other way round.’
For the first time he flounders. ‘Okay, maybe that’s not the right choice of words…’
‘So, what is the right choice of words?’ I say. I know I’m mocking him, but despite his kindness a few minutes ago he’s got me rattled now and I’m on edge.
‘And I wasn’t vulnerable. .. Jesus, you make me sound pitiful.’
‘There is no but! Why did you bring it up?’
‘Look, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have mentioned it.’
‘Well you did, so clearly it was on your mind.’
‘Yes it was, but…’
I keep pushing. ‘There it is… that but again. Come on Steve, why did you bring it up?’
Steve gives me a look of infuriation, his face flushing. He’s clearly trying to control himself.
‘I’m waiting Steve…’ I say.
Then he blurts, ‘Because I fucking like you, alright! I like you. I like you and I didn’t want to kiss you under those circumstances.’
Fuck me. He’s done it again!
That’s the third time in just a few minutes he’s left me stunned.
‘You like me? As in like me, like me?’
It’s Steve’s turn to be angry. I’ve pushed him into revealing something he didn’t want to, and now he’s pissed off. ‘Yes, I fucking like you. I don’t know what the fuck it means. I just know it’s something I feel. And that’s it. I like you. Happy now?’ It’s as though a pressure valve has been released as Steve takes a deep breath and lets it out, slowly.
I didn’t see that coming.
‘Shit!’ I say.
‘Well that’s certainly what I feel like now!’ Steve says.
‘Steve, I’m sorry. I had no idea.’
I’m such a bitch!
Steve takes another deep breath. ‘It’s okay. To be honest I’m glad I got it off my chest.’
‘Carla, you don’t need to say anything. I know you don’t feel the same way about me.’
‘Carla, seriously, it’s okay. They’re my feelings – you don’t have to do or say a thing.’
‘To be honest, I don’t know what to say.’
‘Well, that’s probably a good thing. But that’s why I couldn’t take advantage.’
‘What do you mean?’ I ask.
‘Look, because I like you, I didn’t want you to think I was one of those blokes who’d take advantage of you being upset. I didn’t want just a quick shag based on that. Does that make sense?’
‘I think so.’
‘Good, cos it’s a bit jumbled in my head, which is why I couldn’t explain what I meant properly. I didn’t want to be a solace fuck. I know we’re not, but if we were going to be intimate together, I’d want it to be because we both wanted it, because we both liked each other.’
‘Right, okay, that makes more sense. Look Steve, I’m sorry I don’t feel the same. I kind of like someone else.’
‘That’s fine,’ he says. ‘I didn’t expect you to feel the same way.’
The look on his face tells me he’s not really fine, hearing I like someone else.
‘I can’t help it,’ I say.
‘Me neither,’ says Steve.
We sit for a few moments, neither of us really knowing what to say next.
In all this chatter it’s like I’d forgotten why I was here in the first place. ‘Well,’ I say. ‘I guess I’d better get some cleaning done.’
He nods, takes our cups and heads towards the kitchen as I go to get my caddy.
‘Carla,’ he says, turning to face me. ‘There’s just one thing I don’t understand.’
‘What’s that?’ I ask.
‘You say you like someone else…’
‘So… well… Oh I dunno…’
It feels like he’s psyching himself up for something.
‘Well… you say you like someone else, so what I don’t understand is… why you’d try it on with me…’
The bastard… he’s done it again.