Listen to Your… Chest (Part 3)

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(Continued from Listen to Your… Chest (Part 2))

The following Friday, at a birthday drinks, I told a friend about the guy off Tinder I’d been chatting to for the last year but had never met. I omitted a few salient details and he looked at me like I belonged at the funny farm.

‘You have to meet him,’ he said.

If the past twelve months had shown me anything it was that I definitely didn’t have to meet him, but I wanted to.

That night, waiting for the last train, I texted Neuro. The platform was deserted except for a man in his 60s wearing a shabby raincoat. He came over and alerted me to the fact that I was facing the wrong way so I might miss the train. I thanked him and he asked where I was travelling to, did I have a boyfriend?

‘Yes,’ I heard myself say.

‘Are you meeting him now?’

‘Yes.’

The train arrived and we boarded. He was still talking, nineteen to the dozen, when Neuro replied.

‘Where are you?’ I sent back.

‘Home. U?’

‘I’ve never raped a woman and I’ve never touched a child,’ my neighbour was saying.

‘Ring me!’ I sent back.

He did, just as the train pulled into my station. I took advantage of my tipsy state to announce that we needed to meet. It had been a year. We needed to meet.

‘Come over now.’

‘I can’t. I… I need more notice.’

It was early February. The last time I shaved my legs there were leaves on the trees. But, more to the point, he was a virtual stranger. I wasn’t about to rock up at his flat in the middle of the night.

He suggested the next day.

‘You don’t sound very sure.’

‘Or Sunday?’ he said.

‘Hmm Sunday’s tricky.’

He said he’d be in touch the next day.

 

We never did meet. As I write this, a referral letter from the hospital where Neuro works lies open on the kitchen table. The appointment is for next week…

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Listen to Your… Chest (Part 2)

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(Continued from Listen to Your… Chest (Part 1))

Around 8pm on Christmas Eve I got a call from a private number.

I picked up. ‘Hello?’

The briefest pause. ‘Hello.’

Another pause, while I let the accent sink in.

‘Hello,’ I said again, heading through to the sitting room.

‘Happy Christmas.’

‘Happy Christmas. I didn’t realise it was you – it showed as a private number.’

‘Oh.’ Another pause. ‘How are you?’

‘Yeah, good.’ My tone was flat. ‘I, er, I’m just with family, so it’s a bit of a tricky moment.’

‘OK.’ He sounded sad. ‘I just wanted to say Happy Christmas.’

I hesitated. ‘Oh, er, well, thank you.’

Pause.

‘Well, I’ll let you get back to your family.’

‘Thanks and… Happy Christmas.’

 

Channels of communication re-opened with my new zero expectations in place. I went on the odd Tinder date; he filled in the gaps. We never chatted for long – he rang too late for that – but I didn’t much mind.

Work got busy and I missed a couple of calls from him. Things were still busy and I had a bad cough to boot when, one Saturday evening, a year after we matched, I dropped him a text. He rang the next morning and we chatted about our plans for the day. He was meeting family; I had a book to read for work. He was clever and successful in his own field but the only literature books he’d read were those that his school had forced on him.

I’d seen my ex the previous weekend and, in the wake of it, had suffered some kind of existential crisis. He was a Harvard, MIT and Cambridge-educated theoretical physicist who dabbled in etching and filmmaking – your definitive Renaissance man. Since our last meeting he’d got a great new job, bought his second London flat and bought a yacht. I was interning, unpaid, at production companies in the hope of securing a badly paid entry-level position. The contrast made me feel shit on many levels.

Neuro didn’t care about my job. Admittedly, I sometimes got the feeling he didn’t care to know much about me at all. But when he started to fulfil the surgeon stereotype and hold forth about every aspect of his life, I could at least call him on it. Two and a half years on, I still analysed most of what I said to my ex, either before or after it came out of my mouth. Neuro got the unedited version and it felt good.

My cough was bad by the time I hit the hay on Sunday evening. That morning, Neuro had said we’d ‘speak later’, but I hadn’t heard from him. That was fine: I had work to do and he would be in touch, eventually. I was doing my best impression of a consumptive when I heard my phone vibrate.

‘Hey, I’ve got a cough so I can’t stay on–.’ I broke off, coughing.

Neuro asked about the cough. It sounded worse than this morning? Was I taking medication?

‘I think – am I right in saying – you can’t medicate a productive cough?’

I descended into another coughing fit.

‘What colour is the stuff you’re bringing up?’ he said. ‘Is it white, yellow, green, red… grey?’

I’d spoken to my mum that afternoon and said I’d ask my doctor friends what I should do about the cough. I’d meant Rachel, or Stephanie.

I laughed. ‘This is amazing.’ Then: ‘Yellow.’

He explained what it could be and the different treatments. If I couldn’t get to my GP in the next couple of days, he’d email me a prescription for antibiotics. I thanked him and said I’d book an appointment the next day.

‘Let me know what happens.’

‘I will.’

The coughing had stopped.

‘I should probably sleep,’ I said.

‘Yep.’ A pause. ‘I’m looking forward to finally meeting you.’

‘Me too.’ I laughed. ‘Was it the cough that did it?’

‘No. It’s just… I’m looking forward to putting a face to the voice.’

‘Yeah.’

‘And the moan.’

‘I’m hanging up now.’

He laughed. ‘Night Anna.’

‘Night.’

(TO BE CONTINUED)

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A few years ago, over coffee, my friend Rachel told me about a junior doctor with whom she was doing her medical training. She praised him to the skies: he was funny, thoughtful, clever and very conscientious. There was talk of her introducing us but it never happened.

When he came up on my Tinder, I hesitated. Physically, he wasn’t my type. But I remembered Rachel’s eulogy.

He messaged me almost straightaway, and moments later I received a friend request on Facebook. I made a mental note not to swipe right on the back of one good review.

The next day, he texted to say he’d had a dream about me. I was at work at the time and remember weighing up tackling my to-do list and replying to his message. I knew which had the greater chance of being interesting.

‘What happened?’ I sent back.

‘Really???!!!’

Again, I hesitated. ‘Yeah.’

That evening, a colleague stopped by my desk and asked about the old love life. I mentioned that things had turned a bit… risqué with the latest Tinder prospect. We swapped notes on the only surgeons we knew – all a bit full on – and he went on his way.

But I was bored. Work was getting crazy and my social life was about to be dealt a deathblow. When the surgeon called during one of his night shifts, one thing led to another.

‘What are you wearing?’ he said.

‘Pyjamas.’

‘Take them off.’

Sometimes we were interrupted and I’d listen, fascinated, as he barked instructions at an unsuspecting nurse over the phone, before hanging up and giving me orders of a different kind.

Occasionally we chatted about life stuff and it turned out Rachel was right: he was funny. Fabulously direct too – my British diffidence drove him insane – but I liked that. He rang me one lunchtime while en route to the airport…

‘I might be, it depends, I’m not sure, I might have to–.’

‘Look,’ he cut me off, ‘I’m not asking if you can be free to talk to me later, I’m asking if you want to be free to talk to me later. Do you want to be free to talk to me later? Answer… answer me like a non-English person.’

I laughed. ‘OK, yes.’

‘Yes you will or yes you want to be free to talk to me later?’

‘The latter – I want to be free to talk to you later.’

‘OK.’

We continued like this for a few weeks. Then it happened. He suggested meeting, the appointed day came and… it was like he’d dropped off the edge of the universe. I deleted his number, he got back in touch – on Valentine’s Day – and the same thing happened. The third time he went AWOL, I called time. His number went, so did the Facebook friendship, and after a few attempts he stopped calling.

I fell for a guy off Bumble, my colleague kissed me, life went on. And because of those two men, I was probably more susceptible than usual when, in early September, I found a couple of messages from Neuro (as I’d come to call him) in my ‘Message Requests’ folder on Facebook. We started chatting again. He pushed for a first meeting at his place; I resisted (this had always been a sticking point). He relented and we fixed on the following Saturday for drinks.

This time I blocked him. I installed an app called MrNumber – which blocks people you want to speak to as well as those you don’t, it’s genius – and put him out of my head. The app also helpfully told me when the blocked number had called.

I lifted the ban just before Christmas and discovered my expectations had changed. I didn’t care anymore about meeting. When he suggested it, I went along with the idea, but I wasn’t surprised when a plan failed to materialise. I was however astounded at his lack of sympathy when I came down with a vomiting bug. He went back on the block list and I concentrated on getting better.

(TO BE CONTINUED)

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When the surgeon stands me up, several thoughts go through my mind:

1. Have I really got to the grand old age of 29 without being able to spot the timewasters?

2. Maybe he’s been caught up in a really long surgery…

3. Really long surgeries are like kidnap, sudden death and being trapped under something heavy.

4. This time I’m going to block him using an app that doesn’t tell me when he’s tried calling.

The next day, I’m holed up in the office til late. As I approach the station, a busker strikes up a soulful rendition of Let It Be. I stop to listen, rooting around in my bag for my phone. The new all-singing, selectively-blocking messaging app came highly recommended by Which. I open it to see, in the corner of the screen, a shield symbol, and beside it a small number ‘2’. Disbelieving – and perhaps a little relieved – that yet another developer has misread the brief and interpreted ‘blocking’ as ‘putting the offending messages into a separate inbox so they’re impossible to miss’, I tap the symbol.

The first text expresses outrage at being blocked on WhatsApp.

The second informs me he’s just got out of a 14-hour operation.

I tell Beatrice.

‘That’s hot,’ she sends back, reading my mind.

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10 Signs You’re Nearly 30

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  1. You’re 29.
  2. You go on a date with a guy you met in a club. He’s 25 and, when you reveal your age, he says, ‘Well done.’
  3. You start wondering about felt tip pen as a viable, affordable fix for prominent grey hairs.
  4. You decide it’s now or never with giving the dream career a shot. Hell, there has to be an upside to not having a joint mortgage!
  5. You go to parties and are the token single person there, fielding questions like, ‘What do you think of Tinder?
  6. So you embrace it, cast aside your inner Charlotte, and sleep around.
  7. When that doesn’t prove to be fun (bad sex and, oh, bad sex), you go back to focusing on that dream career.
  8. Which proves to be a nightmare, so you get to wondering if children are really that bad.
  9. And decide they are.
  10. Maybe New Zealand is calling. There’s Tinder in New Zealand, right?

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