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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Listen to Your… Chest (Part 1)

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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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CC Image courtesy of kimberleykv on FlickrI listen, spellbound, to Rachel‘s sister, as she details his every action and word over the course of two years. It would be cruel, I feel, and impolitic since we’ll be sharing bridesmaid duties come the autumn, to start spouting stuff like:

If you’re asking whether he likes you, he doesn’t.

None of that matters. If he’s not asking you out…

The distance thing – he’s using it as an excuse.

He’s having his cake and eating it too.

But I say it nonetheless. Rachel is more practically minded:

‘You should date other people,’ she says.

I agree, while secretly thinking only someone who’s been out of the dating game for a while could think that you can go on dates, with people you’re genuinely interested in, just like that.

‘Yup,’ is her sister’s response, the light easy syllable of someone who has no intention of following through on the advice they’ve been given.

 

A couple of hours earlier I’d received an email from my mother. It was in response to a detailed breakdown I’d sent her of Tom’s most recent behaviour.

‘Just to confirm,’ I wind up, ‘I shouldn’t contact him, should I?

‘You shouldn’t,’ she sends back. But it’s the next bit that stings, that makes me for a moment have to concentrate on not crying at my desk.

‘You need to deliberately park your mind elsewhere,’ she writes, ‘and develop a different interest, rather than dwelling on an area of your life where you are not in control.’

I’m reminded of the chorus of Carrie Fisher’s character in When Harry Met Sally every time Sally tells her that the guy she likes is never going to leave his wife:

You’re right, you’re right, I know you’re right.

‘Yeah, you’re right…’ I start writing, by way of reply.

But how the fuck do you do it?

CC Image courtesy of Toxictea on Flickr

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Worlds Apart

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Worlds Apart

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CC Image courtesy of liyinglace on Flickr

I roll over, reach for my phone. A missed call and two messages. One of them I’ve already read – a grammatical car crash from the guy who, ten hours’ earlier, I was lip to lip with.

 

‘Culturally it’s very different, right?’

This is me trying to sound intelligent about China.

‘Yes,’ he says. ‘And they spit, when they talk.’

‘They spit?!’

‘Yes.’

Which is when he goes in for the kiss. Just the right amount of spit, in case you wanted to know.

 

So there’s him asking, ‘How was [the] rest or your night?’. And then there’s Rachel

‘I’ve got a bit of a disaster…’

It might be the first time L.K.Bennett – queen of sartorial conservatism – and ‘disaster’ have found themselves in the same sentence. Newly engaged Rachel has found a bridesmaid dress she likes and wants to know what I think. Another message, this time a picture of the sender, fresh-faced and perky, modeling an elegant lace number. I lie there, eyeliner streaked across my face, scarf wrapped around my head to muffle the midday sounds of suburban London, feeling our worlds edge that little bit further apart.

CC Image courtesy of Ben Fredericson (xjrlokix) on Flickr

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‘I’ve never had a double bed before!’ I say, clapping.london eye 1

Rachel looks momentarily dumbstruck. ‘Well that’s why you’re still single, luv.’

‘No, because its never got to the point where it’s been an issue with someone… in London,’ I add.

Whereas in Oxford I had them hanging from the rafters. Not.

‘And,’ I frown, ‘why does it explain why I’m still single?’

I’m worried now.

‘If you can’t invite guys back to yours… that’s why you’re still single.’

‘Yeah, but having someone back to yours does not a relationship make,’ I say, my tone serious.

‘So spake the prophet,’ she says, adopting a prayer pose. We laugh.

‘And anyway, I’ll have you know, having a single bed doesn’t stop you inviting people back to yours! It just means you end up with a few more bruises!’

We laugh. Rachel starts to choke.

‘Please don’t die on me,’ I say, patting her on the back, ‘cos if you do I’ll have to tell people what I said to make you choke! And then I’ll sound like a whore!’

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