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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  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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‘Four big things have happened to me. I started working at UCL. I had a long-term relationship.’

A pause.

‘Who was she?’ I say. ‘I mean, how did you meet?’

‘Oh… through friends. It ended – I ended it – before Christmas.’

‘Why… did you end it?’

‘It had been going on for two years and it was at that point where, if it wasn’t going to be forever, then…’

‘You had to end it.’

‘Yeah. It was a nice relationship but… I didn’t feel we were on the same wavelength and I need that.’

‘Mmm.’

‘But it was very hard, ending it.’

‘It is very hard. It’s like a bereavement.’

‘It is.’

A pause.

‘What were the other two things?’

‘I bought a flat.’

‘And sold the other one?’

‘No. I’ve still got that.’

‘So another one.’

‘Yes. And I bought a yacht.’

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Slowly you move on. Little things help, like hearing him say he’s contributing to her mortgage.

No, that’s a big thing. The big thing. The thing you take away from the evening, that makes you glad you drank that second glass of wine so you don’t go home and cry into soup but instead drunk-message men with trouble written all over them.

But you still think about him. And, the following night, at 2am, with sleep feeling too far off, you draft an email.

***

Not for a moment do I consider declining Ryan’s invitation. Even though I’m tired and have lots of work on but no make-up. I toy with the idea of asking my too-cool-for-school colleague if I can borrow some eyeliner but think better of it.

I’m running late and fire off a quick message to Ryan, checking they’re still there.

It’s a shorter walk than I thought to the pub. He’s sitting in the window and my face breaks into a smile as I head for the door, push it open.

He’s exactly the same. The same jumper, the same trousers and shoes, the same hesitant smile.

And I want to ask him everything. I want to know every wretched detail of his life. I just want to look at him.

So I go to the bar with Ryan and we chat about his new job, the overpriced wine, our love lives. Glasses in hand, we go back to the table. Tristan’s talking to a girl – a stranger. I hate her for being there. It crosses my mind that the evening might come to an end and I won’t have spoken to him.

I’m telling Ryan about my recent spate of self-destructive dating behaviour when Tristan cuts in.

‘Shall we…’ He motions to suggest more of a group conversation.

I’m across from him. Bitch to my right, Ryan on my left. Bitch tells me she used to work with Tristan – she takes credit for talent spotting him. Once I’d have remarked on how brilliant he is. Now I just nod and say, ‘Ah’.

Bitch and Ryan are at the bar. I’m trying to crack open the more resilient pistachios with a metal knife. I press down on the nut and hear the shell crack. Our laughter turns to confusion when I hold up the intact shell.

It’s almost how it was before.

Our eyes meeting occasionally.

Him telling me about things that matter to him.

Like the mortgage. I need to hear it. It makes me check my phone, prepare my line about needing to leave.

***

At 2am I draft an email. Something about elephants in the room and wanting to acknowledge what happened, just to clear the air.

I don’t send it.

Slowly you move on.

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CC Image courtesy of Larry He's So Fine on Flickr A few weeks back, Tom appeared on my Tinder. Seeing his picture was like how I imagine it would feel passing your rapist in the street. For a moment, I stared. Then, with the care of a lab technician handling corrosive acid, I adjusted the app settings and the screen refreshed.

By the second encounter, something in me had hardened – or softened – and I tried to convince myself he was redeemable, dateable even. Perky came to the rescue.

‘He sounded like a douche to put it nicely!’ she says.

Beatrice echoes the sentiment. Tom, we agree, is a straightforward case.

‘But,’ I say, ‘Jack didn’t mess me around like that.’

This is Exhibit A in the case for swiping right on Viable Prospect: compared with Tom, he behaved pretty damn well. He made me miserable, sure, but I got over it. And it only took, like, 18 months.

Beatrice doesn’t say anything.

‘And, well, I’m desperate! And there’s just… nothing going on!’

She starts clearing the plates. We both know that swiping right on the man who broke your heart is plain daft.

 

A week later, I learn I’ve got my dream internship. That evening, Viable Prospect crops up again. I do what I always do – change my settings and a new set of potential matches swims into view. But I know, as I head for bed, that VP’s not what I want. I could handle the Monday night dates when I had a 9 to 5. I could even handle the sleepless nights – my permanently frenzied state, like a cat on hot coals.

I remove my contact lenses, cleaning them in the palm of my hand. I don’t want the drama, the not knowing, the games. For the first time, I can see clearly.

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