If only I were ten years younger

“I loved you like a man loves a woman he never touches, only writes to, keeps little photographs of.”

― Charles Bukowski, Love is a Dog from Hell

Of course FR wasn’t the first woman that had spiraled me into an existential crisis, far from it. I’m well past the first flushes of youth and have happily known a number of women, not hoards I hasten, but enough that I’ve been burned about as often as I’ve done the burning. So despite how I may feel now, I know the end of the world is not nigh. I also realise that this isn’t the last of time I’ll cry over a women. The funny thing is, she wasn’t even the first woman to send me into turmoil that year. No, about a year ago, I was losing my mind over in even more ridiculous way. Not only did I subsist on what few crumbs she tossed my way, she was young, as in young enough to be my daughter young. I found her gorgeous though even no one else really seemed to see it. Fuck it, if you’re going to have a mid life crisis, you might as well do it in style.

I first met RG at what was slowly becoming our local and remember remarking to my drinking companion that she wasn’t quite as dreamy as the other barmaids we’d become accustomed to. He raised at least one eyebrow response and this seems starkly ironic in retrospect even if sincere at the time. She proved to be a native English speaker though, which I would depend upon more as the night wore on, but I don’t remember being particularly entranced that first night. However, we spent a lot of time there and a rapport built without me really giving it much thought. She was quick on her feet, liked some good music (and some awful music too) and could talk about books and SciFi. She had a fiery streak and could knock back her drinks and deal with drunken fools. I started to really long for her to flash me her incandescent smile, and she did, often enough.

Then came the fall. I still don’t know what really happened, only that I didn’t see that smile for months. As far as I can tell, after many in depth discussions with my drinking companion, it had something to do with her overhearing me utter the phrase “blood, cans and pretty doctors” and laughingly asking me what I was talking about. I’d been referring to a piece of writing I’d been working on, something not dissimilar to this, about a rather lovely plastic surgeon who’d once tended to my wounds. I can’t even remember what I said but had tried to suggest it was what might happen if one got a bit too ripped and tried to go all Matt Hoffman on a bike. Granted, I was painting myself in a fairly stupid light, but how I offended her I will never know. I would even ask her what I’d done, months later, but she denied any recollection of the incident. Women can be perplexing people.

Thing was, I still liked the place but it became somewhat nerve wracking to cross the threshold. I usually sent in my drinking companion first, to see who was working as I noted he still got a warm reception, I noted, without much glee. One night, in a hipster bar on the other side of the river, I was drunkenly bemoaning the stalemate she and I seemed locked in. This somehow led to us plotting two competing mix tapes dedicated to her (seems we were both a bit far gone).  I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have the dodgy results, and my thoughts at the time, on file. My drinking companion scoffed, suggesting I’d send a young lady to sleep just reading the track list. There were a couple on there that work, I mean she has so much front, L7’s Shove seems appropriate and her premature cynicism means she may always be one of my favourite daughters of darkness. My companion imagined she’d listen to Combine Harvester, he was dreaming.

For whatever reason, I let myself be dragged to her lair that night. “Oh you’re in luck!” jived my companion as he saw who was working. I was edgy, even though I was already drunk, the night became blurry and I can’t really remember anything, other than that she and IFS, a rather dark, svelte and moody colleague of hers, locked us in, without me really noticing. Just like that, I was forgiven, she was speaking English to me again, she was even smiling, if guardedly. Somehow, we made it into the fold that night, and we never looked back. Since then, I’ve produced a troubled bundle of words in her name. It’s been mental and unbecoming of a man of my age but for good or ill, she has proved a pretty successful muse. There’s a wealth of trouble and desire I’ve not even touched on thus far and I’m enjoying the fact the story is yet unwritten.

I’ve grudgingly come to realise that FR isn’t going to be more than a happy memory, and even then, only if carefully curated. Since her ghosting, I’ve gone on a bit of an online dating frenzy, following dubious advice about it being a “numbers game”, I’ve unexpectedly had a full social schedule. It’s been fun and I’ve met a couple of cool people, but when you feel the urge to create a spreadsheet to manage your Tinder matches, you’re in too deep. For all that, I still pined for the silent woman in Bern. That was about when RG popped back into my life, via challenge on Song Pop, whatever the fuck that was. She pasted me and drifts back into my life for a spell. I won’t lie, his gives me a lift. We talk about going out drinking again soon. Meanwhile I’ve got a date with B2 on Saturday to contend with. It’s a first date, we’re meeting at a cafe I know, in Bern.

So the date turns out well if unspectacular. She’s a rather accomplished woman and not at all unattractive. The original coffee plan was spontaneously swapped for meeting at the Rosengarten. She confessed to being hungover and ordered a beer swiftly. The weather was gorgeous and we nonchalantly stared over the snow tipped alps in the distance. The conversation worked and we strolled back into town for another beer. She’d moved to Switzerland in her teens fleeing the Balkan war and we talked about both having been to Budvar in Montenegro. We’d avoided ghosts for most of the evening, after the rendezvous was moved, but with a burst of energy, and restaurant reservation bravado, we sat at a table at a place FR had once tried to take me in vain. There were specters in every dark corner, they probably didn’t help the couple at the next table break up with any dignity. They did it in French though so I was spared the worst but the hand gestures conveyed the gist.

So far, so good though with B2. The food was amazing and I was secretly proud that she’d bullied her way in on my behalf. She confessed to not having any cash so at this point so I subbed her and she took me to what she promised was “the best bar in Bern, even though I’ve never been there.” It was one of these basement bar places you get in the arcades there and I’d never actually been to one so it was a bit of a novelty. It was all a bit high end for me though, even if I did scoff my two cocktails, and most of her second. She’d made it clear that I was getting the last train and that was fine with me. We cashed up, or rather I cashed up, and headed for the ATM from which she was adamant she’d get the funds to pay her share. That didn’t happen. I didn’t really care, she seemed good for it, but she looked a little shamefaced. I offered to sub her another 20 for a cab but she insisted on walking. I can’t even remember how much she owes me.

So I settled into my seat on the last train and plugged in my now drained phone. A couple of satisfying pings within seconds but I played it cool, opened the warm can I still had and took a sip. I was tipsy and confused. The night had been enjoyable enough but my mind hadn’t been all there and it was strange and scary to look back at how much I just sort of cruised through the night as if on automatic pilot. In the same why I find with job interviews, it was simple enough to just say the right things at the right time without letting the truth get in the way. Not that I lied, I told her about my failed marriage and all my history, I just allowed myself to be slightly more of the person she wanted me to be than perhaps I should. I suppose that’s better than some of the dates I’ve been on though. I remember those pings and take a look. I can rarely go five minutes without being connected these days.

It was from RG, seeing if I want to meet her and a friend for drinks later. It’s 1:30am and I’ve been drinking since lunchtime, across at least four cantons and three grains. Of course I bloody go, half jogging there once my train gets in. I make it about half an hour before they close (officially, as she put it) and seat myself with two sexy young tattooed law students. RG’s mate, a lovely cynical youngster with golden hair, leaves at some point and so do the rules about smoking and having to pay for drinks. We talk drunken shit well into the morning with her intermittently strutting behind the bar to get two more beers. She opens up once she’s properly drunk and I marvel at just how resolute she is, given the preposterous childhood she seems to have gone through. Later, in a darker moment I wonder though, whether I’m predatory or caring? I’ve given up trying to justify this thing with her though, it’s classic escapism but when I’m with her, I’m generally happy. Spending more time with her is not something I’m going to regret on my deathbed.




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