A laboured goodbye

“The French have a phrase for it. The bastards have a phrase for everything and they are always right. To say goodbye is to die a little.”

― Raymond Chandler, The Long Goodbye

It had been weeks since I’d heard from FR. Amongst good friends and ale I’d vowed that I give her until I was leaving for Helsinki and if she didn’t get in touch, I’d pull the pin on the whole affair on her behalf. I’d even go on to write several drafts. As futile unspoken ultimatums go, it was one of my sillier ones but I had meant it in a sort of self deprecating way. As it happened, I almost missed my flight to Finland having forgotten my 09:30 departure was from Zürich, not Basel. The prior night’s drinking certainly didn’t help although it had given me a chance to re-iterate my dramatic vow to anyone who cared to listen, which was only really PP. Indeed I’m not sure he really cared, he just didn’t have a choice. Amidst the tension and hangover that morning, I’d forgotten all about, being more concerned with the queue at security and the nagging feeling that I’d forgotten to pack something. As it would turn out, my flight was delayed by 30 minutes and I had forgotten to pack several things, especially clean socks.

It was a relatively long flight for one from one European capital to another and I had managed a bit of sleep, head slack and mouth open. I must have looked a picture, Finnish Tinder birds watch out! My friend TT was arriving separately for our weekend away and the delay meant I ended up just waiting for him in an airport bar. Being on holiday and still pretty hungover, I justified an expensive beer while I sat in limbo. The barmaid looked like Jimi Tenor’s cute little sister and gave me a crash course in Finnish. I could now say hi (hei), thanks (kiitos) and count to three (yksi, kaksi, kolme). I asked but apparently Finnish people don’t really say please, she said with a slightly puzzled look. When I met TT at the gate, we manhugged and headed for the train to town while conversation flowed. He’s such an old friend, my oldest, so conversation flowed easily and we started to work out what the fuck we were going to do in this really cold place we’d chosen to visit. The consensus seemed to be that we’d find our digs, have a quick power nap and shower and then go out in search of food and beer. I vowed inwardly to send that farewell message once I was “nicely” drunk later that night.

The apartment was elegant Scandi minimalism personified. They’d only made up one bed, assuming we were a couple. We laughed, it wasn’t the first time and it was quite charming really. Once we rested, suited and booted, I found a can of a beer called Karhu (bear in Finnish apparently) and poured it out in two glasses. He asked, somewhat tentatively, whether there was any word from FR. I told the truth and wryly outlined my plan. He smiled. He knew me well enough to understand my desire to walk away from the situation while making making one last doomed romantic gesture. A Finnish colleague had recommended a few areas for nightlife and we headed toward the closest one and fell into what we took for a hipster beer bar on account of the range of brews available. We’d later learn that every bar in downtown Helsinki serves about 50 different beers but this seemed like the place for us to get a few in before hitting the Thai place across the road. The unhinged guy barking at us in Finnish notwithstanding, the ambience was good and we started to joke about what I should say to FR. I wasn’t really pissed as yet but my battery was dwindling. TT got another round in, I took a 6.9% hoppy thing and decided that once I’d drained it, I’d commit relationship seppuku as I’d pledged. Then a vibration in my pocket. Two messages, both from her. How could this be possible?

I said nothing as TT ferried the beers back to our table but excused myself for a piss. I didn’t know what I was about to read but suspected she’d decided to put me out of my misery, just as I was beginning to enjoy it. I opened it. It was nothing of the sort, in fact it wasn’t much of anything apart from a picture of a railway station in Bern (she knows I have an odd but harmless fetish for that sort of thing) and a cheerful “Hey, how are you? Have nice weekend! [sic]”. I was perplexed, my battery was almost dead and I was hungry. What the fuck was I supposed to do with this? It seemed conciliatory but was ultimately empty of meaning. I so, so wanted to believe it was good news but am cynical enough to know that it probably wasn’t. I went back and lasted about 30 seconds before complaining bitterly to my friend, and the Finnish Tourettes guy, about this woman I had yearned to hear from for over a month, sending me a friendly missive complete with scenery I was bound to appreciate. I was slightly enraged that she’d stolen my moment, my thunder but all I really wanted to do was hug her and hold on for as long as she’d let me. Of course, she was 1,600 km away and my phone was about to die. Plus I had a beer to finish and several more to drink.

In the end I jotted off something equally vacuous and complained confusedly to my friend for the rest of the night.

I’ve long since given up on finishing this properly, she was gone before it and I knew it but she made me grind it out. I left her alone mostly after that Helsinki flurry and I had to drag it out of her eventually, by which time I couldn’t really understand why she was so stressed about it. I didn’t really care any more although I was still curious. I still am but I don’t imagine I’ll ever see that somewhat lovely woman again. I had my own distractions in the interim anyway so found it even odder that she took time to assure me that there was no other guy, basically the least of my worries by then. I still have some plants she gave me and the book I was going to give her for Christmas. The ticket for the last gig we went to together was stolen along with an aged condom and around 50 euros months later. I’ve still got the poster from Dampfzentrale that I carried back to her flat and she dried on a clothes airer for me. It really ties the room together.

We had some good times, thanks FR

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