I lose people.
They die in ways that are incomprehensible to me. Making their entry in an almost gentle and unsolicited way, they exit brutally, inappropriately, usually suddenly. They mark my existence and are the worlds and songs and reflections that map my life; the time that is me.
And thus it was with her. Her name is Margalith. And she has left me with the cruelty that is memory, with the sweet ache that is nostalgia.
She will fade and change in my thoughts about the time when we were ‘we’. I struggle to retain some semblance of her that is real, devoid of the inevitable sentimentality or carefully contrived reminders that make the present bearable.
Almost three decades my senior, I met her in a city far from my own. At a conference for translators and editors, where bosses send their minions for purported improvement and dull, safe interaction with dull, safe peers. These are occasions when companies ensure that they retain their next financial year’s training budget; a footnote in the script of our daily dance of earning our daily bread.
And thus it happened that in the Spring of a comfortably uneventful year we met in one of those insignificant, pivotal moments that define the essence of what, if only for an instant, makes sense; makes us alive.
“Mental disease is a learning curve”.
The accent sounded blonde – Norwegian, maybe. She smiled surreptitiously, a stranger leaning towards me from across the table. The casually stretched-out hand took a peppermint. She moved back into her seat – no response was required.
We had been listening to a speaker meaningfully recounting the nuances of translating personal correspondence between two late-eighteenth century literary figures. I did not know whether she was referring to the subjects of the translations, the audience, or the speaker. It was not important – any interpretation seemed appropriate. My smile was a spontaneous and careful acknowledgement of our sense of kin.
There is a moment, not often but sometimes, when there is a hiccup in time. Rules, seconds, morals and thoughts are suspended in a void of utter significance; a moment that changes everything forever. These moments are not limited to the endorphin-induced slowing down in those milliseconds before a car crash. (Though perhaps the analogy is appropriate for my first, eternal acquaintance with her). And it is during such moments at the beginning of relationships when one knows beyond all doubt that you have met yourself in someone else. One knows that things will work out, that the feeling is mutual; there is a shared excitement that goes beyond all semantics and social foreplay.
And thus it was with her.
“No, I am not Norwegian”. We were standing in exactly the centre of her hotel room. “And I’m very pleased to meet you”. The face pleasantly and unashamedly hinted at her age: she had elegant lines around her eyes, and the ease with which she moved under her clothes would have seemed ridiculous and almost an anachronism had she been a younger woman.
I looked around the room. Not much betraying anything personal. A small bottle of perfume next to a picture framed by ancient silver. “My son”, she said, slightly tipping her wine glass at the young man of about my age. She did not take her eyes off me.
“Well, this is certainly quite strange”. I tried to look unembarrassed, regretting the remark almost instantly. She passed me a glass of Merlot, and seemed almost pensive for a second.
“Yes, slightly, I suppose”. She seemed sincere, bemused, relaxed – in total control. She sat down on the lime green chaise longue. I was glad when she spoke.
“Oh dear, what do we do now?,” she smiled.
I had never made love to an older woman before.
I believe there are natural adulterers. I used to hate them. I wonder if I am one of them. I hate myself a little bit. But more than anything, I wonder where she is now.
I could see my wife waving at me when I walked into the International Arrivals Hall. She said my name softly when we embraced. I was genuinely happy, relieved to see her. We exchanged the usual pleasantries: gifts; cursory thoughts about the conference; she remarked that I looked a bit tired. I was a bit tired.
She drove us back home. I looked out the window (noting that it was Autumn), then pretended to sleep. Nothing had really changed. Though everything had. I knew the feeling would pass. But hopefully it would not.
Maybe I did not lose her.
She had gone.
And that was all.