The Man: Spend the whole day with me
Me: Oh? What do you have planned?
The Man: That's a secret
ME: Well I have a secret too
The Man: Victoria's?
Me: What are you, 15 years old? No, not Victoria's!
The Man: Fine, I am not picky. Amante's?
The Man: Triumph's?
Let's just say that by the time Valentines' Day dawned I was super happy and excited. I was about to head to The Man's place when the call came.
My mothers' attendant hadn't turned up. This wasn't the first time and I knew it wouldn't be the last. I also knew that it meant that I would need to spend the morning with her. I called The Man and explained and apologized. He sighed a bit but was philosophical enough "That's fine" he said
"More smoked salmon for me. See you for lunch?" I agreed that I would definitely be there.
Let me take this opportunity to deliver a diatribe regarding the home nursing services available in this country. My mother is registered with no less than three of these services, and all of them are inconsistent, unreliable and generally lackadaisical. The most expensive is arguably the best but because we want only the day shift service and not a live in, we are subject to sudden changes in personnel, going from a top notch, well trained nurse on one day, to someone who spends all her time chatting on her mobile phone and wont empty the commode, on another.
Yet, whether we got top of the line or bottom of the heap care, we still pay the same daily rate. Mostly we seem to be paying for people to nod off in their chairs. The only advantage is that there is someone there to catch our mother if she falls. Wait, who am I kidding? There is someone there to call us if our mother falls.
I contacted the service to ask when they would send a replacement. Two to three days was the vague response.
Score so far? Murphy : 5 Valentine : 0
Coq Au Vin said she would be over for lunch and the afternoon shift. Macaron said she would be there for the evening and dinner. Logistics sorted I set about helping my mother. Breakfast, bath and dressing done, we then sat down to go through her old magazines. Every now and again she would tear out a 'useful article' - the negatives of running (hint), the need for companionship in ones old age (broader hint) and a recipe for cake made with stale bread (I neither eat bread nor bake so maybe the hint there was twofold).
I called Foie Gras to remind him that he needed to handle the transport for Trou and Musical Girls Valentines' dinner date.
Foie: Managed to drag yourself away from The Man long enough to call me? Kudos.
Me: I am not with him. I am with my mother. The attendant didn't turn up.
Foie: Oh. Do you need some help with that?
The actual answer was yes. Foie Gras is great at organizing things and I was pretty sure he could help in this department, but I also knew that The Man would be uneasy with this, a fact that I found ridiculous yet relatable. After all - if he had an ultra competent and over bearing ex wife in the foreground I wouldn't exactly be doing the dance of joy either.
Me: No, I am fine
Coq Au Vin arrived. I handed her the recipe for stale bread cake with a wink and a smile, and dashed out before she can protest.
I was about to text the man to say that I was on my way when my phone rang. It was a dear friend, she sounded exhausted, her daughter, an extremely serious and articulate 5 year old and one of my all time favourite people, had Dengue. They were in hospital and my friend needed me to baby sit for a couple of hours. Naturally I agreed. I called The Man and explained. He said he understood, but he sounded unhappy.
Score? Murphy : 25 Valentine: 0
I went to the hospital. My little friend looked small and utterly vulnerable. I read to her and we sang songs. She falls asleep. Two hours passed and my friend called to ask if I can hang on a little longer. I say I can. The patient and I complete a Doc McStuffins sticker book. She sleeps again.
With too much time on my hands, my mind begins to wander down a familiar track.
See the thing is, The Man is wonderful. The sort of person I had ceased to believe existed, let alone one I would be in a relationship with. BUT he
also reminds me that, despite everything I went through with my divorce, I am still happier when I have someone in my life. I had honestly begun to believe that I was over that. That I had found 'myself' and was happiest on my own – just strong, independent me. But now.....I can feel myself slipping. If I have a bad day I call him. If I am worried I look to him to be reassuring. He is not just 'nice to have around', he is essential.
And that is terrifying.
He is younger. A whole 7 years younger. He wants kids and deserves them. He wants them with me, but I am too old for that now. Or maybe I am not? From a purely physiological point of view I still appear to be in reasonable working order, and well, if I am not then science can help right? Goodness knows science works miracles these days (Here's looking at you Janet Jackson). The fact is though I don't really want a baby. I feel like I am passed all that. Trou is 16 years old. What would I do with a baby? I am too selfish now, I like my life the way it is, I like The Man focused on me, I like us, I don't need or want a biological result of our relationship. My reasons are personal and selfish and I worry that he will either leave me or stay and resent me.
Apart from this he is also so damn NICE. Yes I see you rolling our eyes and saying 'Of yeah Bouche, you sure have problems" But bear with me. When someone is consistently patient and empathetic and understanding, it is wonderful, but it is difficult to trust, especially after a life time of bending and stretching and tying oneself into knots trying to fit in with someone else's ideal. Being loved for "who I am" feels like a great dream from which surely, inevitably, there will be an awakening.
Fear of that awakening makes me defensive and I see his empathy as emotional blackmail and his patience and endurance as martyrdom.
My thoughts grow as dark as the evening outside. Guilt gnaws as I think of how his time and effort have been wasted by my inability to show up.
He deserves someone young and free with top levels of fertility and a full tank of maternal instinct.
My phone rings. It is The Man. Somehow the conversation escalates as frayed nerves on both sides unravel further and I hear myself saying "Well why don't you go out there and find some young woman with no commitments or responsibilities and take trouble over her instead? I am too old to feel bad about missing out on STUPID Valentine's Day! Just. Leave. Me. Alone"
And I cut him off. And I switch my phone off.
A little while later I switch my phone on and discover something terrible - zero missed calls.
I look at our Whatsapp thread. He was last online 15 minutes before. While I am staring at that, he appears online again and I quickly exit.
Amuse Bouche. Actual age - 44. Mental age - 12. Emotional age – 2+ and sinking.
I went home. My son Trou was all dressed up for his date. "Ammi?" he asked "Weren't you meant to be at The Man's?"
Isn't that where I should be? Am I insane? So the day tumbled a bit and got a few scrapes. Why had I turned that into assault and battery?
I make the long drive to The Man's house.
On the way there I rehearse various speeches. Most of them seem to contain a lot of I was wrong, I am sorry and I love you. Amazing how many hard to say phrases have just three words in them.
The Man opens the door. He looks relieved but not exactly ecstatic. For the first time, I see, completely clearly, that this man does have defenses, doubts and demons of his own, it's just that he has chosen to suspend them, for me.
"Is it over?" I ask "You and me? Are we over?"
He shakes his head.
"We have barely begun" he says "How on earth can we be over?"
We talk. We eat. We dance. The place of equilibrium, of peace, is easily found. Too occupied with being happy and feeling loved, my mind wanders back on to straighter roads, well lit by hope and potential.
The score at the end of play?
Murphy : 0 Valentine : 10,000
Oh, and to give her due credit
Victoria : 100,000
For the uninitiated – Coq Au Vin (older sister), Macaron (younger sister), Foie Gras (ex husband), Trou (son) Musical Girl (son's girl friend) and The Man (self explanatory).