As I was leaving my favorite fish and chips place, I bumped into an old friend. I waited for him to get his food and we sat outside eating and catching up. He was doing well but had recently stopped seeing a woman he enjoyed spending time with – one of those ‘friends with benefits’ things. I’m not one to judge; I’ve had many of those myself. Easy come, easy go.
“Tom, the worst mistake we make in these relationships is getting too attached. There’s no point beating ourselves up over the breaks” I told my friend, popping a chip into my mouth.
“Funny thing is, Brian, I didn’t break it off; she did.”
“How’d ya feel about that?” I asked him.
“You know, mate, I didn’t believe she’d do it” Tom replied somewhat wistfully. “She’d broken things off before but we always got back together. We were drawn to each other like magnets. She was special – different, older, sexy as hell. She was a one off, Bri, not someone you easily forget.”
“What then?” I questioned.
“She had some ‘issues’ that were pressing on her greatly. She needed to deal with them, straighten out her life, so she made the break. And this time she meant it. You know, mate, it’s silly but I miss her and I keep expecting to hear from her.”
“She misses you too, Tom.”
“Yeah, and how would you know that, Brian?” Tom asked suspiciously, surprise and curiosity peeking through his hooded eyes.
“Because I know who she is. It’s Sophie. She works with my sister Nan and she’s been over the house a few times. I heard them talking” I answered my friend.
“Did ya now? Brian, tell me what you heard.”
“You sure, Tom?” I asked and he nodded in assent.
“Sophie told Nan she thought she’d be able to have an ongoing casual relationship with you but it got intense, it got real. She said she couldn’t handle the pressure of your relationship any longer.”
Tom sat there toying with his food, lost in thought.
“Listen, mate.” I interrupted Tom’s reverie. “Sophie told Nan something else.”
Tom glanced up at me as if he just realized I was there. “And what might that be, Brian?”
“Sophie said hooking up with you was easy. Letting you go was torture. But they were two of the best decisions she ever made. She said she’d never forget you.”
Tom managed a half smile and we ate our food in silence.
“Good fish and chips, eh mate?” I said after a few minutes.
“Yeah. That they are, Bri” Tom replied.
We finished our meal talking about our plans for the weekend, gave each other a bro hug and went our separate ways. When I looked back, Tom was having a good laugh with our friend Ian.
Ann and John were friends for more than 5 years, having been introduced by a mutual acquaintance. They got along well, shared common interests and belonged to a few of the same online groups. Over the years their relationship blossomed into a strong friendship but never anything of a romantic nature. Ann was happily married for many years and John was always the perfect gentleman. Even though separated by thousands of miles and never having actually met in person or talked on the phone, they got to know each other very well. They emailed and texted regularly, exchanged small but meaningful birthday and Christmas gifts and shared information they were not comfortable divulging to other people.
John enjoyed going for long walks and visiting different locations near his home; he also had a passion for photography and would often text Ann photos he took while walking. Ann thought the photos were some of the loveliest she’d ever seen and encouraged John to create a coffee table type photography book. He liked the idea and was pleased that Ann was enthusiastic about his photos. He was also extremely computer knowledgeable and could easily put a book like that together.
Ann wasn’t as computer literate as John and would frequently reach out to him whenever she ran into a technical problem; he was always happy to help, many times going above and beyond. He was not the least bit condescending and displayed a great amount of patience. He was the impetus behind getting her website set up and operational, something for which Ann was extremely grateful. She called him her ”answer man”.
They had their own points of view as well, of course; after all, no two people can always agree on everything but there were very few serious differences of opinion. In fact, one day after a rather meaningful email exchange, John admitted to Ann that she was probably his only friend. Reading that made her feel honored yet melancholy at the same time.
John seemed to be more patient and accepting than Ann. He took most things in stride, willing to give the other person the benefit of the doubt. Ann, on the other hand, was the emotional sort who wore her heart on her sleeve. She had little patience for people who didn’t follow through on promises or who didn’t react the way she expected or wanted. Ann was a passionate woman and felt people should share her passion; that was unrealistic. She set herself up for falls more times than she cared to admit but old habits die hard.
As transcendent and meditative as John was, his Achilles Heel was criticism. He frequently felt people did not appreciate his work and accomplishments, often feeling overlooked or brushed aside. It was a real sore spot with him and he was quick to point out other people’s creative shortcomings. He would say to Ann “Look at that! Thirty-six ‘likes’ for that pathetic piece of rubbish!” Ann commiserated with John but kept her comments to a minimum. She believed John needed a sounding board; he was making a point but wasn’t really looking for validation from her.
Sometimes Ann agreed with John that he wasn’t being treated fairly but she couldn’t help picking up on an underlying jealousy on his part. There were those awkward times when Ann felt John’s work simply wasn’t as good as he thought it was but she kept her critiques to herself for the sake of their friendship. John did not appreciate being criticized and would probably get in a snit if Ann started pointing out where his work fell short or in what ways it could have been better.
However, one day a great difference of opinion developed between John and Ann about one of their groups and she took it very personally. In truth, she had every right to take it personally and made no bones about it. She let John know how upset she was, saying he had no business doing what he did. Yes, she was quite vociferous about her disappointment and didn’t try to hide her anger. The issue dealt with one of their online groups; Ann felt John acted impetuously and went behind her back. In fairness to Ann, she tried to soften the accusatory blow by telling John she considered him a man of honor, one who normally would not behave in such a manner. That was not pandering on her part; it was the truth. Ann never thought John would do what he did without consulting her (or anyone) first.
Ann probably tried a little too hard to get John to understand why she was so upset. After a couple of texts to John, he responded with two GIFs – a mountain and a mole peeking up through its hill of dirt – which Ann took as an attempt at humor on John’s part. She thought John was trying to put the incident behind them and she responded with an emoji of herself giggling over the mountain/molehill images. Apparently she was mistaken; clearly John didn’t want to read any more explanations and the GIFs were more of a reproach than an attempt to make nice.
That’s when the unexpected 180 happened. Just like David Copperfield, John disappeared and Ann didn’t hear a word from him again.
In the blink of an eye all communication from John came to a screeching halt. Over the course of the next ten days Ann reached out to John three times; the first two messages were short texts asking if he was okay since she hadn’t heard from him. The third text Ann sent was more direct; she made her concerns known and asked if perhaps he was not feeling well, was busier than usual or was annoyed with her. After that message, John finally replied with a curt response which loudly implied “You assaulted me with your diatribe. I wonder why I bother doing the work I do. If you want to take over the group, it’s all yours.”
Translation: “I’ve had it and I’m outta here.”
Ann was stunned and wrote back apologizing to John, asking him to please write to her, clear the air, try to get things back to ‘normal’. She truly made every effort to salvage their friendship; her text was sincere and heartfelt and she hoped John would consider a reconciliation. He never responded.
Ann is no fool. She is a smart, savvy and intuitive woman; there was more to this than met the eye. Yes, she knew John had recently had an unusual amount of upheaval in his life but his reaction was beyond the pale; truth be told, he was not the only one going through upsets. Ann had some troublesome health issues which weighed heavily on her; they clouded her judgment and made her short-tempered. But to allow a once viable and congenial relationship filled with thought-provoking conversations, many laughs and good times disintegrate overnight was a shame and the way it was handled was wrong.
Ann has recently come to grips with the incident and has found closure in her own inimitable way. One thing she is quite certain of is she was a ‘scapegoat’ of sorts, a means for John to get out of the group; their friendship was collateral damage. She believed John was capable of many things but completely erasing five years from both their lives and destroying a wonderful friendship was something she would never understand. How does someone do that?
What a surprising and unpleasant turn of events. What a shame.
It was nothing, really; just an unsettling feeling.
The apartment was deathly silent – no water running, no sounds coming from the kitchen, no television – nothing, not even the comforting, barely perceptible reverberation of Matt’s snoring.
The quiet was oddly disquieting. Lying on the bed on my right side, I eyed the digital clock on the nightstand: 7:15 AM – a little early for our usual Sunday morning sleep-ins.
Gradually I shifted onto my back, staring up at the ceiling for a minute or two waiting to hear something, anything. I slowly turned my head and glanced over at the left side of the bed – Matt’s side. He wasn’t there. “Hmm, wonder where he is?” I thought. I listened again; still silence. I called out “Matt? Babe?” No response.
“Okay, maybe he went to get bagels and The Times.” It’s very unusual for us not to make love on a lazy Sunday morning. Sex in the morning is always delicious but last night was incredible; we really got carried away. I don’t know what came over me; my desire was insatiable and Matt certainly was ready, willing and able to oblige. I couldn’t help smiling as I thought about the night before; the images were so intense, I started getting aroused. I called out again: “Matt, honey! Are you here?” Still nothing.
Matt and I met about seven months ago, shortly after my breakup with Danny. I thought Danny was ‘the one’; we even talked about marriage. We really were a perfect match in all aspects of our lives. The fact that sex with Danny was the best I’d ever had was a bonus. But somewhere down the road things began to unravel and we just sort of drifted apart. That was a very low point in my life; I loved Danny and I still think about him often. It’s only natural that I would.
Then Matt entered the picture and there was an instant attraction between us. We were both on the rebound and took things slow. We decided not to move in together, not just yet, opting for weekends here or at Matt’s. We were committed to each other but not ready for anything as permanent as living together. We agreed the only thing we would leave at each other’s place was a toothbrush.
The more I thought about last night, the more I wanted Matt in my bed right now. Looking at the clock I was amazed to see that 45 minutes had gone by. Where the hell was Matt?
I got out of bed and padded barefoot into the kitchen, checking the living room on the way. I was clearly alone, not even the usual welcoming presence of a fragrant pot of coffee. I looked around in confusion.
Feeling the strong urge to pee, I raced back to the bathroom and there I found all the answers I needed. A sticky note with angry red letters on the mirror read “YOU TALKED ABOUT SEX WITH DANNY IN YOUR SLEEP … AGAIN!! I’M OUTTA HERE!
And there was just one lonely toothbrush in the holder – mine.