Getting to Know an Old Friend

I’m sat on a sofa and I’m not very comfortable. I don’t know if that’s the sofa or my skin, but my skin hasn’t been comfortable for a while now. I’m having to insist that I really don’t want alcohol, I’m not feeling particularly up to it and I haven’t felt up for alcohol for as long as my skin hasn’t been comfortable. I reassure her that I will be perfectly satisfied with a pint of Ribena, which isn’t true; I’d be satisfied getting into a fist fight with some guy. I never feel like that, except for recently. I am slightly nauseous and my teeth feeling like they are vibrating numbly in my head and my skin is too tight and I’m losing weight and I’m tense.

I can’t really eat much, either. I feel particularly bad about that because she has an eating disorder and I don’t want to look like I’m encouraging it. A comfortable start to the evening.

She potters over to the kitchen, which is the bit of this room with a lino floor, and puts the kettle on for my hot Ribena. She makes herself an alcoholic drink, vodka and—um… no, that’s just vodka. I’m a terrible friend. I don’t know what’s going on. She brings over my Ribena and she snuggles into her seat, it looks like the sofa is comfortable. She may only be comfortable because her tumbler of vodka is now half a tumbler. I might be male, but I am astute enough to realise something is eating at her.

It suddenly dawns on me this sofa, which is new to her, is older than her; her TV is a downgrade from the TV she had at university; this flat isn’t as nice as her student accommodation from 2 years ago. Her life has gone backward, even though she’s in full-time employment. Isn’t she? A list of potential problems run through my head: the job isn’t going well; she’s put herself into debt… I know she’s not with her boyfriend, but I don’t know how old that news is; is that the issue?

Nothing seems obvious enough to put my money on, so I take a few swigs of my Ribena for placebo-Dutch Courage and I ask. “How are you feeling?” I always seem to get a little more honesty from that than “how are you?” It is the boyfriend, the break-up is newer than I thought it was and he seems to have frog-leapt directly into another girl’s bed and left her in emotional pieces. She’s been trying to scrub him out of her heart, and judging by the now empty tumbler, alcohol has been a big part in that. I’m familiar with that narrative, but she’s taken her break-up harder than I took mine.

She started to cry, and as I put my arm around her I noticed what she’s wearing. I never notice possessions and I never notice clothes (I notice skin, but not clothes). She’s wearing hot-pants and a hoodie. That’s not a good sign; other people I know will look for trousers (that’s “pants” to the Americans) before they look for a jumper. And it’s not cold in here. I wonder what her arms look like. She doesn’t have a history of self-harm, to my knowledge—but then, she doesn’t have a history of necking tumblers of vodka either. She does have a history of crying, because I was that guy at university; the not-so-gay best friend (like a gay best friend, but no one ever seemed sure whether I wanted to have sex with them).

She utters words of philosophy that make me uncomfortable. She says “If I could relive just one moment I know exactly what I’d do differently.” That’s uncomfortable because it resonates a little too close to my story for me; I have a huge window of moments I could relive and in them I could buy a train ticket. That’s how simple it could have been.

But I also don’t believe it. If you relive a moment with the same ignorance of the future, the same feelings, the same fears and the same hurt then you will make the same decision. My vibrating teeth didn’t let me bite that thought back, and now I needed to find something supportive to take from the depressing thought that life is a rollercoaster you couldn’t change even if you could relive a moment. (Unless you could relive a moment of your history with the advantage of refreshed emotions and the benefit of foresight.)

I found it liberating when I realised that the game of “what if I had bought that train ticket?” was an impotent game. The only related game I play now is the “Why didn’t I buy that train ticket?” game, because that question is important to me. For one, buying the ticket would have been a risk I was scared to take (for reasons I don’t feel comfortable explaining, although if you’re reading this, it is to do with the asymmetrical white-gold thing I would have carried with me). For two, I was in denial about the fact that not buying that ticket was a gamble, and a much worse one at that. For three, I was a lunatic.

And that’s the encouraging thing: I have learned. Some risks are worth taking and inaction is a gamble. So, tell me, what have you learned from the moments you wanted to fix?

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