In Emily’s moving post about the weeks after the death of her mother, she mentions that I was forthright in my opinion that she should stay off work until after the funeral. Her post reminded me of a time when she had made all the difference to me by refusing to go along with my plans.
I called Emily from Cambridge, where I was teaching on a summer school, to tell her that my boyfriend had left me. After seven years of on-again off-again, it was final this time.
Although this all happened some years ago now, I remember insisting that we should stick to our longstanding arrangement: Em and her partner should still come to visit the following weekend even though it would just be the three of us, rather than the two sets of couples as planned.
The man who had just left me had been my first real love, our tempestuous relationship dating back to my student days. I’d foolishly nurtured high hopes that he and I could make it work this time although deep down I knew that I had dived back in. It had not been our sensible conversations that had convinced me, nor the love he’d so eloquently expressed.
When we’d met up again, after our latest spell apart, it was his smell that got me – soapy, somehow, even after a long day, as if he’d climbed straight out of the bath. Then there had been the familiarity of his hands on mine, as he reached to me across the table. And his candour, which I’d half-forgotten: the way he mentioned about searching for me online, without realising that he was making a confession. I had also looked him up, of course, but I would never have admitted it with such ease.
With Emily, I could admit all this and more. I could be honest about just how much I’d wanted it to work; about having ignored the warning feeling in the pit of my stomach; about my humiliation that, after all these years, he’d ended the relationship via text message.
Em expressed her opinions on all this openly – something I particularly appreciated since she is never one to make rash judgments. But it was something else that made all the difference.
After our initial conversation, she called back and told me that her partner would not join her on her visit. I wanted to see him, I insisted, we’d have a fun weekend just as we’d planned. They’d decided, she said, that it would be too difficult for me, that the absence of my boyfriend would be too hard. What I needed, was time alone with her. I shouldn’t have to put a brave face on things.
That weekend in Cambridge has now merged with the many trips Emily made to see me during the summers when I used to work there: tea in the orchard in Grantchester; drives to Ely; mounds of Cypriot food at the Varsity Restaurant.
But I do remember quite clearly the conversation that preceded her trip, when she told me she would be coming alone. In an act of true friendship, Emily stood up to me. And, in doing so, she told me what I didn’t know I needed to hear.