Wednesday August 7, 2013 § Leave a comment
Many of these meetings with friends, or perhaps ‘encounters’ would be a better word, are really manifestations of friendships I’d actually imagined not having. Less a series of rehearsals of all those things you wish you had said, or that you would have if the circumstances had only been right, than a repository for all those things you thought you’d never have to.
We are in Berlin, and it is summer or early autumn 2011. Though it is hard to remember. In the mind’s eye all I recall clearly of the evening, aside from the fact of it having been Berlin, and that I was drunk, and that probably so was he, is that high above the table where we were sitting, above the perspex canopy that covered the scores of restaurant tables (all deserted now, it being after midnight) thick heavy rain fell in lines, drumming against the roof and clearly visible in the stray headlights of the taxicabs and private cars that cruised the streets just a few yards away, at either end of the precinct.
I was newly married, just a couple of months before, and he was not much longer than that out of a long-term relationship with a woman who left him to live in New York City. We ordered more golidis, an East German brandy they sold here that we’d acquired a taste for during our stay. Our hotel was in the former East and many of the stores and restaurants nearby carried East German goods, either out of nostalgia or opportunism we were never sure. When the waiter had dropped off our drinks and returned to his table and his paperback by the restaurant entrance, he said:
“When did you know you wanted to get married? Is there a moment when you just know?”
“Hardly. Probably there just comes a point when you’ve exhausted all the alternatives.”
We continued like this until nearly one, walking back to our hotel in the rain in silence. But before we left I think I might have said something like this:
“The other thing of course, is that you don’t have to want to want to get married. You can be dispassionate about it. Most things I ever do, all the time, are because I don’t not want to do them enough, or don’t dislike the idea enough to allow my not wanting to do them, to stop me.”
“You’re talking about pragmatism,” he said, or something very like it.
“I’m talking about survival.”
This was not untypical, as we played against one another in the types to which we had grown accustomed during the course of our relationship, shaped by work, but not unfriendly. He was the idealist in affairs of the heart.
We said goodbye in the hotel foyer, and I watched him trudge up to the lift and ride it up to his room on the eighth floor. At the desk the concierge gave me my messages, in German, and I managed to discern that my wife had called, but left no message, other than he was to let me know that she had called.
Before going up to my room I used the bathroom that led off from the foyer, and as I washed my hands the combination of the scrubbed white tiles and the red scheme that had been used for the cubicles and the tiling around the hand basins caused, unbidden, thoughts of the nineteen thirties to rush into my mind. Visions of cool Weimar evenings, though I’m fairly certain the hotel was a Cold War build. Walking back to the lift there were one or two guests still sitting in the bar, nursing their final drink of the evening.
In the morning the rain had burned off in the early sun, which had disappeared again by the time I found myself pacing the wide sidewalk outside the hotel, leaving only a white haze covering the city. At the taxi rank tourists waited with locals for cabs. At the airport we drank Riesling with Ruth-Ann and Ailsa, who worked for another publisher, and who were actually booked onto another flight that left from the same terminal. Afterwards, as we sat in the departure lounge, watching the squat airport maintenance trucks traverse the runway beneath our plane, I called home and got no reply.
In London it was raining. I said goodbye to ______ in the arrival hall, watching him walk slowly away to the trains that would deliver him back to London, staring intently at his phone in one hand, dragging his luggage forlornly behind him with the other. When I got home Karen was already sleeping. Leaving my suitcase upright by the door I switched out the lights in the kitchen that she had left on for me, and unscrewed a bottle of scotch. I hadn’t the heart for bed, and so passed an hour or two in front the small countertop television set that we’d had installed at Christmas, a gift from her parents that was too big for our small bedroom.