Original Acquaintance was my kind of man. Is my kind of man? Was. Is… He’s still alive, so is. I say is still alive. But, frankly, there’s a very strong possibility he could not be. It was my worst fear in the months after he disappeared. It continues to be my fear. The very tiny hope I have, the glimmer that keeps him alive is that somehow through the chain of mutual friends if there was ever the unbearable day that he had died that would pass its way slowly through links that must persist and we would know. To this day, I live with guilt that my mutual friends lost a friend because of me. Because when he disappeared he didn’t just leave me behind but some of his closest friends. What I know of his past behaviour leads me to believe that he would have got in touch with them again, but he didn’t and hasn’t because that would lead back to me. I like to think that he is so embarrassed about his behaviour that he is too ashamed to contact friends who know me, but actually I don’t give a fuck. I know he will never get in contact with me. (I write that, 6 years later, with a detachedness I didn’t think I could achieve, and at the same time with a heart that is broken and tears in my eyes. Also I don’t know he won’t for a fact. I continue to hope to be proved wrong.)
Another story: 3 years after he disappeared, no one (that I knew) had heard from him. Things had just gone ever so slightly awry with another Acquaintance. I was, although I didn’t realise at the time, about to start my walk down the staircase of depression and everything was on a tilt. Fuzzy. I say all this with hindsight. Back to the story. I was out at the theatre with some friends (possibly one of the last theatre trips for many months – the depression has a side-effect of robbing all kinds of joy from your life, including going out to do things that you like with people you like), and they had all gone from our table to get food. It was June, we were outside (the theatre was in a park). I checked my phone and there was a message from one of the mutual friends. Original Acquaintance had been in touch with her partner. After 3 years. One of the friends I was out with came back, took one look at me and actually used the words ‘you look as white as a sheet’. Now, given how pale I am, except when the freckles all join up over summer, this must have been a truly marvellous sight.
He was alive. He had got in contact. And I was sat in a park about to watch theatre, while in my head there was one man I loved still as far away as he had been for 3 years but alive, and another I had started to care about starting to remove himself from my care and attention. Jackpot, people. How lucky can you get. It is, on reflection, perhaps unsurprising that the overwhelming emotion I felt was utter and total numbness. I think that there was so many emotions – relief, hurt, incomprehension, sadness, confusion – that they cancelled each other out.
And that was it. Fairly trivial conversation took place, and then he disappeared again.
To now. It is a relief to not spend all day every day thinking about him. First thing in the morning. Last thing at night. I forget how many months it was before I realised that the night before I hadn’t thought of him. I think the months made up years. This is unbearably tragic and sounds highly melodramatic, and verging on obsessive. But how often do you think of the partner you love? And then imagine one day, they weren’t there when you woke up nor when you went to sleep, and that their phone no longer worked, and their work email sent a mysterious out of office response that implied they were ill, and no friends had heard from them for several months before this had happened. And then imagine that you didn’t know for 3 years if they were alive or dead. Then come back to me and tell me I should pull myself together, get over it, and I’m better off without him. Because I’m sure that’s what my family and friends thought. And why wouldn’t they? He had made me miserable, I was clearly depressed (not that I noticed), and he was a selfish shit. All of which, including the selfish shit part, I completely agree with as an assessment of the impact he had on me. But he was also ill. And by disappearing he thought he was protecting me from that. Mental illness does that (yeah, it was his cross to bear too). It convinces you that you are worthless, past caring about, and not fit to be loved. And through all of those years, I held that tiny piece of knowledge in my heart and in my head, and kept it alive like protecting a candle flame from the wind. If that candle flame had gone out, if I hadn’t know what that illness could do, I don’t know how I would have survived.
If you’re suffering a loss, whatever it is, look after yourself, and keep focusing on the love around you, and don’t turn down offers of help. It will get you through.
As always, if you need to talk to someone or help, links in About.