So, I was about to meet my ex, Alex, for dinner. I hadn’t seen him for 5 years.
After getting changed into one of my favourite dresses, and putting my makeup on, I lay on my bed, drinking cough syrup from the bottle, waiting for him to arrive.
Part of me didn’t believe we’d actually meet up, as we’d been friends since we broke up in 2013, but never met up.
But then, we’d never arranged to, before. Alex was actually very reliable. Whenever we said we would meet up, we did.
There was a knock at my door.
Oh my god, this is it!
My heart was thumping as I opened the door, but it turned out to be my neighbour from the flat below, with a parcel they’d taken for me.
A few minutes later, the entryphone to my flat buzzed, and it was him.
I stood on the landing and waited for Alex to walk up the stairs to my flat.
“Oh my god, you look exactly the same!” I exclaimed, as he came into view.
My flatmate, Tess, in 2013, had said she thought Alex’s hairline was receding, so I’d been curious what his hair would be like in 2018, but he looked just the same.
“Sorry,” he said.
“No, I just mean you haven’t aged at all!” I clarified.
We went into my flat and I half-did the tour.
“And this is my feature wall!” I said, pointing at my feature wall.
“But it’s only got one feature on it,” he said, pointing at the one picture on that wall (a Lichtenstein print).
“No, the feature is the stripey wallpaper. That’s just a picture.” I explained. “You’re not up on interior design!”
He agreed that he wasn’t.
We talked about where to go for dinner. He had already researched gluten-free places we could eat, nearby, which I thought was sweet, as I’d mentioned in passing that I can’t eat gluten anymore.
Then, we were half-talking, while he looked on the phone for more detail about gluten-free places, and he said, “Sorry, I’m being really rude, looking at my phone.”
I thought that was sweet too. “But you’re doing it to help me!”
We agreed to go to a restaurant a few minutes from my flat.
So, we had dinner together. I still felt really ill, and every time I coughed, Alex unnecessarily apologised.
At first, the conversation flowed easily, and the chemistry from 2013 was back, but then there were some more awkward silences, when one of us said something like, “so, anyway, how have you been for the last 5 years?” and it was hard to know where to start.
Generally, it was a really nice dinner, though. We talked about his mental health. He told me he was having a bit of a wobble at the moment, as he had been finding it difficult to make friends. He lives in Dorset now, with his parents, since coming out of hospital.
He does a lot of voluntary work with people with learning disabilities and mental health problems, and generally, I thought he seemed really well. I liked the way he talked about it.
He made me laugh. I was drinking vodka and orange, my standard ill drink (vitamin C and some made-up Science about the vodka sterilising my throat). When a waitress came and asked if we needed anything, I said “another one of these, please!”, pointing at my empty glass.
She said she didn’t know what drink that was, and Alex said, “another empty glass with a chewed straw, please.”
We talked about podcasts, as he’d got me into This American Life, all those years ago.
About halfway through, we got onto talking about dating, and I slipped in that I’m seeing someone.
We talked about how hard dating can be, and debated whether it’s harder for men or women.
He said, “the trouble with women, is that they judge you based on your personality.”
I laughed and said, “I don’t think you can really complain about that! I mean, isn’t that what they’re supposed to judge you on?”
About halfway through the dinner, on top of my hacking cough, I developed a new symptom. About a pint of clear snot started pouring out of my nose, every few minutes. Initially, I went into the toilets to blow my nose, but soon gave up on that when the flow increased.
I felt so unwell, I just wanted to go home. I really wanted to lie down in bed.
I had been planning to meet some friends in central London, later in the evening, to go clubbing, but I realised I was too ill for that.
We finished our dinner, and I apologised for being ill, and we left the restaurant.
Alex seemed like he wasn’t sure if I was having a bad time because I was ill, or whether it was his company.
It was just that I was ill, although seeing him again reminded me of some of the quirks he had.
Like, when we were talking about the fact I drive to work, I started saying something about the trains not being very good near my work, and he started telling me about the public transport where I work, as if he knew more about it than I do.
And when we were talking about my job, and I started telling him something about working with people who’ve experienced trauma, he started telling me about working with trauma as if he knew more about it.
It’s hard to put your finger on, but I guess normally, if someone knows something but they expect you to know more, they might phrase what they know as a question, or say something like, “obviously, you know, as you live there!”
But he phrases it like, “Well, yes, it’s xyz…” and it sort of closes down the conversation, and makes you feel a bit undermined.
However, it’s only a small thing, and he’s very interesting, funny, caring and thoughtful, and still fucking fit.
We said goodbye and hugged, outside my building, and I said, “it’s always good to see you,” and he seemed touched.
I went inside, and got into bed, and cancelled my plans for clubbing later on, and for going away with Tess, the next day.
Andrew had suggested I stay at his, when we had talked about me going clubbing, as the club was nearer his side of London, and we thought we weren’t going to see each other for a while. I thought it was sweet that he offered to stay up until 3am, to let a drunk person sleep in his bed, just so he could see me and to save me getting an Uber back to mine.
When I cancelled the clubbing, I just really wanted to sleep in his bed. It seemed silly to go back out in the rain and traipse across London when I was ill, with a river of mucus streaming from my nose, but I just really wanted to see him and have a hug from him.
I texted my friend, Faith, while I was on the train, saying, “well, they do say, ‘feed a cold, starve a fever, and if you have laryingitis, travel across central London in the rain, in a little denim dress.”
He was at the cricket, and he seemed happy with this plan. We arranged to meet at the station, where he would be on his way home from the cricket.
We met outside the station, and he was wearing the hat I hate.
We got the bus back to his, and I told him about my dinner with Alex.
He didn’t seem too threatened or jealous, or anything, but he did seem relieved when I related the ridiculous story of Alex saying, “your hair is unruly and doesn’t suit you.”
We were holding hands, and when I said, “obviously, I told him I’m seeing someone,” he squeezed my hand a bit tighter.
I was right about seeing Andrew making me feel better.
We got to his flat, and sat on the sofa together. We soon almost fell asleep with me lying in his lap, with him stroking my (unruly) hair.
After that, I read my book for a bit and he fell asleep in my arms.
We went to bed, but I ended up sleeping on the sofa, because I was worried about my cough and nose-blowing disturbing him in the night.