John Lyttle column

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Indy Lifestyle Online
I see him first. He's talking, gesturing, shrugging. He looks happy. Happier, I realise, than he ever seemed with me. I wanted to make him happy, of course, and, of course, I couldn't, because no matter what the poets and therapy tomes declare, you can't make anyone happy, not for a single, solitary moment. You can only invite them to be happy and hope for the best. Until you can't hope any more, give up and let go.

He's with friends - the guys he lives with, I think. Nice guys. And I can't stop the split-second feeling I have next: I'm glad that he finally has friends, people to call his own, and that at last he's having fun. It's what I always wished, though I imagine he still believes the opposite. That I was the one thing stopping him from ... whatever it was I was stopping him from.

He never was entirely specific. Maybe it was as banal as screwing around. Isn't it every gay man's right?

Or perhaps it was as profound as wanting an entirely new life after 18 years of sharing one, reinvention - renewal - being not so much a gay man's right as his sacred duty.

Probably a combination of the two. After all, he's had his hair clipped short, military short, almost skinned, and he's wearing a white T-shirt with army fatigues; some fantasy that he couldn't, or wouldn't, share with me. Which may be just as well, because I think it comes off as both prefabricated and exposed. He's not wearing the outfit - the outfit is wearing him. Not so surprising, really. We only broke up, what, 10 months ago, and though I'm certain he's an eager student, 10 months is simply not long enough to have mastered that firm, fabulous faggot art of persuading the watcher to take one's lie or dream about oneself at face value.

In a few seconds he'll clock me. I want to present a smooth, boring, inexpressive blank face. A face that doesn't say, remember, this is how we first met. Inside a cliche: a crowded, smoky club, eyes locking across the room as music pounded, smiling at one another, conversation impossible.

He had a suit, not a uniform, and took the jacket off when we danced our first dance. Diana Ross. Love Hangover: "If there's a cure for this/I don't want it/don't want it."

He sees me. Squints to be certain - it's dark, apart from the jittery strobes and lights around the bar - and reacts with a start. Shock horror, actually. There's a forward movement in the shoulders that suggests he might move across the dance floor, but my face obviously isn't the blank I might have wished, for the forward thrust is no sooner adopted than abandoned.

I turn away. Andrew asks what's wrong. I say nothing is wrong, but if he wants to satisfy his curiosity about Nicholas, this is the perfect opportunity.

Andrew has never seen him. There are no longer photographs to show, and I wouldn't if they were, but he has heard his voice. There have been telephone calls and letters, despite my asking to be left alone. Despite my explaining that there was a difference between falling out of love and being forcibly ejected; that it would be nothing short of cruel to keep interrupting my life; that if he was gone then he was gone, he'd made his choice, and made my choice, too, thanks; that he couldn't have everything on his own terms, for his comfort; that I had wounds to lick and things to forget.

I had to forget that, as far as I was concerned, he'd been deliberately unkind when he had other choices. Forget that in the last stages of us, he'd been a stranger and a bully, someone incapable of understanding that finishing wasn't the same as destroying. That in his clumsiness and carelessness he had wiped away everything. He demolished our past as surely as he tore apart the present.

If he had his reasons - and doubtless he did - it didn't much matter. And I didn't much care, because I didn't (don't) have to excuse it any more, or attempt to understand, or make my peace with it, or play along, or put him first, or anything.

Andrew has always managed to stay friends with his ex-lovers. It's one of the better gay male traits; emotional recycling. I'm tempted to ask how (and why): imagine experiencing this over and over again. But it hardly seems the time or the place. Andrew slips his arm around my waist, squeezes. "So that's him," he says. I nod: "That's him."

I can't forget, and as I can't forget, I can't forgive. Forgive him for making what was bound to be a bad situation worse, for killing what little love for him that I had left, for causing me to hate when indifference would have done. The calls go unreturned, the letters unanswered, not because I have nothing to say but because of what I would say.

And it's not that it hurts exactly. It's this feeling of having run the distance, run until your heart was ready to burst, merely to find that you've gone nowhere. It's this feeling of defeat.

So here we are. Right back where we started from. On opposite sides of a packed dance floor, stealing glances, me thinking what I first thought then: "Who are you?" Same thing in reverse. Like it didn't happen. Which, I suspect, it didn't.

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