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Sport 29: Spring 2002

Tim Wilson — The Big Overseas Experience

page 119

Tim Wilson

The Big Overseas Experience


‘I haven't lived like this in a long time,’ I say. Kathleen nods. We're accustomed to apartments and mismatched furniture, to compression. My parents' house seems even more peculiar, given they're at work and it's the middle of the day. Surely my right to be here has expired by now. The tour continues. In the kitchen, I open the fridge and remove a jar of bottled pickles. They spin in brine like the preserved organs of a folkloric desperado. Kathleen and I, we're not old but we're old enough to need an excuse for mooching around in the suburbs.

We have one.

Samantha, our mutual friend, phoned me last night. ‘Guess who's standing beside me?’ she asked. ‘Crikey dick,’ I said and Samantha gave a beautiful rendition of her trademark giggle. Samantha's boyfriend is called Shane. I know, Shane and Samantha, it's too much. Shane is handsome, and dumber than a bag of hammers. They've been together for yonks, which means the only practical use Samantha might have for unconnected people such as myself is as objects of charity. Don't get me wrong, I'm grateful. When I was first overseas, every human contact was distended by loneliness. When shop assistants counted change to me I felt as if they were sharing their life stories. I don't feel so alien now but nor do I fit here.

Samantha put Kathleen on. She said, ‘Hi.’ She sounded uncertain. Once I hated Kathleen so much. She, Samantha and I flatted together in Kathleen's house. Kathleen used post-it notes to identify her food in the fridge, and wrote carping memos about late bills and general hygiene issues. She stole a CD of mine then denied it. She almost succeeded in poaching Shane. Samantha moved out in floods of tears; I very righteously poisoned her replacement against Kathleen.

I've spent the last two years travelling. It's a rite of passage for page 120 young New Zealanders. Travel offers heightened experience, which in your 20s you crave. I hoped to change; nothing spectacular happened. Getting back, I find that my old friends, in a lovely and horrible development, haven't altered one bit. The first couple of times that we went out, I was unaccustomed to the amount they drank. When I vomited, they cheered like we were 21. I'm having trouble readjusting. I lie in bed until my parents leave. Everyone on the phone has this cute accent. I feel like a conqueror, like I sacked villages and screwed women on five continents, roaring mindlessly yet in tune with a primordial music. Domesticated, cloaked in gore, I'm faintly ridiculous.

The distance between the present and the time when I hated Kathleen occurs most poignantly a week after her visit. I sit at a table eating the superb roast lamb her Dad has prepared. I overdo the compliments to the chef, a rumpled forbidding man with two sons and one daughter. Kathleen's Mum was a glamour-puss. She abandoned her husband for a younger guy then was killed by metastasising cancer. Kathleen's Dad may have lost love, but he kept life. He now lives it for his kids and, less intensely but with equal indulgence, a Jack Russell called Tommy.

Following the walk through my parents' house, Kathleen and I have a ceremonious lunch. I am a model of disorganisation. I fuss. Twenty-five minutes later the corned beef sandwiches are just about made. I go into raptures over the spring onions, as if praising this crisp and innocuous vegetable contains a secret penance. Forgive me, I never thought we would live this long. I slice and Kathleen tells me about her Mum, whom she always said was a bitch. I get the feeling that Kathleen is still composing notes to her re: the mess left.

Kathleen suddenly brings up Shane. I'm brisk. ‘We all know how neurotic Samantha is.’ I remind her of the CD, the performance I made about it. When I tell her that I found it the other day, her laugh passes like a spasm, pushing her shoulders up. I couldn't locate the cover, but I keep quiet about this.

‘Have you spoken to Kirsten?’

‘No.’ We drop it immediately. Once, we could have filled a week's worth of afternoons with Kirsten and Neil.

We lie on the grass in the backyard. It's summer and the air is page 121 sticky like hot sugar; clouds sunbathe with no thought for their health. Now and again a jet beetles across the rigid blue of the sky. Kathleen sprawls over the lawn. Her Dad paid for her air ticket, his kindness another of the strong forces that Kathleen habitually (and profitably) finds herself at the mercy of.

When we were flatting, a drugs squad detective lived next door. Our kitchen overlooked his back yard. I didn't work at all then; she worked sporadically. We were both on benefits. Christ we were lazy. Kids these days work like dogs. I've worked like that myself—hard graft has a narcotic quality, but lying here on the grass I can't help feeling it's also a form of self-abuse. Sometimes Kathleen and I smoked dope, played CDs and drank beer. Paranoid, we would crouch at the kitchen window, peering timorously past the cabbage tree to that lawful rectangle of suburbia. Once we spied him with a plastic rubbish bin in one hand. He waved. We nearly jumped out of our skins.

That was the honeymoon of our friendship. If Kathleen judged the moment was right she would drive up the road and return with an excellent white wine or what we hoped would be a ‘temperamental’ European liqueur. We would finish the thing, call friends then go out and sit in a nightclub, where we would feel underdressed and compensate by performing extravagant dance routines.

Periodically Kathleen visited the detective. His name was Tarrant. He jogged every day with his girlfriend and had the regulation grunty moustache. How these guys ever think they're undercover I'll never know. I didn't see her leave but she usually got back mid-evening, looking placid. ‘I've been having a beer with Tarrant,’ she would say, appending a sympathetic remark about some or other difficulty of policing. What a good neighbour, I thought. Maybe I wondered if she was afraid of being burgled. Her visits were so rare that I never questioned my opinion.

Seven years later, on the eve of Kathleen's return, Samantha told me, ‘She was fucking that cop.’

‘But didn't he …’


So, life is as simple as schoolboys believe.

‘Everyone we know is the same,’ says Kathleen, rolling over. Her page 122 outline remains in the flattened grass.

I interrupt. ‘Chris is the same.’ Her shoulders close around her and, for the second time today, she laughs, remembering the night we bought cough mixture and a crate of beer. We didn't care about Tarrant. We turned on every light in the house and left every door open. We played Elvis at full volume and sang, ‘We're caught in a trap.’ I remember Chris smiling beatifically. He was so munted he thought Kathleen's room was the bathroom. We found him in her wardrobe, her shirts draped over his head like colourful shrouds. His zip was open, his hands fumbling. Chris maintains he pissed over her shoes, Kathleen swears we caught him just in time.

‘No one is as sure of themselves as they used to be,’ Kathleen ventures. She pulls a cigarette from a packet she's had for weeks. Kathleen only smokes when she wants to.

‘Everyone's fat,’ I say, taking the pack. She agrees, Travel makes you slim.

‘When I got back,’ I add, ‘I sensed fear.’ I'm being dramatic I know, but the wider world insists on drama—bombs explode in the Middle East, South American economies collapse. All that stuff seems incongruous here in the heat, with so many trees about. But we rattle on like two old tragedians. Then Kathleen says she has to go. She'll be back in the world soon, and I'll be here, reminding myself to avoid the dramatic mode.

Some weeks later I bump into Samantha. We go to a café. Kathleen is now back ‘home’. Samantha has a terrible hangover. Lantern-jaw has been giving her trouble lately. She shivers, wants sit out of direct light then changes her mind. Samantha brightens. ‘Remember how Kathleen was learning French?’

‘Don't tell me,’ I deadpan, ‘she fucked her teacher.’ Samantha giggles.


Of course he doesn't stay with his mother. Since leaving his father she has created and discarded several lives, with half brothers and sisters to Chris falling like side streets off a main road. Two of Chris's sisters page 123 are named after saints. Both have filthy tempers. Chris is a drinker, or as others might say, ‘a terrible drunk’. We didn't understand this when we were young. His obstreperousness was part of the weekend's danger. Once, during a concert by an international act, Chris knocked over the lead singer's microphone stand. The show stopped for five minutes while the singer was persuaded to return to the stage. Five hundred people in the audience; Chris was ejected. Did I follow him out? I can't remember, so it's safe to assume the negative. If drunk and offered the choice, Chris would die for me.

His mother, I'm sure, must understand that relationships need not always include outright loyalty. She has installed him in a hotel downtown. The room is pastel, the air stale. You notice variations in air quality here because they exist. The radio receives two stations, both talkback.

‘Do you think this is too much?’ asks Chris. He is wearing cream pants with sharp press lines, brown and white patent leather shoes, an orange shirt and a short plump tie that shines like fish skin. Chris is piss-elegant, the most fastidious man I know. Behind him, clothes cram the small hotel wardrobe. He's here for one week.

The weather is humid, so I've brought gin. We'll drink it in that impotent celebration of absence that accompanies an old pal's return. I volunteer to get some ice. Because I believe that travel should lead somewhere I've become more helpful. Before going away, I prided myself on what I could extract from people. I once bought an expensive jacket from Chris for a song; he was broke. I was such a bastard; I thought I wasn't strong enough to survive; cruelty seemed an appropriate demonstration of mettle and the only people to practise on were buddies. When I changed I didn't undergo some Damascus Road event, I just missed my friends.

Chris believes experience should confirm personality. During the week, he will repeat, ‘When we're 70, we'll be in our wheelchairs and we'll be exactly the same.’

‘What's the point of that?’

‘That is the point,’ Chris says.

When I return with the ice, Joseph, a schoolmate of Chris's, has arrived and is smoking the Japanese cigarettes that Chris bought dutyfree. page 124 Joseph is currently sleeping with my old girlfriend, though it won't last. Joseph is a tonic. He makes women happy, then they move on. I know the effect. He makes me feel cool.

‘You're looking good,’ Joseph says to Chris. It's not a crime to compliment each other because we're on a similar plateau. We look good. Our habits have yet to tell, our hairlines have not retreated, we're slim. We agree that age is kind to men, but drop the subject lest we jinx ourselves. Joseph is in film. Later he tells me, ‘If you have one idea for a film, then it could go all the way as far as …’ He names a famous director whom some friend of his apparently did a favour for. The famous director ripped a dollar bill in two, handed him one and said, ‘Everyone deserves a break. This is yours.’ When the halves meet, the favour will be returned.

‘Hollywood,’ I say. Joseph agrees. Neither of us has been to Hollywood.

People flit in and out of the room. Some I know, others are introduced. They sit where they can and I forget their names immediately. What have these new friends got that I haven't? Does Chris feel like this each time a new stepfather is introduced? A joint circulates, then another. I lose track, I haven't smoked in years. I go and sit by Samantha, who doesn't seem to want to discuss Kathleen; they've fallen out again. I wish everyone were happier. I want to shout, ‘I've been on holiday for two years!’ I'm surprised my friends could be so morose on alcohol; it's as if a promise has been broken. Through the floor we can hear the bass of the hotel disco.

Only the lamp beside Chris's bed is on, so we are in semi-darkness.

Chris sways, angrily decrying marijuana, but he stops the joint each time it reaches him and takes a massive hit. Ash falls on his trousers. He hears someone say Neil's name. Neil is, I mean was, our friend Kirsten's husband.

‘I don't feel anything,’ says Chris. ‘Neil didn't like me; I didn't like him. Why should I change just because he's dead?’ He rolls up his shirtsleeves. His forearms are muscular. If past behaviour is anything to go by, soon he'll be challenging everyone to wristwrestles.

I stage a diversion. ‘Orgy time, let's break out the cooking oil and have some fun.’ Someone titters. It's not me speaking but a Canadian page 125 I knew overseas, the driest guy I ever met. He was physically plain, but his girlfriend was pretty; I thought of them as a match of opposites. At my farewell party, five thirty in the morning—his girlfriend having gone home at about two—he sat at the bar, his hand in a secretary's lap, kneading. The secretary's face held no expression. Outside, some office building lights glowed and some didn't and they made patterns that were like undulating number sequences you get when you calculate pi to the gazillionth decimal place. I want to be this Canuck, because nothing ever surprised him. We have been here for hours and hours.

Two Andys

On television, John Dillinger just got his beans, running and falling through a fusillade across a dusty field. I drink Andy's wine, inclining the cask inaccurately. Now that I've been back several months, the booze is no problemo. ‘This place is freezing,’ I complain, but my opinion is invalid, as is my disgruntlement at the $100 per week board Mum and Dad have started charging. I have a part-time job knocking the bugs out of some software and I've started doing press-ups before my morning shower. That last bit is a big step. Physical power is worshipped here, but my strengths are more verbal. All the same, you can experiment with yourself, right?

Andy watches me from the corner of his eye. Two-thirty a.m. has a different atmosphere from any other time of the day, or the night. It's the cusp.

Andy's feet separate around a sleeping figure; his name is also Andy, but we call him Andy 2. Tomorrow he flies back to … Shit, what does it matter where he lives? Go to a G8 country and you feel envious; visit a Third World toilet and guilt rocks up. There's so much travel about that it's useless. Export yourself, guts it out in some grot hole for two years, come home and think this place is paradise, that you're lucky to have been born where you were born. I wonder if the government isn't involved.

Tonight we had a farewell dinner for Andy 2. He's been here two weeks and his adopted country allows him to earn our monthly wage in one week. The day he got back we sat around the kitchen table, page 126 drinking vodka in homage to his ‘gorgeous’ Serb girlfriend. He had been supporting her. Later a friend will tell me the only reason she went out with him was because he had money. Andy 2 phoned her. We must've woken her, but she was very accommodating.

Andy 2 has discarded his shoes. He is fully clothed inside the sleeping bag. As usual he has forgotten to remove his contact lenses. Perhaps he was impatient to find the dream where everyone speaks Serbian. Perhaps he's there now, making jokes to explain his socked feet. Actually, he wouldn't do that in life, but who can guess what people are like without reflection?

It's getting closer to three a.m.. Andy aims a kick at the sleeping bag. ‘I hate that guy.’

Andy has a shit job and no girlfriend. Though most of his friends are now coming back, he has yet to leave the country. He laughs then crosses his legs. ‘And we've got the same name.’

Farewell parties are pointless. It's sad enough being accompanied by only men on a Friday night, but we also bumped into Andy's Dad outside. They don't get on so it bummed Andy out, which dragged us all down. The restaurant had business cards for wallpaper. There were managers, insurance salesmen, spa pool makers, plumbers, people whose workplaces you see every time you drive through satellite suburbs. The table had been set for four not five. We squeezed together.

Nearby two women, thirty-ish, were picking at salad. We won't see Andy 2 ‘for five—’ he shrugged his shoulders, ‘—maybe ten years’. Such melodrama in an old friend is disenchanting; it's you who's beginning to move away.

Rubber steak, sirs, with sauce and no greens. We remembered how Chris and Bryan once lived for three months on potatoes. Bryan is now in Australia. Chris lives somewhere provincial. He decided not to go back, sold a lot of his clothes and kept drinking. The veins on his nose were exploding because of booze. He liked it. He thought it was funny. It is funny. We laugh with ancient gusto.

Friendships made in the late teens are accidents of generosity. You have so much love and joy there's enough even for the undeserving. Later, when discretion is required, there they still are: your friends.

‘Hey Andy,’ said Andy 2, ‘I'm glad I met your old man tonight. page 127 Now I know what you'll look like when I come back.’ This is cruel. Andy's father is 56, more maybe. Andy is about half that; also he tries not to resemble his father in any way. Andy made a face. Andy 2 laughed. I have two friends called Chris and three called Anna. Didn't our parents have any fucking imagination at all? Andy 2 is unsocialised, or as we say, ‘nuts’. We laugh at his madness; finally Andy laughs. Someone pulls a business card from the wall. We resume eating.

Here is Andy's complaint, five hours later: ‘He insulted me right in front of you. All my friends. And you laughed like it was the funniest thing.’

I remind Andy that he let Andy 2 stay here.

‘He's a mate,’ says Andy. This is not the end of the matter. ‘… As if staying home is so bad. Where do you pricks go, anyway? Nowhere. As if you deserve something for running off, for leaving your friends and then coming back and expecting everyone to fall over you.’

I've heard this self-pitying nonsense from Andy before. Usually it's aimed at me. I'm in the clear tonight, and drunk, so I respond. Does he want credit for staying home? I say, ‘You're behaving like a big baby.’ Andy's sensitivity about his weight is notorious.

His hand moves, fanning the cold air. ‘You're such a pussy. Still living with your Mummy and Daddy.’

‘I've only just started temping,’ I say, ‘this job could end at any moment.’ Andy takes my drink and skulls it provocatively. Before I left I fantasised that I would face an improving quest, the reward for which would be a place, the place I knew they had always been holding for me, in the ferocious and important world. In fact I did the most banal thing imaginable. I spent money. I bought an air ticket, used it, earned some money, which I spent; then I spent my credit card limit, and finally I had to come home. I'm not the person who bought the ticket, but here I am, back.

And I am not weak. I tell Andy about the press-ups.

Shortly thereafter I square the toes of my shoes on the kitchen lino and straighten my spine. I'm drunker than I thought. Andy stands over me, his hands on his hips. This is so lame. By completing the press-ups, I'll make my point. The argument will continue.

I spread my arms, immobilising the floor.

page 128


You always keep this hope in the back of your mind that dinner with the old gang will go well. The date will suit; no one will arrive late or rush off halfway. Taboo topics will remain undisturbed. We'll tell the legends about the past, make self-deprecating asides about who we've become and leave feeling nostalgic, though not so much that we want to change places with our old selves.

I call Samantha, who says she's forgotten completely, but I sense in the background Shane's jutting cheekbones and needy sarcasm. Andy is playing pool. He can't be reached. Chris is not drinking so it doesn't seem right to ask him whether there'll be alcohol. Dinner for seven is now dinner for four, and none of us will say why.

I'm late. I missed my bus, found a taxi, and am set down near the restaurant. I look inside but don't recognise anyone. The city, though, is closing around me. Old memories of the streets have returned. I walk through them easily, but uncomfortably. Being somewhere foreign is exciting. Each step holds the possibility of error. That this risk is now absent doesn't mean I'm less alive, just less interested in certain romantic measurements of life: worry, emotional crisis. Engagement with your environment might also be a vital sign. I've started to take political positions in conversations. These are more conservative than those I might have entertained before I left, but I wear them less heavily. They're only ideas.

Cars jostle up the street. I scan their headlights but give up when I remember that Samantha drives a white Honda Accord. The streets in the countries I visited were always full, day or night. Though the population density may be lower here, the people seem larger, less remote and paradoxically more evasive. You're forever bumping into acquaintances on the streets in this town yet the moment you need backup, like now, you're on your own. Kirsten is strong and outgoing. When we were at varsity we once rolled her up in a length of carpet and she totally freaked out, crying. Black uniforms fill the pavement, group and then disperse, leaving the Salvation Army citadel quiet. I see her, the other early bird, and already I'm apologising.

After everyone has gone, Kirsten and I sit in a bar. The table page 129 wobbles. It's Sunday night. ‘I think I'll stop drinking now,’ she says. The bartender nods. ‘I'll have a wine spritzer in a tall glass please.’ He turns in his crisp white shirt.

‘Samantha's gotten really skinny,’ says Kirsten. ‘That's why she wouldn't come. Food. And Shane, God, he's so manipulative. On New Year's Eve he gave her a present for next Christmas. We were all there, Neil was hilarious that night. Shane got her to open this box. A tiny skirt. Size 8. He said, “That's for Samantha to work towards.” I ripped into him. Thank you.’ The striped plastic straw in Kirsten's drink floats like an attenuated life preserver. I wonder if she's going to cry. She hasn't so far. Maybe she's past that stage. She rubs her nose. I remember observing her make the same gesture when we used to watch television in the lounge of our flat.

‘Bastard eh? The four of us were at this hotel in the Scottish Highlands. And Samantha was eating dry toast, that's all. We agreed to go sightseeing. Neil and I hit the piss the night before, but we got up and waited in the car park for Samantha and dickface. We were supposed to meet at 8.30. I don't think we even had breakfast. We waited and waited. Samantha appears at nine o'clock … carrying all her luggage.’

Kirsten smiles as if Samantha has suddenly appeared beside our table, her makeup hastily applied, two suitcases in tow. A pair of cowboy boots bisects her, heading for the toilet. The patrons in this place are restive, torn dollar bills searching for their opposite. Kirsten remains in the Scottish car park. I move uncomfortably. My trousers are too tight; I've put on weight. Mum says it suits me. At the corner of each eye inverted commas indent themselves in Kirsten's pink cheeks. Still mourning, she's as lean as a whippet.

‘We said, “Samantha. We're not going yet. We're just going sightseeing. We're coming back. We're staying here another night. What are you doing?” She just lay down in the car park. Right in front of the lobby. Oh my God! Neil and I didn't know what to do. Put her in the car or take her inside? Careful.’

I've leaned on the table, tipping it, making our drinks overflow. There's so much liquid it's as if the table's vitals have been speared. When this place was a dive the bartenders did not wear pressed white page 130 shirts. But we return; our parents favoured certain names for their bouncing babies.

Kirsten tells an old story. ‘I stopped fucking around in Norway. It was our last night there. My friend Sandy wanted to stay in the hotel. Typical. I said, “Come on, let's go out.” So we met these soldiers. We'd seen them that day at some war memorial. They lived down the end of this dirty-looking street. Sandy didn't even want to walk down it, but we ended up staying there. I've never drunk so much in all my life. We had this guy's bed, Sandy and me, and him. So we started going for it. I was so pissed. Sandy passed out. I was on top of him.’

Fresh drinks arrive. The table shifts but I catch it. I wonder if Kirsten was cold on top of this guy. Norway is always cold, isn't it? Of course it might not have been winter; she might have kept her shirt on. I've gotten very practical lately. Sometimes I work incredible amounts of overtime.

‘I looked over and Sandy's got her head over the end of the bed puking. And that's when I thought, “What am I doing?”’

Girls from here often become mattresses overseas. The guys would like to, but they don't have the same success, unless they go somewhere like Thailand; it doesn't count.

‘So when I got back I sent Neil a message. I'd been seeing him on and off for a while before going to Norway. There's nothing there, I thought. I've got nothing in common with him. He turned up that afternoon. The middle of summer, but he had dressed up. He had his good shoes on, and a suit and tie. He was carrying a daffodil. He looked so happy to see me.’

She's crying properly now, and I'm passing napkins. Six months ago she found Neil, in his best suit and shoes, still a fan of occasions, hanging from the cross beam in their garage. She's shaking, bumping the table; I'm trying to steady her and it, but the table is wet again. I'm crying too; the others couldn't get away fast enough tonight.


I haven't heard from Chris for ages; we've drifted apart. Andy is teaching English—of all things—in Korea. Kirsten has resumed a second page 131 promiscuity; it's a kind of grief. Kathleen has a new guy.

Samantha wears black; the colour suits everyone but it's particularly fetching on her. Hair falls evenly from her pale centre part to frame her face. She's been waiting ages for this style to come back. Such patience. ‘I'm no longer a girl,’ she says.

Three days ago Samantha was in New York. There she met Greg, her first love. That's right. Shane wasn't her first love at all. You think you know people. Shane's all over with. It was over for a while, but they kept trying. Then she stopped trying, which I admire. And Kathleen didn't attempt to steal Shane after all. They've discussed it, woman to woman. Apparently he initiated the whole sordid thing.

With Greg, the first love agreement is reciprocated. Samantha is Greg's first love also; now gay, now living in New York. As she speaks of his apartment, I imagine a huge room overlooking the skyline. A light breeze massages the curtains, their lazy billows conveying indolence and taste. Apart from a stopover at JFK, I've never been to New York, so I can't say what an apartment there might look like, whether the windows would even open. I want to know, I want to be cosmopolitan enough and know enough to daydream accurately. Will I get out of my parents' house? I had a full-time job, then the place shut. My money's as low as ever. I'm temping, again; sometimes the present feels so foreign.

‘Hey Samantha,’ I say. We've hung out a bit lately. We've laughed at how freakish some of our old mates have become. In honest moments, we've admitted that we resemble them also in our compromises and alterations of plan. But we are different. They've had failures, we've had setbacks; we've been tactical at every point. Once we kissed, but she stopped me. She's going out with Andy 2, who gets back from South-East Asia, where he's been on business. They're an item now. Andy 2 came home after his Serb found someone richer. Then Sam broke up with Shane and she and Andy 2 met by accident. Some say a new environment is like an x-ray image, detailing hidden flaws. Coming home can give the same effect. Andy 2 has not changed at all, apart from detesting poverty: apparently it robs you of the capacity to form sound values.

Neither Sam nor I have mentioned the kissing episode again. I've page 132 thought about it. We all have this little cinema sitting on our necks and at the back, in a pinprick of light, that's where love begins. Samantha and Andy 2 have been together for almost a year. Apart from jaunts, their travelling days are over, on that they're agreed. Before leaving for New York, she gave him an ultimatum: marriage or nothing. What an improbable couple. They've each been unfaithful once, she at the beginning of the relationship and he more recently, with a young woman Sam says looks like a badger. He disapproves of her friends. If they ever go out, he has three drinks and starts calling her names. She weeps and phones her friends who scold her and tell her what a bum he is. But they tacitly accept that a mediocre relationship is better than loneliness. I understand. Between the ages of 18 and 24, a veil covered the isolation that I sometimes felt as a kid. Despite my vigilance, this magician's hankie is rising, revealing unexpected complexity.

I want to tell Samantha there's more to life than this. I want to tell her I'll be able to lose some weight, I just haven't had the motivation up until now. These pants are not me! For the last year that Samantha's been with Andy 2, and not returning my calls, I've imagined that she's in London. I've imagined her taking subways, I mean the tube, buying fruit off the barrows and rugging up against Arctic weather. I've walked beside her in my daydreams. We've slept together in those also, and it was fine, better than fine. I wonder how she might react if I reached into the hair she is so proud of. What am I worried about? I don't owe Andy 2 anything. I don't expect that Samantha and I will be two halves of the same bill meeting fatefully but I'll be different from Shane or Andy 2, and perhaps a little like Greg. Inserting my fingers into that fringe (she's in front of me, I don't want to scare her) will be a propitious gesture; it won't have the indifference to consequences that youthful infatuation has, nor it will show the acquiescence I see in relationships now, as if my friends bought a product and the guarantee expired then it broke but is still functional, so why not keep it? This country is comparatively young; there aren't too many corpses below our feet. It's home. Familiarity requires courage yet has a power that like love may transform so I do, I reach out.