A few years ago I was having drinks with my second wife and some friends of ours, Paul and Sue Knight. It was a good period of my life. Rae and I were in love, but not in that starry eyed way that sometimes happens; more in a tentative, grateful way. It’s hard to explain now. I think we were both a bit surprised to have found any kind of love again. Anyway, I remember we were always touching each other like you do something that you are not quite sure is real.
Sue had been a friend of Rae long before I knew her. Paul worked in the Department for Regional Development; I don’t remember what Sue did. Neither of them ever talked about their jobs which was one of the reasons I liked them, even from day one. I think they’d been married for about five years by then. Rae said that Paul was full of it but she liked him for Sue’s sake.
That night he was pouring wine from South Australia into cheap glasses and soon we were pretty drunk. He was a different sort of person, Paul; always digging deep into your life, never satisfied with simple things like football or even politics. When I was sober, I found this annoying but after a few reds it was kind of fun, even though I never really let my guard down. Especially in front of Rae.
I remember there was always music on pretty loud, mostly Neil Young and Van Morrison and Wilco. There was smoke everywhere because we all smoked too much when we drank. In between the wines we sipped cold Coronas. This particular night Paul, as usual, was getting sentimental. When I went to get another beer he tried to dance with me which made Rae laugh. “Come on, man,” he said, “you know I love you” and he meant it too and he would have danced with me if I’d let him but I didn’t. Later he sat in a bean bag just looking at us and there was actually a tear in his eye. “We’ll all be friends just like this until the day we die,” he said. “Just like this even when we are old.”
And sometimes he could shock you too. During one drunken conversation I asked him about his family. “The last time I saw my sister she was giving me a head job,” he said but he said it in that same way you might say that you last saw your sister at the airport I didn’t know what to say, I just waited for a punch line that didn’t come. “She had a lot of hang-ups, you know, self esteem,” he added by way of explanation. I looked at Sue but she just lit a cigarette and said to Rae, “Pretty fucked up, huh?” I couldn’t let it go though. “Self esteem is not the point, Paul; you don’t have sex with your sister.” But even as I said this I felt myself becoming unsure. Paul looked away as if he was disappointed in me or something. It’s funny but I started to question if perhaps it was alright to have sex with your sister, that maybe it was common. That was the trouble with Paul; you had to keep your guard up or everything you believed in was up for grabs and you didn’t know how you’d wake up.
This night was happy though. I felt protected by Rae and just went with the flow. Somehow we ended up talking about death and Paul asked us what we would do if we found out we had only six months to live. I said I’d read everything from Buddha to Nietzsche, that I couldn’t die without finding meaning for living. Even as I said it I knew it sounded dumb, to spend your last days reading, but I meant it too and I would have said the same thing sober. “What would you do?” I asked Paul. He pulled his long hair behind his head and held it there with both his hands. “I know this cabin on a mountain in Canada,” he answered. “I’d go there with Sue and I’d live every minute with her and the sky and the forest until I was one with everything I love and when I died it would be no more scary than a leaf falling or a rock lying in the sun.”
Sue just looked at him and there was this silence but for Bob Dylan singing “Oh mama can this really be the end, to be stuck inside of Mobile with the Memphis blues again?” Then Rae said, and I can still hear the way she said it, “That’s beautiful, Paul” and when I looked at her I saw that her eyes were glistening. I went to hold her hand but she reached for her wine glass at the same time and she didn’t notice.
Paul said, “Well, that’s death done! Now, when was the last time you masturbated, Rae?” Everyone laughed and then Rae told him, we all told him. That’s how it was with Paul. Rae and I even told him things we hadn’t told each other and then we never spoke of them again.
After that night we didn’t go around to Paul and Sue’s house again. Rae and I split up about two years ago after she had an affair at work. She said she never meant to hurt me, had never stopped loving me. I said “What kind of love is that, like love for your brother or something?” She was really sorry though, wanted us to start again. Her counsellor told her that some marriages get stronger after an affair and she held onto that almost desperately. So did I for a while but, it’s strange, no matter how I tried, I just couldn’t get over it. I found out that you can’t intellectualise love or trust, they just cannot be willed. It’s there or it’s not and when it’s gone, it’s gone. Once you give it away, even the tiniest bit, what’s left is just not enough.