A conversation between friends (revisited)

“When the two people who thus discover that they are on the same secret road are of different sexes, the friendship which arises between them will very easily pass – may pass in the first half hour – into erotic love.”

– CS Lewis

Here, now, at a hotel bar. The transience of this place, a living in the moment when the rest of your life carries on outside. Talking through the wine, a gentle teasing, discussing hot-headed reactions and how the battles of two people are so finely played. Trying on friendship, letting it settle on the skin – this is your new thing. As lovers the relationship was a series of ellipsis, a trailing off when words were required. And now a chance to finish your sentences, to speak in the honest and open way of allies. You have put down your swords.

The room glows amber as you raise your glass to this new found alliance. You are friends. You are feeling your way and you are careful not to touch (though your knees list starboard).

“Lovers are always talking to one another about their love; friends hardly ever about their friendship. Lovers are normally face to face, absorbed in each other; friends, side by side, absorbed in some common interest.”

– CS Lewis

You want to understand his views on God and family. “What did your mother teach you?” … “Do you fight with your wife?” “Is being a dad what you thought it would be?” … endless and earnest words flowing… “Venus came up out of the ocean, you know … and the problem with religion is it tells us men and women are fundamentally different, and don’t you want to fuck your equal?”“See, I’m not the same as you but I’m trying to understand a little”“Can I see a picture of-” … “How many times do you-” …

(Endless and earnest, yes – though some, still, are hard to say out loud).

He answers carefully, aware of this fragile accord. You are friends. You listen with a frozen smile. As lovers, you would have stopped his mouth.

Because the real question, the one that aches, comes last. You tell him you don’t have a ballast. An essential truth about who you are together.

“Tell me please” you ask, and the smile liquefies, “Tell me when you were most true with me?”

His answer is in moments like this, just sitting at a hotel bar together. It is all right here. And the physical, the times you leave the bar and move upstairs – it is just a manifestation of this feeling. This travelling down the same secret road. Two friends, side by side. Absorbed in each other.

And it’s lightening quick. Acknowledging the confluence of friends and lovers, before he orders his last glass.

You ask him to drink slowly. He assures that you will see each other in this way again. You say “grazie destino” but you are lying, because it will never be enough to meet at a hotel bar and drink slowly these one or three with a friend.

Who used to be your lover and moves upstairs, alone.

***

This isn’t fiction. Sometimes you just feel like telling the truth. When I first posted this, I left out the last line from the original piece, how it’s a lonely walk home when you don’t have anger at your side. I remember that walk, and how it wasn’t the last one I took with this man. Some lessons take much, much longer to learn …

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