by JEAN HANNAH EDELSTEIN
August was when it really started to go wrong. It was time for us to mark the milestone of a year together, but somehow we couldn’t find the time to celebrate; wouldn’t. We batted some ideas back and forth: a weekend away. A dinner. We didn’t. We let our anniversary drift past and instead we celebrated a wedding of one of his friends from high school, someone who I’d never met before.
When we met I had given up on love. Or at least the kind of love that I thought that I wanted, which was a kind of love that always seemed to end, and ruin me. I can never allow this to happen again, I’d said the last time I’d been ruined, whispered it in the dark to a girlfriend who had come to stay because it was too scary for me to sleep alone. With him it was never going to happen. He was very kind, and I hope I was kind to him. We enjoyed each other’s company, and when we were parted for longer than usual, we were happy to see each other again. But not hungry. We talked about books and films and work and friends. But not really about feelings.
At the wedding my boyfriend and I were on the invite B-list: when we arrived, along with the other high school friends, the ceremony and the wedding meal had already passed, the hem of the wedding gown stained green from wet grass, the eyes of the A-list guests a little misty, from alcohol and gravy and emotion. By coincidence, another of the high school friends had gotten married the night before, and so the conversations you have with your high school friends when you haven’t seen them for a while had already been had. Now they were recalled and recapped. I listened, I laughed.
My boyfriend and I didn’t like the same things, not particularly: I liked going out, seeing, being seen. He liked going home in the evenings, relaxing, watching old films. He was a writer, and I was a writer, but he was disciplined and careful, and I was chaotic and flip. Sometimes, we’d complain: that I needed to slow down, that he needed to speed up. But for the most part we accepted each other. We gave each other space. He stayed home without me and worked on his writing; he was happy. I went out without him, saw, was seen; I was happy.
At his high school friend’s wedding, my boyfriend and I stood in the grass in the hotel grounds and I leaned forward to stop my heels from sinking in the mud and to also look lively and interested. I asked the high school friends to tell me stories about what my boyfriend had been like in high school. The high school friends were friendly, and the wives and girlfriends of the high school friends were kind and welcoming. They suggested that my boyfriend and I come to their homes for dinners or that we all go out for drinks, and I smiled and said that would be nice. On the way to the wedding, we’d been short with each other; ratty. But now I looked at my boyfriend and I thought about how he was pleasant and handsome and a good man. In a way, I thought, he was exceptional. When it started to rain we took our drinks from the outdoor bar and continued the conversations in a hot corridor, packed elbow-to-elbow like seatless passengers on an overcrowded train.
This was the year when I was working as a travel journalist, and so my boyfriend and I took a lot of trips together. Me, the professional; he, the plus one. We took trains to the countryside, to the continent. And sometimes, somewhere in a posh hotel or an art gallery, or drinking coffee in a dirty tabagie, I felt I adored him: I’d scrutinise him as he scrutinised a map or a menu and I’d think yes, maybe one day you could ruin me. And then we’d go home, and sometimes on the way we’d talk about whether we should move in together as if that was something that we wanted to do, but we wouldn’t make any plans; didn’t.
Eventually it was time for dancing. There was a live band, led by an aged Essex boy, with Rod Stewart hair, wearing army fatigues suitable for desert climes. The music was northern soul. The floor was packed with satin dresses and hair gel and and beer-odored breath. I want to have a soul-singing Rod Stewart lookalike from Essex in desert army fatigues at my wedding, I shouted in my boyfriend’s ear, and I grinned at him, and he grinned back at me, but I felt sad, and I think he felt sad, because I knew, and I think he knew, that we loved each other in the particular way that two people who were brought together by their mutual fear of love do. With restraint. Within reason. With no risk of the kind of love that might one day culminate in a wedding disco with a soul-singing aged Rod Stewart lookalike from Essex in army fatigues suitable for desert climes.
The band played Mustang Sally. I took my boyfriend’s hand in mine and we danced some more. And we stuck it out until November, because when you love someone within reason you want to hold on to them as long as possible. Because as soon as they’re gone you might find someone to fall in love with for real.
Jean Hannah Edelstein is a contributor to This Recording. This is her first appearance in these pages. You can find her website here.
Images by Jonas Bendiksen.
"Amanita" - Animal Collective (mp3)
"Mercury Man" - Animal Collective (mp3)
The new album from Animal Collective is entitled Centipede Hz, and it will be released worldwide on September 4th.