This short is the conclusion to:
Not What I Expected
and the first story I Will Not Be That For You
In the first story I only wrote it as an exercise, to see where I could take a character I’d been thinking about for a while. That received hugely positive reviews from, let’s see, 4,5, about 6 people, and a few questions came up about the future of the character, Dylan, that I was a bit curious about, too.
So, in the second story I gave him a girlfriend, because I wondered how or even if he’d handle it. I thought Evelyn was a bit two-dimensional, but I wasn’t very enthusiastic about writing her. I saw her as being a simple progression character there to extend the character of Dylan.
I see this stuff differently to you folks. To me, these are just experiments in writing but to you, you weepy, whiny fuckers 😀 these characters take on a life of their own. Thanks for that.
Having felt that I didn’t do much with Evelyn, and given that you seem to like her and care about her and Dylan, I thought I’d write a little backstory to fill in some of the gaps. This is it. I think their story isn’t over yet, and to resolve that I was going to throw in a few big dance numbers and a spectacular fireworks display at the end. However, I must be getting old and all squidgey around the edges, because I’ve decided to leave them alone and let them make their own future, instead of returning once more to the impossibility of a beautiful and lasting relationship.
So, here we are. You got your happy ending, you fuckers. 😀
His life was a story that didn’t have me in it anymore. There was a time he said the whole thing was about me, but the ageing and wearying of the years led to larger and more frequent edits until one day I wasn’t even a character. Our home was the bookends of our lives but in between that we weren’t anything more than caricatures.
Jeremy came from humble beginnings but there was nothing humble about him. He had that sort of boyish charm that, when I met him, worked well on me. This is almost as much a story of him as it is of me, and us. We met when I was on the way up and he was on the way sideways.
I thought of introducing us in the ‘ladies first’ fashion that was so popular and expected when I was younger, but that has since become very unpopular, I think. Actually, I’m not sure. Role confusion is, at this point in our history, undefined, schizophrenic, and self-cancelling. I need to ask someone younger about that; someone who is unfettered by a life of changing expectations.
I’m the daughter of a now-retired butcher and a small-time busybody for a now-defunct local newspaper. From my father I learned hard work, cleanliness, thoughtfulness, and seeing the job through to completion. From my mother I learned how to organise my thoughts and collect information. Both have been central to my life and work, which I’ll tell you about now.
I liked working in the butcher’s shop, and I thought it would be something I’d naturally do for as long as Dad owned it. The business was modest and my father was well-liked and respected, and through him I was also well-treated by just about all. Dad, though, had other ideas. “This job will break you, in the end,” he said one evening when I was nearly seventeen. I knew what he meant but I didn’t want to acknowledge it.
A butcher’s life is characterised by very long hours, very hard and heavy work, and a voluble percentage of the public who seem to believe they have an inherent right to rude and demeaning behaviour of retail staff. They recognise our humanity, but they see us as a lesser strain of it. My father loved his job, but he wanted better for me.
My mother often pressed me to attend a local college and learn typing and shorthand – skills she said would never be out of fashion. She hadn’t considered the impact of the Internet; no one had, and while typing had mostly survived shorthand certainly hadn’t. I found a compromise solution that turned out to be an excellent one. I attended college (to satisfy my mother); I learned animal husbandry (to satisfy my father); and I took extra units in business communication (to satisfy myself).
What began as a 2-year course with extra units became a 4-year degree that saw me qualify with a Bachelor of Science in Animal Science. It would be another six years before I completed my Masters degree, but in the meantime and with my father’s help I qualified in the practical side of animal physiology; I qualified as a Butcher and went on to breeze through extra courses to become a qualified Master Butcher.
So, the year was 1988. I was a Master Butcher with a Master of Science in Animal Science, and I was twenty-eight years old. On and off, I lived with my parents. As I worked, I saved, and then I moved for the sake of independence. As I studied, I spent, and I moved back home for the sake of eating. Somewhere in between all that I met Jeremy. He was funny, charming, hugely distracting and, as I found out much later, something of a leech and an opportunist.
I think my career began in a golden age. By the time the late 80s rolled around the world had opened up for women in science and business. Sure, many doors were still closed, especially in the agricultural industries, but there were sufficient forward-thinkers to make work possible. I landed a job with a small consulting firm specialising in bloodline improvement and land management. The wages were small but the field was growing, and time favoured those who held in there until the market grew.
Jeremy – Jerry – wasn’t my first boyfriend and when I met him he wasn’t even an obvious choice for one. He was loud, brash, funny in a quirky and offbeat way, and persistent. Seriously, I thought he must have come from old money. He was very plummy and very ‘Oxford and Cambridge’; a type who believed in class warfare and felt he was in the right class. I’d met enough of that sort to know I didn’t want to meet any more of them.
The way Jerry told it, he was an independent thinker who was studying to be a teacher – to pass on his non-extensive life experience, I supposed. In the event, he worked odd hours as a shelf packer in a local Tesco supermarket and he was enrolled in a teacher’s aide course that, it seemed, he was always too busy to attend. Solving the world’s problems can’t be pushed aside for anything as unimportant as, you know, finishing what you started or earning your keep.
That probably sums Jerry up quite well. He was a starter but, without any application, the things he started so passionately seemed to drift away and die a quiet death in a dusty corner. He thought I was a butcher’s daughter and that was the sum of me, and with the wisdom of twenty-twenty hindsight he probably felt he could lord it over me.
Jerry had his good points and it’s honest, I think, to mention them. He was a ‘collector’ of people and he was very good at it. His relationships tended to be superficial but he knew everyone, and everyone they knew, too. His success, I suspect, was that because he was such a social butterfly no one really had the time to get to know him, although I’m sure some intuited it.
After he wore me down for a date I have to say it was as fun as it was frenzied. That first night we must have visited half a dozen pubs and clubs, sitting with a dozen different groups, and adding some of those people to our collection so that by the time the night was finished we’d been drinking and dancing in a group of around thirty people.
Our fourth date was memorable for many wrong reasons. I drank much too much and we had sex. I hadn’t intended it to go that far, and I’m ashamed to say it passed in a blur. What recollection I have of it is that it was wild, and for some time I felt ashamed of myself and what I’d done.
We sort of drifted into a full relationship after that, and within a year we were engaged. Seven months later, we married. You might think that considering he knew everyone, we’d have had a huge wedding, but we didn’t. It was small and sombre, and it took me a long time to work out he wanted it that way because he was keeping his options open and he didn’t want everyone knowing he was ‘off the market’, largely because he wasn’t. He was looking for a housekeeper with benefits.
History makes fools of us all, and I include myself in that. Jerry was ambitious enough for any ten people, and after we married he worked on me for quite some time until he convinced me that going solo in business was the way to get ahead. He didn’t have any connections in agriculture or the companies that deal within the industry, but he was fearless and persistent in getting doors open, and soon enough I had more work than I could comfortably handle. He was a human dynamo. He made contacts everywhere he went, and even though I was working all the hours God sent I still couldn’t convince him to slow down.
Suspicion began creeping in in the second year of our marriage. In bed, Jerry was as energetic as he was out of it, but I was regularly exhausted. Our fights became frequent over it, and then they became bitter. If he’d had affairs before he’d at least kept them well hidden, but after a while they were less well hidden and, near the end of our marriage, not hidden at all.
There were times, too, when I think he might have drugged and raped me, but I can’t be completely certain. At first I thought the dizziness and passing out was either because of the monstrous hours I worked, or perhaps because I was lacking in some vitamin or mineral I needed. Some mornings I’d wake up very sore, and other mornings I’d wake up a little bloody. At first he dismissed it as nothing more than the spotting of an early period. Then he grew cold and quiet when I mentioned it. When one morning I woke up with semen glued into my hair, he flew off the handle and stormed out.
This was how we spent our days and years; me being constantly exhausted and suspicious, and him being the life of the party and capricious. Our finances grew well but not as spectacularly as I’d expected. Given everything else I thought, I suspected Jerry was skimming the pot but I had no way to prove it. Whenever I suggested taking on staff or contract-based consultants, he objected. I will never know if his reason was to keep me isolated, or so that our accounts we’re closely scrutinised, or both. It really doesn’t matter anymore.
There’s really no point in dragging up every argument and suspected indiscretion, so I’ll jump across the years and tell you what finally brought it to a head and to its inevitable conclusion.
After Dad retired my elder brother, Peter, took over the business. He’s solid, if uninspiring, and I think one day one of his several children will take over the business. They all seem keen enough. So, I’d called in to see Peter one afternoon. Across the road from the shop is a cafe, and as I was talking to Peter he pointed out the body language of the young couple seated outside. It was both riveting and a little heartbreaking.
The young woman was a pretty girl; a brunette, and a little too heavily made up. She was highly animated, smiling, laughing, and obviously attracted to the young man she was with. We guessed, correctly as it occurred, that they had chosen this mid-priced cafe as a first meeting place, having met on one of the many Internet dating sites.
I felt sorry for the girl. She was over-excited, and making many small mistakes that seemed to be adding up to one big one. The guy, for his part, grew more disinterested the longer he was there, and that poor girl was either completely oblivious or desperate for attention. He sat sideways on his chair, as if ready to run. At first, he checked his mobile phone under the table, but soon enough he didn’t even bother with that pretence, checking his phone openly and nodding in a bored and non-committal way when she spoke.
He carelessly threw some cash on the table at the end of the meal, and the girl went inside to pay her share on her credit card. By the time she came out he had walked to the crossing, and a $5 note had blown off the table. He saw that happen, and he did nothing about it. If the girl didn’t notice, she’d be short-changed.
I walked outside as they crossed the road, and it was as I waited for them that I heard about the dating site. The girl was still all giddy, trying to walk closely next to the young guy, who kept veering away. I excused myself and told her about the note blowing away, looking from her to him to see if he’d react. He didn’t, and he didn’t offer to help or go or wait for her, either. She said she’d be back in a minute and without a word he just walked away, around the corner to his car.
She tracked down the note and looked around, expecting to call to him, I suppose. First the smile faded, and then it stopped. She had just woken up to what was really happening. I felt my heart lurch. The poor girl. She was ‘guilty’ of being over-enthusiastic and excited, and probably boring, but there was no need for the guy to treat her so badly. We both saw his car swing around the corner and leave. There was not so much as a wave or a toot of the horn from him.
I didn’t look at the girl again. I thought that I didn’t want to cause her any more shame, so I went back into Peter’s shop and walked out to the back office, where I began making tea. That was when I saw the parallels between that young couple and Jerry and I. Sure, she was the enthusiastic one, as Jerry had been, but the conclusion was the same: she had been treated like shit, and she knew it. It’d hurt for a while but it was a lucky escape from even more prolonged pain later. That’s when it hit me, that my marriage was an exercise in futility and prolonging the pain.
The divorce was ugly and it cost me a lot, but with some things the price is always worth it. Between having to sell the house, split everything, and pay legal bills I lost about 70% of what I thought I had. Jerry argued, successfully, that his contribution to my business was actually greater than mine, because every single introduction had been generated by him. At first I was angry but it didn’t take long before I let it go. Having him around would cost me a lot more over a lifetime, so drawing a line in the sand was actually in my long term benefit.
I moved into a much smaller home that I rented; it suited me. Sometimes, defining your borders is freeing, because there was much less space to spread out in and accumulate meaningless junk in. I liked the stripped-down version of my life better. Given that I have an extensive background in my field, I picked up a job easily. I’d decided that God had made me an excellent second-in-command and only a very ordinary commander-in-chief. While the money was different, it was worth it to me not to have to deal with administrivia and the constant demands of business. Giving up the right to make more was more than offset by getting the right to just walk away at the end of each day and live my life the way it made sense to me.
I know there are many bitter and twisted man haters in the world. I’ve met some of them and bumped into many more of them online, but I move on quickly. They can sit in their own ignorant shit for the rest of their lives for all I care, wallowing about how ‘he done me wrong’ and how men are to blame for everything while professing how they themselves are the most amazing person. They’re boring, full of themselves, and it seems to me they gave their ex-partner a lucky escape. Misandry is every bit as ugly as misogyny.
For the first year I enjoyed my freedom, making new friends and reconnecting with old ones. After that, though, a small but creeping sense of dissatisfaction began. It took me a while to work out that I was lonely. My life had been so full of activity and, for years, so entwined in Jerry’s, that I hadn’t felt like I was missing out on something, but I was.
What do you do when you’re single, unmarried, childless, and 42? Pubs and clubs aren’t it, that’s for sure. Online dating? I think it’s awful. From time to time I have a look at the profiles and they usually disgust me. Women are the worst, expecting some stranger to fall for them, give them a house for free, treat them like the royalty they aren’t, and accept them as they are while they demand he changes everything to accommodate them. Yuck. Perhaps one day we’ll all grow up but until then being single is better than being exposed to deliberate ugliness and entitlement on both sides of the gender divide.
So, I dated sporadically, and I had the good sense not to involve myself with anyone I met in the professional sphere I worked in. Small industries are full of big mouths attached to even smaller brains. At 45, I thought that this was what my life was, and I got on with it. I travelled and did some sightseeing, and I enjoyed both immensely. I’m not in many photos because I’m always the one behind the camera, but all the good memories are there for me to appreciate anytime I like.
Fast forward, because if you don’t change your life it takes on a stunning regularity. Claire, who I’d known forever, had invited me to go with her and some of her friends and family to a horse show. I’m not madly enthusiastic about horses but I thought it’d be fun and a change of routine, so I went, and that’s when I met Dylan. Actually, I can’t really say I met him. We were introduced, I think I drooled a little, and for the next five minutes I tried to engage him in smalltalk. He was a quiet one. Very polite, but with a quality that made him seem that he was half in this world and half in another. Out of the blue he made a hugely entertaining comment about a horse-faced judge, and then he was gone.
At the end of an unusual day, where I had fun with friends but was distracted by thoughts of Dylan, I went home, where I was even more distracted by thoughts of Dylan. I tried to dissect my attraction, because I’m honest enough to know that’s what it was.
He’s average in looks, I’d say, so we’re equal there. Neither of us are going to be winning awards but we’re not hard to look at, either. He’s quiet and he stands apart from the crowd. I sort of like that, but I don’t. I like that he’s independent, but I get warning bells that he may be so independent he wouldn’t care, from one day to the next, whether he saw me again or not. Love, I can handle. Dislike, I can handle. Its indifference that really does my head in; that feeling that he’d be just as happy to see me or never see me again.
There’s a quality about him that makes me think he’s taken some damage, but he doesn’t wear it on his sleeve. Or maybe I’m the one who’s damaged and I’m projecting it onto him. I’ve seen that a lot; it’s a common but ugly characteristic of our species. I wonder if he’s thinking about me. Hell, I know the answer to that question. He registered that I’m alive but he didn’t stick around long enough to care whether I stay that way.
I had to stop this. I was driving myself berserk with thoughts and daydreams about a guy who showed no interest in me. Why is it that the ones I like don’t like me back? I know why; it’s because I’m the Queen of Self-delusion. I’m in love with a fantasy of perfection, where the man I want is vitally interested in me and thinks every little thing I do is amazing. I hurt myself when I think like this, and rather than confess it and move on I have to then make him wrong, as if the obvious is there but he’s too blind to see it.
I made a few calls, trying to find out more about him. It didn’t go well; it seemed he didn’t want to be known about. I missed a man a barely knew. Most people think a good life comes from sharing it with someone special, but my experience has been that specialness doesn’t last for most of us. Can’t we have a fulfilling life without a forever someone? From the little I’d gleaned it appeared that Dylan did. He seemed to like people, and he socialised with them when he felt like it, but if what little I’d learned was right, he was happy enough on his own. That made me like him even more. I had the feeling that he was the most happily independent person I’d ever met.
What do you do when the person you’re attracted to doesn’t want you? And why do we want at all? I think I know. He doesn’t want me because he doesn’t need me; I suspect he doesn’t need anyone. I had to break away from all this. I was making myself unhappy, and I knew from past experience that I’d end up blaming him for it, even though he wasn’t here and had nothing to do with it. Especially because he wasn’t here and had nothing to do with it. I was driving myself nuts with all this circular thinking.
I gave it time. I let hours run into days, and days run into nearly a week before I caved in and let my self-inflicted misery get the better of me. I needed a change of place and space, so for no particular reason I chose a weekend away in Wentworth. It was a small village I’d heard of, in the way that all small English villages are famous for something, so I decided to have a look for myself.
As I drove into Wentworth I brought the car to a stop. There in the middle of the high street were a few of the most elegant and huge horses I’d ever seen. Following them, but no too closely, was a sweeper whose job it seemed was to clean up the barrow-sized shit the horses unceremoniously dumped on the road. A car coming from the opposite direction stopped and the driver flashed his lights briefly, signalling me to come through. I edged forward slowly so as not to startle the horses, and as I passed the other car I saw the completely unexpected. It was Dylan.
He smiled a little and waved to me before driving off. So, he remembered me. That was, at least, a start, but I was immediately a bit upset that he hadn’t pulled over or circled back. It was as I thought; he just wasn’t that into me, to quote the phrase.
I pulled into the pub’s car park, took out my bags, and went inside. There being no reception area I walked up to the bar and it was then I overheard Dylan’s name. Looking around, there were a small group of people chatting over near the fireplace, and Dylan was most certainly the topic of discussion. I strained my ears to listen to those people, only half concentrating as I checked in. The barman offered to take my bags upstairs and I thanked him. I think he could see I was distracted, and he offered to pour me a drink ‘if I wanted to stay down here by the fire’. He had read it correctly; that’s exactly what I wanted.
It’s not the English way to just march up to a table of strangers and insert yourself into their company and conversation. Instead, I took a table near them and I leaned in to hear what they were saying. Well, it took no time at all before a strange little man wearing a waistcoat invited me to join them. I think he was happy to extend his audience, because he was the one doing most of the speaking. Until, that is, I said I knew a man named Dylan, and I’d just seen him heading out of town. The conversation became guarded for quite a time after that, and a few people quietly played with their mobile phones. That surprised me. It’s usually only city people who are bad mannered enough to play with their phones while in the company of others.
As it turned out, we all knew the same Dylan. He was obviously very loved in this necks of the woods, and he was also obviously being protected by these people. I heard more than once, in answer to my many questions, that if Dylan wanted me to know something he’d tell me, or ‘best to ask him yourself’. I’d like nothing more, if only he registered my existence with more than a brief wave in passing.
It was late and I was beyond tired when Dylan came back into the pub, which had been closed to the public for hours. I have no idea how long he was sitting near the bar, behind me, before all the glances gave it away. I turned around to see what they’d been stealing glances at and there he was. I had thought when the conversation turned back to him ten or fifteen minutes ago it was just done in the natural course of things, but I wouldn’t have been tired enough not to recognise I’d been set up.
He joined us for a while. He was still quiet but there was just something about him; a sort of presence, and I was very aware of him and his hand, which he’d put on the back of my chair. I leaned back a little, hoping to touch him and hoping he wouldn’t take his hand away if I did. He didn’t, and I was happy. Like an obvious teenager, I retold the story of Dylan and the horse-faced judge, casually leaning over and putting my hand on his leg as I spoke. Glancing at him, as if asking for approval – because it was just a little late to ask for permission – he smiled a little and made an almost imperceptible nod.
He still had that sort of here-but-far-away aura about him, as if he was listening to something unseen. I’d mentioned it before, earlier in the night, and there were knowing looks everywhere. It seemed he was a man who lived close to Spirit but was not enslaved by the outlandish claims made about it. Whatever he heard, I hoped it would be about me and that it would be good. He nodded, just a little, as if advice had been given and a decision reached.
Dylan excused us both and he led me upstairs to the door of my room. I was trembling inside, hoping he’d come in and stay for what was left of the night, but instead he kissed me and opened the door for me. That kiss! I’m not likely to ever forget it. It was soft, and passionate, and I admit it made me wet, and then it was over.
He said goodnight and that he’d see me for a late breakfast after we both had a good sleep. Sleep was the last thing on my mind, and I blushed a little, hoping he couldn’t read my thoughts. I watched him go as I slowly closed the door, and I saw him stop for just a second at the top of the stairs. He looked straight at the one eye I had not hidden behind the door, and he smiled that smile. Yes, that one. Without another look he was gone, and I closed the door and breathed out into the room.
It was probably only ten minutes later, while I was laying on the bed reviewing the night and smiling at its conclusion, that a strange sort of feeling came over me. It felt like a sort of presence. I can’t describe it properly but it was filled with love, and I felt at peace for the first time in many years.
I felt a bit chilled after that, and so I ran the shower and let the hot water soak into me. It was while I was in there, eyes closed, and relaxing, that I felt that presence again. In a fleeting second I had a vision of Dylan kneeling by a tombstone. He said something I couldn’t hear, and I saw soft mist laced with dimly sparkling light float away from that headstone, briefly touch Dylan’s bowed head, and then vanish.
I don’t remember drying myself off, or getting into bed, but just as I was about to fall asleep I swear I heard Dylan’s voice saying: “I think I’m going to be okay now.”
I think we both are.