‘Call the whole thing off’
(First started in May 2017 – I’ll be adding to it sporadically!)
‘Let’s call the whole thing off… Yeah, let’s call the whole thing off.’
Vaulting up in my seat in his vast living room, the meaning of the words echoing around the kitchen slowly dawned on me. He was breaking up with me. Now. Right now. How could he do this to me? The bastard! Lulling me in with promises of watching Shall We Dance even though I had an early start tomorrow; he’d tried to use my Achilles heel against me. Using it as bait before disposing of me. At least the film hadn’t started yet so he hasn’t yet destroyed my favourite film of all time. He’d planned this. Planned how best to get rid of me. And he’d clearly only given it a passing thought, not thinking beyond his front door. A door which, after tonight, I’d never enter again. Our relationship ended by him in, in his flat, at his pace, after such a wonderful evening we’d spent together.
Well… actually…. If I was being honest with myself it had been something of a vanilla evening. Bland and uninspiring.
A typical date night for James and I…
My hand flew to my mouth as if trying to smoother that thought from becoming an audible utterance. I didn’t really believe that, did I?!? Things had been fine between us. We’d been introduced by mutual friends seven months ago. There’d been a semblance of a spark – although that might just have been our friend Anita turning my glass into the alcoholic equivalent of The Magic Pudding. I didn’t see the bottom of it for the entire evening and didn’t realise the fact until long after James had secured my number and a promise from me that we’d meet the following day for brunch.
Brunch. A meal which had surely only been invented for the sole purpose of nursing hungover couples through their shared pain and forcing them out of their love nests? Again, me + James = alcohol, albeit slightly diluted by a surprisingly impressive brie, bacon & even more bacon combination. That led to another date, that time going home with him. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat for seven months.
Hang on, I thought to myself trying to hear over my rapidly increasing heart rate. Had I unknowingly stumbled into this relationship?!? Had I been sleepwalking through the past seven months?!? Did I even like this man?!? He was pretty average – in every way. He was a terrible listener, an exceptionally loud laugher and only passable in the bedroom. What had I been doing with my life? What was I doing settling with some so…so… mediocre?!? And he had the sheer audacity to decide we were through! In fact he was even rehearsing it in the kitchen.
Well, I’ll show him.
My sadness had shifted over into anger as I started to brace myself for war. It was the emotional equivalent of a Mexican Standoff – first shooter wins. That would surprise him – me shooting first. There was no way on earth I was giving him the satisfaction of that.
Moments passed that felt like an eternity, my blood boiling in the way only a woman who has been spurned by menfolk will ever experience. James walked into the room. Wait.
He sauntered into the room: the sheer and unadulterated audacity of it.
All relaxed, joyous in the knowledge he was about to win, thinking I knew nothing of the battle. Before he could even hand the glass over to me the words had flown out of my mouth.
‘James, I think we should end this. I think we should stop seeing each other.’
He crumbled into his chair – I had to catch both glasses to stop them spilling onto the floor.
‘But why? What? How? Where is this coming from????’ He looked surprisingly distraught, undoubtedly because I’d beaten him to it.
‘It’s just us. We don’t work. We don’t fit. We don’t fill a room in the way a couple should. We’re just not enough for each other. We’re drifting along this rocky road we call life.’
That last one may have been overkill. He remained silent and starring. His eyes were wide and puppy dog. I couldn’t help kicking him when he was down.
‘It’s just so boring. Us. We don’t work together. I think I stumbled into dating. You and…’
‘But I love you!’ He yelped in response.
‘Don’t you dare play that card! You can say that in an attempt to win back ground but you yourself were just practising dumping me whilst strutting around your kitchen!’
‘Buh..buh. Huh?!? Jessie, I was making us our favourite drink, singing Ella Fitzgerald and thinking about how much I was looking forward to watching your favourite film with you. And now, this. I just can’t believe it!’
His head fell into his hands.
I starred at sobbing mass in front of me. The nagging in my brain became comprehensible and fully formed.
He hadn’t been rehearsing our break up.
He’d been singing.
Twelve hours later and I was stood outside Anita’s house. I looked at the doorbell, then texted her to say I was outside. I could hear her clattering towards the door but she was certainly taking her time. That could mean only one thing: I braved myself for the onslaught that was about to follow…
The door flung open, phone clasped firmly in hand & held in the manner of accepting a grand prize it was blaring out the soundtrack to her current favourite comedy bit which she accompanied with her not-so-skilled vocal accompaniment. Anita had prowess in many fields but singing was not one of them .
‘Your heart is down for the count and you know you’re gonna lose it. Tonight you’re gonna go down in flames just like… JESS’N’JAMES !!!!!’
She talk-sang the last part, with the same degree of pride when she first thought it up when James and I started dating. She even did the requisite bow. Again.
I’d been putting up with this for seven long months. Every single time we were ‘reunited’. Seeing as we met up at least twice a week I’d put up with this at least 56 times. The first time it was hilarious, a proper crying-with-laughter moment as her parodic take on Cher’s seminal 1989 classic, involving the names of her latest romantic set-up, usurped our joint-effort of singing about the world’s most underappreciated cheese, cambazola, to the tune of The Kinks ‘Lola’. The laughs soon became replaced with a more hollow effort, then a grin, then a forced grin, then a middle finger and an array of expletives. Now, nothing.
Which, ironically, somewhat replicated my recently terminated relationship.
Anita’s quickly paused the track, correctly reading my lack of response (be that positive, negative or insincere) as being meaningful. I responded ‘James and I broke up’. This was accompanied with a shoulder shrug which belied my growing discomfort at how the events of yesterday had played out. Although I wasn’t quite able to admit it to myself yet, maybe I was more upset than I had originally thought.
Anita was now frozen in practised stillness, displaying the six sense-ness that comes with long-term friendship, certain in the knowledge that I was about to make some sort of earth-shattering announcement. Or, at the very least, something that would require the emergency kit of supplies that had been a tradition set-in stone longer than I could remember (gin, tonic, a family-sized bar of Dairy Milk and a collection of our favourite films).
I couldn’t get the words out – another surprise. Sensing that I was on the cusp of an emotional tsunami I simply looked at her.
She reached to me and placed a loving hand on my shoulder. ‘How bad is it, J? Are we talking The Princess Bride, Casablanca, When Harry Met Sally or Shall We Dance – ‘
In response I made the gurgle of the damned, a choke-snort-cry combination that would surely be the warm up to the most ugly of tears. With the skills of a pro, Anita pulled a well-practised manoeuvre with minimal steps; pulling me into her flat, getting me seated on the sofa next to the box of tissues and the emergency kit next to me in the space of what seemed like only seconds.
‘It’s.’ Sob. Sob. ‘James.’ Blow of nose. ‘It’s.’ Sharp intake of breath. ‘Over.’ I breathed out heavily.
I look towards Anita.
Surprisingly her face was a mask: albeit a badly disguised one. I’d expected reconciliatory noises, murmurings of how we might get past this. Even, although this one had seemed more unlikely, a degree of devastation that her set-up hadn’t worked out. Her two lonely friends, having kept each other company for over half a year, were lonely once more.
Like a Rorschach print, her face seemed to be constantly moving, as if at the pace of her thought process, trying to work out what exactly it was she wanted to say and whether this aligned with what she thought I could/should hear.
‘Well.’ She paused. ‘It was about time…’
‘About. Time….’ I repeated, probingly, uncertain as to what Anita was actually saying whilst also being uncertain as to whether I actually wanted to know.
She sighed, seemingly steadying herself and rehearsing what she was about to say next.
‘Please don’t leave me hanging here Anita’ I uttered, now with a newly equipped steely edge to my voice, further anticipating the emotional blow I suspected was soon to be delivered. This in turn made her even more nervous but she seemed aware of the fact that she could no longer delay the inevitable.
‘You and James, on paper, are a good idea –a great idea in fact. You’ve got enough in common to have something of a united front yet enough differences to keep things interesting. You balanced each other out, his calm to your, er…’ She risked briefly looking at my response and clearly was unnerved by the frosty look I now was throwing her way. ‘Not-so-calm. Together you covered a great range of characteristics and assembled the makings of one perfect person.’
This time around she was interrupted by my scarcely muffled wail of, well, regret. Just what exactly had I thrown away? Instantly she was by my side, arm lovingly draped over my now in-mid-weep shoulder.
‘But that’s just it. Logic really doesn’t have a role to play in these things. Sure, in principal you and James would be perfect. But, after 7 months together, it was clear that it was going to work out that way.’
‘Clear to who?’ I dared to ask.
She looked slightly remorseful at what she was about to say next, ‘Everyone Jess. You just weren’t happy. Maybe you were somewhat contented at the start, those love hormones kicking around at the start of something new but once those wear out, you need something more to keep things going. Look at me and Ivan for example –‘
At saying her beloved’s name, seemingly by coincidence, the aforementioned Ivan exited his man-cave and lingered by the doorway of the living room. He filled the space, in the way only a South African rugby player could, and had a clearly sympathetic expression displayed on his face.
‘You alright, Sugartits?’ He asked tenderly, or as tenderly as seemingly possible for a man of his posture and profession. The nickname would sound inflammatory to anyone not aware of its origins, going back eight years to when we were all in halls at Uni. I’d drunkenly tried to bake some biscuits, they’d come out rather burnt (unsurprising considering I’d been rather distracted by the momentary affection attention of drama stud Anthony) so had decided to decorate them with icing sugar, which I spilt all down myself and over my low-cut dress. Ivan observed these events play out, intermittently when his tongue was not down Anita’s throat. He came over to help me tidy up straight away, after coining the nickname. Little did I know that Anita and Ivan would last beyond that fresher’s week and that the nickname would continue to follow me… thankfully it was a term of endearment and one I’d grown oddly fond about.
I simply responded with a gesture, a shrug-sigh combination rooted mostly in the shoulders and followed by a watery grin. Anita and Ivan looked at each other, the look only lasted a few seconds but enough for a couple of their long-standing to have had an entire conversation.
Ivan spoke first. ‘I’m going to join the boys down the pub to watch the match. That’ll keep me out of your hair plus you could always come and join us if you end up feeling up to it..? Jonesy will be there…’
Oh, Jonesy. Mark Jones, to everyone else who wasn’t part of their rugby-centric circle, and I had an on-going flanter (flirty banter) that dated back almost as long as Anita & Ivan’s relationship. The affection and admiration we felt for each other was mutual, although we’d never managed to be single at the same time. He and the no-so-lovely Nathalie had broken up a few weeks ago… No. I was not going to explore that thought process any longer. Now would not be a healthy time for such thoughts…would it?
‘Anyway…’ Ivan continued, ‘He told me to say hi to his favourite Ranga and to let you know where he’d be. I’ll head off now’ And with that he gave me a peck on the forehead, a more passionate smooch with Anita and left the flat.
My eyes returned back from the distance I’d been staring into and locked onto Anita’s quizzical yet authoritative pair of peepers.
‘No. Well, maybe. Not yet anyway.’ was all she said. I was in agreement, mostly… ‘As I was saying, it just didn’t click between the two of you. You couldn’t seem to fill a room – ‘
At this I interrupted with the same intonation of a child yelling ‘Snap!’ ‘That’s what I told him!’ This I said with the joy of shared opinion, only to realise the embarrassing truth of this sentiment. ‘Did it really seem that way?’
Again Anita sighed, ‘It ended up feeling like you were trying too hard, both of you that is. Whenever you were together at events and outings it felt like your coupledom was more performance than natural. It felt you were both playing the role/s of dutiful partner, as opposed to it coming naturally.’
Urgh. My earlier dread at forthcoming emotional blows ended up being prophetical. Nothing like the truth to leave you feeling mortally wounded and drained.
Time ticked by as I felt myself making the first, early, steps of some approximation of emotional recovery.
‘So,’ I said straightening myself up, still feeling knocked down but starting to feel ready to get back up again (in the near future anyway ). ‘Did you remember to get fruit and nut Dairy Milk this time..?’
‘Obviously!’ She replied, with a loving dash of ‘duh’ to her tone. She broke off a huge chunk and handed it to me, which I accepted and munched on – feeling my appetite return for the first time in the 25 hours since I’d called the whole thing off with James.
We munched our way through the entire family-sized bar in contented silence, pausing only to slurp on Hendricks Gin & Tonic. This was the calm after the storm – the pleasant feeling of having a remedy applied to an aching wound. You weren’t magically healed but you knew you were on your way.
Anita caught me glancing towards the huge art deco clock on the nearby mantelpiece.
‘Alright then, we’ll head down to the Shakespeare at half time. I reckon you’ve earned some distraction time…’ She chuckled as I replied with an enthusiastically exuberant hug.
‘BAWHAHAHAHAHAHA – HE WAS SINGING?!?’ Jonesy was clearly finding my recent humiliation slightly too humorous for my liking. Noticing this he managed to wipe the grin off of his face with the speed of a pro.
‘Sorry Red, that wasn’t very sympathetic of me. Although you have to admit –‘ He broke off mid-sentence as he had clearly registered on some level that he was first approaching doomsday levels of retribution. ‘How about I keep my gob shut and go get you a drink instead?’ With that he hopped off his bar stool and strutted (the only verb choice which really defined Jonesy’s ‘confident’ manner of walking) over to the waiting barman.
Anita had replaced him on the stool before it even had a chance to lose a degree in heat.
‘No,’ she said. Firm but fair. No room for argument.
I returned her firm but fair look of steely reserve with one of innocence and curiosity, belying the fact I totally knew what she was about to say.
‘No. No. No. No way. If you even begin to make the moves to head home in the same direction as him –‘
I raised an eyebrow in anticipation as she desperately tried to complete her threat with the required amount of actual threat.
‘I’ll get Ivan to pick you up and carry you back to ours.’
Again, as if by telepathic connection – as he was on the opposite side of the bar watching the post-match debrief on the pub’s big TV screen – Ivan turned, looked directly at me and nodded in a way that was both knowing yet subtly threatening.
Anita meant what she was saying and it was without doubt that she’d get Ivan to agree. I began to feel myself backing down from the conflict and mentally shirking away from Jonesy’s all-too appealing tanned blonde arms – would they/he really be enough to risk being kidnapped by my best friend’s 6ft 5 South African boyfriend? (In a non-kinky or creepy way… ) I looked back towards Ivan, who somehow seemed to know what I was thinking and responded with an impassive stare that spoke volumes.
Definitely not worth it.
It was at this point that Jonesy returned to find his seat still-occupied by Anita. At least he was a quick observer – ‘To be continued, Red.’ He winked then joined Ivan over by the big screen.