Our first dance together was at ages five and six. The picture is in an album at my mother’s. We, Clara and I, met at junior school and shared the same senior school.Through planning we managed to go to the same university. She was the sensible one, the careful one: the girl who chided me on my excesses. Even when we were very young, I behaved as I wanted to, but moderated always by her caring stability and common sense.
She was unadventurous, and crippled by social caution and the opinions of others, and I was always telling her to breath the air and live a little, and on some level we irritated each other or stimulated each other: it was hard to decide which, but we certainly trusted each other. She would scold me, always, and keep my behaviour somewhere near the acceptable and I would listen to her, if no one else.
She had a couple of boyfriends of the boring kind and I, of course, was drinking from the trough of experience. In our early mid-teen years she might smile at me in a goofy way and I got the unsettling impression she sought more from me than friendship, but I was hooked on adventure and not ready to be harnessed: the moment passed. She had too much common sense to chase a lost cause and that is what I gradually became.
Over time at university I found myself behaving ever more recklessly in the hope of getting a reaction but somehow she had let go the reins. She was always warm, and personal, but in some subtle way she no longer spoke our private language, and then there was Nigel.
Somewhere in our second year his name appeared in her conversation, and then he was present at our meetings. Nothing was said but I was no longer her first concern. Her loyalties had shifted. Had I missed the point? Love had waved at me but I did not feel it’s warmth. “If you are not willing to open yourself up, be prepared to live a life of self reliance,” I told myself.
At her wedding to the calm and collected Nigel, with whom a house had already been purchased, I sat half way down the church and somewhere near the aisle. I was gripped by a sense of loss and sadness which was never given voice: pride saw to that, because I had always taken the role of the man with nothing to lose, and I was a prisoner of that image.
Time moved on and I saw her less and less frequently. There is a suspicion in my mind that Nigel viewed me with caution, who can say, but in time, as an antidote to drifting and lost opportunities, I became engaged to a girl named Sarah, whose needs were easy to read. I credited her with keeping me just this side of madness, until a wedding seemed the inescapable conclusion to our courtship.
At the reception, where I smiled for the camera’s, and danced with my new bride to John Lennon’s “Woman,” those who knew me looked on at the wild man brought to safety with some relief. By accident, I met with Clara in a passage by the hallway. It was our first moment alone in some years, and she reached up and touched my arm and told me, “It’s so lovely to see you happy.” Emotion came from somewhere in the shadows and I lost myself ” But she isn’t you Clara” I said and bowed my head. There was a sense of wrenching and she moved away. When I looked back, her eyes told me I had betrayed her way back then, and I knew I had.