It took about forty years to realise we were complete strangers linked by common genes and history; and that moment of awakening took place after her death. During her life my mother lectured me constantly on my awkward manner, or failure to sit still when young or, when older, not drink more than a glass of wine or do anything which involved breathing, so it seemed to me. Manners where the foundation of her conduct and she regarded “Polite behaviour” as the cornerstone of any social interaction.
Those wild uninhibited beings who ran for the joy of it or danced until the music faded where primitives to her, as was I, and she considered our existence threatened all that was civilised and negotiable in the world around her.
It is said that when we seek a life-partner we look for what we want or desire but later, and often after the point of no return, we realise that what we have been drawn to is the familiar wrapped in a beguiling costume. Are we always attracted to the same situation in different guises, and the same mistakes in different garb, until we find a way of confronting them or merely run out of life-battery during the attempt to do so?
Vanessa seemed like a party girl to me when I first met her and to her, I think, I seemed a kindly influence in an indifferent world. Much too late, some might say, we discovered we were strangers: which became politely intolerable over the ensuing years.
That’s where manners come in: confronted by an uncomfortable truth, you offer it a cup of tea and ask it if its journey has been uneventful. The one thing you do not seek is to engage it in meaningful and personal conversation, because who knows what will happen once that dialogue has begun. We found a way to sit together and exist on a diet of pleasantries and the need for space but I cannot really call it “Living.”
Living is what I did when I met Paula from work, trapped like me in a conventional straight-jacket and dreaming of the moment when she could cast aside convention. We gave each other the strength and courage to celebrate life in our way so, in a moment of reckless abandon, I told my wife I was leaving her and moved in with Paula, who divorced her husband, buoyed up by my impetuous euphoria.
Happiness was ours to drink and life to celebrate each and every day: the liberation was overwhelming, my joy complete. We were children without parents and life became our playground. Gradually we found ourselves somehow without direction, or boundaries apart from that set by exhaustion. Then the newly “free” Paula discovered an appetite for sharing her euphoria with all and anyone she met although less often with me.
That order from which I fled suddenly took on the mystique of Eden but by then Vanessa had met a man better suited to her than I, leaving me free to reflect on the price of my frustrations!