Sunday, 12 February 2012

A Special Kind of Hell

“I really hope I'm pregnant”.

I instinctively squeezed the accelerator even more, hurtling the Alfa through the oncoming blackness, while the shock washed over me. I stole a glance to see if she was joking.

Charlotte looked deadly serious. Her innocent, almost child-like face was set in a mask of determination, and her lower lip pouted insolently. Framed by the tangled locks of long, golden hair (unavoidably curly due to the preceding week in the sun), she would have looked almost comical, had I not known that she was, in fact, badly upset and probably close to tears. In truth, of course, she looked as she always did – utterly adorable.

I tempered my acceleration, and brought the Alfa (a present to myself the week after Charlotte had finally dumped me) down to the cautious side of ninety.

“I mean,” she continued, “I had to lie to him and say I was on the contraceptive injection. Not that he seemed to care – coming all over the place, and only then saying 'I hope you're on the pill'. So I said yes, yes, all safe, contraceptive injection, lasts for ages, no problem … but I hope I am”.

“But you always said you didn't want any more children,” I said, “That having Bella was enough ...”

“Yes, but it's different with Kevin,” Charlotte continued, “I want to have a baby with him”.

Knowing the full details of your ex-girlfriend's new relationship is a special kind of hell. Even, or perhaps especially, when that new relationship goes wrong. Because, then you find out all the things she's prepared to do to try to keep hold of him, that she would never have done for you. And, however much you try to be adult and sensible and claim to have moved on, the reality of how much more she thinks of him than she ever did of you is a death watch beetle that gnaws at your soul.

I met Charlotte early last year. At first I was dubious, skeptical of what a 25 year-old girl could see in a 40-something divorcee such as myself. The photo on her profile at the dating website was not encouraging: a blurred, phone-camera shot of a girl who may have been just a tad shapeless, and who's face could not really be determined with any certainty. But, she had contacted me in the first instance, and had continued persistently with messages and then texts, and had even wanted to come over to my place with a bottle of wine so we could get to know each other.

So, I agreed to meet up, expecting little, and had found my expectations to be completely wrong. Charlotte was nothing like that blurred photo; she was utterly, captivatingly, gorgeous. The body that I had thought shapeless was, in fact, stunningly proportioned, with near-perfect curves that reminded me of the late Anna Nicole Smith. A classically beautiful face, with eyes of liquid fire and a smile that touched my heart. And she was the easiest, funniest, sweetest girl to talk to – it was a first date that just flew past, and I never wanted it to end. As we parted, we kissed, and I felt a bomb go off inside my brain.

Date two was dinner at my place, following which she stayed the night. Date three a romantic restaurant meal. By date four I was hopelessly, helplessly in love with her, and for a while it seemed that she felt the same. For a while …

That I fell for Charlotte was no great surprise. After all, the preceding November I had finally buried the stinking, rotten corpse of my eleven year marriage, following a bitter two year battle through the divorce courts, and years before that in which I had endured a sexless, loveless state of civil war with the Screaming Banshee. In truth, I find it difficult now to think of a time when my marriage was actually happy, although I accept that the early part must have been. Maybe for the first six months or so …

But, anyway, there I was back then, suddenly presented with a gorgeous, funny, clever, kind, adorable dream girl, who for some unaccountable reason seemed to be crazy about me. And, after untold years of near celibacy (broken only by a couple of lousy one-night stands and a half-hearted attempt at a “relationship” that was not worthy of the name), I was suddenly having the BEST SEX OF MY LIFE, with a girl that not only did everything I had ever dreamed of doing with the greatest expertise, but quite a few other things that I had never thought of trying but found I rather liked when I did.

Of course, it couldn't last. Maybe in someone else's life, but not mine. So, here I was now, months later, with our relationship (as far as Charlotte was concerned) long dead and buried, but obviously still a raw gaping wound for me. And, having to act as the best friend when she told me all about her recent failure with some utter, utter wanker who was not fit to lick her boots.

“Maybe I was a bit too much for him,” she continued, flashing me a glance with those adorable deep brown eyes, “On Tuesday, I'd just come out the shower, with no make-up on and my hair all frizzy, and he grabbed me and we had really boring sex, and he said that was the Charlotte he really wanted. Not the 6 inches of slap, the high heels, the Ann Summers outfits, the hand-cuffs or anything. So maybe it's all my fault. Maybe I'm just too much of a nympho. He did only want to have sex once a day most days ….”

The painful reality of my once-more celibate existence clawed at my soul. Sex only once a day? God, how awful ...

“I just wish I knew what it was I'd done wrong”, Charlotte continued, “We'd got so close, everything was so right before we went away. And I loved being there with him – the hotel was beautiful, the suite we had was fantastic … but he kept saying he didn't feel well, and stayed in bed most of the day. And, then, the other day he said he just couldn't hack it any more. Booked himself on an early flight home. Left me … alone …”

My heart welled with irrational pity and outrage. Charlotte was, for all her sophistication, quite child-like in some ways. I knew she had never travelled alone, or been in a foreign country without someone else there to take care of the details. In fact, from what I knew of Charlotte's adult life, she'd never spent much time alone at all.

Hence the sudden, surprise call on the last day of her holiday – in a voice almost breaking from tears, she'd asked if could I possibly collect her from the airport. No question that I would, of course – I'd have gone all the way to the hotel to meet her if she wanted, crawling naked across broken glass if so required – and of course hope sprung eternal once I heard the full story. How Chavvy Kevin (ok, my nickname this time), the latest in a string of unbelievably humiliating replacements for me, who Charlotte had been seeing for a mere few weeks, had decided to abandon her half-way through their holiday. Perhaps he was missing his wife and kids just a bit too much.

Whatever. At any event, the tear-induced comfort sex that I was hoping for did not materialise. I drove Charlotte home – her home. And I was not invited in.

As we parted this time, a moment's rational thought crossed Charlotte's mind. “And he promised he was going to pay me back for his share of the holiday when he could. That's probably not going to happen now, is it?”.

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