Wednesday, 6 March 2013

The Forbidden Fruit & The Red Jumper

About 9 years ago I fell in love.

The only way to illustrate this is the Thunderbolt which the Sicilian Mafia use to describe Michael Corleone falling head over heels for a girl he had only just laid eyes on in The Godfather.

Can’t be described, can’t be analysed, it just happens. It’s also kind of sucky if, like me, you don’t have the social skills needed to see this through to a traditional wedding.

This woman was 25 and from the Republic of Moldova. She came to London in 2004 to study English at the college where I was head of department and responsible for recruiting new students from Eastern Europe. Straight away I liked her. At first it was mere physical attraction but then I began to realise it was more than that. I couldn't pinpoint why but I had butterflies in my stomach every time I saw her. She’d always arrive slightly late, and as I inwardly smiled that she’d come to the class, she’d kiss me and the other students in greeting and then sit down. She was, like a lot of Moldavian women I’ve met, very conscious of her appearance and was always gorgeous to look at.

As the college was private and everyone was over 18 there were no restrictions on social contact outside work, so I asked her out.

Well, actually I didn’t.

I asked her to the IMAX cinema to see a documentary about the Titanic. I asked her to Madame Tussauds waxwork museum. I asked her to visit the Tower of London with me. All trips that could be called “educational” and left me with the bail out option of saying “wasn’t a date, only trying to be a good teacher!”

She left the college after her 3 months was up, got a job in a very expensive clothing store in central London (and specifically told me that they’d unofficially told her she’d got the job because she was pretty) and lived in a cheap flat with 3 other women as she was working long hours to fund her studies and live.

A few months later I contacted her again and we arranged to go out for dinner to catch up the next day. A few hours later, I coincidentally bumped into her on the platform while waiting for the Underground. Silently wondering whether Fate was playing games, we hugged and kissed and she showed me her digital camera. Photos of her on holiday, including shots of her in a bikini.

“Got any copies of these?” I said winking.

She smiled and said “keep the camera, and give it me back tomorrow when we meet.” 

Next night we met up, I returned the camera and over dinner she said she was seeing a guy, had been for a few months. She added that he’d had to “work really hard to get me” as she’d ignored his calls the first 2 weeks he’d tried to get in touch after they’d met.

Having just had a rip roaring summer in charge of a camp in London for foreign teenagers, (where my centre had outperformed ALL the other 22 the company owned…AND it was when the July 7th terrorist attacks happened…AND I was working as a Special Constable with City of London Police on that day) I was feeling especially alpha-male and invincible that night, and initiated a kiss after dinner. She reciprocated but objected to me snogging her face off in a public bar. Took her to Hyde park and we had a wonderful time in plain view of Buckingham Palace.

I suggested she come home with me but she was very drunk and being a gentleman I escorted her as far as her stop on the Underground (while she slept on my shoulder) and after we kissed goodnight I said I’d call.

Next day I texted her the word “hangover?” and she replied immediately “yes, it’s not funny!”

I sent her some flowers to her shop, with the message “C’est la vie” (something she would say when life was difficult) and she texted again thanking me and saying how lovely they were.

She said she’d call me Sunday about my dinner invitation for the following week, but I didn’t hear from her. As the days became weeks I marked it down to a beautiful experience and was content to move on, albeit a little sad.

Six weeks later on my birthday my phone rang.

“Hello Lance”

“Oh my god! Hi”

We chatted and she said she hadn’t called as she’d been ashamed due to being completely drunk but wanted to wish me a happy birthday. I thanked her and said I’d be in touch.

Around Christmas 2005 I did the Landmark Forum and later on the Advanced Landmark and the Self Expression and Leadership programme.

My lack of contact with this woman was due to me regarding ANY contact with her as like a child playing with bubbles. Look at them and they’re pretty. Touch them or even breathe on them and they can blow away or burst.

I took a deep breath and rang her up one night, after not having seen or spoken to her in about 6 months. I told her how wonderful I thought she was, how I loved spending time with her and how she made me really happy. Clearly touched and taken aback, she replied “this is good” and said that I hadn’t made her uncomfortable and yes we could see each other again soon, but not until the New Year as she had a holiday planned to see her parents in Moldova.

Next morning as I ran onto the platform to catch an Underground train at Euston station…she walked off the same train. After a mutually startled double take, we kissed and I said it was good to speak to her the night before, silently wondering which supervisor in the service of the Archangels of Fate had organised THIS chance encounter.

My fear of bursting the precious bubbles got the better of me and I became a coward again. I stopped calling and then again, about 6 months later, I called her once more. After two rings the phone was answered with an excited.

“I was thinking about you today! I was going to call you!”

We chatted and she invited me to come and see her on her lunch break at the clothing store the next day. I turned up and something in her face had changed. She was still beautiful but she looked weary, like life was weighing down on her. Above all she looked bored.

I went out to buy something as her break hadn't yet started and we met down the road. I had my T-shirt off as it was a lovely summer day. When she saw me she said icily.

“You can put that back on. I don’t walk around with half naked men!”

I laughed, put it on and then replied. “You’re lucky it wasn't the bottom half!”

She smiled, her beautiful green eyes glinting and said, “If you had done that I would be like, gone!”

“I take it your boyfriend does what you tell him!”

We sat on the grass in Green Park and had a coffee. She said she was about to move in with the boyfriend she’d been now seeing for a year and they were about to go on holiday to Italy. She added that a few months after they started dating, he had taken her to spend Christmas with his family.

I looked at her in disbelief then said. “If you were with ME I’d have taken you to Rome or Paris for Christmas, shagging you every morning and night. NOT to spend it with my granny, playing Monopoly and eating turkey!”

She smiled, shrugged and said, “Yes, I know.”

She then gave some details about her boyfriend. He worked in recruitment. He played football once a week. She had managed to stop him drinking “so much” and now he only had two or three pints when they went out.

“Was he an alcoholic before?”

“No. I just don’t like him to drink. I don’t like drunk men.”

“Errr…first time you met me I was drunk. Night we went out and stuff happened we were BOTH drunk. You DO like drunk men. You just don’t like that you can’t control what they do. Jesus, this guy obviously wants to marry you. If you told me to stop drinking I’d tell you to piss off!”

Again she smiled and said “Neither of us have talked about getting married.”

“Xmas with the crumblies. Holidays in Italy. Does what you tell him. Believe me, he wants your photo on his mother’s mantelpiece.”

She then told me a little tale, that I quite possibly read far too much into, but it summed up for me both what she wanted from life in order to feel safe and was also the reason why she looked so tired.

“He has a favourite red jumper that he watches TV in. It’s so old that it’s full of holes. I threw it away but he made me give it him back.”

As her break came to an end we walked back to the shop. As I kissed her goodbye she smiled and said “stop kissing me like that!”

“T’was a friendly kiss” I replied in mock Shakespearian shock.

She giggled again, the light dancing in her eyes and said,“No it wasn’t!”

“Well, if I stick my tongue in…anyway, I’ll have to kiss you on the cheek next time.”

She smiled and said she’d be in touch.

In October I received a text message from her while I was out and being completely drunk when I finally saw it I simply rang her back, not realising it was 10.45pm.

A sleepy voice went. “Hello?”

“Hi, were you sleeping?”

“Yes, and I am not alone.” She hung up.

I carried on drinking and went to bed very, very drunk.

Next morning I woke up with the mother and father of all hangovers. A sixth sense made me check my sent text messages on my phone and although I didn’t remember it I’d sent her two after she’d put the phone down. The first was relatively normal until the end which said “have fun with the red jumper” and the second was simply “I am not alone. That’s the best excuse I’ve ever heard.”

Through a fog of headache, self pity and a desire to shake off the things that don’t work in my life I then made a decision. I deleted her number from my phone. I deleted all messages, both from her and in my Sent folder. I deleted all emails. I deleted her CV that I’d worked on for her off my laptop. I then wiped the free space with C-Cleaner to make certain the file was irretrievable. I deleted every photo I had of her and made it utterly impossible to ever get back in touch.

This cold turkey proved hard. I made no attempt to get in touch, but part of me wanted to, to say I was sorry and that I’d been a twat. But I held out.

It was three and a half years before I had the courage to run her name through Facebook, while Couchsurfing in Rome and it was EXACTLY as I’d imagined. She’d married the sensible guy and they had a gorgeous little daughter. I then blocked her account and his, just in case I ever was tempted to look again.

Weirdly I still occasionally had dreams where we met. Not naked in a shower but normal meetings in a living room or a cafĂ©. In these dreams she was always totally at peace but again looked bored. She’d tell me she wasn’t angry with me but had been at the time. Her life was comfortable and safe.

This was really pissing me off now. I’d hardly been a bastard. I’d done everything I could to move on and had made no attempt to contact her but the memories still hung around like unwanted relatives on Boxing day. Finally I realised that it was because the issue wasn’t resolved. I’d never said sorry. In 2011 a mutual friend popped up on Facebook chat and asked me if I knew that our friend was pregnant again. I told her this story and then said “if you speak to her again, please tell her I’m sorry and that the reasons I stopped calling are because I was embarrassed and needed to. It was not because I didn’t care.”

There was a long pause online, then my friend said she’d copied and pasted that in a private message to her. I said thanks and jokingly asked that she promise never to call friends if she’s steaming drunk. She typed back “lol. I usually just fall asleep.”

The dreams stopped and finally this niggling bit of unresolved, unrequited love was put to rest.

Then, on March 5th 2013 I entered a local gallery and there was a painting on the wall that looked a lot like my former friend, the beautiful Moldavian. The artist Mark Saunders was there, as it was his “Launch Day” and I said I admired his work. As I got closer I looked at the label underneath the painting. It read:

“Red Jumper Girl”

Feeling decidedly weird and wondering if Fate and Old Man Trouble had put a bet on how far they could stretch this saga, I told him this story. He tutted irritably and said. “That’s the wrong label. It’s not ‘Red Jumper Girl’, it’s ‘Forbidden Fruit’. Have to change that!”

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