About thirty minutes after leaving my birthday drinks he was back. Rather sheepishly he retrieved his bag from under the table and left again before he could be teased too much. For P is not your forgetful type at all, but here he was, forgetting himself completely in the company of his new boyfriend. Smitten, utterly disarmed, unquestionably the best feeling in the world.
And like everyone I enjoyed the sight of this, although I enjoyed rather less the reflection of myself that I caught in it. Remote, bristling with defences, safe behind the fortifications I had started building again that year.
In part built in response to being ill for much of the first half of the year; it is hard not to retreat under circumstances like that. Less well judged perhaps was the retreat into living alone, this time to prevent the disruption and loneliness of flatmates moving on; something they invariably did when they found someone and fell in love. I would live alone to avoid other people’s good fortune having that effect on me. I would be king of my castle, and from that fortified position I saw out my troubled year. From that position I witnessed the disarming of P.
Reading W.G. Sebald the week after, I returned repeatedly to Jacques Austerlitz’s discourses on fortifications:
the more you entrench yourself the more you must remain on the defensive, so that in the end you might find yourself in a place fortified in every possible way, watching helplessly while the enemy troops, moving on to their own choice of terrain elsewhere, simply ignored their adversaries’ fortress…
As life will always move on its own choice of terrain. Retreat from it and it will not give a second thought to passing your defences by. I speak frequently of left-behindness as a passive phenomenon but I wonder now how far I have been the author of my own isolation. Marie, this time, to Austerlitz:
But it isn’t true, it isn’t true that we need absence and loneliness. It isn’t true. It’s only in your mind. You are afraid of I don’t know what. You have always been rather remote, of course, I could tell that, but now its as if you stood on a threshold and you dared not step over it.
Thinking about defences today I recall the way Rupert Thompson stumbled over his words while talking about his own memoir at a book event back in the summer. “I was the prison, prism rather, through which these events were seen.” A slip of the tongue, of course, but I heard the message first time round.