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I called Olivier after I left Fabian’s flat, as I walked to the city centre to meet Kate for a late lunch.

“Hello!”

“Hey, sweetie.”

“How were things Gena?”

“Okay. I saw him and I didn’t break down or anything, so good, huh?”

“No, seriously.”

“It was ok. I know you’re going to think I am crazy, but he was nice to me and it was good, but it makes me sad at the same time.  You know?” My voice breaking.

“Everybody knows you’re crazy Gena.”

“Huh huh thanks for making me laugh, sweetie.  Really. But yeah, it confuses me being well treated now that we’re over and so far apart.”

“I think I can understand, genie girl, but what I don’t get is why you make yourself go through that.”

“I just cannot not do it, not know how it feels, not see him.” I started crying, but then got my focus back “but that’s not why I am calling.”

by Pierre Andrews

“No?”

“No. I am calling about Dora.”

“Dora?”

“Yes. Tell me about Dora.”

“She just started her masters in the department, she is Greek and bubbly.”

“And she became a good friend?”

“Yes, I mean, she joined the department, then tango, so she is part of the group now.”

“But is that all? I mean, she knows about Claudia, right?”

“I am not getting it Gena.”

“In that case let me tell you: she likes you.”

“What- why are you saying that?”

“Because you’re just out of a relationship and I wondered- you are my friend and the one I care about so it is not that I think it is bad, or good for that matter, if you like her and she is good for you, great but…”

“No. Why do you think she likes me?”

“Because she did not bother to hide! Did you see the face she made when she saw me?”

“No.”

“Well, she clearly did not like to see me, her expression changed completely, it was evident.  So, if you hadn’t noticed, I am telling you this girl likes you.”

Olli laughed and I asked: “Why are you laughing?”

“Well, I guess she probably wasn’t expecting to see you or maybe she reacted like David and Isabelle.”

“What do you mean?”

“David is living with me now and Isabelle comes most weekends, right?”

“Right.”

“So, when they woke up they heard us talking in the living room and, when I came back, they asked me who was here this morning.”

“Mm”

“I said, Gena. And Isabelle asked me if we were together.”

“What?”

“Yes. They thought you had spent the night.”

“Are those people crazy? “

“Don’t worry, I told them you had come for coffee this morning.”

“But I mean, they surely know you’ve just broken up with Claudia and that I was with Fabian and we are friends…”

“Well, that’s why Isabelle said, is she with you now?”

“What does she think? That I am just checking who is free so I can sleep around with all your department?”

“I don’t know, but she said they thought you were going out with Bruno first-”

“Bruno? Why, because we’re Brazilians?”

“I know it doesn’t make any sense”, he kept laughing, “but they thought you were with Bruno and then they saw you with Fabian and they did not know who you were with, so maybe that’s exactly what they think”, and he bursted out laughing.

“For fuck sake! Bruno is Fabian’s best friend and that’s how we interacted.”

“I know, Gena, but it is funny”

“No, it isn’t funny. It is actually pretty sad that you guys are incapable of talking to one another and when I do it is so strange that I must be doing you!”

“Gen-”

“I tell Fabian you like him and I tell you he likes you and is concerned about you, but you don’t talk. I go to see Fabian and Bruno collapses in my arms because I give him a hug and he cannot talk to Fabian about his break up and if I leave them up to it they will talk about whatever orthogonality rather than about what they feel.”, I said things faster and louder as I was getting more serious about the topic.

“He broke up with Tata?”

“Apparently, yes, but if you want to know about it, you will have to ask him and, by the way, that was the same thing I told them about you and Claudia when they asked me if you guys had broken up.”

“Fair enough.”

“So you don’t talk to your friends and then you want to make me interrogate you even when you call me because you need help. I am appalled by how useless you guys are!”

“Gena”

“I am not done. And then if I get to talk to any of you I suddenly am talked about as if I were the town’s slut. It is not funny and I am bloody tired of that! I really am and I am happy I live in London now because you can’t even bloody breathe in this town.”

“Gena, I am sorry, I didn’t think you would be so upset.”

“Of course I am upset.  All I did was fall for Fabian and, when I fell, he was like a bulldozer over me. I am still freaking crying when I see the man, but then I am the men eater when I haven’t done a bloody thing.  I know it is not your view, but it is infuriating and I need to vent.  The double standards, the misrepresentation.”

“I’m sorry, Gena. I didn’t mean to be insensitive. I know it’s been tough for you.”

I gave an enormous sight, then big breath and tried to contain myself: “No no, I’m sorry, sweetie.  I know you didn’t mean it that way. I should have been able to laugh at it, you know?” I gave another biggish sigh.

“You’ve just seen Fabian, it wasn’t the time.”

“Sorry I snapped at you, okay?”

“Okay.”

“You’re not useless; you’re a good friend, okay?”

“Come on Gena, don’t get sappy now.”

“Okay, sorry.”, I managed to sniff and laugh at the same time, “Listen, I’m seeing Kate for lunch so I’ll get myself together, ok?”

“Have a good lunch.”

“I will; and you take care of yourself and keep me posted on your developments and Dora…”

“I will, sweetie. Take care.”

“Bye.”

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Cracked

When I joined them in the living room with fresh coffee and biscuits, Fabian looked a bit disconnected, Bruno had got further on linear algebra and was on a monologue about lattice models.

“Without being disrespectful to the models, I just think there are things we won’t explain logically in a relationship because they are of a different order.”  I said as I sat on the sofa, opposite Bruno and next to Fabian

“Go on, Gena, it’s good to hear what you think.”, Fabian brushed his hands on my knee and both of them looked at me, so I felt I had to continue talking.

“Well, you have tough variables to control when we talk about subjective elements such as feelings, love and trust” — It felt strange to be the first one to mention love and feelings when Bruno was the one in the verge of a separation and I was in front of Fabian.  “And hurt too. And of course people have their own filters and values, but maybe it is time for you to ask yourself: do I love her? Do I trust her and think we can save this relationship together? Or, can I see myself living without this woman? We can’t really test all the hypothesis or prove a thesis; so it is all going to depend on how you feel about trying them and”

The phone rang and — thank God! — Interrupted me from going on and on.

"The Crack II: Maybe we can fix it?!" by Pierre Andrews

“It’s Tata”, Bruno said looking at his mobile’s display.

He picked up the phone as he stood up and walked to the corridor and out of the door to get his call.  It was just me and Fabian, discussing a break up that wasn’t ours, so we waited for Bruno but within less than a minute we saw him out of the house walking to the street.

“Hey, isn’t it Bruno outside? Where is he going?”, I asked.

Fabian walked to the window to check and turned to me with his hands up in the air and a small shoulder shrug: “It looks like he is going to his house.”

“Do you think they will get back together?”

“I think he shouldn’t.  If it’s broken there is a reason, but what do I know?”

“Right.”

“It’s good to see you, girl, and I’m glad you were here with him. With us. I liked what you said.”

“Thanks.  It’s weird, though, to do most of the talking in the circumstances,”

But I got no uptake.

“You know, this break up talk and relationships.” I continued.

“True, yeah.”

“Anyway, it looks like everyone is breaking up.”

“Like Claudia and Olivier?”

“Yes.”

“How is he?”

“Have you asked him?”

“No, but he hasn’t told me so how could I ask?”

“If he hasn’t told you, I won’t gossip about it, but now you can ask him.”

“Fair enough. How is London?”

“Good, good.”

“Are you dancing?”

“Yes.” I smiled.

“Salsa?”

“Yeah. And tango.”

“Great!”

“Yes, I’ve even started going to the Friday milonga.”

“You have? God, I’m jealous now.”

“Last week was fabulous, they hosted this musicality workshop and the milonga had live music afterwards. I loved it”, so I went on telling him about the night, this time leaving  Mr. Gorgeous and Marcos-shaped wholes on my narrative and focusing on the music.  Music was safe ground; I had some training and was often moved by the tangos that were constantly playing in his house.  So, he liked to hear what I thought, show me new songs and tell me what he felt.  Dancing wasn’t as easy.  The connection that hit me unexpectedly in my fifth class and made me pulse with tango, changing everything between us just pushed us to be together. It wasn’t repeated. The secret we kept from others cracked us as well.  Our relationship, denied, grew around a fracture, a fault that dislodged me from his embrace whether we danced or not.  We contended ourselves to music and safe topics.

Back for coffee

I got to the door, pressed Fabian’s flat button and announced myself:

— “Gena.”

— “It isn’t working, Gena. It’s five-”

— “Five seven, six eight. I know the code, I just didn’t…” I didn’t want to produce unwanted familiarity and just appear by his door, but the fact that I had rang the bell when I remembered the code was self-explanatory, so I pressed the numbers and left the door opening noise communicate I wasn’t going to finish my sentence.

I went up the stairs feeling nervous again and found Fabian holding the door open as I got to the second floor.

"Addict II", by Pierre Andrews

"Addict II", by Pierre Andrews

— “You look good as a redhead, menina.”

— “Thank you.” I said quickly, overlapping with him calling me girl in Portuguese.

— “Can I still call you menina?”

— “Sure, if you want to.” I aimed for unmoved, but wasn’t exactly sure of how it had come off, so I said “I brought us some biscuits” and extended my hand with a box of buttery goodies clumsily attempting to deflect the attention to them.

He picked them up and hugged me tightly, making me feel stupid for trying to be formal, so I surrendered to an honest and big hug.  It lingered on for a good while, maybe 10 seconds, and he said softly:

— “Bruno is here, he arrived yesterday night and I couldn’t kick him out. He left his house and I think him and Tata are separating.”

— “Jesus!”, I broke away from his embrace, “Do you want me to come back another time?”

— “No no. Stay.”

— “How is he doing?”

— “He hasn’t said much all morning, he just sat there and I don’t really know what to do.”

— “Okay. Should I talk to him?”

— “Don’t say I told you anything.”

— “Okay.”

I waved ‘hi’ to Bruno from the corridor, and went to give him a ‘hi’ kiss, but Bruno collapsed into my arms and I ended up giving him a bear hug:

— “Gena, sweetie, so good to see you.”

— “What’s up, Bruno? You don’t look so good.”

— “It’s Tata, Gena”, he left my arms and slumped into the sofa opposite me.

— “Do you wanna talk about it?”

— “We’re on a break, I guess.”

— “Oh, sweetie, that sucks.”

— “Yeah, and I left the house.”

— “God, Bruno, this sounds serious.  How are you feeling, I mean, of course I don’t expect you to be great, but is this something you’ve been discussing for a while?”, I asked as I wondered what Fabian was on about when he said Bruno wasn’t talking, but Bruno, the mathematician, surprised me:

— “Well, uh”, he gave a big sight, “Oh, I guess we’re-  our relationship could be illustrated by an orthogonal model uh…”

Fascinating as it could be to discuss values and relationships in a geometric way, I couldn’t believe his answer or keep up with the boys if they went further along that path, so I looked at Fabian who finally seemed to be ready to say something.

"Addict III", by Pierre Andrews

— “Maybe we should make some coffee?”, he alternated looking at the two of us with his hands moving in the air, “And we can have your biscuits.”, he said looking at me.

— “Yes, coffee and biscuits would be good”, said Bruno.

— “Sure, I’ll make some and you guys keep talking.” I took Bruno’s maths and Fabian’s intervention as a hint to leave them talking alone and stood up, but then noticed Fabian was standing up too.

— “We still have some of that fancy coffee you bought”, he stood closer to me, “there’s no one to drink it.”

— “Right, I’ll make it then.”

I moved towards the kitchen approaching my task with some trepidation — taking it over as the host in a flat where I knew everything’s position but not mine was surreal.  Everything reminded me I didn’t occupy that place any longer.

— “We don’t have your thingy anymore, though.” Fabian walked after me leaving Bruno alone in the living room, “we only have this other thing here, I don’t know if it is good.” He opened the cupboard to reveal an Italian coffee maker.

— “Oh, this is even better than the cafetière, I have one of these too. I can handle it.” I said, signing with the head he could go back to the living room to stay with Bruno.

Dora

Olivier’s mobile rang and he arranged to see a group of friends for coffee 45 minutes later, around the time I was supposed to see Fabian.  One of his friends, Dora, was going to walk by his flat so they could walk together to the city centre.  We had about 20 minutes to talk and get ourselves ready to leave, so drying the tears rather than encouraging their flow was our chosen strategy.

When Dora rang the bell we were looking better and ready to go – we just picked our coats and went downstairs.  Olivier opened the door to the street, held it for me and, as I made my way around him and out of the door, I saw a girl with lots and lots of wavy black hair and then her smiley face turning dour.  Olli waved hi to the girl as he walked after me letting the door close behind him, and then turned to me for a big hug goodbye.

by Pierre Andrews

— “Good luck with Fabian. Call me if you need anything, ok?”, he said softly to my ear while he held me in his arms.

— “Thanks, sweetie. I’m cool, though.”

— “Of course you are, just call me if you need.”

— “You too!”

I smiled at the girl as he went towards her, but she didn’t smile back.  Strange candidness that one provoked by jealousy, I thought, and it occurred to me that I probably had more rights to it than her.  Olli was my close friend!  But of course I would not compete for rights to jealousy so the absurdity of this thought hit me almost instantly.  I turned to the opposite direction to Fabian’s flat knowing I would have to call Olli later, even if it was just to know more about the girl – she liked him!

Olivier

Coffee with Olivier was the first thing scheduled for Saturday morning.

I met Olivier at tango.  He was doing a Ph.D. in Fabian’s department and was coaxed into taking tango classes when his girlfriend Claudia took an interest in joining along.  I had met Fabian at salsa.  Bruno, a Brazilian guy I had seen in a carnival party, was with him and we bonded as the Latin Americans.  One night, I made a negative remark about the class and, when Bruno started calling me “the critic” as we walked to our homes after the class, Fabian told me he hoped I wouldn’t join his group.  So I did.

When I joined in, Fabian’s tango group was already together for 4 months and Olivier and his girlfriend were among the loyal regulars who had been there from the start.  Most of the group took their seniority very seriously, as a right to attention, and treated us new dancers with suspicion and distance.  Girls were especially adverse to newcomers, which was understandable as we always exceeded guys in numbers and waiting for a turn to dance in class was a boring reality.  Guys were much warmer, but Olivier was by far the nicest man in the group.  He and I were compatible in height for dancing so we often paired up for the second warm up dance (after he had danced with Claudia) and managed to laugh at our mistakes or at childishly obstructing other dancers.  We did not disrupt the classes; we just liked to break the seriousness of the day when we started.  We danced for fun and that was all we had in common at first.

It was Fabian who brought us closer.  When Fabian and I started going out, we were a secret.  He was the instructor and he did not want to be seen in a relationship in the same measure he probably did not want to be in one.  But he wasn’t always consistent about hiding our proximity and he started praising my work to some of his friends and then asked me to help Olivier with my knowledge on language and social interaction.  Pretty soon, Olivier was my best friend in the hostile tango group.  We started with academic topics, but soon abandoned them in favour of more personal subjects.  It wasn’t planned, but I somehow asked the right questions and he ended up disclosing more than I expected.  I learned his love life was crumbling down and when he figured my own was on the ropes, he was the one checking if I was ok.  We were a big tango cliché, suffering because our pathetic love lives, but our own personal tango consolidated our friendship.

"Friends... in despair!" by Pierre Andrews

Coffee with Olivier was, hence, top priority.  I went to his flat and found him with an out of bed look.  Not the big sexy hair depicted on women’s magazines, it was puffy eyes and creased cheeks and T-shirt.

“Have I woken you up?”

“No, I was already up, grinding some coffee for us.”

“Smells good actually.”

“Vietnamese. My mum brought some last time she came visiting.  I really love your hair red, Gena. You should keep it like this.”

“ You know I find it too rock’n’roll, but thanks Olli”

“Yes, it’s wilder, but good. You should keep it red.”

As he went on with the coffee making, I told him about life in London, the milonga and Marcos.

“I did not really pay much attention to him when I we met.” I said well aware I was leaving a Mr. Gorgeous-shaped gap on my telling,  “But when I was about to leave the milonga, he came after me and he was so sweet, saying we should go to this class together.”

“Oh, cool!”

“And then on the next night, I met him on a bus in London!”

“No!”

“Yes, in a city as big as London I met Marcos by chance on a night bus.”

“So, what happened then?”

“Not much really. I went to the class but he didn’t. I don’t know if I mistook the day or if something happened and then I came here, so he might have been to the milonga yesterday, but I wasn’t there so…”

“No, but you can see him another time, right?”

“Yes, sure. But I am blabbing. Tell me about you.”

“Well you know.”

“What? You won’t make me ask all sorts of questions to get you talking will you?”

“But this is what we do!”

“Olivier, this is nonsense. We’re past that. Six months past that! You cannot tell me, oh yes I would really love to talk to you and then force me to interrogate you when we finally see one another.”

“It’s just awkward like this Gena. I need you to take it out of me.”

“No, it is awkward that we have to get back to zero when we start a new conversation! Go on.”

“I don’t know.”

“What did she do to you?”

“She didn’t do anything. I don’t like when you make her sound mean, ok?  But, yeah, he paused for a deep sigh,  “she took a job in France and she moved out last week. So, it’s all over and finalised for us.”

“I am so sorry, sweetie.”

“It’s ok, I knew this was supposed to happen. We were just waiting for it.”

“I know, but you’re staying here and it must be hard to still feel her all around.”

“Well, it was harder when I thought she loved me and she told me she could not see us building a future together. But since that, we’ve sort of been waiting for us to find our ways apart.”

“But it’s never easy, though is it?” I put my hands on his arm. “To see the future we don’t want materialised in front of us.”

“No, but what can I do?”

“If I knew the answer I’d write a book and become a millionaire.”  I answered even though I knew it was rhetoric.

He wasn’t perking up; so distracting him from the girl seemed like a better idea.

“I’m supposed to have coffee with Fabian soon.”

“Oh ho!  Are you ok with that?”

“Well, yes, I mean, we got closer after the binding hoo-hah, so I sort of owe him a proper thank you.”

“Oh shit, Gena, so sorry I couldn’t help with it. If I knew that was why you were calling, I would have done it for you”

“It’s ok. I know that. And that’s why you were the first person I called, but you were taking Claudia to the train station, I mean, you had enough on your plate”, and there we were back to the last goodbye scene, his eyes getting teary.

“Yes, but I didn’t know you’d have to call him to sort it for you just because I couldn’t talk then. I thought you were calling for a chat.  I wish I had been there for you.”

“It’s ok really. It brought us closer again and it’s been good. We hadn’t managed to patch it up after the break up, and it’s better now.”

“But you cried so hard when I called you later.”

“Well, it was hard to call him, but you were not in much better shape.”

“I know, but my goodbye was predictable and scheduled, whereas you having to call Fabian was unexpected.”

“Yes, but you know what’, my eyes were brimming over by then, “It was kind of dignifying to know I could trust him to be there for me, you know?  That I wasn’t just stupid to like him or suffer so much, there was something there and it made it better to know he dropped what he was doing, printed my stuff, left the office and went straight to the binders for me.” I took a pack of tissues from my handbag and put it on the table so we could help ourselves to it. I needed plenty of them.

Coffee overload

Early morning on Friday and I was back on the train heading north in the company of a big cup of coffee. I turned my computer on to practice my talk for the day conference that was taking me back to the city and department I had left three weeks earlier with a Ph.D. title and freshly done mahogany hair. My first talk as a doctor. The same place, the same crowd, but this time I was an invited external presenter.

— “All tickets please.”

This isn't a teacup

"This isn't a teacup", by Pierre Andrews

I got my ticket ready for inspection and looked at the “open return” saying on it. The openness that allowed me to stay for the weekend in the city where most my friends lived also let me return to London after the conference to enjoy Friday night. Milonga night and my last one in the UK before flying to Brazil for Christmas.

— “Thank you love”, said the ticket man, and I put the ticket away on my bag.

Would Marcos try to find me at the milonga? Had he even tried one of Javier and Alexa’s classes? My talk practice wasn’t taking me anywhere and it wasn’t even needed. I knew what to say – I had spend the last two nights practicing the talk and asking myself the same questions. Should I have tried Wednesday class anyway? Not if I wanted to have a talk to present, I knew that answer. It was silly to even contemplate returning to London just for the milonga and the hope of seeing Marcos, I’d have plenty of time for London and milongas in the future and I had the perfect chance to enjoy my friends for the weekend.

My friends and Fabian. My stomach just didn’t accept any more coffee – I should learn to buy small cups when traveling. I picked the phone and checked the time display – 8:52 – so I decided against calling Kate. I had the same coffee overload and nausea when I last saw him, as he joined the doctorate celebrations expecting VIP treatment as if he had earned that title as well. I had also ran for Kate afterwards, the mahogany dye with me, and we had a go at transforming me into a new woman, doctor rock´n´roll, Kate said. Luck had it that doctor clown also wanted the post and got it. Less than a week later I messed up with the final submission I had to send to the binder for the hardcover copies the University requested. Doctor clown it was and it was Fabian who came to the rescue. It was my turn to replace aggressively defensive with grateful and that’s why we were supposed to have another go at meeting for coffee this time. I binned my coffee and tried to rest for the rest of the journey.

Connection

I was completely unguarded for it.  I did not even think it was possible to feel such a thing when I first experienced what I later learned to call a tango connection.  It wasn’t  part of my vocabulary and I did not have a concept for it, so I could not clearly express it afterwards, nor could I trace the steps that had created it to reproduce it. It happened and it took me straight to my first mistake, but did not lend itself well for a meticulous investigation, so I’ve remained unaware of its precise origin since.

Javier’s point about me following his breath got me thinking about it.  The word connection had never satisfied me completely. It didn’t describe the experience.  I remember saying I had felt some energy back then, an intense, engulfing energy that bonded me to Fabian as we danced.  But breathing always came to my mind.  Not that breathing made any sense as an explanation either, but to me it was like being aware of my own breathing for the first time, an enhanced perception of something that was already there before my nose.  Breathing a man.

by Pierre Andrews

My learner’s anxiety to know what would come next disappeared in a momentary unit with the man who led me to the music.  I felt the music vibrating in me and grew with it to take him in too.  Music, movement and the man had all been there, but somehow they became bigger than their individual contribution to the moment as the connection hit me, and, as they took me over, I was inhaling them all, taking them inside me.

With my eyes closed, I moved in perfect synchrony with Fabian, in a high from surrendering willingly to his secure lead.  At home in his tight embrace, I anchored myself in a pleasant and sensual moment.  Heavy, warm and dense, I tuned myself into my breath and experienced breathing Fabian in.  Him and the music, the tango, had engulfed me and I moved with them without even feeling the ground beneath me.  It did not bring me peace.  Sexual tension and intoxication were part of this high and they remained present.  The connection was accompanied by a strange subsequent hangover: the feeling of being revealed, caught naked, as the music stopped; the craving for more of it; the fresh disquiet I got from being around Fabian.