Stop the clocks, hang up the telephone. Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone – the end is nigh and the worst has happened. A tragedy even greater than losing me has befallen my ex-boyfriend. And I’m heartbroken – devastated! – at the thought of losing someone so young to such a destructive illness. Distraught, truth be told, watching him descend into something so unrecognisable, seeing him enslaved and puppet-like in a disease that has robbed him of his integrity, dignity, human decency, and, most importantly, basic manners. You see, the poor bastard appears to have developed a severe case of amnesia.
There’s simply no other explanation for a recent encounter on a sweaty dancefloor in a Galway bar. Nothing else can justify or qualify the skulk of him the month before in a Dublin pub. In both instances, the man seemed to forget who I was and was rendered incapable of either recognising or acknowledging my existence. Considering that existence was once the most important thing in his life, there’s only one logical conclusion: the dude has a serious neurological condition.
Does he know? Do I set up a GoFundMe page?
I mean, in a very real way, the bambino needs intense help.
Outraged on his behalf yet powerless to act I have, in an act of supreme goodwill, attempted to demystify his rapid deterioration below in the ardent hope that, through documenting the exact and unequivocal symptoms, we might yet be able to find a cure for his addled mind. If anyone out there can proffer wisdom, advice, a cure, a scalpel during this upsetting time, please contact me directly.
Preface/Necessary context without too much brouhaha:
Listen, let’s be honest, I have been waiting to run into this man since we broke up almost eighteen months ago. It is frankly nothing short of miraculous that in a city so small, the painful, awkward run-in has taken so long to come to fruition. In the meantime, I have fantasised about, obsessed over, dreaded and longed for it – playing out each possible scenario in my mind in masochistically pleasusurable detail (a joyous literary exploration for another day).
However, in all of my whimsical role plays and increasingly unrealistic fantasies did I ever imagine what actually happened when I was confronted with him in the flushed, sweaty, palpitating flesh.
Of all the things I was expecting – from ostentatious disdain to pleading apology, belligerent anger to aloof indifference – I never once expected to be ignored.
I never thought he would pretend not to know me, not to see me. TWICE.
Setting of scene for dramatic effect, less relevant context and because I find it entertaining. Can be read in manner of David Attenborough, Bridget Jones, or Lizzo. I recommend a mix of all three.
A dancefloor pulsing with limbs. A favourite festival and I am tossed in the heaving crowd. Let’s be clear, I look GOOD. Or at least I believe I do after two bottles of wine and more gin and tonics than my bank account would care to recollect. (I’ve since seen photographic evidence of me in full, caterwauling swing and, while it does confirm it would have been impossible NOT to see me due to the three chins on display, it does not necessarily align with the mental image I had of me looking ‘oh so fine’. If I could, I probably would have pretended not to know me too). I’m in his home city and thus primed for the increased probability of meeting him. Prepared and also over him, I am keen to rip this encounter bandaid-like from my consciousness – to get over this last ‘first’ that will finally and firmly transition us from hostile exs to two people who once went out with each other for a while. The balm of smalltalk on the last remnant of scarring.
And then, it happens. A nudge in the ribs from a friend – ‘Don’t look but just so you know, he’s standing right behind you.’ Obviously I am a human swivel chair already twirling in full, ostentatious indiscretion. The crowd parts and, just like that, there he is. Him. Impossibly, ludicrously close to me; hilariously real. The summation, the actualisation of so many idle hours – so many stagnant, wasted thoughts poured into this moment.
Prepped for a quick nod of acknowledgement, I am cool and casual in what I believe will be a short-lived wait for our eyes to meet.
Any minute now it will come – some reciprocal rememberance of all we were, had, shared, and then I can return to the far more pressing task of dazzling the entire Galway community with some pretty experimental bodily manoeuvres.
Except, he’s not looking at me. Not only is he not looking at me, he is deliberately and consciously doing everything in his power not to look at me. How odd. Maybe he hasn’t seen me. Maybe he hasn’t noticed the girl in the LUMINOUS pink dress who is taking up all of the space and quite literally making waves two sweaty bodies away from him. Maybe he doesn’t recognise the friends he has met and had conversations sufficiently long enough to remember them encircling me. All valid options. No need to necessarily panic.
I resume energetic dancing, confident in the assumption all will rectify itself shortly. I am assured that the tap on the shoulder, the quick smile of recognition, the slightly stilted ‘hey, how are you, good to see you etc’ is mere seconds away. Another song begins and ends. Nothing.
Maybe he’s sweating so much it’s gotten into his eyes and he can’t see anything? It really is terribly warm in here.
Seven more minutes not in heaven pass.
Perhaps he’s been blinded in some freak accident while trying to have his head surgically removed from his arse?
Oh, wait, there he is hugging his other ex-girlfriend. Hmm, he seems to have gone out of his way to approach her so his vision definitely is still intact.
Perchance the misuse of drugs, having had to numb the loss of his own personal heroin (it’s me, you guys) with other, less enjoyable, substances, has destroyed his senses to the point where he can only see in kaleidoscopic cubism?
A timely rendition of Robyn’s ‘dancing on my own’ pipes up. We all exchange glances – the poetic symmetry, the pathetic musical fallacy of it.
Maybe he’s just really enjoying himself?
I’m facing him now so that me, my gyrating chins and my dance moves are all unavoidably and unashamedly in his direct line of vision. I’m beginning to pinch myself just to make sure I am still a real and tangible collection of organs because, to all intents and purposes, I appear to have accidentally worn my invisibility cloak out. Meanwhile, he is dancing harder and happier than I’ve ever seen – a fixed smile of almost manically determined enjoyment on his face.
Hugs are being lavished on every being that crosses his path; as if he’s performing his own exorcism of joy and the only way to get it out of him is through frenzied hugging.
I try and remain calm but through the fug of gin my brain is freewheeling into some form of system shutdown because it just doesn’t understand what’s happening or why this person is pretending they haven’t been inside me a mere few hundred metres from where we currently stand. Why this person, who I’ve been at pains to re-establish some level of amiable connection with, is now acting like I’ve murdered his entire family or stolen his last rolo and then lied about it. Not only am I having this intense and upsetting awareness of what is unfolding around me but my friends are now also looking at me with increasingly dilated pupils and flared nostrils as we all collectively try and make sense of this bizarre behaviour.
And so, fed up of these games and what is clearly just some huge misunderstanding, I do what every normal person would do, and decide to take matters into my own hands. He might have been able to play the ‘oh, i didn’t see you there’ card the month before when we found ourselves in the same overcrowded smoking area – perhaps he might even manage to pull it off tonight if I don’t overtly demand his attention.
Surely, if I make a point of acknowledging him, of letting him know my 20:20 vision is still intact and hasn’t yet succumbed to cataracts, then he would do the same?
Civility, maturity and sense would once again raise their fickle heads – order would be restored.
So, I wave. A cheeky little hand action that is an unequivocal, unambiguous, horrendously uncool invitation for attention and a gesture successfully received by almost every other human in his vicinity.
Why must I persist in going out with guys who insist on being the exception to the rule? Lads. Not only did he NOT WAVE BACK, he pretended he didn’t see and instead committed to grooving harder. I turned back to my friends, truly baffled now. And that’s when I realised: the amnesia had taken him. And I was never getting him back.
Instead, what I got was a relapse to the noxious thought cycle that had threatened to consume me when we first broke up. You see, most medical professionals don’t know this but amnesia is actually contagious. And so, as I stood there in my fuschia summer dress, and as I spent the next few nights trying to process why someone who would once cross a dancefloor to hold me now would ignore me in such a cruel and brutish way, I forgot things too. I forgot things I think many of us can lose sight of time to time – in all manner of relationships.
I forgot that I was and am a good person, who was good to you and kind to our relationship. I forgot that, despite your attempts to Donald Trump bulldoze the narrative of our story with fake news, I’m not the bad guy in this scenario – I am not responsible for the breaking of us and I am not responsible for the impossibility of our repair. I forgot, once again, that your consistent failure to treat me with respect is not a sign of your indifference but rather a sign of how much you still care about this. That, actually, you ignoring me is a blessing in disguise because it is the clearest proof that you’re not over what we had, that you, despite all your protestations, haven’t moved on from us. I forgot that your weakness is not my fault or my responsibility and that I don’t have to analyse, unravel, or untangle your reasons for carelessness – I don’t need to be affected by the stench of your thoughtless excrement. You behaving badly does not mean that I must therefore automatically feel bad. You not wanting to be with me and now not wanting to see me is not because I am inadequate but rather because you are. I forgot that your immaturity and your failure to deal with or articulate your emotions is not a reflection of my value or worth but rather your complete lack of integrity. I forgot that your opinion no longer holds any value for me – that I don’t actually need you (or any of your incumbent crew) to like me.
I surrender my people-pleasing and my penchant for truth and justice to this reality.
I surrender and accept that I cannot control the story you tell of me or how you choose to tell it and that people who do not know me will not like me – somehow and with many deep breaths, that’s ok. My validation springs from my principles and not my likeability. (Who else thought I was about to spontaneously quote Macklemore and read that in his voice?)
I forgot that it no longer matters to me who the ‘real you’ is; that I don’t need to search for the kind and generous person I was so enamoured with in this hostile stranger I don’t recognise. It conveniently and momentarily slipped my mind that, in a shocking turn of events, I don’t really care who or what you are because, whoever your authentic self is, that is not someone who has any impact on my life anymore. I forgot that, try as you might, you will not and cannot control how I remember our relationship. I forgot that whether you loved me or not is immaterial; I carry the knowledge of how and why I once loved you and the true euphoria that comes when you have the courage to give your heart to someone – I don’t need anything beyond that. I forgot that how you feel about me now is irrelevant and unrelated to how I have felt and will continue to feel about you and does not change the beauty of what we once had.
Most of all, I forgot that ignorance is not an emblem of indifference – which you seemed at such pains to display – but rather a symptom of fear.
It is emotional manipulation in its most cowardly form – a pathetic stab at assuming superiority through the lowest means possible. Can’t you see you lost, little, manipulative soul that you’re not ignoring me? It’s not me you’re trying to block out, it’s – in a plot twist everybody saw coming in the most boring and mundane manifestation of human psychology – yourself. You are not strong by trying to shift emotional blame onto me, you’re not the bigger person by trying to make me feel too small to be worthy of acknowledgement. You are afraid. Terrified. Of your emotions. Of your vulnerability. Of who you are and who you’re petrified you might not be. It’s not that you don’t want to see me, it’s that you don’t want to be seen.
I have become an emblem of everything you don’t want to deal with – the parts of yourself you can’t tolerate, can’t reconcile, can’t even begin to think about acknowledging.
The parts I caught glimpses of, the parts I saw when nobody else did. I am the reminder you did and continue to do wrong and I am the final coffined nail because somewhere in that expanse of gelatinous brain matter, I am the proof, I am the walking wounded evidence that you are incapable of the courage needed to own up to this, to change this. You can’t even begin to entertain the self-evaluation, the act of self-love that is self-discovery. Worst of all, you know I know this.
Before anyone accuses me of villainising him and sanctifying myself, I would just like to state that I am acutely aware that I was not perfect in that relationship or in our subsequent break up. The difference is, I have dealt with all of my failings – I have explored, examined, and worked through them. I have apologised, owned, and atoned for them and have actively tried to overcome them in the relationships I’ve had since. I do not expect perfection but I do ask for ownership. To me, it is the most basic assertion of self-respect and yet the most difficult act of courage. Anyway.
Conclusion with a bow, a cherry and Sophie Ellis-Bextor on top
The lights came on, the music died. He was gone before my eyes had even adjusted to the harsh and frankly unnecessary fluorescents. I sat by the river, smoking cigarettes, chatting shite, and glugging from an overpriced bottle of questionable wine shared with a best friend. He, I assume, went home to take amnesia medication and pat himself on the back for a night well misremembered. Now, this is not the piece I planned to write; I am loathe to give this person any of my words – lord knows enough have been wasted on deaf ears and dead eyes. However, there was so much in this meeting (or lack of) that needs to be acknowledged. It represents a common human experience we all find ourselves victims or perpetrators of at many points in our life: the guilt-ridden, fear-filled act of ignoring.
Humiliating, belittling, upsetting, confusing, dehumanising, we need to remember that someone’s failure to acknowledge others is only a physical manifestation of their failure to acknowledge themselves.
More on this denial of self and fellow humankind coming soon.
For now though, let us offer up a prayer for the ex and, indeed, all those suffering with similar cases of selective amnesia. Let us hope that this blithe forgetfulness continues to protect them from the uncomfortable truths they don’t have the strength to confront, and pray it keeps them safe and warm in these claustrophobic cocoons of self-preservation and wilful narrowmindedness. How quaint, how cliche. Let us proffer pity, and extend compassion – even as they attempt to demonstrate their liberty, they are trapped in chains we are not; chains made heavier by their failure to see them. Poor, thrashing, misguided dears.
So, my once love, continue on your merry way. Do all of the things to show the world how fantastic you are. Shrug me off like a bad cold, an unfortunate mistake, a moment of lunacy. Disregard this as the writings of a scorned lover, embittered ex, unstable neurotic.
I’ll still be dancing. And when I’m not I’ll be hoping your sight returns some day, hoping you’ll be blessed with the joy of seeing me again. Three-chinned, sweat-drenched, giving it socks on any and all dancefloors. Luminous, outrageous, too much but, most importantly, not and never yours.
She sashayes and shimmies off into the sunset, towards the next boogy and a waiting garlic cheese chips.