You came into my life in, I think, early 1991, when you walked into the flat I shared in Spain. You taught one of my flatmates English, though the fact that, after weeks of your tuition, he had only learned one word (and that word was garlic) rather limited conversational opportunities. It’s been a running joke for more than 25 years.
Anyway, Jose Luis thought I might like to meet another English girl, so he brought you over one evening after class. My first memory is of you looking for somewhere to stub out a cigarette. (Though you gave up years ago.)
You were on your first job after graduation, I was on my year abroad from my languages uni course. So I’d not been overly keen on the idea of meeting a compatriot, wanting to spend all my time with Spanish people (I was a bit of an up-myself arse back then, frankly). Still, I couldn’t help but fall in friendship with you, and, actually, José Luis was right. It was nice to speak English sometimes.
In the quarter century since we both left Spain, (I seem to remember joking about our ‘silver anniversary’ last year), I like to think we’ve always been there for each other. We’ve shared heartbreaks, break-ups and joys, and, like very best friends, come through our own bust-ups.
We’ve had countless adventures. Some, admittedly, best forgotten. There was the New Year’s Eve we spent in your flat, so bored that I called National Rail Enquiries to ask the time of the last train from the Pearly Gates. (0012 from Clapham Junction if you remember, they must have heard Purley Gate. How we laughed.) The infamous 1993 Booze Cruise around Poole Harbour, where I was so over-refreshed I had to be stopped from climbing overboard mid-voyage.
All those nights out in Spain, staggering back home in the early hours, as they washed down the streets. José and Hose B. How we laughed.
I saw your daughter within hours or days of her birth, with her shock of ink-black hair, and, until my downy-haired, gap-toothed niece arrived, the most beautiful girl I’d ever seen. I can’t believe she turns 18 this autumn.
So we have a history, you and I. And while I’ve not really had a ‘best’ friend since the age of nine, essentially in any list you’d be right up there in the top one.
You’ve always known that I have a hearing loss. I can’t remember you ever saying that much about it. But, recently, we went away for the weekend by the sea to visit an old friend.
As we walked, words were lost in the sound of waves and the blowing of the coastal wind. In the water, of course, I had to take my hearing aids out. My ears were temporarily blocked, too, making matters even worse.
You grew impatient. It made me nervous, and I admit sometimes pretended I heard something I hadn’t. This wasn’t a good strategy. You know me too well, and you always rumbled me.
“But I might have said something really interesting!” you admonished me later, when we were trying to talk about this. “Why would you pretend to have heard something?”
In which case, why not repeat it more clearly and slowly? And why is this a problem suddenly now?
I know it’s maddening, slows down conversation, hinders communication and can often be a general all-round pain in the proverbial. But please don’t let this spoil a friendship that goes back such a long way, and that has been, and remains, central to my life.
And surely you couldn’t throw away 25 years of friendship just because some words got lost on the ocean breeze one afternoon?
I am hopeful, we’ve been in normal contact since that weekend. (Admittedly by email. We gave up on the phone a while back, in the interest of both our sanities.) I promise not to pretend to have head something I haven’t, if you can promise me a tiny bit more patience sometimes. It would go a long way.
Do we have a deal?
With love, always – and only occasional exasperation.
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