THE (WO)MAN IN THE MIRROR

Life for me now is an episode of Frasier stuck on repeat.  How else to account for another evening spent padding around the flat as though it were a four-roomed cell?  Still, there’s hardly a better show in which to be living out your Groundhog days.  Fans of the long running, long since gone and long missed US sitcom might be familiar with the scene.  In the latter days of his estimable and Emmy-laden run Kelsey Grammer’s eponymous hero, home alone and perhaps terminally single (no spoilers here) following the successive – not to mention successful – couplings of both his brother and his father, is left in the company of one Mr Bottomsley, a feline of some pedigree thrust upon his generous care by an out-of-town friend.

Fresh from a disappointing evening out, he treats Bottomsley to a plate of fresh tuna, mollycoddling him all the way, before settling to a bowl of seven-vegetable stew of his own making – Bottomsley was right about the bay leaves, it would appear…  His sensitive bones chilled by a draught, Frasier shrouds himself in a blanket and takes puss in his arms, all the while keeping up the one-way conversation he began on opening the door and spotting his house guest. Frasier, you’ll have gathered, is a lonely man.  Crossing the room, he pauses before the mirror and sees himself for what he’s become – ‘my God, I’m Anne Shirley!’  That’s Anne of Green Gables, to save you the Google.

Well, that’s me on any given night my son isn’t here, and I don’t even have a cat.  Not since Mr Malachy went back to mommy.  I may not wrap myself in a blanket for security, either, but I’m not too proud to say I’ve caught myself talking out loud on more than one occasion. I’m 46 in a couple of weeks and pretty much the only lead character in my long-running show who’s single.  Cat or no cat, this was not in the script.

All of which begs the question, what happens now?  Beyond tomorrow, I can scarcely tell.  It’s now almost impossible to say as I’ve entirely lost the capacity to see myself. It’s like there’s no mirror.  That’s what happens when there’s no-one around you on a day-to-day basis who’s older than three and a half.  No-one to tell you you’re getting scruffier, that the beard is maybe not such a good idea once it’s past a certain point, that you’re only ever wearing the clothes at the top of the pile and your jokes aren’t that funny anymore.

Having said that, as mirrors go, toddlers do have their moments.  Mine only ever says nice things to me, such as ‘I like your hair’ or ‘you’re real’ – something I often need reminding of by the time Thursday has rolled round – before wrapping his arms around me and declaring, as though it were an oath, ‘hug’.  Now I like that, that’s the kind of reciprocal conduct I’m hungry for – food for the soul.  I’d just like to have it replicated, once in a while, by someone who hasn’t sprung from my own loins.

Being cut loose from a couple can savage your perspective.  Without a sounding board or co-conspirator beside me in the hours between midnight and six a.m., the arc of my life seems to have flat-lined.  There’s only today, tomorrow and the colour coded blocks that make up the following two weeks on the Google calendar I share with Leo’s mother.  Slave to a new rhythm, I’m only making plans for Leo.  As for me, I’m left to wonder not so much what’s next, but who?

Entering into a relationship in 2001 and emerging from it eleven years deeper into the 21st century to find a newborn on my lap has, at times, had me feeling like the Rip Van Winkle and son.  I’ve effectively fallen asleep in the nineties and woken to a whole new world.  The phone in my pocket has shrunk from the size of a brick to a matchbox then spread out again into something a lot smarter.  I’m choking on information without feeling any the wiser.  The food in London is a whole lot better, at least – I can buy a burger worthy of the name, one that doesn’t look like its been manufactured as set dressing for a child’s toy kitchen.  My friends remain, from a national perspective, a statistical anomaly – 100% of them happily maintaining longterm relationships and, for the most part, parents to children a good deal older than Leo.  I’m out of sync and out of fashion.  A thirty year-old trapped in the body of a mid-forties divorcee, and nobody’s planning a movie based on that premise.

I’m time-poor now, and the struggle to find the overlaps between my schedule and those of my friends can feel like a hunt for wild truffles – a lot of hard work (particularly if you’re pig) but worth it in the end, I hope.  One ongoing attempt to nail down a date with a female friend for a movie and a drink began last year.  Weeks of texting, months even, and we’re still searching for that free evening in common, leaving me to wonder if the prospect of successfully grafting my increasingly unwieldy life onto another is a little like the ongoing search for intelligent life elsewhere in the universe.  Technically not futile, but likely to go on for some time yet.  If there are windows of opportunity in my life, then they’re sash windows, stubbornly refusing to budge and probably painted into place anyway.

Perhaps that’s not a bad way of looking at lasting relationships – cosmic coincidences, unlikely collisions between bodies hurtling through the void.  Certainly the relationship that brought forth my son was down to serendipity – that, or going to the same pub night after night – and it’s the delight of stumbling upon someone, followed in time by the realisation that you can share the same space for more than just a minute or two but maybe even for years, that deters me from dating, in whatever form.  I’m familiar with current thinking, that online dating helps, if nothing else, to maximise one’s chances.  But I’ll hold out perversely nonetheless for the type of chance encounter that’s the preserve of the classic 70s Woody Allen film – eyes meeting over a pile of newly translated Turgenevs on a rainy Wednesday evening, perhaps, or finding each other staring side by side at the same painting in the National for so long that an attempt at conversation becomes a moral imperative.  Or maybe just the pub again.

Admittedly, the social framework of my life having rusted a little since I last walked out to the crease alone, the chances of such a meeting seem remote. The possibility of successfully negotiating an asteroid field – approximately 3,720 to 1, as C-3PO once reminded Han Solo – sometimes seem more realistic.  Let’s not forget Han’s reply – ‘never tell me the odds’ – and they didn’t seem bad odds at all given the immediate circumstances, but the increasing likelihood of being alone and the opportunity it affords for eccentricity seems weirdly compelling at times.  The whole notion of romantic love has, in any case, taken a direct hit; it’s wilted as the shock of my love for Leo has mushroomed.  Losing the love of a partner at the precise moment your love for a child is launched has a way of reconfiguring everything.  Plus, I’m knackered.  And it’s a warm and fuzzy kind of knackered, cosy and familiar.  It fits.  And you end up wearing it round the house like a favourite blanket.  And some nights you catch yourself in the mirror and you do wonder.  You wonder if your life as a single parent has become a form of grand excuse, and whether it’s the very thing you want in life that’s terrified you into becoming Anne Shirley…

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