I’m finishing writing a PhD about love and concrete, and resuming writing a memoir about dating.
Here is a glimpse inside:
Peter’s mother was dying. Her final days had brought him back to Sydney from life lived almost forever in Europe. He had a villa in France, home base, and from there travelled the world, writing about exotic and not so exotic destinations. He did so alone because while the life of a travel guidebook writer seems dreamy and covetable, in fact you have to experience and review dozens of hotels, hostels, restaurants and activities each day that you travel. Research is done at lightning speed, never in real time. Peter was accustomed to being alone. He taught me that to have somewhere to avert your eyes during lonely solo restaurant dinners, you would crack the spine of a thick novel, so as to bury yourself in reading it and have hands free for food and whiskey. They, along with the book diversion, constitute small mercies in endless lonely, rushed and low budget travelling, always pretending not to be reviewer. He was used to being alone, but not used to his mother’s impending death, and online dating was serving as a kind of lifeline, a brief interlude in which he could again be the traveller, and for a moment not be the son.
There wasn’t even a trace of romance between Pete and me. But there were two people, me having stared down the death of family members long ago and him holding the gaze right then. Him, sleeping on his childhood single bed, floor to ceiling wrapped in mid-century wallpaper, feeling like a small boy and an aging man all at once. Him, taking a break from the endless trudge of medical appointments that couldn’t heal his mother nor shorten her suffering but could just tinker at the fraying edges of her life and his.
If there is a moral to this story it is that there is nothing as important as kindness. That was what Peter had swiped right for. Not for love or sex or the twinkling lights of flirting and mutual attraction. His yearning was not for me but for the respite of kindness, of having a complete stranger look across the candle-lit bar at him and let the conversation flick from palliative care to holiday destinations in Poland, from life in the south of France to how it feels when you unearth your lego set in the cluttered wardrobe, and your mother is in the next room holding on to life by just a thread.