Tuesday, 27th January 2004.

Of separation

There's a point in one of the Dark Materials books where Philip Pullman describes the sensation of someone being wrenched from their soul, or 'daemon' as he calls it. The experience is horrid - a tearing, sickened thing, a feeling of pain followed by a cruel, numbing emptiness. The persons afflicted are left incomplete and shell-like, and their acute hollowness can, it seems, never be filled; the desire to be whole never satisfied. It feels like dying.

It's an intense exaggeration, of course, but it goes some way towards explaining how I felt on Sunday evening. Strange, really, that it should happen now. For months it's been a case of suppression - not denial, just the anxiousness on my part to refrain from becoming truly upset. It was easier for me to deal with it, so I locked everything in. At about ten to seven on Sunday, it leaked.

I don't quite know why, but part of me considers that it's because this is the end of an era. Gone are my bimonthly trips to Cambridge - the fresh challenges of finding routes that didn't involve copious amounts of traffic, the ritualistic snarl-ups at the Headington roundabout, the relative splendour of the M40 and the unpredictable M25, before the nightmare that was the A1M. Through my namesake and then up towards the endless flatness of the county town and its surrounding fields, followed by a thrilled, over-too-soon weekend and the spiteful irony of a quick, painless voyage home. Gone are the arrivals at the Gallery on a Friday, my fleeting attendance at Verity's Tomb Raider sessions, conversations with Gareth and Sophie and James - the washing up, the Saturday morning toast, the lingering for the signs that the bathroom was empty, the Sunday evening Who-a-thons. (I never watched them, but was always interested.)

As irritating as I found the journey to Cambridge, and as painful the journey home, I'm actually going to miss it. Nothing thrills me more than the prospect of setting up home with Emily (except maybe winning on that premium bond, and even then I'd want her to be there) and yet the change in routine unnerves me a little. The truth is that the reality of the situation has yet to sink in - after months of preparation for this moment (and years of mentally planning it) I still can't quite believe it's actually happening - that we'll be waking on a Monday morning with no plans to disappear to respective towns, because we both live in the same one. It feels like a televised event at which I am a passive spectator; that it should be happening to someone else, not to me.

This probably explains why, on Sunday evening, I left in such a bad way. As I wouldn't be seeing Em in Cambridge again, it felt like I wouldn't be seeing her at all. It felt like breaking up. This is ludicrous, of course, but the pain of having to leave her after we'd had such a wonderful weekend coupled with the intensity of everything we've experienced these last few months meant that I wasn't holding back any more. As I drove down the A10, Roxette whining about how "it must have been good, but I lost it somehow" (which I'm sure didn't help) it was *my* turn to lose it. It felt like being wrenched from one half of yourself.

I had calmed down considerably by the time the bright lights of the M4 were in view, and it's fair to say that while it wasn't an over-reaction, I had every reason to be grateful for what we had - our circumstances were better than those of many people. I'm not stationed in the Gulf. She's not from a forbidding family who deny their daughter the happiness she craves, leaving her to escape for stolen weekends untainted with the remotest plausibility of something long-term. I saw her every Friday for months and we speak on the phone - or online - every night if we possibly can. That's not a bad track record, and I am grateful for the joys of modern communication and the fact that I have a car. But it hurt to leave her, and to have her leave me. It always felt a little like dying - it's just that Sunday was the first time I could really see it.

When she and I got started, we talked about what names we could use for each other. The term 'boyfriend' was somehow inadequate for her, so she settled on 'boyfriend plus' - a slightly geeky, service-pack edition. Over eight months later, I find it difficult to refer to Emily as my fiancée - it's a habit that I've got into but it's too clean, too regimented, too conventional. To call her my girlfriend is, of course, inaccurate and implies a relatively new relationship - I'm not doubting that this is to do with my state of mind as opposed to the word itself, but it *still* sounds like sixth form terminology even if it's being used by twenty-somethings about their serious, committed state of affairs. The word 'partner' doesn't sound right either - we're not ballroom dancers or business associates and I'm mystified as to why people use the word in a romantic context. It seems to me to refer to a relationship that's grown stale and dull.

To call her my 'other half', though, seems to have nailed it. It's less a stagnated, dreary use of the term and more an acknowledgement of co-dependence. It's like buying a mobile phone: for years you manage without and then a few months after you've bought one you find yourself wondering how you ever coped before. The same applies to PCs and e-mail, and video recorders and answering machines and dishwashers and God knows what else. We evolve regressively sometimes (and I'm sure I've discussed this already) and learn to become dependent on something until our well-being is irrevocably intertwined with whether or not we're able to tape Coronation Street that week.

It's not quite the same here - what happened with Emily was that she filled in the missing jigsaw pieces. Actually, what happened was that she constructed an entirely new jigsaw with the pieces I already had and then became the puzzle herself. We are still, I think, working each other out to an extent. But the joy of solving the puzzle - of piecing her together, until I knew her intimately - seemed to fill the hole that had grown within me over the last few months. As far as journal entries go I'm aware that we've been here before. Nonetheless, it felt as if my life had various elements that worked very well - the church, friends, music - but that somewhere along the way I'd lost my focus a little. And she filled it.

Generally, we'll have a set of stock phrases that we refer to, and one of them is a reflection on how couply we've become. I was remarking to Jon yesterday that I seem to spend an awful lot of time in the collective first-person these days, saying "We think" or "We are" and so on. I feel like part of the Borg or something. The more time we spend together, the more we become a unit - and there are times, sitting in a car or coming back from a restaurant or even just cuddled up to her on a sofa, that I feel so unbelievably close to her that I can't tell where she stops and I begin.

So she's my other half, in a quite literal (emotionally if not literally) translation. I saw her Friday afternoon, collected from work in one of those car park reunion encounters before we opened a joint bank account. In the evening, watching swans dance upon the lake, and then later in a restaurant trying to deal with her family's tendency to make dramas of Wagnerian proportions out of every minor crisis. And then on Saturday morning, while she was cooking a communal breakfast, I had a sudden premonition, a flash-forward to our imminent domesticity. (Well, hers. I still have to learn how to fry an egg. Although I am quite good at ironing.)

Most of all, Saturday evening, and the fact that she really *was* a whole lot more beautiful than she thought. She shone, she sparkled. It wasn't just the dress, it was the fact that she was surrounded by people who had come because they wanted to be with her. It was her, full stop.

I sometimes feel that I'm not always open enough about Emily in this diary. It's a little oblique - while she comes out and says what she wants to, I'll pick specific incidents and recount them in laborious detail in order to establish a given theme or state of mind, and post in the abstract hope that my point has gone across. I'm never sure if it does. Today I hope I've done it - that I've exorcised a few inner needs to say a couple of things. As Douglas Coupland would have said, I have spooged. And in my mind floats one crystallising image: Emily standing in the middle of a throng, drink in one hand, arm snaked around Kirsten, various other spods sitting nearby. And in the midst of it all she turns round and flashes me a smile, and it's all I can do to stop myself from dashing across the room and wrapping myself around her until the stars go out.

I had better sign off, and sharpish. Chris de Burgh is perched on the cusp of my brain, anxious to be quoted.

Back to Diary Index Back to Wedding Page Email me