Matthew and I competed on everything – more lightheartedly as the years passed and arguably we both grew up a bit, but still over the silliest things and all of the time. Who could pick the right carriage on the Tube for the exit (usually me). Who won the race to the trig point (always him, however late I waited before my dash). Who dressed fastest for dinner when we were running late (always me, and we always were).
Today I remembered that once long long ago we competed – with laughter – over which of us would have to dump the other when our relationship ended. ‘I’ll get in first,’ he said, ‘I’ve never had someone break up with me, and I’m not going to spoil my perfect record.’ But I was in the same position with respect to previous relationships, so I of course claimed I’d be breaking up with him.
And now? Professionals have told me it would be normal to feel that by dying Matthew actively deserted me. It is common, they have said, to be angry at that desertion, however illogical the anger may be. I don’t currently feel either of those things. Who knows, though, at some point I may.
What I feel instead is that I am the one deserting him. I am leaving him forever in August while myself moving into a new year. I am starting, because I have no choice, to consider what a life without him might look like. In that life I will inevitably know new people and do new things. At times the sense of guilt is overwhelming, and it’s just as illogical as resentment at him would be. And then came the thought: what this is is a parallel – a desperately sad one – of our old banter in which neither of us is leaving the other first, or both of us somehow are.
There’s nothing I can do about any of that. Matthew is where he is. At some point I will have to move forwards: there is nowhere else for me to go. But I hope desperately that as I do make that move, I do so holding in both hands the beautiful fact that, despite all the competition, or maybe because of it, our relationship never needed either of us to break it up.