Age and hindsight are a funny combination.
Age teaches us what we feel happy with, whilst hindsight affords us a view of the past that enables us to see the truth of a particular event that, although we questioned the rudiments of its being at the time, we were in actuality correct about the disagreeableness of it all when it took place, even if it was over twenty years ago.
I was able to reach this conclusion during a series of discoveries on a recent trip I took with a friend to a birthday do of someone we had both known in our youth and had established contact with again via a social networking site.
Reaching a certain age has afforded me the freedom from fear of the known as well as the unknown and that, I must say, I find empowering and liberating on every level as I enjoy the exploration of new places and of meeting new people.
Knowing what suits you and what you like to do and what you do not like to do, offers an incredible freedom and an understanding of who you have become.
At times, when I think about the life map that I have followed that has led me to this point, I do have to admit that there were some choices I wish I'd had more control over and this journey with my friend brought into focus one of those past times that I'd had.
So here is the thing, my friend and I plan the trip, it is a pleasure to spend time with her as we share a bridged commonality of similar situations and a refreshing openness and humour of life which I know is a rare and wonderful thing.
We meet, travel to the location of our hotel in a gorgeous historical hamlet in England and we do not stop talking or laughing from the moment we meet until we say goodbye twenty-six hours later.
After we book into the hotel we go and explore the town and realise are both half staved so we have lunch and talk. It was so easy and unburdened and then revealing as during the course of our lunch conversation we speculated on who may also be in attendance at the gathering later that night, at which point his name came up.
I winced as I recalled this man and his relentless pursuit of me when I had been eighteen years old. I hadn't thought about it for a while, but when I retold the story it was as clear as it had been when it took place.
I had just left home and was lodging in a room of a house owned by a friend. I had no clear plans and all of my school friend had left and were away at university while I was working a dead-end job with no clear motive on a day-to-day basis other than to go to work, shop, eat and be sociable.
I was shy and lonely and I should imagine quite vulnerable.
He was an outsider, not someone whom I knew or became aware of from an established place like school or work, but rather a friend of a friend. He wanted me to go out with him but I wasn't interested as I didn't fancy him and I remember he had this rather unattractive twisted mouth, which made me feel quite sick. But he was relentless in his requests and would not take no for an answer. I eventually agreed to meet him and then stood him up. My landlord questioned me as to why I wasn't going to go and I said I just couldn't.
He didn't give up and continued to call either in person at the house or on the telephone until I agreed to go out with him again. So there we were on our first and only date in a pub by the river in West London and I remember thinking how I just wanted to get out of it and go home, but unlike now, I had no contingency plan to look after myself or protect me from a man like him.
It got late and he suggested we go to his for a coffee which wasn't that far away, but in fact was a fair old walk as it transpired and I ended up in a place which I was totally unfamiliar with.
I was so naive and raw it was unbelievable and he used this disadvantage to his advantage without even questioning the implications of his actions.
He was living in a squat that was filthy and squalid. I felt dirty just being there. He put on some music and proceed to have sex with me and I allowed that to happen because I didn't know how to say no.
I just remember how horrible it was and how he kept kissing me with his horrific distorted mouth and how afterwards he laid there singing some song in an arrogant all-conquering manner which I hated. I couldn't wait to get home and away from him.The next morning he took me to the station and waved me off as I pulled out on the first available train. When I got in, the first thing I did was to have a bath. I washed and scrubbed myself until I felt clean and then went to work and tried not to think about it.
I didn't ever want to see him again and I remember he made several attempts to see me again by calling unannounced at the house, once baring a bunch of roses. I asked my landlord to tell him I wasn't in if he called again and eventually he must have got he message and stopped coming.
I moved on.
My friend listened to this story and then revealed a similar situation with him a few years on from mine. He was again very controlled and insistent in his actions but my friend was more self-assured than I had been and told him no.
I couldn't believe what I was hearing as it affirmed my reading of his actions as wrong through those he had also attempted with her. I cannot explain what it felt like to hear her story, but the revelation of the fact that he had attempted to use the same method of what he had felt was acceptable with her, made me feel sick. The first question that this raised was who else he had done this too?
We discussed it further and then continued with our day and didn't allow it to overshadow the enjoyment of our trip. But it lingered between us and in both of our minds as we referred to it in passing again later prior to attending the do in a how odd that we should both have shared that history sort of way.
We went for a drink and laughed about things that men probably think women do not discuss. It was refreshing. We talk so much that we realise that we needed to get a move on as it is getting later and we needed to get ready and go to the do.
We call a cab from the hotel reception, a few moments later a lady driver arrives, she is amazingly funny, bright , honest and great company. We arrive and she wishes us well for the evening and we exchange a glance prior to entering the pub in which the do is being hosted, as we suddenly realise that we are about to see people we haven't seen for over twenty years. It is odd and scary and I am glad she is there as I wouldn't have come on my own and she later tells me the same.
We say hello to the host, he is gracious and touched that we have both travelled such a long way to attend. We see some other people from the past and we say hello to them. We steal a private moment together and I mention the possibility of the man we have spoken of at lunch being there and my friend says that she will asked the host. When she returns, she tells me that he has said that he is meant to be coming.
I don't know how I will feel about this situation until it is presented, but I am aware that I feel stronger and safe because I am no longer alone in this now due to the fact that I have shared the story with my friend and she has my back.
Time passes and we drink and laugh and talk to people we know and those we have never met before and may never meet again. At some point we are standing at the bar and I see him across the room and he sees me. I tell my friend and she sees him too and at that moment, he stands up and he makes his way over to us and says hello to me and not her and then kisses me on the cheek.
I cannot speak as I do not know what to say as I am back in his room in his squalid squat over twenty years before. He is overweight and middle age hasn't been kind to him, but most of all I notice his twisted mouth. It hasn't changed. I look at it and I feel like I am going to throw up.
I distract this uncomfortable moment by reminding him of my friend who is standing beside us by introducing her into the situation. At first he cannot place her, but then he remembers and I clearly see the realisation in his face and quite suddenly, the tables turn as it is two against one supported by a joint knowledge of his long ago actions.
A chill sets in.
The conversation halts. He leaves us and I draw strength from her support and we conclude that he is aware of the reasons why as much as we are.
As the evening unfolds we are happy and sociable and I am aware of him watching me and us and on several further occasions he attempts to infiltrate the circle we are part of not by joining in, but by remaining on the periphery like a predator. It is uncomfortable to watch and be aware of and is also quite familiar.
He makes no further attempts to speak to me, but I catch him watching me from time to time.
He leaves and eventually so do we.
We head back to the hotel in a cab driven by the same lady who had dropped us off earlier. She asks us how it all went and we tell her. By the time we arrive back at the hotel, she is like an old friend.
In our hotel room we discuss the evening and my friend says that she has enjoyed it but how much nicer it is to return to our room and spend time together.
We sleep and in the morning we get dressed, check out and have breakfast before embarking on our journey home together. We don't discuss him any further other than I happen to mention that he had sent me a message via the same social networking site that we are both friends with the host of the do on a few years ago citing the incident I have spoken to her about. For some reason unknown to me, this man and I are friends on the site. She asks me why? And advises me to change that, which I do when I get home with one click of my mouse.
When I get home, I realise how far I have come and although hindsight is a wonderful thing, I am grateful to have a friend like her who has helped me to realise that my instinct about something that took place so many years ago wasn't misguided but how I was. I speculate on who I am now as opposed to who I was then and I am proud of the woman I have become and all the women I know especially her.