I spent the late morning at Adrian's part of Melbourne yesterday, first having a quick brunch at the cafe just by the train station, followed by an hour of tennis. I had to wait for him to find a parking space, and when he casually sauntered up to me, my reaction upon seeing him was exactly the same as the reaction that I had when he arrived at Flinders Street station two weeks ago: I burst into laughter. It was entirely due to his manner of being, this put-on casualness that may or may not be what it seemed.
He was in a t-shirt which I found remarkable; walking to Flinders Street station from Southbank in the 8.30am cold nearly killed me (and I am pretty sure it made me ill; I felt quite sick later in the day, and I woke up today with a bad throat and a persistent cough). It was the kind of cold that characterises the English winter - the kind that would move me to put on a proper winter coat, not the in-between fall and winter black coat that I brought with me, and which turned my hands to ice.
The day soon warmed up, though. It was bright and sunny when it was time for tennis: a clear blue sky, no clouds, a suitably cooling warm temperature. He stood on the sunny side of the court, squinting into the sun, very kindly giving me the shaded portion. I think my performance yesterday was quite a dramatic improvement from the last time we played, i.e. in 2013 in London, Lincoln's Inn Fields tennis court, opposite the New Academic Building of the LSE. At that time, he sliced me to death with his backhand. Yesterday, I thought I handled it a lot better than I did 3 years ago, but there were still these shots that just died on the clay, giving me absolutely no chance.
I brought my racquet with me. After five minutes, my string broke. The strings were at least a year old, but if I was going to end up using one of his racquets anyway, I wouldn't have brought mine along. His racquet was heavy, the grip too big, but I don't think those two factors explained my crazy forehand: at least 40% of the forehand ended up in the adjacent court. He said, jokingly, that it was my genius tactic to force him way out of the court so that I could hit the next shot into the open court for a winner. Federer should have employed this tactic against Nadal, he continued; that was perhaps the only way he could've won.
I didn't get used to the clay; I felt like - to quote Maria Sharapova (and why not? I wore her 2010 Cincy outfit) - a cow on ice. He, on the other hand, was sliding like a pro. I spent so much time laughing that I couldn't focus properly, so I couldn't really get into a proper rhythm. At one point, I fumbled my way to the net, and he responded by sending a high ball my way. He probably knew this - I don't have an overhead at all. I did think of attempting an overhead, but I suddenly thought, 'I don't really want to embarrass myself even more with a shitty overhead', and so I gave it up, let the ball go, then collapsed into a fit of giggles. 'Where's your overhead?' he said.
When we were done, he kept asking me to punch him, to let out the rage that was in me for being defeated by the backhand slice. This is the kind of rubbish that he says that makes me laugh.
I had to leave at 1 because I had to get back to the apartment at 2, shower and have lunch, and leave for Melbourne University at about 3 because of my brother's graduation. He drove me to the train station, and I hopped on an earlier train.
The morning with him put me in a really good mood. I would have probably finished whatever I wanted to finish for my paper had the university library's early closing time not mess with my rhythm. Later in the evening, we exchanged some messages on Facebook. He sent some flirtatious messages which I didn't really take seriously (I don't know anymore when to take him seriously), but things kind of got serious when we were on the subject of the Inception poster, my 'birthday present'.
On my birthday, he wrote on my Facebook timeline that he'd gotten me a framed Inception poster for my birthday. It was meant as a joke all along, and he was right that I had forgotten about our running joke: that he'd gotten a framed poster of a movie that he didn't even like. At least I still have the crystal cow that he gave me - a Swarvoski crystal. It is in my room in Cambridge.
I've forgotten a lot of things. What we used to talk about, for instance; but this implies that we had a normal friendship. What I really mean by this is what we talked about in the week that we spent together in January 2012, when I came to Melbourne for the Australian Open and met him for the first time. I'd forgotten how much he cared about me in the months that followed, the emails that we exchanged which I spent last night reading until I fell asleep. I'd forgotten, too, how much he'd once meant to me.
After a delicious Italian lunch with the family at Southgate, I walked to the Flinders Street tram stop. It is directly opposite Federation Square. Looking at the Square, at the oddly-shaped structures and buildings, I vividly recalled having brunch with him in a restaurant there, his comments on my choice of breakfast - specifically, the 'pretentiously-cut apple' that accompanied my bircher muesli.
I cannot really explain the melancholy that beset me for the rest of the day. It was so distracting that I couldn't write my stupid paper properly, and I ended up not finishing what I'd wanted to finish. The melancholy is probably best described as a sense of loss: the loss of what we'd shared four years ago. I was a different person then. I don't think she exists anymore. Even though my feelings for him developed under very inappropriate circumstances (i.e. I was in a relationship), I think he knew a better version of me. I was only on the precipice of moral corruption; now, I have been there, sunk deep into its vortex of desperate oblivion, and it has numbed me to the emotional consequences of a morally wrong act. You get used to the self-loathing; you even get over it. You do whatever you have to to survive. But you are not the same person anymore. And because I am no longer her, the connection that we once had is gone, too.
Spending Friday morning with him also made me wonder about a possible (merely possible, not probable or realistic) alternate reality, one in which I am not mindlessly pursuing what I perceive to be the non-mundane, in which I am content with what I have, in which I am not perpetually chasing the greener grass on the other side. This PhD - I don't know why I think that I need this degree to validate myself. To whom am I validating myself? I don't fucking know. I am just so frustrated with this process, this bone-deep lonely process, this constant self-doubt, this feeling as if I am trying to be someone that I am not. But there's something that I'm worse at than passing the first year assessment of my PhD: giving up on something. My one-track mind mandates that I can't conceive of my life plans in any other way. I don't know what I would do if I don't do this, and I am too afraid to be left floundering, plunging back into the mundane life from which I have been - and still am - desperate to escape.
Will I ever stop being perpetually dissatisfied?
And Adrian - he is a sweetheart. I don't know what it is that makes me prone to forgetting; a self-defence mechanism, perhaps. It is easier to block things out. Because I remembered today, and the melancholy that ensued was unproductive, and I don't like these things. 'These things' meaning this futile rueing of what could have been, what once was but never really was, and what will probably never be.