I saw M--- the other day. For the first time in over four years. She was on a seat by the roadside, talking with a lady she seemed to know. I was in the back of a BMW car driven by Jo, one of my newer friends, with Jo's elderly mum in the front. We had slowed to come round a corner, and there was M---. She looked in my direction.
There was no reason for her to peer closely at who might be in the back of an unfamiliar car, and so I resisted the temptation to slap on my sunglasses. I doubt if she could see me clearly anyway - although you know how it is: complete and immediate recognition needs only a very few visual cues. But she gave no sign of having seen me in person for the first time in over four years. There was no wide-eyed look of shock, at any rate. And in the days that followed there was no contact by phone, text or email. So it must have been an encounter involving recognition only on my side.
I might be quite wrong about that. I mustn't dismiss her powers of self-control, and her determination to forget the past, and keep me in a locked box at the back of her mind. Her lack of response could also indicate a coming-to-terms with what drove us apart, or even a complete indifference to the whole situation after the passage of several years.
I was pleased to see that although her hair was a thought greyer than when I last saw her, M--- looked fit and well. Of her present life, I know nothing of course. I certainly didn't know who she was talking to.
If you have been following this blog from its beginning, then you'll know much about M---'s role in my past life. We were very close once. That came to an end from 2008.
I still however mention her to friends - it's impossible not to, if I want to explain what I've done with the years since my marriage failed. Nowadays I speak of her as someone I thought very nice, very accomplished in what she took on, certainly a kindred spirit; a person I became firm friends with after she was tragically widowed; the person who introduced me to the delights of caravanning; my boon companion on many an enjoyable holiday in this country and abroad - including France, Los Angeles, New Zealand and Hong Kong. These are all positive memories. I cherish them.
But she was also (unlike me) highly interested in property and home improvements, and had a vision of ultimately owning a wonderful country residence - possibly a self-build - complete with extensive grounds and a marvellous view. She fatefully got me to partner her in a property venture that went sour - the Cottage at Piddinghoe - the protracted fallout from which destroyed us as close friends. She came out of that episode emotionally battered but financially unscathed. I came out of it with all my capital gone; and I'd been through the most frighteningly insecure period of my life.
Such an experience can't now be laughed off. M--- may well resent me for consuming her later middle age when she could have been friends with someone else. But I have reason to feel resentful too, for what I lost by getting involved in her property dream.
Buying the Cottage was to be the first step in a sequence of property transactions that would build up capital for that ultimate purchase, a plot of land or an existing home to be shared somehow with myself, her very special and much-loved friend. I say 'somehow' because pension issues would forever stop us living in the same space. So buying two cottages, knocking them together, but retaining both front doors, and therefore both addresses, might have been one answer. Or perhaps a mansion with an East Wing and a West Wing. It wasn't a straightforward money-making exercise: enjoying a stylish and satisfying way of life was at the end of it.
To be fair, it would all have come to be if the property market bubble hadn't burst. Yes, we should have seen the signs that bursting was imminent, but we were as blind to them as anyone else. How ironic that we nearly didn't get completion on the Cottage, the seller dragging his heels, and we had to press hard to remove the obstacles. I wish now we hadn't forced the pace so keenly.
I wish that I had instead declined to join M--- in her dream. It might have displeased her, but the displeasure would have been temporary, and my view of her would still be untarnished. That's the really sad thing: the pressures piled on by our failed property investment exposed extreme sides to her that I would never have seen in other circumstances. Even though I believe that at all times she was motivated by understandable self-preservation, and proper family considerations, I didn't like what developed. The mistrust, for example. It was a disillusionment I'd rather not have undergone.
But although I have grounds to feel some smouldering resentment, I don't smoulder. The passion, if there ever was much, is long spent. I can't now get worked up about it. I've taken the losses - financial and emotional - picked myself up, and got on with it.
The 'Cottage experience' remains a good lesson, a reason to be very wary. Any future 'friend' who wants me to invest in something will be completely wasting their breath. I'll never now look at any proposition. I don't want to risk the little I've lately built up. But equally - if not more so - I don't want to see another relationship with a social friend, or a neighbour, shipwrecked and ruined because of money. Friendships matter much, much more than building up money at the bank to fuel a dream.
So, having seen M--- from that back seat in the BMW, how did I feel?
I immediately wanted to tell Jo, but stopped myself. I didn't want her trying to intervene and attempting a reconciliation. I don't think she would have, there and then; but she might be appalled at the thought of a sundered friendship, and might have urged me to 'face up to my demons' and make some approach to M---. But I think this would be wrong. M--- is entitled to closure, whether angry, sad or otherwise. So am I.
And now, two weeks after the incident, I am relieved that M--- hasn't got in touch, and I'm perfectly content to let the situation ride. It's easier on my mind that way, and (although this is only a guess) perhaps M--- feels exactly the same.
One day we may meet up and discuss everything. Who knows. But this is something I'd prefer to leave entirely to fate.