I was just coming away from one of the tills in Waitrose at midday today when I realised that following close behind me out of the store was someone I'd last seen eight years ago. It was the male half of a couple who had been friends with M--- (and her late husband) since their first teaching days, way back to the late 1960s. When I became M---'s close friend from 1994, I came to know them too. We didn't see a great deal of each other, but we seemed to get on well and easily as a foursome whenever we did meet up. For many years, we'd go for an occasional afternoon's walk, or see them for an evening meal every other month, and nearly every year would go round to their home for a family get-together on New Year's Eve. I thought D--- and his wife J--- were very pleasant and likeable people. They seemed to think highly of me too.
But the events of 2008 and 2009 that drove M--- and I apart must have been a problem for them. At the time I took it for granted that if they felt bound to side with anyone, it would clearly have to be M---, as they had known her for so very long. I was a mere latecomer. Nevertheless, I had considered them to be very caring and sensitive people, with balanced views, who wouldn't judge anyone without knowing the full story.
So it was a surprise when they didn't immediately come forward with offers to listen. M--- told me that she had explained her position to them. I thought they would feel it almost their duty to hear my position as well, and then attempt a process of mediation: I would have trusted them completely. But they did not. I was so disappointed. I badly wanted to discuss how it was with me, with reasonable people that I knew pretty well. But nothing. And after a few weeks, I felt very awkward about making an approach myself. They had effectively withdrawn into silence where I was concerned.
I had to conclude that either they had definitely taken sides - and were with M--- and against me - or they had decided to support neither of us. It might even be that our situation was so unusual that they were at a loss, and thought it best to stay out of it so far as they could. I must say, I could hardly blame them. Still, a letter would have been nice. But I never heard from them again.
And now, following me out of Waitrose, was D---. Only a few steps behind. What should I do?
People can change a lot in eight years, but he had hardly altered. Older, thinner, greyer. That was about it. Whereas I had changed considerably, getting greyer, and carrying more weight. He might not realise it was me. I had a two hundred yard walk ahead of me, through the length of the shopping centre, and I could see out of the corner of my eye that he was going the same way. But he wasn't making any attempt to catch up. Nor to drop behind, as one might if wanting to avoid an encounter. I decided that my appearance - as seen from mostly behind - hadn't spurred him to recognition.
Should I stop, turn about, and give him a greeting?
I considered that. But I decided not to. What good would it do? If he hadn't recognised me, he might have an unwelcome surprise when I accosted him. I couldn't be quite sure that smiles would break out. And what would we talk about? M--- was the only obvious subject. And not having heard from her for years, I had no news of her, and had nothing to say. Likewise, I knew nothing about how life had treated him and his wife, and their grown-up children. Had there been some tragedy I knew nothing of? I didn't want to make a painful blunder.
He might, or might not, be full of curiosity about myself - after all, here I was, alive and kicking, with abundant self-confidence, possibly confounding past opinions that I would come to a well-deserved bad end. But I wasn't sure I wanted to discuss how my life had sunk and then recovered in the years since 2008. I had come through an experience, and I was tired of talking about it. I didn't mind discussing my present life, but what interest would that have for him? All the old reference-points had gone. He wouldn't be able to relate to any of it. And I'd changed. I wasn't still the person he had known. He might not greatly like this new-style me!
So I didn't turn around, and just walked on. And by and by I saw that he was no longer following.
You have to draw a line. Eight years is a long period to bridge, especially when there was no previous fond farewell. It makes picking up the threads very difficult. So I didn't feel that I'd been a coward, and shirked a reconciliation. And if he and his wife were still friendly with M---, it would make things rather awkward for them, to have contact with me as well. A conflict of loyalties would arise. No, I'm sure I did the best thing.