The truth is hard
like yesterday's friend
and if we must live with the past
does it have to feel like incest?
17 December 1987
I can’t remember the last time I spoke to Rita. It was long after 1987 and a lot had to happen to both of us in between. This poem’s not about her but the more I found myself not wanting to talk about this poem the more I found myself thinking about Rita. I think the last time I talked to her—talked to her properly like friends can—was a few days before she gave birth to her first (and for all I know only) child. I have no idea how I found out where she was but somehow the information filtered down to me and I decided to visit but as I had to go to the hospital for a physiotherapy appointment I chose to chance my arm and to be honest I rather wanted to avoid regular visiting hours because you can’t talk then. I had nothing especially to talk to her about—we had no unresolved issues to put to bed—but I did want to be able to talk to her. To be honest I can’t remember much about what was said apart from one thing. She said, “Jimmy, I’ve done some terrible things, things I’ll never tell you about so don’t ask me.” Those may not have been her exact words. I don’t think she said “terrible” but “awful” doesn’t sound like her. It doesn’t matter. She’d done things she was deeply ashamed of and that much she did want me to know even if she couldn’t bear to relate the specifics.
I’ve loved Rita for over forty years even though I’ve not spoken to her in twenty and hardly saw her the ten prior to that. We were never anything more than friends. I would’ve liked to have been but she knew that would’ve ruined what we did have and so she gently disabused me of that notion. Then she got married and I got married or maybe I got married first and we drifted apart but were always pleased when we did run into each other. We got to pretend we were teenagers again for a few minutes and not adults who’d messed up.
I’ll never know what Rita has to live with. She probably imagined I wouldn’t be able to look at her if I knew. The thing is I really can’t imagine anything that would stop me feeling the way I do about her even though she hasn’t been that person for a long time. She’s probably a granny by now for Christ’s sake, Granny Rita. I don’t have a photo of her and I’ve tried to find her online but there’s nothing. I think I may have got her married name wrong and ‘Rita’s’ not even her legal name; I don’t know why her family called her that but it’s who she’ll always be to me. A while back I found a picture of a Russian girl that reminded me of her and this is what stands as a placeholder in my mind. I think it’s appropriate anyway. Most of our memories are mostly imaginings anyway.