Nothing is perfect, and I still had my constant companion, anxiety, which sometimes provoked minor (sometimes major) explosions. I had grown up observing and experiencing such flawed versions of love I had no idea how to navigate it. Peter – more on the depressive side – would have moods where he’d pull away and become cold. But mostly we knocked together a new city made of the ruins of our past and all the lessons salvaged from our previous decades.
For all our opposites, we shared the same values and ideals and we built that new city on all the things we found we loved in one another: fun, sex, laughter, kindness, contrast, swimming naked, afternoon cinema trips, recipes with too many ingredients to which we’d add a few more, long walks looking for the minutiae of domestic life, journeys on old trains, absurd humour, brutalist buildings, good bread, trash Australian TV, the first coffee of the morning, sneaking bottles of champagne into Pixar animations and getting gently smashed. The long list of the things we found alive and beautiful in life stitched our disparate parts together. I had never seen Peter be anything less than kind, gentle and excessively thoughtful to every human and animal he encountered. He’d rescue earthworms from Hackney pavements and walk them to the park.
In the end, the city we built together from the wrecks we had been lugging around felt solid. I believed it had strong foundations.
Or I did until I realised there was a thing that was bigger than our shared love of each other and life. A few years into our relationship, not yet married but already engaged, ‘the urge’, that baby urge, came upon me in a baking hot churchyard in Budapest where we’d been living for a few months, I said it almost conversationally, just as he had those years before, ‘You know, I think I would like to have a baby one day.’ And he replied, quick as a shot and just as fatal, ‘Well, I think I definitely don’t.’ And suddenly those solid foundations were very shaky indeed.
We sat in silence, the sun beating down, and then walked back to our crumbling old apartment – wooden floors, windows that rattled with the trains, a water heater held together with silver tape that smelled strongly of a gas leak – and lay down in bed together. He explained to me that he liked his life just as it was, that he was an independent person, a selfish one even. He didn’t want to feel responsible for another life and wasn’t having a child the ultimate responsibility? He liked floating around on a whim doing what he chose to with his day. Wasn’t having a child the polar opposite of everything our life was right then?
In the end, we backtracked, because continuing the conversation was too big. It meant too much. Because the road we were going down led nowhere good. ‘I’m not saying never. Maybe one day,’ he told me unconvincingly. ‘I wasn’t even really serious. We’ve loads of time to work it out,’ I replied equally unconvincingly.
But I didn’t work it out and, more and more, I began imagining something, someone, I thought to myself, 'part him and part me and completely its own thing too'.