I'd met her in a crowded room.
Beforehand, I never really thought I could have someone like her in my life. To be precise, I'd never envisage it because I wouldn't presume it could happen. Before I'd ever met her, I knew about her. Her name would come up in different circles, among new friends I was making, in discussions I was having.
Everyone who knew and knew of her cared deeply about her. She was obviously someone out of my league, in a different circle, someone I could only admire from afar. She didn't know a thing about me. Why would she?
On the recommendation of someone I had trusted for a while, I started to read some of her writing. I was only flirting with the idea of blogging but had issues about finding my own voice, the subject matter important to me and how to balance the personal and professional side, giving due attention to both.
Her stories came highly recommended - she was widely acknowledged as someone with the ability to use the right words at the right time. She had an art to composing her posts, which, though personal was accessible, something to connect with. I felt I had an insight into a life I'd never lead.
Truth be told, I was nervous about meeting her at all. She had a loyal set of followers who would jump to her aid if she needed it, or defence on the rare occasion it might seem prudent. She was prolific, uncompromising in her style and well respected in a community I felt I was peering through the fence at, longing to be able to join in the fun.
Yes, fine, she was only a person, but she was a person doing well what I desperately wanted to, but didn't feel confident enough to. It was irrational, but I tended to be tongue-tied in front of anyone I thought was great, no matter what the reason, and I normally left a not-as-good-as-it-could-be impression.
I knew she'd be in the bar that night - I sat with friends having a pint, wondering how I'd react when I finally saw her in person, as shy and gauche as I felt. I masked it, feigning confidence, bravado and my usual manic niceness. Still though, in the quiet moments my knees knocked. What impression was I making?
As soon as she appeared she was surrounded by her friends, her admirers. I desperately wanted to be able to go speak to her as an equal, as someone I could confidently approach. Instead I knew all I'd do was gush in admiration, while fearing the rebuff I deserved for not being part of the group. "Who are you?" was the question I, in my naivety, dreaded.
However, as the night went on, emboldened by drink and the convivial atmosphere, I ventured shyly over to make a proper introduction and say hello. She was in a good mood and I seem to have caught her at the right time, though those with her were obviously puzzled by this over enthusiastic and slightly strange person coming over to almost worship at their companion's feet.
Afterwards, I was puzzled by my hesitance - she was as lovely as I'd thought she'd be. How could she not be? I came away elated, though sure that I'd be only one of the many people she'd encounter that night. I thought she'd forget me.
But she didn't forget.
When I began my own blogging - stepping away from the sidelines and venturing in to kick the ball to the others, she encouraged and supported me. Her advice was always welcome, her challenge to me to keep going, to improve and to do like she did - promote, educate, entertain. As any relationship starts, it stared with a smile, a shared joke, a connection and as it deepened we both developed it to our benefits.
We'd meet up when we could. It wasn't always practical due more to geographical than personal circumstances but an email I'd sent almost cheekily chancing my arm became a reality I hadn't expected. We met of all places in a drive-thru McDonalds before sharing a coffee and a chat in my kitchen. She likes to remind me in front of her friends that I asked her to strip and change clothes on the first time in my house. Can't blame a guy for trying!
We'd connected. We shared a sense of divilment, of laughter and an appreciation of the simple joy of being able to walk around somewhere like Dublin Castle, the Chester Beatty library or the city centre. Our first meal together was interrupted by Gerry Adams and Mary Lou McDonald.
We each encountered old friends while out. Our affinity was evident, our mutual affection a source of smiles. No one openly questioned us, though obviously seemed surprised someone like her would choose to be with me. I didn't care, I was happy. We were friends.
When times got serious with my health recently she again surprised me with both great solace and practical guidance. She remembered hospital appointments, days the results were due and texted me on both. I was consistently impressed and elated she'd choose to spend her thoughts on me, despite having so much else on. Friends I've had for years weren't as considerate. She taught me a lot.
This weekend we ended up in the same place, near enough to my home town. Throughout the day I hadn't much chance to speak with her - brief encounters between commitments or conversations were all we had. It came time to go home. I wasn't sure when I'd see her again and I knew I'd miss her. So on a bit of a whim I interrupted the conversation she was having with her driving companions and said "How'd you like to stay overnight in my home and meet my parents?"
My parents are important to me. I consistently tell people that they'd never know the real me and my origin without meeting them first. It's practically the separation between acquaintances and friends. I didn't know how they'd react to me calling to say "do up my bed, please" for a woman they'd never heard of, never mind met before, but they're used enough to me now to know that it's only the important-to-me people I'd choose to inflict on them introduce them to.
There was a moment's silence after I asked her, then she burst into laughter, asking me to repeat it to her most trusted friend. "What would people think?" she laughed. I smiled along, though with fingers crossed, and realising it might not be the most opportune time, left her to discuss the idea with those around her. I rang me dad - "no problem, I'll do that" he said, without asking who or why. I suppose he was a bit surprised to hear someone else was coming, Niamh already spending the weekend but he chose not to ask.
"I'm all set" she said with a smile, as we bade goodbye to her companions, them nudging and winking to comic effect. "You're all right, she's on the pill" was roared at me across the room, turning me a deeper shade of crimson than the carpet I was standing on. Still, I knew I'd be expected to be on my best behaviour. And sure why wouldn't I be? After a meal and a drink (or three) we set off on the 40 minute journey.
The conversation in the car was pleasant, if slightly strange. For some reason I felt the need to warn her not to expect too much. Again, this wasn't important to her - I think she knew I was inviting her to deepen the relationship, almost as testament to how I felt about her in my life.
We drove through the Kilkenny countryside in the darkness passing familiar landmarks, each evoking a memory I felt prompted to share. I was nervous. I talked too much.
As we pulled into the drive I felt the same nervousness as I did when I brought Aoife or Natalie home for the first time. What would she think? Would they be okay? Would I be?
It was almost 10pm when we arrived. As I opened the side gate to let Niamh and her in, Lucky came out, tail wagging to greet the newcomer. The kitchen lights were on, my parents ready to greet the guest, to say hello to my friend, whoever they were.
"Hello", I said as I opened the door, "how's you?" I turned to her. "Welcome to my home. These are my parents" and to my parents I said, almost sounding ceremonious or scripted "I'd like you to meet a dear friend of mine. This is Marie."
And that's how Grannymar came to my home this weekend and met my parents.
We had a lovely time.
Monday, September 29, 2008
I'd met her in a crowded room.