During an entirely fun catch-up with an ex over food and drink, we get to rapping about how, all things considered, we're lucky to enjoy our scant moments stolen together, even if they're now devoid of pair-bond bliss.
It's an exploration based on current affinity rather than cathartic lament - not a bad place to touch down in the oft vengeful or insincere post-relationship badlands.
However, life is such that much remains unsaid, perhaps rightly so. Even the exhaust from that period fuelled by what she still characterizes as "the sickness (for each other)" is more than enough to infuse any number of conversations.
Masquerading as an assessment of "the way things are," our lighthearted banter turns a heavy corner, entering the nebulous realm of "us."
That there's technically no "us" makes me reluctant to meander along that well-trodden road, and finds me spewing the ubiquitous "it, being what it is," while somewhat feigning my content at leaving it at that.
This potential hot-button issue could morph into a real mess if not handled with care, so she presses gingerly, offering, "Say what you want, but you haven't been the same since that day."
Though a caveman at heart, I vanquish the urge to refute her position only because there's no escaping the light of its truth.
I say nothing and squirm, involuntarily transported back to a hollow place now shrouded by copious coping.
Funny thing is, "that" still easily conjured day in question isn't the one when she sent me packing for the final time. It was quite a bit afterwards.
The recognizable demons of separation seemed all but exorcised. We'd settled into cautious comfort in a new zone without animosity. I was out of town when hit with an urge for an indeterminate something more than the usual 'how-ya-doin'?'
My compulsion to somehow commune beyond as-yet-defined parameters wasn't some damnable reconciliatory plea. It wasn't any would-be stealth move or boomerang psych job though, as it turned out, I did manage to mind-fuck myself in making the gesture.
After I laid straight the "should I or shouldn't I" mental contortions for myself, I decided to embark on the New Age man path, finally endeavouring to drop the dime and lay sentiments on the line.
She was pleasantly surprised to hear from me, and after some perfunctory jabber I made an overtly playful (or so I thought) overture.
"Just calling to find out how much you're missing me over there," I quipped by way of coming clean that I had been really feeling her of late.
"It's not like it used to be," she responded without hesitation, mirth or bile.
Inexplicably gutted, I soldiered on enough to end the conversation without further incident.
Her statement of the obvious had ravaged me, and I don't know why. Worse yet, I had brought this down on myself.
In the good old days, back when men were men, there's no way I would have walked blindly into this wall of pain with so little to be gained. And it's all on me. No goofy call from the other end, no clinical state-of-our-union address.
Regardless, you wouldn't have thought decree would register as a blip on my psychological radar, since I'd already been banished from her secret council. But while the writing may have been on the wall long before, I certainly didn't need to hear it again in such terms of diminished endearment.
But therein lies the further rub.
I've never been a proponent of the unnecessary "sharing" of unformed thoughts, even when the stakes are high.
So this radical departure, after figuring there was nothing to lose, was ultimately a gross underestimation of the emotions still lurking in my apparently not thoroughly blackened heart.
Back in the real-time crucible of our dinner chat, the lady, now visibly baffled at my silence, awaits an answer that isn't forthcoming any time soon, if ever.
"Okay, then tell me why you won't talk about it?" she counters.
"Sometimes a fella just doesn't feel so fresh," is all I can offer, while internally combusting over the unchecked gum-flapping that got us here in the first place.
"What the hell is that supposed to mean?" she chortles, then contains it lest she offend.
"I've got feelings, too, you know," I tell her in all truth, but in a tone jocular enough to derail if not defuse the whole line of inquisition. We eyeball each other in lush silence. She's ever so lovely. I refill us both and we clink glasses.
"Men are so weird," she observes opaquely, signalling her strategic resignation on the matter.
Yeah - and good thing women aren't at all....