Róisín Ingle on . . . a blast from the past!!!!!!!??


A prickly heat warmed my cheeks, crept down across the back of my neck, slithered southwards to my toes, which were curling slightly, when I saw his name in my inbox. He always had a fondness for exclamation marks. I had forgotten that. “Email back sometime!!” he wrote after our last exchange. But it’s been weeks now and I haven’t got around to responding.

Email back sometime? No. Not a good idea. Who knew where it all might end? Nowhere. It would go nowhere, end nowhere. It was just a moment, like an accidental glance into a teenage diary shut tight a few minutes reading.The surprise, the prickly heat, came from the idea of him being in my email box at all. He belonged in white envelopes made fat with several handwritten pages torn out of a ringbound notebook, stationery purloined from his office in a branch of the English bank that made those funny ads on TV. There was no such thing as emails then.

I loved getting those letters. We wrote for years after meeting on my first foreign holiday when I was 15. I told him I was 16. I remember his address. His postcode. This level of recall worries me especially since my head is mush regarding other more recent details: the other day I stopped one of my bosses to tell him two things and by the time I’d said the first one, I had forgotten the second.

Hello Miss Ingle! I’m sat at work on a long sunny Sunday afternoon and came across you on the internet during a very quiet period.......look at you all grown up and famous!!! How the devil are you my old pen pal from Ireland!!??!?!?!?!?!?!!

Thirteen. Thirteen exclamation marks and seven question marks died in the making of that email. I tried to be breezy in response, as though people I had holiday romances with more than 25 years ago and then became penpals with, exclaimed all over my inbox every day:

Argh! How embarrassing. Mortified!. How are you? Lovely to hear from you. Famous might be pushing it just a tad ... how’s things with you? x

Two exclamation marks. And a kiss. I put a kiss. Why did I do that? What if he interpreted it as a kiss kiss, not just a friendly peck on the cheek? Moments passed as I remembered kissing him in what you might call a more-than-friendly manner beside a moonlit beach, candles stuck in the sand. Argh! Stop it. Luckily he pinged back into my email before I could properly finish the thought.

“OMG - you’re embarrassed by me!?!??!!? I’m good thanks. Playing my part in repopulating the world and getting old. You?? How are your many siblings??? You still married? I’m chuffed for you though in all our correspondence (in the days before email!!!) you had a bent for writing. I’m merely plodding along ... getting grey and being totally uncool in the eyes of my kids!!! Tell me - do you still use the word spa. Please say you do!! x”

Twelve exclamation marks. Nine question marks. One kiss. I told him I wasn’t embarrassed by him, I was cringing for myself back in the day. I explained that nobody said spa anymore except in a massage context. Amid another flurry of exclamations marks he told me all about his soon-to-be wife and his ex-wife and I told him about my ex-husband and my maybe-one-day husband and our children. Then I called it quits while it was all just friendly and nothing else had crept in apart from the stray kiss.

I wrote: Hello again I have to go to bed. Can’t believe I stayed up this late. Anyway, very nice to “connect” with you again .Keep in touch. R x

And he wrote: Email back sometime!!

But I haven’t yet. I went to a restaurant the other night alone. A young couple took the table beside mine. They sat scanning the menus and when I looked down I noticed that the man had pushed his legs forward so that they entwined the woman’s legs under the table. I stared at their joined up legs for too long. I thought about how past events can still have a hold on your heart and other parts, decades after you thought you’d put them to bed. I decided I wanted to email him back. But then I deliberately wrote the whole story down here so the possible rekindling of our friendship wouldn’t be a secret.

I mean if I told nobody, well, who knows where it all might end!!???!!!?!!!???????? roisin@irishtimes.com

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