Sometimes it’s good to read someone else’s account of circumstances to which you can in some ways relate. Whilst the book is fiction, it is actually based on real events in Graham Greene’s life and you can feel the depth of emotion that was poured into it. The book tells the story of two people, Sarah Miles (a married woman) and Maurice Bendrix, who had a relationship and the aftermath and self-questioning that came when Sarah broke it off unexpectedly with no word of explanation. Bendrix was left with unending questions and no real understanding of why that was – did it mean that the relationship meant nothing and that Sarah had just moved on to her next ‘conquest’ with no thought of him? The questions continually haunted him until one day, some years later, he saw her briefly and from there his questions took a new course.
“I cannot say how many days passed. The old disturbance had returned and in that state of blackness one can no more tell the days than a blind man can notice the changes of light”
An idea was inadvertently planted in his mind by Sarah’s husband – that a private detective might be able to help find the answers. So Bendrix contacted one and one of the things that the detective uncovers is Sarah’s diary. There laid before him is the truth of what happened. One night during the war they had spent the night together and a bomb had flown overhead and landed nearby. When Bendrix went down to survey the damage another bomb came over which was a direct hit. Sarah rushed downstairs to see what had happened and there he was lying ‘dead’ on the floor. She went back upstairs distraught and made a bargain with God, a God in whom she did not believe, that if Bendrix would live then she would learn to believe in God.
“Let him be alive and I will believe. Give him a chance. Let him have his happiness. Do this and I’ll believe. It doesn’t hurt to believe. So I said, I love him and I’ll do anything if you’ll make him alive, I said very slowly, I’ll give him up for ever, only let him be alive with a chance, and I pressed and pressed and I could feel the skin break and I said, people can love without seeing each other, can’t they, they love You all their lives without seeing you, and then he came in at the door, and he was alive, and I thought now that agony of being without him starts, and I wished he was safely back dead again under the door.”
Despite moments of weakness she never did make contact with him and Bendrix was left not knowing that it was because she loved him that she had let him go. When he did finally find out the truth he was elated, but by then, it was too late, as she died before they could be reunited.
“I sat on my bed and said to God: You’ve taken her, but you haven’t got me yet. I know Your cunning. You take us up to a high place and offer us the whole universe. You’re a devil, God, tempting us to leap. But I don’t want Your peace and I don’t want Your love. I wanted something very simple and very easy: I wanted Sarah for a lifetime and You took her away. With your great schemes You ruin our happiness like a harvester ruins a mouse’s nest: I hate You, God, I hate You as though You existed.”
Sometimes I wish that there was some great meaning behind A having broken off contact with me all that time ago. That somehow there were something that would make sense of it all and help me to understand. I can look at it on the surface and offer explanations, but they’re not really the answer because they are my answers, not A’s. But somehow I think it would be so painful to hear the truth that perhaps I am better off not knowing. I had thought that anyway, but a while ago G said to me that a mutual friend had given the impression that A did not have a good account to tell of me. A hard thing to hear.
When I met up with my friend K on Friday she asked me about A and I just said I hadn’t heard anything. K said to me “the problem with you is that you take people at their word. If someone says they will do something, you believe them and assume they will do it. A promised not to let you go and that your friendship would survive, promised to be in touch with you when you bumped into each other a while back, swore to you that the two of you would come out the other side of this. You believed those promises and you still do. All you can do is be disappointed in A for not honouring them”. I shrugged my shoulders and just said that it is my nature to believe people. K then said “You also have to accept that A will probably never believe that you are honourable in your intentions and that the friendship in itself matters enough without their being some other strings attached.” I just nodded my head in agreement*.
I woke up in the early hours of Sunday morning and was dreaming that A and I did finally get back in touch and were on decent terms with each other and it felt like such a relief. But then I remembered that it was just a dream and the moment was lost. Maybe one day.
“I wrote at the start that this was a record of hate, and walking there beside Henry towards the evening glass of beer, I found the one prayer that seemed to serve the winter mood: O God, You’ve done enough, You’ve robbed me of enough, I’m too tired and old to learn to love, leave me alone for ever.”
* At some point I will try and explain why that friendship was so important to me and continues to matter to me even now.