The last time I saw Danny was about seven or eight years ago, or more. That's what happens when you have a baby; suddenly everyone you'd been seeing week in week out for years on end suddenly become invisible in your life as you get pulled in another direction. Even good friends are cast along the wayside and stop listening to your empty promises to meet up.
So when you do finally get your life back together you find that things have changed. What seems at first a most familiar landscape has pockets of history that you've completely missed.
Danny and Amy were regulars at the pub. A young couple in their twenties who seemed to have the golden ticket in their hands. Some couples are just gorgeous - good looking, good jobs, plenty of money, everything going for them and their whole lives mapped out. Amy, certainly, had a plan. She was used to making an entrance each week so that she could show off her new designer handbag, the shoes, the outfit. She glowed, and Danny stood beside her glowing in her wake.
A wedding seemed in the offing; the talk between them centred on possible farmhouses they might buy (-not your average first time buyers' house for Amy). They posed with other lovely young couples, laughing, smiling, looking round for approval. Or perhaps that was only Amy. But Danny had bought into her dreams as well.
The other week I thought I saw the back of him ambling away from the bar. He seemed to be rather drunk and was leaning to one side as he walked. His clothes were a mess and there was mud in his hair. It wasn't till he came back the other way that I realised that he wasn't drunk, or if so, only slightly. His whole left arm was missing and he was overcompensating for the loss of weight on one side as he walked towards me, as if he was still getting used to things.
Amy had disappeared, it seemed, and had since married a farmer in the next valley. All his bricks had come tumbling down at once - job, home, girlfriend - the whole mapped out future was torn to shreds. He was still coming to terms with this. Some things had slid, but that was temporary. But the pain on such a young face was evident. Still barely into his thirties, I thought, and yet he carried the weight of the world on one shoulder, hardened to his predicament and to the intense sympathy of others.
It had been a farm machinery accident which tore the whole limb. Whether it was his own fault or not was hard to say. Some said he had been drinking. It mattered not. And he didn't want to hear yet more sympathy for something that he couldn't change. He wanted me not to notice and to talk about the changes at the pub (none), the likelihood of snow and the planning application that everyone was in uproar about. His eyes begged only for that. I understood what he was saying.
'Why don't you come to supper?' I heard myself say,'We won't talk about ANYTHING,'
I was surprised, really, when he agreed. Our conversations had been almost superficial up to now, I thought. But Danny was desperate to gain some kind of normality into his life again and he didn't know really where to start. They'd kept him on at the farm but he could only really help out. He knew they were doing him a favour and he had swallowed his pride. What choice did he have? The regulars were still the same crowd and it was here he felt most at home. As the evening mellowed out and people seemed to forget he could become himself once more. His crowd of friends had altered. The shiny people seemed to have moved on elsewhere. He seemed far older than his years.
I watched him as I sat talking to a friend. He was still a very good looking lad; almost throwing himself into pointless conversation with a renowned pub bore just to keep himself going. I wondered what such a tragedy really does to a person, deep down. How hard is it to keep clinging on, to rise above a wave of depression that could so easily drag you under if you let it. Is it better to go looking for a possible future or to simply hold on to a fragile present. I didn't know that I would be able to help him answer that. We each surf that wave at times, and each behave differently. It's so easy to stand on the outside looking in and judge another's pain without having the remotest idea how the cycle of feelings, thoughts and behaviour really affect another person.
Danny had built a wall in front of himself and he needed this wall to make him strong and stop him falling apart. We talked about his brother's family and his sister's new boyfriend; his Dad's minor heart operation and the beleaguered cricket team's bad year. He was desperate to keep things light and I had no intention of treading on sore ground. I still wondered what we'd find to talk about. I wasn't used to this level of very casual conversation. It seemed pointless to me, somehow, and yet Danny was desperate for that level of pointlessness. Like an orange with a tightly-bound skin, there seemed no way to get into this man's inner world.
I was at a loss to know what to do. I hoped that a good meal would do the trick. Food has that way of unlocking the most complex of doors. To share food, to sit alongside another and eat separately in unison, is bonding. We are the same, you and I - we both eat. You can trust me because we have eaten together. The wall you have built can remain but if you let me scale it's huge height we might between us find some kind of answer to that question that you are unable to articulate. I was prepared to give it a go, should the opportunity arise.
As I take the dish out of the oven I see his brother's car draw up outside. Part of me automatically thinks to invite him in as well as it is quite a distance for him to travel, but I know Danny would not appreciate this. I rarely find myself so unsure of how to be. I need to take my lead from him and remember that he is actually only a handful of years older that my eldest son. He has lived a lot in the last few years.