Some other realisations were happening at the dinner last week - the ex was there.
I'd be lying if I said that five years later, I don't still get butterflies when I hear or see his name - but not in a good way. I don't know what it is, but it's not any form of 'I can't wait'... it's more of a 'I hope he doesn't show', 'I hope she doesn't show' and 'This is going to go terribly'.
Amazingly, surprisingly, it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be.
He was late, and arrived alone - she was interstate and wouldn't be back in town until the next day. He nodded when he came in and said hello to me and the ten or so others already at the table. This was a big deal in itself - I have seen him maybe five times in person since we stopped doing what we were doing: as a group at a camping trip where I found out for certain he was with his new gf, as a group after work before I visited my new boyfriend (the one between him and The Hun), at an engagement party where he acted like I didn't exist, at a wedding where he looked right through me, at a wedding where I must have been invisible and dinner last Friday.
Conversation at the table was fine - it wasn't forced, it wasn't overly compensating and it wasn't too probing. He needed a lift back to his car in Barton - he'd been out before and dropped off at dinner, and it's pretty typical of him to just get people to do things for him. I offered to drop him off, I had D with me, and it went fine too. Not too familiar, no digs, no overly awkward silence.
He got out of the car and D let out with a sigh "Now THAT was awkward".
I didn't think it was - in fact, I thought it was great.
It was great to see that he is exactly the same as he was. Drinking - even though he doesn't like wine. Reminiscing and playing the blame game - it was never his fault when something when wrong. Joking - all show and no substance or depth. Busy - home and free less than he ever was. It confirmed for me just how far I have come, just how good it all is, just how lucky I am.
I was speaking to the birthday boy this afternoon about some of his girl troubles, and the dinner came up. How it seemed fine to him and it seemed fine to me. About how a lot of my anxiety comes from not knowing how he is going to act. How I stress because not only was I mistreated at the end of the relationship, but that I am also then ignored like I've done something wrong. How after the dinner I'd be confident that next time I go to a group thing that I'd have nothing to worry about.
He told me what I already knew - that the ex keeps his feelings hidden deeply, preferring to hide behind a taunt or a tease than say what he is really feeling. The he told me what I didn't know - that the ex was cut up when The Hun and I got together, that he and his gf fight a lot, that he wears the pants but that she is super possessive and jealous.
It is so bizarre to start to see him as human again. To think back to the end of the relationship and think that maybe, just maybe, his intent was not just to hurt me, but he was trying to help me and couldn't bring himself to do what was hardest... It is something that has been on my mind a bit since my submission to WarChild (hint, much?).
The point I'm coming to is: where to from here?
As the birthday boy told me, I have nothing to lose from here. I have the courage to talk to him and I have the courage to accept that I'm not guaranteed a decent reaction, if one at all (our last email conversation ended after he told me the day after Tom died that we should have performed mouth to mouth on Tom and we didn't try hard enough). My only wish is that I can keep in touch with my friends and not have to worry about him turning up or being on the email list. For him to be part of the background at very least - not the elephant in the room.
I want him to know that last Friday was good for me. Not in a 'Ha ha, sucker' kind of way, but in a standard social way. Like I told the birthday boy "It's like training a dog - I want to reward his positive behavior".