Emmylou Harris and the McGarrigle sisters wrote a song called ‘All I left Behind’. My version is called ‘All They Left Behind’ and is a sort of inventory of my life, according to the items left in my flat when relationships have ended. Tea cups from Tim, a coffee bean grinder from Jim, T-shirts from Francesco, and a goose-down pillow from Ed. It doesn’t scan very well, but I’m sure Emmylou could make something of it.
Some might call it sad that my romantic history comes down to the reverse of a wedding list. But actually, it’s not that sad. The bean grinder is terrific, although, to be strictly accurate, Jim didn’t really leave it. He came to pick his stuff up and I hid it. I knew he would dump a load of things I didn’t want and take the only item that was useful so, in a fit of pique, I put the grinder in the boot of my car that day and drove off to work with it. I hadn’t exactly stolen it, I had just forgotten to tell him it was in the Peugeot 206. Don’t judge me. I left the Gaggia machine. What more did he want?
And I was right about him dumping a load of difficult items he couldn’t be bothered to shift. He left an awful breadmaker, which baked horrible smelling bread that made me feel sick, and an enormous tropical fish tank full of fish. The last of those fish only just died of natural causes quite recently. They lived for nearly ten years after we split up and I tended their every need through some misplaced sense of guilt.
They were having a laugh, clearly. The tank is finally gone now. But the horrible breadmaker is still under the sink. I can’t bring myself to get rid of it because I keep thinking that if this recession gets much worse I may need to bake my own bread. (Who am I kidding? Only David Cameron has the time to bake his own bread.) He left an old desktop PC as well, which had to be surgically removed by the council at great expense.
After Jim came Francesco, the Italian stallion fling on the rebound. When he finally cleared off to Heathrow after realising I wasn’t going to keep him for the rest of his days, he left two designer T-shirts and a limited edition baseball jacket he couldn’t fit in his little wheelie case. I still wear them. They are incredibly cool. A vain cad like him would want me to enjoy them.
After Francesco, came the angry broker. He never really spent that much time at my place, but he did leave his ‘little pillow’ on my bed. (Yes, yes, I know. A man who travels with a bespoke pillow was always going to be problematic.)
He sent me a terse email demanding it back. I’m ashamed to say I had to wash it before I delivered it because it was covered in mascara. I threw in a couple of Clint Eastwood DVDs, a golfing umbrella and some cutlery I didn’t like. I don’t know why, really. Possibly I wanted to detract from the poignancy of the tear-stained pillow. Possibly I just felt that a break-up from someone I had thought to be the love of my life should involve more hardware.
I do have quite a few outfits and pairs of shoes he bought me still in my flat. They torture me every time I open the wardrobe. I keep meaning to take them to Oxfam then I think, ‘No! Why should I not enjoy the only Diane von Fürstenberg dress I am ever going to be able to afford now the only prosperous man I have ever dated has left me. Ditto French Sole pumps. Ditto Tod’s handbag.’ Sometimes you just have to take refuge in naked materialism. The meaningless stuff he showered on me is all I’ve got left to remember him by.
And now, there’s the builder, who has bequeathed the huge gilt mirror above the mantelpiece that he picked up from a flea market. ‘Do you want some money for it?’ I ask. ‘Oh, no,’ he says, very decently, ‘you keep it. It looks nice in the flat.’ I probably will leave it there because it would be as difficult to move as the fish tank.
But the gilt mirror comes at a price, because when someone leaves something of theirs with you, it’s like a part of them is stuck with it. And I fear the part of the builder that is stuck with the mirror might be the part of him that genuinely loved me.
‘Only little things, inconsequential I could say. Of all I left behind with you along the lost highway.’