updated 19 Jun 2012, 01:18
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The five-year hitch
by Clara Chow

FIVE years into a relationship is when the magic starts to wear off a little.

You wake up some mornings and you both just seem to rub each other the wrong way.

"What do you want for breakfast?" I ask.

He doesn't answer, rolling over to the other side of the bed and closing his eyes again.

Before I leave for work, I turn at the door, hoping for a goodbye kiss. He regards me with distant eyes.

On some days, it's a series of shouting matches.

"I'm taking time out to sit at the table with you, at least you'd have the courtesy of finishing the lunch I made you," I might fume. Or, shrieking: "Who do you think you are? Who, really?"

I wonder why he doesn't compliment me on having nice eyes any more, preferring to hang out with other girls. I also wonder why he no longer hangs on to my every word; it used to be that everything I said was new and fascinating to him.

Holding hands is now a tango of disengagement: I reach for his hand, he pulls away, and turns and stalks off.

I gave up my singlehood for this? If I had known, I would have thought twice.

There are, however, good days. Cuddles, giggles, long conversations and working shoulder- to-shoulder on projects.

Then, I feel like happy days are here again. It'll just be like old times again, you and me, I think, as we fall asleep together with our heads on the same pillow.

But the mixed messages inevitably start up again.

"How was your day?" Silence.

"Okay, if you don't want to talk to me, I'm going to ignore you, too." Tears.

Two days ago, we had an early birthday celebration for him.

He was in an exceptionally good mood, holding forth animatedly at the dinner table. The wine flowed, the food was good - thanks to my sister-in-law, who had gone to the trouble of throwing the cosy family do for him.

As we were tucking into chocolate cake, my sister-in-law suddenly remembered and said to him: "Hey, I have a picture of you when you were a baby. Do you want to see it?"

He waved his fork in the air, smiled a little embarrassedly, made a non-committal gesture with one hand, then went back to masticating his cake.

So she asked me if I wanted to see it instead. I nodded. She got up from the table and I followed her as she led me to her den.

Some boxes still remain stacked in a corner, physical signifiers of her exciting, peripatetic lifestyle.

As the light flickered on in the room, she gestured towards five large frames mounted on the wall. Each frame was a painstakingly assembled, lovely montage of family photos. I peered closer at the photo she was trying to show me.

And, then, I saw it, detaching itself like a forgotten miracle from the other precious shards of memories in glossy colour surrounding it.

It was a photo of me cradling my son Julian, on the day he was born. I had sent it soon after the birth by e-mail to my sister- in-law, his stellar Aunt S, and then promptly forgotten about it.

Taken in the hospital room, from an angle slightly above, the print showed Julian's round, slick, black-haired head and bright pink face poking out from the blue baby blanket he was swaddled in.

But what really struck me was my own face in the picture: I looked pure joy and love at him.

And, in that moment, I was reminded exactly how I felt when I first became a mum. It was five years ago today, and the feelings may have ebbed and faded a little. But true magic seems to have a way of pouncing on you in a random room.

I lingered in the room for a while longer to fix the image in my mind. Then I turned out the light and left.

Happy fifth birthday, son.

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