Sunday, 19 May 2013

59. You have to specifically identify what you want

Sally and I are star-gazing.

Sally's flat is near a large cemetery. Sometimes when it's warm we picnic there, taking care to stay in the end among the Victorian tombs so we don't bother people who are mourning. At that end it doesn't need to be kept mathematically pristine in case of complaints and nature is allowed to proceed largely unbothered by humanity. It is wild and overgrown, full of tiny blue butterflies and lichen on weathered headstones, and in the spring there are carpets of primroses and bluebells. It's one of my dreams that I will be able to buy myself a plot in this part of the cemetery. I can't think of anywhere more beautiful to decay.

In the summer, we spread out Sally's gingham picnic rug under our favourite beech tree and drink white wine. We eat tiny cucumber sandwiches Sally has cut into hearts and stars, and follow them with lavender and rose macaron. We drink white wine and watch the bees getting in the columbine and buttercups. The ants pick up our sandwich crumbs and stagger around with them. Because people still retain a superstition about cemeteries and the mourners are all at the other end, we can go three or four hours without seeing another person.

On clear nights it's one of the few places in the city where it's dark enough to allow you to look at stars. At this time of year, the gates are shut and locked at half past four, but obviously this does not bother me and Sally. There are gaps in the fence if you know where to look, made by tramps and teenagers and couples looking for an al fresco shag.

"Perseus," says Sally, pointing. The stars dust the sky like sugar. They always seem clearer when it's cold.

My phone beeps. The message is from Chris. I open it.

- I'm really hurt that you would cut me off like this by voicemail and then ignore me at work. It's stressed me out and I'm having a difficult time anyway because of some personal stuff. You could have tried to talk to me about this.

I stare at the text message, frowning. I'm not sure how to respond.

When someone says to you "I feel hurt by this," that statement is all very well in itself to convey a state of mind. But it is not a tremendous amount of use when it comes to resolving the issue, because for resolution to happen it's necessary to specify the way in which the hurt is manifesting. Do you feel...betrayed? ignored? not valued? used? This is also true of feelings which one is trying to negotiate as an individual. It can't be fixed until you know exactly what's wrong.

In the same way, you have to specifically identify what you want before setting goals. "I want to get a new job," doesn't work as a goal. Where do you want to work? What do you hope to achieve by changing jobs? What's your time-frame? Where's the best place to look?

Of course, this may just be because I negotiate life best when I have a system of clear rules and objectives. Spontaneous behaviour scares me deeply, because I don't like unpredictable people. You have no way of knowing what might suddenly come into their heads as a good idea. I'm going to quit my job! I'm going to go to the beach! I'm going to stay out all night! I'm going to rape you! It's the same problem I have with people on any drugs harder than weed and MDMA; you're dealing with someone who is not thinking about things logically and in the case of drugs like coke or speed they're powered-up; augmented, if you like. They might, at any time, decide to erupt. If I'm honest, I don't really like drunk or stoned people for the same reason, but since I'm often very drunk or stoned myself it feels hypocritical.

I like people who have routines. Who get up at the same time every day, and don't mind going to the same pub at the same time every week for drinks. Who plan their parties and job exits and trips to the beach and off-their-face all-nighters at least a week in advance.

The message suddenly irritates me. It is a baited fish-hook; the expectation all the way through it is that I will text or call back and apologise to him. It's aggressive, designed to make me back-pedal and second-guess myself. He hasn't even asked me a question or asked me to meet him; it's a series of statements designed to hurt.

I delete it without replying.

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