Sunday, 26 October 2014

93. The bubbles are teasing the petals of the flower

I am in Sally's flat. I am drinking a glass of prosecco. Sally has put a preserved wild hibiscus bud in the bottom of the glass, and the bubbles are teasing the petals of the flower so it slowly opens. Traces of the juice it was preserved in are turning the wine a very pale pink. The glass is a fragile vintage bubble with gold around the rim.

Sally's sofa is covered in fake fur throws and velvet pillows, and the lighting comes from a softly glowing lamp, with a shade shaped like a huge gold paper flower. The room smells faintly of jasmine. There are no hard edges or bright lights here.

Sometimes I need to get away from the too-loud, too-bright, too-hard world where people are full of anger and the plastic tables are stained with tea rings. Is this why men over the ages have idealised the realm of the feminine? This soft fantasy world, with all the colour and frippery and slippery satin they weren't allowed to provide for themselves, because they were men with everything that entailed. A world of soft voices and soft lighting and physical pleasure - not necessarily sexual, but in the silk under your hand and the taste of the delicate food. A quiet world where you can finally rest your tired senses.

Well, at least until the children came along. After which things would never be quiet again, unless you were rich enough to afford Nanny. Maybe that's one of the problems between the sexes. We give them a glimpse at solace and then take it away tired brain isn't working very well. My head is spinning. I can feel the tears burning in my eyes.

Sally is sitting in the chair opposite me, watching me. One hand is pulling restlessly at the buttons of her high-necked blouse; the other holds a burning cigarette. She's worried about me. So am I.

I don't know what to say, Alice,” she says.

No,” I say, looking into my prosecco.

Sally is quiet. She reaches out and taps her cigarette into a green cut-glass ashtray.

I wish I could be one thing or the other,” I say. “Either happy in a relationship or happy alone.”

No-one's happy all the time,” says Sally, taking a drag. “Life is hard work. Other people are hard work. Sometimes I even find myself to be hard work.”

I really don't -” I break off, close my eyes, try again. “He's my friend. I don't want to hurt him. I want him to be my friend. I want us to carry on having sex. I want him to be around and make me laugh and get stoned and watch stupid films with me. I want him to hold my hand. I don't really get the whole being in love thing, or what it means, or what it's meant to feel like, but this feels good. It feels good.”

I imagine if I finished it and had to watch Martin happy with another girl. It makes me feel as if someone has slid an cold icicle slowly into my heart. But the thing is, he probably would be happier with another girl. How can I possibly make him happy?

This morning we woke up together. I turned my head and he was looking at me with love, an expression of happiness so deeply stupid it made him look like he had a subnormal IQ, and I suddenly wanted to hit him. It was an uncontrollable wave of rage from somewhere deep inside; I was furious. I buried my head in his neck so he couldn't see my face, and it passed, but it terrified me.

Let's break it down,” says Sally, waving her cigarette.

I want to hurt him because:
he loves me. What is he, an idiot? 
of my belief that sexual love is ownership. I've spent most of my life looking for an "owner" because without one I'm worthless. Now I have one, and the other side of the scales kicks in. I hate being owned.
I'm in pain. How the fuck is he allowed to be so ridiculously, stupidly happy? Why should he have that, when I can't? How can I make him happy, when I can't make myself happy?

I want to drive him away. I want to laugh in his face, to take the piss out of how pathetic he is and see him freeze up with unbelieving hurt and then turn as cold as stone, and while I would hate that expression there is a bit of me that would like it much, much better than the vulnerability and affection I'm seeing now. 

Why, Alice?

Because this is outside my comfort zone. Because I don't know how to do this, I can love but I don't know how to be loved, and the idea of it makes me frightened and angry.

But I'm lonely. But I want him.

So what does what I want matter? I want a lot of things I'm never going to have. The problem is that understanding how and why I feel what I feel doesn't change shit.

I realise, suddenly, that whatever the truth is of my thoughts, it doesn't matter how much I love Martin. I can't be in a relationship. Do this, over and over, for however long, maybe for the next 20 years? It's just too hard. I will, inevitably, end up hitting him or yelling at him to fuck off one day. And it will be just because he openly loves me. I'm too damaged, and I'll end up damaging him. He deserves better.

It's too big a mountain. And it hurts like fuck to admit it, and I know how much I am about to lose, but there is only one thing I can do. 

Saturday, 11 October 2014

92. A two-hour bubble bath

I am late for work. Phenomenally late.

It's nearly 10am, and I haven't left the house. I know this, and I'm still curled up in my dressing gown on the sofa, drinking coffee. I don't seem to have the impetus to move. Everyone will be cross with me. I'm cross with myself, in a sort of distant way. But I'm still not moving and it's getting to the kind of “late” where I will have to call in sick just to save face.

I want to call in sick. I want to stay at home and have a two-hour bubble bath, drink wine all day, and listen to Type O Negative. And then call in sick again tomorrow, and do the same thing. Maybe Amanda could come over tomorrow afternoon. And then it'll be the weekend.

It's been two years since I had a day off sick. Maybe I should just do it. And today I'm supposed to be meeting Martin for lunch, and I need some time.
We had lunch together Monday and Tuesday and he stayed over twice this week already. We have been in constant text and email contact. Maybe if I tell him I'm ill, he'll leave me alone long enough for me to regroup.

It's not that I don't like him. I do like him. He makes me happy. At least, I think he makes me happy. Somewhere among all the buffeting waves of emotion I can see glimpses of contentment and happiness. Something I can nearly grasp, it's right there, I just have to swim through all the other stuff first and then when I'm used to having him with me, when we are used to each other, when it isn't new any more and I can actually relax, I'll be able to enjoy it.

But at the moment the conflict between my desire, for him and to be with him, and my fear, of how vulnerable that desire makes me feel, is such an intense combination that I can barely function.

I suddenly realise I'm shivering as I sit on the sofa. I'm hunched up too, squashed into just one corner of it. My knees are to my chest, and my arms over my breasts.

I decide to call in sick. Fuck it. This isn't physical, true, but it is definitely some kind of existential sickness and the truth is it's not like anyone will miss me. It's not like my job is even worthwhile, or important. Pushing press releases no-one will publish on how great our new loan package is. Justifying why the firm are hiking the interest on debts, when we declared a large profit last year and the economy is so bad that we are likely to be actually causing suicides -

My eyes close. I don't want to think about it.

Why do I do what I do? Why do I hate myself so much? Why can't I just be happy that I've met someone? I've wanted this for so long, and there have been so many failed attempts, and this might actually work and I'm so terrified I'm calling in sick to work.

My phone beeps. Someone's texted me.
I honestly don't know what I would do without Amanda sometimes. I try to remember the next line of the song to text it back, but I can't and I can't be bothered to google it so instead I text “Smoke Meth and Eat Pussy”, which I think is probably a decent guess.

I call Jeremy and get his answer machine. I'm not supposed to leave messages on the answer machine when I'm calling in, but I do anyway. I text Martin to say I'm sick, add in that I'm going back to bed for some more sleep so that he won't worry when he texts back and I don't answer, and then I turn off my mobile, unplug the landline and run myself a bath.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

91. Facing each other

Martin and I are lying on my bed, facing each other, staring into each other’s eyes. His left little finger is wrapped around my right little finger. We have not said anything for at least a minute. I have a horrible suspicion that we are in love.

In love. Alice Chambers in love.


And why is that, Matthew, may I ask?


Martin likes me.


We had sex ages ago, so if he’s that bored and repulsed by me why hasn’t he put his trousers on and fucked off then?



Yeah, you don’t have an answer for that, do you? You fucking loser.

Martin gives me a slow smile. It makes his brown eyes crinkle up underneath. It is a sly, shy, happy, utterly beautiful smile. I feel my own smile start in response and in this moment I feel there is nothing more I want from life. I have now tasted the best - the absolute best - that the world can offer a human being. This is the pinnacle. Anything good from here on in is just a bonus

I remember, just for a second, that what I think is Matthew is actually me. Of course it is me. The real Matthew, from what I remember, could hardly string a sentence together and is unlikely to use “verboten”.

He's probably graduated to internet chatrooms now. Course he has. Stalk children in the comfort of your own home why am I thinking about him now? I'm lying on my bed with a beautiful half-naked man who is - however improbably - apparently interested in me. Why am I thinking about Matthew now?

Is this not ever going to go away?

The answer is no, it's not. It doesn't ever go away. You just learn to accept it as normal and live with it. Or spend your entire life out of your head on drink and drugs, or selling yourself, or hysterically scrambling to the top of the corporate ladder in a desperate struggle to be someone different, or any of the other variations on “not living with it” I have seen in my time.

Sometimes I live with it, sometimes I don't. Sometimes I should just fucking forget about it.

I'm suddenly terrified. I can't have sex with Martin, what if he thinks I'm laughably crap in bed? What if I freak out and have a flashback at a crucial moment? What if he gets upset by my pubes?

(One of the insecurities I have, sexually speaking, is that I flatly refuse to shave my pubic hair. I don't know why that is, exactly; I have no trouble with armpits or legs, but the thought of anything more intimate provokes an immediate and hysterical emotional response along the lines of: "I WON'T DO IT AND YOU CAN'T MAKE ME!" As a result, my hair sprawls where it pleases, wild and untamed. Occasionally I clip it a bit, as I have a couple of very long tufts which give a kind of Mohican effect if left, but usually it just does its own thing. The idea of shaving makes me feel like a prepubescent and, for obvious reasons, I hate that. But it's also the norm. People expect it. Martin probably expects it.)

He's kissing me again. It's really nice. No, it's more than that, it's great. He smells lovely, and I want to bury my face in his neck but I don't because I'm not sure whether he wants me to. Whether this might not be real, or somehow might turn out to be some huge hurtful joke. There are so many conflicting emotions – happiness, lust, astonishment, guilt, shame, fear, insecurity, the overwhelmingness of being this close to another person after so long – that I'm starting to feel nauseous, which isn't helping on any level.

Oh God. I can't do this.