But it seems there have been other channels for all this venting and pondering and bitching, whether in publications or in the pub with friends. Thank dog for friends.
Still, no matter how lovely and supportive my friends and family are, and how much we laugh together until our stomachs hurt, there is a pit of black stuff deep down that just doesn’t shift. Most days I can forget it’s there, and life is full of moments of small and large joys, intellectual challenges to meet and conquer, or not, piercing aesthetic experiences like the soft fog on the bay in the early early morning with a cup of coffee and hot buttered toast beckoning on the other side of the bridge. Amsterdam in the dead of winter after dark, street lights reflecting in the canals and on the corners of the wet cobblestones. A glimpse through a window of a black wooden table and dinner guests coming in the door. Barcelona in summer, a sharp white wine and supper at 11 pm after a long, long, thrilling day, children still playing outside and shrieking their summer delight. Mexico City in spring, getting served the ‘special’ coffee by the most elegant host in her most charming home, just blocks from the Frida Kahlo museum. Sitting on my hands because of my grubby, ungroomed fingernails, feeling like I’m 12.
The pain I wrote about in a previous post is past; I am reminded of it sometimes in a dull ache or a numb throb when I’ve overdone something like hoovering or sitting too long in a stupid position or standing for ages at the stove cooking something complicated. When it was at its worst, it was as if there was a long long string of barbed wire running through my ankle, and someone had one end of it and was drawing it out of my leg slowly, excruciatingly. There was no position to take, no way to physically shift, that relieved me or lessened the feeling of a ripping, shredding through my flesh.
It’s hard to imagine that pain could be worse. I know, I know, I haven’t experienced childbirth, so I’m being an overdramatic narcissist.
Then there is a brand new type of pain you thought you would never know, the kind that sneaks up on you and smashes you on the head with one fierce and stupefying metaphorical Joe Orton blow, when your life’s love, your soulmate, the only man you ever loved, the one you were going to grow old with, when he tells you he doesn’t want to live with you anymore. This is the kind of thing that happens to other people, not to you. You start walking through the world like a dog with a cone on her head. People start to back away from you like you have something infectious. You pack boxes. Lots of boxes. You pack them alone. You want to leave thousands of thumbtacks on the floor when you leave. Instead you leave a gift-wrapped birthday present on the sideboard for the oldest boy. (Later you learn that he isn't given it until three months after his birthday.) You and the movers carry out boxes to the moving truck. No one is at home - everyone has stayed away. You climb in the moving truck between the movers and tell them you are going to cry. They shrug. You weren’t able to say goodbye to the dog.
I was in your arms
Thinking I belonged there
I figured it made sense
Building me a fence
Building me a home
Thinking I'd be strong there
But I was a fool
Playing by the rules
You live with the pain for a year. You remove all traces of him to protect yourself. You surround yourself with laughter and beauty and music and books and the goodness of friends, and the stimulation of work. You look deep inside yourself to reach your inner strength and try to figure out your new identity. You do yoga and meditation. You cook yourself tasty meals and make yourself cheesecake. You create, you sing (out of tune), you dance (listing, like an old ship), you take long walks along strange streets in strange cities. You start to do things you never did before. You think you’ve killed all your houseplants when you were travelling for so long, but they start to revive and it seems like they are saying hello to you again. You rekindle old friendships and you spark up new ones, and you learn to like living alone. You hug your divorced friends and they hug you back. They send you short lines of encouragement by email. Keep well. Keep strong. And you do. Then you hear a song by ABBA or Patsy Cline and you crumble to the floor and sob until the salt stings your cheeks. Your hair turns even greyer and the lines around your eyes no longer disappear when you stop smiling.
Strange, you changed like night and day
Just up and walked away
When she came along
Oh, how strange
You knew this was a part of life. Love is heartbreak. You knew this is the foundation of songs and films. Men are always 24 hours from Tulsa. You saw all kinds of divorces around you. You knew in the abstract that others were suffering, that what you were walking over unseen and unheard in some people’s homes were the remains of their hearts. Some cleaved through, others shattered in tiny pieces, some just a little bruised. But it was impossible to really know that pain, to be able to acknowledge it beyond some yearning or a connection to a common, human ache, at the end of Brokeback Mountain, say, or even, dare I admit it, Dr Zhivago. (Well, it was a long time ago when I saw it, I was young.) Doris Lessing wrote about it, I don’t remember the book. One of the later ones that are about families living in large houses in London with lots of children and their friends coming in and out of the kitchen with its vast table. The main character knows that someone at work is going through a divorce, but her pain is behind a curtain. NSFW. Stop that crying. Don’t show that hurt in your eyes. You’ll affect people’s productivity. They don’t need to be contaminated by your personal shit. Come on. Get a grip. It happens to everyone.
Hurt me now, get it over.
You’ve got leaving on your mind.
Got back in contact with an old friend after losing touch for a couple of years. About her divorce, the same kind of betrayal, it happened about 15 years ago, she writes, There will always be a hole in my heart. So maybe I shouldn’t have expected the open wound to heal over in only a year. Today I gave the side table in my entryway a good dusting and noticed that the small crack in the bottom has cloven into a rift, it’s probably so dry in here. It looks like continental plates that have shifted, but, unlike the earthquake I experienced in Mexico City where I stood in the doorway wondering what the heck to do, this was a silent and progressive fracturing. I wonder if the whole desk is going to split in half or if the top will keep it together. I wonder if I have healed, and I feel healthy and happy and I’m on top of the world, and then Sunday night comes and the clouds close in and the traffic murmurs outside, and John Grant sings,
I see you closing all the doors,
I see the walls as they go up
and I’m too agoraphobic to go out and too claustrophobic to stay in, and the salt dries on my cheeks while I sit paralysed, and I can’t change the song because of the pain but I don’t want to change the song because Grant’s voice makes me yearn. The laundry needs to be hung up to dry and I sit and look at it in its pathetic damp crumple.
I don't know who I thought I was.
I guess I tried to love you because I thought I could afford
To take the risk and take a chance.
I do not know who I thought I was fooling.
I must have felt invincible in your arms
Like I could take the whole world on
The laundry needs to be hung up to dry so I finally get up and hang it on the rack and then I turn on the news and get into the shower so I can wash Sunday night away and get between the fresh clean sheets that smell like childhood and the future.
But it's easier for me to believe that you are lying to me
When you say you love me and when you say you need me.
Yes, it's easier for me to walk away and get on with my life
If I believed that you were deceiving me,
If I believed that you'd be leaving me one day, be leaving me one day.
Tomorrow I will put on my clean Monday morning face and clean weekday clothes whose fibres have been rid of the old skin and decay; I’ll clean my inbox of the detritus and I’ll clean my desk of last week’s dust and I’ll clean my brain of the last bits of Sunday night’s maudlin squalor and I’ll open a fresh new clean sheet of Word and life will begin again.