Not the one.
An extremely clever and expensively educated woman, who knew all about human psychology, once told me who I was and where I came from and how I fitted in. She told me exactly, precisely and to her mind, cruelly, who I was and what I was, and where I would end up. She drew her own neat circle about me, delineating me nicely and told me that’s all I would ever amount to and I’d never get out of it.
I’d trusted her, shared a few confidences with her, just enough for her to unerringly use them to hurt me in a few areas she instinctively knew were still tender. She stabbed away and watched for results to get better on target. A ruthless betrayal of any confessions shared by a lover was part of the abusive spiral of violence she’d fallen into the habit of practising. It had a ceremonial feel to it, the usual lap of victory around the body of a vanquished lover but from my view it looked nothing better than a hysterical running away from a relationship that was in danger of deepening into something that she could not handle.
Her belief in a world of unerring certainty about the shittiness of people killed our putative relationship in the end. She was convinced there was no goodness in people, no hope. Outside of all the compendious textbooks of psychology she’d studied, she actually knew nothing about ordinary people. Her knowledge of abnormal psychology was superb but in a very real sense, she knew absolutely nothing about the average person. There was something deep inside her that I’d seen and really liked and which I thought I could somehow tease out, after burning my way through the elegant but vicious ice maiden exterior.
It wasn’t about us but it was her best attempt at being cruel and merciless and although it was pretty articulate, in the end, we both knew what we were talking about was where she was coming from or more accurately where she was, and why she was outraged at me not willing to join her in the personal well of despair which was her view of people and the world.
She needed me to come back with an equally nihilistic and brutal critique of her, so there’d be the usual screaming match so many of her relationships had ended with. I still liked that vulnerable person I saw hiding inside her not to do anything so cheap. Despite the frosted over armour plating, she was very fragile. One light but precise tap with a ball-pein hammer on exactly the right edge of her was all it would take to shatter her into a million little pieces. She watched and waited for the reaction but it wasn’t forthcoming.
What she was looking at was the cold part of me, the aspect of me I’d known better than to share with her just yet. The bit that just wanted to go home. She got a sideways whiff of what she interpreted as pity and that just ramped the whole thing up off the scale. It was her last brutal attempt to stop me walking away, or to put that a different way, who was dumping who.
I’d finally realised she knew nothing about me and was quite simply oblivious to the person I actually was, in the way only people who think of themselves and life as being all about how clever, slick, connected and more informed you are. She insisted on believing that where our opinions diverged, it was down to her being more intelligent than me, and me thinking with my heart rather than my head. Guilty as charged, I suppose, but happily so, because I’m a human being rather than some sort of bloody clockwork marching robot churned out by a toy factory somewhere.
We’ve all had them – the relationship that can’t work. At some point, you look at them, and you finally see how they see you through their eyes and that’s the end of anything long-term you could ever have. Feeling about certain things rather than computing about them made me somehow a child of a lesser god, who was therefore doomed to be indulged like a pet or something. Her whole life to date had managed to teach her nothing of consequence. It was bloodless and ultimately devoid of any simple human compassion for others, except obviously in her case. I could never live with that, even with someone I was very fond of. There is no common ground, no way forward. It’s doomed from that moment on.
Yes, of course, it was nasty end of affair stuff. We’d been lovers and had some light and happy moments together. Somewhere, through her confident deconstruction of the human being I was, and which she absolutely had to deliver, she noticed I’d given up on her, which increased the ferocity of her deconstruction of me. She was so comfortably strong inside her walls of Castle Desperation and I’d come to accept I would never breach them.
It was the one thing she never got and somehow could never understand – I was too troubled to be decadent nor could ever be easy with that lifestyle. Marginal people like me can’t afford that, because always flailing away in a losing fight to maintain some sort of decent functional equilibrium in society is the only time we really feel alive. It keeps us going. A life of unworried contentment would be lethal for the likes of me. Where I came from, decadence, like those last two commas, was unheard of. For me, it was always planted in a hurtful real world because it was that which stopped me spiralling downwards.
I watched her, wanted her, loved her oh so desperately, but slowly came to realise she’d never outgrow being anything more than a spoilt brat and came to despise her for her lack of trust in me and her lack of courage to come out from behind those towering but safe walls. Come on girl, just hop up behind me on the back of my horse, put your arms around my waist and we’ll gallop the hell out of here for good. Over the hills and far away.
She saw that simple offer, still wanted me inside those walls and therefore hated me even more. It’s my nature to besiege such battlements, not to cringe before them nor ever behind them, but I do know when you just have to fold a hand and walk away from the table.
I’d had a huge affection for that someone hiding inside her but what she could never get past was some competitive man-woman thing, and it was compounded by some bra-burning ethos she felt obliged to be affecting, with more than a heavy touch of every man is your Dad hang-up or has to prove he’s not him, so we were pretty much holed below the water line from the very start.
I remember very early on in our relationship and as a joke before I found out anything about her circumstances, making a crack about her Dad’s coat being thrown over the kids’ bed on a winter’s night and her look of blank incomprehension. As it turned out, she’d never slept in an unheated house that smelled of paraffin all through winter, never lived on short rations, never actually missed a meal in her entire life, never juggled a handful of bills that couldn’t all be paid at once. Never worried that unless she found a job real soon, the landlord would be around changing locks and she’d be out.
Never once looked confidently at a sea of expectant faces turned to you who absolutely knew you’d get them out of this bad situation, and you’d no fucking idea – not a single one. You’d find one though, you’d never failed them yet. She’d never once been in mortal danger and had that unbidden thought flash through her head – this is it, the day, the moment I’m going to die, it can’t be happening to me, I’m the main character in this movie. Hold it together, stay calm, think, stay alive. Live.
Her parents weren’t helping out in the situation. As far as I could make out, the mum was background furniture to someone else’s life and dad regarded me as just a teddy bear with testicles he was going to buy for her to reinvigorate a jaded old family bloodline. Very generously, he was quite prepared to overlook my lack of breeding in exchange for a bit of fresh gene infusion.
Jesus, talk about massively over aspirant bourgeois affectations. There’s some things you can’t buy and despite my many colossal faults, my poor little doggie paddling spermatozoa were never up for sale. He entertained me over cut glass scotches in his study while the wimmen listened like timid mice at the keyhole, as he went the long way around to making the basic sales pitch to me.
I’ve got enough Blarney in me to pad a single sentence up to several paragraphs and did so, but fuck you Daddy Warbucks would be the executive summary of my considered reply to him. That really pissed him off big time, which pleased her because nobody said no to him, but of course after a decent interval she got to work on me to kiss and make up with Daddy – he had his hands on the purse strings after all. The interpersonal dynamics in that family were simply terrible.
Every one of them was keenly aware of the price of everything but had absolutely no idea of the value of anything, to borrow a phrase from Oscar. Once you allow yourself to be sucked into the orbit of a dominant sociopath, you are in danger of becoming a behavioural clone of them. You have to break free or their tidal forces will pull you apart.
I could take all that dysfunctional family crap for her sake but what killed the relationship off in the end was my unwillingness to be as cynical about things as her. Like her father, who’d heavily imprinted her acting on his own particular idea of being an alpha male, she saw everything in terms of a deal – you want me, this is what I need of you, and that was a way to think about life. There is no generosity, nothing is free, life belongs to the strong and the weak get mashed up against the wall.
I’d seen what a real alpha male looked like, and it wasn’t anything like that narrow, aggressive, snide, money-pinching little speared turd of shit on a stick. It was about getting everyone home, everyone safe, carrying the buggers over your shoulder if that’s the only way it could be done, even if that meant taking a few bullets yourself. All the entry wounds were in the front of him and yet he still succeeded. You knew him for what he was, respected and loved him, and quietly protecting him against his stupid noble impulses at all costs became your priority.
You ever once see a man like that in action, you’ve always got a real standard to aim at.
Her mind-set was that after all she’d been through, it was payback time for the world. The curiosity about that was that I was the one who’d got through some difficult times, while as far as I could see, she’d never been through anything more awkward than a socially embarrassing five minutes in her whole life, and that was probably about her wearing the same horrendously expensive posh frock to the deb’s ball as someone else.
She’d everything – brains, a good looker, a family with shed loads of money, a great start in life, a monied upbringing, private fully paid up education, a cushy but swish and stress-free job courtesy of Dad’s connections, a trust fund from hell safely ring-fenced from the taxman and the whole result of it all was a deep soul-rotting cynicism about anyone, everyone and everything. I knew I’d die inside that world just like she was doing before my very eyes, and yet she refused to take the leap of faith into relative poverty with a raggle taggle gypsy like me. Money is money, after all said and done, and it’s an addiction.
They had mistaken patience and understanding as signs of a weakness which could be crushed, but so often they’re the traits exhibited by people who’ve learnt enough to know relationships are about a lot more than some crude dominance or submission. It’s a partnership, a mutual dependency, about two becoming one. At different times and in different situations, you lead or you follow, but you always look out for each other. When one might be going through a bad patch, the other one takes over the heavy lifting to get them both through.
When you truly love someone, you open your heart up in the end, rip your shirt open with buttons pinging off and say here it is, my heart, stab it through if you must. I’m helpless and I’m at your mercy, it’s yours to dispose of as you wish. That sort of surrender is just interpreted as weakness by people who don’t know any better, but it’s your ground zero act of faith in the person you love, and their reaction will make you a pairing for life or not.
I met a girl who burnt the back of my hand with a hot spoon, freshly plucked from her first glass of Russian tea on our first date. It was unexpected, capricious and hurt. On pure reflex, I shot straight to my feet ready to do the boom boom rock the room stuff. Once she got over the fright of me nearly overturning the table in the restaurant, she smiled. I was such a bloody fool in those days.
She was just poking the cage, checking out on day one what was in there when my attention momentarily wandered off her. I came to love her for doing unexpected things like that.
My silly girl, my fine woman, my good fortune. The one.
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