This is the second episode of the fourth series of Muselings. I talk about turning thirty and read something that I wrote around that time.
Marked as explicit on Apple Podcasts because of swearing.
A transcript of this episode is below.
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When I turned 30, I remember feeling a weight lift off my shoulders. I was no longer in the running to become a brilliant young something. No one, at any point in the future was ever going to write of me that I was a veteran of the stage or the page or the screen with, I don’t know, 40 years behind me and still very much in my prime. And that was a relief. The largely self-imposed pressure to be young and brilliant, as so many of my heroes had been, was a lot to carry. And I was just too old for any of that to apply now. But, of course, age is not a simple thing, is it, and, as I turned 30, I think I also started to understand that it has layers, and that it flakes under the right kind of pressure. As a teenager, I’d always felt so very mature, partly because I was queer, I suppose, and partly because I was an intellectual. I knew a lot of things because I read a lot and I was interested in what I read, and I liked to think and talk about what I knew. And that feeling continued to a large extent throughout my 20s. And still continues today, really, but as I entered my thirties, I think I started to realise that practice is also important and that, as far as much of life was concerned, and certainly as far as emotional life was concerned, I had not been practising. I started to worry that, maybe it was too late to get good at a lot of the things that so many of my contemporaries had learned through just getting out there and taking risks and so on and that, in that sense, I was always going to be uncomfortably young.
You have gone, which you’re going to hear in a moment or two, was written in Basel, Switzerland, at the beginning of 2011, just a few weeks before I met someone that I would go on to be in a relationship with for just over a year – which is the still the longest romantic relationship that I’ve ever been in. I’m sure I re-wrote the piece a little between then and the 29th of December, 2013, which is when I last modified the Word document (at 12:22am, apparently), but I know that I first wrote it in Basel in January of 2011. I remember sitting at the dining room table of my friend’s parents’ house, somewhere up a hill in a very nice part of the city, with a view out of the back windows across a lawn that, with no apparent dividing line, became the lawn of another house. No hedges, no curtains. That seemed to be the way things were done there. We were all of us living our lives within sight of each other, had any of us wanted to look. I wanted to look, obviously, but I don’t remember the neighbours doing anything very interesting; it’s possible they were all out of town, as were my friend’s parents, which is why I got to stay in the house. Oh! They had a heated floor in their bathroom. Can you imagine? Anyway… I was in Basel to work, rehearsing six days a week in the cold and, on some of those days, in the evening, I sat down at this dining room table, after I’d cooked and eaten, and, between bouts of staring out of the window and across the dark lawns, I stitched together some bits and pieces of writing from notebooks and Word documents and loose A4 pages to make this, which I called You have gone. I don’t know any more whether it’s good or not good but I like it. I still like it. It speaks to me of myself. I recognise myself in it. Some of it is comforting because it reminds me that, despite everything, I have grown up a little over the last seven and a half years, and some of it is not comforting at all for the opposite reason.
Now, what you’re going to hear – and I’ll play it in just a moment – is a version of You have gone that I recorded in June 2015. Or, at least, that’s when the mp3 file was created and I assume that’s when I recorded it. I don’t remember. When I decided that I was going to put it out here, as a Museling, I listened to it again, sitting at my kitchen table here in London, and to start with I wanted to re-record it, because I’m just dissatisfied with how it sounds. I would have pitched my voice differently. Changed the timing. Sounded a little less uncomfortably posh. If that’s possible. But then I thought, ugh, I’d only be dissatisfied with any new recording for all the same reasons. And then I thought, you know, this 2015 recording is as much an artefact as the writing itself, isn’t it. If I were going to re-record it, why wouldn’t I re-edit the piece? And if were to edit the piece, I would probably cut it down to almost nothing at this point. So, in an effort to save this from almost total destruction, here it is, as I recorded it nearly three and a half years ago.
It’s about 18 minutes long and, while I don’t want to be at all directive, I think it will work better if you listen to it all in one go. It was written as a single piece and I think it does still work better like that. I mean, do what you want, obviously. But that’s my suggestion.
Oh, and just before I play it: I apologise for my use of the word ‘cunt’ in this piece. I still like the sound of the word – I find it satisfying to hear and to say – but I’m no longer sure that it’s an appropriate word to use as an insult.
Here’s the piece, anyway. It’s called You have gone.
Content note: Language (obviously), sex, relationships… voyeurism?
Okay so you are not that crazy about the guy, but there he is, you know? And you’re pleased with yourself because, after all, you’re managing not to be completely repulsed by him, and, all right, so it’s not earth-shattering dreamsex, but he makes you come, and more often than not you do the same for him, and, in some ways, you have every reason to be pleased with that. It’s more than you’ve had elsewhere. It’s more than you can get on your own. He keeps the bed warm. He gives you soft flesh to touch in the middle of the night, breathing gently next to you when you awake from dreams of desolation. A warm strength to press your chest against in place of a pillow. A neck to kiss. Lips that kiss back. A small mouth that makes your tongue feel important. Thighs to push a leg between. A hot anus. And a sleepy smile in the morning. A voice to listen to. Foibles to forgive. Something that sounds like normality, and comfort, and tenderness. And then he comes to you. He says that it’s not what he wants right now. That he’s moving on. And there’s no fucking compromise because, if you want all this and he doesn’t, he wins. You can’t force him to feel the same drowsy warmth that you feel. You can’t tie him to your bed and make him like it. He can just fucking leave.
He is leaving.
And then he is gone
and you are left
tripping over ghosts.
Next time we are dating, you say to him in your imagination, don’t take me anywhere. Don’t go with me to places I might later have to go on my own. Don’t come to my house and enjoy my music. Don’t talk to me and make me laugh. Don’t smile at any of the things I am in the habit of doing. Don’t ever take the tram I can see from my window.
I can throw away your toothbrush and burn the towel that you have used but I can’t do anything about the residue you have left in my mind.
Don’t slime my life with your memory. You cunt.
Such a small mouth. And the side of his body against mine in the back of the car. Our clothing made a seam between us. His leg touching mine, his shoulder soft atop my arm. His head towards my neck. And whenever he breathed I could feel his breath pushing into my chest, from the outside in. And I thought that, if he were me, and I were him, and if he allowed me to relax into him like he is relaxing into me, I would pretend to be asleep. I would rest my leg on his and allow my breathing to push our chests together. I would let my head fall towards his shoulder and I would hope that… that at the very least….
And, if he were awake, like I am, and stayed still so as not to move or to seem to want to push me away… like I’m doing with him… I would start to hope that… that he didn’t mind.
And I would let him take advantage of my unconsciousness.
For twenty minutes, maybe.
He is rolled in olive leaves. His body is powdered with olive leaves. Dark green. He smells very faintly of olives and of their leaves and the smell is strongest between his fingers and between his toes. And behind his ears. He is rolled in olive leaves. He has rolled in olive leaves. And on his eyelids, where the skin is darkest. Dark, deep, grey, green. And behind his ears, where the smell is. Because he has rolled in olive leaves.
And if I were to set fire to his eye-lashes
I think they would burn green
and smell of olives.
I don’t miss the awareness. I don’t miss the sadness. I don’t miss the hope. I don’t miss the fear. I still have the fear, some of it. I don’t miss the fragility. I don’t miss the attraction. I can do without the emotion. I don’t miss the friends. Why would I miss the conversation? I don’t miss the excitement. You can’t hurt me. You can’t hurt me. You can’t hurt me. I don’t miss the uncertainty. I really don’t miss the physical contact. I don’t miss the laughter. I don’t miss the warmth. I’m safe. It’s not like I need the spontaneity. I don’t miss the happiness. I don’t miss the ignorance. I don’t miss the innocence. I don’t miss the comfort. You can’t hurt me. You can’t hurt me. You can’t hurt me. You can’t hurt me. You can’t hurt me. I don’t miss the dissatisfaction. I don’t miss the energy. I don’t miss the fun. I don’t miss the love. You can’t hurt me any more. You can’t hurt me.
How long do you think you could last?
Fifteen minutes? Twenty?
Twenty minutes is really not so long.
It’s not like I want to be doing this.
Because intimacy comes with its own problems, you know? You can want it too much. Much too much. For its own sake. And then you put someone inside it. Anyone, within reason. The first one who comes along. You know? And then you’re trapped. Like two kittens sewn into a blanket. Cosy and warm and squashed and territorial. You can hook a claw directly into his eye. Is that love? I can still remember his smell.
I can still remember his smell.
It has nothing to do with him personally. It could have been anyone.
I remember seeing him naked for the first time. In a communal shower, of all places. In Pilsen. With other men around, but… but his body was different to theirs. His was the only one I wanted to dream, to touch, to pour my desire over. There was something… challenging about him.
I wanted to defile him.
I still want to defile him.
For twenty minutes, maybe.
He smelled of olives.
And then there was the day the punctual summer afternoon rain pushed its smell through the open window towards our bed. In Pilsen. It was the first time we had fallen asleep together. There was the sound of nothing much happening outside. There was the soft rustle of the falling water and the regular breaths of cooler air that seemed to wash us clean. And to lie beside him was still something new and precious. To have nothing to do except to wait and to watch the windows, which were open to let in the dark green empty afternoon. But to know, too, that he did not feel any of this. Because we are two universes, inside our heads, separated one from the other in the cooling afternoon. The experience of this is mine alone. I am alone in my clothes. I am all alone. Nothing can reach me here. I am alone and invulnerable. I am safe here. You can’t hurt me. You can’t hurt me. You can’t hurt me. You can’t hurt me.
He wakes, in the bed beside me, and I put my tongue in his mouth.
I do not know how to respond to a threat that is still amorphous. I do not love him. Surely. And the more he talks the less I want to fuck him. So… so there. When was it that I started to confuse youth with beauty? How old have I become? We are the same age, he and I. More or less. But my sadness has changed me. That is what makes me special.
I am special…
And then, in the end, there is nothing. And that is worse. Pain when he pushes, pain when he lets go, and then nothing. Which is much worse. The pain is at least familiar. It has a shape that I recognise. It connects me. Without it there are only vast, echoing halls of emptiness inside which I get lost, howling for release. Not a single landmark. Nothing to give me back an image of what I am.
I need to see what I am.
I need that.
I need that.
One hundred degrees for black tea, he tells me, putting a thermometer into the kettle spout, and ninety degrees for coffee. A little less than that for green tea and no more than sixty for white. Seventy at a push but sixty for preference. For the flavour. Otherwise you scald it.
Just so you know, I say, the more you talk…
What? he says.
Nothing, I say. Seduce me. Surprise me by waiting naked in my bed.
Ok, he says. But I’m waiting for the kettle first.
So I put my tongue in his mouth.
What would it be, this life of continuous emotional fulfilment? Don’t answer that. I couldn’t bear to have to listen to you talking about it. All I really wanted was someone to dance with at weddings. To sleep next to afterwards. And now you are here. Smelling of olives. And, while you are asleep, I can pretend to myself that you want to be here. That I want you to be here. You are like ice, lying there. I am scared that if I sleep too close you will seep through the mattress and vanish away into nothing. And then no-one will ever believe that this really happened.
And the trouble is that, whenever we hang out, you end up having a really great time. I see you enjoy yourself. We walk around together and you laugh and tell me things and then we go home and have sex and it feels to me as though all this must be something that is happening to other people. Our bodies are no more than a collection of objects suspended in a kind of structured bag and you don’t seem to notice because you are enjoying yourself. For you, this is happiness, I think. And, meanwhile, I allow you to use me. I like it when you pin me to a board and strip the skin from my bones. I mean… I would like it. You wouldn’t even have to know you were doing it. Twenty minutes. But you won’t do it. So I have to do it for you.
The trouble is
You are enjoying yourself, and I
I am falling in love.
What is love?
You smell of olive leaves.
But you tip badly. So crassly. So vulgarly. As if you grew up with no money at all and don’t know quite how to go about it. I weep for you when the bill comes and you ask me to calculate twelve and a half percent. You don’t even have to do that here. In the future you should just let me pay. I want to pay.
We wake in the night, in Pilsen, because a fox is screaming below the window. Or it might be a rape. Or a child. It is difficult to be sure. We try to have sex but you are not feeling it and I would rather be asleep. Or, at any rate, that is what I tell you when you ask me to stop.
You have such a small mouth. My tongue feels big inside it.
I could plug your throat. You might even allow me to do it. Because sometimes, at night, you say that you like me.
Because I represent all that is missing in your life.
And when you speak…
But I prefer you not to speak. Which is why I put my tongue in your mouth.
In all other respects it does nothing for me.
Sometimes you ask me why I like you.
What I do not tell you is that I have never found anybody else who is prepared to take up so little space in my life.
I have not told you anything about me.
You wake up again and I put my tongue in your mouth.
And then I wake up and remember that you have gone.
Thank you for listening. This has been the 28th Museling. It’s the second episode in the fourth series of the podcast. There are three more episodes in this series, in case you haven’t found them yet. More information about these, and about the podcast as a whole, as well as links to transcripts to all the episodes, is at muselings.uk. My name is Charles Adrian and I’m on twitter as @charldrian.
This web page and its contents © Charles Adrian Gillott October 2020