This is the third episode of the fourth series of Muselings. I talk about romantic expectations and read a collection of writing put together in the first third of my thirties.
Marked as explicit on Apple Podcasts because of swearing.
A transcript of this episode is below.
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I suppose you could say that I spent my teens assuming that I would marry a woman and that we would have children together. In the same way, I spent my 20s imagining that, at some point, I would find the right man and that we would settle down; without children, I thought, but the relationship that I imagined us having was certainly a romantically and sexually monogamous one. I think I’ve spent my 30s believing that I’m incapable of sustaining, or indeed enjoying, any kind of long-term romantic relationship and that I need to find some other solution to the physical and emotional isolation that I experience as a result of that. If I’ve also spent most of my 30s in therapy – and I have – it’s mainly because I wanted to know if I could do something about the panic that I now feel whenever I start to fancy somebody. Or whenever I notice that somebody seems to fancy me and that I might need to do something about it. Or whenever I think that somebody might be falling in love with me and that it might be my fault. Whether or not I’m capable of falling in love is still a moot point.
At some point in my early thirties, I put together this short collection of writing that I called why you should not like me. It’s made up of eight short pieces, a couple of which are very short. And I think that there are two reasons for this brevity. On less confident days, I would tell you that it’s because I can’t imagine that anybody would want to give more of their attention to it than that; on more confident days, I would tell you that it’s because there’s quite enough in there already to give your attention to. I don’t know quite what kind of a day today is because I don’t know when you’re listening to this but today, as I record this, I would tell you that it is what it is; that it is an artefact; that I made it like this; that it is enough; that I have no desire to pull it apart at this point and to make it better, whatever better might mean; and that it is as much a record of my taste as it is a record of my thoughts and feelings, and of my craft.
I wrote all of the pieces in here between 2011 and 2012, I think – certainly they were all written by the end of 2012 – and, like You have gone, which you might have heard in the last episode, I recorded them in 2015. I’m going to play you the whole thing, obviously. It’s about 20 minutes long but this is different to You have gone in that you should feel absolutely free to pause this whenever you need, and to go away and then come back later maybe and then to pause it again and… do whatever you like, is the point I’m trying to make. I don’t have any advice about how best to listen to this. I will say that the numbering might be a little confusing in the audio version – each piece is numbered from 1 to 8 but some of the pieces also have a title and some of them don’t; and then, some of the pieces are made up of different parts, which are also numbered 1, 2, 3, etc. In that sense… I don’t know… this collection probably doesn’t lend itself particularly well to an audio format but I’ve put extra long pauses between the pieces so, hopefully, it will make sense as you listen.
Now, most of the writing that I’ve done in my 30s has been about romantic love and sexuality but there’s a piece in here about friendship, which is no more hopeful than any of the other writing, as it happens, but… well, that felt relevant at the time. Nowadays, to give a little counterweight to all of this cynicism, I would say that I’m learning to look at my friendships as proof that I’m not entirely incapable of loving and receiving love, and that I’m not at all incapable of sustaining and enjoying long-term relationships just as long as they’re bounded by the conventions of loving friendship rather than by the conventions of romantic love. At the same time, I would also like to acknowledge that I’m not the easiest person to sustain any kind of relationship with. Which is a surprise to me. In fact, it’s a continual surprise to me that I’m not quite the perfect person that I imagined, when I was younger, that I would turn out to be but, again, on my more confident days, I would point out that I’m still turning out. In any case, with all of that in mind, from the first third of my thirties, here is why you should not like me.
Content note: Rape, self-harm, language, dogs, death, sex, relationships, food.
What you are about to read will not make you feel any better about yourself. Nobody’s here to make you feel any better about yourself. You’re sitting there, in that suede armchair that I have never liked, and you’re resting your feet on the dog. Don’t think that I can’t picture it. And you’re feeling pretty pleased with yourself because you’ve arranged for somebody to come and clean the chimney. After seventeen months. And you will announce this to me as if it was your idea: Surprise! you will say. Look! We can roast chestnuts.
Then you will push your trousers down towards your knees and ask for a blowjob and I will have to move the dog so that I can kneel down. Because, if I don’t, you will look sad and your dick will go limp and then, when the dog farts, it’ll feel as though God has died all over again.
It’s not that I don’t love you. It’s just that I like you more when you are in the attic sorting through your grandmother’s love letters. I like you when you are out at the post office or drinking real ale with your friends. Then I can shut the dog in the kitchen and lie in the bath and listen to the radio. And then, when you get back, I can breathe whatever scent you bring in with you and tell you, without too much deceit, that the house feels more like a home with you in it.
It wasn’t rape.
But I wasn’t there
and you didn’t notice.
3: lost my heart
Let us clad our hearts in sentiment, damp with the sweat of a thousand inauthentic emotions. Let us fill the room with words so that we never have to be alone together. Let us feel things for fun, safe in the knowledge that the world cannot come with its assassin’s blade to teach us real pain.
Let us stop. Let us just stop.
In my room, my small footprint is still visible on the floorboard by my bed, somehow transferred onto the wood the first time you told me you loved me and the sweat fell out of my body.
You measure your foot against it.
“I don’t have to go home,” you say.
“I won’t marry you,” I say.
“You don’t have to,” you say. “We’re European now. We’re all European.”
You smile at me with your hands over your breasts, then you take my hand and kiss my fingers and slide into bed, and we have slightly dishonest sex.
Then you lay your head on my chest and say “Isn’t Europe a wonderful thing!”
Don’t love me, I whisper. Run away.
But you don’t hear me.
You are already asleep.
I am not asleep. I cannot sleep with your head on my chest.
Out of familiarity comes a pale imitation of love.
“Look at the sheeps,” you say. “They are hardly there. You can hardly see them for all the cloud-on-the-ground.”
“The sheeps…” I say.
“The sheeps,” you say again. To make me smile. And I do.
There is nothing about this hillside that I do not want to share with you: the sharp breeze, the dew-pearled grass, the mist that you call cloud-on-the-ground. And, when the mist thins, we will see the estuary and the railway. It is a small view but a beautiful one. And I would gladly offer it to you entire, as an earnest of my good intentions, because I like you a little already and I want to like you more. Knowing all the time that you will have to go home in the end.
Your hair is wet. It hits my cheek when you lean over to kiss me. Your lips are cold and your tongue tastes of coffee. But we cannot stand here for long so I pull away. Because one of us has to be responsible. Because nothing lasts for ever.
This is my childhood that I am showing you, and it is important to me that you see it.
In return, you fly me out to visit your parents. Who are charming. Who feed me and feed me while your grandmother talks. She doesn’t seem to mind that I don’t understand and I don’t mind that you never translate. I tell them that I am happy, that I feel lucky, that you are great. That it is a shame that you will not be able to stay in my country. I have my arm around you and you nestle into my shoulder. You tell them something funny about me, and everybody laughs.
Much later, back at home, we bump into my father in town. I introduce you by name but I don’t tell him who you are.
Say nothing. Do nothing. Do not spoil the silence.
When you don’t speak, I can come to you. I can tell you how I feel. Or show you how I feel. Or how I would like to feel, if I had the space, and the courage.
We both know that you can’t stay here. That has always been the deal.
“I won’t call,” I tell you. “I don’t like using the phone.”
“And, if I write…. But you shouldn’t expect me to write.”
“I will miss you,” I say, “but…”
But you put your finger on my bottom lip.
“When was the last time somebody touched you?” you ask.
I could tell you, I suppose, that somebody must have slid a fingernail between my ribs. That whoever it was must casually have slit my chest open. That I must deliberately have been eviscerated and then patched up again as good as new. Almost as good as new.
With nothing where my heart used to be.
But I couldn’t tell you who did it, or when, or why, so you would never believe me. You would tell me that I was making it up, that I was looking for an excuse, that I should just mature, grow up, grow old, like everybody else. That, if all I wanted to do was to fuck around until it was time for you to go home, you…
You take your finger off my lip and kiss me.
“I don’t ask for anything,” you tell me.
But a kiss is always a question.
Take a step backwards and I’ll take one forwards. I promise.
Because, if you are not going home, then we must start again from the beginning, with new parameters. You should try not to love me, for a start. Or, if you must love me, then you should try not to let me know that you do. Because I am like a thoroughbred, and easily startled. We can do things that we both enjoy, and make no promises, and smile at each other, and make each other laugh, and tell each other stories, and fight over toothpaste. We can pretend that we are just friends…
“Just friends,” you say.
“Then… then I should anyway go home.”
I’ll take you to the airport, I say.
And, where my heart used to be, there is now a pain.
4: motherless bird
Every time we fight, I feel as though we get closer. Is this what love is? You throw your tears at me and they freeze against my skin. So I pick some off my cheek and grind them into fragments between my teeth. You are lovely: you are warm and loving and soft and suffering and I can only hold your bucking shoulders while you sob your pain into my unyielding torso. And then, when it is finished, I sooth you with words and pick some tears off my chest and grind them into fragments between my teeth.
I do not know how to tell you that I love you. You are a motherless bird, an unmatched wellington boot, and all I have to offer you is a pot of my own self-pity, which I rub gently into your damp cheeks. How is that enough?
You have rescued me. You have set me above myself. You have drawn my heart so far forwards in my chest that it can now throw its lumpen form against my ribs and shout its weakness to you. One day, on one of our sofa days perhaps, when you rest your face on my stomach and let the tears trickle onto the cushions beneath us, you might even hear what it says.
She pinned me to the chair like a dentist. She was not stronger than me.
She licked the side of my neck and then left me while she went to make some coffee. I started to speak but she put her finger to her lips. I was holding myself together from the inside.
She came over and unbuttoned my shirt. Her tongue was hot now and she laid it against my left nipple. She lifted her leg and straddled my pelvis. Then she took hold of some of my chest hair.
“You are like a teddy bear,” she said.
“Growl,” I said. “But you’re hurting my stomach.”
In the morning, she was already awake. She was watering the cacti on my windowsill.
“They don’t like too much love,” I said. “You have to be careful not to kill them.”
“Yes,” she said, and smiled. She went to take a shower.
I scratched my shoulder until it bled. When I looked up, she was standing naked in the doorway.
“Does it feel better now?” she asked.
“A little better.”
And I cried.
“I feel as though I can be weak with you,” I told her once.
“I’d rather you weren’t,” she said.
“Just don’t assume that I’m ok,” I said.
“I won’t,” she told me.
I tell my friends that I think she is the one.
We could find nothing in the cheaper cafés but dishes of potatoes, I remember, and you had long since eliminated carbohydrate from your diet. Refusing to eat has never yet made me feel pure but I fasted with you, as ever, and we walked through the city centre while we waited for a bus to take us back west. When a small brown-and-white dog ran past us and sniffed quickly at your shoe, you asked me if I thought it belonged to somebody. I only shrugged and you looked at me suddenly as though you wanted to tell me things that would destroy any self-love I might still have. But then you smiled and said: “Poor you. I sometimes wonder which one of us is more messed up. At least you don’t mind being fat.”
The world through your eyes has always sparkled with crystal shards, so clear and so sharp that, in the morning, when you wake with lacerations after dream-walks through the long past, you can always account for every scratch. You have ordered your life-thus-far as a mighty, opposing army and, bit by bit, you are helping me to do the same for mine.
We sat, eventually, that afternoon, under a shelter at the bus station, watching the rain, and I felt the fine threads that have bound me to you tighten and shift. And I blamed you for keeping me there. I blamed you hugely. You smiled at me and put your hand on mine and I squeezed it with my other hand and you encouraged me to feel the millimetre of pinchable skin at your waist. “I’m getting better,” you said. “I promise.” Then you cried a little and I hugged you and thought of all the people I have watched you flame down as soon as they became creatures of your past.
But still, if you had had any other friends, I would have left you at the bus station and gone to find something to eat.
I saw a dead cyclist once. On the tarmac of a hill road near the city. His bicycle was still wedged in the windscreen of the four-wheel-drive that had come around the corner on the wrong side of the road and I was surprised at how much this shook me up. There was a Japanese garden at the corner, which I went into for a moment to recover my calm. I still visit that garden, in my head, when things are difficult at home.
The other day, for example, I put a new, blue towel in with his white washing. We don’t deliberately store things up to use against each other, I think, but I saw him look pleased when he found out what had happened. I recognised the look because I have been doing the same.
Sometimes, as the months go past, I feel as though we are ghosts, moving around each other. It’s as if we rub each other out. He doesn’t hurt me so much any more. I suppose he doesn’t need to.
I miss him most in the morning.
All I want
is somebody who will love me
and leave me alone.
Thank you for listening. This has been the 29th Museling. There are two more episodes in this fourth series of the podcast, which you can find and download now wherever you get your podcasts. More information about the whole podcast is at muselings.uk, where you can also listen to episodes and find links to transcripts. My name is Charles Adrian and I’m on twitter as @charldrian.
This web page and its contents © Charles Adrian Gillott October 2020