“A timely reminder to me of the promise I made myself a few years ago; we are not able to control the actions of others, should not expect empathy or respect. They have their own journey and it is not mine to chastise. I can keep them company from a distance as they walk their path or stay near linking arms, but I must not make judgement from my view. All I can do is be the best person I can. At all times, kind, patient, and brave.”
~ Lifted from my Facebook post, 24 February, 2014
I have only experienced an alcohol induced ‘blackout’ once. In my late 30s. Old enough to know better. A lifetime of knowing how to look after myself. At the time, an assumed alcoholic time-skip. And the repercussions were more traumatising than I’d care to admit.
It happened after a formal work event, an after party party. I’d had a wonderful evening. Hosting cocktails, wearing my stunning, cherished, vintage gown. And ran the event – that was my job – like the professional I was.
As the corporate function drew to a close in the early hours, I had a quiet conversation and last kiss with a colleague I’d spent time with over the previous six months. I told him I had met the man that starred in my dreams; I hoped this guy would be my future. My booty-call buddy was happy for me, shared my misty-eyed romantic imaginings. Wished me the best life could offer. And we said our discrete goodbyes.
Later in public we both joined the larger group, moving on to a bar to dance until close to dawn. I remember every detail of that night, well, most of it. I drank slowly and was cautious. My new and treasured boyfriend was driving down from Leicester for the weekend, and I didn’t want to waste a moment being ill or tired. Wanted to welcome him into my home and arms. I was excited and happy. Buzzing from a good night, with witty company. And as was my role, was also ensuring peers, my friends, were enjoying themselves. Even whilst I was ‘off-duty’.
During much of the night, I know a young man was hovering. Just on the edge of my peripheral. I knew him; an infrequent running partner and work colleague. With a crush on me. A youth, who I’d taken to addressing as ‘Kid’ to reinforce our relationship. Or lack thereof. A boy I was neither attracted to nor would ever sleep with. He was there, skirting the distance. Laughing and dancing and existing as part of our little energetic group.
Towards the end of the night, I left my glass of JDs on the table, so I could bounce my way back to the dance floor. I know the song, etched in my brain. It reminded me of summers long gone and I cannot help but get a wiggle on when it plays. No matter where I am. And then I returned to my stool, grabbed my coat and purse, skolled my glass empty. Made my way through the team saying my toodle-pips, and wishing them a joyous weekend.
Down the two flights of stairs, I escaped into the winter air to wait in line for a taxi. The river of people climbing into cars moved quickly. I didn’t have to stand long in the drizzle. Could imagine the sea only a block away, lapping against the shingle. The birds would be chorusing soon. I was merry, relaxed. Off-guard. And then, at my elbow, The Kid arrived. Smiling and salacious. He lived in my direction, surely we could share a cab?
Waking a few hours later, curtains still flung open from the morning before, I heard the snuffled sounds of a companion. He lay still and exhausted next to me. And I did not understand. I remember getting in to the taxi. I do not remember getting to my front door. Or any detail of my journey home. I don’t recall inviting the young man into my house. Or heading up to my room. I cannot, though I have tried, remember having someone with me in my bed.
I have had two ‘one night stands’ in my life. Both of whom I am still friends with. I do not share myself without care or respect. It is not who I am. But there, in the place my boyfriend had vacated only four mornings previously, was The Kid.
With horror, I believed that I had requested this lightly acquainted youth, to accompany me home. I was wracked by self-loathing and guilt. By harmful blaming and sad acceptance. I must have done this. It is my fault.
He woke, grinning like a Cheshire. Casual and comfortable. Overly confident for one so young or so tenuously acquainted with me. And I asked him to leave. He was aloofly affronted. Exclaimed but why? Why kick him out? Was I embarrassed? He wouldn’t tell anyone. Our secret. We’d had a fun night, what made me so upset? I wanted it. He knew I had.
A mortifying cliche, I scrubbed myself for hours in the shower. Trying to rinse him and my disgust away. Desperately trying to summon up any detail from the dark hours before. And then I went back to my room. To destroy the residue of his presence. Remove the lingering signs of his visit.
I picked up my precious dress from the floor. Sat on the bed. Hugged it close. A small comfort, to ease my growing understanding. As I unbundled the layered silk ready to handwash, I noticed it was ripped. The zip jammed. The floral corsage hanging by threads. And inside. Inside on the peach lining, stains of blood. Bright scars of myself, smeared into its skirts.
This is the story I tell young people in my life. A crappy tale from which I hope they learn. I have never ‘forgotten’ a night. Not prior nor since. I protect my glass, and myself. Always have. Except that one night. And of course, like the worst dull cliche, when I hear that beachside sunny tune, the one that evoked such easy hip-sway, it reminds me.
Faking it, ay? I’ve never really had to consciously do this before; as a strategy to manage a relationship. I’ve been lucky. And privileged. My lovers and partners have been my equal, mostly. One or two, teachers. Interested and interesting. Keen to give as well as receive. Giving time and creating opportunity to flesh out what is fun or intense or powerful. Early lovers were as inexperienced, but I was a curious, explorative girl… so enjoyed the delight and charm of surprising and awakening a bed-friend.
In my first long term relationship, of almost 10 years, he was older. And kind. Sexy and a little dark. Certainly intense. And while towards the end, sex became more scarce, I loved him with all that I could. He had become my best friend and lover and family and we were forever bonded, no matter the passing of time or our distance. But I needed adventure, the world. And he let me go.
More recently, a Big Love, one that etched its scars on my heart and my personality, caused me to question my trust in the physical beauty of, and emotional sharing through, sex. He was a powerful man, strong of body and intellect. He vocally adored all the things I was – the passionate, social, tactile, nomadic, confident woman. The twist showed itself too late. I was already hooked. Smitten. Loved him. Monogamous and dedicated. Happy, and engaging in thoughts of future. Rare and scary for me.
Then things moved slightly, shifted. While he craved me in the bedroom, he started to censor my history, my passed lives. What made me who I am and the journey. The essence of me. He benefited from my experience and congratulated our prowess, but started questioning my journey to that pleasure. He would celebrate our specific union but chastise my general enjoyment. And slowly he began to make ultimatums. Requests that I remove male friends from my life, limit my social interaction with others. He’d ask me who I’d seen, what my history was with certain friends. He would memorise the list of my male friends on Facebook, and drop names from my past into conversation, feigning a casualness neither of us believed. He suggested I had been disrespectful to myself and allowed others to do the same. Surely and certainly he became obsessive. Demanding the cessation of friendships, some of more than 20 years… lessening our social activity, and increasing the reasons why I hadn’t quite measured up to his expectations.
And I was so in love with this man, I began to comply. I said silent goodbyes to a number of good men. Sacrificed connection with treasured friends, to appease my Lover. It was a relationship that started so healthy, so ‘good’. With fizzing stomachs and silliness and fun. Months of lovely. And became one of such highs and lows, intense, tumultuous, fraught. And there was bargaining and challenging and eventually my almost complete submission. But not quite. I couldn’t understand fully, his need to delete my past, and I didn’t delete my past fully. So at the height of his commitment to me, he removed himself. And that complete circle, that meeting and living and loving and losing, almost broke me. It has taken a long time to heal those scars. It undermined who I thought I was, made me question my innate attraction to both emotional and physical intimacy, and closeness and bonding, with a lover. I lost my sexual confidence; an ember starved of oxygen, no longer glowed.
I guess in outlining that story briefly, I explain the time it has taken to reconcile all the bits of me again. I have become a new version of myself; an almost me. Not quite who I was, the happy energetic, heart-on-sleeve woman that existed, but close. More wary. More weary. The cynical romantic, always hoping that someone will hold me in arms that keep me safe, but let me breathe. And yet never letting any one close enough to try.
I am reacquainted now, with the woman who was open and honest and explorative and comfortable with sex and intimacy. Mostly she is me. But then last year I met a man, who become a lover. An Almost Lover. Not exclusively mine; a journeyman plying his trade. And I was so in awe of him, of the wanting of him, that I found myself faking. Don’t get me wrong. The sex was good. Hot, passionate. As a female of the species, one who understands her body and loves it, I know I don’t need an orgasm to have wonderful sex. I guess it was because after a while, I realised it had the same pace each time. The same scenarios. And endings. For the first time in my sexual life I had become hesitant, to ask for what I wanted, wonder out loud at what he craved, or direct us to a mutually fulfilling climax. That says more about me, and my lack of trust in him; for it to be ok. And also, at the time I really did think we’d have opportunity to learn each other’s desires so was in no rush. An illusion.
We didn’t spend long hours together. He was gone from my home quickly, like that thief in the night. Or early morning at least. But, in the nature of our bonding, I knew I needed to pretend. I was not gifted the relaxing moments a couple share; when just a small flex, a feline-stretching, can blow… minds.
Now, looking back, I don’t know who I was pretending for. Was I scared he would suggest it was me? My fault? My inadequacies? Would he quietly take it as a further judgement, withdraw privileges as a punishment? Perhaps it was for my own benefit; if I dented his ego, he would not return. And I did not wish to wound him with my needs, sensed somewhere that may sadden him. I think worst of all and more likely in hindsight, I subconsciously knew he would not care. That would wound me most of all.
Whatever instinct stopped my voice, he never noticed from my body. I don’t think. Maybe he did, and this at some level led to his repeated disconnections and then returns. But I doubt it. The clarity of time, makes me laugh at my predicament. Humbly and with a lop-sided smile. Because for the first time in my adult life, I had chosen a lover who was not A Lover. Not a lover of me at least. His wham-bam was indicative of his feelings. Yet so sure, so certain, I chose to believe the romping would evolve into cherishing. And it turns out, I was wrong.
I will be in your head, long after you have forgotten my face.
Months from here, years.
Your happy will be punctuated with tiny whispers of “what if”.
The detail of my smile, fades even now. But my voice will hook around your ears. My thoughts will poke at your conscience. An echo of my laugh will remind you.
I am in your head.
I will be in your heart, long after you have forgotten my touch.
Months from here, years.
Your quiet moments will be teased with whispers of “what if”.
The heat of that last embrace, faded already. But the taste of our first kisses will press at your lips. Our connection, like a pulse through your blood. The memory of our shared laughter will remind you.
I am in your heart.
Hmmm… That was all a bit maudlin. Caught off guard, I guess. Old triggers, and sadness. Wasn’t supposed to sound so melodramatic. Re-read last night’s post again in the fresh, beautiful, winter’s sunlight. I never want to be woe-is-me, that’s not who I am. But we all have moments when our history collides with our present and the words of someone we trusted can connect with old wounds.
I am a strong woman. And sometimes that means I am a victim of my own success; it can mean that others do not see how much we may want to be looked after for a change, or be given permission to relax, or take the weight off our shoulders every now and again. It is a little exhausting being so staunch. And it means people in our lives sometimes have to put in a little effort. Use a different set of skills. Have patience. To find our softness.
I look at my close female friends, and wonder at their strength. They are a beautiful mix of energy and wisdom and inner-resource. Business Women of the Year, each one. Mothers, and partners, and community leaders. Over-achievers, financially solvent, and accessing great opportunities. And I am in awe of them. They are my heroines now. They are the ones that stand tall and strong, even as the avalanche of life’s rubble falls down around their ears. The inevitable tumbling rain of heartache and hardship. They are my examplars. And they have helped me realise it is ok to be a woman of substance. Of intelligence and independence.
But I also see them in their quiet, lost, moments. When their eyes tell me what they cannot say; that they need help, or love, or a silent person in the background giving support, asking nothing in return. They don’t need someone to fix or assemble… just someone to carry a little of the load for a few paces. They will not ask for it. They simply trudge through the rocky parts. And you know what else they all have in common? These women from different countries, and backgrounds, and education? They each put on their happy face to the outside world, whether they are feeling it or not. They don’t make excuses, they are self-aware enough to know that’s what it takes. But none of them will let you see them break.
So while I love my girls dearly, I am learning from them too. I am learning to ask for help. To let people in. To take a risk on a man’s word. To trust that if I let myself bend a little to make room for those I respect and am attracted to, then maybe, just maybe… one of them will see through the bluster and tough exterior and reach out a hand to steady me on my way. To accept my past, to embrace my passion, laugh at my outspoken, rambly nonsense. Give me some rein. Understand that humour is my coping strategy. But he is going to have to be strong too. Because I will never be the pretty, feminine, unquestioning, woman that boys’ dreams are made of.