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The Bit Part Players

I don’t care much for surprises, so this is how it goes: There’s a lot of sad stuff, and some funny stuff and I think it ends on a happy note. It starts like this:

The second worst day of my life I realised my wife was cheating.

And it ends like this:

Which isn’t such a bad place to be.

So. The Second worst day of my life I realised my wife was cheating. The first worst came a few days later. It was a Wednesday and broke the little left of me.

Lacking self-respect and the ability not to cry, I’d taken the day off work. I sat at our shared laptop, opened up Hotmail and saw M had left herself logged in.

I wouldn’t usually read her email, but it was a few days after what I’ve written about before. I had a fascination with her so- recently-secret life. He I knew by name, and from a few photos. She, it seemed, I didn’t know at all.

The inbox and sent box were overflowing with words that began before Christmas, two months longer than she told me. They were hard to understand. There were gaps, likely filled in with phone calls and texts and intimate talks. I was jumping from inbox to sent box, trying to make sense of it, reading too fast.

I needed to know everything at once, but was also scared of what I was going to find out.

Which, when you think of it, is kinda funny.

And the language was difficult too, because it was written in the secret language of lovers. I didn’t have a lover. She didn’t love me. I was just finding that out.

And here’s a funny part. I was wearing her bathrobe! I’d thrown it on without thinking, even though it didn’t really fit. I probably looked a comical sight, sitting in a too small bathrobe, reading her emails and concentrating hard just to breathe!

The big things should have hurt me most, but they didn’t. The week I believed she spent in Paris with a friend was actually spent in Poland with him. But it felt too comical to be sad, too ridiculous.

For a week, I didn’t know what country my wife was in!

The little things killed me. “I want to talk to you about everything” was just a throwaway line, but that one broke my heart.

And there was so much! More than an email everyday. Furtive planning, shared jokes, flirting, reminiscing, on and on they went. And on and on I read. And I was in them, too. Everyone is a bit part player in somebody else’s life, and so it seemed I was in M’s.

“He’s downstairs making some tea, so I have to be quick..”

“He just asked me what I was laughing at – I couldn’t tell him what you wrote to me! ;)”

“He doesn’t know anything”

I read those over and over. The shock meant that the pain didn’t register immediately, it took time. I had to fill the time, so I read those over and over.

Next was a funny bit I don’t remember. I found myself sitting on the floor. At some point, who knows when, I had to have fallen off the chair! I was struggling to breathe and my hands were shaking and my tears were stinging my eyes. I must have looked awful. And probably kinda funny too.

It took hours and hours to get through them all. After I’d finished reading I cleaned out our hamster’s cage, which is kinda funny because it’s not what you’d expect someone to do after learning all the intimate details of their wife’s infidelity.

But I’d forgotten to do it the day before, and it needed to be cleaned. It was getting dirty and she was probably sad, so I cleaned it and that’s the last funny bit. Crying man in woman’s bathrobe cleans out hamster cage. I’m sure I’ve looked better.

After I finished I sent a text to M. I asked her to try finding another place to stay that night. There was no big confrontation. The drama of the day was done.

And now it’s 2 years later, and I can finally write this down. I’m not broken anymore, pretty much, and 6000 miles away. I’ve learned about myself. I understand more about my flaws, and why things happened. I’m proud of myself too, that I never shouted at her, never let myself be bitter. And I’m proud that I’ve started a new life somewhere else, taken a risk and got some reward.

Most of all, I’m proud that I’ve come far enough to say that I’m proud.

Which isn’t such a bad place to be.

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There came a time when the risk to remain tight in the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.

~Anais Nin~

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Musings, Nothing More

It’s been a while since my last confession.

My sister came to visit me during the month of January. When she was born and I was a measly six years old my Dad said to me:

“Friends will come and go but she will be with you for life”

It’s always stuck with me. We’ve always been close, but the responsibilities of adult life and the physical distance between us have inevitably made us more distant.

I love her, but the distance makes me sad.

In Hoi An we saw a beggar lady. The beggar lady was, at a guess, 85 years old. A western lady tried to take a photo of her. The western lady was, at a guess, 35 years old.

I stood up, and tried to take a picture of the Western lady. I felt that a picture of a rich woman trying to take a picture of a poor woman said more than the picture of a poor woman taken by a rich woman ever could.

The rich woman asked what I was doing, so I explained. She seemed annoyed, although she’d never asked permission of the beggar lady to be included in a photo.

My sister understood, and I love that about my sister. My sister is nicer than I’ll ever be able to convey in words to her.

The rich lady and the beggar lady probably went back to their lives. My sister definitely went back to hers. I carried on my haphazard carry ons too.

I went to my friends place, P & Y. They live in the cosiest hole I’ve ever been in since I spent nine months in a womb. A one bedroom apartment, tiny and cramped, walls covered in their art, bed covered with a parachute and floors hidden by paint brushes, cuddly toys and nick nacks.

Together, we had a pleasant little mix of delightful drugs. With no windows, time bled meaninglessly by. I painted, and missed G.

I still miss G.

She popped into my life all too briefly, like a water nymph, decorating my edges with dazzling colours before kissing my cheek and diving back down under the waves. Exactly like the movie “Splash!” but without the happy ending.

And if she were here, oh if she were here.

Instead, I’m alone typing. I miss my sister and I miss G. My existence continues in the same erratic, libertine, directionless mess. Lovely but lonely.

Into this blog, some self-pity has fallen.

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If I didn’t care for fun and such,
I’d probably amount to much.
But I shall stay the way I am,
Because I do not give a damn.

~ Dorothy Parker ~

Does Anyone Know What Rape Is?

(TRIGGER warning: discussion of sex and rape).

When I was about 13 years old I read a story in a newspaper about a trial. A woman claimed she had been raped by her husband, and I – appallingly – furrowed my brow. How, I thought to myself, can a woman be raped by her husband?

It amazes me now that I thought that way. I don’t believe I hated women and I didn’t fully understand sex, but on some level I had developed an idea of women as secondary to men.

And I don’t think I got this from my parents. I picked it up from everywhere.

At 13 I didn’t know what rape was. And no-one ever told me, I had to work it out for myself. At the end of my teens I was still under the impression that rape was something done by monsters hiding in bushes. I probably thought it was something women didn’t need to worry about, as long as they took precautions. Their problem, not mine.

No-one ever taught me about sex either. I went to a Catholic school. Sex education took up one term of one year, a period of 3 months when I was 14. The syllabus included the dangers of drugs, alcohol, smoking and – bizarrely – road safety. The only thing I recall was watching a video of some naked babies running around. Some of them had penis’es and some of them had vaginas. The difference in sexual organs was based entirely on their gender.

Sex education came from my classmates, fervent, breathless chats with other boys about what they’d like to do to such-and-such girl.

Do to, not with.

I remember crowding around a porn magazine that someone had brought to the playground, aged perhaps 13. A woman, in ridiculously uncomfortable pose, peeling open her vagina. I remember feeling queasy, repulsed.

And young boys today have all of the internet, full of characterless women, playing the part of objects, existing solely for the pleasure of men. Ready to be used and degraded. Women, of course, are always degraded by sex.

I read a blog about the novel “Crimson Petal and the White”. A brilliant novel, whose central character is a Victorian era prostitute. A man left a comment, “I wonder if it would be so interesting from a male perspective”.

Because reading about a female lead character, understanding a woman’s motivations, feelings, thoughts, could that possibly be of interest to a man?

Women are inferior. Sex is something you do to them. Whatever they think doesn’t matter.

These are not ideas I’ve actively sought, but ideas I have actively had to reject. The world around me has done it’s absolute best to try to make me a misogynist.

And I don’t intend this as any sort of defense, but how is a boy meant to learn what a woman is or what it’s like to be a woman, or that it is even worth trying to find out?

Everyday Sexism is an important website. Every post should be put into a hat, and shaken, and 500 should be pulled out at random. Next, the 500 would all be put together at a big publishing house and made into a big book with a shiny cover. The book would be sent out to every school in the Country, to be read by every girl and boy.

If it happened, they would read things like this:

“I know an awful lot of my female friends have been raped, or nearly raped, and I know that an awful lot of my male friends find that terribly hard to believe.”

“I’m 16 and have been receiving sexist comments …since I was 13. Boys (in school) shout “rape!” if they see a girl in the corridor, loudly rate girls out of 10 while we walk past, look at Page 3 and compare girls to it…happens literally every day…”

“My little sister (15) asserted that if somebody claimed they had been raped they were “probably doing it for attention”, that if a girl wants to avoid being raped she shouldn’t go out in ‘slaggy’ clothes. I don’t know where she got this mentality from but that a 15-year-old girl is so ill-informed of the facts is a massive failure of our society.”

And some people would say: This is unsuitable for children. And I would say: Yes! Yes, it is. So lets make this the last generation that has to experience it.

I’ve read heartbreaking posts about women’s experience of rape and sexual assault. No-one ever talks about these things, except to warn women to moderate their behaviour to avoid it because it’s your problem, not ours.

I read these words from a woman who had been raped:

“During the ensuing 15 years, I sometimes referred to the event in my head as “semi-consensual sex.” It wasn’t rape because I hadn’t screamed, I believed. It wasn’t rape because I hadn’t told anyone, ever.”

By being so afraid to talk about sex and to talk about rape and to talk about what rape is, we have allowed, as a society, rape to happen. Rape is not a woman’s problem. We have a duty to educate both sexes about what rape is, and a duty – to women, to children, to everyone – to tell boys this:

“This is rape. Do not rape”.

Thank you to the following blogs for educating me:

About rape. 

And rape.

About slut-shaming

How rape culture hurts men too

(Trigger warnings for all).

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“Shame is the lie someone told you about yourself.”

~Anais Nin~

Rivers and German Shepherds

If you’d gone down to the woods last night, you’d have been sure of a big surprise. Assuming they were woods in Vietnam and you’d had the misfortune of running into my naked friend P.

You would have seen me also, because I was sitting in those woods too. I was in the middle of an almost circle of 14 friends. If you’d been half hidden behind a tree you would have seen us, surrounded by discarded empty bottles and heavenly-cherished full ones.

You’d have seen me happy too. In front of me was just about everything I generally ever need. A glass of something alcoholic, a cigarette and a i-pod with a fairly decent speaker attached.

From your hiding place, you wouldn’t have heard me. I sat listening mostly. I don’t wish to be the centre of attention, don’t like to tell long stories. I prefer to sit, and listen and lose myself a little.

Also, the music was really loud.

It was because of me. I was the amateur DJ. It isn’t easy to pick songs to please 13 people, but as someone with a sometimes crippling need to please, I did my best.

I kept it eclectic. Some Desmond Dekker , Beirut, Ernie K-Doe, Metronomy. Some classics – Lou Reed, The Kinks, Curtis Mayfield and some crowd pleasers, Elbow, Dizzee Rascal. Oh, and always, always Azealia Banks.

Every so often someone would break from their conversation to shout out to me, “Oh, I love this one!” or “This is really good, who is it?” And I would smile and realise how simply and easily I can be made to feel happy.

As I got happily, quietly drunk our friend P sank himself to new depths. Notorious for his alcohol induced idiocy, last night he went too far.

It was fine when we swam in the river during the day, and he perched his ample frame upon a rock in mermaid pose. Less Copenhagen, more coping badly. But by evening he had drank too much, and was refusing to stop. He became maudlin, and then aggressive, all the time demanding of attention.

And then he accidentally fell through one of the tents. Twice.

Having insulted several, he blundered off into the woods. As genuine and kind-hearted as he is while sober, you would have recoiled at the sight of him.

Three of us set off in pursuit, and for 3 hours we wandered around, blindly calling his name. We didn’t find him, and it wasn’t until five in the morning that he returned, naked, and accompanied by two German shepherds.

By which I mean the breed of dog, not a couple of professional sheep handlers from Munich.

P collapsed into sleep and the dogs ran off. At some point, while we cleaned up, he must have woken and left.

His nocturnal misadventures remain largely unknown, although a couple of our friends did find the women’s shower had been used as a toilet.

He’s done similar things before, but always remembers nothing. Too often in retelling him we’ve treated his antics as a joke, as amusing anecdotes.

He knows he is bad, but he doesn’t know how much. As a group of friends we’ve decided to tell P exactly what he did and that it was not funny. That he has a problem that needs to be fixed. That he cannot drink. It’s the harder thing to do, but we wouldn’t be friends if we didn’t do it.

And I came home to a message from G. She’s flown again and landed in my hometown in the UK, my hometown being not so far from hers. And I feel sad that she isn’t here. And I’m finding life harder without her presence. But life, like rivers and German shepherds, has to run on.

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“In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart”

~ Anne Frank ~

 

 

 

 

Life is a 2-Player Game

“How old are you?” one of my 14 year old students asked. 33, I replied. “And do you have a wife?”. I said no. She asked why.

I haven’t found her yet, I said, smiling. Her expression didn’t change but she said with some conviction “And you never, ever will…”

Kids. Bless them.

And I’m hung over but this is fine as, in one of the few examples where I am right and the world is wrong, I don’t work mondays.

It’s also fine because I have my own little hang over routine. It involves ice coffee and water and cigarettes and music and the merest splash of red wine. And I know when I’m feeling better because that’s when I start to dance.

Nothing you’d confuse with anything professional of course. Much more of a distant cousin 4 times removed from dancing. Swaying’s nephew, perhaps.

And I know I look silly but it makes me smile.

Today, I haven’t danced yet. And I don’t know that I will. Because I’ve been sharing hangovers with G, but G’s not here now. The ice coffee and water and  cigarettes and music and overflowing red wine and dancing we’ve shared together.

And I know I looked silly but it made her smile.

“Without music life would be a mistake”

~Friedrich Nietzsche~

Bittersweet in an Empty Room

Her stuff isn’t strewn around my room anymore. There are exactly 50% less ciggy butts in the ashtray, and one less glass of wine. It’s been a disgraceful, debauched and deeply lovely week.

But now it’s quiet, and empty because G is gone.

More than things, she isn’t here, and I’m even emptier than the room.

She left yesterday. Our friend P came to the airport too. He was picking up a new teacher, so the taxi on the way was free. G and me both share the benevolent luck of coming by freebies easily.

She left, and I won’t be hearing laters, taters anymore. I waved and turned and walked away and felt the physical distance grow. In the taxi back I glanced up at the sky, hoping, like a fool, to see a plane.

I filled my evening with friends and filled myself with drink. Somehow, still emptily.

And she talked of coming back, and she might, but I think it was meant to make our parting easier. I think that I know that it’s over.

It was intense and it was beautiful. Days spent entirely in this now empty room.

We talked each other inside out. Made the most of every moment. We did, for this last week, what people so often forget to do: We lived.

Her wry smile, wit and eloquence are far, far away. And it hurts that I might not see her again, to amuse and be amused, be awed and to kiss. But I’m stronger because of her. And I’ll remember when she said:

You’re gorgeous and you’re perfect.

Not true. But she thought it, and the thought was so big and uncontainable that she said it.  Here in my empty room I’ll always be able to think of her and smile.

Laters, taters.

 “If there’s any kind of magic in this world… it must be in the attempt of understanding someone, sharing something. I know it’s almost impossible to succeed… but who cares, really? The answer must be in the attempt”

Celine, “Before Sunrise”

And She Should Go…

We met outside a bar in a shiny neon night. There were motorbikes and street hawkers and noise and dirt and we talked alone together in a group. My friend L was there, and she sent me a text. The text said something that only a kind and caring friend could send. The text said this:

Body language signs good. Don’t fuck this up, dick.

She – G – has been the best person I could meet. You don’t see yourself with someone else when you’ve been hurt, and broken, and damaged. I didn’t.

And whisper this, but I didn’t think someone would want me. That’s the sort of thing that you really shouldn’t say. And I didn’t, but I thought it. I pushed it down but it was there.

And then I met her, and she was damaged too. Damaged, just like me. The same exact experience, though all of the names had been changed. And is there anything more blissful and reassuring than to meet another human being who understands you?

Yes.

Meeting another human being who understands you, and likes you. And you like and understand them too.

Isn’t that everything that anybody has ever wanted, ever?

Now, she’s leaving. And she should go, she should. I don’t want her to go. I don’t.

It makes sense for her to leave. She hasn’t taken to ‘Nam, and a cosy little role has popped up elsewhere. But my heart is like a child that just doesn’t quite understand. And I don’t want to tell it the truth.

The worst thing I could do is fall in love with you

She said.

And I should have said, “Do it”. Because it would have spoken of our natures. Impulsive and Reckless. A bit fucked in the head. And it would have made her giggle, and I like that sound. And it would have told her how I feel. Again, I feel.

I didn’t say “Do it”. I didn’t think of those words. I lay in the bed and looked at her, and she looked at me too. I think she was thinking what I was thinking and what I was thinking was this:

Stop time, remember the now.

But memory is hard to hold. I don’t even remember what words came next. The moment, like all the other moments, was gone.

I like listening to her. She chooses her words carefully, but with seemingly no effort at all. She makes me think differently about things. She smiles, even when she’s sad.

She’s lackadaisical or passionate but never in between. There’s no concrete plan, she doesn’t know where she’ll be but she wants to learn to trapeze and she will. She floats through life like me. She’s unfazeable. She’s witty. We do silly things together every time we meet. She plays poker. I fancy the pants off her.

But we’ve been damaged, and I don’t think she wants to be damaged again. We’ve met at the right time and the wrong time too.

And she should go.

And she will go.

When she goes, I’ll think this:

Would I wish that things were different when I know all things must pass? I wouldn’t. Who would?

“And I will always wonder how it would be if we never had met,

Life would be easier though dull, I suspect,

And I’d never claim you were mine.

Just if we were words, we would rhyme.”

~ Gruff Rhys ~

Odd, but Good

After four months of WordPress being blocked – the downside of living under a Communist regime – WordPress has miraculously returned, and so have I. Vietnam is still home for the time being, with travelling and teaching taking up most of my time.

Life has been good. I’ve even stumbled upon two women who, despite possessing ample good taste and intelligence in all other affairs, managed to fall for what could laughably be described as “my charms”.

The first of these two encounters was good for me. It was almost ten years since my lips had touched the lips of anyone other than M, and at the risk of sounding hopelessly pathetic it was a relief to find someone who wished to be intimate with me. Infidelity is a crushing blow, and it did crush me. I don’t think I’d realized quite how much.

I won’t go into details, obviously, other than to say I have never been with a woman who didn’t have the common decency to fake it. Am I getting to grips with the whole bragging thing yet?

The second woman, lets call her G, is an ongoing relationship. The same age as me, married within a month of me, unmarried at almost the same time, and with the same insane notion of fleeing her home Country to teach in Southeast Asia. So we have a few things in common.

We aren’t together together. Devastatingly atrocious endings to marriages tends to put you off the couple thing, but we do some of the things together that couples like to do.

She’s interesting, and laid-back, funny and good to talk to. She has good stories, and a laconic, dry way of telling them.

Like the Japanese couple in Indonesia, who complained very politely of a lizard in their room. The receptionist explained that geckos were everywhere, that they got into rooms and that little could be done to stop them but in any case, they were quite harmless. The couple listened, nodded, meekly returned to their room.

Only after they checked out next day did the cleaner discover the Komodo dragon in the bathroom.

I’ve had no contact with M, other than one picture of her on Facebook, on her birthday, in a restaurant. She’s sat next to a man I don’t know. A colleague? Lover? I don’t know. More importantly, I don’t particularly care.

I want to hope it is a boyfriend and that she’s happy and well, and in time I will. But for the moment, not caring is progress. I’m getting over her. Odd, but good.

Which, on a good day, is probably the best review I can expect from a woman with whom I’ve been intimate.

(Forgive my macho boasting).

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“I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.”

Douglas Adams

The World One Year Ago

I thought anniversaries were over for me, but here are my one year ago words:

My life, in the last few weeks, has come to resemble a newspaper and not a story. Gone is the structure, the narrative, the aims or the arcs. Life, my life, is now a series of unconnected, meaningless events.

This blog won’t always be so bleak, but I have a little more gloom to gift you.

My wife has cut me out of her life without telling me.

After eight years she has cheated on me, and is now in the process of leaving me for good. Not for better but definitely worse.

If pain should be embraced and burned as fuel for our journey, then I’m at the beginning of a very long trip.

I knew something was rotten in the same way an animal is aware that it’s dying. A dog is incapable of equating it’s deteriating condition to the end of it’s life. It merely experiences every moment in isolation, each increasingly worse.

And I too have now experienced something dying, without being aware of it’s impending death. Life is full of experiences!

This is a blog with a purpose, because I no longer have one. In writing it, I hope I might find some humour, some insight or, at the very least, a little comfort.

This blog will not be bitter. I may be betrayed, hurt, embarrassed, depressed, angry, jealous and broken, but bitter I am not. Hearts aren’t to be hardened even if they are made to be broken.

This blog will be honest and avoid self-pity, though in the interests of honesty, into this blog some self-pity may slip.

This blog isn’t about revenge because I don’t want to dig two graves.

M has diligently cut away at the threads that connected us, and set herself free, floating away and leaving me among the debris of our former life. I am, as I write, empty and alone.

I’m at the end of something and the beginning of something else, and I’ve no idea about either. And so begins the trip…

I postpone death by living, by suffering, by error, by risking, by giving, by losing.

Anais Nin

On the Other Side of the World

It’s been ten months since my last confession, but I have been a bit of a busy bee. I’m 8700 miles from home. You can’t run away from sadness but I thought perhaps I could fly.

Vietnam is now home and has been since November. I’ve returned to the teaching English game.

Life is good, and I think of M less. I saw her before I left. We talked, a long talk, hours and hours covering years and years. When we said goodbye it was final. We cried in a fairly dismal, mundane setting, on a road by a river. We kissed and we parted. 8 years ended with the touch of two lips.

I haven’t kissed any other lips since. I’m still all too aware how lips can so easily lie. Friends and food and drink keep the loneliness confined to darker corners of my mind.

M now lives in the shadows of my life, but this is good. The long shadows remind me that to my life has returned some Sun.

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Is this not the true romantic feeling; not to desire to escape life, but to prevent life from escaping you.
Thomas Wolfe

 

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