Sunday, 28 April 2013

56. The time has come

The time has come for me to reassess my relationship with Chris. I'm sad about this, but as I've got to know him he's got less and less attractive to me. And he is not treating me well. I know that. I'm not always good at recognising these things, but once I've seen them they can't be unseen.

Last night he texted at 5pm to ask if he could come round. He came round, we had sex, he left. This is the third time this has happened. We talked briefly about our relationship status and he told me we were seeing each other and not to take it too seriously. That it was a bit of fun.

Surely if it's fun I'm meant to be enjoying it?

I remember how I felt about him when I first knew him. That feeling's gone.

How do I feel when I meet a man I'm really attracted to? Stunned by his beauty, too tongue-tied to say a word. Clumsy. Afraid to look into his eyes in case he sees how I feel. Sometimes maybe even I forget to smile, I forget to be nice, I might even look like I don't like him because I'm trying so hard to hide my feelings.

What do I want? Really? A combination of intense passion and intelligent conversation. A meeting of minds and a meeting of bodies. Someone who actually wants to talk to me and spend time. Someone who actually wants to have sex with me. Not someone who comes round and screws me and then leaves, just because they can. I can almost see him thinking that I'll do till someone better comes along.

The problem is this: once you know what is possible, you can't settle for anything less. You can love McDonalds, but once you eat perfectly cooked fillet steak a hamburger will never be the same. You can go back and have that hamburger whenever you want one, it'll fill a hole, it'll even taste good. But you will always know there are better meals in the world.

Once you know something, you can't unknow it. I know the levels of passion I'm capable of feeling, because I've felt them. And that means that anything less doesn't really work. It's....boring. It feels pointless. Why would I hang on for Chris?

Well, we're having reasonably good sex. He's attractive and intelligent. He's good company, when he's in the mood to be.

But I know what the possibilities are, and that means he is a waste of my time. If I was to remain involved with him, I would not be living to my full potential. If I remain involved with him, it'll be hamburgers all the way.

I cry a little once I admit this to myself, but there's no going back. Once you stir the milk into a cup of tea, you can't take it out. You could wait till the end of time and the milk and tea will never separate. You can't undo it.

Sometimes I think I know too much about too many things. I once knew a female to male transsexual who had kept his female genitalia intact so that when his penis - which had been specially constructed to his own specifications so it would bend in directions not normal for a penis - was fully complete he could film himself fucking his own vagina and make his fortune as a porn star. He told me about how he planned to do this over iced raspberry muffins and espresso at Lombardo's. At some length.

That counts among things I wish I didn't know. I could have been quite happy without knowing that. I'm not judging and I hope it all works out for him; after all, he's not hurting anyone and I'm sure there will be many people who will be interested in viewing this material. I just...wish I didn't know that. But you can't take the milk out of the tea.

But then, am I being unrealistic? I'm 35, and not exactly a beauty. What is the point of holding out for love? Who'd fall in love with me? Chris will do. It's just a bit of fun.

But it's not fun. And anyway, once you know what love is, that question becomes meaningless. It's not a question of holding out for anything. It's more a question of what the alternative is. If you reverse the question, it is essentially: why don't you get into any kind of relationship with anyone who'll have you, because it's better than being single?

Once you put it like that, it sounds less attractive.

I know people who settled for the mediocre - who wanted to be in a relationship so badly they grabbed on to the first person they found who would accept them as a partner and hung on grimly. It does not look like happiness. If I was a different kind of person I could lie to myself about my relationship with Chris, about what's going on, about where it's going, about how I feel.

It would be easy, and it goes like this: I love him. I am having sex with him, therefore I must love him. He loves me too, he just needs a little time to come round. He's mixed up. He must have been treated badly by some other woman. He just needs a lot of care and attention and before I know it I'll be waltzing down the aisle with Amanda as my bridesmaid.

What a load of bollocks. And even if it actually got to the point where I manipulated Chris into unwillingly proposing to me, probably with a ring that fell out of a cracker or something, what on earth would Amanda come up with as an outfit? It would be worth getting married just to see. Given her opinion of Chris and her penchant for graffiti, she would probably protest the wedding by turning up naked with FUCK YOU scrawled on her cleavage in Sharpie. Which would be a wonderful moment, a tribute to our friendship, and completely in keeping with the tone of our life together so far.

At the moment, although I'm a little lonely, I'm not responsible for anyone but myself and Rammstein. At least if I'm alone, I get to please myself. If I was in a relationship with someone I didn't care about, I'd have to consider them all the time and eventually I would hate them for being in my space. 

It's hard enough spending a lot of time with another person when it's someone you actually like.

I sigh. I take out my phone. I compose a text asking Chris to meet me this afternoon. If he can't make it, I'll have to call him, although I think it's rude finishing with someone over the phone. This needs to be done now, while I have the resolve.

My reality is that I want to be happy, in as far as I can be. And the only romantic relationships I'm prepared to have are ones which add to my level of happiness. Whether they are serious or otherwise, if they don't add, if they detract and make me less happy than I am now they aren't happening.

Of course, that may mean that relationships never really happen. I find a lot of people tough company, and I'm sure they think the same of me. Being smart ruins a lot of things; I get bored easily and when I'm bored I find it difficult to hide it. I accept this. Sometimes it makes me sad, but I don't honestly see how else to play it. Any other route is not authentic.

What is love? What is desire? What is friendship? Well, these are things you can't ask for, you can't demand, you can't treat as a right. They have to be given freely as a gift, and what right have I got to complain if they don't get given to me? None at all. But I'll keep holding on for them anyway.

As I said, what's the alternative?

I press send.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

55. I always feel naked

Derek has called me in for a meeting.

He has given very little notice of this, which means I can't modify my clothes. Ideally, in meetings with Derek, I would wear a burkha; since I don't possess one, a trouser-suit and buttoned-up shirt have to do. But today Chris asked me to go for lunch, so I am wearing a tight grey pencil skirt and a fitted yellow top, with long sleeves to compensate for the low neckline. I picked out seamed tights and tan high heels to complete my outfit. I am, currently, deeply regretting all of these choices.

It doesn't make any difference really. In front of Derek, I always feel naked. Even the trouser-suit doesn't help.

I am what is kindly known as curvy. Generous-busted. I have big tits, is what I am trying to say; 36G, to be precise. They started sprouting when I was 10 and by the time I was 12 I was already aware that they were distracting to members of the opposite sex of all ages.

Now, you might say that grown men should not look at a 12 year old's tits, and indeed they should not. And in fact very few of the adult men I met were looking at me at that age. For most of them, at 12, I was below the radar. But "very few" does not mean "none". And one of them was my Social Studies teacher, which was disconcerting because he was in his mid-40s and had a bristly moustache. There was also the man in the corner shop who suddenly started giving me free sweets one day, whenever I went in. He would talk to me about school and ask how my day was. I stopped going to that shop. I didn't really analyse why. I just knew I didn't want to buy my sweets there any more, just like I knew I was going to drop Social Studies as soon as I could.

Sometimes I think I was lucky I escaped childhood with only Matthew to contend with.

Anyway. Here's the thing. As I grew older, I noticed more men looking at my breasts. I don't mind being looked at. When you see a thing which you find attractive, you want to look at it. Most men appear to understand that my breasts are mine and while they are allowed to unobtrusively glance at them, outright staring would be offensive and they should try not to get caught.

I'm ok with this because it shows that most of them are trying to balance their desires (to look at my breasts, which is understandable because men like breasts) with what makes me comfortable (feeling like the man talking to me is aware he is dealing with a person rather than a inconveniently demanding life-support system for a pair of tits).

Derek is, however, not that kind of man. He doesn't care that I know he's looking at me. He considers it his right to openly wander his eyes up and down my body as much as he likes because my body exists and is therefore his, it is there for his perusal and possible consumption. Because, in other words, the "me" that I understand as "me", my personality, the "me" that looks out from behind my eyes, the bit that likes Graham Greene and dislikes EL James, likes magenta and doesn't like leeks, the bit that paints and reads and thinks, that bit of me is an inconveniently demanding life-support system for a pair of tits.

Derek shuffles through the paper on his desk.

He leans back in his chair and steeples his fingers. Looks at me over the top of them.

"And how are you today, Alice?" he asks.

"I'm very well, thank you, Derek," I say.

"Did I see you out on the town the other night? With your blonde friend and your black friend?" he smiles.

I pause. I recalibrate.

"I do have a blonde friend. And a...a black friend," I say.

"Your blonde friend is quite unusual-looking. So tall."

I know what he is getting at, and I'm not going to make it easy for him. He's obviously paid a lot of attention to Amanda. These days, not everyone can tell.

"Yes, she is tall."

"Your little group seems very diverse. I think that's great. This city isn't very good at diversity. It's nice to see a group of three such different people who are good friends."

I remember Amanda, in a coffee shop a couple of weeks ago. It is 10am. She is wearing a short magenta dress draped in sequins, a grey feather boa, and a black denim jacket with the words FUCK SHIT UP roughly painted on the back in green. She is making a face and saying "Vile!" This is the word that springs to mind now as well.

"Of course, it must be difficult for you to meet people. Make other friends. Most people are so intolerant." His eyes flick down the front of my top again, and I lose my temper.

"Was there a point to this meeting?" I say. "I have a considerable amount to do."

His eyes narrow. He doesn't like being spoken to like that. 

Sunday, 14 April 2013

54. Ephemeral satin confections

It's payday. Jena and I are sitting on the sofas in the staff cafeteria drinking latte.

I have a slice of coffee cake. On top of the slice there is a fat, ridged cushion of pale brown icing with a walnut perched on it. It looks like the cake is wearing a 1920s hat, one of those ephemeral satin confections made for the pleasure of rich flappers who spent their lives drinking champagne and dancing with men called things like Bunny Wollaston-Smythe. Maybe in their beaded evening bags they might carry an enamelled compact filled with cocaine instead of face powder (because, of course, cocaine was Good For You in those days. Gave you energy).

I look at the icing and I remember I saw a dress once in this shade of rich tan, a fitted silk dress with a square neckline, covered in tiny pale grey polka-dots. The girl who was wearing it was a redhead with skin as pale as fresh cream and brilliant hazel eyes.

I remember we were in a bar and when I saw her go past I wanted to be her so badly, to slip my skin and my life and have hers instead. I imagined being her, walking out of the door of the bar on a beautiful sunny May day, going somewhere much more interesting than anywhere I had to go. I wonder where she is today.

But I do not own a dress the colour of the icing on this cake, so instead I scoop off the icing cushion and the walnut and eat them. Some people leave the best bit till last, I notice, but I tend to eat it first. I wonder what this says about me and about other people. Are the people who like to leave it till last more into delayed gratification? Have I got poor impulse control?

As someone who spent £150 on shoes in my lunch break not two hours ago, I would imagine the answer (to that question at least) is "yes."

I chew the walnut. It tastes good. The sun is shining outside for the first time in weeks, it's nearly Christmas, I have new shoes and coffee cake and I am warm in my favourite pink jumper. I stretch my legs out, enjoying the taste on my tongue. Today I feel happy to be alive.

Jena has had a row with Suzy. It began when Suzy borrowed a dress for one night, which she failed to give back for three weeks. When she did return it, there was a suspicious-looking stain on the hem. Jena asked Suzy to remove the stain. Suzy said the stain was there when she borrowed it. Jena says it wasn't, and really knowing the obsessive care Jena puts into her appearance I can't imagine that it would be because stained items do not stay in her wardrobe. So personally I have formed the opinion that Suzy is lying. This does not particularly make any difference to me, but it does to Jena, who has been indulging herself with a full-on character assassination for the previous 20 minutes. 

So far we have learnt that Suzy has never been trustworthy; that she has always been jealous of Jena because Jena gets more attention from men; that Jena is not surprised no-one pays attention to Suzy, because Suzy looks like a pig someone has put in a dress and stood on its hind legs; that if Gok Wan was confronted with Suzy he would throw up his hands and resign from television forever; that Suzy wants to be Jena which is why she has to look like her all the time and steal her stuff; that Jake only stays with Suzy because he feels sorry for her (it has always been a sore point that Suzy has managed to maintain a relationship for so long. Jena compensates for this by telling herself that Suzy and Jake are unhappily trapped together. This is not the case) and that Suzy deliberately stained Jena's dress. I'm not sure why she would want to do this, and I say so.

"Because she hates me! You don't understand what she's like!" says Jena, between bites of jam doughnut. "You're too nice, Alice. You only see the good in everyone."

This is definitely not true, but I'm not sure how to correct it.

"She's a bitch!" shouts Jena, and slams her doughnut down. A bright red jet of jam squirts rudely out of it as if to emphasise the point. A senior manager walks by, and looks at us.

Saturday, 6 April 2013

53. While this question is rhetorical, the answer is no

"You know what you need?" says Amanda, pointing a carrot baton laden with houmous at me.

With most people, one can guess the general direction they are going to take when they say something like this. With Amanda, it could be anything. I get drunk? Eat more of the houmous? Buy clothes? Have more sex? Self esteem? Drugs? A trip to Hawaii? A night in playing Grand Theft Auto and drinking Malibu and cherryade? Another tattoo? Whatever it is, it's not going to be anything I've thought of, so I might as well just say no.

Also, while this question is rhetorical, the answer is no anyway. I really have no idea what I need out of life. I don't know what I want, either. I know what I don't want, I'm fairly good at that, but what I do want - actively want, as opposed to "can live with" - remains a mystery.

"No," I say.

"To sell your used knickers on eBay," says Amanda. "Alex has made hundreds. Clear your credit card debt in no time."

The news that Amanda's new girlfriend is selling her pants on the internet does not do anything to get rid of my bad feeling about her. If anything, it makes my bad feeling considerably more pronounced.

"What you do is, you buy a packet of three from somewhere like Primark for a pound or two, and then you can sell them for anything up to fifty quid a pair. Apparently it's a big thing. You can't actually say in the advert but there are phrases you can put in - "

"Who buys her knickers?" I say.

Amanda eats the carrot stick and licks her fingers.

She says: "I don't know. People who have a fetish about getting transwomen to send them knickers in the post."

"Are you cool with that?"

She doesn't answer. She's not cool with it. But the problem with living a lifestyle like Amanda's is that it's never cool to not be cool with whatever weirdness your friends and acquaintances are getting up to, because the whole point is they are all trying to outdo each other and it doesn't do to look shocked. By anything. An air of having seen it all before is the most essential accessory you can have.

Amanda can't back down from something like this. The moment she says she's not happy about it, she loses at the popular game More Bohemian Than You. And she has a great deal invested in winning. 

Amanda is not a natural wild child. She has spent an enormous amount of time, money and energy on creating herself. At this stage her pose has been going so long it nearly is natural to her, but there are still moments when I see the original Amanda, the first one, the Amanda I met all those years ago, peek out. 

In my experience, this situation could well lead to Amanda selling her pants on the internet herself just to prove the point that she's not a prude and Original Amanda is dead. 

"Course I am," she says, eventually.

"Amanda, this is me," I say.

"I just - " Amanda pours another glass of wine. "I really like her. But she's so -" She doesn't finish.

"I'm not cool with it," she says, finally. "But she's so big on freedom that she'd break up with me if I said something. I mean, I'm not asking her to stop exactly, I just want to - talk about it."

Ah yes, I know this version of "freedom", I've heard this before. This blanket refusal to consider anyone's feelings but your own. Selfishness masquerading as emotional maturity; meaning that if you try and explain you think this attitude is selfish, they'll feel able to retaliate by accusing you of being immature and trying to control them.

Amanda runs a finger round the inside of her wine glass and looks at me. Her eyeliner is magenta, accentuating the deep blue of her eyes. She looks sad. The sun slanting through the window catches the first fine lines, forming across her forehead and under her eyes.

"Do you still want to be in a relationship?" she says.