Sunday, 25 August 2013

66. "That's an orgasm, right?"

Gin, Amanda and I are snuggled in a hangover nest of duvets, tea, and biscuits in Amanda's king-size bed. Three sausage sandwiches have been eaten and the plates dispatched back to the kitchen.

We are watching episodes from series one of Angel this morning. Since none of us feel like getting up, or indeed doing anything, it's good there are at least four more series to go.

"I'm bored of Joss Whedon. Can't we watch My So-Called Life?" asks Gin.

She asks this every time we watch either Buffy or Angel. At this stage, I think it's more of a token protest than a real request, a quick reminder to me and Amanda that Gin likes to think of herself as the "normal", non-geeky member of our trio. The Peter to our Egon and Ray, if you like, although of course one must remember that normal is relative and no-one could say Peter Venkman was exactly socially acceptable. How normal hanging around with Amanda and me makes Gin is open to debate.

It occurs to me that I have just made a comparison which entirely confirms Gin's opinion of me as a geek. 

"No," I say.

"No," says Amanda. "We can watch My So-Called Life when we stay at your place. This is my place."

Gin settles down to watch Angel. She eats the last Jaffa cake. Her hair is sticking up in corkscrew tufts which she would doubtless hate if she knew they were there. The truth is they look cute. I imagine this is something several of Gin's boyfriends have thought over the years first thing in the morning and not one of them has dared say it.

Gin thinks she's Peter; but in fact she's Ray. Sweet, sunshiny, unworldly. An innocent abroad, sometimes shocked by the world but never bitter. Amanda is our Peter, our fast-talking, wheeler-dealing unscrupulous blagger. Amanda would, quite definitely, try to get someone in bed by pretending to discover their psychic powers.

Who does that leave me? Egon. Oh yeah, that works.

I've always loved that scene where Annie Potts is trying to flirt with Egon and he is utterly oblivious. I do recognise that I am, indeed, the kind of person who would say "I collect spores, moulds and fungus," when a man I don't realise is trying to chat me up asks what I do in my spare time.

Gin is wearing stripy pyjamas. Amanda is wearing her gold and black Adidas Firebird tracksuit. I'm wearing a Keith Richards t-shirt and a pair of red shorts.

Gin is thinking hard about something. We watch Angel decapitate a large ugly demon.

"So," she says finally, "this whole thing where he turns evil when he experiences a moment of perfect happiness, that's an orgasm, right? So does that mean he can't even have a wank? No wonder he's so angry all the time."

Amanda says, authoritatively: "I think that he could only have that moment with Buffy, because he loved her, right? Anyone else, it's going to be like, this is great but you aren't Buffy, so it's not perfect happiness."

"So he could, in fact, screw anyone in LA," I say.


"He's a bit like you," says Gin, looking at me.

"What's that meant to mean?"

"He's so busy brooding over the past he doesn't notice what's right under his nose."


"I would," Amanda says, picking another dark chocolate digestive out of the packet. She has perfectly manicured lavender fingernails.

"Who was that guy last night?" Gin says. "The dark-haired guy from your work? The beautiful dark-haired guy from your work who has a crush on you?"

Oh shit. Yes. Martin expressed an interest in coming to see the band, so I got a ticket for him as well. I should have known this would lead to excitement and expectation.

"He doesn't have a crush on me."

"Does too."

"How old are you, Gin?" I ask.

"Let's see," Amanda says. "Item: teenage drama series. Item: sleepover. Item: talking about boys with crushes. I think we are all...oooh....about 14? Maybe?"

"This is fucking sad," I say. "We're all on the downhill slope to 40. Don't you guys ever worry we should be, I don't know, married? Or at a yoga class? Achieving generally?"

"Meh," says Amanda. "Maybe it's sad you can't just enjoy yourself without worrying about your age and what other people think of you. You want yoga, you go get yoga. I'm staying here and watching TV."

"I've known Martin for nearly three years," I say. "I think he would have done something about it by now. Men and women can be friends, you know."

"Look, I'm just calling it like I see it," Gin says.

We lean back against the cushions and watch the show. I am annoyed with Gin for putting this idea into my head. I would much rather Martin was my friend, was someone I could think of as a friend, and now he is a threat because that is how I think of it when people say someone's attracted to me. 

Sunday, 11 August 2013

65. The herby smell of cigarette smoke

***Next weekend I'm in London, so no update; the next will be August 25***

Martin and I are sitting outside The Crescent Moon.

It is 5.30pm and freezing cold, but Martin smokes so we're outside. He has just rolled one up and the smoke drifts over to me. I like the herby smell of cigarette smoke. I know it's bad for me but I always liked the smell; I liked it when people could smoke indoors and the air in clubs was so full of smoke that the lights were hazy. Now it generally smells of sweat and beer farts, which I do not find as romantic.

These days, when smoking has been pretty much fully consigned to past eras, it gets all wrapped up for me with film noir glamour and Audrey Hepburn's long fag holder in Breakfast at Tiffany's. A cigarette tracing a ladder to the stars.

Of course, enjoying the look, smell and pop-culture resonance of cigarettes isn't enough to make me start smoking. The reality of smoking appears to be huddling outside a pub in the freezing cold while everyone else is inside having a good time, and forgetting your lighter and having to bum a light off a drunk man with no teeth. Also there is the brown teeth, and the cost of tobacco, and the risk of falling asleep holding a lit cigarette and killing yourself.

Not to mention that I worry enough that my spliff habit will have me on chemotherapy, and I don't smoke weed every day. I don't want to die of cancer. It's a horrible way to go.

Well, to be honest, I don't want to die at all. But, since one day I will have to, I would prefer to die like my grandmother: at the age of 92 on the sofa in my own home, having just enjoyed a hearty meal, a couple of glasses of wine, and Coronation Street.

It was difficult to be sad for Granny, although I miss her. I would ask for that kind of death for everyone I love.

I wrap my hands around the pint glass and stare into the depths of the liquid. I love the way water conforms to the shape of a glass and I love how the glass is so clear that it almost looks as if the liquid is suspended in space by itself. I like wine-glasses especially, with their slender stems supporting a bowl full of dark sullen red.

"Have you recovered yet?" asks Martin.

"I'm getting there."

After my lunch with Derek I spent the rest of the day hiding in "a meeting" on the third floor. I texted Martin, who came to join me. He had his appraisal from Patty this morning, and now doesn't feel like doing anything else ever again since discussing his actual standard of work was ignored in favour of a dispiriting lecture about the negligence of getting into work at 9.05am on no less than three separate occasions. Martin made a foray downstairs to get cake and at 5pm we decided to go to the pub.

"What are you going to say to him?" Martin says.

"I'm thinking."

At lunch, Derek asked me if I wanted to be his mistress. That was exactly the word he used. While I don't like him, or the idea, I did find the phrase charmingly old-fashioned.

Apparently he and his wife have "not been happy for years" and they "stay together for the sake of the kids" and they have "an arrangement". It all reminded me irresistibly of a game Amanda used to play called Cliché Bingo. When he said: "I think you and I understand each other, Alice," I wanted to shout "House!"

He talked and talked, and as he talked I realised - in a blinding flash of clarity - that one of my major problems in life is simply that I have the same emotional response to perfectly ordinary assholes as I have to people who would think nothing of murdering me and throwing my body in a skip.

Derek is not a nice man. He wants to use me sexually, and he wants to do so on his own terms, and my thoughts on this don't particularly matter. But he isn't what I thought he was.

No-one really knows why some people develop PTSD and some don't.

No one really knows how one child can go through years of systematic physical, sexual and mental abuse from its parents and turn out pretty much ok, while another - me - had a loving encouraging family and everything she could want and ask for, until one solitary incident from a lone-wolf stranger paedophile turned her head into a war zone.

The other child has it worse than me. I know this. And the other child turned out ok, so why can't I be ok? Why can't I deal?

Here I am, stumbling through my internal gunfire - the gunfire I have created myself - shells exploding around me, the sky black with smoke. I'm bruised, filthy, streaming blood, heading towards some mythical refuge, some Valhalla of the soul. I don't know if it even exists but I also know that stopping means my death, so I might as well keep walking. Till I see light. Till I finally know I can trust myself.

Was my head always going to be a war zone?

To some degree I think yes. I have no intellectual brakes. My brain is never quiet; I can't remember ever being emotionally or mentally at peace for longer than a few seconds. I don't have any...barriers, I guess is the right word, everything is up for grabs all the time. There aren't any compartments.

Maybe if Matthew hadn't happened I would have managed it differently, but my tendency to overthink and my need for approval would probably always have been present, in one form or another.

I just wish I could trust my mind. It worries me. Jumping at shadows all the time. What if there's a real threat I haven't seen? What if there is no threat at all? I'm doing this to myself.

I'm suddenly very tired. Martin suggests another drink. I accept. I have work tomorrow, I have an important meeting tomorrow, I can't bring myself to care. 

Sunday, 4 August 2013

64. I brush parrot-green eyeshadow over my left eyelid

***Sorry. That was a bit longer than I expected. However, we should hopefully be getting back to normal now.***

Amanda's sudden obsession with industrial and EBM has infected me.

I went round to her flat on Friday night, and she played nothing else all evening. Yesterday I downloaded Timewave Zero Ltd by Grendel, who I had never even heard of a week ago. I have played nothing else all day.

The sound reminds me of a lot of all the techno I used to listen to obsessively in the 90s, but with liberal dollops of metal goodness. It's the kind of music Hollywood directors choose to soundtrack either gruesome sex murders or science-fiction nightmares. I am fully in love with it.

I am listening to Chemicals and Circuitry as I brush parrot-green eyeshadow over my left eyelid. I am late for work. Again. This is less important than getting the corner of my eye exactly right.

My eyes are chestnut brown. The ring around the iris - the limbal ring - is nearly black. I don't like looking into my own eyes in the mirror.

I line the eye with black liquid eyeliner.

Today I have a meeting with Derek. He's scheduled it over lunch and wants to take me out to lunch. There is a hard knot in my stomach at the thought. The last time we had lunch he put his hand on my arm, just casually, for a moment too long. I was looking into his round eyes at the time and I saw his pupils dilate when he touched me.

I make curls in my hair with the straightening irons. You can do this if you hold them at a certain angle. My hairdresser showed me how. At first it was really hard, but now it's second nature.

It suddenly occurs to me that Derek sees me every day, and he knows that I make a special effort with my appearance when I have meetings or lunch with him. I haven't previously thought of this. I wonder what he sees when he looks into my eyes in return. Pupil dilation is a response to intense emotion, not specific to sexual arousal. It also occurs when the subject is in shock or afraid. He might see my pupils dilating too. Does he think I fancy him? Or - an even worse thought - does he realise that my clothes are my armour?

The way you dress, the makeup you wear, you can blend in or stand out. Everyone notices the girl at the bus stop with the pretty clothes and the glossy hair and the perfect makeup, looking like a composite of every starlet for the last 10 years, but could you describe her ten seconds after you pass her? What do you imagine she thinks? What does she like?

Well, one imagines that, because she looks conventional, she thinks conventional things. That she likes reality TV and EastEnders. That her Facebook posts are about how gorgeous Mark and Rachel's wedding was and how lovely her boyfriend is and how many miles she has run that day. One describes her as "attractive" but individual features don't come into it. Men automatically whistle at her in the street but she never stuns them into silence.

One does not think about her, really, at all; her sheer ordinariness means the onlooker can put her into a box, can make assumptions, and that means no-one's curious. Of course she has a joky crush on Robbie Williams. Of course she does. When she says she does, one doesn't question it.

It never even crosses anyone's mind that she might be lying.

That she might spend the evenings she is not at the gym, or shopping, or out with the girls drinking vodka and cutting herself, or masturbating to lesbian porn, or learning Cantonese for fun, or reading Rilke. Her inner life is assumed to be non-existent.

Women like her, like me, are considered to be generic. This is not such a bad thing when you want to be left alone. It's one of my favourite disguises. When you look right, you only need to make the occasional comment about cocktails or Kim Kardashian and people automatically accept you're an airhead and don't bother to waste time scrutinising you or your motives. How could either possibly be interesting?

Incidentally, manipulating people's assumptions and looking generic is how a number of serial killers got away with it for so long.

However, it suddenly occurs to me that this approach doesn't work on Derek. He already knows that I'm not what I seem. He's already interested. He's already watching me.

I put down the liquid eyeliner and stare at myself in the mirror. I'm scared.