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. 

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