You want to marry me.
You haven’t said so, or even hinted at any such wish, but I know it’s true because getting married is what we’re supposed to do, and everyone does what they’re supposed to do.
I’ve only slept with one person other than you, and with that person we had sex only three times. I felt like crying after the first time. The other two left me with a thin sense of disappointment.
That’s probably why it surprised me how little I seemed to care when they eventually ghosted me, but I had more important things to think about back then; college, studying, the volunteer work and the piano lessons I was still doing after eight years despite the obvious fact that I’d never move beyond Grade 4. Even after my teacher told my parents that I “lack the intuition, dexterity and the passion” needed to ever play skilfully, still the lessons continued. The disdain my teacher showed towards my parents after that thrilled me, but of course I never allowed them to see it.
The pointless piano lessons continued regardless, but something in the relationship between me and my teacher had changed. It was subtle, but I knew it had happened: they no longer expected anything from me, no longer demanded; knowing glances evolved into rich and stimulating conversations and within a month I was enthralled.
For the first time since puberty someone was talking with me and not at me, someone who interested me and who (seemed to, at least) find what I had to say interesting as well.
Of course, there were abundant conversations all around me while I was at school, just as there was at the dinner table, on those occasional nights when my parents weren’t both trying to drown us all in ice-cold silence.
I hated most of the other kids at school. There was something about them that made me feel…nauseous. I saw them as their parents picked them up after school in absurdly expensive and over-sized cars; saw how easily they would glide like sharks into the same position, the same thing that their parents were. That my parents were.
So I hated them. I hated them in the same way I hated my parents: silently.
My good grades at school, the glowing reviews at parent-teacher evenings, ensured that my parents didn’t interpret my silence as a sign of mental simplicity, as they otherwise would’ve done. The fact that I looked them in the eyes when it was required of me also ensured that they didn’t consider me to be shy or weak-willed. Instead they happily convinced themselves that I was the complaint, competent child, serious and determined, that they wanted.
That I had had no friends since the age of eleven didn’t seem to trouble them.
The piano lessons stopped in the last year of college: all efforts had to be focused on achieving the grades I needed to get into ‘The Best University’. The best being the one chosen for me by my parents, obviously, because I was much too young to know what was best for me. Too young to choose the best university, too young to chose the right subjects, too young to choose the best career.
Too young to make any choice at all.
I missed my piano teacher.
It was around that time I began to yearn with desire to completely fuck up my parents plan for me. I wanted to find the drop-outs and drug takers they so often condemned, in their pious, hypocritical way – tutting about how “those unfortunate people” ruined their own lives and how the government ought to do more to help, entirely eliding their own culpability and roles in the sickening death-machine that created the circumstances those people lived in. I wanted to take all the drugs, and I wanted to fuck as many people as I could find.
Yet I was so utterly inculcated in the belief of the absolute necessity of going to university that I couldn’t conceive of any other realistic means of escaping. That, and I was too scared by the prospect of ‘dropping-out’. I suppose some of my parents prejudice had to inevitably contaminate me.
So I contented myself with silent hatred and online communism, and obsessed about the freedom that would come to me when I left home.
Then, when the time came; when all the work and effort had achieved what they were supposed to and I had my chance to go to The Best University, I surprised myself almost as much as my parents when I declared that I was going to take a gap year.
They protested, of course, but they knew of a few other bougie kids who were doing the same and so the idea had just enough respectability to them that they eventually allowed – and payed – for it.
Drugs and fucking. Different clothes, different people. A different accent: I tried everything I could to be the exact opposite of what my parents wanted me to be, but soon I realised that everyone I met was just like I was, came from the same background and were doing the same thing. There was no authenticity, just wealthy kids getting fucked up in Thailand or a Greek island, taking endless photos of themselves with exotic background scenes.
Of course there were squats, communes in Barcelona I’d heard about but couldn’t find; untamed places I knew existed but didn’t dare explore.
So eventually I returned, started my university course and bought – with my parents money – a smartphone. I’d never had a proper phone before, just a shitty old Nokia (“for emergencies”) and the novelty of the thing enchanted me. Not having a ‘real’ phone had furthered my alienation from the other kids at school, and the strange feeling, almost like grief – or what I imagine grief felt like – I began to feel when seeing the endless photos of them on social media (somehow they felt more real, as if my experience of the exact same things they had experienced was diminished by a lack of photographic evidence) finally put an end to the attempt to re-invent myself.
I became just like everyone else.
It felt good.
It was during our first year at uni that I met you, and it was you who proposed that we begin our relationship. You made it seem like a sensible arrangement made for the purposes of future prosperity, like acquiring a mortgage. It “made sense”. I was “pretty enough but not enough to find anyone better”: you were “going places”. One day you’d be “a seriously important person, probably in finance first, then government” and how could I not want the life that would come with that?
It just made sense.
Why did I agree to your proposition?
I blame my parents. I imagined with delight the look on their faces as you expounded at length on your vicious politics. Not that theirs were any better, but they hid it behind a thin veneer of liberalism and their cherished notion of politeness, which you, with your old-money attitude, couldn’t give a fuck about.
That was one good thing about you: there was no pretence. You’re a cunt, but at least you’re an authentic cunt.
Besides, you were (and still are, in a generic, boring way) good-looking, I was horny, and you always had the best drugs.
Drug-taking had begun to form an integral part of my life, but, just like the good child I told myself I was only pretending to be, I never allowed it to cause my grades to suffer. I worked hard, as always, and I excelled. Most of the time. Occasionally I’d get an average grade on some essay or other and for days after I’d cry so much it was as if someone I loved had died. Whenever this happened, you told me I was stupid to care so much about any essay or my degree at all, because “there’s no need for a career: I have enough money. Why work if you don’t have to? Grades won’t mean anything to you. Even if you wanted a job I could get you one easily”.
Our relationship ended and began again. It stopped “for the last time, the absolute last!” in our final year, but then there came a sudden confrontation with the future. Before then all I’d ever thought about was university; life beyond the age of twenty-one was no more than a faint abstraction. Faced with the prospect of a real, existential decision, I delayed the confrontation in favour of a Masters degree.
The pressure to succeed finally began to wear me down…and then you returned, already working in finance, even more ostentatious and a bigger cunt than ever.
When the Masters was over, when I had to choose a career, I felt as if a sharp object had perforated my bowels.
You offered me “another chance” to resume our relationship. When I imagined our life together, I was suffused with a feeling of anaemic dread.
But I did it anyway. I took your offer.
After the first month of our relationship you’d started to ask that we perform sexual acts I’d never considered before. You were clearly more experienced than I was at such things, so I consented: you used to be so very convincing…but I hated it, and eventually, I stopped consenting.
Eventually you stopped asking.
Then I made my own requests, and you did exactly what I expected you to do and immediately refused.
We kept fucking anyway, but with every fuck I grew ever more bored.
You fuck like an animal, and not in a good way.
When I asked you how many other people you’d slept with, you laughed and told me that you’d “fucked a couple of the working classes but not so many as my father!”. Then you laughed again and told me that when I spoke “you sound almost as frigid as the way you fuck”.
Now we almost never have sex.
I’m not as frigid as you like to imagine and I never have been. I masturbate frequently, at least twice a day – frenetic ritual of shame; oh, the grotesque things I’ve seen – and for a while I cheated on you with a musician: a guitarist with such exquisitely delicate fingers. Someone you would have hated, if ever I told you about them, and what you would hate about them the most is that they were poor and not that I’d had the best sex of my life with them.
That’s why I no longer bother to ask why you spend so many evenings at the gym now: I just don’t care, and neither do you.
A few months ago I found my piano teacher online. They were still teaching, and from the photos I could see they had aged well.
I don’t know what made me do it, but I sent them a long message detailing my life, my emptiness; explaining how much I loved that they had never expected anything from me, etc.
I received a short reply:
I did expect things from you.
I asked them to explain, but they said only:
You’ve betrayed yourself.
I wrote another, even longer message, trying to explain myself, to explain how something had happened to me – I don’t know what or when – and that after it happened my life was no longer my own; I grew tired, that’s all. Ever more tired of resisting the constant demands, of being told what was right and what was sensible and what I should do; of what made sense…
They blocked me.
After distress and confusion, then anger, I decided to hate them. I decided they were wrong.
I’ve become highly adept at excuses. I now know how to maintain the delicate balance between liberal piety and utter fucking hypocrisy. My parents were very good at teaching me that, even though they don’t know it.
So we’ll get married, because that’s what people like us do, and because you love me. Or, at least, that’s what you say. Sometimes.
When I was younger and more naive; when I first believed that despite the things you said and the way you behaved perhaps there was something more to you, something valuable; when I still wanted it to just make sense, I read the Wikipedia entry on Love.
It didn’t help, of course. The entry describes love as ‘a variety of strong and positive emotional and mental states’. I know I’ve experienced ‘strong and positive emotional states’, but I know that I now have no strong feelings for or about you.
I think I no longer have strong feelings about anything.
The Wikipedia entry on love also claims that love ranges from ‘the most sublime virtue or good habit’ to ‘the simplest pleasure’.
Simple pleasure is something I understand: it feels pleasurable to eat, shit, drink, piss, masturbate or scratch an itch (the last two things increasingly seem indistinguishable to me) and being left alone. I think that most people would consider these pleasures to be simple.
Standing in the shower for a long time, staring at water drain away while feeling it pour over me is something I hesitate to call pleasure: staying there long enough, staring at the hole into which the water relentlessly pours, while being enveloped in the undulating warmth of the cascading liquid, lifts me into a state of being so detached from any sense in which I can claim to be anything that resembles a ‘self’ that the feeling seems to me too ineffable to preclude it from being called pleasure.
Although I’m sure it’s simple enough.
As for virtue, sublime or otherwise, I haven’t the slightest idea what that is other than behaviour other people approve of. I don’t feel compelled to ask if that’s a correct summation, only to be prepared to accept that my assumption is wrong because I’m certain that if virtue means something else, any virtuous people I may have met during my life are no longer in it.
When I was a child it was necessary for at least one other child to be bullied mercilessly, which at the time seemed not only necessary but inevitable. I never questioned this assumption, I only knew that it felt good not to be the chosen child.
That feeling was relief, and relief is probably considered a pleasure, but I don’t think it a simple one. Simple implies innocent. Or at least I think it should.
Joining in with the bullying, which I suspected was one of the conditions required for not receiving the bullying myself, didn’t feel pleasurable, but I did it anyway.
Leaving the shower feels unpleasurable.
Waking up – or rather, leaving my bed – feels unpleasurable.
It’s so much easier to define what isn’t pleasurable than it is to define what pleasure is.
I have realised that my life will – has – become just an idea, an image. Nothing is real. I am not real. There is no concrete feeling, no anchor to the ground: no control…but I’ve decided to stop questioning, to stop thinking, because something makes me suspect that I’ll either find the reasons banal and repellent, or else will fail to understand them.
The marriage date is set, everything has been meticulously planned by a team of people that doesn’t include either of us.
Then we’ll fall into a routine not too dissimilar from the one we currently posses, the one my parents had and still have.
When we’re together, you tell me about the things you’ve done since I last saw you, those that other people you know have done, the minutia of detail pertaining to your various hobbies (those that I know about at least), the people you consider to have wronged you and all of the reasons why they are unworthy of your sympathy. When we do actually talk that is. Mostly we neither talk nor spend much time with each other.
I listen for as long as I can, until my mind begins to conjure the same – always the same – daydream: my eyelids are almost, but not quite, closed, as all around me people I can only vaguely discern mingle among each other, seemingly happy and saying inconsequential things that amuse them for some unknowable reason.
Then they all abruptly stop what they are doing and begin moving closer and closer towards me.
They form a circle, and the laughter begins.
The laughter grows louder, and as it does the sound becomes somehow threatening; chimps screeching; malevolent animals attacking. My heartbeat starts to increase; fear creeping into my senses; adrenal glands firing; sweating yet my skin freezing cold, and then…
You bring me back to reality again, asking – angry tone of voice and hostile posture – “Are you even listening to me?! Stop daydreaming so fucking much, it’s childish” and in those moments I can’t decide which I hate more: you, me, or everything about my life.
So I say “Sorry”, and hazard a guess at what’s the best thing to say next.
If I guess right, we don’t argue. If I guess wrong, an argument begins.
This is my life.
I don’t want it to be like this, but what else is there to do? We live in such opulence; we’re obscenely wealthy, anything I want that can be bought – and what can’t be bought? – I get, but I don’t know what I want any more, or else I find that I never really wanted what I thought I did as soon as I get it. That just doesn’t feel unbearable enough to risk losing though…
This is my life, and I don’t want it.