What The Fuck Am I Doing Wrong?

So, it happened again. Another woman from my daughter’s Kita has feelings for me. And of course, just as perfectly and just as terribly, I have feelings for her too. I saw it months ago: joking to my husband “I think A. has a bit of a crush on me…”, hearing how she talked about me “People are staring at you because you have those flecks in your eyes… and you’ve been cycling.. you look so healthy..”. It was obvious and I ignored it and ignored it because I didn’t know what to do. It felt sweet and maybe (just maybe) like I had imagined it. I talked to my friend M. and said “Am I losing the plot here? She’s just into me in a platonic way, right?” and M. said “Yes, platonic, platonic.”

And no, it’s not platonic. Not at all. A. told me that she’s bisexual, or queer, or pansexual, or whatever you want to call it: not straight. She told me she wanted to go to this club with me…. KitKat. It’s a sex club, a fetish club. We went out for drinks, got drunk, and went there. I couldn’t focus on anyone but her. I wanted her, and I knew I shouldn’t.

After things ended with S., all those months ago, S. and her husband split up. They both reassured me it wasn’t anything to do with me, and that their marriage had actually had problems for a long time. They don’t hate me, they both still talk to me, and as far as I can tell, they are telling the truth about it not being my fault. But I really do not know if I could do it again: I changed my mind, maybe it was a mistake.

So now with A. … beautiful, smart, wonderful A. I want her to like me, I want her to have a crush on me, I want her to lose control and do all the things with me that she and I both know we shouldn’t do. I like her so much, and seeing how S. and I grew apart, seeing how we broke our friendship in the end, seeing all the pain and complication surrounding our lives, I am not sure I can do this with A. It would be so reckless, with foresight, knowing exactly how badly things could end.

I love how she laughs. I love how she smiles. There are so many things about her that I can’t help but feel so drawn to, not least of all that she seems to understand me. I love hearing her talk about her PhD and all the academic stuff she’s working on. At coffee this morning she mentioned something about illuminated manuscripts and I felt my eyes grow wider and I felt my breath catch in my lungs; she’s so intelligent, so interesting, I can’t get enough. Yesterday she tried on some clothes for work, some business outfits, and one of the items was a leather jacket. When she put it on, my body just said “…Oh god..”..

I like her so much. Will it never be realised? I guess one day when one or both of us decides we don’t like each other in that way anymore, it will be the end of a relationship that never happened. And thinking of that, makes me sad.

In all of this, I wonder: what kind of impression am I giving to people. What are the chances that in my kid’s kindergarten, there are two mothers, two married women, who are both falling for me. What am I doing wrong? It’s not supposed to be this way. A. and I did some work together, editing someone else’s document, and the guy had written that to determine the history of an object when assessing it for art acquisition purposes, that one should circle the object first from far away, and then up close: like prey. I joked that a friend calls me a predator, because I always seem to get the people I’m interested in. But I don’t feel like a predator, not at all, rather I feel like sometimes I am so confused and so uncontrolled, that suddenly I am leaping into something completely blind and that it just so happens to work out. And then again, other times it doesn’t. I feel like life isn’t supposed to be this complicated. I can’t help but think that I am making it so… but another part of me wonders if this is just what life is, sometimes: complex, uncontrolled, inconvenient, pleasurable, hard.

The Other Me

I guess it’s that time again, that time I start to feel like something isn’t quite right. It feels like something inside my head is being carried away in a swag over someone’s shoulder, someone shadowy and fast and mischievous, someone who I’ve known for far too long. It’s always a “he”, and he’s there with a baseball bat to beat me into submission when I least expect it.

Sometimes it’s okay, everything seems okay, and then suddenly it’s happening and I feel as if I got grabbed from behind in some dark alleyway and all the breath is gone from my lungs. Other times it’s like he flies in and out of my consciousness, flitting about like some kind of Tinkerbell in rags and with sharp teeth, and all I can do is try to push him away, run faster, take a left turn and then a right, trying to get away.

Eventually he always catches up, and then the damage begins. It’s always just a matter of how much damage, not if, but how much. When he’s with me it’s like my brain is trying to breathe and it can’t, like someone took two of those paddles they use to jump-start a heart, and they put them on my brain – suddenly I’m falling like Alice down the rabbit hole, gasping and motionless.

“RUN”, she says, the old me, the real me, “If you stay healthy it’ll be okay. Do social stuff. Eat well. Read books. Run as fast as you can. Get some sunshine, hug someone.” And then before I know it it’s been 3 beautiful days of sunshine outside while I sit inside and lie in bed and eat and eat and eat. I don’t get dressed, I don’t brush my teeth, I start panicking. I check my phone for messages, turn it off, turn it on, turn it off, throw it at the ground, turn it on, cry and then force myself into something like a bike ride or reading a book or doing something, anything productive that might have a chance of saving me. It feels so naive having this hope that maybe if I just do something, if I just keep moving, that maybe this time it’ll be okay.

But when it’s not enough, it’s not enough.

Once he starts pushing all those tiny black seeds into my brain, they sprout into nails and push out all the good things. Every single time I have to take a deep breath and uproot this horrible garden one nail-plant at a time, using all my strength, whispering to myself “It will be okay, keep going, keep going, keep going”, bleeding and bleeding all the while. I try not to let anyone else around me see that I walk this nailbed and that I’m hurting so much, I could bleed out through the floor and nobody would know why.

But no matter how much the real me fights, the other one is always there, the boy one, though boy makes him sound as if he has some aspect of sweetness, of innocence, but he is not that. He is a man, a rapist, a murderer, a thief, he takes everything from me. The real me is so small, and she always gets up, so bruised, sometimes bleeding, sometimes tying the knots around my own throat and just waiting for someone to shout “no”. Every time I crawl out of that pit again I’m dragging the ropes behind me like chains, old marks lingering in the places where he knows to tie them again when I make a mistake.

Right now it feels as if I climbed up so high, I felt invincible, maybe that time was over, maybe I would be able to be myself for once and that I could just live my fucking life. And then I see him out of the corner of my eye, and I realise that somehow I walked into some street that I didn’t know was a dead-end and he’s there and he’s there and he’s everywhere I turn.

The worst part is that it feels like he’s laughing, I’m his hostage and we both know it, we both know that he is me and I am him and that the person inside my head that desperately wants to live cannot escape no matter what she does. He knows exactly what will bring me down, exactly what will make things worse: alcohol, not enough sleep, isolation, and makes me crave those things with an intensity so strong I feel as if I cannot control it. The insomnia is the worst, and I cry so deep into my soul, just knowing that every single second I lie awake is him tightening the ropes around me, the small but strong me who is so, so scared.

He holds up a baseball bat, and I crouch down on the ground.  I wait for the beating to begin, one eye always looking to the side for a way out. Other eye to the ground, knowing that maybe, maybe, if I just stay very still, I’ll still be alive at the end of it.

The Words We Cannot Speak

“[T]o love is to enter into the inevitability of one day not being able to protect what is most valuable to you.”

– Exit West, Mohsin Hamid

So much of life is about loss, and how we deal with it, process it, keep moving afterwards. I told my friend M. that I love her, and that this feeling scares me because love is like my lungs have been scooped out and replaced with pop-rocks. She told me she sometimes feels as if she loves in a surface way, shallow and never quite getting so deep. When she loses someone, when someone dies, she cries and then keeps on with life.

I feel right now as if someone tied me up with red threads, as if the world is so much tinier than I imagined and all these connections are pulling me in different ways. What do I do with all the loves I have? How do I explain to people: I adore you, I miss you, I love you so much that the base of my spine turns to butterflies when I think of you. I can’t help but feel so alone sometimes with these feelings, like nobody else feels so strong and keeps it all so pushed inside. I store it in my bones, in my blood, and yet when the time comes to actually say the words I can’t, and instead all that comes out is tepid.

The flipside of that coin is that I’m fickle, easily extinguished if I don’t get enough to keep the flame alive. I cannot say that either: if you don’t love me enough, if you don’t show me enough, the fear fills me again and I will leave. I can’t say what I need to say, and the sadness of losing someone makes me feel so scared that I just push it away and move backwards, move away, put something in between us so that the loss will not be so much. But all the feelings are still there, everything still simmers underneath, I just need the right thing to wake it up.

When it comes to my flight or fight response, am I just flight?

I met a girl on Thursday who had a tattoo of a cormorant on her back. She told me that the cormorant stretches its wings out after diving, to dry them. It’s one of the only aquatic birds in the world that does not have fully water-repellent wings.

Platonic

Recently I’ve been feeling something pretty strong towards my best friend here. She’s wonderful and I can’t help but adore her and I feel nothing but joy when we’re together. At first when I started feeling so emotional I would leave her house and think “Oh shit, am I falling in love with her?” (not again!?) and I felt scared that it would tear us apart and ruin everything. But I sat with that feeling and decided to just let it be, to just let it happen. And it kept happening, I saw that I loved her and that I felt this way and that it was okay: how can there be anything wrong with loving a friend?

I usually feel a lot for my friends, but sometimes it goes beyond what I think most people seem to experience, something in that slightly-more-than-just-friends zone. Sometimes there’s attraction too, and when it’s mutual that’s when things can get complicated. But I’ve navigated these strange and tiny ships through big storms, and even though I have a few friend-shipwrecks along the way, most of them survive and make it through to calm waters on the other side.


Another friend of mine moved away recently. When she left I realised that our relationship had been deep in some ways but very shallow in others. We had shared a lot of stories with each other, we had eaten many meals together, our kids played a lot. But I didn’t feel anything for her. If she didn’t message me, I didn’t mind. I liked her, but the emotional depth just never happened for me. With my best friend, when I’m not taking to her I miss her, I wonder how she’s doing. I think about her and her little family with those intense feelings that come with actually loving someone. I want her life to be wonderful. It’s a selfish feeling too, that I want her to be in my life. I want to have her and to keep her, but if she wanted to leave for something that would make her happy, I would want her to go.

When I got here I felt so isolated and scared of being lonely; it was a fear that I didn’t even realise I could experience until I got here. I had been afraid of the language barrier and of the logistics: visas, permits, apartment, kindergarten for my kids… I never thought about how I might not make friends. Everyone who knows me well is back in New Zealand, they know all my quirks and weirdness and flaws, but still choose to be in my life. Here I had to start again and just hope like hell that someone would like me.

After meeting her I felt like everything would be alright. At first all we did was go to playgrounds and eat ice cream with our kids. I don’t know how or when but it gradually became a lot more. It was as if she had grabbed my hand and gave us this shelter from the insanity of moving to the other side of the world. She told us about how when she arrived in Berlin she was so depressed and so lonely, and I felt like she protected me from that pain. I will be forever grateful for that.


With M. and the kids I have my own home that I created, one that travels with us no matter where we actually live. But my friend gave me a home here. Enjoying Berlin and loving Berlin began with having that security and love she gives. She gives the best hugs, and she is free with her affection. That’s exactly the kind of person I need in my life, and up until now I’ve only had a few of them. For all I know things are not the same for her, and maybe things are a lot more shallow in how she feels towards me. But I know she cares about me and opens up to me, at least enough for me to see there’s something beautiful between us. In my life that’s something rare.

What I Need

For the first time in ages I have told someone what I need. Not what I want, what I need. A girl that I’ve been sleeping with keeps wanting to meet up, but I lost all my energy to socialise and have sex and it all just fell away before I even noticed it was gone. I told her that it’s nothing to do with her, but that I can’t meet up with her and I just need to focus on myself for a little while.

Even though my mood feels okay, I’ve been spending the last month in bed, at home, not venturing out much other than places that I have to go to. I take the kids out, I go to the supermarket, but I actively avoid everything else unless it’s with a close friend. These are the little blinking orange lights that show me “Hey, look out, things could get a lot worse from here if you’re not careful.”

5 years ago I didn’t notice this was happening until it was too late. I sat in my bedroom every evening, ignoring M. and refusing to interact with anyone unless I was drunk; I would wait for that blurry feeling to wash over me until I could show affection and say what I thought and crack jokes and then as soon as it was over I was back into my bed and thinking some of the darkest thoughts I’ve ever thought in my life.

We did go on holiday to Edinburgh; it felt familiar — the city is laid out like Dunedin; the street names are all the same and even some of the buildings felt so much like New Zealand. Everyone was speaking English instead of German and I could just breathe for a moment. It also felt like as soon as I caught my breath, I was suffocating all over again in everything that came with those home-feelings: memories, people, damage, the small-city-ness of it all. I missed Berlin and the trains, I missed the queerness, I didn’t feel as secure walking around just being me, even though visibly I look like some boring 30-year-old Mum. I don’t look like anything strange or weird or like I push any boundaries in my life ever, but I do feel inside myself like I just don’t fit in some places. A woman I met at a rooftop bar the other week told me that in Berlin she feels like she can really be herself and relax and everyone just accepts her. She said:

In Berlin, everybody cares about who you are. But nobody minds.

And she was so right, this is true for me at least.

I need to focus on myself for a little while, I need to gain back some idea of what I’m doing and where I’m going. The emotional responses I’m having to M. and my friends and my kids is something that I didn’t expect – I’m not feeling so grumpy or angry or short-tempered as usual, instead it’s openness and love and this good feeling for them, mixed in with this bad self-feeling, this lack of motivation and quiet fear of venturing out into the world. But why do I feel this confused bundle of emotions, why do I feel so simultaneously buoyed and flat? That’s what I need to figure out.

Your Body is Not My Body

Your body is not my body
You don’t need to take those rocks from your chest and hurl them through my windows.

Unlike you
I refuse to be afraid of heights

and every morning I get into a hot air balloon and float up into the sky.
That’s joy, flame underneath and bright colours up top
because down below is just a pit of all we couldn’t hold.

My body went through metamorphosis, heaviness into light to save itself,
without doing that

I

just

sink

so I go up, whether you’re with me or not
but you can follow me,
if you want to.

And even if
even if we are on fire, so what?
you can grow many things out of ashes.

You say you’ve been burned before
but you don’t know that time and time again this body has been set alight
then plucked like a dead canary,
feathers ripped off
bloody back, kneeling down prostrate and praying to nobody in a tunnel with no end.

My body always finds new ways of flying,
and it would do you good to realise that no matter how many rocks you hold
I can still carry you.

Beast

I tell her she has brown eyes like me.
Her brother has blue eyes like Dad.
Parts handed down like quilts, eyes from so far back and so far across the sea I don’t even know where my own body was made.
And I see in my hands, heart, lungs everything you gave me, that scarlet bloom of sickness in my chest, bursting up into the air.

I remember hiding under the table, my whole body shut tight, hoping you wouldn’t see me

searching for just a stupid rubber ball.

That ball was the end of me and my clouded eyes that didn’t really see anything at all.
I was blind and yet when I saw you I was blinded more than I ever thought possible, a crouching baby beast feels such electricity in the air and just knows that it’s wrong.

And did you put this wrongness into me too?
What on god’s earth did I inherit:

brown eyes like my mother, brown eyes like my father

and the passion of both enough to split a thousand knuckles wide open.

O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Tomorrow is the 9 year anniversary of my brother’s death. Discussing it is still so hard for me, and yet I’m increasingly realising that I must find better ways of dealing with it and talking about it. When I recount how he died, when I explain everything, I somehow feel like I have to give people a disclaimer.

It’s a pretty morbid story. I don’t know if you want to hear it.

I tend to avoid talking about it. But when someone starts asking about the scars on my arms, or about my depression, or about being a teenager, inevitably the topic of my stepdad comes up. And then through talking about my stepdad, I talk about my brother, and the whole dark and twisted story comes out. There’s no good way to talk about it all, there’s no simple way to say it. When I push the words out of my mouth it’s like I’m shoving them through a barrier of cotton wool, as if by uttering them, the person I’m speaking to will be so horrified that they will disappear in a puff of smoke.

He drowned, okay? He had a seizure and drowned in the bathtub.

If he was alive he would be 18 years old now. I can’t even imagine what he would be like, what his life would be like, what any of our lives would be like. When I think about him my chest feels tight and heavy, and I feel as if my mother must be consumed by this sorrow so large that she cannot even begin to climb it.

I remember stroking his hair in the hospital when he was in the paediatric ICU. His hair was flattened into a Johnny-Bravo-style peak, from everyone stroking his hair in the same way. It was so soft.

The doctors had to test if he had any brain activity remaining, so my parents could decide if they wanted to switch off the life support or not. The doctor shone a torch into his eyes, and I stared so hard at his pupils just hoping and screaming inside my head: “React! MOVE! JUST DO SOMETHING”. But nothing happened, they turned off the life support, and that was it.

I hated his hugs, because he was always sticky and slimy and he was so skinny that his hugs were bony and painful. He would hug me and say “I love you, Leah”; he’d wake me up at 3am, standing by my bed, wanting me to play with him; my boyfriend and I would babysit him and take him places and look after him as if we were our own little family. But then he was dead and the hugs were gone and I wished with every piece of my body that I could go back in time and love him better, pay him more attention, spend more time with him, make sure he knew in his bones that I adored him even though he drove me crazy.

Four brothers seems like a lot to most people. But to me it seems like such a tiny number, just four.

Beginning to Read “The Passion According to G.H.”

Yesterday I went out with a woman I met on Tinder several months ago. She’s so smart, and we have this weird connection that I don’t really understand. I like her a lot, but she seems to be plagued by this desperation about other people; she cannot bear to connect with people who are hurtful, who do not sense the world in the way she does. She told me that she used to explain away people’s flaws and their mistakes with the mosaic of issues they had experienced in their lives, but now she doesn’t seem able to do this anymore, and that loss seems to totally consume her.

I know it’s not my job to do so, but I really don’t know if I can repair this.

Another friend is struggling inside her mind too; she feels so lonely, so isolated in this knowledge that we are all ultimately alone and that everyone dies and ceases to be. This thought of losing herself, of no longer existing, seems to cover her like a thick blanket. Every time we drink a little too much, she talks about it, she seems a little scared. I adore her; when she talks like this I just want to hold her and tell her that everything will be okay.

They both live with these questions inside themselves, and I’m painfully aware that I don’t have the answers.

I began reading The Passion According to G.H. yesterday as well, and it feels like sometimes things in my life are flowing in tandem. As if the air just knows exactly what needs to happen for my brain to organise the fluttering thoughts of other people, to help me understand these parts of them.

Some quotes:

“How could I explain that my greatest fear is precisely of: being? and yet there is no other way. How can I explain that my greatest fear is living whatever comes?”

“Will I need the courage to use an unprotected heart and keep talking to the nothing and the no one? as a child thinks about the nothing. And run the risk of being crushed by chance.”

“For now I am inventing your presence, just as one day I won’t know how to risk dying alone, dying is the greatest risk of all, I won’t know how to enter death and take the first step into the first absence of me—just as in this last and so primary hour I shall invent your unknown presence and with you shall begin to die until I learn all by myself not to exist, and then I shall let you go.”

Destroy Me

I can see it happening, barrelling into my life like a freight train, a train I’ve ridden far too many times and jumped off far too many times to count.

I read you and I hear you and I feel you and I taste this pulling, dragging desire, bubbling up inside my chest, a hot pink thick soup of fear tinged with longing, cursing and calling as if all these oceans aren’t too far for you to hear me.

Every tiny word that sprouts from you is lightning in my veins, just a thrill please one more, I’ll take it if you want to give it.

I want it, all of it, all of you. I haven’t even touched your skin or heard your voice, but I know it in my bones that if you said so I would get on a boat tomorrow and sail into the moon just to eat ice cream with you and let it drip onto my body, you can lick it off and wash me with your tongue. It’s too much, I’m always too much, this feeling is too much, but it’s in me and you know I can’t push down lava, eventually it always explodes.

I can see this other me, this me that didn’t leave, this me that comes home, this me that feels the magnetism of another person more strongly than I can possibly explain, this me who wants just to try it, just to taste it, to feel all my senses alive in your bedroom.

But how can I say these words to you, you with all your strength. You could break me, shatter me into a million pieces, and do whatever you wanted. And the worst part is, I would let you.