Monday, October 10, 2011

The Crucible of Love and Relationships

I normally rise at five-thirty, disembark from bed at seven and swim across a lake close to my home. The exercise usually fills me with elation, and gives me time to think. Imagine my surprise and indignation to discover the lake no longer existed, and had been replaced overnight by an out-of-town shopping mall.

In fact, I was swimming by the entrance to the House of Frazer department store before I realised there wasn't any water. I walked sheepishly back through the mall with the sound of mocking laughter in my ears. My only consolation? I was naked and wouldn't need to wash and dry my 'Arctic White Casino Royale' swim trunks. I'm sure Dr Freud would find my predicament, my defining act, of colossal interest.

The second eye-popping experience happened on Saturday evening. I was standing under a restaurant awning; the rain coming down unremittingly. My partner, Eleanor Winchester-Rifle, was beating me about the head and torso with twenty inches of rubber tubing. 'To think I missed bingo for this!' she bleated in a cracked, decaying voice.

I studied her face and found myself amazed by her aged appearance and skill in wielding large rubber tubing. We quarreled; she left. (I never see her again. She dies, aged seventy-one, from a broken fingernail while abseiling in the Sahara Desert without a rope and harness.) I remained in the entrance watching the vile weather and light fade, careful not to meet the gaze of whispering bystanders.

A man's voice, toneless and steady. 'Every relationship has its highs and lows. A couple like you require homeostasis.'

I try to resist talking to strangers. I'm abnormally self-absorbed and a fervent collector of patterned wallpaper. Conversations tend to turn into complex jigsaws with too many pieces. Any pieces above ten and I want to run, soil my pants, or buy an umbrella; usually its all three. My hands became clammy, my voice thin and strained. 'I can't go near a doctor without suffering post-natal depression. My nose and mouth turn stale, metallic ... And I have an aversion to small, tanned faces.'

His silence filled me with dread. I felt like crying or weeping, and I wasn't wearing my fake glasses. The guy could be a psychopath, or worse, full of jovial indifference. His body and face were both heavy and round. I jumped when he put a strong, swollen hand on my shoulder. 

'I learned my first wife was a lesbian after twenty years of marriage. Imagine that, if you can? I was suicidal for all of two minutes. Then Jane and I sat down and openly discussed the situation. The prospects of our relationship surviving after such a thunderbolt, you know?' He glanced at me. I tried to put on a fake smile but it didn't fit my sagging face.

'Your wife! ... Jane! ... Are you still a pair!? ... A couple ...!?' My voice sounded as if my vocal chords were squinting.

He moved closer. 'It's a question of attitude. I wish I'd handled the whole situation with more maturity, you know. With more care and love for my wife and children.' My mouth was as dry as bones residing in a museum, or in a microwave with a broken timer. His gaze penetrated each muscle of my face. He seemed to enjoy watching me squirm.

'Jane had a laissez-faire tendency. It was hard for me seeing her leaving our home on a stretcher. But then I was always the pragmatist. We had a yin and yang type of thing going, you know?' He leaned forward and whispered, 'We all tend to act differently in times of crisis than in times of ease. I risked everything when I shot her.

My heart pumped faster. My knuckles turned white in concert with my hair. 'Your wife?!' I gasped. 'You?! You shot your wife?!'

He put his fingers to his lips. 'Talk quietly,' he whispered. 'You never know who may be listening. Our marriage wasn't great before my wife died.' My fingers trembled so much I felt a French accent coming on. With his voice flat, and devoid of emotion, he stared directly into my face. 'Do you think I'm making this up?! That I didn't kill my wife?! Getting over an agonizing break-up isn't easy, you know! Especially for the partner left behind!'

Life and death shot before my eyes. I pictured myself walking around on sticks for months if I didn't escape his company. 'I've just remembered I have two children to launch! I mean, two children to take to lunch! My children and I have a shared history! It goes back years! Decades! Centuries, in fact!' I longed to be invisible. 'I've just remembered I'm someone else, and my job has been outsourced to an untuned, plywood violin! Catch you later!'

Without batting an eyelid I jumped into the rain and entered the city's sewage system by the nearest manhole.

Reflections: Family, lovers and friends - indeed, ourselves - change over the course of a lifetime. It may be due to the death of a loved one, illness, redundancy, debt, addiction, family secrets, broken dreams, or trepidation. To successfully survive expected, or unsuspected, experiences one requires strength; room to breathe to discover who we were always supposed to be, and strive to become that person. 

Closing our eyes and mind solves or achieves nothing. Embrace the 'kiss of life' while it exists, and handle your inner emotions with sensitivity and care. Treat others' with genuine and profound humaneness. Life is neither predictable, nor a fairy tale.