Serendipity

Was I born a masochist or did society make me this way?

Tag: writing

296

We’re living through strange times. The bell curve of human intelligence or lack thereof has never stretched so far apart. It’s difficult if not outright impossible to discern the truth from the barrage of information we’re constantly bombarded with on every screen we glance past.

As a child, I had always assumed being an adult meant something. As if age magically bestowed you wisdom, or at least common sense. But it isn’t so. People do not miraculously become clever or more sensible after consuming nonsense for most of their lives.

I have always avoided reality TV like the plague, and on the rare occasions when I watched them, I felt bewildered by their popularity. The cheap theatrics filled me with an irrational passionate hatred. It felt like a betrayal, that in this short time we have on the planet, this limited journey, we were being studied religiously, then targeted with the most likely trash to elicit a click, an endless scroll. We were being robbed on a daily basis, of seconds, minutes, precious hours wasted by clever algorithms, designed to keep us complacent, bored yet satiated, just tired enough to never strive for more. Let the homeless carry iPhones. They will own nothing and be happy about it.

Isn’t it strange, that we’ve never had more and felt worse about it? For all that the younger generations complain of wealth inequality, unaffordable housing, and the con that is higher education; we have never had so much material comfort, access to information, opportunities to be more than the circumstances we’re born into.

But we squander it every fucking day. I watch my youth slip away as I inflict irreparable damage to my spine because I’ve not yet aged enough to regret my poor posture. We share the same cliche quotes with pastel backgrounds and pretend it’s as good as therapy. We experiment with different pills till we find the right one that numbs our pain with the least repercussions. We nip our problems at the bud so we never have to examine the roots too closely.

We’re the first generation in a long time that’s had it worse than our parents, and we’re angry but not quite sure at who. At our parents for doing their best? At ourselves for believing lies about dreams being achievable? At the teachers tasked with pretending we weren’t mediocre? Who needs a mid life crisis when you can experience anxiety on a daily basis? It’s not a drug addiction if a pharmacist labels the bottle.

What if their best was not even remotely close to good enough? Can you ever really break the cycle? Home used to be a place I would hide. A roof over my head, enough distance between me and her temper. Never quite enough distance.

I was never given permission to make a home my own, and even now, sitting in the house I own, it feels lacking. I never quite know how to answer when the designer asks what I want, because for so long “wanting” was a crime. The audacity of a child to want more, when the parents had so little. A crime beyond repent.

There was a time when my mother was so miserable that the very act of expressing happiness in her vicinity was a recipe for disaster. I find myself experiencing the same irrational rage at mild inconveniences and it feels like a cruel cosmic joke, to become what you loathe the most. The irony that I’m now the favourite child. The successful yet obviously not successful enough lawyer she can humble brag to her friends, whilst making quips about how she never had high expectations of me.

All that I am was despite her good intentions. Yet she wears my achievements like glorious validation.

295

Maybe it was a mistake that you made love feel too good once upon a time. Nothing ever compared or came moderately close to that feeling of being the one and only, that complete blinding faith of yours which never wavered. Where did that come from? How did we lose it so quickly?

What would have happened if I had let it run its course? Would you have eventually realised that I wasn’t quite as perfect as you had pretended? Would we be having the same miserable fights, petty squabbles over the mundane and never ending tasks of functional adulthood? Functional only in the most ironic sense.

Would you take the usual path? Would I start to lose more arguments because winning becomes more important to you than my happiness after all? The same stubbornness you once found endearing begins to wear on your patience. You wonder if I had always been so unreasonable. Who really changed? Was it ever love if we could only tolerate the most agreeable version of each other?

What’s it like to be called dramatic when your tears have finally dried? What’s it like to love someone who prefers you make appointments for any and all grievances? Who is less concerned about the actual grievance than the potential inconvenience of it to his schedule. “Don’t wake me unless it’s actually important.” What’s it like to not be actually important?

How long can you chip away at superficial love until it’s only a sum of all your friends’ memories of who you used to be? You don’t look your age yet but you will and you wonder if that’s when he’ll find the courage to leave. Nothing makes a man quite as brave as a younger woman’s admiration.

What are we now other than a sum of all our disappointments? The totality of our faults, real or imagined, leaving marks wherever we go, determined to be remembered badly for fear of not being remembered at all. I almost forgot your name the other day, it took some searching to recall. What a terrible feeling of freedom, to forget we ever loved at all.

294

It dawns on me that you would no longer be the boy whom I remember. In the end I’m mourning a soul who no longer exists, perhaps never existed at all. There are days that I forget your name, the sound of your voice. I no longer remember the way you kissed, I suppose it was tender. I don’t remember the way that you smell, but I remember I liked it. I don’t remember the way you fucked, but we left marks to celebrate.

All I really remember is the pain. A pain all consuming that it blurred my sense of reality, a pain so deep that death appeared less frightening. All logic dictated that my heart was still a functional organ, diligently beating, cycling blood through my body. You shouldn’t be able to feel a heart, yet I felt it. A searing, red hot sting, I felt it tear into pieces with every word, crushed by the weight of your apologies.

Sometimes I miss the pain, not in a masochistic way, although perhaps a little. But truthfully I miss the way you broke my heart so completely. One must love completely in order to be broken. But we grow and we learn and we never open up quite so sincerely again. We put up walls or at least some respectable fences. We leave one foot out the door, for safety.

I don’t miss being young but I miss the innocence of our youth. I miss saying I love you without caveats. The days of saying words like forever and meaning it, the way only foolish children could do. The days of never worrying about the future, as it was simply too far out of reach. When the greatest crime was the assault of a stranger’s perfume lingering on your shirt, not a lipstick stain.

I suppose, in a way, you still complete me. I may have been a different person had you not kissed me. Would I have been happier? My heart lighter? My soul unobstructed by the weight of your transgressions? Who would you be? Who would you have broken instead of me? Would she have recovered more elegantly?

Would she still wear her heart on her sleeve?

293

I still underestimate how much people mean to me, even after all this time. You’d think I’d be prepared by now, I should know how to cut my losses, stop hurting myself over people who never think of me at all. Wouldn’t that be the saddest thing, if you never thought about me at all.

Maybe that’s why I pretend we meant more to each other than we really did. It’s been four years since we spoke. Long enough for memory to become unreliable, and I was never a reliable witness. Maybe that’s why I pretend you never loved her. It’s easier to tell others you’re in a loveless marriage than to believe you might be happy in a life without me. The truth is, I know better than anyone that a man as calculating as you would never fail a question as big as marriage. You were always far too clever to sign yourself up to a life of defeat.

Or perhaps the truth is far more wretched. That you carefully considered the possibility of me, the wasted potential of me. You wrote a pro and con list, you reviewed my deficiencies and concluded that I was a disaster waiting to happen. You’d rather be bored than to suffer at my unpredictable hands. I never learned how to put you at ease. I excited you, I terrified you, but I was still only a stranger in your bed, never noticing you could only fall asleep alone.

Now you kiss her good night before retreating to separate rooms. You say “good morning darling” with the same ease as I pour my first coffee. You both promised the counsellor you’d remember to say “I love you” with more empathy, whatever the hell that means. You close your eyes and still you think of me. Your gin soaked breath tracing the curvature of my spine, your hands gliding along my shoulders, your lips on my skin, remembering every groove, every imperfection. Every scar, every near miss. The smell of my hair, the taste of my lips, the bitterness of unspoken goodbyes. Still you miss the shadow of me, yet you never grieve.

292

There are days when it is easier to miss you. Then there are days when my whole body aches for you. Days when tears stream silently as I sleep and dream of you. There are times when I wonder if I actually miss you at all, or simply a memory of you – my own distorted recollections of a man far more impressive than the truth could ever live up to. The kind of man who wouldn’t have abandoned me out of fear, the kind who had conviction and loyalty. That man would have stayed and loved me as a friend, as I have stayed faithful to embellished memories and searched for bearable imitations, chasing feeble flames to feed the flickering wicker you left behind.

There was a time when my smile could brighten up a room for you, when your gaze would always be the first to find me, claim me as your own. There were days when your smallest gestures were enough to hide the shame, mask the pain, make existence tolerable again. Those were the foolish days when we both practised smiles, feigned passion, and mistook our pride for intimacy. Those were the brief moments of honesty, when you weren’t afraid to admit that you were choosing her out of guilt rather than love. But if the guilt is powerful enough, who needs love anyway?

I scrutinised all your wedding photos, searching for a semblance of happiness, the vaguest promise of contentment you sorely deserved, but all I found was a mask on the brink of collapse. Your strained smile, her clasped hands, choking on meaningless vows, promising to love someone forever when you couldn’t love her a moment. Man of her dreams. You couldn’t bear to crush her fantasy, disappoint so many. You at least have the decency to pretend.

Because who are we without our masks? The cloak of civility masquerading as decency, the voice you put on for polite company, the jokes you tell with variations, distinctly catered to different guests. The way you move your body, the urgency of your kiss, the bruises you leave, the people you hurt with names you no longer remember. Do you still remember me?

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In the end all that matters is that you chose me once. That you smiled at me across the room and invited me into your life when you were still a recluse. That we enjoyed every moment in each other’s company and you kissed me like a lover who felt like a friend.

That you saw my pain and believed it because you felt it too. We didn’t wallow together but I felt understood.

In the end what matters is this: kindness and faith. Waiting for the light at the end of the tunnel and seeing it shine brighter than you ever imagined possible. That gnawing sense of regret in the pit of my stomach because you’re not here to see it, I so wished you were here to say you’re proud of me.

In the end it doesn’t matter that you chose her.

286

The temptations of unfamiliar flesh. When an attractive stranger desires you, lusts for you, dreams of you, whispers your name with an urgency you don’t recognise. Those little moments feel better than the orgasm itself, and the orgasms aren’t bad at all. The way he pulls your hair, hard, but restrained as he’s trying to learn your limits. The way he bites your neck, digs his fingers into your back, and explores your body with his tongue. The adrenaline rush that came with being exposed, vulnerable. The excitement of tasting someone new.

As unfulfilling as they would be in the morning, I adored those small moments of simple, animalistic pleasures. A few moments to forget who we are, why we’re here, where we’re headed. Just you and me, strangers, lovers, friends, all, and nothing.

285

My happiness came in fleeting bursts. It was superficial, forgettable, insincere. I didn’t know whether it hurt me more that he couldn’t see it, or terrified me that he might.

I was dissatisfied, but mostly with myself. My stubbornness, my imperfections, my undoing. My inexplicable need to sabotage and destroy any semblance of stability. I could never make myself believe that he loved me as much as he said he did, even as he was saying it. I felt alone, even when he held me. Especially when he held me. I felt empty, maybe because they’d left wounds too deep. Or maybe I was always hollow to begin with.

I couldn’t escape the nagging feeling that I was wasting this life, this precious, exhausting existence. That every minute I spent feeling ungrateful would come back and haunt me with poetic justice. I never deserved any of it, and sooner or later it would be taken away, which would be unbearable, yet inevitable. I was angry with him for not understanding me, even though I didn’t either. I was regressing, and anger was my defence mechanism. I wanted to be heard even when I didn’t like my own voice.

I fell apart at the last wedding I attended because I had been uninvited to another. Not just unceremoniously removed from a list of invitations, but permanently barred from an entire life. She knew better than to leave him with access to relationship poison, they were ready to remove therapy from their budget and progress to the next phase of suburban paradise. I locked myself in the bathroom stall and sent a drunken message that would never be read. Or perhaps read and deleted to avoid incrimination. Or perhaps read and elicited only annoyance. Everyone had moved on while I let myself be haunted by a kind smile more than a decade old. I could never keep enough good people around to make me better. You could never love me enough to stay past the bad weather.

284

After all this time, you were the one who taught me what love ought to look like.

I’d never taken the time to observe the wonders of nature, the beauty of a well kept garden. It had seemed frivolous, wasteful, time that could be spent more constructively. I was taught as a child to remove myself from unnecessary distractions. I didn’t forget how to have fun. I never learned how to.

Love came in many forms and disguises, but yours was the sweetest. You whispered empty promises until I believed them, and I am still falling for your bad intentions.

There was a small part of me, naive and blindly optimistic, that was sure I could mean something to you even after I was gone. That you might think of me as the girl who loved you unconditionally, until she had to leave to recover all that she had lost in loving you.

I never wanted your gratitude, or gentle thoughts, or even nostalgia. But if I held on tight to my memories of you whilst you let go, how much of it remains real? Was it only ever lust imitating passion? Perhaps I’d unwittingly fantasised my own importance, my recollections of how fiercely we fought for our temporary infatuations being a mere extension of my narcissism.

There was a time when you meant the world to me, but I was only ever a small star in your galaxy. She will make you forget my name. She will make sure of it.

I will whisper my silent goodbyes. I will love you to my grave.

283

Let’s be serious, our generation never grew up. We never had to. There were no wars for us to fight, and we tried not to think too hard about the ones in faraway countries we’d never visit. It was irrelevant, it was nothing we had any control over, so why bother with upset? #War would never become trending. Don’t waste your pixels. Our understanding of starvation extends only to a delayed UberEats delivery, and we treat the mildest inconveniences like life ending catastrophe. Our lives revolve around the same first world problems and petty grievances, intermittently interrupted with the latest shiny object within our budget.

Our parents think they had it hard, or at least harder. Some become resentful, bitter that life wasn’t as kind on them as it was on us. They know it isn’t fair or right to feel this way, but that doesn’t stop them from muttering under their breath “…back in my day…”. You wish they had the decency to keep those thoughts to themselves. They don’t care what you think at all, you petulant child. They belong to the generation that believes emotional trauma builds character. They credit themselves for every achievement in your life but your failures are your own to bear. Don’t you dare burden them with disappointment.

Misery loves company only because it’s so damn lonely. I want you to understand my suffering, I have to make sure it’s equally devastating, or you won’t begin to comprehend my pain. But the world’s changing too fast for us to keep up. Round and round we go, we tell the same stories with new faces who distract from familiar, predictable conclusions. We go anyway. The devil’s in the details.

But you can’t escape the nagging feeling that you’ve drifted from the proper path. It’s like pressing the wrong key in a video game and knowing you’ll never get to the ending you wanted, that you worked so hard for. But you’ve come too far to start over, so you settle for second best. Before you know it your entire life becomes a series of second bests. You settle for less, then less, until you’re an empty shell of wasted potential. You spend the rest of your life convincing yourself that this is enough, and if you’re lucky, you’ll believe it.

279

What was it like to be seventeen? The smallest inconveniences appeared to be insurmountable difficulties. Every emotion you’re feeling for the very first time, magnified until they seemed all encompassing, all consuming. That was the state of my affairs, the day you first smiled at me.

You seemed almost angelic. Not that I’d ever believed in the hippie trippy trash about auras, but some strange energy drew me towards you. It soon became clear that we enjoyed each other’s company, and you were unsure if that was suitable. You had appearances to keep. I had too much baggage, too much gossip that would follow.

I shouldn’t need you to see it in order to be happy with this life that I’ve built. But some stupid childish part of me wishes you would glance back, just for a second, nod your approval, the way you used to wink at me across the room, our little secret. I promise not to tell. She never has to know.

I don’t know what I’m hoping to prove. I never said I loved you. We never dared to dream of it. Maybe it hurts because you refused to give me a chance to be a better person. You simply decided that I wasn’t. That was the end of my chapter in your story. It kills me that this is how it ends. She looked beautiful in that dress. You looked handsome as always in that perfectly tailored suit. How dare you look so happy. The nerve of you, to make me feel happy for you.

Now I know my few remaining friends have given up hope on trying to save me. I know I’ll come up with a perfect plot to piss off the dumb few that forgave me. I’ll burn every bridge before I make it to the exit, I’ll follow you to the edge of the sea. I’ll mark your name in red before I leave, you’ll never get another chance to deceive me.

I hope you lie when you tell people she’s a good wife, there’s no cure for our kind of lonely and she makes you cry. I hope I die young and you finally learn to miss me. It’ll be too late. I burned the olive tree down.

276

On the evening celebrating my 27th birthday, just as my friends arrived, I received a call from my father that I needed to fly home immediately. My grandmother had a fall and was in the hospital. There was nothing the doctors could do for her, she was unconscious and probably not going to wake up, but I should see her one last time before the inevitable.

I’m not sure if we ever get better equipped at dealing with death. Does it become easier as more and more of our loved ones leave us? Is “easier” the right word when we’re simply numb to the pain?

I’ve always been slow to process my emotions. Compartmentalising always came so naturally to me. I found myself dissecting the situation like an unfeeling robot, and drew the unpleasant conclusion that death may in fact be a relief for her, and the rest of us.

She was 93 and had been suffering from dementia for the past few years, her condition worsening as time went on. More recently she would call me by my cousin’s name when I came to visit. With the exception of my mother who undoubtedly loved her the most, her four living sons have spent the past decade pawning off the responsibility of taking care of her, passing her around each family in rotation so they could split the burden as much as possible, in a manner deemed tolerable to their wives.

Maybe death is harder for our atheistic generation, when we all “know” that nothing happens after. Although the older I get the harder it is to be dismissive of religion entirely. I simply know of too many individuals far more intelligent than I will ever be who have found ways to maintain faith despite evidence to the contrary, that I can’t help wonder, and however reluctantly, begrudgingly, submit to such possibilities, because to claim otherwise would be unbearably arrogant.

In the final days we took turns holding her hand, my mother calling for her with a desperation that weighed heavily on us all. We did our best to remind her she was loved, and would be dearly missed. It’s strange how death can bring people together, how goodness can sometimes be found in the middle of hell.

275

I miss you and I hate you for that.

A part of me always knew there was no happy ending in store for us, but I imagined that I would find contentment along the way, and for a while I pretended that would be enough.

When you said you loved me, I could tell you meant it in the way others pretended to mean it. I sometimes wonder how I ever found the strength to leave you, when so much of me wanted to stay. I refuse to acknowledge that I ripped myself open for you. But it was the last time I ever let anybody in.

There was an easy charm about you that you pretended to work hard for. Maybe you even convinced yourself that it was hard, just so you could take the credit. You viewed the world through a different lens and you were convinced your version was superior. I would never have been enough and you knew it. We would have ruined each other in exquisite ways. You would have enjoyed every minute of it.

She bores you, you’d never admit it, but you know it. You’re sick of the way she looks at you. Whatever part of your ego that she once satisfied with her presence now finds her mediocre and taxing. You could have done better, you’d never say it, but you know it. With every kiss you feel your affections fade, until you barely remember why you chose to stay. You made the choice, long ago, that you would always stay.

It could have all been different, we might have never crossed paths and you might be happier for it. I brought you so much pain and so little joy to compensate. I don’t know how to truly convey my sincerity in a way that might move you. I thought I left you for new beginnings, but perhaps they are only new mistakes. New people to disappoint, more hearts to break.

 

274

Some people were not meant to be kept. They feel trapped, claustrophobic. Erotic asphyxiation, minus the erotica. You make them hollow when you try to make them stay. They thrive on the new, the shallow, the promised missed phone calls, the lack of commitment, the paper thin walls of hipster hotel rooms and the false pretence of romance emanating from scented candles that don’t belong to you. He doesn’t want to belong to anyone but himself.

Some people don’t know how to be alone. They choke on anxiety at the idea of a poor conversation, they want so hard to be interesting, but having never overcome the fear of attempting to be anything other than ordinary, they will continue fading into the walls, deeper into obscurity. You never notice them. They’re just strangers walking past, they leave no trace.

Some people want to be remembered. For the good, the bad, and the ugly. Maybe the ugly are always more memorable. Remember the name, remember my name. I was capable of great horrors. There is glory in being a monster. Fear me, fear me, he cries. Then I will no longer be afraid of anything.

 

 

273

Exordium

Despite our bitter dissolution, I can’t deny that he once saved me from myself, and I will always remain grateful for that brief respite of unexpected kindness.

We met under peculiar circumstances. I was lost, certain only of the fact that I must be damaged goods, and desperately searching for anything to prove otherwise. He saw me drowning and reached out a hand, for no other reason than he had been walking by. He had kindness in him once, on that day, and the days that followed, perhaps I simply used it all up.

It was only intended to be temporary, and neither of us knew what to do when we grew accustomed to waking up together in the mornings. I suppose he bit off more than he could chew, and I was still greedily clinging to him for breath. He was always a realist. I should have known then that he would cut me loose if it meant saving himself.

Falling

It was both gradual and all at once. One day we woke up and smiled at each other and that was the beginning of the end.

We were smitten, obnoxiously attached like codependent Siamese twins. It was overbearing and mildly irritating even to friends, but we were too enamoured to care. I believed him when he said “I love you”, despite all evidence to the contrary. I had been so deprived of affection that those words were enough at the time. I let my imagination fill in the gaps. I was too infatuated to see past his carefully calculated responses. He did the bare minimum to maintain us and I was all too eager to pick up the slack. 

Melancholia

My depression wasn’t the only battle, but it was enough to cripple our already fragile foundations. He convinced me to stop taking the pills and felt his own acute despair when his presence proved to not be enough.

It was the lack of purpose, the grind and pressures of university, the constant procrastination and guilt, my repugnant inability to change. There was so little hope,  and he remained the only constant. That must have been unbearable, but he never complained.

The more I believed love could save me, the more he wanted to run. He would never have admitted to it. He never wanted to be unkind.

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I can understand it now, in hindsight, how appealing she must have been. All gentle smiles and grace, an undisturbed childhood and a mother who could compliment without degradation.

I was barely enlightened enough to be in denial, only irredeemably naive.

The more I craved for him to choose me, the more repulsive my desperation appeared. It’s bitingly sardonic that the only thing that might have saved us would have been walking away, but I wasn’t strong enough then.

It wasn’t a lesson I ever wanted to learn. If you’re lucky, a blessed childhood can heal all life’s trauma. If you’re unfortunate, you’ll spend your life chasing the ghosts of your past.