the new fear

Now I am scared for new reasons.

Finally I got something.  An interview with a couple of straight, slightly stiff young professionals, followed by a presentation to them and their bosses, the company’s unremarkable (slightly vacant?) founders, then an interview with them.  Then an offer, on initially freelance terms.  Some number-crunching, a 3 month proposal, an acceptance.

Still it means returning to a ‘proper’ office environment, a Monday to Friday 9-5ish slog, a clutch of new colleagues.  (I cannot deal very well with those I consider to be tossers – what if they are young, headstrong pricks?  See last post.  How will I cope?)  A seven day notice period on each side.  It worries me that I am neither engaged nor impressed by much at the company, yet.  Least of all the founders.  Maybe that’s a good thing, an opportunity for me to make an impact.  And I barely know the company or them as people yet anyway.  I should reserve my harsh judgements.

On the other thing, the dream pursuit angsted about here previously, another option has been pursued and appears to be going in the right direction. That dream is not dead.  But there is still fear and nervousness about the new future unknown.

I fear burn-out, potentially working evenings and weekends and full office days and having no flexibility or leave.  I fear change and pressure.  I fear working really hard.  This is partly because I am slightly lazy – I like having time to go to the cinema and read books and drink coffee and walk and listen to podcasts and idle; and partly because working hard is something I have grown to prefer doing on my own terms.

I fear small-talk.  This week I overheard a perfectly comfortable, relaxed, freewheeling conversation between three colleagues about the weather and age and it made me want to shake its participants.  Anything planned this weekend?  Good weekend?  This weather, eh?  Haha, yes.  Eurgh, no.  TALK ABOUT SOMETHING… YOU KNOW..  A THING, TALK ABOUT AN ACTUAL THING, ANYTHING.

I fear (well don’t fear but hardly look forward to) the obligation to donate to anyone’s charity efforts, the obligation to sign birthday cards and leaving cards.  All that.  It feels forced and artificial and I’d really rather not thanks, but I guess I shall.

I fear (or rather just dread) all the tedious shirts and ironing and formal office wear and having to think about clothes all the time.

I fear (truly fear) handshakes.  Over the last few months I seem to have developed what I can only deduce is early arthritis in a small bone or tendon of my little right finger.  It can hurt and throb to the core in cold weather, or twang when drying up something awkwardly shaped, but most of all it can feel acutely painful when it is crushed in a vice-like handshake.  I eye people up beforehand, knowing I will have to shake their hand, predicting whether it will be a bone-crusher. I shake and smile and swear in my head (good to meet you, YOU BASTARD) and try to ignore the pain.

This strange, apprehensive in between time before starting something quite radically new keeps finding me discombobulated, confused, unsettled, spikes of sudden nervousness about being judged by strangers, in real life, unhidden or obscured by the internet. Briefly without the calming influence of my girlfriend around – an influence I realise I probably take for granted, I feel like a bewildered old man who will shortly be moving to an old people’s home. He knows he should and it’s ‘for the best’, but he still doesn’t like it one bit.

The belligerent one-thing-after-the-other bobsleigh of life is seldom without fear. That is, for some, particularly for those of a naturally anxious or worrisome disposition.

Of late I’ve considered myself against those to whom the world appears to be a big playground: businessmen who think nothing of taking out big bank loans, getting venture capital funding, growing, selling or dissolving businesses; having kids, getting married a few times, buying stuff they can’t afford.  My notion is that usually these people were largely raised in an environment without fear or worry around money, without the seeping stress of parental nervousness.  Incumbent in these people is the beautiful idea involuntarily translated that there really is nothing to fear about life.  Money is not to be feared.  You can just trust that everything will be alright.  You are good enough.

The constant worry and stress about cashflow has dogged me for a long time and I would love for it to slacken off now.  I am open to the compromise of exchanging one prison of anxiety (financial unpredictability, instability) for the new chains of an office and all the tepid obligation that brings, (regular hours, human frustrations), but hopefully reliable pay, the ability to see slightly beyond the next corner, not worry as much about paying rent every month, the chance to plan ahead, or maybe take a nice holiday.

There are others who I’m sure would be more cavalier with similarly up and down cashflow and bank balances. They would take risks, worry less, do stuff regardless, get loans, use credit cards, fall into their overdrafts.  But still, you know, live.  The feckless bastards.  And I often wonder if I had invested more bravely, might my business ventures have reaped proportionately better rewards, greater comfort and sustainability.  A swisher website, slightly better kit, more aggressive marketing.

Better not to dwell now, although that’s what you always do.  Try to look ahead.  Tentatively, probably nervously, try to embrace the new fear.

fall to the flaw

I was really disappointed, mostly at myself.  And then it grew, that disappointment, into disgust.  I was disgusted with myself.  The inexplicable pride (when I have not much to be proud of), the inability to tolerate tossers, to keep my mouth shut (or email fingers still, to disconnect them from a fizzing brain).

Then I would briefly reconcile myself.  Onwards. There are other options.  His email reply proved what perhaps I was subconsciously testing, or asking: are you a ridiculous alpha male psychopath with a colossal ego, cracking the whip at me slightly harder than you might otherwise because you feel somehow threatened by me?

In my message I had suggested that there are perhaps limits to how demanding you can be of people working really hard for you, putting in time and effort and miles, for free.  That was the crux of what I said – a message I had been stewing over for days, not an impulsive one.  It didn’t go down well.  His eventual email response was insulting and sweary and ranting: like a man not used to being questioned.  “Who are you to question me?”  I am nobody at all to question him, a much less successful and mostly inadequate sort of person, yes.  I do not travel around the world and work with A-List celebrities, I have nothing like his experience.  But I will always have opinions and say what I feel, mostly. That’s not to say that I will be rude or insulting or sweary, but I will say what I think, sometimes to my own detriment.  It’s aligned to the excessive, uncontrollable honesty I often wrangled with when dating.  Like an all-powerful truth serum I cannot deny, inconveniently bubbling away at all times.

Several days later came that reply, upon his return to London, sent late on Sunday night, which I opened and read when sitting on the toilet on Monday morning.  Around the middle of the long, sweary and at times insulting rant he terminated our agreement, stopped dead something I was largely enjoying doing, occasionally loving doing.  While I knew it was possible when I sent the email, still I was stunned, disappointed, gutted, but being at my parents’ home and about to go out for a walk with my mother and girlfriend and dog, I tried and failed to contain it.  Receiving an email like that is not nice.

It was the sniping, needling messages I felt he was enjoying, the mild belittling and patronising.  I could see the avenue opening up towards bullying and it repelled me; I wasn’t going down  there for anyone or anything.  He wasn’t managing me; he was cracking his alpha geezer whip – you need to up your game, you’re getting there (slowly).  I could have parried that others less scrutinised could be criticised for the same things, I could have challenged more.  He was successful, big time, untouchable: our leader.

It was similar to my last big professional relationship fall-out, a man of similar testosterone and large ego.  I was dependent upon him for most of my revenue, rather than my dream pursuit.  But again, ultimately, I brought it to a head, that time face to face, professionally and with requisite composure.  Still, we never worked together again.

Why can I not accept such people when it’s the smartest thing to do in terms of self-preservation and self-interest?  Why am I so sensitive, so proud?  Why must I value basic manners and courtesy so highly?  Look where it’s got me.  (Not very far). You always need people to back you; a conclusion drawn and repeated many times on these pages.  Yet one I struggle to apply.

Still.  There are other options.  Move on.  He was just one guy who might have been important; was important briefly.  Remember that first long phone call taken when sitting in the passenger seat next to your girlfriend on that long journey, when it felt like finally, at last, someone with some kind of heft and influence had recognised you; the relief, the wash of hope that now things were possible…

Still.  There are others.  Aren’t there?

Shit. What in hell did YOU DO THAT FOR?!

No. Enough. There are other more pressing issues of making money, perhaps finding a job, those permanent concerns that seem to never go away.  It’s there you should be applying your efforts.  Those are the things which might financially and psychologically free you from this paranoid purgatory of not knowing what the hell you are doing with your life, although perhaps only to present a new kind of prison.

It keeps flashing back, the opportunity you effectively pissed down the drain in an email at the end of a long day, questioning somebody unquestionable.  Your girlfriend’s worried look when you said you’d sent it; maybe you shouldn’t have done that.  There was a possibility he’d tell you to fuck off now.  You knew that, and he did.  What did you do that for?

Now you’re disappointed again, mostly at yourself.  You loved doing that.  Eurgh, you idiot! And so the cycle starts again.

thought patterns

It’s not healthy to compare yourself with others all the time.  Focus on yourself.  Generally I try not to compare myself with all the other much more successful people of whom I’m crazily, bitterly envious.  Not too much.

There’s one person though, the constant subject, the permanent comparison, the guy my brain returns to in the middle of the night when I can’t sleep, when the mind is ablur with a whole load of recurring, endlessly cycling nonsense.  Maybe it’ll be the first night in a while without the girlfriend, or the first night in a while without a drink.  The subject?  The guy?  My brother.  Yep, him again.  There’s probably tons here about him already, saying much the same.

They’re often the first people you ever really compare yourself against, your siblings.  Can I do that thing they’re doing?  Crawling, walking, running, kicking a ball.  Two and a half years my senior, we competed a lot as kids and I always lost and it always ate me and it still does.  He has remained better than me at pretty much everything and I have remained confused and angry at life, aged 33.

Going to school, teachers were prepared for another version of him, excited after the precocious headstrong whirlwind that had gone before.  But no, sorry.  I was the difficult experimental second album, the solid but largely underwhelming sequel, the convoluted and confusing follow-up.  I still feel like that’s how I’m perceived by people – regardless of whether they know my brother.

I don’t believe I’m entirely worthless.  On the contrary, I feel more capable than a lot of people at some stuff.  But I have no support now, so find myself floating, lost in space, unremarkable, missable, not especially employable, a terrified hostage to fortune.

We’re early teens, maybe I’m around 11 or 12 and he’s 13 or 14. He asks what I want to do in life, when I’m older, and I unthinkingly reply footballer or rock star, knowing neither is genuinely achievable. I have never demonstrated anything like the required talent , and am unlikely to. He replies, “oh, I’d hate to want to do something unrealistic that I could never do,” – or some such. It’s not malicious, just matter of fact.

I still feel a similar disappointment and emptiness, that I’ll never do something or achieve something or have a job that I really *really* want. It won’t happen. I can keep trying and working and hoping. But, you know, in all reality, it won’t happen. It’s my fault for only being drawn to stupidly popular things.

Returning to the family home at Christmas, minutes had passed with us all under the same roof before I felt my comparative inferiority: he’s right and more clever (though a buffoon) and I’m rubbish.

As kids he made me feel unremarkable, not very good, beatable, missable.  And he still does, without being cruel, without even trying.  I wonder, often mid-conversation, how is he so certain about everything?  I know nobody who is or appears to be as constantly sure of themselves, and of everything. 

Our realities are so different.  Our ideas of ambition and success and relative middle-class poverty.  We disagreed on the pay hike for MPs, which my brother thought would be a good incentive to attract a higher quality of person, not that I voiced my disagreement that strongly, if at all.  His London-centric concept of salaries is extremely different to my embattled, embittered provincial one.  I would probably accept 20 grand and considerably less stress right now, maybe even lower.

I don’t warm to him easily, that involuntary smuggy smarminess to his manner; it’s cringeworthy and weird and embarrassing.  The way he speaks to his kids in those leading questions with that ingratiating intonation at the end: “do you think that is sensible or is it silly?

All the same he is so much better at life than me.  He is one of those people for whom, from a distance, life seems to have been a breeze.  Education (besides a little bullying), partner (Week One of university), education, career, marriage, mortgage, two beautiful kids: all before turning 30.  Bosh.  Job done.  What’s the problem?  Don’t make a meal of it.

Me, on the other hand: not a fucking clue what I’m doing or where I’m going.  Completing patronising application form questions for crap, low-wage jobs, trying to work out if I have a low enough opinion of myself to return to a call-centre next week.  Hounded by guilt for infecting my girlfriend with miserable angst and resentful at my paranoia about every pound spent, my inability to treat her or plan anything.

A chink was shown in his armour one evening.  His wife confided to my girlfriend that he fears failure, and sat alongside each other on the sofa, I opened up a general knowledge quiz app on an iPad.  He squirmed with discomfort.  “No, I’ll be rubbish.”  The man devours historical non-fiction, is pretty much at the top of his profession, a very smart and knowledgeable man.  He feared getting questions wrong on an app.  It amused me, briefly, especially when he got one or two questions wrong, and tried to shrug it off in just the same way Dad does when he answers a questions out loud on a television quiz show, and gets it wrong.  I love it when that happens too.

My Dad and my brother share the same sense of certainty in everything.  They are extremely seldom wrong in the confines of their own heads.  Certainty and always being unambiguously correct about everything is a virtue which they hold extremely dear.  Ambiguity or nuance does not exist for them.  Apparently not one of life’s major winners, maybe it’s natural for me to be more relaxed about these things.

Relaxing about everything doesn’t come naturally though.  When my brain spins during unsettled nights; when I’ve tried placing myself on football pitches and seeing if a game magically starts happening around me devolved of my conscious brain (I love dreams of playing football), but it hasn’t happened; when my brain has whirred through a highlights selection of my football playing days (happens embarrassingly often but is nice to do – disappointingly few goals); when I’ve visited that serene, remote pond, surrounded by snow but not iced over, and envisioned myself sitting on a nearby bench as an older man; when I’ve tried gliding high and unaided over a canyon; when I’ve remembered the few lovely moments over Christmas spent with his kids; when I’ve worried massively about money and the lack of a career and my inability to provide for myself, let alone anyone else; and I’ve angsted about the future and thoughts of ever being a father; then he appears, his well-fed belly bulging, grinning like a buffoon, spouting something he believes is witty.

But just look how much better he is than you, look how much more he has of everything that is meaningful.  Hahaha.

dream dying

It’s like a slow and heartbreaking kind of a death, feeling like giving up on a dream, relinquishing a long-held hope.

You sense things aren’t working and won’t ever work, it’s just not happening. The stubborn hope begins to wobble, teeter and ebb away together with the dim belief, even while you still sustain the work-rate.

Your bank balance, like a football league table, doesn’t lie. It brutally doesn’t tell the sob stories of bad luck and industriousness and how much you care.  And its power to suddenly influence mood is never dimmed. The sharp injection of panic and fear thanks to another retainer lost, income stream dented again, squeezed down now to almost nothing.

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swallowing pride

There has been significant swallowing of pride in recent weeks.  None of it has tasted nice.

I am quite a proud person.  Fiercely independent from quite a young age, I am more disposed to instinctively decline all offers of help than to accept them.  I can manage fine, thank you.  I have always been like a belligerent old person and find it difficult to accept help.  Everybody is essentially on their own.  I have been on my own a lot; I spent the majority of my twenties alone and largely miserable; I should be able to cope.

This is a ‘young person’ thing to think, I am growing to believe – although possibly in an attempt to defend myself.  Everybody needs help.  Success is usually promoted by help, support, nepotism, or somebody helping somebody out, somebody influential believing.

Following a short break away with them and charitably paid for by them (already awkward), I finally accepted the offer of a sizable loan from my wonderful parents.  The Bank of Middle Class Mum and Dad helped me out, which is brilliant but means I am no better than the posh little rich kids upon whom I sneer.

At the weekend, Girlfriend and I took a long road trip to south Devon and a small town in which, my extensive research revealed, there was a store with the best available deal on camera equipment.  It was still harrowingly expensive (multi thousands; you could buy an ok car).  It not being my money but briefly being my money (a flicker of something reckless, a tempting disappearance around the world); that sort of made it worse.   Still, deep breath..  and it was done.  Now I must try to work doubly hard in order to make it worth something, to achieve something I really badly want to achieve.  Although that won’t happen immediately.

Money is still a huge and stressful issue, with that impending big December celebration and all its connotations of stupid expense.  Money is still not being generated in any significant amount and this is deeply worrying.  I sit at my desk and do things and am vaguely productive, but no money comes in and so I worry.  Everything is scary and hard.

It often surprises me how things and people in life can come back around when you think they are gone forever.  In the summers between years studying at university I had two stints in a marketing call centre doing telephone market research surveys.  It was reasonable student work.  I’d certainly had worse (steelworks factory, door-to-door double glazing, selling vacuum cleaners).

This company is still going, doing roughly the same sort of thing.  It’s within walking distance from my flat.  It offers flexible shift patterns.  I am quite desperate for money.  I went up there for a brief chat with a nervous, whispy woman and it seems that next week I could resume there after a hiatus of about twelve years.

This is another borderline indigestible ball of pride to swallow.  It brutally underlines how my career path has not developed.  I will try to act cool and like I don’t care.  ‘Means to an end…’ and just weep quietly in the toilets.

Or…

Or is it a steep, brave, noble, courageous step down, in the hope of taking another back up?

Yes, let’s take that view.  I am SO not a total loser.  Let’s hope, and try to worry less, and try to squeeze every last hour out of the day so I can buy more ephemeral plastic for my already grossly over-toyed niece and nephew at Christmas.

More than that, let’s try to achieve something I really badly want to achieve: working on my own terms and actually enjoying it.  That’s worth a fight, difficulty, some nasty balls of pride to swallow.  Let’s hope.

little dreams of me

On the nearby mountain, or steep hill.  It’s a big peak at least. They call it a mountain and it’s called a mountain, but it isn’t really, you know, a mountain.  It’s not the Alps: rugged, snow-topped and majestic.  It’s Wales.  Pretty enough, but still just Wales.

It’s also besides the point.  I’m there anyway.  Perhaps I’m just sitting and worrying, or thinking. Or walking about.

When suddenly a plane appears, very low and very close.  It’s an old Nazi war plane. It’s quickly clear it’s in trouble, before crashing to a controlled, surprisingly unspectacular landing. I rush over to help, much to derision of other walkers and passers by who don’t seem moved in the slightest. ‘But the war is over!’ I argue, annoyed by them.

I find an old lady in the cockpit. I shake her gently by the shoulders and make sure she’s ok, then I back off.  She slowly climbs out of the cockpit and wanders off down the hill without so much as a thank you.

*

Standing at my childhood bedroom window, I see it’s wintry and bleak outside.  The whole landscape has changed in a possibly post-apocalyptic fashion.  It’s virtually blank now, white.  No back lawn, no forest, not a single tree.  Clusters of small white, feral beasts scuttle around, sniffing for scraps.  I drop a glass off window ledge and it smashes upon impact with the ground.  I lean out and look around the corner, hearing something loud and monstrous and massive.  I see the edge of what must be the expected biblical tsunami which rapidly engulfs everything: the building, the room, me. I wake up drenched in sweat.

*

I’m scared and nervous again about work, my finances, paying rent. Those parameters you’re used to seeing your bank balance being between, generally, month to month: they are ever shifting, down and down. My cushion, my safety net, is ever slender. Is it worth the worry, the pressure, the angst and the self-doubt? Should I seriously consider getting a job again? But I’m not very employable anymore, 4 and a half years out.  And a redundancy before that.  Should I at least try? Look? Even a part time thing to give some much needed cash injection?

Dreams are always more vivid on the nights of the week when she isn’t lying next to me.

*

In a mazy tall block, I’m being officiously controlled by a boss or a leader, or leaders.  He or she or they want to put us in individual physical boxes and push us down steep chutes to somewhere. Nobody knows where. There is urgency and panic and desperate need to escape. Which eventually I do, after a leap and a fall, and a guilty sense that I’m deserting colleagues. I’m running away, relieved, things around me fading, waking up.

sorry sperm

It’s late afternoon. I’m bored, restless and a little sad, walking aimlessly through an old neighbourhood, weaving around sprightly cheerful old people walking towards me.

I reach a place I don’t ever remember seeing before: a clearing beyond some suburban housing, a copse of trees which reaches high and majestic into the sky.  Behind them a more developed forest, the beginning of something. Leaves lie thick, deep and moist on the ground, like it must be autumn. I run up a small incline, mildly wary that this might be a hideout for local gangs or bored kids. None are here and there’s no evidence of them, no litter or debris.

There’s rustling though. In the half-light I see, is it a hare? It seems very large. I can’t figure out if it’s stalking or being stalked, until I catch a glimpse of an even bigger hare. This seems ridiculous, something out of Alice In Wonderland. I don’t believe myself and walk on, arcing back around towards suburbia, marvelling at the shapes in the high treetops.

The leaves and ground underfoot here is boggier than I recall. Turning over my left shoulder I see two figures, a man and a woman, children on their shoulders, all wearing some kind of protective boiler suits. Have they been bog snorkelling? Sounds and looks fun. The children laugh.

I follow them inside their perfect house – light blue walls, red door – and look around the place.  It’s unruly but somehow ordered. I befriend the boy and scare the mother. I tell him not to speak or play with me here, I could be anyone, and go back downstairs to his mum. I’m not sure where his father is. I leave the house and wake up.

*

Lately in waking life I have been thinking more about children, the idea of having them, being 33 in the next month or so, and of never having them. My best friend and his wife are pregnant with twins.  They will soon be moving into a new house in a commuter-belt town.  Added to this, I really enjoy the time I spend with my nephew and niece, 6 and 3.  Their lack of any real care or stress about anything is infectious and freeing and I begin to miss it when I haven’t seen them for a couple of months.

I’ve thought about it and discussed it here before.  But perhaps it was my best friend’s news – delivered in a stunned tone on a telephone call shortly after the first scan (twins!)) – and pondering it more since.  That has made me think again. Everyone is growing up, getting married, buying houses, having babies, getting dogs, seemingly growing reconciled to their careers. That’s what Facebook says.

At almost 33 I am more nervous about paying my rent each month than I ever have been; more uncertain about a career path or lack of one as I have ever been. Freelance work is slow at the moment, all regular jobs look unrealistic, unobtainable, over 4 years out of a regular full-time workplace. I feel unemployable. I am worried.

Unlike my girlfriend – who is incredibly supportive – I am not hung up about the whole marriage thing, but do regularly hanker for a dog, holiday, travel, a nice house, a solid supply of good quality wine; and occasionally (often privately) think of children.

Having children is like experiencing a tremendous thunderbolt of love. I see that. I get that. You want to provide them with the best of everything and give all you can.

While I am indefinitely nervous about paying my rent every month, ‘big progress’ of the kind gently encouraged by parents, doing ‘life things’ on any level, it all seems impossible or hamstrung at best.

Everybody lives life differently, yes. It’s unhealthy to compare yourself with others (though equally impossible not to), yes.

And yet all this stuff can’t help but add up to feeling at least a little inadequate, at least a little failed.  Sorry sperm.

man pigeon people

Man glances at it from inside the coffee shop, where he sits with his steaming mug and book.

Pigeon edges closer to the open door, pecking at the ground.

One of the double doors is open, allowing a diagonal beam of sunlight through to settle on the mat. The other door is shut.

Man sits to one side of the doors, to the left side facing out, tucked into the corner with his book and coffee.  He is mostly reading, occasionally glancing out onto the street and the jerky movements of regular looking pigeon.

As it pecks closer, towards the open door, man sees people outside, approaching the door behind pecking pigeon.  He feels his heartbeat quicken.  The people are a couple, wrapped up in each other, in their conversation, not looking ahead. There is a spec of something on the mat, inside the door, for which pigeon lunges, elongating its malleable neck.

Man’s heartbeat races faster as the people approach outside.

People could scare it inside and it might shit everywhere and get distressed and scare people and scare him and cause a right hullabaloo. He should warn them, shoo it from the inside.

Too late now.

Man panics and sweats, heart thudding deep and quick as people close in behind pigeon.

close to touch

He caught a glimpse of her as she exited the sauna and he entered the steam room.  Worth a second look as she moved towards a shower.

Mediterranean skin, hypnotic curves, exotic, as if she belonged on a desert island, like she just stepped out of Bounty advertisement.

Impressive.

He continued his entrance and began his habitual stretches, lying alone on the bench amongst the steam.  He alternated in raising each leg, stretching tight hamstrings, breathing deeply.   As ever, they felt that strained mix of good and bad.

She entered the room a couple of minutes later, or rather that barely clad bottom did, right at his eye-level.  Perhaps she smiled down at him from above, perhaps he imagined it.  Hard to tell.  She sat down opposite and he continued, now arcing his back against the hard surface, slowly squeezing out clicks of his erratic vertebrae.  He could feel her dark eyes on him.

He still admired a great many women, all their variety, and doubted that would ever really stop.  Occasionally he dreamed about cheating on his girlfriend, despite being as sure as he thought it possible to be that she was it.  There was no consistent other object of his affections or anything.  Surely most males still admire other females after finding a strong mate?  Isn’t it a sort of primal thing, how we’re programmed?  And dreams are just mind fluff anyway, not premonitions.

This is what he told himself.

Sometimes he wondered if his wanting it so badly in his 20s was the reason for his almost constant failure.  His eye usually seemed keener than his friends, his appreciation greater, his hunger more desperate.

A man entered the steam room and joined them, breaking an unspoken spell that was maybe produced only in his mind.  An overweight, hairy Asian man he had seen in here before.  His really attractive partner was surely thanks to an arranged marriage.  He felt bad for thinking it but thought it nonetheless.

“How is the takeaway?” exotic Bounty woman asked the Asian man.  She had a Spanish or Italian accent which did nothing to dim her overall effect.
“Sorry?”

An exchange ensued in which it was discovered that she had mistaken him for someone else, had assumed he was the brother of someone.  It was faintly embarrassing but amicable.

Stretches completed, he sat upright and admired her anew.  An exotic looking shell necklace, deep and natural tan, perfect abdominal muscles, slightly receeding hairline – but he was barely one to talk, cute face.  She stood up.

Above his right shoulder was a small metal nodule protruding from the wall.  When covered, more steam was emitted into the room.  He covered it occasionally himself, never sure of the mechanics.  She stepped across the small space towards him and held something over the nodule.   In doing so, her right breast and considerable steamy cleavage presented itself an inch or two away from his eyes.  Her wet exotic Bounty advert body remained close to his.  She stayed standing there for a minute, more.  He had to close his eyes she was so close.  That seemed the only thing to do.  He wasn’t going to move.  He was going to appear unruffled, and continue to breathe deeply.  It was her who was presenting her incredible body in his face.  Surely she could have arranged herself differently, shown him a shoulder instead of a breast.  He could smell her skin, its natural tanned oiliness.  She breathed deeply, he breathed deeply, they breathed deeply together.  He wasn’t sure how deeply the Asian man was breathing across the room, but he wished he wasn’t there.

He wondered if he would have the courage or cowardice or whatever was required to cheat on his girlfriend.  He’d never cheated on anyone before and liked to think he couldn’t; that it wasn’t something within him to do.  There were more than a few examples of his arguably over-moralistic approach when single.  But can anybody really know until they’re in the moment presented with an opportunity, a purely irresistible difference, something previously imagined unobtainable?

Still she stood there.  Was she deliberately teasing him with this display, this proximity of posturing?  He was proud of his control, that he wasn’t getting physically excited.  He was definitely an adult now.  This was proof.  Eyes closed, breathe.  Eyes open.  Still there.  That scent, body, breasts, necklace, skimpy swimming costume.  Eyes closed.  Her natural perfume eventually faded and the next time he opened them she was sitting opposite him again, two yards away and gone forever.

He decided to stand and inspect the pool through the steamed-up door.  Not so many people there now.  He placed one foot at a time onto the bench and stretched hamstrings for the final time, his bottom now at her eye level.   The overweight, hairy man’s attractive partner entered the room as he exited, heading for the cold shower.

related to death

My experience of death remains mercifully slight up to now, the most profound being the death of a dog with whom I had grown up from the age of 6 weeks to 12 years.

My girlfriend’s experience of death is rather more profound. She had lost both her mother and her father before she was 29. They died a handful of years apart, her mother a few before her father, both after long illnesses.

A year ago the boyfriend of a good friend of hers died in a slightly mysterious car crash, aged 24. They were friends too, she says, outside of her girl friend. How close were they really? I’ll never know, but I would wager with some confidence that they weren’t that close. Perhaps they all went out and got drunk together a bunch of times, likely no more than a small bunch. And she visited the couple’s home from time to time.

Nonetheless, yesterday, on the anniversary of his death, she felt compelled to take the day off work and visit him at a crematorium with her friend. Not his former girlfriend – she didn’t want to go – but with another mutual friend.

My fear is that she involuntarily romanticises death, feels a duty towards death itself. She can be a whispy, drifty, daydreamy character: easily distracted, struggles to focus and self-discipline. This sort of thing doesn’t help.

Of course the first anniversary of a friend’s death deserves pause for thought, remembrance. But this week she confessed to being more distant because she is thinking about this guy, her memories of him and also the memories of her grief and shock, the drama associated with learning about his death. It was awful, yes.  But to ponder it to this extent seems to me theatrical, dramatised, romanticised, indulgent, difficult.

Why? I struggle to empathise, am left bewildered, confused, frustrated.

Why not concentrate instead on the living, on life?  Don’t get drawn off into this ethereal hinterland. Maybe instigate an interaction with me from time to time, instead of letting me do it all the time.

For various reasons we’ve been almost a week apart now – which is some time for us.  And we’re not great at communicating over distance.

The other night I dreamt about cheating on her – which felt great and good at the time (possibly because the fictional other girl was blonde and more attractive and seemed to *get* me more instinctively and naturally; and because I am a bad, shallow individual).  It felt good despite a concurrent fear and guilt; then I dreamt about confessing to her and it was emotional and terrible. When I woke i felt disgusted and sad.

Apart, I feel we always drift a little, which scares me.  Although she doesn’t feel it and says I overanalyse.  Perhaps we should both prioritise moving on together, finding that equidistant place halfway along the motorway between us.

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