What do you do when your past confronts you in the present. Sends you an email out of the blue and says ‘thirty years ago we were just kids but I was desperately in love with you’? It’s flattering. It’s unsettling. Thirty years ago when “take on me” was in the top ten.
Mum said 16 year olds were far too young to be in “real” love. Dad said infatuation, rebellion, romanticism, anything but real love. At the time the feelings were intensely real. I had to deny them though because I was far too young to be in love. That was for adults. Then I worked out that infatuation, rebellion and romanticism were all code for “you have chosen an unsuitable match”. I should have chosen someone from the right side of the tracks. Someone whose brother had never done time. Someone who stayed in school. Someone whose parents did not let them drink or leave them alone unsupervised on weekends where a girl my age could observe dope smoking, drinking and heavy petting.
The relationship lasted longer because of my parents disapproval. I enjoyed pissing off my dad. He was such an authoritarian and I was as stubborn as he and so I fell for the guy around the corner who was for all intents and purposes the wrong sort of guy. A dangerous bad boy. He turned out to be the wrong sort of guy. Flirting with the other girl down the street. But who can blame him really, because I refused to have sex with him, being too young and all. He was insanely jealous. The patterns for love were established and I was soon to find that after this, for a really long time , I would fight with partners just to have “make up” sex and test their fidelity, endlessly, till I pushed them away. I insisted on being adored or worshipped and nothing less would do but I couldn’t even come close to liking myself, let alone discovering self love.
I have recurring nightmares that I go back to the house of my 16 year old self and I am really angry with myself for being there, again. The same street. The same dull suburbia, the same manicured lawns and golden diosmas. All anglo-centric and homogenised suburbanites. How did I end up back here again, in this place I detest. A place where my sister was abandoned at 18 to fend for herself while my parents flitted off to deal with their own marital train wreck. A place that epitomised being from the burbs, a place that was not where the well-heeled and the professionals resided. Why was I back here again and again, despite my three uni degrees, my salary and my upwardly mobile ambitions. Why did I keep revisiting this place where I was destined to be not quite good enough?
A place where I entered into an ‘adolescent marriage’ according to my mum. That was her way of describing a relationship of which she disapproved. And why did I allow the violence? Once when we were together I was angry with him for being with the other girl down the road. The one that would put out. And each time he tried to reconcile with me I’d push him away, but accept the attentions of hs friend. Until finally, not for the first time, in a jealous drug-fuelled rage, he slapped me. He insisted I get in his car which foolishly I did. I let him take me miles from home, push me out at a lamp-post and then appear to drive right at me in an attempt to harm me I suppose. He braked at the last minute and got me to come back in the car. He was so angry he punched the windscreen and a spidery cracking spread itself across the driver’s side. I was terrified. At the power of him. To make me yield to him when I was clearly able to be strong willed. He doesn’t remember it. But I do, it’s imprinted on my cerebellum.
I was left with the insight of the battered woman who always goes back. And I did go back, again and again, despite the spidery cracks that made their way through our on again, off again, romance. Because I realised it made me feel alive whereas suburbia was slowly killing me. I was determined not to be a victim. But I could see why women go back. From the safe distance of me as professional middle class woman I can judge her as stupid, weak and ridiculous. But my young adolescent self knows the power of intimacy, especially with someone dangerous, unpredictable and as gentle as they are violent from one minute to the next. I should never judge her. I tucked it away and chalked it up to experience but I never stopped chastising that teenage girl for being foolish.
Eventually I left him, I thought, in the recesses of my memory as a foolish adolescent experiment in love.
Until he phoned. Thirty years later. Full of happy memories and none of the others. And I was 16 again. Suddenly able to remember the in between. The sexual discoveries, the laughing, the tenderness, the growing up together. Forgiveness is a powerful medicine. But how much can be dismissed as foolish adolescence and/or unforgivable behaviour. And am I weak and stupid and ridiculous to be forgiving.
Now the dilemma is do I meet him, face to face. Is it stupid to still be cautious after thirty years, and after heartfelt apologies? Will the dreams stop if I face the girl with whom I am so very angry? Will I stop going back there to that old house, with its low ceilings, small hickingbottom rooms and shag carpet, bunk beds and wall paper. The not quite middle class, not quite poor. The not quite good enough for anything more. We both left because it was killing us, and while he’s reformed and lives this high powered wealthy lifestyle I am still getting blind on Saturday nights, indulging in self flagellation on Sundays and trudging through the work week in search of a self that could be just a little bit better.
And alongside of me is a man who holds my hand on Sundays and tells me I am just that little bit better than I think, if I could just see what he does. Does the housework because he knows how I live inside my head and would let it all pile up until I realise its all around me and can’t ignore it anymore. Pays the bills because I will keep ignoring them till I get the red notice, because money is just not as important as that great idea I had yesterday. And if I wanna go and meet that boy from thirty years ago to go ahead if it will help give me closure. And he takes me on every day. Not as you would a burden to be borne, but as one propagates plants and delights in watching them flourish and frets when they wilt. It’s a lot to take on me.
So glad he does.