Monday, 28 May 2012

The ur-fear

A crow more persistent and more offensive than any alarm clock wakes me. I give up on sleep and lie curled up and entertaining fearful thoughts. They're fantasies, nothing that has actually happened. I imagine Virgil saying, 'I am really grateful for the space you have given me these last few weeks. I know I said I would try again but now that I've had time to think, I've changed my mind - sorry, but I don't want to be persuaded.' I think, stop making things up, Harlot. Just be a girl in a bed on an early summer morning.

Nobody has ever even said those words to me. Nobody has ever 'cheated on' me in a relationship (Isaac sneaked off for a sneaky drunken fuck with Erin one night in Canada but I was only annoyed for a day). I have never come home to find a stranger in my bed or walked in on an illicit encounter. I have never discovered another woman's underwear or jewellery left behind. Virgil is rigorously truthful, to the point where he will refuse to answer rather than tell a lie - and that hardly ever happens.

I seem to have inherited the memory bank of the long-suffering partner of a serial adulterer, and also of a paranoid monster with a horribly fertile imagination. Do I dredge these visions up from books and movies? They are vivid and emotionally resonant. They come with colour and sound. I have a physical response to them: my heart rate increases. Tears come, my stomach knots and my chest tightens. I enter a state of anxiety where I am trying simultaneously to talk myself down and goad myself into a temper.

Out walking on the sunny street, I imagine Virgil and Sarah wheeling past me, off on a bike ride together when he has told me he will be working all day. Then I imagine Virgil telling me that he has been spending time with Sarah for comfort this week and asking what I think of that. I imagine us breaking up and him dating her. In my mind's eye Virgil fixes me with a look and says he is only prepared to try again if this time we have no rules at all: specifically the rules about no overnight stays and taking other dates to play parties must go. I imagine him laughing with Sarah and having more fun with her.

Thoughts like these, with no basis in reality, are generated from within. There is no other explanation. There really is no other explanation. 

Now I remind myself constantly of their fictitiousness and destructive power. They construct a reality which is quite the antithesis of the open relationship we have been trying to forge. I'd like to not think about them at all. I almost don't want to write them down in case it reinforces the neural pathways even more - but, reader, I want you to know about these things: you might find this resonates with your own experience. You might find it helps you to know that someone else does it too.

To conquer demons you have to recognise them and own them. I think Deirdre my therapist would call it processing. Squeeze their horrid, leathery little bodies to your breast and melt them with your heart energy. They just want to be comforted and reassured, that's all.

The basis for all this is fear of not being good enough. Truly, that is all it is. It's the ur-fear.

With Jos at the age of 16 there was a revelatory moment in which I knew simultaneously that I had fallen deeply in love with him and that my heart would be broken. Six months later we split up. I was mute with grief. He was embarrassed and sorry but unable to comfort me, to do anything but put me on the bus home. I found myself sitting on the top deck in the bus garage at the end of the route with my head in my hands and the driver turning the lights on and off. I functioned in a trance state for some time after. My one thought: I was not good enough for him. I didn't even try to talk to him about it.

Years later I came to realise that loving Jos in that catastrophic way had made him a surrogate for the unacknowledged grief and sadness I felt about my father, who was terminally ill at the time. The unrequited love was more about me than about Jos (although he really was a nice person). This realisation helped me enormously but it still took many years to be ok again. And, as I have said before, I never truly fell in love and allowed myself to be vulnerable to that kind of loss until Virgil.

I think this is why I struggle so much but I would not go back to living with a closed heart.

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