Human beings are obsessed with themselves – it’s a survival mechanism. It’s how we move forward from unhealthy places that are detrimental to our success and stability into the pastures of peace and contemplative, satisfied boredom that all of us intrinsically crave.
We don’t want to have to worry about anything – it’s why we work ourselves to exhaustion, pursue passions that sometimes feel like manacles, force ourselves to do a little bit better than we did the day before even if all we really want to do is sit on the couch, eat copious amounts of cheese and watch re-runs of That 70’s Show.
And the ways we measure our successes, meter our obsessive nature and compete with our reflections, are all relatively the same. It’s how much money is in our bank account, it’s how many people call us on our birthdays, it’s how many countries we’ve visited, it’s how beautiful our homes are, how unique our style is, how obscure our tastes are and, most importantly of all – the quality of the love we give and the quality of the love we receive.
A lot happened this month but two key things led me to sitting in the dark at one o’clock in the morning drinking tea and pondering the state of my own sick, sad heart. The first thing is that I started dating again. And it was a fucking catastrophe. I went on three dates just this week and had to cancel the fourth because I got stranded ten miles from my home because of the snow storm that has rampaged the UK and had to spend the night in a hotel bed instead of in my own wonderfully broken bed.
The first date was fine. He was a nice guy. A music producer, classically handsome and politically aware, but there was nothing there. He wasn’t – enough? Does that make sense? It was like I was looking in the window of a car shop, all the glistening, glossy bodies of these perfect looking machines and whilst I could admire what someone else would see in charging down the M25 an inch off the ground with the engine drowning out the music, I found myself longing for the spluttering death rattle of a Triumph Dolomite, even if I had a sexy little Porsche with an immaculate beard sitting on my sofa drinking mint tea and extolling the virtues of veganism (yes, he really was that perfect) and after he left I stood in my living room wondering what I was getting myself into.
The second date came the following night and again there was absolutely nothing wrong with Bachelor Number Two – save for the fact that he bored me to the point of considering just how much lukewarm Guinness a person would need to emerge their face in to successfully drown themselves. If Bachelor Number One was a sexy little Porsche then Bachelor Number Two was your basic slate grey Vauxhall Vectra – he was a fully functioning human being that could get me from A to B (though I seriously doubt the most important “journey” a young couple navigates on rainy Sunday afternoons when there’s nothing to do but each other, would have ended in anything other than hazard lights and a swift call to the RAC…) but that was all he was. No bells and whistles like Bachelor Number One but no character like the coveted rust orange Dolomite of my dreams.
Lucky number three, right? Nope. Not-so-secret sycophant with a deep appreciation of the sound of his own voice and not much else who spent most of our record breaking hour long date telling me how he would have lived every one of the experiences from my life that I shared with him differently, and how, they would have worked out better had I been a carbon copy of him, The Greatest Man Living or Dead, instead of my normal, adorably fucked up self. I made my excuses (I told him I had to be up early in the morning when in actuality I had the day off…shh…) and practically ran out of the pub to the safety of my small, crooked and wonderfully not-up-to-his-standard home. If that guy was a car (to continue a metaphor already established) he’d be a cunt of a Hummer that mows down baby deer for fun whilst smoking cigars made by blind children in some forbidden corner of the planet and burns feminist literature to light his cancerous and cruel status symbols. Do you get the impression that this guy was a douchebag or should I go on? Because I can go on…
The fourth guy, The One Who Never Was (Because Snow Is a Ruiner of Romance) still seems like a decent enough guy. We’ve got a lot of music in common, he works hard, physically he is everything I like (slightly overweight, bearded, band tees and hoodies, smells good and has a cracking laugh…see, I’m not THAT hard to please!) and he loves his mum which is my kryptonite and yeah, I will probably see him and yeah it will probably be great, and even if he isn’t a Dolomite he’s close – at the very least, he’s a cherry red Ford Cortina. And that’s okay, that’s more than okay – that’s really good that I’ve met someone who even makes me acknowledge those things about them but then something happened to me today and everything started, in slow motion, to click into place.
I had just got home from work, sore and tired and more than ready to crawl into bed and never return to the outside world. I then realised that what I really needed to do was go back out in the slushy, frozen rain and get some lemon grass. With this lemon grass I would make a big, spicy bowl of ramen and after I ate that I would feel a million times better. Food, and more importantly – good food – has always been my gift to myself and when I feel myself itching for a short before bed, I can kill that part of my brain off by making sure I never go to bed hungry and that I work hard enough in the day to ensure I go to bed tired enough that even my demons don’t need a night cap.
Also, as anyone in recovery will tell you – if you don’t want to do it then it’s probably worth doing, whether it’s taking a shower, going to a meeting, saying no or indeed, saying yes. When someone is recovering from trauma, whether or not it was self inflicted, their basic survival becomes dependent on their ability to be obsessed by themselves and to question, analyse and overthink every single word, behavior, thought, feeling, expression and habit in hopes of understanding where the needle keeps getting stuck and the shitty B side of their personality is getting caught on a scratchy loop. So something as simple as making yourself go to the shop to save you from having Jamesons and cereal for dinner – it’s a difficult decision to make.
So, feeling a little bit better for being out of the clothes I slept in the night before due to my impromptu hotel stay, I staggered off into town in the pouring rain to get my lemon grass. After wandering round Sainsbury’s in a blur, I made my way back out into the town square with my lemon grass and stood to light a cigarette on the steps, the cold already biting at the tip of my nose. It was then that my glassy eyes flickered upon the couple pictured above.
And I felt the hot sting of tears burning in the back of my throat almost instantly.
They couldn’t keep their hands off of each other and even though I had my headphones on I could see their mouths moving, smiling, contorting into ridiculous but optimal shapes for the mutual communicative affection known as kissing. And, fuck me were they kissing. Yet all around them people moved freely, hunkered down into their coats, fighting with umbrellas that refused to do their jobs, shouting at their kids to leave the puddles alone, trying to send messages on their phones huddled over the top to keep the rain away and there, standing in the middle of all this mundane nonsense, was this ecstatically shameless display of unadulterated love – and no one seemed to notice it.
I took my phone out of the pouch of my hoodie and thought twice about taking a photo. It’s weird isn’t it? Taking photographs of strangers without their consent? Then as a warm tear traced it’s path down my frozen cheek and a twitchy smile tugged at the corners of my mouth, I made my decision and quickly took the photograph. Why did I do it? Because it was beautiful. I take photographs of sunsets, sunrises, flowers, rivers, my kid laughing and eating nachos, my nephew wearing his Buzz Lightyear outfit, my sister trying on faux fur coats in charity shops, hopeful graffiti, funny looking dogs, delicious food – and why do I take photographs of these things?
I take photographs of these things because they make me happy.
And because they make me feel less alone in a world, living a life that is filled with loneliness.
As I walked home with that photograph on my phone, I found myself smiling despite the rain on my face or the ache in my legs because I knew I was going to be okay, and that despite all the pain I feel sometimes, I can still be surprised and, as the shocked, happy tears still cooling on my face proved to me – I’m not as tired or as cynical as I sometimes convince myself that I am and that I still very much have the capacity to be genuinely happy for other people and what they have without envying or belittling it to make myself feel better about my own beautiful, blessed, all be it, broken road.
I came home and made my ramen. And it was amazing. Then I put on my pajamas and I sat on the sofa and I read articles that made me laugh, out loud, as I drank cold brew and felt air in my lungs for the first time in what could possibly be years. So it wasn’t a Wednesday and I wasn’t in a cafe, but today I felt it begin again. It wasn’t my love and it wasn’t my happiness, but on a Saturday in a town square I felt my heart start to beat again. And that love does so much more than break and burn and end. It has the ability to literally thaw a tear out of even the most hardened of bastards in the worst of moods.
The third thing that happened to me this week?
A realization that I’m alone.
And that, that’s okay.
A realization that I’m alone.
And that, I’m okay.