“There are no edits needed on inspiration
This week I've pushed myself; and still, though I wish it didn't, the long shadow of Jay has reared its head. Because leaving the man is only the start of piecing yourself back together.
When I left Jay on a Sunday morning, I thought I’d done the hardest part. I thought that realising that if I had to hear that hacking, spewing of the determined smoker’s choke and spitting up of phlegm one more time I would die. For the umpteenth time, Jay had started smoking again. Every day he coughed and hacked the expanse of his chest, spitting into toilet paper, drawling excuses from the thick of his lips.
What I now know as misophonia was the final straw. The foul hack of phlegm and spewing of spit did what logic or reason could not. As his mom fried bacon, sausages, tomatoes, mushrooms, eggs, popped the toast and made the tea in the small stainless steel teapot that would be run through the dishwasher to ensure its absolute cleanliness (and almost immediate collapse), I pushed clothes and books and notebooks into bags, pulled through the 5 or 6 ever-present baskets of ironing in the front room, desperate to find my BB King tee shirt (one of his sisters stole it, she always hated me).
I emptied the underbed divan drawer of my stuff, my books and clothes and told him to take me home.
He drove me down the A2, M25, A21. Said “Maybe this is just a pause and maybe we could get back together in a month” as the car sped down the grey A2 from Eltham. I nodded.
My heart and brain screamed No. Even thinking about it made me feel like I was drowning.
The house was empty, my parents at Mass, the dogs long dead. I, somewhat cinematically, crumpled behind the solid oak of the front door as his Golf pulled away. I called a best friend, Jen. I knew she’d be be hungover - I hadn’t been able to go to her party because - well, because Jay.
I knew she would come and be there without a pause (and, today, she is still that person, the type of person who encourages you to stay on the phone as you cry and isn’t afraid of pain). She came and she held me, and told my parents when they got home at lunchtime.
I think I can remember seeing the puff of their grey hair against the shadows of the sitting room walls, their lightening that I had made myself free. Saying nothing, careful to not celebrate, to be mindful of my pain.
This Thursday I started a business course. Like many an ‘open your mind’ deal, they wanted a vision board. Like a kid bunking off school to watch lunchtime ‘Neighbours’, I sat with a heap of old Grazias, Elle Living, FT Weekend, Vogue. I leafed through magazines as the leader talked.
After an hour of chat, I have a nice little stack - a sweep of a burnt orange coat against a perfect cobalt sky, assertive women in puff-sleeved silks and gauze looking straight down the camera lens. Neon handbags, velvet headboards and dusty pink woodwork. Blocky perfume bottles and expensively upholstered armchairs.
As ever, for me it was ‘more is more’. The panic set in - here I am again, throwing everything at the wall and hoping for the best.
We were asked to put down the pritt-stick. To let the thoughts and ideas settle. To not rush so that we should push ourselves to embrace what makes us tick.
I’m one for pushing myself and learning where I’m going wrong. So I asked - “I’ve got a lot here - I’ve got clothes, interiors, handbags - it’s home and work all in a mush. Should I go over and edit things out? It feels a bit much?”
One of the leads is in her 70s, an expert in high revenue business and Venture Capital funding. I’ve seen the results of her work. She is no money-manifesting charlatan. Her rich Greek accented voice spoke up
“Ann, there is no editing needed with your passions”.
I felt the floor open up beneath me and a wave of sheer panic wash over me “you fucking greedy c**t who the fuck do you think you are, you’ll never have this life you fucking idiot don’t be such a - I can’t believe you - I can’t believe you would do this to me, I can’t believe you would want all these things - that you’re telling me what I want - what I like - that that isn’t good enough. How could you do this to me?!”. I turned the camera off. Closed my eyes. Slowed my breathing and curled into my hot water bottle and pulled my aran cardigan tightly around me. Stroked the dog.
I looked back at the colours and textures, the layers and words. Breathed deeply. Looked at what I want, just because it makes me happy. I doubt I’ll ever afford a Chloe bucket bag or the taxi lifestyle that goes with a bag that pays no homage to running through London to the tube a mile away on a rainy Monday night, but fuck it - pretending I don’t want it hasn’t exactly worked for me, either.
The effects of coercive control don’t end when a woman (and it’s usually a woman) leaves. Because when you have systematically been told that the core of you is stupid, fat, immoral, weak, that even the way you speak a word or style your hair or walk towards your boyfriend’s car is wrong, you lose confidence in your own capacity.
The self-doubt doesn’t stop when you leave.
And if you think that that relationship was - or is - just a man being a bit much -
if you think his refusal to own a set of house keys because he’ll lose them so you always have to be home to let him in, or that it’s normal for him to check every receipt and comment on every purchase or tell you that he knows that your shoes are weird so wear what he says
if you don’t know that’s not okay and you’re so used to dulling your instincts to survive another day, it takes time, gentleness, the support of loved ones and, if you can find or afford it, therapy, to look at yourself and look with wonder at your ability to survive both a man’s desire to pull you apart and society’s understanding that men are calm and women are hysterical. When you get through another day, my sisters and fellow humans who are othered and bullied and systemically targeted - yes it exhausting to have to fight so hard. Yet the tide may be starting to turn.
Cool stuff I’ve read this week:
I revisited this book for a client - amazing arguments for a newer way of working: Aaron Dignan
I listened to Rebecca Solnit & Mary Beard talk about women’s voices and felt in awe, via London Review of Books
Fiddled with my LinkedIn header; my kids told me everything I was doing wrong so now it looks good
Received my latest Poetry Book Society title, ‘The Stone Age’ by Jen Hadfield
Watched loads of Superstore (thanks for the rec, M)
Snorted with laughter with the amazing Emma Beddington