Saturday, January 29, 2011

What gives you the right?

The telephone rang and interrupted my first fitful efforts at sleeping.
‘You fucking bitch,’ he said. ‘You fucking bitch.’ His voice trailed off. Time slowed down. Is this a dream, I wondered? Is this a phone call in my sleep? In a minute I’ll wake up.
‘Everyone knows what you’ve been up to. Everyone knows but me. I’m the last to know.’
I found my voice, but the words were croaky.
‘What are you talking about?’ I knew what he was talking about but I wanted to deny it even as I knew it was true. I wanted to think it did not matter. I wanted him to think it did not matter that I had betrayed him.

I had slept with someone else. Slept with, such a euphemism. Had sex with, fucked, shagged, you name it in biblical terms. That I had gone off with another man while he was away for weeks on end.

Somehow he expected me to sit at home, the good and loving girlfriend, the good and loving partner, always faithful, irrespective of how he behaved.
‘I’m coming over now,’ he said. ‘I’ve got your stuff. You can have it back. I never want to see you again.’

The dial tone buzzed in my ear. I kept the phone close. I could not believe he had rung off. Soon he would be here. I dragged on my dressing gown. Good, I thought. He’ll be here soon. I’ll settle him down. I’ll soothe him. A few gentle words.

I heard his car pull up in the carport below. I looked through the blinds. He opened the car door and flung the books and clothes that I had left behind at his house as a mark of our relationship.

When we had separated three months earlier, we agreed on an amicable split. We agreed to go our separate ways, that we would each be free now to explore new relationships.

I pulled up the blinds and swung open the window. ‘Come up,’ I said. ‘Don’t just throw stuff. Come up and talk.’ He continued to throw more books, my old grey cardigan, my CD case, my sunglasses onto the pile. I kept my voice low. I did not want to wake the neighbours.

‘Please talk,’ I said again to the silent man whose arm moved up and down like a piston as he threw the last of my shoes onto the pile. He slammed his car door shut. He had not cut the engine. He reversed without looking up to see me.

That was how we left it. The end of the scene. The death of a relationship. Silence is the best revenge.

I have no trouble with the word 'hate' these days. It rolls off my tongue easily. I can tell someone that I hate someone else; even that I hate them as long as I also feel a fondness, a love for the one to whom I might direct the word hate, otherwise I can only talk about such hateful feelings behind someone’s back.

I can try to qualify my comments, when I am angry with my husband for instance, to say to him, I really hate it when you do that, not, I hate you when you do that, but the truth is, in that moment, I hate him.

I know well enough that it is a sign of confidence in her mother’s love when a child is able to say to her mother directly, 'I hate you'. To know that her mother will tolerate such an expression and not retaliate or go under into shock and horror, or be destroyed by it because this mother recognises that her child says these words out of hurt or disappointment in the mother whom the child also loves.

It is not unusual to hear such utterances from three and four year olds, but as we get older it seems we learn to modify such outbursts. We learn, if we have gone to the right behavioural schools, to criticise the behaviour, not the person.

‘It’s not 'you' I hate, it's what you do...when you get drunk, when you refuse to tidy your room, when you don’t pull your weight, when you carry on like that, when you're slack, when you give up on yourself, when you stop caring about others, about me.’ It's okay to hate these things, these behaviours, but to hate the person who does these things becomes a no-no.

It is important to distinguish the person from the behaviour and yet, the satisfaction that comes from really being able to say to someone or of someone, ‘I hate you’ knows no bounds. It gives great satisfaction, and yet almost immediately there is a wish to qualify it. I hate you when...

We throw around the word ‘love’ with such ease, but the word 'hate' we are wary of, for good reasons – all those wars, all that bloodshed.

Hatred is not something to spread, but it can be spread in subtle and secret ways and often even by people who purport to love and to care.

When I was at the Writer’s House, Peter Bishop urged me to write into my rage. Write into your rage he said, vomit onto the page.

Peter Bishop also says to write out of ‘doubts and loves’. Where do we put the hate? I wondered. Is not hate on a continuum with the love? The ones we love are the ones we hate, beginning with our parents.

When I first read William Gaddis’s words quote in the Sunday Age in an article by Don Watson I knew that these words were important for me.
‘The best writing worth reading comes like suicide from outrage or revenge.’

It is not the first time I have been in a creative hole as deep as this. It is not the first time that I have sat alone at my writing desk wishing for something to come to me, some thread, some thought, some feeling or image that I might follow, but it is no less painful. I ache all over with the refusal. My mind will not give it up. My mind will not let the words flow, will not let me arrive at some point where I can think, ah ha I have it. I know now what I am writing about. I know now what this book is about. I can proceed. I start again and again, so many false starts so many attempts to move beyond this desperate feeling of not knowing what I am doing.

And the audience whom I tried to send away only five minutes ago is back again, my parents and siblings in the front row alongside my conscience. They say to me again, in a chorus, what are you on about? We don’t want to know this. Tell us a story instead and make it good. Make it interesting.

But if I start to tell a story, I fear I will be in trouble with someone. That someone will tap me on the shoulder and say ‘What gives you the right?'
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