Tuesday, November 01, 2011


My mouth full of toothpaste, I look into the mirror, at my white pasted lips. The lips of the dead. There is one last job to do before bed. I check the email and there: his words on the machine: cold words, empty words, sterile without feeling.
‘Message received loud and clear,’ I want to write back. Press the return button, send my response, the same empty words, toxic in their simplicity.
But no, I think no. I consider. No, I say to myself, as I sit staring at the screen, wondering over and again, how can I undo this? There must be something more.
If I do not respond there will be another message and then I can explain myself. Ask him to explain himself. Then all will be revealed.
But silence is powerful, I tell myself. Silence will leave him guessing. My silence will ricochet back over him, echoing the hollow sound of rejection in his ears. And he will be left wondering, too.
Did she get the message?
Did she see the words?
On the machine?
Or are they lost?
In the ether?
Floating somewhere?

I can see his head in front of me. It stands high above the headrest five rows in front. He has been to the barber recently and his neck has the clean shaved look of new mown grass. I can see the line where his hair follicles and pink skin meet, a line in the sand. This is the distance I intend to keep between us.
He has not seen me. Of that I am sure. When he came onto the bus two or three stops after mine I had my own head stuck in my book, he would not have noticed me. I only noticed him by chance when I looked up from the pages and saw the back of his head, taller than the rest, and I knew at once, it must be him.
Why would I want to speak to him now, this man who has been so cruel? To give him credit he may not realise it, but he should, and given that he does not realise, then I do not want to speak to him again. I do not want us to walk side-by-side or to sit any closer than we are now, with five rows of seats and people between us.
I do not forgive easily. Why should I? Forgiveness demands something of the one who has caused you pain.
He does not even realise why I chose to sever connections. He severed them first, only he would not see it that way. He prefers a cosy distance or some movement closer from time to time, but always under his control. He makes up the rules, while I have to obey them. And they change. Let me tell you, those rules change, faster than I can keep up with. But I have had enough.
He blows his nose into his hanky. His head moves up and down like a rooster’s head, the tuft of his hair a cockscomb. Then I remember the feel of his hand around my waist, his fingers brush against my cheek, and I am left in a welter of desire all over again. But I must resist the pull.

I went out once with an electrician by the name of Kevin. Kevin was a good-looking young man with sandy coloured hair and a bright smile on his innocent face. A good Catholic lad, his parents had brought him up well: Mass on Sundays, observe the holy days and the sacraments, don’t eat meat on Good Fridays. But Kevin, like all the boys I met in those days, despite, his pious upbringing, was as corruptible as the next.
I fancied myself in those days as a femme fatale. Beware any man who came under my spell. I would ensnare him, draw him into my lair, steal his virginity from him, lure an erection from his otherwise limp body, and force him into a penetrating relationship he could not resist, until finally I would dump him.


Snowbrush said...

"Forgiveness demands something of the one who has caused you pain."

I guess it depends upon what he did, and how the person he did it to feels about it. Funny, but I'm writing a post now about letting go (of people) by recognizing that they are free to make their own choices. It's hard to remember that when their choices are hurting me, yet there are few better things we can for ourselves than to simply let other people be who they are.

Birdie said...

Oh. Wow. This is great writing. I am speechless. Just wow.

Birdie said...

OK, I am back because I was thinking about the statement of forgiveness.

I think the word "forgiveness" is a bad word to use when someone hurts us in a huge way. I forgive when someone does something small and insignificant. I don't know that I forgive in the same sense when it is something big like verbal, physical, spiritual or sexual abuse or neglect. I think a more appropriate word or phrase in this case would be "to drop". Carrying anger, hurt and sadness has absolutely no effect on the person who caused the pain. I have told my children that carrying anger, hurt and sadness and expecting the other person to feel it is like carrying a big, black, greasy and heavy ball around every day and expecting the other person to feel it. They don't. I have had to drop that ball a few times. One I was carrying was for my biological father who was (simply put) a very mean and calculating man. I had to drop the ball. I was carrying the hurt for so long, too long. I was ruining my life, not his. Forgiveness? I don't accept or condone what he did but for lack of a better word I forgave him and dropped the ball I was carrying. And god, I feel so much better.

Lisa said...

You write so beautifully. Chilling and revengeful, and beautiful. I guess I forgive when I forget.

Anthony Duce said...

I enjoyed the writing here so much. I know I should add something more, but in the end I liked the story, in spite of the lack of real communications between you and him.

Windsmoke. said...

I reckon revenge or payback is good stuff because you get to pick the time, place and you control the amount of revenge or payback you extract from that person who has wronged you. Forgiveness like sorry are hollow words designed to make somebody else feel better, which in turn gives them a green light to commit the same wrongs all over again :-).

Elisabeth said...

It's funny I put up a post about revenge, a revenge of sorts, Snow, and most responses thus far have focussed on forgiveness.

I've just completed a thesis on the connection between writing and the desire for revenge and I have discovered not all revenge is bad. It just gets very bad press because people tend to focus on the extremes, not of the DESIRE for revenge, which we all suffer from time to time, but it's ENACTMENT, which is a problem.

As far as I can see, to write is sometimes to express that desire, it's not necessarily to enact it, though some might beg to differ.

Thanks, Snow.

Elisabeth said...

Thanks for such high praise, Birdie. I'm glad the writing worked for you.

Dave King said...

I never understood the distinction people draw between forgiving and forgetting. To me they are two symptoms of the same condition.

Elisabeth said...

And Birdie, in response to your wonderful comment on the term forgiveness. I'm inclined to agree with you. it's not helpful to carry our grievances around with us ad infinitum.

In time we need to move on, but that does not simply mean to forgive, rather it means not to give someone the satisfaction of believing they have destroyed you by poisoning you with bitterness forever more.

The best revenge, as they say, is to do well, and to me, that includes moving beyond our grievances in constructive ways.

Thanks again, Birdie.

Elisabeth said...

I agree Ocean Girl, there's a connection maybe between forgiving and forgetting, but sometimes we only forget on the surface.

Maybe you mean something akin to what Birdie says in her comment above: to forgive is to drop the grievance and to move on.

Thanks, Fasliza.

Elisabeth said...

It's a grim story, I know, Anthony, and I'm glad it resonated for you despite the lack of communication between the me and he of it, between the narrator and the antagonist, between the past and the present.

Thanks, Anthony.

Elisabeth said...

Again, Im inclined to agree with you Windsmoke, but there is such a thing as genuine remorse, a heartfelt 'sorry' that is not just a green light to recommit the offense.

Equally as you say, there's also the notion of false reparation. Fortunately our need for revenge, beyond the desire for it, which we all deal with in our own ways over time, has restrictions placed on it and is enacted through law, otherwise we'd be more troubled as societies than we already are.

Thanks, Windsmoke.

Elisabeth said...

I'd agree Dave, forgiving and forgetting are connected, but there are layers of forgetting.

Sometimes people block things from their minds. You could call it forgiveness, but to me it's not real forgiveness. Things can then happen along the way and the old feelings reemerge with a vengeance.
To me forgiving is more active than that but I think it also needs something from the so-called wrong doer, some sort of recognition of wrong doing. Maybe that's just an idealised view of things, though.
Thanks, Dave.

Anonymous said...

Oh the power ignoring an e-mail gives you! But you can't just ignore it, the very ignoring eats away at you. A wonderfully worded piece here Elisabeth

who said...

Ouch, it's never pleasant to have those negative feelings revisited. It can be hard to deal with it when they don't acknowledge any behavior that would be responsible for it. So I can understand not wanting to talk with him.

I don't mean to sound insensitive, but it does seem like you may have found other acts that really can bring a sense of relief to what started out as almost violent thoughts.

unless you think dumping Kevin caused some significant emotional damage, perhaps that was a very healthy way to deal with hostility. And even if he was heartbroken, maybe that just means you have to take the enchantment down a notch. Not put him under a spell, but still work all of that violence out of your system.

The Weaver of Grass said...

I am truly hooked and need the next installment.

Rose said...

I just loved this story - it leaves me inquisitive about the relationship and the email but at the same time the actions of the writer are a typical response to being dumped. Rejection, well that really stings.
And revenge - yes, it is a dish to be served cold I think. Forget and forgive never ever in this life time.
Time may take care of the forgiving bit and ever so gradually it will dilute and fade the hurt but the rest goes all the way to the grave. *chuckles*
Good writing!

Meggie said...

Powerful.I once told someone, who asked if I could forgive him, that he had to forgive himself. Forgiveness was not mine to give.

Elisabeth said...

It's funny isn't it, Jane. We ignore an email, a phone cal a letter and imagine we have some vengeful power over the other and of course we don't.

Still it's a strategy that many adopt as a means of coping with rejection. We ignore the hurtful communication and hope that in so doing we reduce its impact.

Thanks, Jane.

Elisabeth said...

Writing is certainly a way of working rage out of our systems, Dusty. I suspect that's why many of us write.

I don't think I've done untold damage to anyone her, nor for that matter has anyone really harmed me, but at the time it felt otherwise.

Thanks, Dusty.

Elisabeth said...

Hopefully there will be a next insalment soon, Pat, but I've no guarantees. Thanks.

Elisabeth said...

I'm glad it resonated for you, Rose. Certainly rejection would have to be one of the greatest stimuli for revenge.

What's that saying? 'Hell hath no greater fury than a woman scorned.'

Thanks, Rose.

Elisabeth said...

You're so right, Meggie.

Sometimes forgiveness belongs to the other and not to the one who has suffered the hurt. It depends, of course, on the size of the perpetrator's conscience. When someone feels sufficiently guilty for what they've done, then both parties, the wounded and the one who wounds are half way there.

Thanks, Meggie.

sarah toa said...

Aghh! How did you know?
Beautiful work Elizabeth. Mapped that push me pull me thing to every single, minute fecking coordinate.

Kirk said...

Excellent use of present tense. To write something that moody and then slip in, of all things, a pun toward the end. Amazing!

Judging by the other comments, everyone seems to feel this is a morality play about revenge vs forgiveness. I choose to intepret it as an example of the little dramas that unfold in our minds, with the self as the sole audience.

Elisabeth said...

Push and pull of our internal worlds is the stuff of most dramas, Sarah. Thanks for your kind words. I'm glad this piece resonated for you.

Elisabeth said...

I too have misgivings about the pressure to reach forgiveness too soon, Kirk, almost before we've had a chance to deal with our grief and our grievances.

What I intend as a writer doesn't count, I know, but in any case, I don't intend to write morality plays.

I leave morality and the like to the ethicists and philosophers. Mostly I prefer to give out slices of my life, however from the far distant past or the present and to play around with my internal struggles in words.

Thanks, Kirk.

Jim Murdoch said...

I have found myself avoiding even reading this post properly for a couple of days. Once I did make time to read it – for some reason this week I am feeling particularly under pressure and ineffective – I found, as I had expected, I struggle to relate to it. I am not a vengeful person. I do understand lashing out in pain and I’m not beyond snapping at Carrie when I’m coming down with something and if I do one of the first things she’ll do is ask me if I have a temperature because she knows me well enough to know when I’m not being myself.

I’ve not had too many girlfriends in my life. Only a handful. And in every case I was looking for a relationship. I wanted to get to know that person. I watch programmes on TV and see the changing attitudes towards sex and I marvel at it frankly. Frankly I’m a little jealous but if I analyse my feelings what I really am is angry that my upbringing instilled attitudes in me that made the seeking out of casual relationships virtually impossible. Part of the problem though is the kind of person I am. I’m not really interested in casual anything which is why I’m not very good at small talk. Sex outside of marriage didn’t bother me – it should have, I’d been taught is was wrong, but it didn’t especially – but sex outside of a relationship did: how could one go to bed with a girl if you didn’t know her favourite song or the name of her pet cat or even the girl’s own name? I remember at a disco one of my mates told me to go an pull a bird at the end of the night and I didn’t know how – the only time I ever tried the don’t-I-know-you-from-somewhere line I was actually being serious. The only way I have ever known to get to know a woman was to talk to her, to get to know her over an extended period of time.

What that has meant is that when I was dumped – I have never dumped anyone even when I knew that was the right thing to do – I really felt it. Rejection has always been a major thing for me, not something that I could shrug off lightly. The first girl I fell in love with was when I was about ten and I remained devoted to her for three years. The one who replaced her lasted another three years before I found someone else but her I never got over. To this day I still harbour feelings for her. Once I have been rejected and my efforts to reconcile have been knocked back I accept things and move on eventually. I have never seriously considered getting back at them, hurting them like they hurt me. These are women I have loved and if love can flip to hate that quickly I do have to wonder if it was true love in the first place.

Isabel Doyle said...

Did my comment get lost or offend in some way? If so, apologies ...

Cait O'Connor said...

I always try and remember the Romany saying 'The best revenge is to live well' Thanks for calling by at my blog. I have enjoyed reading yours and will visit again. '

Elisabeth said...

No need to apologise, Isabel. I don't remember seeing your comment and there's no sign of it here. Please, if you can be bothered trying to repeat your thoughts, I'd be grateful, otherwise it's good to know you passed by.

Elisabeth said...

Funny, Jim, I found myself rehearsing a response to your comment here earlier today, but it's all gone now.

If only we could take down our thoughts immediately as we think them. I suspect my thoughts were around the issue of your discomfort with the idea of vengefulness.

I have this delightful sense of you running things by Carrie in much the same way I run ideas by my husband, though I don't discuss blogging much with him.

My husband knows about my blog but he has reservations about the internet and social networks because he reckons you might say something you regret somewhere down the track and if it's recorded online forever more, however can you redeem yourself?

He's a lawyer remember, and lawyers tend to be more comfortable with facts, though not always, and to his credit, my husband is also man of deep sensitivity and creativity, but I'm the one who plays around with notions of fact and fiction.

I'm not generally a person who dumps others. I'm sensitive to the experience of being dumped myself and by and large I go out of my way to spare people from the pains of rejection.

In this post I was playing around with feelings that tend to be more subterranean, feelings I tend to keep to myself, feelings of hurt and rejection that might lead or have led to rejection.

There's emotional truth here as ever, Jim, at least I hope there is, but please don't mistake me for the femme fatale of my fantasies.

I expect I have slipped our of Kevin's mind forever, but I tend to remember most of these experiences. Kevin, by the way, would not have been so wounded. He came to our wedding and gave us Waterford crystal wine glasses, a set of four, two of which still exist. I wonder what he's up to these days.

Thanks, Jim.

Elisabeth said...

It's lovely to see you here, Cait.

I did not know that the saying: the best revenge is to live well, is a Romany saying, but it makes sense to me.

The Romany people are/were an oppressed people. They'd have needed to deal with their vengeful feelings much of the time.

Thanks, Cait.

Sarcastic Bastard said...

Thanks for visiting my blog. You write beautifully.

This post makes me very glad that I lucked into finding a nice man, especially after a VERY bad marriage.

I wish you a nice man too.



Elisabeth said...

Thanks for the good wishes, Sarcastic Bastard. After my many early misadventures, I'd say I have found a good man. We've had our ups and downs as you do, but we've been married now for 34 years. That has to count for something.

Isabel Doyle said...

This is what I said - not sure if it was THAT worthy or recording ...

This is one of your interesting posts Elisabeth, that seem to hover between autobiography and something else: granted autobiography can be very elastic too.
Is all revenge about power? Is that all we are? Is cruelty power? Is ignorance? Is it safe to ascribe our responses to another?
And I am also intrigued by the possible links to your previous post Shift Happens ... the power of the inscribed word.
VCE or IB? Hope they are running smoothly ...
Best wishes Isabel

Elisabeth said...

VCE, Isabel and so far they seem to be going smoothly, but you never know. My daughter is sick of the process and I commiserate. Only a couple of weeks and three exams to go and my immediate family will close a chapter on our life, that of school education for this generation at least. Now it's almost time for my grandchildren to start. Thank goodness education never stops.

As for revenge, you pose such interesting questions. I suppose there's a difference between what we feel and how we act. To me therein lies the difference between revenge as power and revenge as helplessness.

I suspect that vengeful desires are part of the human condition, to varying degreses.

The issue is not so much the desire as how we deal with it.

Thanks, Isabel.

PhilipH said...

Elisabeth, I saw your comment on my daughter's link and have just read your last three entries.
This comment refers to those three entries and I kick myself for not keeping up with reading your work.
You really know how to write, and no mistake. Wonder how long it took you to write THIS piece, and what's Kevin's status now?
The Julia 26 piece, on Alzheimer's was scary in many ways but it is a fact of life. I think most people dread AD, I know I do.
My first real love, Stella, was about six-and-a-half years older than I. I was sixteen-and-a-half at the time I started dating her. I eventually met and married my wife Pat but longed to find out how Stella's life had been. And 10 years ago I traced her and we went to see her. Didn't recognise her of course; 50 years tends to change one's appearance! We never met again after that first reunion and Stella drifted into Lewy Body disease, a severe form of dementia. I found it heart-rending when I phoned her and she had no idea who I was. She didn't even know her own two children at times. Then a couple of years ago her daughter phoned me to say that Stella had died suddenly. A twisted gut problem,and she was gone. I was sadly happy to know she was free of this non-life.
I could write my thoughts on this for a lot longer but will stop now.
I shall keep any eye out for your work Elisabeth. Great work it is too.

Elisabeth said...

I too wonder whatever happened to Kevin, Philip, and others I ave known from years gone by, both men and women.

I admire your support for your daughter. It seems to me that bodily ailments can strike at any of us at any time in the life cycle, but it's most tragic when they attack those younger than ourselves, especially our children, however old we might be.

Thanks Philip for your generous comment.