Sunday 14 September 2008

Carving Her Name Into Desks

I've always been quite into medieval epic and romance. I specialised in it at degree level.
In fact, you could go further. Myth and legend generally, whether ancient or modern. I have no time for novels about life in the here and now. Give me a knight errant riding through dark forests to defeat a malicious sorcerer any day. Give me Holy Grails, Gorgon's heads and journeys to Utgard.

Give me Sauron and his rings of power. Give me Conan the Barbarian and the intrigues of the Hyborian nobility.

Nick Hornsby? I live in the twentieth first century as a disillusioned single male. I don't need to read about it. I already know what it's like.

Sometimes, of course these romances can lead us to asking some valid questions. Ancient Norse kings, for example seem to have spent a lot of time invading people, sacking countries, destroying giants and the like. Indeed, we are left wondering how these countries were actually governed during the two thousand odd years of legendary Norse history since their monarchs were too busy engaged in random acts of slaughter.

The same is true of Arthurian and Carolingian romance. Whilst Arthur and Charlemagne never leave their castles, they are surrounded by a host of other kings and princes who never seem to go home. And the Grail King seems to reign over a castle and that's about it. Who pays for all the luxuries that he seems to enjoy?

And of course, no one ever seems to know the way anywhere. They just set off and hope they'll bump into where they are going.

'Fancy going to the Castle of the Perilous Falcon, Gawain?'
'Yes, where is it?'
'Not sure. Thought we'd wonder aimlessly till we found it.'
'We could ask Uwain, he went there.'
'Yes, but it'll be in a different place now.'

Anyway, one of the things that always struck me as over the top was how those in love behave. Especially in Italianate Romance. Everyone in love feels the need to carve the name of their beloved in as many trees as they possibly can. And if their love is unrequited they literally go insane. These romances are full of people actually going mad because of the strength of their love. Orlando Furioso is about just that. Orlando finds that the woman of his dreams has been skipping round the Ardennes inscribing 'Medoro and Angelica' in every tree in the forest and turns into a berserker.

It ain't like that, we cynical twenty first century types say.

Oh what short memories we have. YES IT IS.
But somehow, we condition ourselves so young to give up on that. To barricade it away.

Go back.
Back to the beginning. Be fifteen again.

When I was about fifteen I had a major crush. Her name was Emma. Her second name doesn't matter. I must have carved 'I love Emma ----' into about fifty desks. And it must have appeared on all my exercise books. Along with other stuff I'm quite embarrassed about in retrospect. It was painful. She knew, everyone knew, and I couldn't even look her in the eye. She'd turn every now and then and catch me looking at her, then flick her hair and avert her gaze in ostentatious disgust. And none of this dampened my ardour. I took the most ridiculously out of the way route home from school involving a mile detour, pretty much, just to be walking past her house as she came up the road.
I actually had a lock of her hair which I kept hidden between my calculator and its case. It was a bittersweet, unrequited teenage crush. And for about two years I pined solidly for her. At least two nights a week I would be unable to sleep because my mind would be imagining when we were grown up and I had a successful career and she'd have changed her mind and we had a four bedroomed detached house and children.

And to her? I was just Damian, the tiny, sallow skinned, dark haired kid who never spoke much but looked sinister.

But you're not fifteen forever.

Between sixteen and eighteen, I kind of changed. Looking back at the photographs, it's hard to pinpoint. As if that last burst of adolescence just tweaked something. Gangly, became waifish. Taciturn became enigmatic. The dark, greasy locks became, luscious curls. I guess I changed too. I'd been a quiet teen because I wasn't a herd follower. Now I became a lot more confident in my- well- totally different outlook and became somewhat of an exhibitionist. I think I decided that I could never follow, so I made a bid for leading. I went, in two years, from having no confidence whatsoever to being very confident.

Ugly ducklings do become swans.

I think at first, I found it a little difficult to handle myself. I think for a long time I still saw myself as basically unattractive.
I suppose the first thing that kills crushes, is actually losing your virginity. I don't know about anyone else, but I lost mine to a Polish waitress who I keep wanting to call Magda, but it wasn't, that was her friend and I'm damned if I can remember HER name.

Anyway, I've always said I've only been in love once, up to now, and that's true. But let's face it, it wasn't hard work.

I was nineteen when me and Joanna got together. I guess I should have noticed she liked me, but I didn't. I couldn't be bothered to remember her name. At the time she first introduced herself to me, I was a kind of on a mission. The mission was simple- to see if it was physically possible to drink two hundred units of alcohol in one week and still do my essay on Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and hand it in by the deadline.

So when I woke up next to her on the Saturday morning, I actually still didn't know her name and neither of us knew if we'd had sex, but we did find material evidence to prove we had.
It became love very quickly. We had our first row within the week and I went off back to my parents and my mate gave her my parents phone number and she rang and we talked for hours and I went back to uni and we... was easy. It was euphoric. It was perfect. For several months I did nothing except lie in bed all day with Joanna and then go out with my mates in the evening. I'm a nineteen year old bloke. Does it get any better?
Because we talked a lot in bed. In between the pretty much hourly bouts of love making. And because we spent all day shagging like rabbits, we didn't want to go out with eachother in the evenings. But we always came home to eachother. And oh, I know she probably got up to things I turned a blind eye to- I think I knew, I just liked to pretend otherwise, I couldn't have dealt with the truth, though I still knew it all the same.

Innocent? In some ways, yes. I mean, I wasn't her first lover. She claimed I was her seventeenth, but I suspect that was a reduced figure. I told her she was my tenth, and that was certainly doubled.

She wasn't intellectually smart. But she was actually very bright. Especially in a practical common sense way. And unbelievably caring. She looked after me. In the sense that mattered, we connected.

In retrospect, I don't know how true a love it was. It wasn't strong enough to withstand the pressures that brought it to an end. It was easy and I know that there were strong emotions on both sides from the discussions we had years later. It was love, certainly, but maybe it was an accidental connection, two people falling into eachother and connecting in some way, very strongly, very deeply, ALMOST perfect, but not quite.

1998. I went into it one person, and emerged another. I couldn't stop loving her, but I was determined to do so. I was determined to emerge someone who that could never happen to again. And I did. I changed myself. The person who went into 1998, was someone else. The person who emerged, essentially, was pretty much me as I was- until recently, perhaps.

Before 1998, I drunk excessively and smoked a lot of pot. But pills were very occasional. That changed that year. I tried the lot. I went to Holland and got absolutely wasted. I went right the way over the line till I couldn't remember where the line was. There are a lot of things I started in that twelve month period I carried on with, such as being a cynical manipulative bastard as regards women, using Coke and Pills like others drink beer, but equally there's much that only ever happened in 1998, lines I crossed and came back from. Smoking Brown, Crack Cocaine, prostitutes.

I got my head together in the third year enough to get my degree. But I graduated a bitter, disillusioned man. And yes, I guess you could say, immune to love. Becuse I have been. For ten long years. I've been a total bastard. Because whilst 1998 had completely destroyed my own capacity to feel that feeling that makes you want to carve someone's name into a desk, I had become damn good at being able to make others feel that way.

Without really trying. It became second nature. I wasn't really alive to it.

You're not going to believe me when I say I didn't know what I was doing. No one does.
But I really thought it was the same for everybody. That that intensity of feeling was something that you get when you're a kid, but you grow out of it. After that, it's all bargains. That adult love is a more quiet, restrained set of agreements.

Myself and the Chimney Sweep were discussing recently what made people good and I put forward the opinion that I was basically a good person and if there was a pearly gates, they couldn't really refuse me entry. CS then pointed out that I had a few broken hearts to blot my copybook. I defended myself by saying I could hardly be held responsible for that. But he thinks I am. And maybe, in terms of not trying to understand, I am. But I don't think I'm alone.

Because we fortify ourselves so much against really getting hurt. And I know now what I did.
I let people love me on one condition. That I could deep down, be certain of one thing.
That they WEREN'T people that would ever make me want to carve their name on a desk. They were approved, given permission to get close to me, because I knew they could never get to me that way.
Oh, you kid yourself you can 'grow to love them', and you can. Just not in a desk carving way.

You can love them when it's good. You can love the good feeling they're giving you. Because it doesn't really matter who it is when you're lying on the sofa in eachothers arms and you can feel her breath on your cheek and you can feel her squeezing you, because she just want to be as close to you as she can. Because walking hand in hand with anyone who has soft hands as you point up at the battlements of Warwick Castle and say 'It's impressive now, imagine what it was like in 1400?', yes, it's nice, it's good.

But all it actually proves is that most of the time we deny eachother even that. That when we have it with someone we attach to much to it. Because you can have that with pretty much any female between twenty and forty five. The only point is, she's open to it with you. It's not special, she could be anyone.

And yes, if you're having as much sex as you need along with it, it's good. Most of the time. So you argue, because deep down you don't really understand eachother, but as long as the hand in hand moments outnumber the kicking over of bin moments, it's all good. You don't expect anything more out of life. This is it. Carving her name on desks was something you did as a teenager. Adults carry shopping baskets round Wilkinsons bored out of their tiny minds thinking of an excuse to go to the pub.

But it's in those arguments. I lived with Claire a long time and looking back on those arguments, they show why it could never be desk carving love.

Because what we feel when we carve those desks is a WISH to connect to someone like that. What happens is we learn eventually, that when we get that connection, we'll feel like that again.
Only we don't believe it. We settle.

Me and Claire argued once because she painted the house during her week off work. I came home to find it yellow.
And I said nothing. I just let her go on about it until she said 'You don't really like it, do you?'
I said 'It's done now.'
And then she pushed further, that I clearly didn't like it, so I agreed, I didn't like the colour, I didn't particularly want to live in 'The yellow fucking submarine.'
And then she goes on about how much time she spent on it at which point I erupted 'Time to go to fucking Wilkinsons and buy the fucking paint but not time to fucking ring me and ask how I feel about living in a yellow fucking house.'

We argued for hours.

Thing is, it's not about paint. It's about the lack of connection. The person she needed to be connected to, would have come home and loved it. She'd have chosen a colour she instinctively knew they both liked, she wouldn't have needed to ask him. She did what she did, because she WANTED that connection to be what she had. It wasn't.

Likewise, it wasn't the connection I wanted. I was angry because the person I need to be connected to, would never make a unilateral decision. They would never have painted the house any colour at all, without us both choosing the colour together. And she'd have known, instinctively, that yellow would be a no-no. Because her aesthetic tastes and mine would be part of that connection.

You can't 'work through' these things. Because really, this is what it's all about. The rest of it, the holding eachother close, the happy days when it's all good, you can have that with anyone. Really, you can.

It doesn't matter whether they're your physical ideal. It doesn't matter how good the good times are, what the sex is like, it's irrelevant.

When you don't want to talk, can they see why?
Can they read between the lines with what you didn't say?

When you want them to hold you close but you don't want to talk about it, will they hold you close AND STILL KNOW?

But this is it, the catch 22. Because actually, this is what you're trying to avoid. Someone who has that connection to you. You want it, but you don't want to want it. It's too much of a bloody risk.

I guess the risk assessment I carried out was this. Find someone you do truly connect to and want to carve their name in desks, it will go pear shaped eventually and you'll end up killing yourself somehow, you'll just end up throwing your life away in an orgy of self-destruction.

I didn't want to live through another 1998.

So it's better to settle for someone you'll never connect to and just argue every few weeks over something trivial, like paint.

Find someone who will love you, and be sure you can keep part of yourself back. That was the plan.

Not a conscious plan, perhaps. But the plan.

And now, here I am at thirty.
I've written about her before.


I suppose she came into my life almost a year ago now. And she gave me that warm fuzzy feeling straight away. The desk carving feeling. It took me a while to admit that, even to myself.
We've become close, in an unusual kind of way. It really is bizarre. She knows the score now, she has done about two months. I feel a way about her I didn't think it possible for anyone to feel. Guess that's why I write about her so much. My way of carving her name into desks.

I guess if you'd described her to me two years ago, in many of her superficial characteristics, I wouldn't seen her as sounding like someone I'd go for.
As I've got older, I've liked to kid myself my physical ideal plays a much larger part than perhaps it does. It's been there as an excuse to myself 'Not my physical type.'
I've used it as an excuse. I'm only looking for girls who are black, under 5ft7, slim waist, etc, etc.

But now, as far as I'm concerned, she's the most beautiful woman in the world. And if anyone argued with me on that, I'd get annoyed.

So much doesn't really matter. And I guess that explains the oddity of the situation.

I wouldn't like to say she spurns my advances, but she certainly makes it clear she sees me as a friend and would not see me in any other light. And in a way, that's good. We talk pretty much every day, often for hours. Occasionally certain things rear their head but more often not. And even when they do, it never gets nasty. She describes it as bickering, and I guess it is that. And I guess that's part of it. No matter what the issue is, the worst that comes of it is bickering. No hot tempers, no nastiness and I think, even when we 'bicker', I never quite lose that warm fuzzy feeling.

Because these 'bickering' interludes, when they show up never feel symptomatic of a huge gulf, more symptomatic of trying to find common ground where common ground is actually possible, symptomatic of the fact that we both know we DO understand eachother, just frustration that at this PARTICULAR point in time we seem to be in conflict.

Very often I know what she's going to say before she says it. I just know. I can predict her nuances.

But it's more than that. Superficially, we would seem worlds apart. Different people.

Me, volatile, temperamental, petulant, capricious.
Her, sensible, restrained, calm, collected.

Me, outgoing, vain, extroverted, exhibitionist, a crowd lover.
Her, shy, self-effacing, introverted, not a lover of crowds.

Where's the common ground, you say.

We have differing mechanisms to handle the world, but the points is those mechanisms protect similar people. Or so I cannot help but believe.

Because the point is in how we understand eachother. It's not so much I can predict what she can say and how she will react, because I now know her so well. And vice versa. Most people find me totally impossible to predict. She can.

For example, when I say the three words to her, or other such empassioned things, I can predict her replies. They will usually be 'I know' or 'Ok'

And I know when they're coming. And it's not just because I know her that well, it's more.
Just as I know when she'll change the subject.

Because in her situation, I'd say 'I know' or 'Ok'. And I'd change the subject EXACTLY when she does. I'm not predicting her response. My brain has got used to the fact that it is in interaction with someone whose processes work so similarly, it just needs to look at the answer it would give if it were feeling the way it guesses she must be feeling. It thinks 'Right now I would say 'I know'.'

And it's this, this frequency with which I can second guess her, and her me likewise, that really puts me in the position I'm in.

I'm pretty sure that what I don't show her, she sees. And I'm pretty sure that what she doesn't show me, I see.
If I walked out of here after posting into the pub and decided to go home with one of the barmaids, she'd KNOW. She just would. I'm entitled to of course, there's nothing at all between us, we are ultimately, no more than friends. But she'd know. She would be able to pick it up. Because she has the total ability to interpret every one of my responses and match them so closely to her own in a similar situation, she'd be able to say tomorrow 'Did you get laid last night?'

She can see into the dark side of my mind as well as the good. There was a case only the other night where I was describing my frustration about the whole situation. I described how I had gone into the pub and seen a girl there who I know is quite insecure. On one occasion when she was very drunk she accosted me and accused me of looking down on her and seeing her as rubbish. Which I don't, I just don't pay her much attention. But this night, Monday night I was tempted, as I told Haydee.

Tempted to seduce her.

And I was telling Haydee, telling her the awful thought process running through my mind.
'It wasn't lust. It wasn't the need for intimacy. It was rage. Frustration. I wanted to make her feel happy for an instant, then snatch it away, chew her up and spit her out'.
And Haydee said, almost straight away 'I know, ---'.

She knew. She knew before I got to the punchline.

This is a side of me I know she doesn't like. It isn't a side she has herself. But she can see WHY it exists in me. She can follow the working. Because she can see the deeper workings, which manifest themselves in her in different ways, but having those same workings deeper down, she can follow how it is they manifest themselves in me.

Occasionally I bring up this world called IF. IF is the world where the miracle happens. Because to me, this connection is what it's all about. Most people don't have it. I don't think.

Because I think on this sort of connection that lasting happiness is to be found. I guess she sees that any woman getting involved me in that way is taking a huge risk. I don't think she realises that SHE wouldn't be. In a sense she- and only she- would have an element of control over me. Because she would always understand.

So the standard evasion, omission and diversion tactics I usually employ would not only have no effect, but I wouldn't actually feel the need to use them anyway. You only need to use those tactics when you feel you have to hide the truth. I can't see there ever being any truth I'd want to hide from her.

She is probably the only woman I'd ever allow to have a say in how I spent my money or used my time. And the thing is, I don't see these things as ever being things we'd ever be confrontational about.

You see, in my head I really do have a vision of the sort of life I believe we'd lead together. And that vision looks totally unbelievably amazing.
I do want to carve her name in treetrunks. And I know that if I was walking round Warwick Castle with her, it actually would be with a deeper connection, we'd be seeing at all in a similar vein, the REALITY of history. It wouldn't just be her LISTENING, we'd both be comprehending.

And the other side? Yes, I imagine that as being way beyond comprehension. The sort of love making makes stars jump out of the firmament.

And yet she makes clear none of this will ever be.

Sometimes I don't really know what to do. Sometimes I feel she holds all the cards. Because she gets my friendship, she always has that. No matter what she does, I'd never lose her. I feel I don't get enough of her as it is, I'd never want less. So she has me living in hope, like a man on death row, feeling a warm jolt of electricity every time I get a smile from her.

She doesn't have to make a choice, not really. She will always have me here as I am now. She can have whatever connection it is she feels she has with me, knowing she'll never lose it, yet knowing it never has to be dangerous.

She holds all the cards and she keeps them close to her chest. Because, because, there all those other men out there chasing her, all those other men that are options to her. And she makes it clear I should alway just consider myself a friend.

I can't really cut my losses and run. Because I believe that the potential is worth it. But I also believe something else. Yes, she can read me. Yes, she's mature for age. But she's still just that little bit younger than me and yes, she's been hurt and scarred and battered and bruised.

And I believe she wants someone to love her, who she doesn't have to connect to. Not really.
I believe that she would rather not connect and argue about paint and play it safe.

I don't believe that she cannot see the potential of such a connection. Just that she would fight tooth and nail to prevent it. Because she would never let it happen.

I believe its a risk she just will not take.

Because when I was her age, even had it been her who came along, I wouldn't have done either.
I had not yet seen just how foolish a game it is long term playing what you think is the safe card.

By the same token, I don't entirely trust this hypothesis of mine. After all, it could just be what I want to believe. Totally in my head. It really could just be that she sees me as she might do a kind of dysfunctional brother. I don't know.

The point is, even if my hypothesis is correct, it doesn't help matters. Because were it to be, we'd be looking at several years down the line before she'd open up to such sentiments- if they exist.

And by that time? No, my sentiments towards her wouldn't have changed.

But I've put my case to her, the case rests. It rests until she decides to make a decision.
I say I'll wait, and in a sense I'll mean it.

But time, time will alter that. Not the sentiments, but my perspective. The day will come when it wouldn't matter if she did decide she wanted it- I wouldn't believe her.

That's the tragedy. How long will it take before I've hardened myself totally against really hoping. When will the day come that my belief in that dream has just become a vision I keep in my head, inspiring me to live day to day, but being seen every day as less and less realistic?

Because the day will come, when I just couldn't. When I would feel that I made my case too long ago, that if it took her this long to think about it, it cannot be sincere, cannot be heartfelt and cannot be real. Just settling on her part.

I don't know when that day will come. Not anytime soon, perhaps. But one day it will. One day a day will come when I've returned to settle myself somewhere, happy to argue about paint and traipse round Wilkinsons with a shopping basket, living with a stranger in comfortable incomprehension.

And it will seem too comfortable to give up for something I believe not to be real, no matter how much I'd want it to be.

There really isn't anything I can do about it, really.

All I can do as continue as I am. The way things are, are the way she wants them. And as things stand, it's the best I can hope for.

All I can do really, is wait and see what happens.

I don't ever want to lose her. And I have her as a friend. A friend whose name I want to carve into desks.
But perhaps the greatest thing in my life, as it stands.

So yes, I'm happy getting that little thrill of electricity when I get a smile from her.

It's worth the sum total of everything all the other women in the world combined could give me.


Anonymous said...

I would like a boyfriend who came home to find the house painted yellow hug me and say, "wow - that looks good!" whether he loved it or not. I'm just not into all that bickering stuff anymore and I think as soon as it started I would ask them to leave (for good). Had enough of all that nonsense.

It's good you've got a friend anyway with Haydee - people search forever to find someone who knows them and accepts them. You've just got to accept she might never love you back the way you want.

Anonymous said...

Even just knowing you can feel that rush, that genuine connection, is immensely valuable. I hope she one day knows what she was able to give you.

Anonymous said...

pretty good :-)
*sighs again*
she sounds nice ;-)

haha, at that yellow house. i agree with you; yellow submarine, and i'd be pretty irritable too. strange thing to do ;-)

it's a good thing you've got going :)

Anonymous said...

Kate- I agree, I'm not into it either.

Which is why if it happens, to that level, you know there is no meaningful connection. It is NOT true to say that 'arguments' are part of a normal relationship.

In this case, they were symptomatic of a totally different perspective on life.

Well, Haydee knows the score- she knows that as long we as stay as friends, she has to put up with the fact I'll never really give up. :)

She seems prepared to put up with that, at least. :)

I don't think many people ever find anyone they can relate to that way, no.

Princess P- It is immensely valuable, yes. Totally changes your perspective on life.

I think she kind of does. Though not quite the scale of it, not yet.

Eve- If you'd seen the house as well, you'd agree.

The house was part of a block of five connected houses that once been an Inn by a canal. The building was white. White suited it. White no doubt being the colour when it was built, white fitting in with its age, white being what the building shouted out it wanted to be.

If the paint is flaking, it needs painting.

Painting white.

That's the thing about late nineteenth century white buildings. They tend to look better white.

Not custard yellow.

But I think it was more the fact she didn't ring me- one phone call 'I thought I'd paint the house'
'Right. What colour?'
'How about you do it tomorrow and we go after I get in and choose paint?'

Simple. And I would certainly have vetous yellow. I would have considered a fairly greyish blue, but yellow, no.

She is the most amazing person I have ever, and probably ever come across.

And yes, even as it is, it's a good thing.

Anonymous said...

O man that's a long post!

But referring to the beginning: I'm into mediaeval shyte bigtime as well


Anonymous said...

Finding a connection with someone like the one you have described it a special thing. There are people out there that have never had that experience before and that's sad. When you have it, hold onto it.

Anonymous said...

I know the feeling very well when you have that connection with one special person. Hang onto that connection Crushed, no one can break it but those directly involved :) If this comment does not go in this time, am gonna scream my lungs out Lol.

Anonymous said...

Gledwood- I love a bit of Epic...

My favourites are actually among the least known.
The image shown is a reference to the Perlesvaus- where Gawain has a pentangle shield, supposedly the same shield King Solomon had.

It is, in my opinion, the richest version of the Grail legend.

I think it's a pity that so little Medieval romance is published, though I'm finding more online.

In fact you can find a lot of medieval exts online and print them off- I have files and files of the stuff.

Aunt Reeny- I think it's special, yes.
I do intend to hold on to it, I think she knows what she means to me.
It is what it is.

NUnyaa- I know.
Fortunately, there is no one else involved at all.
It really is true she's kind of the best kept secret of my life ;)