The Game Changer
… the next instalment of my journal, chronicling a year of change …
Now that I am pouring my heart out to people I am getting interesting stories back. Over a bubbly brunch yesterday my friend from French class told me of another unappealing fate. Another friend of hers is married to a German man. She had put the money she had inherited into the house they share. Her name is on the mortgage along with his. But her name is not on the title (WTF). She pays him rent. For tax reasons, of course. They have two young children. One of them was born to a biological mother with a crack addiction, and has numerous behavioural problems. This friend, the adoptive mother, has to drive one of the children from one treatment or therapist to another almost daily. Both children are too young for her to work. She gets a meagre household allowance from hubby, but it is never enough. She shows him the bills but he doesn’t relent. So she has to use her meagre personal allowance to supplement the payment for the groceries.
You couldn’t make this stuff up.
I don’t have trouble believing that story because my stepfather used to be an arsehole just like that, he held all of us to account over every single penny and made us feel guilty even if we needed socks. I remember thinking that I would never, ever date a German man.
The other day my friend’s hubby hit her.
From the outside looking in, it is so easy to make suggestions. Hell, from the inside it is easy to make suggestions. My mother was caught in that cycle, and to some extent so was I. My stepfather never hit us, but terrorised us emotionally to an extent that nearly destroyed me. I was frightened of him, but wanted to push back at the same time. My mother just couldn’t. Because he would make such a fuss, she used to say. He threatened to kill me several times. He said he would come for me, and I believed it. I used to sleep with a large knife under my pillow, and practiced using it, placing it under the pillow in a way that if I pulled it out, the blade would be pointed upward, towards him if he leant over me. I woke up at the slightest sound in the house. That was my normal world at eighteen. On the day he tried to rape my mother I decided enough was enough and dead was better than continuing living like this. In my mind I was prepared to die, and I went to the police. It is tragic that we have to make choices like that. Some of those choices demand that we dig deep. When I hear stories like that, I get worried, because I know the path that person might be on, and it is not a good one, even if it does not end in death.
My friend feels helpless. She is telling her friend to leave, but she can’t really do anything. The children are too small. There is no big, burly brother who can rock up, frighten the crap out of arsehole hubby and take his sister out of that situation. It is a path she has to walk herself, one way or the other. I hope she will learn to fight him. At the moment all she sees is roadblocks to getting away. Money problems mainly and money problems are shitty. I hope she can find the energy to get away from him.
I think lethargy can be as big an enemy as fear. Getting caught in a rut. Not thinking that anything can ever change. That we even deserve change. Each time I have made a change in my life it has taken me a long time. In each case I didn’t make the change until I felt utterly cornered. To make a change like that, when you are feeling shitty, is really hard to do.
It is very sad, that over a number of conversations we have been able to come up with a string of unhappy stories. Where lives have derailed, and people have been left floundering, sad, lonely ….. all those things. Of course those stories are more interesting to share than the story of a couple that has been together for thirty years and loves and nurtures each other. But I would be hard pressed to think of many.
My game changer vented to me today. His renovations are taking longer than anticipated, he might be in France for another four weeks. I was happy to hear it. He blurted out that he would work without a break, no more visits to Paris. He was frustrated and stressed. I came close to inviting him to stay with me for a weekend, just to get away from it all. My motive wasn’t so much wanting to help but wanting to see him. But my pride stopped me. There are times when I am done chasing after him, particularly when he doesn’t hide the fact that he can’t wait to get away, even though he knows how I feel about that.
I had valiantly stuck to half a bottle of wine a night, and am slipping. I tell myself that the wine is super light. I feel perfectly fine when drinking those amounts, it doesn’t affect my work or physical activities. A bottle sounds like a lot. And I don’t care.
A plane fell out of the sky today. Over the French alps. There were no distress messages. It was a routine Germanwings flight from Barcelona to Düsseldorf. Radars have indicated that the plane was on an eight minute descent before crashing into a mountain.
I always feel an irrational comfort when a plane falls out of the sky and it belongs to an airline I don’t fly. On the way to some distant location I have no intention of visiting. But this was Germanwings, Barcelona. I will fly to Barcelona next week, on Lufthansa. They own Germanwings. It brings it closer to home, whether that is rational or not.
Shit. None of the people on that flight were ready to go. And some would have been really afraid of flying, really, really afraid, and their friends will have told them that they will be fine. And they had their worst fears realised.
The words ‘shit, crap, shit, fuck’ rolled around in my head for a while.
I get really upset when I hear news like that, it deeply bothers me. I remember, years ago, I was on a visit to South Africa. While I was there, a Swiss Air plane crashed. It had been a safe airline, good reputation, all that. At that time I was still utterly petrified of flying. And I was going to be on a plane the next day. I was in pieces when I got on that plane, sweaty palms, heart pounding, and deeply upset at all those lives that had been cut short. So randomly. It is events like that that make me question lofty notions of destiny. The other people on the plane sounded raucous to my sensitive ears. They were just laughing and looking at the inflight food menu like nothing had happened. Like nothing had happened! I didn’t get it. Nobody was downcast, nervous, pensive. I suppose you can’t be, live just goes on. The lives that were lost in that plane crash were no more precious than lives in any car crash that happens at any time on any day. A plane crash is just a disaster on a grander scale. But I was upset nonetheless.
The second thought was that I was jolly glad that I resigned rather than wait until I get used to becoming bored and depressed in my office, just because the money is okay and I just need to give it more time and I need to think about retirement. You never know when your number is up.
There is one thing I miss when I leave my office. The instant messaging system I share with my former colleagues. Saying hello to someone, having a quick chat, sharing a joke, I just loved that. Six months later, I still miss that office, the people and the atmosphere very much. I miss being part of something.
My ex didn’t need me for anything apart from the obvious, which he joked about with a raised eye brow. Maybe men have a hard time showing that they need anything. God forbid that they might be needy. Once, years ago, he was upset about something and I said comforting words. Later I made some reference to that, and he was quite miffed. I had felt really good about being able to support him somehow. He was miffed that I had had the impression that he had needed support and that I had given it. That really hurt me. I couldn’t be there for him, he didn’t seek me out, confide in me. But I need that. I want to need my partner, and I would like to be needed in return. For me that need has nothing to do with dependence. I am fiercely independent, but would like to be close enough to someone to need them, and in turn be needed by them. I think that sort of need and nurture is liberating.
A plane crashed and I think about all that stuff.
My game changer vented to me again. I like it when he does that, I feel like I am needed. But when I offered words of comfort he reacted like a man, the wall went up. All was well. What was I thinking, that he might need to lean on me? But would it kill him, or any other guy, to say ‘Hey, thanks for your support?’ I think vulnerability is a vocabulary that needs to be learned, and men generally don’t learn it.
When I read the ‘Thanks, but I am fine…’ response I thought at least it’s more than I have had before, at least he said thank you. Then I thought it’s just as well that he will be gone soon, I can get on with things, he was distracting me. Maybe a man never says ‘Thanks for your support, it means a lot to me’, because it just doesn’t. They don’t need support, they just need to figure out the problem. If they get a shag at the end of the day, all the better.
The day before a holiday is almost the best day. It’s all about anticipation, I slow right down, I drink bubbly and take my time packing my things (never mind that I end up forgetting something). I like the process of slowing down and anticipating, it’s lovely. My holidays tend to be busy, lazing about on my own is just not that much fun. So the day before is the deep breath. All lies before me. It matters not whether I go away for a weekend or a whole week. Tomorrow I take off for Rotterdam, and I need to pack lindy workshop clothes, night time dancing clothes and sightseeing clothes. Plus flowers for my hair. No jewellery, it just gets in the way of dancing. You need to take a lot for three days of dancing.
Still upset about the plane crash. It seems that the pilot had left the cockpit, the door shut behind him and he couldn’t get back in. The co-pilot himself started the eight minute descent that ended in the crash. An eight minute descent, which gave the pilot and everyone else on that flight plenty of time to think about things. Awful, and that’s not a big-enough word. Maybe it was a heart attack, maybe suicide. If it was suicide I hope he burns in hell if there is one.
So that is on my mind, it bothers me that things like that happen.
Statistically the chances are really slim, I used to get reassured years ago, when I got into a tizz about flying. I reassure myself now that the chances of it happening twice are slimmer still. But it happened twice to Malaysia Airlines.
A number of people have emailed me to say how sorry they were that Germany hadn’t worked out. On reflection I am not sorry at all. The last few months have been tough, I feel shitty most of the time. But I am learning things about me. It was absolutely the right choice to come here, just like I wouldn’t trade my little law-student breakdown for anything, because that, too, taught me a lot. I have always wanted to be carefree, and for the first time in my life I am reaching a strange kind of carefree, at a time when I feel quite lonely, I don’t like my work and I have spent weeks feeling crappy. This is a carefree that isn’t happy, but rather it is unburdened by expectations, pressures or fears.
Carefree evaporates when I think about my game changer.
Spoke to my game changer yesterday, one of those conversations that we are so good at, and I wished I could just reach over and touch him. He said he might be done in two weeks. IN TWO WEEKS! I tried to keep my face impassive. I didn’t blurt out that I might not see him again and couldn’t bear it.
I just calmly asked whether he would therefore be gone by the time I got back, my smile frozen to my face. He said no, the big job would be done in two weeks, the little jobs would take another two. And we might catch up the weekend after I get back from Barcelona. It’s pencilled in, but I won’t hang my heart on it, since things could change over night. I have a taste now of how I will feel when It is actually the last conversation before he leaves. It’s not good, not at all good. I hope the whole house falls down so he will have to renovate for another year.
Rotterdam rocks. The people are charming and rustic, and they laugh. It’s really noticeable. I accepted the offer to be hosted, although I normally prefer my own space. I wanted to step outside my comfort zone. My host lives in a flat that is totally European old-building cool. The Australian in me just marvels at it. A very steep stair case, and a little trap door at the top to keep the draft out. There is a pulley system at the bottom as well as top, that you use to open it. I pulled the wooden handle off it the first time I was asked to open the door.
An evenly steep and creaking cork screw stair case leads one level higher. Curious displays of art everywhere My room is like a little store room, with a mattress on the floor. But my host has provided a heater, a bathrobe and bed socks, which I thought was a gorgeous touch, since the room is a little nippy. He has made me feel very comfortable. Last night, at dance, he introduced me to some people who were just super nice. My feet started pulsing with pain an hour into dancing, but I hung in there. It reset me on the inside, I felt really good, happy even.
And I had my first dinky on a bike! I was going to walk to the event last night, and my host calmly told me we would walk the first bit of the way, then we would ride. I was not convinced. When the time came, he said he would get a little speed, I would run along the bike and hop on the back, sideways. I had a VERY embarrassing vision of sending both of us over, landing ungracefully on the street. He was not perturbed. He calmly told me he had thirty years’ experience of providing rides. And it worked, first time! I felt quite excited! And on the way back, I was unutterably grateful I didn’t have to walk.
And tonight will be better. You meet the first night, get to know people a little during the workshops, and then the atmosphere just spirals upwards.
Elmo has accompanied me on this trip, and has photobombed quite a few shots. I think a few people passing by thought I was just a bit stupid. I will send him the photos with Elmo in them. It’s nice to get photos, it’s the knowledge that someone has thought of you. But I also miss him all the time and am still pretending.
I have my photo shoot in two hours and I am shaking a bit. I am not used to taking my clothes off and posing in front of a strange man. What was I thinking?????????
I hope we click, so I don’t stand there like a pillar of salt. My hair is up in victory rolls, make up is next, I am taking my time. I look really tired, even though I slept eight hours last night.
I came home from Rotterdam on a total high, the broken heart and shitty job temporarily pushed aside. I needed that. Weekend get-aways are a new experience for me, and I will be greedy. Men still don’t ask me to dance, but women do. They were told that I was fun to dance with. That was just a bonus.
The weather was dreadful the whole time, cold, windy, rainy. If I had been with company, I might not have bothered going for my long walks, it would have been easier to sit in a cafe, have a drink and chill. Doing that on your own is not the same thing, so on I went. It was worth it, the effort is always worth it. Yesterday morning, I managed to squeeze in a visit to Delft, not far from Rotterdam. Gorgeous and quaint — and totally shut on a Monday morning, apart from an amazing cheese shop, where I was happily seduced by interesting flavours — asparagus and fenugreek.
Sent my Elmo photos to my game changer, and he loved them.