Aaron and Sofia (Part 1)

A short story about love and addiction

Wabi Sabi
The Small Dark Light

--

Photo by Külli Kittus on Unsplash (edited by me)

I wrote this story three years ago as a sort of experiment. I find it almost impossible to write romantic fiction and my sister finds science fiction equally daunting, so as a lockdown project we challenged each other to do the impossible — I’d write a love story, she’d produce some SF — and show each other the results afterwards. I must admit that while I’m happy with what I wrote, I essentially cheated. While much of the plot tracks the ups and downs of a relationship, it isn’t a love story in essence. Rather, it’s an attempt to imagine the push and pull of serious addiction from the perspective of the addict. (My sister followed the brief a lot more closely, it has to be said.)

I’m publishing the story now because its themes and concerns happen to match up closely with my last post on suffering and the tragic worldview. It’s a long ‘un, so I’m going to publish it in two parts. This is the first, and I’ll post the second in a week at the most.

Monday 13th October

I don’t want anyone to love me for who I am. I’m not saying I don’t deserve love, it’s more that there’s nothing there to love, because there’s nothing there. Maybe other people have “somethings” there, and maybe those somethings are very attractive and lovable and wonderful, but I think most people are like me. Made up of nothing. The mistake people make is thinking that nothing is a bad thing. Emptiness isn’t bad. It’s a good thing. It’s the only thing.

In other news, a new girl’s helping out at the centre. She’s hot.

Friday 17th October

I know, I know, I’m supposed to be doing this every day. But I never seem to find the time, even though I don’t fucking do anything. Have you ever noticed that people who don’t fucking do anything are always complaining that they don’t have time to get around to the housework — or, y’know, shaving and showering — while people who work 80-hour weeks can fit in a strict grooming regimen, a marriage, three kids and an affair?

I haven’t had much to write about anyway. I’m still showing up to the job bridge thing — I’d call it an exercise in futility, but “exercise” would make it sound energetic. And whatever else you might say about sitting behind a desk for eight hours signing people into a gym, it’s not exactly physically taxing. I’ve just realised how ironic that is.

I know that “creative types” like me are supposed to find ways to make even the most mundane things interesting. But in my experience non-creative types are much better at that. The whole point of being a creative person is that you find life fucking boring — that’s why you spend all your time trying to escape it.

If you’re Ray Bradbury, that means living in your fantasy world 100% of the time, so you don’t have to engage with how dull the shit around you actually is. But most of us don’t have imaginations as powerful as his — we need some kind of stimulation to get the juices going (wash out your mind, imaginary reader). And people-watching is just not stimulating. These people aren’t sharing their deepest secrets or plotting to overthrow the government, they’re walking into a reception area, remarking on the weather and signing a guest book. Nothing to see here.

The only thing I’ve observed after three months of this stupidity is that gym rats are all happier than I am, and in better shape too. Why do you never see obese people in a gym or out jogging? You only ever see people who don’t need the exercise any more — who’ve already achieved everything with their bodies that any reasonable person could want! They couldn’t just say ‘Well that was fun, if I was alive in ancient Greece they’d have made a statue of me’ and then stick to Netflix for the next few months, no?

Enough rambling. I went out with my friends tonight for the first time in a long time. I’m still trying to understand what people see in alcohol. It seems like people who do enjoy it enjoy it a lot, and it’s certainly one of the more social drugs — definitely makes people good at pretending they have seven hours’ worth of things to talk about. But I dunno, it’s never done it for me. I don’t get happier, just stupider. And I never forget my problems. Not for a second.

I’m still thinking about that girl. It’s weird, but I’m actually looking forward to seeing her again on Monday. I don’t know why that would be weird. I suppose I’m so used to people being uninteresting that it feels strange to want to see someone a second time. Wonder if I’d be half as interested in what she had to say if she woke up tomorrow in the body of a middle-aged man. Probably not, but it’d make an interesting Disney movie.

Fuck me, that’s a long entry. It’s like everything else I do — ignore it for ages, then overcompensate when I finally get around to it. I’m going to bed.

Sunday 20th October

I DID IT! I was tested and I passed the test. I actually said no. I was called every name under the sun and I still said no. Find out who your real friends are, etc, etc. But I was a great friend to myself today was I not???? Pumped for tomorrow.

Did I just use the word “pumped” non-ironically? What a well-adjusted so-and-so I’m becoming.

Monday 21st October

Today was a good day. I gave to the blind, I helped a little old lady across the street, and then I had my best meeting yet.

OK, I made the first two up. The old bag will just have to fend for herself.

When the group heard about yesterday they actually gave me a spontaneous round of applause. The moderator had nothing to do with it. That was important, the spontaneity. Before that exact moment — to me anyway — the whole program had felt pretty much as sterile as everything else does in this nothingy era we live in (‘Get exactly 29 minutes of exercise a day to optimise for success! Doctors recommend 2500 calories for males of your size! Did you know about these five life hacks that increase your dopamine and serotonin levels?!’).

It’s funny what narcissistic little creatures we are. As soon as the group flung that rush of goodwill my direction I wanted to send some back at them. I was more attentive than usual. I managed to sympathise with the others a bit, even the ones who’ve clearly caused all their own problems. There isn’t a single person I didn’t think of a little differently, just because they’d clapped me. They weren’t sad sacks any more, they were well-meaning young-to-middle-aged people whose lives had been blighted by inner cravings that they didn’t choose. They all had stories to tell. They were people like me who wanted to give and receive love, maaan.

I must have been really high on life (because what else is there to get high on these days amirite???) because I actually managed to go up to the new girl after the meeting and ask her out. I didn’t expect her to be single, but she is. And she gave me just the muted, slightly less-than-enthusiastic yes I’d been hoping for.

Tuesday 22nd October

“The new girl”?? How much of that misogynistic 1940s hardboiled shit have I been reading lately? In the spirit of atonement and not being named Raymond Chandler, I will give a full account of my love interest now, and in the spirit of invincible laziness I will present it in the least romantic manner possible.

  • Name: Sofia
  • Ethnicity: White
  • Age: 28
  • Height: I’m gonna say 5'9"
  • Weight: I wouldn’t dare
  • Nationality: Not sure yet
  • Career: General admin at a health centre that hosts groups like mine
  • Sallow skin
  • A fine cheek (one for the Seinfeld fans)
  • Chestnut hair
  • Dark brown eyes, almost black
  • Personality: happier than me. And warmer. More interested in people. More interested in everything. We essentially have nothing in common

I’ll probably write something more poetic about Sofia at some stage, but this isn’t the place. This space is for depressive ramblings, inane anecdotes, self-flagellation and ill-judged attempts at dark humour.

Wednesday 23rd October

I’m going to attempt to write something here every day, even if it’s just two lines. I’ve noticed that a little self-discipline can make me feel better about myself. That’s when it doesn’t turn my life into an oppressive series of mechanical routines — our Sam was right when he said ‘Habit is a great deadener’. How much self-discipline is too much when you hate order and normality as much as I do? And why do I hate order when the alternative — chaos — is so fucking horrible?

Sorry to be like this. I thought I’d be looking forward to my first date of the year more than I am. I’ve never been that nervous around these things — maybe because I don’t really care how they go. She doesn’t like me? Fine, I’m not wild about myself either. It’s awkward and uncomfortable? So what, it’s just a couple of hours out of my life. She doesn’t text me afterwards? Saves me thinking of something to text back.

I know I’m supposed to be in it for the sex, but that’s not a huge motivator. Sex is fun, but no more than a lot of other things. I know I’m doing everything right because all those people can’t be that good at faking it, but in my experience it’s just not worth basing your life around, especially when you consider the amount of time and effort it takes to make it happen. Weeks of research & development geared towards a brief instant of pleasure that you can just as easily achieve by yourself? Not a business model I’d invest in.

I’m not really in it for the companionship either. I don’t know what I’m in dating for, now that I think about it. It’s just something to do.

Thursday 24th October

I know what the problem is. I don’t think I’m good enough for her. I’m more afraid of the date going well than going badly. If it goes well I’ll be creating all these feelings in her that I shouldn’t be creating in people. Love is such a stupid, involuntary thing, and we fling it at such undeserving specimens based on nothing more than our pitiless genetic programming and our miserable childhoods. It’s not possible to love someone for the “right reasons” — there are just bad reasons and really bad reasons. The second group causes messy breakups and resentful marriages, and the first occasionally produces happy couples through sheer dumb luck.

Here’s the thing with Sofia. She’s neither manic, nor a pixie, nor a dream girl. She’s just a normal girl who smiles more than I do. Who am I to come along and take that smile away? I can fake being cheerful for a date or two but sooner or later I’ll relax into who I actually am. And it won’t put her off me. She’ll hang on for far too long before she finally gets up the courage to dump me, and the whole thing will just cause her a lot of pain. The fact that I’m going to go through with the date anyway just shows how deep my selfishness goes: I’d rather turn up and see what happens than just leave the poor girl alone, find a new support group and let us both get on with our lives.

Friday 25th October

Date’s tomorrow. Bought myself some new jeans and stocked up on deodorant. Because I care.

Looking back over my pages I’m noticing that I keep leaving the crucial bits out. So, details: I’m taking Sofia to a film and then the pub. I’ve just remembered a genuine use for alcohol — it makes first dates go smoother. Better still, if you’re not enjoying yourself in a pub you can just leave. No sitting around waiting for the main course, then pretending you weren’t planning on having dessert. No saying you have to be up really early in the morning (what, to get to your stupid job bridge thing?), because if you’re in a pub it’s already pretty late. Leaving slightly before closing just makes you a respectable citizen.

I’m sort of looking forward to this. I think. I never feel just one thing at a time. Depression feels grey because it’s a mixture of just about every other colour — all the negative ones anyway. Someone might dab a bit of bright yellow on there occasionally but it’s not really going to stand out.

Saturday 26th October

I’m writing this at 6am because I’m just back from seven hours of wild, joyous lovemaking.

Joke. I’m writing this at midnight after a restrained but enjoyable date. The film was about as stupid as you’d expect a safe first-date pick to be, right down to the forced quirkiness, the manufactured apology scene, the laboured third act and the occasional desperate lunge for originality that people who’ve never seen Annie Hall probably mistake for the real thing.

Sofia liked it.

Actually, we had an interesting talk about the movie afterwards in the pub (we stayed for three hours — I’m no expert but that’s generally considered a good sign). I was sending up its more ridiculous stretches of credibility in that hilarious way I do, and I happened to mention that in real life a woman as smart as that would see through both the fake charm of Dude A and the nice-guy act of Dude B in a heartbeat. Why settle for the lesser of two evils when there are plenty of other even less evil fish in the sea?

‘I don’t see it that way at all,’ she said. Go on, I said. ‘Well, both men have something to offer her. And she has something to offer both of them. I know it’s stretching things a bit that she lives with Dude B happily ever after, but what’s wrong with them spending, say, a year together? They learn more about each other, they learn more about what they want and they bring something to each other’s lives. Why are we all so obsessed with the one, the only and the persistent? I know people who’ve regretted the way a relationship ended, but very few of them actually regretted the relationship itself unless their partner was actually abusive.’

‘But why waste your time with someone who doesn’t give you everything you deserve?’ I countered. I’m great on first dates.

‘It’s less about what you “deserve” then what you’re looking for, surely? And it’s hard to figure out what you’re looking for until you date a few people and see what works. You — Aaron Gray, a man who has never been attracted to another man — may not like either Dude A or Dude B, but both of them are a decent match for someone out there.’

‘No accounting for taste.’

‘My point exactly.’

We moved on. A few more facts about Sofia:

  • She’s as forthcoming with her inconsequential opinions as I am and much more forthcoming with her consequential ones
  • Which means I already know she’s passionate about justice for the disadvantaged, is a committed anarcho-syndicalist and has been a vegan all her adult life
  • Despite the latter she doesn’t particularly care for animals — both cats and dogs annoy her. But she likes lizards and is so into quokkas she painted one onto her phone case
  • Her family had a reasonable store of wealth until a gambling streak decimated it a couple of generations ago. So she grew up with a middle-class accent and outlook but no actual money, and has fought for everything she has
  • She loves kids but doesn’t want any herself
  • She enjoys her work at the centre because she likes helping people, but her real passion is filmmaking. Says her dream is to make documentaries that highlight forgotten voices
  • Likes: instrumental classical music & hip-hop (‘either good words or no words at all’); books (critically); Hollywood (surprisingly uncritically); tennis, backgammon (?!), board games of all kinds, walks, notebooks, hand fans of all shapes and sizes
  • Dislikes: rock music, corporations, anything to do with James Bond, anything to do with Lord of the Rings, all video games except Zelda and Mega Bomberman, ants, the word “squelch”

‘I’ve never met someone who hated ants before,’ I said.

‘I found a way,’ she replied. I laughed at that.

Sunday 27th October

Bumped into Leo again today — I’m gonna have to find a different route for that Sunday walk. And I’m happy to say I told him to fuck off again. I’ve stopped even feeling awkward about it — the only thing I felt was contempt, even at the time. Misery may love company, but when it’s that desperate about it your sympathy runs out pretty quick. The word user is perfect for these people — they use everything and everyone as a means to a pointless end.

I’m just ashamed that there was ever a part of me that pretended otherwise.

Monday 28th October

Today I announced to the group that Sofia and I are dating — I talked it over with her just before the meeting and we decided it was the right thing to do. A not insignificant shift to the present continuous there, “dating”. There’s a world of difference between saying you’ve been on a date with someone and saying you’re dating them. I knew three hours in the pub was a good sign.

After the session it was only natural to go somewhere together afterwards. I love it when something turns into a date by default — it’s like when you have a bunch of people over on the spur of the moment and it spontaneously turns into a party, nothing like the forced fun you get after two weeks of planning one of the fuckers.

There’s a nice park near the centre so we drifted down there. Our relationship (too soon?) largely consists of slagging each other off, which suits me just fine. Tension-reliever and energy-raiser. I notice that even though she’s fundamentally warm, Sofia’s got kind of an acid side to her — she doesn’t suffer fools gladly. If you’re in genuine distress I’d imagine no-one’s quicker to rush to your side. But she can see through chancers a mile off.

Still, she must have a chink in that armour or she wouldn’t be putting up with me.

We talked about music (she’s been getting into grime and Tanzanian singeli, says we need to broaden our definition of “urban” to include non-American cities). About the importance of hard work (she can’t quite believe I don’t use every spare second at the reception desk to jot down ideas for my next story). About politics (she can’t stand my listless both-sides-ism, says we wouldn’t have modern democracies in the first place if people hadn’t once been fired up about the liberal values I take for granted).

I narrowly avoided getting drawn into a debate about NATO, but couldn’t resist teasing her about her passionate allegiance to Noam Chomsky. ‘He only wins every debate because his idea hasn’t been tried yet,’ I said. ‘It’s easy to point out the flaws of something that’s been around for hundreds of years. No-one has a clue how a bunch of leaderless collectives would work out on a global scale, including him.’

‘That’s what the monarchists would have said to the French revolutionaries.’

I changed the subject.

The rest of our walk was everything you would want it to be. She talked about how satisfying it was to see people healing in front of your eyes — even if her own role in the process is very indirect and red tape-ish — and I could feel the buzz myself while she was talking. She told me about her childhood, her attentive father and field-marshall-on-steroids mother, being bullied at school for speaking her mind and working too hard, getting into college on an access programme, the eccentricities of her favourite aging Film Studies lecturer, the way he’d concretise every theoretical example with analogies drawn from a thinly disguised, ever-evolving account of a youthful love affair gone wrong.

It was perfect.

Actually, one thing she said stung a little: she said that someone with my “gift” (how does she know I’m gifted if she hasn’t seen any of my work?) should use it to help other people in my situation. Said something about not hiding my light under a bushel. I objected that maybe I didn’t have a light in the first place. She said that was self-pity talking (how does she think I spend the day?), and that I’d be much better off just writing than indulging myself in speculations about my talent. ‘What’s more use to people, the perfect essay in your head or the imperfect one people read?’

I’d previously never thought of my writing as having a use — more as therapeutic self-expression. In the rare moments I think about helping other people at all, I tell myself I’m too damaged for now and my first job is to look after myself. I feel too — I don’t know — fragile to put myself out there.

Anyway. The date ended in our first kiss. First series of them, to be accurate. That put all the other stuff out of my mind.

She went home, I ran a few errands. On my way home I caught myself being more aware of the people around me — in other words, noticing they were there. I normally don’t see strangers at all unless they’re hugely attractive or actively blocking my way. But for the ten minutes it took me to get back tonight I found myself viewing reality a little more like I imagine Sofia does: from the perspective of other humans. Where’s that man going? Why does that woman look tense? Who walks their dog at this hour — are they insanely busy, enemies of the sun or just forgetful?

So we’ve discovered two things that can make me engage with the world: the world engaging with me first (that round of applause from the group), and spending time with someone I admire who’s engaged with it.

I could say I feel happier than I did yesterday, but I think it’s more accurate to say I feel more. More open. More annoyed. More curious. I always liked that line in “Oh My Love” — ‘I feel sorrow’. I’m in love so I can feel sad properly. Always respected that concept.

Not that I’m in love. Not yet. But I know how these things go, and I will be soon.

End of Part 1; Part 2 coming soon. If you want to receive stories like this straight to your inbox, you can now sign up to the free newsletter version of The Small Dark Light. Alternatively, you can subscribe to my Substack.

--

--

Wabi Sabi
The Small Dark Light

Writer, composer and filmmaker, into soul music and Chinese philosophy. Editor @ The Small Dark Light