Aaron and Sofia (Part 2)

A story about love and addiction, continued

Wabi Sabi
The Small Dark Light

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Photo by Mika Baumeister on Unsplash

This is the second half of a short story; the first half is here. All views expressed in the diary are the character’s and not mine.

Wednesday 30th October

There’s nothing in life except attitude and a bunch of shit for attitude to throw itself at.

I never thought much of my old counsellor’s go-to, ‘The rising tide lifts all boats’. First off, it’s a cliché, and second off, it didn’t seem to say very much or usefully apply to anything. But in the past week I haven’t been able to get the phrase out of my mind.

Think about road rage. Everyone knows it’s a sign you’re really frustrated over bigger things in your life — getting cut off at an intersection isn’t that annoying. Same applies to basically all everyday anger. Nothing’s necessarily that annoying, except that gaping wound in your head that spills over into every interaction you ever have that goes even slightly differently to how you want it to.

Get something to paper over the wound, and nothing you encounter is that big a deal. At least in nice developed societies like mine, where you don’t have any problems except the stupid ones you impose on yourself. So people who are naturally cheerful get to exist in a glass-half-full state all the time (the bastards), but people like me need to find happy people to attach ourselves to so we can see things through their happy eyes. Sort of like Being John Malkovich but slightly less fucked up.

Lucky for me I’ve found a well-adjusted person to Malkovich onto, and the changes are pretty instant. I’ve started thinking about people in the group with more positive feeling (I even remember some of their names). My boring job is marginally less boring, and I’ve started recognising more of the gym regulars and hating them slightly less.

Thursday 31st October

Happy Halloween. Not only am I trying to be more regular with this thing, but I decided to fish out an old story of mine and send it to a few magazines. Yes, I have decided to be Worthy Of The Woman I Keep Thinking About. Which doesn’t mean I’m going to write an essay about The Struggle Of The Addict — definitely not ready for that yet. But if people like me want to see their experience reflected in print, then a story about someone who’s me in all but name has to be a good start.

I wasn’t invited to anything this year — again — and there was no danger of me organising something myself. But I talked to Sofia on the phone for a while. She’s going to something, of course. No offer of accompaniment was forthcoming, which saved me the bother of saying no. Either I haven’t earned +1 status yet, or she’s already realised I’m not and never will be the kind of person you bring along to parties.

She was proud of me for getting my story out there. That felt good. We set another date for next week. This time I’m unambiguously looking forward to it. Yeah, it’s love alright.

Friday 1st November

Tired all day, even more than usual. Very hungover after last night. Drank a lot after I finished my diary entry — no-one’s told me I can’t drink. Anyway, I’m gonna throw up and go to bed.

Saturday 2nd November

Tired all day today as well. Couldn’t decide what to do so attempted, and failed at, a bit of everything. Tried a bit of writing, deleted it. Rewatched Persona again. Played Final Fantasy for the hundredth time this year. I hate these nothingy days.

Sunday 3rd November

I wish being in love cured your cravings.

Monday 4th November

I actually looked forward to group today (not as much as I’m looking forward to Friday of course).

I didn’t get to say more than a quick hello to Sofia, who was occupied elsewhere in the building most of the time. But I spent the session pretending to be her — listening to other people’s stories, imagining how their lives would look if a couple of things had turned out differently, imagining how we could redesign our systems to help people like them (people like me), trying to accept that the past is immovably the way it is.

Tuesday 5th November

Three days to go.

Wednesday 6th November

Two days to go.

Thursday 7th November

One day to go.

Forgot to write out the details again — that’ll happen when I’m filling myself in on things I already know. This time we are going out to eat, to some authentic-Italian-pizza-and-craft-beer-type place. Always preferred Heineken, but like every male dater in history I have to pretend to be classier than I am.

Saturday 9th November

Yesterday was a very good day.

We met at the pizza place. I liked the way she ordered — quick and decisive. We laughed a lot. We focused a bit more on me this time, my childhood, my adolescence, my sham-cynical teenage friends, my first sexual half-encounters. I touched off the Thing a couple of times but didn’t dwell on it — I’ve found the gaping chasm of addiction doesn’t play well on dates. I explained the plots of the stories I’m least ashamed of, sketched the outline of that meisterwerk that I’ve managed to keep chipping away at, off and on, all these years. You know, the one I scribble half-assed ideas for in your margins. Overall I was glad I’ve had so much experience in pretending to be interesting.

She told me more about her goals, her animating passions — says she doesn’t want to be Ken Loach, just submit a couple of well-made low-budget docs to a few choice festivals, hopefully win a few awards, shine a light on the people on the margins of the margins. Related a couple of her wildest adventures, sexual and otherwise (interesting girl), and confided a couple of her worst fears: driving manual, dying alone.

Funny thing though. It’s hard to explain what I mean by this, but I get the sense that for every revelation there’s something that frames the revelation that goes unsaid. So I’m left knowing Sofia’s history but not understanding it; watching as her mood shifts from playful to serious and sweet to spiky without quite knowing why or how. For someone so open she’s strangely hard to know. Naturally, that only makes her all the more fascinating.

But I’m happy to report that I now know her in the biblical sense. I wouldn’t dream of sullying these pages with the details; suffice it to say that sex has just gone up in my estimation.

Sunday 10th November

I’ve relived last night a few times today, if you know what I mean. And you do. Seeing Sofia again tomorrow after group.

Monday 11th November

Strange mix of feelings today. I’m used to group sessions being 100% warm, gentle, nonjudgemental. I generally find that approach sleepy when it isn’t actively condescending, but I hadn’t realised ’til today how much I secretly relied on it for comfort and security, how much the centre felt like a “safe space” in a zero-hour-contract world that I frankly find terrifying. But today Mod John was leaning on the “personal responsibility” angle a little hard for my taste. He even singled me out — me! — for a special reprimand. Well, it felt like a reprimand.

Yes, I do put a lot of things off till the last minute, but I’m keeping this fucking diary up aren’t I? I clock in don’t I? I have a half-girlfriend don’t I? Have you seen some of the people in that group? Why don’t you tell some of them to stop putting their fucking showers off?

Had another long walk with Sophia after and looked for some sympathy from her — one of my many vices is doing this with every woman I know. Nothing doing. She agrees with John that I sleep in too late, defer all my obligations, don’t work hard enough on the simple good habits that hold a life together, etc, etc, etc. Unfortunately her opinion means a lot more to me than I’d like it to, so that pretty much drenched me with shame. And just like that, I went from feeling significantly inferior to her to feeling ridiculously, cartoonishly inferior to her. And on some level, she has to agree with that assessment. I don’t even resent her for that. Just pity her.

The only reason I said my feelings were “mixed” is that my comprehensive schooling was followed by some particularly inventive sex (her place again — beautiful part of the world — love the Kenyan ornaments — she keeps the place well — obviously her habits are in better nick than mine). So my continual self-loathing is vaguely counterbalanced by that lingering high.

Think I’ll go relive that memory before bed. Night.

Tuesday 12th November

The buzz from yesterday has worn off, the self-loathing hasn’t. And the more depressed I get the less I follow everyone’s advice. Got up later than ever. Moped around. Didn’t go for a walk. Snacked too much. Reheated the remains of yesterday’s meal for dinner. Didn’t wash the dishes after and don’t plan to now. Won’t do my teeth either. Going to bed.

Wednesday 13th November

Even more depressed today. Thoughts are spiralling and I can’t control them. Longing to take the edge off, but alcohol doesn’t do it and the Thing isn’t an option. Want to talk to Sophia but it’s too big a risk. Her hearty wholesomeness will only highlight my repulsiveness by contrast, and she may say something sharp that sends me even deeper into the abyss. Think I’ll watch The Seventh Seal again. Y’know, to cheer myself up.

Thursday 14th November

Supposed to be hiking with Sofia on Saturday. Actually kind of dreading it. My stomach still hasn’t settled from Monday and it’s hard to digest things properly. But if I don’t eat I get a headache. Take your pick. If things continue like this I might tell her I’m sick (which I fuckin’ am — we’ve got to get over the idea that it only counts if it’s a virus) and beg off.

Friday 15th November

Two gut-wrenching things for the price of one today. Because I’m all about the value.

First, my mother decided to surprise me with the worst exchange to happen over a phone since AG Bell invented the cunt (and I thought last August’s record was unbeatable). She played on my every insecurity. Bled condescension. Faked approval in all the wrong places. Kept deliberately forgetting what I’ve been working on and talking over the only half-sentences I could muster any enthusiasm for. Demeaned, belittled and subjugated every last iota of what I am and what I do, all without making her attacks obvious enough to create the space for even the limpest of counterattacks. Just an hour straight of gaslighting, of critique dressed up as concern, contempt masquerading as conversation.

I couldn’t even tell her about Sofia. Couldn’t face the ‘That’s niiiiiiiiice’.

After hanging up and spending a further hour ping-ponging between bottomless rage, bottomless self-hatred and stomach-eviscerating mixtures of the two, I remembered my unopened email. Yep, I got a reply from one of the outlets I sent my story to a few days ago and until today I was too afraid to read it. But after the enhanced interrogation session that was catching up with Mum I decided to open it on a whim, reasoning that a yea would lift my spirits and a nay couldn’t make me feel any worse than I already did.

I was wrong.

See, it’s one of those zines that “encourages” the new writer by helping them to grow, which means they critique your work whether or not you get published (you have to pay for the privilege, obviously).

Well, they didn’t just hate the story. You didn’t even have to read between the lines of their patronising “constructive” hatchet job to realise they hated it because of the lead character. Remember when I told you I based him on myself? And when I said I didn’t change anything but the name I wasn’t joking. I poured every last drop of my blood into that story, wrote it in the language of withdrawal’s howls and moans, wet the page with every tear I’ve cried.

They dubbed my protagonist ‘unlikeable’, ‘self-involved’ and ‘one-dimensional’.

If I only have one dimension it’s because life has hollowed me out and flattened me.

And the smug cunts at Hidden Voices have robbed me even of the dignity of telling the story of how I got here.

Saturday 16th November

‘Sounds like you alright.’

That’s all it took. I tried to keep things light, not dwell on what bad shape I’ve been in, turn that frown upside down and fake it ’til I made it. I was attempting to put a sort of humorous spin on my story’s rejection — ‘Can you imagine what they said?!?’ — but along the way I mentioned, in passing, that I’d put off opening the email for a few days. And before I could get to the meat of the story, she cut me off with a cheery ‘Sounds like you alright.’

Sounds like you alright.

Sounds like you alright.

Sounds like you alright.

I can’t describe how much that innocent remark, with all that heaving undertow of casual contempt, stung. It was nothing at all, but it said everything.

I’ll admit it, I was surly and passive-aggressive for the rest of the walk. I knew it at the time, too, but I couldn’t stop myself. Of course none of my stupidity earned me the reaction I was so childishly trying to provoke; it just engendered that so-familiar quasi-motherly attitude that men like me find so emasculating but can’t stop evoking in women because we’re secretly looking for it all the time which makes us despise ourselves which makes us look for it all the more.

We were supposed to go back to hers afterwards, but I couldn’t face it and begged off, said I was tired. Men don’t do that, but I do. She gave me kind of a funny look then, one that almost made me feel worse than the remark earlier. She wasn’t pissed off or anything. Not incredulous. No implication that I’d denied her something she felt entitled to.

She just looked…concerned.

I can’t take that.

I can’t take any of this.

Sunday 17th November

Ran into Leo today. I said yes.

Friday 30th November

I’m just going to grit my teeth and get through this. Had my fifth or sixth date with Sofia today. A terrible movie (so I didn’t have to talk) and a brief walk to her flat afterwards. I still don’t want her to see my flat.

We were supposed to have sex at that point, but once again I couldn’t go through with it. Not because anything had set me off in our desultory conversation — she was her warmest self and I was mellower than I’ve been for a while — but because of the Thing. As I see it, our relationship has always been founded on the unspoken assumption that the Thing is no longer a part of my life and I’m Moving On Up Now, Out Of The Darkness. Sofia represents the world of light. When the Thing isn’t in my world it’s — not a world of light — but there are various colours in there. Dark, murky, far from their original pure hue, but they’re there.

If the Thing is in my world then it’s a world of pitch blackness, pure and simple. I don’t mean I feel dark or that I do bad things; I mean my life has been irreversibly tainted, and me with it. I’m just not part of the same species any more. There’s a line that no-one ever thinks about or talks about, but we all know it’s there. You can cross it occasionally for a laugh when you’re young, but if you’re someone like me there’s no crossing and recrossing. You either live on one side or the other. She lives on one side. I live on the other.

You don’t fraternise with people on the other side of the line, because that means infecting them with some of the darkness of your world. And you certainly don’t fraternise with them if you used to belong to their world and don’t any more and haven’t told them. You have to tell them and let them break up with you honestly and cleanly. Or you have to keep the awful secret and continue with all those Acts of Mystical Union anyway, knowing you’re defiling them, wondering what consent even means when someone doesn’t have all the facts.

I don’t have the stomach for either, so I took the coward’s way out, made up some stupid excuse and got out of there. Better that than sitting on her bed explaining about worlds of darkness and worlds of light, watching her magically transform from my lover into my therapist. Or my enemy.

I don’t want to be loved for who I am. But I can’t bear to be hated for who I am.

I can see all those flickers of hurt and frustration that Sofia tries so hard to push down. I can see my moodiness and changeability affecting her. I can see the old pattern reasserting itself, the wave breaking, the tide turning. We’re now at the point where I do her more harm than good; we’ll soon be at the point where my presence in her life has done her more harm than good overall. She’s confused and sad, but mostly helpless. She wants to do the right things and say the right things, to fix things somehow, to help. But she can’t.

They always say in group that the only person who can really help you is yourself. Unfortunately that isn’t true either.

Sunday 22nd December

As a Christmas present to myself I’m going to update this just once or twice more. First, let’s get the boring stuff out of the way. I still go to Mondays at the centre, Sofia still works there, we avoid each other as best we can. Some sessions are OK, some aren’t, they don’t know what’s up, I’m not telling them. I still turn up for my work placement just often enough to keep welfare from kicking my door down. I still answer some of Mum’s calls, though I’ve got better at coming up with excuses to hang up early. I’m still working on my Great Novel, though most of the work consists of deleting bits I’ve already written that no longer ring true.

I’ve lost a couple of friends recently, made a couple more. I don’t like the new ones very much but we have something in common. We know that thing is slowly destroying our lives, but it gives us something to talk about.

Sometimes I blame Sofia for my initial slip, as if ‘Sounds like you alright’ was the thing that pushed me over. But the truth is that the only thing to blame for all this is a simple little genetic predisposition. I don’t know how responsible I am for enabling the predisposition and I don’t care.

‘So how did things end between the two of you, champ?’ The way all great love stories do: one day she asked if it was OK if she saw other people too (‘I have too much love in me for one person’, haha), I pretended to get upset (‘I barely have enough for myself’, hahahaha), we broke up by default. One of those hollow little get-out clauses that life throws your way occasionally to stop you having to make a serious moral choice. Of course I hated myself even more than usual for weeks afterwards, and of course my loneliness sent me rushing all the harder towards the Thing, but I was only accelerating a process that was already well underway.

I can only congratulate Sofia for having the sense to catch on early before she got seriously hurt. I doubt the breakup affected her much one way or the other, and if it did all those “other people” she’s dividing her love between are there to help. Meanwhile, I take the world’s tiniest crumb of satisfaction from the fact that she didn’t have the guts to end things cleanly either.

Wednesday 25th December

That’s it for the recovery diary, so I’ll say it one last time: I don’t want anyone to love me for who I am. I don’t want to be seen, I don’t want to be known. I see and know myself, and the more I see the less I love. They say that being self-aware is half the battle, but the things I’m aware of are so horrifying that I’ve never had the stomach for whatever the other half is supposed to be.

And I’ll say it one last time — life is an empty canvas, and our default attitude is the shit that every last Jackson Pollock of us throws at it. Whether you’re the happy peasant or the depressed billionaire, ‘you gotta serve somebody’. You’re either on the side of life or you aren’t. The rising tide lifts all boats. And the falling one dashes ’em all on the rocks.

If nothing’s good or bad in itself, you’ve got to take whatever goodness you have and paint it onto whatever you see. If you don’t have any goodness you borrow it from someone else. If that person leaves they take their paintbox with them.

That’s why people like me learn to love emptiness. If you’re empty and the world’s empty then you don’t expect anything from it and nothing can affect your experience of it. You’re just there, life’s just there, and that’s all there is to it. You’re not particularly adding anything to society, but you’re not taking much from it either. You’ve put your paintbox away. You’re just sitting there, staring blankly at the blank canvas.

The only thing in life is emptiness.

And nothing makes me feel emptier than heroin.

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Wabi Sabi
The Small Dark Light

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