EIGHT: It

Leonora Carrington

Since it happened, I’ve been encased in armour. I could detonate any bomb. I could walk through fire. I could leap from forty stories and not break as much as a bone in my little finger. I feel nothing. I feel no one. Try me.

I said, I don’t believe I will trust anyone again. He said, Oh, I’ve destroyed your trust in everyone, have I? I knew from his tone he knew well what he had done but more, he resented that I had been there for him to do it.

It was not meant to happen, he later wrote, as if it was an abstract in the control of some other agency in the face of which he was entirely helpless. It was not meant by whom to happen? Who did not mean it to happen? What it, which who?  

Another thing that troubles. He knew my childhood. Asked questions.

After it I wrote, Did you sense something does my past reveal itself, unknown to me, as a point of vulnerability? It can’t be a coincidence that you knew my childhood, and then it that was not meant by whom just happened.

They don’t usually take ownership of what they’ve done, said the counsellor. They usually do everything but acknowledge it. 

You will trust again, she said, but you will likely be more wary.

You are angry, she said, I’m glad you’re angry.

She rings the detective. J is ready to make a statement, she tells him. It will be beneficial for her. She wants me there.

They organise a mutually convenient date. I nod my agreement.

I am angry. I am white-hot angry. This bullshit. This it wasn’t meant to happen bullshit. How does a man accidentally violate a woman? Let’s see how the smartest man in any room explains that, shall we?

 

 

 

 

 

SEVEN: Details.

Silence Of The Night A Meditation

The almost four-year-old insists on sleeping beside my bed. So we make up a little nest for him and when it’s time he tells everyone that his sleeping place is downstairs, and he is now going there to be with his Giddy.

I read him bedtime stories. He says: Giddy, I’m choking, I am going to choke, but if you rub my tummy I will be all right. Then he shows me how to read his book to him and rub his tummy at the same time. After a bit he says, Giddy, I think my arm is breaking too. Can you kiss it? So I kiss his arm and rub his tummy and read his story. Then he says, there’s something wrong with my foot, Giddy.

And immediately falls asleep.

I lift him gently from my bed into his own. I have to climb over him to get to the bathroom, where I brush my teeth. The electric toothbrush has taken to nipping the inside of my lower lip. I can’t work out how this is happening. I should ask someone, but I can’t be bothered.

It’s early, but I’m tired. I don’t go back upstairs to the others. I look at my book and pretend I’m reading.

I think about how people who do harm depend on the silence of those they’ve harmed. I think how there is a battle going on between those who need the cover of silence in order to perpetrate their harms, and those who know that if they are to survive, they must speak.

I think that too often the greater disgrace is attributed to those who break the silence, rather than to those who need it as cover for their crimes.

The counsellor tells me I’m still not ready to make my statement to police about the sexual assault. It’s all right, she says, there is no statute of limitations. Part of me wants to get it over with. Another part tells me to listen to her, she knows what she’s talking about.

They will want every detail, she tells me. Ok, I say. They will have what they want.

He depended on my silence. What is it in a man that makes him believe he can do whatever he wants, and still depend on a woman’s silence?

The details don’t matter, he told me impatiently. With arrogance. As if it were beneath him to consider, let alone discuss, the details of what took place. Silencing me with his male authority, his intellectual prowess, his assumed entitlement to decide what matters, and what does not.

And I was silent.

As long as I’m silent he’s right, the details don’t matter. But when I speak, the details become everything. I will bring the details down upon his head. I will parade the details in all their complex shades before his eyes, and he will be unable to look away. I will pour the details into his mouth until he cannot swallow and they spill out, down his chin, onto his shirt front, choking him with their significance.

Then he will see how they matter.

I’ll give life to the details. The silence will be destroyed by the details. Forever and ever.

I have fallen asleep, the bedside lamp left on, my book across my chest. The child is whispering in my ear. Giddy. I am still choking and my arm is still breaking. Can I come into your bed? He climbs over me and snuggles under our covers. He strokes my face. He sighs, and rolls into my arms.

It’s two in the morning. The world is silent.

Details are everything. I will show you that much and this time, you will not be allowed to turn your face away.

 

SIX: What will happen next?

Leonora Carrington Figure in Water

 

What will happen next, I ask.

They’ll arrest him. Or they’ll ask him to come in for an interview and if he doesn’t they’ll arrest him.

They’ll question him. In the most thorough detail.

He won’t be able to have his wife there to hide behind.

OK, I say.

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It was a great relief to me to arrive at the point where I could say yes, I love and desire you but there are limits to the circumstances in which I will agree to the expression of those feelings.

It likely never occurs to most women with safe lives that they might have to take a stand on these things. In my experience of adult love the question of limits had never before arisen. That was a great good fortune for which I never showed any gratitude, taking it for granted.

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Bodily Integrity. Is the inviolability. Of the physical body. 

It emphasises. The importance. Of personal autonomy.

And the self-determination of human beings. Over their own bodies. 

It considers. The violation of bodily integrity. As an unethical infringement. Intrusive. 

And possibly criminal. 

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There is the moment of confusion when you first dimly perceive things are not going as planned. You doubt your perceptions and you think, oh, it will get back on track in a minute and we’ll do what we’d said we’d do.

It’s one thing if this happens in the abstract. It’s an entirely other when there are bodies involved. It’s like the difference between speaking and writing. We honour the written down, but we have it back to front. It’s the speech act that counts. Body to body, eye to eye, presence to presence. The integrity of the body.

People make this mistake all the time when they expect a correlation between the writer and what the writer writes. I did. It may be there. Equally, it may not. But what a body enacts upon a body is unmistakable.

For a brief instant when he turned the vehicle in an entirely unanticipated direction, I wondered if I was being hijacked. But I did not know the city and for all I knew he could have been heading for another car park. And the notion of a man you love and who loves you hijacking you, is ridiculous in the extreme.

A warning from another dimension that flashes through the mind, immediately dismissed, recalled in retrospect where did that foreknowledge come from, which part of me knew and sounded a warning, what sixth sense, underdeveloped but alarmed enough to break through the concrete walls of rationality told me you are being hijacked, like someone who at the last-minute refuses to board a plane that goes on to crash. What is that, and why did I give it no credibility?

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The idea that because a woman has consented to a sexual relationship with a man it infers that he may have her whenever wherever and however he wants, is not quite as prevalent as it once was, though it has not entirely disappeared.

A woman does not give up her right to  personal autonomy when she loves a man. A woman does not relinquish her right to self-determination when she loves a man. A woman retains her right to bodily integrity when she loves a man. All this is self-evident.

No, it is not.

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What will happen next?

He will be arrested. Or he will be asked to come in for a very thorough interview. If he refuses he will be arrested.

His wife will not be able to answer for him, or tell him what to say.

He will be held accountable. 

For unethical infringement.

Intrusive.

And possibly criminal.

OK, I say.

FIVE: Collating cobwebs

cobwebs

Yesterday morning the detective rang to see how I’m doing, am I seeing the counsellor, when’s my next session. It was humid and raining but I did the washing anyway. J was at work all day. I forgot the washing and it sat in the machine till evening. I ate fruit.

Lately it’s been necessary to spend much time collating emails. After the detective rang I visited G, who assists in unorthodox ways and to whom my GP turns in times of stress. The calm that came from being in her presence meant I could carry on collating for the rest of the day.

I took my lap top to the cafe and collated. After a while a friend came by and ruffled my hair. The smallest thing, the phone call from the detective, being with G, affection from a friend, can poke holes in the thin tissue of my composure, and then the real breaks through.

Sometimes I see the real as light, like sunlight funnelled through clouds over the river on gloomy days. It’s a strange way to imagine what distress might look like, I know. But there’s a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.

Rays of sunlight

What I had imagined doing for many months was confronting him. I thought if I looked him in the eye and told him what had happened to me that day and ever since, and if he acknowledged it and apologised, I could, as they say, move on. I wouldn’t have done it alone: I would have taken a witness and protector. And then it would not have kept me tied to him, unfinished business of the worst possible kind.

But he would not permit this. It’s probably better this way, others doing it for me with far more authority than I could ever bring to the situation. So he learns men can’t take hold of women when we’ve said, I do not want this.

I look out of the cafe window at my friends who are sitting in the garden drinking their coffee. I wrangle with the problem of what it means that a man can so disregard a woman’s expressed wishes he does take hold of her against her will, because he finds her irresistible. 

What it means is that we can never be safe. Who knows when and where some man is going to find you irresistible and bingo, without any warning you’re in a world you never in a million years imagined you’d inhabit, grappling with new language, new customs, new meaning.

Make sure you are never irresistible. Anticipate what it is about you that will contribute to your irresistibility, and nip it in the bud. It is impossible to predict where the assault will come from. A man who publicly boasts of his truthfulness. A man who writes, I treat everyone equally. A man whom others believe to be honourable. All of these qualities in him will be undone by your irresistibility. Yes. Imagine that.

What I would have said to him, among other things, is this: It is not that I am irresistible. It is that you decided you had no obligation to honour my wishes. It is that you decided my desire not to be intimately touched was of far less importance than your desire to intimately touch me.

A man may, when he is an infant, demand to suckle at his mother’s breasts. The man who never learns a woman’s body is not his to feed from by right remains an infant, and dangerous.

I wore that day black jeans, a cream-coloured sweater with a high neck and short sleeves,  a short woollen coat and dark brown boots. The inside of his vehicle was dirty and my coat became covered in cobwebs. He thought that amusing but what it meant to me was that he had performed the most intimate acts in an environment that was uncomfortable and dirty, and that I had done my utmost to avoid. That he found the cobwebs on my clothing amusing was a humiliation that signified the greater humiliation of being unable to control where he took me in his vehicle, and what he did when we arrived at our destination.

Oh yes. The cobwebs were so funny. I discovered this phrase in one of the emails I collated. Oh yes, I saw I had written. The cobwebs were so very very funny. I am dying. From mirth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

FOUR: What women do

Woman sitting alone

He writes:

Remember how you once asked me how I felt about the blog you wrote about your ill husband and I wasn’t sure?

Something like this. The idea of fucking you all the way down the Mekong made me green with envy. It just sounds like heaven. I was really envious. Very straightforward.

But what affected me more was you visiting him in hospital and opening your shirt for him to fondle your breasts. Wasn’t sure why at that time, but now I know. You were offering him comfort, succour, pleasure, when he was ill and in need. And you have done the same for me, offering your whole wonderful body to make me feel better, make me feel fed, I guess. Mentally, emotionally, sensually in my case, not physically yet, but you opening yourself to me, so generously giving of yourself, has been the most wonderful gift. I want to feed from your beauty, make myself well again. Love.

What women do. Why?

The counsellor says when I tell her of this correspondence: Don’t be ashamed of your compassion.

At this point I need to hold myself. I don’t want anyone else to touch me. I want to wrap my arms around me, so I do.

What has been lost, I realise, is the woman who gave her body to comfort and succour. She is gone and I grieve her passing.

I think, I’m glad I had her while my husband was alive.

But the other one. The one who read the story of my love and wanted it for himself. Who didn’t ask it from his own wife but from me. Who took when I did not want to give. Him I spit on.

 

 

 

THREE: Writing it down

Lake at Night

 

The days are filled with doctors, counselling, lawyers, and writing it down.

Yesterday I walked into the room downstairs where  Big Dog used to sleep after he became too large to sleep on my bed. I can smell him, I told J. That warm Big Dog smell that filled the whole room when I walked into it first thing in the morning to let him out into the garden. He would very gently take my forearm between his jaws in greeting, while his tail joyously whacked the floor. I loved his smell, like I loved the smell of my new babies. I would give anything for either of those smells, right now.

The white rabbit that suddenly appeared in our garden a couple of months ago is still here. It likes to sleep on Big Dog’s grave under the mango tree. It follows us when we’re in the garden, wants to be stroked but when J picked it up the other day, it mauled her. Even rabbits have their boundaries and are entitled to defend them.

Two nights ago, I slept for thirty minutes. I couldn’t shut up my head. A phrase kept running through it. I want my body back. I want my body back. I want my body back. I made use of the time writing it down, not that phrase but the statement of events I have to prepare to speak for the police.

As an undergraduate, or was it in my Honours year, I studied a unit on narratology. It was the most boring thing I’ve ever studied, outside of statistics in psychology. I wrote at the beginning of my essay: Narratology is the most boring thing I’ve ever studied. I got a high distinction, my argument was so convincing. But anyways, where I am going with this is, when one writes it down one becomes a narrator and that is a completely different experience from being a speaker. Or, as Roland Barthes would have it in Death of the Author, “As soon as a fact is narrated…disconnection occurs, the voice loses its origin, the author enters into his [sic] own death, writing begins.”

I have never before been in such a unique position to observe the difference between writing it down, and speaking it. When I speak it to my counsellor and my doctors, emotions overwhelm me. When I write it down the narrator comes to my rescue, disconnecting me from emotions.  A character is born: she is the I who writes, the creator who is the organising principle.

The I who speaks it has no such organising principle. The detective, who is one of the most kind yet firm individuals I’ve ever met, explains to me the necessity of allowing the counsellor to take me through the emotions until I can speak it without collapse, because I will have to speak it when I make the statement of events. The counsellor can be with me when I do this. It will take a long time, he says. Maybe several days but I do not have to do it alone and the counsellor will stop it if I falter.

Just now, I am stuck at one point in writing it down.The narrator is wavering under the pressure of the emotions of the I who speaks. The phrase causing all this trouble is not mine, but his. “I’m not really doing this,” he said, in the car in the bush by the lake. “I’m not really doing this,” he said as he did.

Did he say this to me? To himself? Who was the subject of his enunciation?

If ever I was upset about anything, Big Dog would not let me out of his sight. If he were here now he would let me lie down with him for as long as I wanted. Somewhere under the house are the remnants of his bed. Yesterday, I spoke of shame. There is, I told the doctor, a shame that is entirely to do with being a woman, and being fuckable. You are so sexy, said the man as he kneaded my breast. Were I not, in his perception, so sexy, I wouldn’t have been there in the car in the bush by the lake. I would not now be writing it down. It does a woman no good to be so sexy.

I must think more about this woman shame, this shame we can carry just for being female without, much of the time, even knowing that we carry it.

The white rabbit is gazing at me through my study window. It’s raining. J is upstairs making chicken soup, and I would give anything to once again smell my new-born babies’ heads.

 

TWO: Absolute trust

georgia-o_keeffe-american-1887-1986-the-lawrence-tree

 

(may be upsetting)

The agreement is made, unquestioningly, in absolute trust. 

That phrase, absolute trust, was the man’s. We have absolute trust in one another he wrote and repeated it, as if marvelling at an unusual experience.

I’ve never had absolute trust in anyone. I thought that must be a weakness in me that I ought to overcome, since the opportunity had unexpectedly presented itself. Go on, I told me. Trust. Absolute. And immediately thought of Swedish vodka.

I don’t want to do it again, I said. I don’t want to do that fumbling in a car thing stuff. I really, really don’t like it. It makes me feel terrible. So I’ll just meet you for lunch in a public place and you won’t touch me, ok?

I don’t want to do anything that upsets you, he said. Anything you don’t want too. Absolute trust, remember?

J drops me off at the National Library. He’s there at the bottom of the steps, leaning on his vehicle. I am so happy to see him. We hug each other. He says, I’m on a double yellow line, I’ll have to move. So I hop in. I need to pee, I tell him. I anticipate him saying, I’ll hover here while you go in the Library. Or, I’ll look for a parking spot while you go inside. Instead he pulls away from the kerb and says, there’s a place near the lake where there are toilets. Ok, I say, practising absolute trust like I told myself I should.

I don’t know what I’m feeling for the hours he stays parked in the trees beside the lake. Now I know. It was:  I don’t want to do this. I don’t want to be here doing this. I told you no. I fucking told you no and you said you wouldn’t. Stop. Don’t treat me like this, how dare you treat me like this?

Now I know I wanted to hit him, tear his clothes, punch him off me, scream at him to get off my fucking body, claw his face with my fingernails, bite great pieces out of him. Now I know, but then it was all inchoate, as things can be during the course of entirely unexpected and intense events, and I took flight, to a corner of the car, from which I watched me.

I do say: You agreed you wouldn’t do this.  He does say: You are irresistible. I can’t keep my hands off you. I have to fuck you. I love you.

There is nothing in my adult life I have wanted less than to be in that place in that way at that time.

Absolut.

 

 

 

 

 

 

ONE: The experience of being prey

Magritte_Artwork_ml0004s_300x300

The detective said, he groomed you. The sexual assault counsellor said, he groomed you. My friend J said, he groomed you. My friend M said, he groomed you. My lawyer said, he groomed you. My psychiatrist said, you were extremely vulnerable. I said, I am a mature woman. I have a doctorate. I am surrounded by decent people amongst whom I live a safe and productive life. They said again, he groomed you.

I look at her face in the mirror. Sucked in, I tell her. I watch her cry. You are groomable, I tell her. That thing you thought could only happen to children?

This acute phase, the counsellor tells me, usually lasts about three months. We are speaking about my erratic sleep patterns, my inability to make decisions, my new habit of sitting frozen in place while I try to think of what to do next.

I don’t like this vulnerability. I don’t like having missed all the red flags. I don’t like being someone who didn’t see what was coming her way and take steps to avoid it. But here I am.

 

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Leave me a place underground, a labyrinth,
where I can go, when I wish to turn,
without eyes, without touch,
in the void, to dumb stone,
or the finger of shadow.

I know that you cannot, no one, no thing
can deliver up that place, or that path,
but what can I do with my pitiful passions,
if they are no use, on the surface
of everyday life,
if I cannot look to survive,
except by dying, going beyond, entering
into the state, metallic and slumbering,
of primeval flame?
Pablo Neruda

I wish that men had never walked upon the moon

moon & forest

I turn off the Pacific Highway onto the seventeen kilometres of road that runs through forest and coastal heath, and takes me to my home between the mouth of the wide river and the ocean. When the moon is full I drive down this leafy tunnel as if the mystical sphere is my destination, suspended in the night sky, reminding me of big things, another level of life for whose existence I have no proof other than poetry and the imagination.

Have men really walked this moon’s cratered surface? I wish that they had not.

In the dark humid hours of the last two mornings our family’s three-year-old has appeared at my side at four and hoarsely whispered can I get into your bed Giddy, and I’ve scooped him up in my arms and discovered him to be naked, having shed his clothes on his way from his bed to mine for reasons I’ll never know. I won’t pee in your bed Giddy, he promises, and takes the silk folds of my nightgown between his thumb and forefinger like a talisman he’s rubbing for good luck, and drifts back to sleep.

These are the things that comfort me. The moon at the end of my leafy tunnel. The child who loves me. The sounds of the sea on a still night. An infant in my arms. The words of a poem sent new to me each day.

I clutch all my poems to my chest and count them again and again. I am kneeling like a small dog…There was so much I couldn’t contain.†

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Today I took my book of dreams to the man I talk to, not because I thought I would forget the one I wanted to tell him, but because I feared I might at the last-minute lose courage and stay silent and then castigate myself all the way home for not having faced what I knew needed facing. I sat in his room, my dream book on my lap, then I put on my glasses and opened it and read.

I am taking my life. I’ve used a drug and I’m sitting on my bed looking out of the window and a light snow is falling and I am waiting to die. Then I am walking down the hill on the beachfront where my husband had an apartment when we first met. I turn to look back at his window. It is empty of him. Empty of everything. I whisper his name. I wake up, feeling sick and filled with apprehension. I don’t want to see the man I talk to. I am afraid of what I will feel. I do not want to feel. I am exhausted with feeling.

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When it was his, the window had a white paper shade with a blue fish painted on it. The apartment was strewn with boxes of books. He had recently moved there to live alone. We made love amidst the turmoil of the beginning of a new way of life, and the first time so overwhelmed me I cried. He said, I don’t usually make women cry, and that made me laugh. Sitting in the disorder of his bed, wrapped in sheets, we ate pasta with olive oil and garlic from large white bowls, and drank wine. I had no inkling that I would marry him.

Are you angry that he died?

I think about this.

No. His suffering was intolerable. I wanted him to die.

Are you angry that he had the stroke?

I think again.

I wish he hadn’t, I finally say.

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I don’t want drugs that dull my senses. I don’t want my grief masked. Why shouldn’t I grieve him as long and as hard as I need to, as he deserves, and who else can do this for him now but me? The man I talk to reminds me that last week I refused drugs normally offered to people in the state I’m in. Is that your dream, he wonders? You took the drugs to kill not you, but your grief? They didn’t work. You wouldn’t let them. Instead you went back to the place where you began your life with him. You faced your grief.

Now he’s gone, no one knows how afraid I am of the world.

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I don’t trust people, I tell the man. Not deeply. Nobody knows how I feel. Why would I tell them? How would I explain? Why would they care?

Did you trust your husband? Did he know you?

Yes. Now there is nobody who knows me. I don’t know if this matters. Does it matter? He told me once, I love you but sometimes I don’t like you very much and I said, well that’s mutual, and we laughed and kissed each other.

This was our wedding vow: Throughout all eternity I will forgive you and you will forgive me…††

I had never before heard anything so complete, I told the man. Yes, he said, and nodded his head as he pondered the words.

I thought, I said, weeping, that I would be much better at losing him than I am. But I’m adrift. I don’t see anyway out of this.

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When I emerge from his room the air is thickly damp. I put on dark glasses so no one can see I’ve been crying. The traffic is heavy and I must thread my way through it to reach the car. I think, as I dodge a delivery truck, how easy it would be to walk right into it, fall under its wheels but even as I’m thinking this I’m taking care to avoid mortal collisions. That is no legacy to leave the babies.

You’re a nice girl, Giddy, the three-year-old told me before he went home. He arranged the cushions and pillows on my bed to give him safe landing, then he collapsed himself full length and sideways into them, over and over again. As I watched I felt love trembling, the love that means you risk your very life if you lose it, the love that makes you helpless, the love that says I will forgive you for all eternity, please forgive me too.

My husband said, I want to die before you and I almost certainly will because I’m so much older. So I will never have to live in the world without you.

This is my gift to you. That I live in the world without you.

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Each time I turn off the Pacific Highway into the leafy tunnel that brings me home, I feel the sweet relief of escape from danger into safety.  Since I was a small child I’ve felt the natural world as well as seen it, tenderly, through my skin, as if I have life in common with the forest, with lichen-covered boulders, with tufts of grass surviving on the dunes, with a pool in the marshlands where the animals drink. This is why eventually I could no longer live in cities. I craved the mangroves, wild flowers, mountains and their snowmelt streams, treeless yellow plains under wide skies streaked with high white cloud. I know this natural world is a law unto itself and cares nothing for me or any other human, and that the sea will as soon drown me as offer its healing properties on calm days. I know my place in this world. I know nothing will be given but that I may take what I need and in return, refrain from inflicting every kind of damage.

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I settle the three-year-old on my left hip and take him outside into the night. The moon is full. Look, I tell him. Look at that moon. He gazes, silently, while his small fingers play in my hair. I lub you to the moon and back, he says after a bit, quoting from the book I bought for him when he was born. I can smell the sea. I can hear the geckos. I can feel the soft breath of night on my skin. I don’t know how I am doing this, loving this child, showing him the moon, lugging him about on my left hip, all the while grief a dissonant counterpoint demanding my attention.

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I wish that you would read to me again as you did so many years of nights and I would fall with delicious abandon into sleep to the rhythms of your voice.

I wish that you would stand with me on the station platform your arm around my shoulder my black and white dress, murmuring your recollections of our early morning.

I wish that you would sit again at our kitchen table and watch me as I make us tea and tell me as you did so often, even making tea you move like a dancer do you know that? 

I wish upon the star that fell that men had never walked upon the cratered surface of my beloved moon.

And I wish you would come back to me, singing.

woman alone

†The Forms of Resistance. Emily Berry

††Broken Love. William Blake

The Book of Longing 5.

Compartments

Compartments

5. I thought I could keep it separate, he said of our love. But I can’t. You are always here. I’m singing happy birthday to a grandchild, and there you are. I’m trying to talk to my wife about plants for the garden, a new kitchen, chickens, and there you are.

Perhaps you should tell her. Perhaps you shouldn’t keep on struggling to keep it separate.

I will lose everything. I will lose you. It’s impossible. We are in such a fucking pickle, it’s impossible.

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It occurs to me that keeping things in compartments was something I used to be very good at. A childhood during which so much had to be hidden from public view taught me how.

We live in a culture in which we are expected to keep at least binary compartments of public and private, in the form of work and home. The personal is political, the feminists said, but that wasn’t hammer enough to smash patriarchal disdain for life outside the requirements of capitalism.

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His struggle to keep our love in a separate compartment provoked anxiety. The dissonance of maintaining his view of himself as a good man who always told the truth and treated people equally, while simultaneously concealing the unforeseen changes that continued to occur in him because he was illicitly in love, caused him at times to panic so wildly he had to flee the house with the dog in case his wife noticed, and walk until he could bring his breathing under control and his heart back to normal rhythms.

Talk to me, he wrote on these occasions. Tell me you love me still. Let me suckle at your breast.

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I can’t do this anymore, I told him one day. I’m no good at it. I can’t be a mistress, I hate it, not you my darling, but the circumstances, I hate them.

I can’t bear the secrets. I’ve spent half my life learning to live without secrets and now here I am going backwards, hiding what is going on in my life from my family, my friends. It’s destroying me, love, it’s destroying my life, I don’t even know who I am anymore. I can’t, please understand. I can’t.

I sat in the car on the edge of the cliff,  writing these things on my laptop. I was crying so hard I couldn’t properly see the ocean through the windscreen.

Scattered in the dank soil of misery were seeds of relief. No more compartments. I could, after a while, be open again with the people who mattered.

He wrote: After reading your emails I think I do finally fully understand. I want to see you, in the flesh, in private. And we must talk, in private. Can you fly to………?  And how about 19/20 June as a starting point for working out dates? Love. Love.

And I knew he hadn’t taken in a word I’d written.

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It would take a long time to list the secrets I had to keep, and I don’t know how to order them. As they occur to me, I think, and because I am considering societal order as well as the order of my personal grief, what occurs to me now is the secret of my origins.

As a child I was not allowed to reveal to anyone that my grandfather was a coal miner and my grandmother had been in service. They raised me with love for the first seven years of my life, but I could make no reference to them, except to say they lived in another country. Such was my mother’s shame.

She made, my mother, an upwardly mobile marriage. We left behind our humble beginnings and travelled to the other side of the world where we had status, money, and a big white house with a blue front door, an orchard with cherry and apple trees, and a garden outside my bedroom window filled with roses.

I remember the sound of my stepfather’s key in that blue front door. I remember the sound of his heavy footsteps as he strode down the hall, home from his surgery, or the hospital where he operated.

I hid in my bedroom. Hands over ears. Eyes squeezed shut. Come and get me I whispered to the grandmother and grandfather of whom I was not allowed to speak.

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There was the compartment where my mother and stepfather lived. There was the compartment where my grandparents lived. There was the school compartment, and the compartment that was home. I thought of them as different coloured boxes. That made it easier to remember who and what belonged where.

After a while sorting became as normal as breathing. I didn’t have to think about the colours anymore.

There are three white baskets on the top of my wardrobe that I can see from my bed where I’m propped on pillows, laptop balanced on my knees. They contain things I don’t immediately need. They are reminding me of my childhood boxes but unlike them they have no lids, and I can easily peer into them and take stock of their contents.

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After many years I learned to open my coloured boxes. I remember to this day the liberation when in my thirties I spoke for the first time of my beginnings. From then on I spoke of everything, and my spirit soared and my mind expanded and I knew freedom.

I can’t go back, I’m trying to tell him. I love you, but I can’t go back.

I don’t think he had any sense of the destruction in store for me. He only saw the potential of his own.

I love you and I want to see you. And we must talk. Can you fly to…..? Love. Love. 

I should have ended it then. But I could not tell him, no.

Wicker baskets