I had a dream the other night in which a stern headmistress was yelling at me for not being unhappy enough and I was a small child promising her I was trying my very hardest to be unhappy.
Sometimes I have dreams in which I have succeeded or I am loved in ways I can understand and then I do grasp what happiness could be. Then I wake up and I'm the same broken failure I was before I went to sleep.
Mostly I don't dream at all or if I do, it's nothing worth remembering.
Today is RUOK Day and I am not OK. It feels better to say it but it doesn't really help.
Because it's not depression or bipolar or any other thing that you can easily label. It's having to be strong enough to cope with life. Because men are supposed to be strong.
But no one ever taught me how. I was just expected to grow into a man. As though I were a plant that you could expect to just grow leaves.
But plants need sunlight and water, don't they? We have to nurture them unless we want a world where only weeds prosper.
The only way to unfail is to succeed. But I don't know how. I don't know how not to be me. I don't know how even to start.
The truth is, becoming a man just means withering to the point that there just isn't anyone who even wants to nurture you. It means a choice between becoming hardened or dying, and when you choose to die, you can do it fast or slow.
The other day, Ally said to me, you haven't really grieved for your mum. And that was right. But what she didn't say was, grieve now. Because she is grieving already and she is focused on her new baby and has forgotten that it's mine too and if I'm not all right the baby will be hurt just like her others were and still are being.
I was writing a blog about being a new dad. That was fun. Then I realised that I don't have any great wisdom to share and I'm not funny any more and I gave it up, like I give everything up, because I cannot bear any more to pour myself into things and no one cares. Not being cared for eventually feels so much like death that you don't even know why you are alive except that people need you and do they really? Don't they really just need whatever money you can scramble together, the roof you can put over their heads, the food you can buy? And when you become low paid and despised, your worth really does diminish and I am finding that really hard to bear.
Sometimes I dream that I am enough. I do. It doesn't feel wrong. So I still hope that I can live.
In every relationship there are things you can't, or more often won't, talk about. You decide to forget about them as best you can for the sake of harmony or so you tell yourself, although if they rankle, you feel the opposite of harmony: festering discord. With some women -- people, I suppose, but I've only ever dated women (although I think you can feel the same about friends too) -- you just can't bring things up. It will be too painful and you allow yourself to believe cowardice can be passed off as decency. Sometimes you feel like the time isn't ripe and then somehow it never is. And your discontents can fester -- the things you have set aside rot and spread a corrosion into your relationship, eating it from the inside, sometimes hollowing it out until all you have is the shell, and you try to convince yourself that is scaffolding but it resembles more the exoskeleton of a once-living organism, a dried husk.
Sometimes you feel, why can't you just have the fight? Because there will be a fight. Fundamentally you wouldn't have anything festering if your partner cared about how you felt and nothing sparks the fighting spirit quicker than trying to make a person care about what they don't. And often what is festering is small shit that you precisely differ over because you care about it and they don't. You feel like something meaty would be resolvable or at least definitively not resolvable but you can't have a satisfying fight over your partner's not caring that you can't properly fall in love with your unborn child because she thinks it shouldn't have a name before it's born. And it's not even wrong to feel like that. But you can't help feeling it's wrong not to care that it upsets you.
And who wants to be the pathetic soul left crying "please care"? Aren't I supposed to be strong? I am but I am also not supposed to be on my own. I'm not good at it. I too need holding up sometimes lest I drown. And yet I do not drown. I thrash in the water until I find some muddy bottom to drag my feet through. I shoulder another festering shitheap. I resign myself to life with a woman who doesn't ask why I can't sleep because she can't sleep and mine is less. Mine is always less and I resign myself to my shitheap of smaller is still something, it is my smaller and I have to care because who else is there for me?
At some point in my life, I lost the ability to sit and think things over. I don't know when it happened. I mean, I don't remember. But since then, I've had to "think out loud".
Which has made me really boring. No one likes a dreary fuck who "bangs on".
And it gets worse. I used to be sure of the things I thought and knew. But now I will say something, then bang on a bit and by the time I've finished banging on, I've completely changed my mind about whatever it was. It's like thinking fast and slow with way too much talking for anyone to bear. So I wander about when I'm talking and none of it seems very worth listening to because even i am not wholly convinced by it.
Sometimes I vow to say nothing at all and I go for days barely communicating with anyone. But then I don't really think anything out and I end up with a mass of unresolved shit in my head and it weighs a ton.
So then I have to express it and whoever bears the banging on forgets the days of quiet that they enjoyed and only recalls the few minutes I had to talk and now I'm someone who "bangs on all the time". When in truth, I mostly grunt like a real man.
In the ideal world, I would just growl like a dog with intermittent barking.
I wonder what you see when you look at me. It has taken me many years to realise that for most people that's a strange question to ask. People know what others think of them, or at least they know what they think others ought to think of them. But I don't, at every level. I buy clothes without having any real awareness of what they will look like on me. I don't know what I look like and am often surprised when I see myself in a mirror. I don't know what I sound like: when people say I have a deep voice, I'm shocked, because it sounds high to me; I get overpassionate and talk too loud but I'm not really aware of doing it, so I seem aggressive when really I'm just invested.
But I do know you will see a failure.
Because the problem with failure is whatever you think about yourself, however you judge yourself, you do not get to judge for others, even if you think you should. And anyway, I agree with you. I've never been any good to anyone and that's as clear to me as it is to you. I am a "man who could be anything" who is nothing at all. And life likes nothing more than to forcibly demonstrate that to you, over and over and over until you feel that all you want is to be so small no one even notices you enough to disapprove of you.
I don't really mind the things I don't do and I know I'm not doing them. The myriad assholeries of my life never really bother me because I know I can't do any different. What bothers me are the ways I fail and I don't even know what I'm doing wrong. I'm actually trying to succeed and I still fail.
So I know that some of this feeling comes from being a worthless office drone when I could really have done anything with my life. But I lost my worthless job as a subeditor and this is what I had to do to serve my family. And I know that sounds like the kind of fake nobility you despise but it's not despicable. Whatever I felt about my dad, his cowardice and unwillingness to do the right thing because the wrong thing brought less risk, at least I respected that he would suffer for us, that he'd keep turning up. I keep turning up.
I really do. Some days I think it would be better if I didn't exist. I don't mean I think suicidal thoughts because I never have and never do, so you need not worry about that. I mean it would be better if I were just erased and everyone just got on without me, since I give so little to the world and take so much from it. Some days I feel like I have to stop lying to myself that I am treading water and start to accept that I am just living the tiny life that I have earned and I won't have anything beyond that.
The big problem I've often faced is that like you I want to be "loved for myself" but I just can't accept that there's no myself worth loving. I'm just not special at all. It's the curse of aspies that they never really get that, I think. You are just a worthless ape living out your days on a small rock at the arse end of the universe (although we are told, are we not, that every point of the universe is in fact the centre -- which is one of those things we accept on the word of scientists but never really believe at all).
I thought this would go somewhere but it hasn't. I am just trying to clear out the shit in my head, and it is shit, so that it doesn't weigh me down so much. I feel like I am carrying a brimming bucket of shit and trying not to spill it everywhere.
It is no use having wishes. That's the last wish I will give up, probably, that there should be some use in it. But wishes are nothing and what you can wreak for yourself is everything. And I've never been any good at wreaking anything except heartbreak for those foolish enough to dally with me.
I know I sound as though I'm drowning in self-pity. I am. I am terrified my child will die and I cannot express that terror because my wife's terror is worse and only hers matters to her. I am frightened my life will always be unhappy and I cannot express that fear because doing that increases her unhappiness because like all of us she feels she ought to be able to make people happy that she loves. But who has ever been able to make me happy? That always and ever will be something only I can do. I am scared my children will hate me because I am such a bad father. I want to say to them, I did try, but what does it matter that you tried? You failed, that is all that matters.
I am afraid I will never amount to anything. It's ridiculous, isn't it? I am nearly 50. I have already not amounted to anything. I feel my throat all the time, just griping away, and I am afraid it will be the same cancer that killed my mum, missed by the medicos the way they missed hers, and nothing can console me because I feel like I deserve it. I deserve for death to come and sweep me away and to have never been anything at all to anyone. And I don't know why and the curse of my dying like that would be that I never figured out why and I would die thinking if only I had had time to get that one thing straight, but perhaps that is after all what hell is, to never know.
Never let me go
If you've ever struggled through Remains of the day and wondered what the fuss was all about, maybe you should give Never let me go a birl. For me, it stands as a humanist monument; like the best of science fiction, it is about us in a way that sometimes novels about us cannot achieve. I say science fiction but the dystopia it draws is no more than a setting for a coming of age novel that runs a little deeper than the young adult fiction I think Ishiguro wished to pastiche.
The blunt style hides a sureness of touch and adherence to tone that are masterful. The narrator's matter-of-fact delivery makes utterly credible the fragile yet tender romance that you feel could be blown away by the least breeze, yet is the most powerful story we can make out of our blighted, doomed lives.
Ultimately, it is a tale of a culture so inexorable that it cannot be escaped, that we are left with what we can build from the scraps we are left by people who think we are worth nothing. It is like a rolling tide that sweeps away even hope to leave us broken, clinging to scraps of memory, all of us with pieces pulled from us until there is not enough left to keep living, which in a typically deft piece of irony, the characters call "completing".
Sometimes when things are bad in my life, I turn inwards, as far as I can, until I feel like I am curled in a ball and nothing can hurt me so long as I don't uncurl.
Things shouldn't have been bad in my life. I had a woman I loved very much, a job I hated but paid the rent, kids who are happy and doing well at school. I live in a great home and although I was worried about upkeep and paying the bills, I felt like I could cope. We are having a new baby and I'm really excited about that.
We had a custody battle for A's kids and the ongoing pain of her reprobate teen's pretending she is a monster, but that seemed to be going our way.
We had a court process for a protection order and that didn't go well. A thought that just telling the truth would be enough so she didn't prepare well for it. She decided she didn't need a lawyer and she got monstered by a sharp operator.
She punished me for that. Every time he does something horrible, hits her teen, is nasty to the littlies, I am punished. Because she can't take it out on him, she takes it out on me. I don't mind so much. I try to help her with the anguish in my clumsy, useless way. And being useless doesn't feel good but I keep trying.
I had a death sentence at work, the knowledge that I would be sacked sooner or later. It got pressing and I started to have pain in my neck and shoulders and pounding in my ears from the high blood pressure because of the stress. At least I have a loving wife who would ease it some though, right? Well, she says take ibuprofen, see the doctor, make it anyone's problem but hers. But it is hers in part, if only because she doesn't like me any more and makes it obvious by being unpleasant to me whenever she has the opportunity. I am left hoping it's just because she's pregnant and maybe when the baby's a year or so and she's recovered, the old A will come back and as long as I've just weathered it as best I can, we'll be fine.
So I got sacked and now I am going to have to use my credit line to pay the rent on Wednesday because the promised payout will arrive some time or never, who knows? I am faced with the fear that I won't be able to support my kids and will not be able to let A be the stay at home mum she wants to be, and I will just be another monster who made promises to her but then let her down. I already feel like that. I feel like I am just being me and I have another woman who thought I was or could be made into something different, something perfect, while they should just be accepted as they are.
Weekends are the worst. She cannot handle the handovers but won't let me do them instead. She wants to say goodbye but for some reason doesn't grasp that that's what really upsets her and seriously, there are more people in her life than her girls. I should matter too. You can't expect me to agree that I don't. Why do women insist on believing that someone like me will agree with their conclusion that I'm not worth shit? Well, something more complicated than that. I already think I'm not worth shit. I want to be with someone who thinks I'm worth something. If they also think I'm not worth shit, why am I even with them? But sometimes I feel like just as they have fooled themselves into thinking I'm not me, I have fooled myself into thinking they will ever think I'm worth anything and it really is just me. I should stop trying and just accept being lonely.
She won't ask him to come here to make it easier or ask to meet somewhere that is less depressing than DFO. She turns up half an hour early and works herself into a state. Then she comes home and relieves all the stress by punishing me for causing it. I know I didn't cause it. That's just how it works.
So I push myself inwards, disappear into my computer game, and try not to talk about anything that's likely to cause a fight, which amounts to not talking about anything I'm fearful about or anything that will set her off.
I'm not excited enough about the baby. I don't remember every single appointment. I've never remembered appointments. When you're new and fresh, it's endearing that you're useless about things like that. When you're married, you're supposed to snap into being someone completely different. Every failing is magnified and you've given a woman licence to point them out to you.
But I am excited. I talk about the baby all the time. I go shopping for clothes. I read baby books. I talk about its name. I constantly try to gauge the other kids' feelings about it and manage them. I'm just not excited in the right way -- not concerned enough about A. Because it's all about her.
We went shopping for clothes for me to wear for a job interview. A came with me to help choose. I tried a pair of trousers on and came out of the dressing room to parade for her, as you do. But she'd disappeared. She'd wandered off to buy herself maternity tights. What I needed didn't matter.
But I didn't need her to come with me in the first place. I don't need help to buy clothes. I am nearly 50 years old. I have been buying my own clothes without needing help for many, many years. When she asked to come, I realised it was her way of being supportive. I would have preferred her to say she was sorry I had lost my job and perhaps ask me how I felt about it but I accept that she has her ways and means.
I don't know what I'm trying to say. Just whining. If I get the job tomorrow, all will be fine. If it gets extended in July, I'll be able to get back on my metaphorical feet. I will stop feeling like I just want to hide in a corner so that no one can see me. I will be okay.
Trial and retribution
You don't really understand what women are talking about when they talk about male privilege until you hear a (male) judge bellow at a woman that it really is true that if your (male) ex doesn't give his permission to you to move, you have to hand him your kids, and it doesn't matter whether he's ever cared for them or whether he is capable of caring for them or what's actually best for the kids. All that matters is he forbade you.
And I know you might say, well, the woman can forbid the man, right? Yes but here's the thing. When the woman leaves, everyone expects she'll take the kids. Men don't say, oh, I should keep the kids and you should run free. Do they? Even today, we assume the kids will just stay with the mum.
And you know, I've read in many places how terrible them Muslims are, because they think a man's opinion is worth the opinion of two women. But I'm left thinking, at least they have the decency to make that their law. In Queensland, we treat everything the man says as true, and everything the woman says as suspect because she's crying and we all know if you're crying, you're lying.
The worst thing is, this privilege is not just built by men. You are not just passive victims of a patriarchy, ladies. You help build it. The woman who shares that man's bed goes to court and hears lies told on his behalf, and she knows they're lies because she abets him in them, and she stays with him. The children's grandmother will swear to the world he's a wonderful human being (and I'm quoting verbatim) to get what she wants when she knows who he is. She can have no illusions. She's seen him hurt a child, physically hurt it, and lies that she did not. Not that the child is confused about what happened. Not that it didn't amount to what the child thinks it did. That she was not there, did not see it.
It is hard for me to hear lies and say nothing. It has always been hard for me to lie. I mean, I have lied. I was talking to the kids last night about honesty and they pointed out I had lied to R about smoking. I said, yes but that was a white lie. It was nothing to her that I had the occasional ciggie and she shouldn't have made such a big deal out of it. If it had gotten serious, I would have given up (as I have now). So it wasn't a real issue. But other things are black lies. And then of course I got into how this is just a minefield and it is. But still, even if there are "good" lies, we know there are bad ones, and hearing people say what is wholly untrue is hard. I do not know how these women are able to do it -- not just to lie and broadcast lies but to hear others lie and say nothing, do nothing.
Ultimately, so much of human relations relies on honesty. It really does. There is so much to gain from lying though that the temptation overwhelms some of us some of the time. I realise that most of us are not like me. Most do not torture themselves over the lies they've told; most do not have the need to tell the truth and cling to it like a liferaft in a world that doesn't make any sense.
I don't know where I was going with this. Trying to distract myself so I don't have to think about two little girls crying when their life is destroyed. Trying not to think about the possibility that a man decides that it is absolutely right that a woman should be punished if a man decides she should not be happy. Trying not to think about another man relishing the sorrow that he sows in her life and theirs.