When I first married Ally I stopped doing a lot of the things I had been doing and my life became a little bit unreal. We spent a lot of time together and when we weren't together we would talk all the time. Which seems weird now because she does not talk to me at all: just brief things she wants me to know and yelling when I don't interpret her correctly and give her what she wants.
But things were fine, we had a rhythm and I didn't miss anything I had had. I let myself be carried away by impulse and doing that was like ripping the legs from the beetle of my life. I didn't know then what I'd done. It's only obvious you have no legs when you try to stand up and walk.
This isn't Ally's fault. This post is not about what Ally does wrong, except when I talk, and I have to talk, about how I've become unable to see the good she does.
So there was the court case and that sucked, and we decided to have a baby and that's another story. But it was all okay. I had a decent although unsatisfying job and we could easily cope with having a kid. It was something to really look forward to.
Then I lost my job. It was completely out of the blue.They had told me there was a contract for three years but that turned out to have been a lie. And right about then, I stopped being able to live my life.
I cannot explain it any other way. Everything started to become unreal. I felt dissociated from my life, as though it wasn't happening, was yet to start. I had already been feeling it but now the feeling grew.
I got another job. Not as good but enough for us to survive. But I hated it. I couldn't not hate it. I knew I should not hate it but I couldn't make myself. This is one of the curses of aspieness or whatever: I know what I should or could feel but I can't make myself do it. It's inexplicable for someone who doesn't feel the same way.
So I lost that job. That was stupid. And then I couldn't get another one.
It's not that I don't want to work. I desperately do. I just don't know how to get a job. I never really have known. I don't know how to lie to people. I don't know how to blag or boast up my achievements. I don't know how to sell myself. I've never really had to. I've just stumbled from one thing to the next.
Luckily, a couple of jobs came up that I had had before. One with John Wiley, the publishers, for the exact role I had had with them. Perfect. But they didn't even give me an interview. I have no idea why. But it was a huge blow to me. It probably wouldn't be to you but you're not me. I wish I didn't have to spend most of my life apologising for myself.
Then a job came up at Coorparoo for the education department. Even better than Wiley. Perfect for work/life, and I did the exact same job a couple of years ago. I couldn't be better qualified for it. It's just temporary so no big deal. So I had an interview. The guy interviewing was a bit weird but we seemed to get on okay. He told the temp agency I had interviewed well but they'd preferred someone else.
So an old boss of mine got in touch, which was nice. He had overflow work with QUT. So he got in touch with the professor who hands out the work and arranged for me to be added as a supplier. But no one ever contacted me. Not even to say fuck off. Not a word.
So an acquaintance of mine put me in touch with his boss, who runs a foodie mag. That was very decent of him, and I really am thankful that there are people who look out for me. The boss eventually got on to me and sent me some things. I did them and that was that. Five hours' work. Not another word. No hint whether I did them to his satisfaction or not. Nothing.
So the Coorparoo people are hiring again. More than one job. Great! I should surely be in now? Nope. They won't even give me another interview and won't even tell the agency why not. I'm "not suitable". I'm prepared to suggest there is not a person in Brisbane more "suitable". I have 25 years' experience as an editor, three of them in education. I did the job before and I did it well. I'm easy to get along with and I don't stir the shit if I'm treated okay.
And these are the jobs in my actual field. I need something new to do. But I'm 50 and it's not easy to move. How do I do it and earn money at the same time?
And I know the answer is I could have been learning skills instead of sitting around doing nothing but it's like a bomb went off in my face and I'm still reeling. And I don't know why, it just does feel like that. I feel more and more embarrassed to be me.
I asked Ally to help me, to work with me as a team. She knows how to find jobs. She's practical in ways I'm not. She would know what to do and it would really help to talk. But she won't. She doesn't want to help. She wants me to fail so she can be angry with me. I mean, that's how it feels, that she just prefers to have a shitty relationship. I can't fully articulate why I feel she does that but partly it's that I've become so dissociated and useless and she's afraid I won't change (yet won't help me with it); partly it's because if she's angry she doesn't have to feel bad about her eldest.
It's impossible to fix right now because she doesn't want to. I mean, I'm happy to say I'm at fault. I'm fucking it up horribly. But I can't find my feet to pull her out of it. She sits in our room with the baby and yells at me when I don't do the right things. I can't predict what will be wrong next because it changes all the time. It's like having a bad mum who won't be consistent so you can never feel you please her.
I wish you could just walk up to a counter and say give me work and you'd have work. I'd even have my shitty job back at CL. But it's like everything in life. You have a ton of inertia. I am an editor. That's what I've done for so many years. I can't become something else just by wanting it because other people won't let you. They won't believe you can do this, that, the other. You need to know how to package yourself. But I don't. And I don't have any friends to help me with it. Ally helped with one job and it was awesome. I don't know why she has decided Team Awesome is Team You Fucking Cope On Your Own. But I feel like she grew that feeling out of feeling she had to cope with losing C on her own. Not sure.
It doesn't help that I have sleep apnoea. When I'm dreaming, I wake up 30 times an hour. Which sucks because it means I wake up with headaches. I try to help Ally through the night but I need her to "lean on me" rather than expect me to interpret what she needs, because I'm too befuddled from never sleeping to be able to figure it out. I am actually not as tired as most men would be because I was already not having a good night's sleep. But I feel demotivated and I realise that that, and the unreality of my life, are partly outcomes of not sleeping well.
The thing is, I know I focus on myself. It's an unattractive feature of mine. But that's who I am and I do try to be kind to make up for it a bit. But Ally is like, I had a baby, I am tired, I don't sleep. But we both have our crosses to bear, don't we? I think this is a perpetual refrain of early infanthood, and probably one reason marriages so often founder at this point. Women feel overwhelmed physically and emotionally and have no space, none at all, for what their man may be feeling. And that should be okay. We should be strong. But what are we supposed to do when our lives are unreal and we can't find our feet? Sure, I picked a bad fucking time for that but I didn't make myself redundant. I was doing a good job. And I did a good job at CL too, for all that was worth. I didn't like it but I did it well. And if I had the job in Coorparoo, I'd be back on the road to recovery.
Not having a job and having a wife who shows me no goodwill make for a life that feels of very little worth. It spirals in on itself. And you become the cunt she was treating you as though you were, so she feels justified, and treats you even worse, and ever onwards. And you know, I do get that it's not her fault, that no one makes you feel a particular way, but we are not islands. We do affect each other. We can choose to lift or lower each other. I really don't need much. I just need her to see some good in me. She used to. I need her to sit with me and write a plan of action. She refuses to do even that. I should be able to do everything myself. Well, can't we agree I should and I'm pathetic but then she helps me?
If I had friends, I could ask them for support. But I don't. I don't know why I've never made any here. They've come and gone. I can't figure out why. It's not like I'm really unpleasant. Or at least I don't think I am. And the friends I have who are distant don't know my life well enough to help. They think I am depressed and need to "talk to someone". I need a job! I need work so my wife starts respecting me again. I need help to find one. I don't need a fucking pill to make me feel better. I am not unable to get a job because I'm not happy. When I was happy I had no better idea.
Or money. If I had money I would be fine. You'd quickly see how not depressed I am. I wouldn't care that society doesn't value me because society values money. It's such a pitiful amount too.
And the worst is, I'm not my own friend. I hate myself and that's probably why I keep destroying myself over and over. It's that tedious. So I suppose I need to try to be that friend for myself. If I had the money to tide me over till Ally is ready to work, I'd be able to find ways to make money in the interim. I don't know if there's a name for the way fear prevents you because you're running short. It's so stupid! I mean, why not just do it, whatever it is, even if it comes to nothing because you find work. I know. So I need to do that. However little I can get in, I need to get it in, in whatever way I can think of. I can't be anyone else or do anything else.
I need to stop feeling sorry for myself. I will make an appointment right now for the doctor. I will just forget everything up to now and do whatever I can to make Ally happy. Why worry about what I get back? I love her, isn't that enough? I will try try try to get a job anyhow I can. I will not lie down and die. I'm glad we had this talk. I feel better for it. I don't need people telling me I'm worthless and need a doctor to make me feel worthwhile: that isn't true. I needed help to get on my feet. I don't have anyone, not a soul in this world, who will help me get there, so it's just you, Davey, just you so crack on son.
Each day I wake up and think, this might be the day...
With my other children, I never had this. We didn't get to "term" and then have the delicious anticipation of an upcoming birth. They all came in a rush, a week pre. But now I am living in a state of quivering excitement.
A new story is about to begin. I am about to take the first step on a journey into the unknown. What will she be like? Who will she look like? Will she be elfin and lovely like her mum or will she have my piggy nose and almond eyes? Will she be like Zenella, and need phototherapy? Will she be like Zenita, and need oxygen? Will she be like G and have stomach problems? Will she be an aspie? Will her eyes be blue or green? Will her hair be curly or straight? Will she find love, laughter and happiness?
Some answers I already have. I know I will love her. I already love her. My heart already sings her song and I am ready to sing her into this life. The words of my song are a promise to love her, to do what I can to make this life good for her, to love her to love her to love her, my Miggins, soon to be with us, soon to be here among us.
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".