A photograph, a Polaroid (with all of the attendant suggestive connotations), a shameful Facebook parade reminding me of the history I’d forgotten with good reason; android snapshots recording everything from a breakfast to a break-up, my life is there in pictures. Our life is there.
The idea to pull all of these disparate images into one place for our 21st anniversary celebration was borne of boredom and yet the more I do the more compelling it becomes. Comical haircuts and laughable fashion choices melt away leaving poignant memories laid bare; dark, shadowy days exposed to the harsh light once more and opened up for examination. Sitting with my tablet I start a slideshow and wonder what John will make of my collection when he finds it in his inbox. John, my partner of twenty years, my friend, my lover and now the housemate I communicate with via e-mail.
Familiarity breeds contempt, so they say, and I am so familiar with John. His walk, once a confident swagger, is now a lumbering plod with each heavy step announcing his unwelcome arrival. His long blonde hair is a distant memory, now replaced by a dark stubble tattooed on his scalp and whatever physique there was is hidden within a permanent fat suit. The face I am more than familiar with and yet I can’t actually remember what attracted me in the first place, instead it is nothing more than a constant source of irritation. They say there is a thin line between love and hate, as though there are two distinct parts that make up the concept, the two sides to the coin argument, but I wish to disagree on this point. There is only one side and love is merely the veneer; scratch beneath the surface and hate is both visible and constant.
As he enters the room I watch him stare and twist his mouth, I think it is a gesture of affection, a smile perhaps? Whatever it is, it angers me immediately and I imagine my life without him, a life that matters, a future, and I want it so badly it hurts. The hairs on the back of my neck stand up as his tone of voice informs me that he is attempting some weak humour, something which he will laugh at on behalf of us both. I don’t think he expects me to laugh, or even that he finds the remarks funny himself, it’s just a matter of breaking the tense silence. At times like this I almost feel sorry for him and that’s my problem.
I’ll argue and shout about issues and irritations and, while alcohol helps to fuel the fires, it’s not compulsory or needed. He’ll shout back until we forget what the argument was about and retreat to the far corners of our bed hugging the space, holding onto anything that is not the other person. I’ll do this but I hate it. I hate the confrontation and the guilt when it is over, I hate the raw malice it brings and I hate the pain it obviously causes. It’s why we are still together aboard this relationship that is so obviously holed below the waterline, watching together as the band plays on, ever more loudly and out of tune. I’m stewing in my own loathing because I can’t stand the break up scene, the embarrassing messiness of it all.
Delivering the fatal blow to this relationship is far too difficult to face, far too complicated and that’s why, more than anything, I want to kill him. Beyond all of the recriminations, the money talks, the bad sex and the endless suspicions, I’m aware that the sword is much mightier, and sharper, than any pen or tongue. I want my life back, my bank account, my freedom; and I’m angry enough to take it back using whatever force is necessary. Just let’s not talk about it. I’d sadly rather kill than die of embarrassment.
I pick up my tablet again and scroll through some the pictures, any pictures, anything to avoid that face for a moment. As pictures flash by unnoticed I begin to dream of how it might be done, how possible are the ways, how quickly I can be rid of him. The ideas are not new but the determination is; this is day one and counting, this is for real because it has to be. What is the alternative? This until I’m old, or dead? That’s not an option it’s a sentence and I’m not guilty. Not really, not yet.
So how has it come to this? How does the sum of twenty-one years add up to such rancour and misery? If I can avoid his attention for long enough perhaps I can remember what brought me to this point, perhaps I can get back to the beginning? I return to the beginning of the slideshow and pay more attention.
I can taste the atmosphere before I get into the room and, as I feel the familiar sense of dread wash over me, I attempt to break the tension with a smile and a joke.
‘If that shower was any hotter I’d be poached.’ I try to smile but my face refuses, leaving me with a false rictus grin that bestows all the warmth of an undertaker. My joke is unrecognisable as humour even to me but I force a laugh to help identify my intention; Maria looks up from her phone with a look that suggests that I may have metamorphosed into some mysterious alien, and an alien with BO to boot. I wipe the ridiculous expression from my face and go about the business of making a coffee with the concentration of a bomb disposal expert; anything to avoid a conversation about last night.
Wine, women and song? No. Wine, that woman and a screaming match to both awaken and entertain our neighbours. The latest episode of our high decibel soap opera or is it just a repeat? I’ve certainly been over those lines before and Maria needed no prompts. We were both right, both wrong and, since the argument ended in another galaxy from where it started, it’s pretty much irrelevant anyway.
‘Coffee?’ I ask with as much brightness as I can muster.
‘Why not?’ Maria replies with a tone that suggests I may have well have asked if it was alright to stick a hot needle in her eye. As I settle back into the task of diffusing the situation through the medium of hot beverages, my mind searches for something to say, something funny, something bland, nothing about last night. The problem of finding the right thing to say is that I don’t know what the wrong thing is; I don’t remember which galaxy we visited or what the language there was. I fall silent and tiptoe around this emotional time bomb hoping that gentle quiet will avoid detonation. Maria takes the cup without comment but her nose wrinkles to suggest the malodorous interloper is too close. ET phone home? I wish I could but this is home.
Walking through to the living room, I turn my attention to the coffee, sipping when it’s obviously too hot. I think of how Maria used to wrinkle her nose when she had to think hard about something, how I called her the ‘Bad Bunny’ and how we laughed and kissed; now it means she can smell shit and that shit is me. I’d be lying if I said that I’ve never thought of walking, but where the hell would I go? Who’d have me? The door key still sits loose in my pocket, my key to her door, the entrance to a house where I am nothing more than a guest; an unwelcome guest.
I have a passion for music that has outlasted all others, it is the mistress that never leaves me and still seduces me daily regardless of any other influence in my life. There seems to be no feeling, no event, real or imagined, where there is no song to fit; I call it the soundtrack to my life and it plays always, each song holding a particle of the emotion at the time I heard it yet always with room for new memories. As I sit down and open up the screen of album covers, the gateway to my music collection, I start to think about which songs will fit which picture.
A fitting song for a reflection on 21 years is a challenge, even for my internal jukebox, yet it is one that is accepted and met with customary élan. Burn by Deep Purple from 1974. An angry, loud song, celebrating the virtuosity of a group of musicians at the peak of their abilities. Led by the guitar of Ritchie Blackmore, a dark, brooding, bastard (in some opinions) of a man; a brilliant player and showman, yet never satisfied with what he has and with a flair for destruction second to none. The lyrics are cryptic at best, possibly ridiculous, yet the power and the fury are all, the playing sublime - and at the centre of it all the screamed refrain of ‘BURN!’.
Sink or swim? Stick or twist? Why not just burn the whole thing and start again? The song fits my thoughts as I prepare to look at Maria’s selection and in Mr Blackmore I have a reflection of my personality, yet in place of brilliance I have cynical eloquence and my darkness is less productive. I share a self-destructive gene and we share a predilection for black clothes and a deep seated suspicion of other people. The song catches a band high on confidence and yet so close to what will ultimately be a break-up. Is that what I’m channelling?
It’s not my favourite era of the band, I fall into the classic MkII camp with Gillan & Glover, so again am I subconsciously linking my knowledge of two seemingly disparate factors to my own situation? Whatever. It fits and it is my song for today, so far, and it’s playing through my earphones as I prepare to begin the process.
Sitting back on the settee, I stare down at my laptop, paying attention to the wallpaper behind the icons; a picture of Budapest at night. The bridge with a name I can never remember looks unforgettable lit up against the dark sky; I smile at a memory that is only happy. Maria took the photo and I love it.