29 July 2009

In Which Little Occurs, But Much Happens

I have just returned from a conference in the U.K. - just outside London, to be precise. This conference was weird for a lot of reasons, most of which I won't go into, but perhaps the most important one was that I encountered Mr. Fallen.

I knew I would. I knew that even before I went. I knew he would be there, and I knew we would have to run into each other. And I wasn't looking forward to it one bit.

Normally, I'd couch the encounter in some kind of arch rhetoric on this blog, but I'm not going to do that this time, because this time I don't want to pretend that I'm better than the situation, or that I've got a handle it.

So. We ran into each other in the big front hall of the building where the conference was taking place. I suppose you could say that, strictly speaking, we ran into each other before that, because I arrived during a session and got to talking with my publisher, and while I was doing that Mr. Fallen entered the room as part of the post-session crowd. I saw him out of the corner of my eye, and I know he saw me, but I simply pretended I hadn't seen him. Then I went outside, because I just couldn't face dealing with him, and after a couple of out and ins I entered the front hall and there he was standing, all alone. And we encountered one another.

I said, "Hello, David." He moved in such a way that it was clear he wanted to hug me, but I did not move (and was standing about three feet away), so he truncated his motion. He said, "Hello. How are you?" I said, "I'm fine, thank you. How are you?" He said, "I'm fine. How's the book?" I said, "The book is finished. It's handed in." He said, "Handed in! So next time you'll be on those publishers' tables." I didn't say anything, both because I had zero wish to engage in feeble banter with him and because I had decided beforehand, to the extent that I'd decided anything, that I'd keep my interactions with him to the absolute minimum. He said, "I just had my session. It had a small audience." I said, "Most panels do." He said, "I think I managed to keep people from seeing how little I know about the text I was presenting on." I said, "I'm sure no one noticed." He looked a bit surprised at that, and I was a bit surprised myself, as I hadn't meant to insult him. He said, "You're going tomorrow." I said, "Yes, tomorrow morning." Then we stood there for a second, and then I said, "Well, good-bye." He said, "Good-bye."

It was AWFUL. It was just as awful as you either imagine or don't believe it was. It was so awful that it defies simile - and, for me, that's saying something. It was awful because I wanted to scream, "You destroyed my life, you cunt! You ruined me!", because I wanted to take the heels of both my hands and push him backward (and preferably over) with all the violence in my body, and because simultaneously I knew that I still loved him and wanted him to say he was single and wanted to start again. But none of those things happened. Instead, I went outside and called my best friend. And then I went back to my room and cried. And after I'd had dinner (at which he stood directly behind me in the queue), I went back to my room and cried again. And then I cried myself to sleep, while simultaneously imagining doing enormous physical harm to him.

The rest of the conference was pretty dreadful in that regard, too. Not in that I cried, because I didn't (except at the plenary in between the crying in my room and the standing in line at dinner, when I sat in my row and just let two tears run down my cheeks, on the grounds that I was alone in the row, so no one would notice), but in that the whole time if we were in the same room I could feel him being aware of me, and I knew that I was aware of him, and I also knew that, of the two of us, I was the only one that was aware with any sense of sorrow. Oh, I'm sure he would have liked to have a lovely long catch-up chat with me, so I suppose he was sorry he couldn't have that, but sorry is not the same thing as sorrow.

In Music & Lyrics, an otherwise almost utterly irrelevant film starring Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore, there occurs a scene in which Drew Barrymore, having just failed to confront the horrible man who has made a very negative novel out of her, says to Hugh Grant, "You know what the worst part of it is? I still care what he thinks of me." And he says, "How can that be? He's a jerk....It's not a question. He is a jerk. He is a jerk!" That is how I felt at the moment of encountering him, and to some degree that's still how I feel now. I am better. There's no question. I wrote a book. I learned tango as a casual hobby. I'm taking Spanish lessons because three of my friends speak Spanish, and I want to be able to talk to them in their native tongue. I rebuilt my life after someone hurt me so much that I cried every day for three months.

He BROKE. MY HEART. He broke it the way Sasha broke that bowl at my nanny's when he swept it onto the floor with his shirttail. Except that Sasha tried to make amends, and wanted to replace the bowl. Mr. Fallen didn't know that he was breaking my heart when he did it, but when he knew it didn't change anything. I am better; I am superior; I suffered agony - that is not an exaggeration - and I have to suffer all the pain when I see him, or when I think about him, too. My mother would say, "He's unhappy," and I don't doubt it. That remark about fooling people into believing he knew something is a classic demonstration of lack of convictions of self-worth; his continual references to my publishing a book are equally classic demonstrations of his own sense of inadequacy at not having done so. But he is not unhappy to have lost me. I am better, and partially as a result of my betterness - my willingness to take chances, my conviction that he was worth holding onto, my decision to open my heart - I am unhappy to have lost him. And as a result of his inferiority - his unwillingness to take chances, his conviction that I was not worth holding onto - he gets off scot-free. I was not important enough to him, and by that demonstration of inferiority, he also gets not to suffer. I'm sure he was sad that he didn't get to talk with me: after six months of e-mails from me, he's plenty aware of what kind of mind and conversation he's missing. But he's sorry in the way you're sorry you don't get to have a longer conversation with some vague friend who's come into town. He's not sorry to be denied my love; he doesn't even wish for my love. And if does, he doesn't say so, and that's the equivalent of not wishing for it as far as anyone observing (like me) is concerned.

And he would say I've got a successful career, and that's something to envy. But it's not. I would give up my job, and my publications, if it meant being in a happy relationship.

So then it was off to Otherhome, where I semi-surprised people, in that three of them knew I was coming in advance, but the rest did not. My friend M. was thrilled, but of the two men, only one actually seemed to care, or did anything special - and not the one you'd think. Now, in my experience surprises generally are a risk. I once had a chef friend who said to me that he hated making angel food cake, because if it worked no one appreciated how amazing that was, and if it didn't work it was just a sponge cake. Surprises, it seems to me, are similar: the surprised are never as pleased as the surpriser. Still, to have come out of my way after a month of absence to see people I believed thought I was important, and then to get approximately 15 minutes of time, with two exceptions... Well, first of all it made me decidenot to surprise people anymore, and second of all it made it fairly clear to me exactly how important I actually was to those people.

Indeed, it occurred to me, as I was coming into WhereI'llreturn, that in the time that I've been gone, only two people, and only one male, have actually said to me, "I want you to come back. I miss you." I'm not being totally churlish: people have made it plain they miss me in different ways, either by saying that (without the "I want you to come back") in e-mails (women), or by sending me an e-mail asking me how I am (a male) - I recognise these for what they are. But the only person who has actually said straight out that they want me to come back is, of all people, my VTTT - and he's a father, which I don't think is a coincidence.

Years ago, when I was still going out with Dr. Higher, I had long hair. It did, in fact, look quite like this:

And I used to comb it out every morning, because if you have hair like that you need to comb it out every morning. And I remember one morning I was kneeling on the bed combing it out and talking to Dr. Higher, who was still in bed, and because I'd just woken up I of course wasn't wearing any clothes. And he said to me, "You look just like the Lorelei." Which I'd always wanted someone to say to me. And for all  
our time together after that, until I had my hair cut, I wished he'd say it to me again, but you can't ask someone to say that - it ruins the effect. 

The same is true of being told that you're missed: you can't ask people to say that they miss you, because then you can never believe that they aren't saying it just to please you. It seems to me, however, that you can draw some conclusions based on which people open their mouths to say they miss you, which people indirectly tell you they miss you, and which people never tell you that at all. And those conclusions are as follows: the first group are open, loving, and aware of others as valuable presences or absences; the second group are somewhat less open, but still aware of others as mattering, and of their absence as mattering; and the third are self-focussed and not worth much time.

All of which is to say, this past weekend has made numerous forms of scales fall from my eyes. First of all, I've finally been won over to the prevailing opinion I've been trying to work against all my life: you know what? Men are largely self-obsessed, thoughtless morons. Yep, some of them are decent and kind, but by and large they are self-centered, loathesome, and more likely to pass over a rare thing in favour of an easy thing than to pay attention to the valuable things in their purview. And since I do not choose to enter into any relationships where I'm accepting and patronising those who are sub-par, the second set of scales that's fallen from my eyes is that set which has made me forgive and act kindly toward those, particularly those men, who treat me as less than I'm worth. If you don't recognise my worth, you are no longer of interest to me. I am the queen of listening to people's boring problems, but from now on if you don't treat me well, you can find someone else to listen to your tedious yammering.

And, finally, I can't do anything about Mr. Fallen, but I can do something about future Mr. Fallens. I can, as Byron would say, throw away the scabbard. Which is to say, I choose from now on to be generally less understanding and concerned with others. I choose, instead, to declutter my life. It is not my job to get you to like me: it is your job to get me to like you. I assure you, you will gain more value from the latter than I would gain from the former. And if you can't contrive to treat me in ways that show me decency and deserve to garner decency from me, then get off my fucking dance floor, or I'll move you off it.

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