The anatomy of a doomed relationship

In the beginning it was perfect. It was as if all roads in your life had been converging on this point. Every false start that you had endured, every betrayal you had suffered, everything that had ever happened to you in your miserable, unfulfilled life was merely a rehearsal. It was all leading up to this moment. 

And she was beautiful. Impossibly beautiful. And funny. And kind. And generous. And wise. You wondered what you had ever done to deserve such a rare treasure. You wallowed in her sweet aroma. You basked in her dusky body heat. You worshipped her being. In the bedroom you had never experienced such bliss, such sensory pleasures, such togetherness. When you talked it was as if you were one and the same person. She was perfect. And wonder upon wonder she believed that you were perfect too. She told you how handsome you were. How witty. How clever. How special. She wanted to find out everything about you and didn’t seem remotely troubled by your more obvious imperfections. The things that had held you back all your life. The scars that stubbornly refused to heal. 

This was love. You were experiencing LOVE. Real love. True love. Enraptured to be entangled in its silky net. Never in your wildest dreams could you have imagined it would ever feel as good as this. As pure. As selfless. As all-consuming. After all those years of hopelessness your life finally had meaning. This is what you had been building towards from the day that you were dragged screaming from the womb. You believed. And, incredibly, she believed, too. You were Love Twins carried along on the wheels of destiny. The two of you overdosed on joy. Freebased on passion. The bliss was almost palpable. You could touch it. You could smell it. You could taste it.

So you ditch your long-term partner and she ditches hers. They never really meant anything, you tell yourself. Because now you have the REAL THING. You get a place together and the days float past you in an opiate haze. Every waking moment, every sleeping moment is spent in her company. You talk. You eat. You laugh. You drink. You make love like never before. You plan. You plot. You scheme. The future is no longer a foreign country. How is it possible that it can feel this good to be alive?

And then one day when you least expect it you hear the teeniest, weeniest alarm bell gently tinkling away in your blissed-out brain. What’s wrong? you ask. Is it something I’ve done? But she just sits there in a grubby dressing gown, her eyes staring blankly ahead. The lips that you long to kiss saying nothing. And suddenly you recoil against the bedroom wall. Such anger! Such rage! How can this girl, this woman, my Love Twin, be saying such things? The shock jolts you temporarily back to reality and the breath is squeezed from your lungs. Your world is shattered into pieces and already you would do anything to glue those broken shards back together again.

In the morning come the apologies. The tears. The explanations. Always the explanations. It’s hormones, she tells you. It’s a medical condition, she will say later. It’s this. It’s that. So you wrap your arms around her trembling shoulders and tell her not to worry. We can fix this, you say. Together you and I can make this right. And she kisses you and a smile lights up her beautiful face. The snarling, spitting stranger from yesterday now banished forever. Until the next time.

The days turn into weeks and the weeks turn into months and the months turn into years. The passage of time is immaterial so long as you have your Love Twin. A baby arrives. And even though you never really wanted one you pick the little girl up in your arms and you’re in love all over again. Now there are three of you. Three of you against the world. You pose before the camera lens and smile. You don’t deserve this. You don’t deserve such happiness. Nobody does.

And then… And then… Things begin to change. Slowly. Insidiously. Like the stationary hands of a clock you are unaware of any movement until you chance to look away. You’re the same person you always were. At least, you’re mostly the same person. Sure, you don’t go out as much as you used to but then you have different priorities nowadays. For one thing there’s a toddler to look after. To feed. To clean. To entertain. What could be more important than that? And so what if you’re losing touch with your friends? And for that matter your family, too? But that’s only natural, isn’t it? You keep telling yourself that. (Why does she do that strange thing? Verbally attacking the people you care about so that these days you’re wary of introducing her to anybody? It must be because she loves you so much that she wants to have you all to herself. Yes, that’s the reason. It’s charming really. Sweet.)

And then one evening you catch your reflection in the mirror. You look older. Heavier. You’ve put on thirty… Forty pounds and your belt strains against your flabby belly. You limp a little, too. (You really must see a doctor about that when you have a moment…) There are dark circles under your eyes – hardly surprising given how hard it is to sleep at night. Who’d be a father, huh?! And yes, you’re a little down these days. Well a lot down actually. You know that you are. She tells you all the time that you are. But then there’s so much to worry about. So much work to do. It’s only natural.

When you met your Love Twin you were a writer. You even sold a few books in your time. But that’s in the past. You’ve put your career temporarily on hold while you attend to more important matters. And yes, you hate the job that necessity forced you to take. You really despise it if you’re honest with yourself. The thought of doing it sometimes makes you feel physically sick. But you don’t have a choice because there’s the baby to look after. You have to be there to take her to school. And you have to be there to pick her up afterwards. It’s lucky that we found a job with such flexible hours. We’d have been in real trouble if we hadn’t been able to do this. 

And every evening you wait for her to come home. She doesn’t like to cook so it’s best you do it. And even if your meagre efforts are often rewarded with a grimace it’s not really important. You smile at her as she walks into the house. She pecks you on the cheek and frowns. She doesn’t notice the aftershave that you’ve doused yourself in especially for her. She’s oblivious to the softness of your chin. (Naturally, you love her so much that it’s become your habit to ensure that you’re freshly shaved and showered for that special moment when she floats in through the door.)

To grudging appreciation you serve the food that you’ve prepared. You swallow it down and it sticks in your teeth. You stack the dishwasher and put the baby to bed. Except that she’s no longer a baby. She’s growing up fast. Full of questions. Too many questions. I simply don’t have enough energy left to reply, you think to yourself. So you read to her until she begins to fall asleep. And you’re falling asleep too. You’re falling asleep all the time.

Without ever noticing it a stranger has moved into your house. But you don’t know she’s a stranger. She stares at that chunk of metal and glass in her hand. Endlessly… Endlessly…Endlessly… Tapping away like a metronome and smiling to herself and she never seems to hear you. And when she does hear you she won’t let you speak. If only she’d stop interrupting me, you cry, I could tell her what’s really on my mind. But then… But then… You’ve forgotten what it was you wanted to say. Perhaps it’s just as well. It couldn’t have been that important anyway. Your Love Twin works very hard. It’s perfectly understandable if she sometimes gets frustrated and hits out at you. And even if some of the things she calls you are nasty – well unforgivably nasty, in fact – it’s best that you keep the peace. You can’t really blame her for telling it like it is. After all, you know that you’re too sensitive… That you tend to overreact… That your depression is bound to cloud your judgement… That you overthink things… That you’re damaged… You know this because she tells you so. Not to hurt or criticise, you understand. But because she loves you.

You know that she loves you because sometimes there still are those moments of bliss. Less frequently, of course. Not so often as they used to be. (Bringing up a child isn’t easy, you know!) Well actually it’s gotten to the point in which you’ve given up trying. She tells you not to worry. That it’s nobody’s fault that you both have different sex drives. Naturally she has a point. Sometimes you try to tell her how unhappy this makes you feel. But it’s not really that big a deal. Because every now and again – once or twice a month sometimes – you will feel her creamy flesh against yours. She will extend her arms towards you and for a brief few moments everything is as it should be. You inhale the love. You suck it in. A desperate unspeakable kind of love. How lucky you are to have found your soulmate. You’re the love of my life, she will whisper in your ear. She tells you this all the time. 

How is it possible that your daughter is starting senior school today? Why, it only seems like yesterday that you watched her mother squeeze that tiny body out from between her thighs and into the world. Do the years really pass so quickly? You’ve lost your mojo. You’re not the man you used to be, has become her mantra. You used to be so wild…Lippy… Uncontrollable. You really should see a doctor. Maybe therapy would be good for you.

And she’s right. Of course she’s right. You can feel it in you. You can see it in your your eyes. How did you become such a disappointment? How could you let your Love Twin down like this? Surely she deserves better than this? She’s an important woman now. You can’t believe how much money she earns from that job of hers. Well, career is the more accurate way of describing it. (Remember when you had a career?) You’re so proud of her. So proud that she gets to travel around the world: to New York… Milan… Paris… Berlin… You tell her that her achievement is your achievement. That staying home to babysit your daughter is small fry compared to the pressure, the responsibility that she has to bear in her day to day life. You’re so proud of her. You really are.

But even as you have changed over the years, so has she. She’s 44 now but looks ten years younger. Everybody says so. You’re 53 but look ten years older. Nobody ever mentions this. They don’t have to. There’s no getting away from the fact that you’re an older man with no power, she soberly tells you one afternoon. Whereas I look better than I’ve ever done.

And who can disagree? She does look better. More beautiful than she ever did. And it’s surely no accident. You’ve to admire her for the number of hours she puts in at the gym. You hate the gym yourself. You don’t know how she does it. Certainly all her new friends seem to agree with her. They love her. They worship her. Who can blame them? It’s such a breath of fresh air, you reassure yourself, that she hangs out with all these young people. Much better than old farts like me. It’s incredible really. You don’t know where she gets the energy from. Three… Four… Sometimes five nights a week she’s out there putting in a full shift with those youngsters. Clubs… Gigs… Festivals… Fancy restaurants… Well, with a job like hers she’s entitled to let her hair down from from time to time. We all are.

But where exactly did these people come from? These flawless, unblemished new friends of hers? You can’t really be sure. They just seemed to appear one day, to materialise out of thin air: a couple of new faces here and there and then more and more and more. Names mentioned in passing and then in every other breath. And they carry with them new experiences… Alternative attitudes… Different language… New music… Indecipherable sounds that make no sense to you but your Love Twin somehow seems effortlessly comfortable with. She doesn’t even listen to any of your music any more. But then, come to think of it she never really did listen to it anyway. How did you not notice?

Sometimes she even lets you tag along for the ride and you pretend to enjoy yourself as you’re dragged around a flickering dance floor inhabited by people twenty years your junior. I don’t really want to be doing this, you whisper meekly to yourself, but I love her and she’s probably having some kind of mid-life crisis. Yes, that’s it – a mid-life crisis. It’s those pesky hormones again. Those irritating chemicals that are responsible for those infamous temper tantrums of hers. She needs my support so that one day she’ll come back to me and I’ll have her all to myself again. After all, I’m her husband and best friend. It’s my duty. It’s the least I can do.

But yes, it can hurt. Deep down it can really hurt. You never mention it but you hate how she dresses these days. Skin tight jeans… Plunging necklines… So much bare flesh. So much cleavage. Who exactly is she putting it on display for? Well obviously it’s for your benefit because you’re the love of her life. You know this because barely a week goes by without her telling you so. Despite everything you still have that special bond that brought you together. That made you Love Twins. She’s still your soul mate. She never stops telling you that. 17 years is a long time in anybody’s book. And don’t forget that you made a daughter together. A living, breathing human miracle.

And then one day your reality crumbles. It dissolves into a fine dust that floats through the air and clogs up your lungs. By accident (was it really an accident?) you discover that she’s not abroad on work business as she is supposed to be. She’s actually still in London. Why on earth is she still here? If text messages could scream your desperate pleas would be heard at the far edge of the universe. Liar! You exclaim. How could you do this to us?!

Stop making a fool of yourself, comes her deadpan response. He’s just a friend helping me go through a difficult time – I’m trying to sort out our relationship. 

Give me his name then! You demand. I don’t know what you’ll do, she says. I can’t trust you.

Slowly, imperceptibly slowly, the truth is drip-fed to you over the coming weeks in bite-sized pieces. Hidden away in meandering sentences the lies detach themselves from fact and float to the surface like oil in a puddle of muddy water. I have feelings for him, she nervously admits one afternoon as you hunch before her, your voice hoarse from all the shouting. He’s 31 – a whole quarter of a century younger than you – Italian, thick-haired, tanned. Far better looking than the empty shell of a man you’ve become. He’s a nice guy, she jauntily announces. You should meet him. 

And he’s by no means the first, you discover this as you pick away at her tapestry of deception. There was that young guy at the gym, (Ahh… The gym!) do you know I was sexting him last year at the Xmas dinner table? Sending him naked pictures of myself, the ones that you took of me… And a couple of one-night stands at parties. No, I can’t remember their namesEven a Calvin Klein model she announces, scarcely able to conceal her pride. Her achievement. I’m pretty hot, you know, she smirks. 

You throw her out of the house and she takes an Uber to her Italian toyboy. You intercept the email that she sends him in transit: I’m sorry you had to be involved, she writes. My husband’s gone crazy! I love you xxx. 

And you have gone crazy. How could you not go crazy? And all her young friends know that you’re crazy. Her family do, too. They know you’re crazy because she’s told them that you’re crazy. Your Love Twin has made it her duty to do so. The love of your life that was never the love of your life has somehow become the victim in all of this. 

You’re pathetic! she snarls. You’re a sponger! Over the years you’ve bled me dry! You’re a loser! Get a life/job! Every day the insults smack you in the pit of your stomach. You’re a fat c**t! You’re vile! The gravy train is over! You need help! Even your daughter doesn’t want or need you! I hate you! Stop abusing me!

You lose all understanding. Your world collapses all around you. You don’t know where all these words are coming from. You no longer recognise the person saying them. You cry. You rage. You plead. You whimper. Your Love Twin has gone. Somebody else has her now and a stranger has taken her place. In a long neglected alcove of your mind a memory flickers away in the half light. And you find yourself thinking back to that morning all those years ago. And that alarm bell tinkling gently away in your loved-up brain. 

Naturally you let her back into the house. There was never any doubt that you would. A couple of days later you greet her at the front door. You and your hangover. Your only companion. Your new best friend. You tearfully tell her you’re prepared to forgive her. Have you no self-respect? comes her retort. So cold. So icy. You tell her you’re willing to go into therapy with her. To try to work out why she’s behaving like this. Both of you know that this isn’t really her. Something has happened to mess up her head. 17 years together cannot be thrown away in the blink of an eye. On one condition, she frostily announces, that I can carry on seeing him at the same time…

And then one day it all becomes too much for you. The pressure crushes your spine. Your shoulders are blocks of ice. Nothing you force into your body can nullify the pain. You pack a couple of bags: Underwear. Socks. In only a couple of months you’ve lost that thirty or forty pounds that you’d piled on over the years. You look older than ever. And even the pills cannot bring the blessed relief of sleep. You say goodbye to your daughter, almost an adult now. You hug each other and she tries to hold back the tears. And you bid a last farewell to your Love Twin. 

How could you do this to me? you plead. It was bigger than me, she shrugs. 

But how could you tell so many lies? 

I lie because I can, she replies, smiling serenely.

And then she wraps her arms around you and you feel her tears trickle down your cheek. You’re the love of my life, she whispers in your ear as you close the door behind you and head off into nowhere. Nothing to show for 17 years of commitment. Of love. Your thoughts flow like treacle. The pain of the loss, the agony of the betrayal overwhelms you, like a rusty dagger has been plunged into the epicentre of your soul. How will I ever recover from this? you ask yourself. It’s just not possible. How will I ever live again?

But life goes on for some people. Of course it does. Barely 24 hours after bidding that tearful final farewell to the love of her life, her life partner for the best part of two decades, the father of her child, your Love Twin is parading her new toy before her parents and your dumbstruck daughter. His skin is taut and unwrinkled; his smile earnest with a sweet innocence. He’s in love, you know this because she told you that he is (Although I’m not in love with him – I’m not in love with anybody actually…). If there was any pity left in your heart you would hand it to him freely and without hesitation. 

Advertisements
0

Dead: Paintings of singers and musicians who died tragically young. New exhibition in Hastings.

Why I decided to paint for the first time in 30 years

On Tuesday 12 June 2019 my first ever ‘art’ exhibition opened at the Hastings Arts Forum, 36 Marina, St Leonards on Sea, TN38 0BU. The show finishes on 23 June and features watercolours of artists who died tragically young. People such as: Amy Winehouse, George Michael, Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, Keith Flint, John Lennon and many others.

At the age of 56, this has been a long time coming. Given that I abandoned painting back in 1988 in favour of trying my luck with the written word it is as much a surprise to me that this is happening as I’m sure it is for anybody else who knows me.

I resumed painting in 01 January 2017. I decided to do so because I was taking a three-month sabbatical from alcohol and needed something to fill in the hours. My wife in the meantime, went out partying and clubbing with a much younger set of friends that she had suddenly commenced socialising with. I thought she was having a mid-life crisis and tried my best to be supportive.

Except that she didn’t got out with her new unblemished friends. Although she was occasionally to be found shaking her booty with her ‘hip’ young crowd what she was actually doing was having multiple affairs behind my back. I’m more than a little humiliated to admit that I simply didn’t have a clue this was going on. I feel stupid and foolish beyond words that I was so easily deceived. We’d been together for 18 years and I trusted her more than I trusted myself. I thought that were both going to grow old together. So did she – or so she frequently told me.

But everything exploded in my face in early July 2018 when I discovered – via Find My Phone of all things – that my betrothed wasn’t actually working abroad as she was supposed to be. She was in Hammersmith playing tonsil tennis in the grubby council flat of a 31-year-old Italian ex-soldier.

Four months later, after our once incredible, amazing relationship had at light speed devolved into something that went beyond toxic, I reluctantly left the woman I loved and moved to Hastings alone. There was no other option for me. I simply had to get as far away from the nightmare as I possibly could.

After almost two decades together it was took only four days for her to openly, brazenly and cynically parade her lover before me. He is 25 years younger than I. Impossible to compete with. Whatever I thought my reality was crashed and burned before the now distressingly alien and gloating eyes of the ‘love of my life’.

I moved out of my own house on 26 October 2018. It was without doubt the saddest day of my entire life. Worse than the death of any loved one that I had ever experienced. It was the death of everything I knew. I was lost. Abandoned. Betrayed. Hopelessly alone. Not so apparently for my wife, however, who, after 18 years during which we had spent almost every day together as partners, lovers, including 13 as man and wife, promptly took my shiny Latin replacement to meet her parents and my 15-year-old daughter in Brighton.

It took her less than 24 hours to do this. It was absolutely astonishing to me: heartbreaking, devastating, that the woman whom I thought I knew better than anyone on earth could be so callous, so cruel, so lacking in empathy. It was as if I had awoken to find myself in The Twilight Zone.

Evidently she’s now with this individual full-time. Her regular postings on social media reveal that they make a handsome if slightly incongruous couple. No amount of expensive cosmetic surgery or bottles of hair dye are, however, ever likely to conceal the fact that she is 17 years older than her youthful paramour. And with the onset of menopause looming ominously on the horizon one suspects that this yawning disparity in years will only become more apparent as time rolls on.

My deep, heartfelt love for my soon-to-be-ex-wife has turned into indescribable hatred. Particularly as I later learned that the Italian was just the tip of the iceberg. One of countless lovers consumed over a very long period. All happening in plain sight of me. At the same time as my wife and I continued to have an apparently ‘normal’ physical relationship. At the same time as she regularly assured me that I was the ‘love of her life’. Her ‘soulmate’. It still beggars belief that she could behave like this. It always will.

How could I have been so blind? So stupid? So completely deceived by the person I loved and trusted more than anyone in the whole world? It’s going to be very difficult for me to ever trust anyone again. I know that for sure.

In my new hometown of Hastings I had the worst Christmas imaginable. I spent the entire day in a deep, dark depression and ate precisely two slices of bread. Despite everything, still missing, yearning, craving for my estranged wife. Heartbroken over the loss of my beatific, fragile daughter. Needless to say there was no Christmas turkey for me that day. Although It has to be said that I imbibed more than my fair share of alcohol.

As January arrived the weather was cold, wet and bleakly appropriate. I trudged the streets in a shell-shocked stupor. Then, for a reason I simply will never be able to understand or explain, I decided to contact the Hastings Arts Forum on the seafront and show them my paintings. Silly little watercolours of nothing in particular. To my very great surprise they agreed to an exhibition later in the year.

By February, however, I was beginning to grow increasingly concerned. By that time I was regularly visiting a trauma therapist, taking anti-depressants, suffering from severe depression as well as a condition known as Complex Post Traumatic Stress, not to mention self-medicating with gallons of alcohol and a colourful assortment of recreational drugs. In attempting to dull the pain through whatever means necessary I had completed a grand total of zero paintings.

In a cold sweat I began to paint. I had no choice really. The clock was already at two minutes to midnight. Dead people. People as dead as I felt inside. People as lost as I. People as hurt. People with nowhere to go but down. I’m not going to attempt to play the melodrama card and claim that painting these people saved my life. It didn’t. Nothing is ever as simple as that. Indeed, whether that will ever happen remains to be seen.

What it did give me, however, was a sense of purpose brought on by nothing more than fear of failure. Me and my hangover began getting up early each morning – not that sleep was really possible – and painting until I was too exhausted to continue. A pleasure it was not. By the time that June arrived, however, I had somehow managed to produce 32 watercolours, some quite large in scale. Given that the gallery had only requested that I produce 25 paintings I actually had the luxury of choosing only the less rubbish ones.

I’m not going to claim that they are any good. I’m not qualified to make such judgements. I am certainly more artisan than artist. Craftsman rather than creative. Moreover, I can’t even be sure if I will ever paint again. What point is there in painting stupid little pictures on pieces of paper when your life has been ripped to shreds? But at least they exist. They’re out there for people to look at. To like or to not like. To ignore if they want to. If I’m honest, I’m not particularly bothered either way.

I’ve a long way to go yet. I doubt that I’ll ever be the person I once was. The pain of betrayal strikes me on an almost hourly basis. The agony of losing my daughter is even worse. I feel physically sick most of the time. It’s simply impossible for me to enjoy even a single minute of the day. Recovery, if it is ever to happen, seems a very, very long way away.

This Friday. Tomorrow. 14 June 2019. There is a sort of posh-ish opening in the gallery on the seafront. Wine and all that. Banter, one assumes. Chatter. People talking about things such as ‘composition’ and ‘colour’ and ‘hue’. Meaningless words. It would be great, however, if anyone living in Hastings who happens to stumble across this aimless little blog could come and help make a pretty broken man feel just a tad better about himself. So do drop in and have a look at this old duffer’s daubings. It would be a shame if you’re in the area and can’t spare a couple of minutes. At the very least there’s a glass of cheap plonk in it for you.

In the meantime here are a few of the daubings in question. Please be kind.

Thanks,

Ian

 

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

‘Dead’: Exhibition of Paintings, Hastings Arts Forum, 11-24 June 2019

On 11 June I will be having my very first exhibition of paintings. Entitled ‘Dead’, the theme of the work is singers or musicians who have all died tragically young. All of the work has been painted in watercolour over a three-month period.

There will be an opening night even at 6:00 pm Friday on 14 June at the Hastings Arts Forum. Being quite nervous about something I’ve never done before I’d appreciate as much moral support as possible.

It would be really good if you could Tweet this page or put it up on other forms of social media, FaceBook, Instagram, etc. I need as much support as I can get.

Below are a few examples of my work.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Letter to my 12-year-old self

After a very traumatic last 9 months I recently started seeing a therapist who specialises in CBT. I’ve also been undergoing EMDR which, I think,  is beginning to help.

My therapist likes to give me homework assignments. Last week she suggested I write a letter to my 12-year-old self. This is it:

 

Dear me,

First the good news: as I write this letter to you the year is 2019. It follows, therefore, that you and I are still very much alive. We’re not dead yet. Even though we smoke, drink and take far too many drugs for our own good we’re still breathing in and out. Now the bad news: quite apart from the fact that I’m afraid you’re doomed to lose your hair at a very young age, it is my duty to tell you that you’re in for a pretty tough time in the coming decades. But then not many people exactly have it easy – if that’s any consolation at all for you.

I wish there was some way that I could change things for the better for you. But we know all about time and the nature of paradoxes don’t we? If I was able to improve your future and, therefore, my own past there would be no need for me to write this letter would there? And if there was no need to write this letter then I wouldn’t be able to improve your future and my own past. Make any sense to you? Watch the movie ‘Back to The Future’ when it comes out in 1985 and maybe you’ll have a clearer understanding of what I’m trying to say.

Although I can’t radically change things for you, however, what I am able to do is to give you a little advice and perhaps a few warnings. Before I do so, however, let me reassure you that you’ll grow up to be a pretty OK person: kind, generous, intelligent, good looking, tall, clever, empathetic, sensitive, interesting, funny, witty, strong, modest, loving, talented and decent are just some of the words that others will use to describe you in the coming years. Naturally, there will be plenty of negative words too, but let’s not try to spoil the mood.

At my therapist’s request (Yes! The older version of you has a therapist!) I write to you, my 12-year-old self, because something is about to happen to you that will have far reaching implications and repercussions for you for the rest of your life. I say this from the standpoint of a middle-aged man who himself is only just beginning to realise that one can never escape from one’s past. That however much one tries to brush past events under the carpet they will always remain there. And occasionally you may find yourself tripping over that bump in the carpet, more often than not at the worst possible time. 

I’m not going to go into detail about what will shortly happen to you but I can tell you that it will involve the most important person in your life at the moment. This person is going to manipulate you into doing things that will make you feel ashamed of yourself. In time, however, you will find within yourself the strength to stop this person doing what they are doing and emerge from this experience with a great sense of relief. As the years go by you will even be able to process your wholly understandable shame – a shame borne of corruption, cowardice and complicity – and turn this negative experience into something more positive. Indeed, you will eventually grow to trivialise this traumatic event to such a degree that you will genuinely believe that there will have been no lasting scars. You should feel a sense of pride for being strong enough to do this but I’m afraid I have to warn you that the scars will never go away. They may fade in the light of years but these wounds, you will learn at your cost, are liable to split open at any time.

You and I are both aware that you are currently living in what can only be described as a war zone. I can still remember our cruel, domineering father and all the terrible things that he did to us and to our poor sister on an almost daily basis. I remember the public tears and the private tears that you shed; the fear, the terror, the painful and irrational insecurities that made you tremble in bed, the notion that somehow you deserved every cruel deed that was inflicted upon you; the desperate need to make him proud of you, to make yourself feel that deep down, despite everything, he loved you as a father should love a son. Experience is now able to let me reveal to you that in a strange, confused way he almost certainly did love you. As much as a person so damaged as he was able to experience love. 

I can only offer my apologies to you that you are currently experiencing in real-time the memories that I have successfully managed to file away somewhere in the back of my mind. If I could change places with you I would set you free and bear the physical and emotional manifestations of our father’s pain and misery on my own shoulders. But then that’s what we do, you and I. So often we carry other people’s burdens in an effort, one assumes, to reconstruct our own eroded sense of self-worth. Either that, or we simply want nothing more than to do good for others – surely there can be nothing wrong with that? Perhaps you can help me decide on this one because in truth I’ve never been entirely sure.

This is another annoying quality that you will come to recognise in yourself: so often you will seek assistance from the very person you are trying to help. And this, perhaps, might be the real reason that you and I are so desperate to be seen to give of ourselves to others: in offering ourselves are we are not able to take from others without the guilt that we undoubtedly feel from an unsolicited gesture of kindness, of friendship, of intimacy? Or maybe I succumb to psychobabble. 

My words tie themselves in knots as they are often prone to do. They are not helping you, my younger self, in the context of a voice of wisdom from your future, a voice that is subtly trying to point you in a certain direction while taking care not to reveal too much of the life that awaits you. For without giving too much away: what will happen to you will happen. I can no more change the path on which you are destined to walk than I can change my own past. You will do what you have to do to get where you are going. And nothing and nobody can stop you. 

Of course, there will plenty of wrong turns along the way, blind alleyways, cul de sacs. Why would there not be? There is nothing special or unusual about you. But as well as such failures and hiccups I’m happy to tell you that you will also be fortunate enough to enjoy more than your fair share of success on your journey. Indeed, there will be many who will envy your achievements in life. And while these milestones might not often bring you the financial rewards that we all crave, the sense of creating something worthwhile, of doing the ’right’ thing with you life, will often more than compensate. 

I know you as well as I know myself. And even though all too often you are easily manipulated by those who seek to control you, nobody will ever be able to stop you from doing what you are about to do. Your stubbornness is both a blessing and a curse; it is an essential part of who you are; something you should be forever proud of. As I write this letter to the person I once was  I am able to look behind me at the footprints I have made in the snow. We are both powerless, you and I, to change their direction. Nor should we ever try.

Destiny neither of us can change. But perhaps, just perhaps, we can alter the colour of that destiny. Its flavour. Its smell. In a minor but crucially important way. 

In exactly 44 years time you will sit at the exact same table at which I am currently seated and write the exact same words that I am now writing. And if you have learned the lessons that I have recently been forced to learn in what was the most brutal, heartless, callous, cruelest manner imaginable you may be able to reach the unhappy conclusion that nothing we experience in life comes without repercussions. That when you bury something that is still alive it will eventually dig its way through the cold earth and find a pathway back into your soul. And when it does so you will find yourself an unwitting slave to those patterns of unhappiness you were sure had been consigned history waste basket. 

So keep your eyes open, my 12-year-old self. Look around you and never stop looking. Be vigilant. Learn to recognise those whom you have met so many times before and will again. Be ready for what they do and be prepared for what they seek. For such people carry their own scars and will do what it takes to keep them hidden from view. To be able to recognise the good in others is indeed an admirable quality. To recognise the good in others when that good does not exist is, however, the essence of a fool.  See with your eyes, not with your heart.

Above all, look towards yourself. Look inside yourself. Recognise that in order to evolve it is necessary to take time to heal. Do not dig a hole for your past and walk away without looking back. Keep your past with you at all times. Not as a dull, nagging ache that constricts your movement and deadens your mind. But as an essential and ever-present part of who and what you are. Because only by understanding that it is your past experiences – both negative and positive – that have moulded you into the person you are will you ever truly be able to live as a free man.

Latest watercolour

Might be included in my upcoming exhibition in Hastings 11-23 June.

A tale of two cities

In September 2018 I was invited to accompany boxer Larry Ekundayo to Lagos in Nigeria. This is the story of an incredible 8 days. originally published in Boxing News

Self-portrait with blood and spots

First painting in three months.

 

ED701D6F-22C8-411E-9AE2-230F04F51B48