lovelife, midlife

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Divorce Court

From break-up to wake-up to make-up: how to dismantle an atomic love bomb.

Half way up the steep hill, leaning in, a tight sheet of wind slaps him across the face in a cold open to the latest episode.

The wind continues: shoots across the park as if a co-ordinated presence, round then back again and slamming into his right flank. He bends at the hip, nearly as horizontal as vertical, as a chunky blue car passes, lines of nineties hip-hop blaring from the stereo. ‘Throwin’ my clothes out the windows/so when the wind blows I see my Polos and Timbos’ *

Sound connects us to the world. But in this moment he lives in emotional quarantine. He pulls the collar of his coat higher, but the pain in his chest pulls harder, as the exposure continues. 

He’s lost his love and he’s lost his fun

Has he the imagination to think this through? Scientists study heartbreak and find human emotional pain can cause actual physical pain. For some, relationship loss hurts so badly their heart gets bent out of shape. Not as a simple metaphor, but physically bent and twisted around. While his heart isn’t that degree of wrecked, he feels in his body the familiar ache of the forlorn. Despite being separate from his lover for over a month, memories of their discord and squabbling continue. Pieces of argument and counter argument reverberate through the day. Sick of his inner voices – this madness light – he’s actively forbidden all intrusive thinking. Still the ruminating continues. Seems some thoughts have a mind of their own.

Sleet starts to fall and departs as suddenly as it arrived as the sun comes out over the tennis courts. The short break in the sky brings an emotional lift – until he plants his trainer in a deep puddle left by last night’s storm. 

How do you row in a relationship? How do you row across to the far end of intimacy – where the grenades are stashed? It’s the dark side of the moon. First they argued face to face, and then by text, email, FaceTime, and phone. How come they got into the habit of lobbing grenades? Why would you do that?

He reminds himself it is the taboo, the ‘unsayable’, the personal material steeped in shame, this is what he should write about. There once was an open-hearted love. But it degraded into a string of disputes. How long is a string of disputes? Some were petty gripes, others grew almost as big as a catastrophe. Overtime, so many arguments saw his lover transformed into his adversary. 

Finally he sees this. His mind’s arrived at itself as he reaches the top of the hill.  Beyond the wide view across the valley, the trees stripped back by winter, he sees with clarity their problem. Reflexive discord makes way for analytic understanding, as he steers his size twelves round to the side of another fat rain puddle. The lover, the soul mate, partner and June bride went missing. He doesn’t recognise his Other any more. (And in return she stopped seeing him.) Where did they vanish to? Often when they fight, as the grenades whizbang overhead, simultaneously he’s beside himself, puzzled observer of their strife, wondering how do you mislay a love like that?

         She walked into the art gallery late summer twenty eighteen and she smiled when she saw it was him. He bought them coffee for their opening date, but she barely sipped her flat white as he told the story of the woman who fell from the top of St Pauls. 

Three and half years later and they’re falling apart. Only recently married, it seems the most plausible outcome flickers at the edges – there, over in the corner. Apparently, ridiculously, it’s the swing door with the green sign marked Exit. A stone cold disaster. 

But then a funny thing happens on the way to the divorce court. They change their mind. It’s the most incredible turnaround. 

Who the Fuck Are You?

At their debut meeting she was not convinced but carried on seeing him. Following a series of weekend dates through September and into October of twenty eighteen, she realised they would be getting involved. Late one evening, at the end of date four, he took her hand leaving a Turkish restaurant and crossing the street. A week later in a south London park he pressed his thumb into her palm – making space to plant a seed.  

When she first conceived of giving internet dating a turn, she had unarticulated hopes of something substantial – even a life-altering love affair to sail away on. After many months of rapid turnovers, she concluded the big romance wasn’t happening. As Gala prepared to put away her bow and arrow, he sidled along. It was last orders and she got caught on the blindside. Asking her questions on dates, he was. Sitting there, looking into her eyes, he did. Listening closely to the words she said. After five or six meet-ups they seemed so close that she felt sure she knew who this man was, ’more or less’. You were sure of that. Were you sure of that? Yes, you said you were sure of that.

And then they spent the night together; and with intimacy she realised she didn’t know him at all. The strangeness of sleepovers. The morning after, she woke up in bed with the ‘Other’. A peculiar thing to do but happens all the time. Now then, who is this long-legged puzzle laid out on the window side of her wonky bed? 

First, you go dating, and it’s Where Are You? And then, you meet someone, and it’s Who Are You? ‘What happens when you date,’ according to Joni Mitchell, ‘…is you run all your best moves and tell all your best stories – and in a way, that routine is a method for falling in love with yourself over and over.’ Sounds plausible. For a minute or two. But with further reflection, Gala decides, No, Joni’s wrong about this.

Who are you? It’s a slippery eel. Everybody knows in bed you temporarily lose your self – your ego in a spin. So, what can he tell her about the essence of ‘Him’, what definitive statement when this sleepy and dishevelled sipping his morning tea? Poor guy can’t even say when he last saw his boxers. 

The Lover I Don’t Know

        She waits in the week. Considers this man: What’s he like? What does she think of him so far? Some of her thoughts are idealistic. 

When he returns on Friday night, he isn’t the man she spent all week with. That individual exists only in her head. This could be deflationary, but she tells herself she loves a riddle. (You love a riddle. You really do. Do I?)

Gala believes the Other has to be ‘other’ because, regardless of Joni Mitchell, ordinarily we don’t wish to fall in love with our reflection. But the Other is a mystery, and although intriguing, the situation can also feel confusing. So disorienting that some days you may find yourself asking strange questions: To which category of the Other does the naked guy currently smiling at me belong? Is he psychotic? Is he perverse? He stems from the neurotic genus, perhaps. And if so, neurotic hysterical, or neurotic obsessional? 

Sunday, once again he leaves to return to his home, which she is yet to visit. Within an hour his absence becomes opaque. Is He not Him? No, she’s pretty sure he’s him. She thinks this through. What she means, the thought she’s reaching after: Could the man she’s now regularly sleeping with be a proxy representing someone else yet to be revealed? 

There’s an empty notebook and light blue pen in her stationary drawer. Over the next months, she records her thoughts. Reading back through the pages of her ‘Early Journal’, she discovers an elegant series of entries combining rational sense-making with magical thinking.

Although their romantic attachment grows, simultaneously a scepticism builds. The fear of a proxy lover (not a poxy lover) is not unreasonable. Often he imagines recruiting a proxy in real life. Fantasies of slipping loose from Tuesday ‘anchor days’ at the bullshit job. Sending a low-key delegate to the weekly team meeting while his lead self kicks back over a coffee. There are times in the queue at Pret he could use a stand-in. Or today, with it so cold out, how excellent to have a deputy go get dinner.

As it is, he delays leaving the warm house, caught up with choosing which scarf and scrolling the dictionary on his phone. Proxy derives from Latin for procurator, the agent representing clients in a court of law. In these digital days of unstable identities, however, of crisis actors, sock puppets, and ambiguous avatars running amok, it can feel like an upstanding proxy is hard to find. During the dominion of the dating app, where motive and action are easily concealed, the proxy is more of a ‘player’ than a sturdy surrogate, a live risk, perhaps, the Other you swore you knew.

In the weeks to come, the couple-in-lust are physically separate from Sunday mid afternoon through to Friday early evening. There are texts, blizzards of texts, and several long emails. (They don’t FaceTime or phone in the early phase.) Each mail message arriving with a screen banner, and every text that pings, hits up the recipient with a shot of dopamine that fades as both of them, giddy grown-up lovers, hungrily crave the next bump. This could become an addiction, she thinks, as excitement levels rise. 

They spend less time with others, disappearing into their beginning stages, caught up in the architecture of relationship building. There are high expectations for an extensive deep attachment. In a long magazine piece, however, he reads about the Stoics, whose ancient technologies of the self considered attachment misguided. Stoicism warns against squandering our emotions on external objects. After years of pain because of hitching his heart to the football, he understands it is absurd to invest in a sports team when you have no control. For periods he tried cutting down on Chelsea. And there were spells he took time out from relationships. But so far in this life he is incapable of going for any length without a significant romantic connection. 

At the end of his working week, he packs a bag, pills, spare boxers, and travels across London, listening to a podcast on Brexit. These are the good times, he thinks, as the love train barrels towards Gala on the Essex Borders. 

It’s early evening as he arrives at the commuter train station near to her home. Their third weekend together as lovers. She watches his train come in. Out of the dense crowd of passengers pouring through the ticket barriers, the tall distracted lover emerges into view, completing his return to her erotic orbit. She watches him, bright brown eyes, as he waits to tap out at the card reader. See me! I see you. He looks up and smiles. Good.

But she also catches a flicker of something not good. Does she? The light is hazy, but is there a coolness under his smile? Did you feel that? Has her love’s mood slipped back a notch from the lofty heights of last weekend? Not as into it, into them, as five days ago. What changed?

He changed. Yes. He’s different. Every time they say goodbye, a different man comes back to her. It is perplexing and unlike any romantic involvement she’s known. Here he floats across the station forecourt. She stands by her car observing. He walks the same looks the same but something has altered in his stance. Clearly he varies. Should she kiss him – kiss the simulacrum of his previous self? Yes. No. Okay, kiss him. But not ardently. Not like they kiss later. She mainly hugs, then ducks her head, eyes falling to the pavement.

As they drive away from the train station. As she waits at the junction, jockeying to make the awkward right turn into the fast flow of traffic, they’re not speaking. This ball of confusion is not her idea of fun. This new experience, the ‘surprise-man’ relationship phenomenon is mystifying her consciousness. He asks about all these cars, where do they come from, and she replies Tesco. There’s a huge store upstream. He knew this already, just making conversation, thrown by her silent preoccupation. The seconds are accumulating as neither says another word after five days separate. Is she a bit askew? Did I get the wrong night? Feels as if there’s something going on he missed the start of. She wonders, is my thinking always constructive? 

Four years later, he better appreciates the angst of hello, goodbye, hello… He conjures a cartoon caricature of how it felt back then, a montage of versions of their Friday arrival scene. Costumed variations of him flowing through the ticket barrier – set to music, or described in voiceover. Him as he dresses normally. Him in the role of a retro city gent clutching a rolled umbrella. Wearing a chef’s hat, firefighter, solider. (She told him she loved Mr Benn growing up.) A farmer in wellies with sheepdog. Plumber with a toolbox. Circus gymnast stripped to his singlet somersaulting all the way to her Fiat…  

Half an hour back at her house, they have become bedded in for the night over a drink. The weekend romcom comes good as both parties feel reassured that their emotional investment is secure. With any possible chill – momentary, but also still-not-confirmed – having burnt off, they resume with their characteristic state of intensity, plunging together into a flowingness of time. ‘There is no beginning,’ sing Tom Tom Club, ‘and there is no end’.**

This non-linear experience lies beyond the limits of capitalistic time. Outside of history, rarely watching the clock, they find they are often unsynched – late for brunch, or recklessly leaving it too long between meals to wait until dinnertime, urgently looking for flapjacks to keep them afloat. (She also has Tangfastics in her car door, but he’s not a fan.)

While the primary site of their absorption is her attic bedroom (two steep flights of stairs closer to heaven), the red Fiat is also a key setting, vying with the kitchen (afternoon light growing pale across the table) as second most important scene of engagement. The Fiat brings them back and forth – not only the train station, or local curry house, but to and from the forest, where they go on long walks whatever the winter weather’s doing. After they return from their latest afternoon tramp, she reverses into her front drive then shuts off the engine. But they don’t exit the car. They sit there finishing the current conversation; then often starting up a new topic; and in this way talking for ages. It’s a relationship quirk. Pedestrians walk by and glance across to see the neighbourhood nuts sitting side by side, two lovers facing out through the windscreen, caught up in their latest moment. It’s enough to make the curtains twitch, she says.

The Life of the Mind

He heads home again on Sunday, returning to south London, leaving love trailing behind, and some of its knotty questions. The familiar puzzle returns: Who Is this Other? Is she gradually getting to know him, or simply adding fresh layers to a fantasy character? 

In the middle of the working afternoon she sits in her office between sessions. Gazing into the lively swirls in the rug, she hallucinates that they rise up from the fabric, changing into letters and words that form a set of answers to the questions that press on her daily. But on blinking, the answers disperse, and the swirls return to their usual state of being.

What’s the missing solution? If attraction depends on an ideal Other, is this is an advanced or primitive position? It comes to pass that the conundrum of the Other just won’t settle down, but lives long in their relationship. And although fuel for fun, stoking a mutual attraction, the Other is the thought they can never get beyond. In the days and weeks and months to come, something lives between them, a doubting at the sense of never knowing enough, no matter how much they talk. 

The social critic Lauren Berlant wrote of a Cruel Optimism. ‘Something you desire that is actually an obstacle to your own flourishing.’ Does Gala suffer from ‘cruel optimism’? Maybe he’s got the bug – it’s him. She asks about his past loves. After listening to some of his life-stories she says it is possible he’s got a thing for women with hearts that are far from still. She offers this insight as a caution. They’ve come out to walk on the far side of the forest, where the fields are at their boggiest and sheep with complicated horns graze. She asks, does he actually know for certain that he loves the things he appears to desire? The question develops on the return journey. She reverses into the drive, pulls hard on the handbrake, and sits there looking into her lap. There’s a question. She asks if she matters to him, and if so how much?

He thinks then shakes his head. 

What?

He says: Is that the question?

Yes.

Are you not asking something different?

This is her: What do you mean?

Are you maybe interrogating yourself in fact? 

No.

How much does this man matter? How important is this relationship to me six weeks in? Is this perhaps what you’re asking?

It’s not six weeks, she replies. It’s seven.

He smiles. They already query each other’s memory of their infant relationship, who said what and when, the growing contested archive. They do a count-back of the weeks and differ on their official birth day. (Did they begin when they first knew they were going to sleep together, or was opening night in bed – lights down, clothes off – their actual start point?) They agree on six weeks. He continues further into Gala’s specific question by referring to his different way with feelings compared to her approach. He makes an illustrative joke about adjustment and of pigs learning to dance. It’s puzzling he does this. First he wriggles but then admits the pig gag doesn’t belong to this conversation. That he’s not saying he’s porcine, or that she might want to envisage him in trotters going to dance classes. In the process of his explaining, her lead question goes unanswered. 

Gala wonders if this is a trend. She asks after his heart procedure coming up in a few weeks. Says she wants to be with him at the hospital. He’s glad she offers. He likes her love. Perhaps he could tell her? But he recognises already this love is what it is. She, however, feels there’s something of him not quite there yet, don’t you Gala? She contradicts herself. No, this isn’t so. He’s all there. Thinks, No, wait, uh-uh, there are times he’s not fully present. She knows and doesn’t know.

She decides his way of relating is quirky, and that while quirky can be charming, it might also be a reason to doubt. In a dark moment she thinks maybe she better take care. Serially evasive lovers are known to hide in plain view. It’s possible she’s not being loved, but played. She writes an email to him, but doesn’t send. The first in a series. 

“What are you thinking of? What thinking? What?
“I never know what you are thinking. Think.”
***

When she was younger, for a long time she worked as a life model. As she describes the experience, he wonders whether she’d prefer if he responded to her with a closer attention. He’s intrigued that she modelled and asks several questions. She shows him a faded photo from those times and tells him it’s meaningful that she’s doing this. 

They are downstairs, at her house, mid point in the eighth or ninth, or is it thirteenth or sixteenth weekend of them. She leans back from the table. It’s either Saturday or Sunday. Could be morning, or maybe the afternoon. It is clearly daytime as there is daylight streaming through the windows. She explains she had the windows changed when she first moved in. Made them bigger to bring in more sun. He looks at the glass and nods. Is he agreeing with her statement, or approving of the larger aperture? She doesn’t know what he’s thinking. Would it be any easier if she did?

He finishes his coffee and rises to leave the room. As he passes behind her chair suddenly she wants to feel his lips on her skin. Before she’s completed the thought, he leans down and kisses her neck. How lovely they are now reading minds, that their situation has evolved this far so fast. She listens to his footsteps rise up the stairs and looks at the face in the mirror, her reflection. He has to be beyond ‘Other’ now, surely? And then her gaze turns to the window, and the passage of light, as she realises that what she wants is to be seeing through his eyes. What does he think of her? No, not that. What she truly desires is a clear view of how he sees themhim and her as a relationship. What if she got inside his head, only to find the view not clear?

The Part with Drake in it

Each morning on their love weekends, they drink tea in bed. He always gets the mug with the names of famous artists. As he leans against the large square pillow, his lips kissing the D in Dali, he becomes silently absorbed in the experience of being together while also watching his toes twitching at the bottom of the mattress. She wonders how often can she inquire after another person’s thoughts? This time, she decides she is not to ask. Instead, her brain mists over momentarily as she begins taking in a deep breath, often the prelude to a big question. Shortly she listens to herself saying, Do you love me? 

He hears the question but doesn’t immediately reply. He stops gazing at his toes as his brain wheezes into response mode, slowly then rapidly flicking through the files – all kinds of stored content, feelings, thoughts, memories, alongside numerous cultural examples relating to her bombshell question. Do you love me? He could just go with Yes. But bizarrely stops at Drake. He tells Gala, it’s like the Drake song. 

This is her: What do you mean? 

I forget the title. It’s famous. He sits up in bed, suddenly animated, his voice switching from grainy to grampian. I mean, it’s well known. The song. The line, it goes like. Let me see. He recites the lyric: ’She say, “Do you love me?” I tell her “Only partly/I only love my bed and my mama, I’m sorry.” ****

He smiles, delighted at remembering the lyrics word perfect. Do you know it?

She stares at him like he just landed from Mars as she shakes her head. No, I don’t know any songs by Drake. 

I actually like it. The Annoying Son hates Drake. He nods. She listens to him and feels disappointed. He says, I’m struck by the phrasing of the lyric. It’s why I remember the words. The line sounds awkward. But not awkward as in just poorly written. But intentionally contorted, as if the lyric sets itself a problem, how to make this phrasing work? And while the lyric is resolved in Drake’s delivery, the stickiness between the lovers remains, confirmed by the unusual phrasing. 

He says this and cocks his head. She’s seen this before. A gesture indicating he’s pleased with something he’s said. She replies that she doesn’t see any problems being solved. What she hears is a partner let down for asking a question. 

Yes, that’s what I’m getting at.

Yes. 

Silence. Realising it wasn’t the time for textual analysis, he searches his head to precisely locate what he’s actually saying. As he strains for the words, once again she wonders about the man in her bed. But for so many for so long this has been the way of things. People leave home, up sticks, roll the dice, to go live with virtual strangers. ‘The man she calls her husband’, observes Vivian Gornick, ‘is “other.” He is the man to whom she is married, yes. The man with whom she lies down every night, yes. The man whose disapproval makes her heart shrivel, yes. But what does all that mean? Who, after all, is he?’

Initially there can be no straight answer to such questions. How strange when you arrive at this point in your life. Stranger still to be back here again. And yet we are all others. From infancy upward the brain develops through the experience of encounters with an external world populated by entities who are not us.  Well read, and having lived a little, they understand all this – they do, him and her, the both of them. And yet here they lie – adjacent, enthralled, but haunted, as well as gripped, at the idea that somewhere inside their booming lover affair is a vital piece of understanding that’s become trapped. Two lovers preoccupied with an answer they cannot locate.

Here Comes the Science Bit

Deploying scientific terms that he properly doesn’t comprehend, a relational homeostasis is established within their love affair – a stable equilibrium founded on a shared returning thought, the compelling thought of ‘not knowing’.

‘Homeostasis is sometimes used as a way of defining life itself,’ writes Arianne Shahvisi. ‘…living beings can maintain steady internal states despite changeable external conditions… The stability of the internal environment is the condition for the free and independent life…’ But there is a flip side. ‘Our bodies can only maintain homeostasis within reasonable bounds… Acute challenges lead to disease and death; chronic pressures wear us down.’

The couple’s shared equilibrium of ‘not knowing’ eventually brought disturbance to the relationship. God sent challenges – the windy city, a pandemic, pesky kids acting pesky – and in time an entropic disorder blew up: leading to the hurling of grenades.

In the night, a storm blows so hard he breaks abruptly from a deep Clonazepam sleep. Firstly anxious as a dog, scared the sky is falling on his head. Then thinking like a homeowner: How are the tiles on the roof? Is this gale going to cost me and how much? 

Two kinds of dread. But either ways, years in training as a resilient grown-up means you permit yourself only limited space for fear. So, gathering up his hands in a neat pile, he forces his body to lie still and tough it out under the duvet. Asleep again in minutes, he heads straight to REM, where he dreams about Rupert the ginger, next door’s cat, who is super-cool and always hanging out in the neighbourhood. 

The dream opens with the street where he lives in bright sunshine. But Rupert’s hurt his leg. He watches the cat limp past the window and leaps up from his laptop, rushing out the house to help. The injured creature hides away under an orange car as a neighbour he doesn’t recognise enters the dream shouting, That’s my cat! In Persian (with English subtitles). The Persian guy reaches under the car and extracts Rupert, who looks grumpy, and has traces of blood on his paw. 

Dissolve to a generic cityscape. He walks quickly down a wide road of tall office blocks and broad empty pavements. (His dream is low budget – he can’t afford extras and the CGI is shoddy.) He steps inside a neo-classical building. The camera tracks him crossing the lobby to the elevator and up to the twenty third floor, leading directly into a Presidential suite painted in a range of contemporary greys. In a vast master bedroom he finds Gala sat on the mink carpet reading her journal. Her legs are bare and there are traces of blood on her ankle. 

He wakes up before six. Gala texts from down south and asks about his night. She says it makes her sad to think of him alone in bed scared of the wind. He should but doesn’t share his dream. The narrative of the transmogrification of the wounded Other is not at first properly gathered in – failing to engage the sympathetic imagination as his unconscious intended. Instead, it is the estrangement, not the wound, that remains the lead mood.

Sauer Times

The weeks pass and it’s early February and she’s still not come back to the windy city. At their weekend FaceTime, Gala tells him she’s returned to the weight she was when they first met. They both smile remembering their debut get together in the art gallery. Three and a half years ago. She says she’s thinking of selling her house and moving back south. He asks if selling up is in effect a route out of the relationship. She won’t be his wife next door any longer. She shakes her head in disagreement.

not the same product as described below

The woebegone conversation concludes. Earlier today his mood was beige, now it’s sickly yellow as he takes off for the shops seeking some consolatory treat food. Although most of the stores are closed, the deli’s having a mid-season sale – cheese, biscuits, and pickles on reduction, and a small tower of half-price sauerkraut. The sauerkraut in a curvy brown jar has a funky label promoting well being in a light green script. Holding onto a jar tightly, he considers reaching for a second. 

The warm feelings dissolve however at the sight of the Facebook logo lurking on the dark side of the glass. He remembers Facebook getting caught boasting to advertisers that their algorithms can identify vulnerable users going through an emotional slump. He doesn’t want to be the guy buying left-field food because he’s feeling low. He returns the jar to the display counter, leaving the deli none the poorer, oblivious of the surrounding conditions thinking – of all the things in the world to think about – thinking of his dad’s tomatoes, and his dad’s strawberries, and his runner beans too. 

In his later years, Dad was always talking down the phone about his garden, absorbed by how his produce was performing. ‘We live through the small things’, says Dr Orna on Couples Therapy. Is there, however, a larger subject beneath the surface passion people feel for their everyday existence? The atmosphere of his own narrative suggests so many smaller things as stand-ins for one great goal still to be identified. Although not convinced by this simple formula, he has however noticed how attachment has grown bigger for him through mid-life. Could this be his greater purpose coming into view – finally?

The Remix

        Another night, four am, and his useless bladder’s calling. He gets out of the warm bed and pads barefoot to the bathroom. Sat on the loo, the floor tiles slabs of ice, he thinks about underfloor heating, and other things he hasn’t got. He returns to bed and curls up facing the wall waiting for sleep to return. But sleep doesn’t take him back as usual. So, he lies there, staring down the barrel of his life, and he tosses – yes tosses; and turns, yes he turns. And the duvet becomes bunched, for sure, knotted up in his restless legs.

It seems so much longer than three and a half years since he and Gala first got together. So much further back that they became fixtures in each other’s life. The past closes in on itself but continues to work away inside. Under the surface he is the owner of a cache of material from previous break-ups to remind him of what’s coming. When you’re in love with another your heartbeats regulate. Respiration rates align and brain waves synch. After a rupture, the subject’s cortisol and stress levels spike as internal alarm systems trip at the realisation that the other who you co-regulated with has left the building. The nervous system feels under threat. Man is an unhappy ape, alone again in the jungle re-evaluating risk levels.

The bad times are physically tough, but he knows from memory that he won’t expire from a break-up. You continue to live, we refuse to be worn out. He has emotional resilience, for certain, but no attachment.

Still sleep’s not happening. He returns to the list of major things he hasn’t got and also his list of things he desires. Two short lists with ‘Wife’ in each column. He knows he ought to do something about this confusion but how so when his restless legs won’t stop twitching? He commands them to stay still. But what’s the point barking at the limbs when the brain’s not listening? His mind’s chattering at speed, caught up with internal ad-libs because he’s sure at last he has it all figured out. Finally it’s plain to see that this way of being is no way to stay alive. The idea of conflict falls away. It goes poof! it does – in a tiny cloud of smoke. 

An email starts coming together in his head concerning a couple changing shape – not splitted, but remixed. A laptop and a coffee would help with putting his email together. Downstairs, he fills a kettle and switches on his phone. A message comes through. Sent at 2.34am. Gala: Should we, shall we keep the door ajar? 

For weeks, she’s been letting go while hanging on. He thinks of the threat of what we know and don’t do anything about. Is her latest text from the early hours a final backward glance, the goodbye look you can’t ignore?  ‘In personal life, regardless of any covenant, one party may initiate a fundamental change in the terms of relating,’ wrote Gillian Rose in Love’s Work. ‘There is no democracy in any love relation.’ Sure. But there is email. ‘Updates available’ says a pop-up at the top right of his laptop screen as he writes to his wife, down south: says he thinks they’ve got it wrong, writes short and fast, then hits Send. 

Any major dude will tell you, what breaks apart can fall together again.***** Within a week, she returns to the windy northern city, where the annealing process progresses. In a jewel of a scene, the couple in love properly apprehend each other again. No longer adversaries, they agree to pack away the grenades and to think about living together – as married couples do. 

In the days that follow, he comes to believe that merging two such opinionated households is an excellent move but also a TV show. Take a blending couple with all their lifetime belongings and accumulated taste choices. Add decades of weighty emotional content. Then task the two mid-lifes with successfully creating a new home. To bring them together under the same roof is a cross-genre concept: a mix of the popular decluttering strand with Property, Interiors, and a complementary Psych component, featuring input from a life coach or existence guru. The animating allure of learning something important about who you truly are. Will Version 2.0 of the couple deliver them from their own unknowing selves?

Gala listens patiently as he gratuitously fills the details for his fantasy TV show. At last, he’s finished, and she tells him if we can get this dish down the stairs without it dropping, she will be so happy.

He wonders how many times it happened. On the way to the divorce court the couple smiled and turned around.  

End of Piece

Some of what you just read happened. Or something similar. But some events were just a story.

*Me and My Bitch, The Notorious B.I.G

** Genius of Love, Tom Tom Club

*** The Wasteland, TS Eliot

**** God’s Plan, Drake

***** Any Major Dude Will Tell You, Steely Dan

Bonus Scenes

******

****** Bonus stills taken from Late Spring, a Yasujirō Ozu film from 1949. On a bike ride to the coast, lead character Noriko reveals a personal trait that will later drive the narrative and ultimately result with her getting married – when all along she was certain this is something she’d never do. But what is the trait that drives her?

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