It's difficult to be a bystander as Ally tries to retrieve her daughter from an abusive man for several reasons.
The simplest is that I am powerless. I can't do anything to help bar be there for her. I read the lies he tells about himself and his children and I realise that although I know them to be lies there is no way for me to show that (for instance, that his new stepson is great mates with C and they spend time together listening to music in her room: the truth is that C is an aspie who doesn't like sharing her space, and the stepson intrudes in it; she shouts at him to get out but he won't -- I know this because I have heard C say so and the other girls say there was shouting between them every night -- but there's no proof, just his willingness to lie and when it comes to it, hers: it's distinctive about her that she overcommits to emotions and has to cast things in her life as black and white to be able to understand them: Daddy good, Mummy bad, there cannot be shades, so if reality does not match that simple frame, she will lie about things even when she knows the person she is lying to is aware they are not that way; or that he encountered the younger girls in a shopping centre and they were unhappy and unsettled, looking around the whole time, and he left them there because he didn't want to run into Alison and cause trouble: the truth is that they were at the shops with me and Ally, and had been happy and relaxed with us -- just moments before laughing at me as I tried not to weep in the brow-threading shop -- and were in my sight the whole time, he spent a few moments with them, looking around the whole time himself, furtive, and left when he saw me approach -- and what upset them was his presence, stirring them into an autistic meltdown, in which they spent an hour telling Ally how his new partner was horrible to them, didn't care about them, gave them smaller lunches than her own sons, how scared they were that he would kill their dogs -- but when you present this to an outsider, there are just two stories and if you do not know us, how can you tell which is true? When you do know us, it's simple: I very rarely lie and of course I have no real reason to invent a story about him, since the plain truth is he is what we say he is and we don't need to lie about that; he has a history of lying in sometimes ridiculous and transparent ways). I fear for C, a confused, angry child, who I have looked on as this man has poisoned her. I know this for a fact because I've seen messages he sent her, I've heard her repeat things he's said, I've helped Ally word emails in which she begged him to stop, to support her, to be a man. Some nights I can't sleep because I'm worried for her: I remember her email, in which one of the most shocking things she said was that he slammed car doors near her fingers to scare her. I see the one time he misjudges it and her fingers are broken. I see him driving recklessly, which he does, again to scare the children, and losing control. I see him picking her up and shaking her, which she confirmed to me herself he had but heartbreakingly said "he didn't mean it", and fear that one time it will be too hard of a shake and she will suffer a counter coup injury and lasting damage.
The worst of it is that we asked him to talk this over and I feel that if he had been willing to talk to me, to listen for just an hour, I could have helped him. For all that I'm sorry for Ally and the kids, I cannot help being sorry for him too. I understand feeling stressed. I understand not coping. I understand how hard it is to not give in to being an arsehole, to cope with noisy kids who won't do what you want, to deal with the pain of a relationship ending, feeling you have failed, that you have "lost". When Mrs Zen found new love, I was not bitter and I wished her well but I think I can understand how painful that may have been for him. Not everyone is as able to let go as I am. I feel like what he has needed in his life is a clear voice that would tell him, you're doing wrong, this is the right path. And from reports, he is capable of it. People tell me he can be a decent guy, loving and warm, although every person I have met -- in person and online -- who knows him has also told me he can come over as an arsehole, a brusque, ignorant fool who upset them on one occasion or another -- on one account, a couple of weeks ago he went to a school disco where one of Ally's friends was present, and he came and stood right behind her, obviously to intimidate her; when she didn't acknowledge him, he went away for a while, then came back and stood even closer -- this is who he is at least sometimes -- a boor who imposes himself on others because he thinks he should matter
. When he takes his medication and can cope with his rage issues, he is able to deal with the children without losing his shit. But he hasn't taken his medication in months. He doesn't even feel he needs it. And people around him of course sense his weakness but instead of seeing that they should help him find strength, they think he is like a child, in need of coddling and cocooning. So he can never grow; he is condemned to be a tantruming child, stamping his foot because he can't control others' lives the way he wants. She left me, boo hoo. She dares to move home, boo hoo. The child won't listen, boo hoo.
I say that's the worst of it but there's worse for me. Seeing how C is reminds me of myself and something that I rarely think about because it is so painful. When I was a child, I loved my dad more than anything. When he was at sea, I would push pins into my map to show where he was and where he had been. I would scour the newspaper for mention of his ship in reports on the Cod War, although there rarely were any because no one really cared. I missed him and like Ally's kids I sometimes cried because I couldn't have him in my life.
But he too was an aspie who could not cope with stress and found kids hard to deal with: the noise, the confusion, the doing things wrong. And he would lose his shit with me. And sometimes I would see him be rough with my mum. One time I saw him hit her. One time I saw his hands round her neck. He was moody and difficult, dominated us, scared us. He had no idea whatsoever how to be a father.
(And I want to say, you wouldn't believe this if you knew Dad now, because now he has flourished to allow himself to be the gentle, caring man he also was, and although he is still the centre of his own universe and expects others to fit him rather than the other way round, it's expressed in much more benign ways. I have long ago forgiven him because I understand that he did what his nature compelled him to do and what he was capable of. You cannot despise a person for what they cannot do; only for what they can but won't. What happened to him was that long exposure to a person capable -- not just capable but powerfully able -- of love made him able to change. My mum loved him so much that eventually he had no real choice but to love her back. And I also want to say that the flipside of him was that he could be very kind, very generous. He would give up his time to take me show me things -- things that interested him, for sure, but things he wanted me to share his love for. He did what he was capable of to show me he loved me and I don't want you to think that he didn't love me because I knew he did, at least until I reached my teens, when he found me too difficult to love.)
They had a separation. In the home because no one had the money to live elsewhere. And there was talk -- by which I mean real talk, plans being made -- of them ending their marriage.
I wanted to go with him. I loved my dad so much, so much that I would choose him over my mum. My mum, who had sacrificed so much for me, who had created so much warmth and kindness in my life, who had dedicated her life to me, given up dreams for me, never let me feel unloved or unwanted even on her toughest days. I can only imagine how painful it was for her to hear me say I wanted to be with him more. It's only now when I see Alison in deep deep pain, shaking with sobs, unable to come to terms with how hurtful C is to her, when she has done nothing to deserve it -- and she has not; she is a good mum -- she has her limits as we all do and being who she is she sees only those limits, she refuses to see the warmth she shows her girls, the kindness, the thoughtfulness, the sheer effort she has poured into three sometimes difficult children, to understand them, to give them what they need, to cherish them -- that I understand how much you can hurt a person.
Sometimes, when I was grown, my mum would say to me how guilty she felt that she had smacked me a few times, how she had never been a good mum, how she wished she had been better. And of course I would say, you were a great mum, because she was. She truly was. She was an inspirational mother. Everything good about me I learned from her. Everything good about my sisters -- and they are both good women -- they learned from her.
And what I didn't say, what I wish I would have said but it's like a secret now, a whisper, a shard of ice that we pretend isn't there, and I will never be able to tell her and I wish so much I could, not that it would do anything because the hurt I caused was so long ago, buried, almost vanished, is that I am sorry. I am sorry for how much I hurt her by choosing him, by saying your love was for nothing because because because I don't even know. I do not have any insight into my young heart. I do not know why I wanted what I wanted.
I wish I could speak to C. I wish I could tell her, you do not know it now, you think it's impossible now, but you have no idea that the hurt you are doing your mum will visit you too. A day will come when shame will creep into your life and haunt you and you will not be able to ignore it. And all the pain you caused, you will feel it too. Because you will not always be cruel. A time will come -- I believe it comes for all of us -- when we are reminded that we are not islands remote from each other, we are not inured to one another's pain, we are not monsters. And she is not. She is a lost, confused, hurting child who one day will know that's who she was.
Practical advice on your path to becoming a huge arsehole
So I promised to guide you in the task of being an arsehole, and typically for me, instead I talked about myself and neglected to do what I'd offered.
Which is lesson one, really.
There are of course different types of arsehole. There are your irredeemable types: thieves, killers, rapists. But these are not the arseholes you're looking for. To be any of these things you really need to be a full-blown sociopath who simply doesn't care a less about other people because you're made that way. In fact, can you even be considered an arsehole if you're not making a choice? There surely has to be the notion that you know better. I do believe that it's central to arseholery that you have a sense you are a precious flower who the rules don't quite apply to, rather than that you don't even know what the rules are.
The quickest route to being an arsehole is to do things you know are wrong: punch your wife, take a stick to your kids, tie up your dog and hit it repeatedly until it is crying with pain. Only full-blown sociopaths don't know these are wrong acts and feel no remorse for them. They're arseholery but the bottom line is, everyone knows it. You can't pretend to yourself that you are that special person you know yourself to be.
Personally, I have never done any of those things and never would. I'm far too precious for that. I would at least like some style points for my arseholery. You're probably the same. You might even have some notion of a scoresheet: you do enough good, it will balance out your failings. But gross acts of cruelty cannot be cancelled out, so you end up something more than an arsehole. You end up having to conclude you are an irredeemable cunt. Which is an uncomfortable feeling, I daresay.
And you miss a nuance of arseholery that the true fucking arsehole insists on: your victims know for sure that they do not deserve what you're doing. They know just as well as you do that you're doing the wrong thing. Well, where's the fun in that? You need another layer, a deeper subtlety, that only the to-the-bone arsehole can delight in. You need your victims to feel guilty about what you're doing. If you are particularly adept, one of the victims will be yourself. You'll never quite be sure whether you are doing the right thing, although you'll keep telling yourself you're trying to. And you'll have an uneasy sense of guilt about it, a nagging sense of ill-ease that won't go away. But you have to be really good at it to achieve that and most arseholes are amateurs who are not really good at anything and cannot hope to be.
So how do you achieve this nuanced arseholery that really hurts other people? There are many ways and I'll outline a few for you. If you find yourself doing these things -- and for some reason want not to be an arsehole -- then stop doing them.
Make promises lightly without any consideration of whether you'll keep them. On a Sunday, promise your child you will take them somewhere midweek, then have something "pop up". The arseholery isn't in having to break your promise: sometimes things pop up, that's understandable. It's in making the promise without even thinking about what might pop up. The delicious nuance here is that the child thinks they are not as important as the thing that popped up, that it's their fault they trusted you to do what you said you would, that they deserve to be neglected because really they're not that important to you.
Repurpose good acts. This is expert level so bear with me. Everyone likes to be shown love. (Unless you are a huge gaping twat, in which case you may prefer "respect" and you might even say things like "better they respect me than love me", which is wrong and if you think that, you not only have love wrong, you also have respect wrong. Respect is not earned. Whoever told you that is a fool. It can be lost but it isn't earned in the first place. You respect people because they are worth something intrinsically. You respect their space, their safety, their desire to have things for themselves because these are essentials to a happy life. And if you don't want other people to be happy, you're an arsehole.) A good way to show love to others is to be affectionate -- not always of course: there are some among us who don't enjoy being touched and that's okay -- you show them love in other ways, beginning with respecting their touchophobia and not making them feel bad about it, which in itself is a super way of being an arsehole -- have a child who doesn't like hugs? Fuck 'em, make them hug you anyway. Revel in their feeling of discomfort and more importantly the sense you are growing in them that they are wrong
, not normal. But we are not talking about this simple arseholery. We are looking for something more subtle: using cuddles as currency.
A good father will sometimes need to berate his children. There's probably a golden mean somewhere between not bothering (which makes you an arsehole because you are neglecting the child) and being constantly on the kid's case, a leering, looming presence that tries to inculcate moral lessons by instilling fear (and seriously, what better way of producing your own mini arseholes than imbuing them with a moral code that is based on fear of punishment, rather than a desire for reward?). After you have berated them, a quick cuddle demarcates the lecture from the normal course of your warm and loving relationship.
We all lose our temper and shout at a recalcitrant
child from time to time. That's just how it goes. I mean, maybe you
don't ever, have never, and if so, congratulations. (Unless the reason
you never get upset is you just don't care enough about what anyone else
does, in which case, you may be an arsehole.) I don't think you need to
beat yourself up for it and it doesn't make you an arsehole. It's a
wrong thing but you recognise that and you say sorry to the child,
demarcate it from the rest of your relationship and move on.
However, this model can be repurposed. Junior-level arseholes will let the child know there is no demarcation between their anger and everyday life. First, they yell at the child for its stupidity, its clumsiness, its poverty of moral rectitude, and then they will maintain an angry disposition, a mood
, for some time after. The higher achievers will find it possible to extend a mood
for days, weeks, an entire relationship if they try hard enough. The child is faced with curtness, gloominess, demands for silence and so on. And they are confused. At first, they believed they had infracted a code they don't understand in some minor way. They must have done right? A person who loves them wouldn't be yelling at them and calling them stupid if they hadn't done something wrong, even if the person isn't really explaining what it is. But as the mood extends, the child starts to feel that the infraction must have been more serious. The parent is exhibiting an extended trauma.
(Quick digression on small children and how to read them for my more aspie friends. I learned this from observation and experience and it wasn't easy. You have probably noticed that small children are quite volatile. They get upset easily and their upset is expressed quite dramatically. They are signalling trauma to you because they want attention and they haven't learned well to modulate the signal to the upset. But they get over things quite quickly, usually needing not much more than a bit of reassurance, a kiss on the grazed knee, a big hug. But they do have a different way of expressing upset. An enduring sullen low mood. They reserve it for deeper emotional trauma. It's not always easy to discern because as children get older, if you model it for them, they will learn to sulk instead of storm. The key difference is that a child's sulks are generally short -- just like the storms -- and can be alleviated in the same ways. This becomes less so as they age but essentially it's true: a teen may sulk for longer and may more reassuring but their sulks are different from the expression of deeper emotional trauma.)
When a parent is sulking, the child will try to please them: to offer the kind of reassurance that would work for them. They draw you a picture. They bring you a flower. They are quiet when you ask them to be. But for this kind of arsehole, that doesn't work. They carry on sulking. Nothing can alleviate the mood. So the child begins to fear that the parent is psychically damaged by something they have done. The child is forced to be guilty and it doesn't really know what it's supposed to be guilty about.
This is just the junior level though. You can go one higher. When you are sulking, the child will try to show you affection. You're hurting; it caused it. It wants to make it better. It knows that emotional hurts are eased with affection. So it will come to give you a cuddle. Shrug that bitch off. Let it know you don't welcome affection. If you're a master, tell it, Don't bother me.
This is how you get to the next level. But you are not quite a master. To achieve the eighth dan in affection arseholery, you must do this. Give children grudging affection or affection they don't really welcome. Coerce them to sit on your lap, to cuddle up with you on the couch when they don't really want to. Hug them tighter when they're stiff as boards. Do things that for other kids would be delightful but for them are unpleasant or ambiguous. Kiss them on the lips instead of the cheek. Tickle them until they cry and beg you to stop. When they're bathing, scrub them a bit too hard so they're not sure whether you're angry with them. Unexpectedly smack them, then grab them in a rough cuddle and on release tell them, Don't do it again, so that the demarcation between harshness and warmth isn't clear.
But don't stop there. Once you have ensured most of your affection is grudging or unwelcome, paint yourself to others as a warm and loving person. Make sure people see you do these things so that they, like the child, are never quite sure what is motivating you. If you are adept, you can pass yourself off as a fundamentally kind person with a bit of a problem with impulse control. You are special
, which we noted in the first part is the cause and aim of arseholery. But what you are is an arsehole of the highest order.
Don't stop there! A child treated this way is merely confused and unable to process the ambiguity of your behaviour. But you can do worse.
We mentioned smacking. Of course hitting someone you love is the mark of an arsehole. It's unambiguously wrong and you should feel bad if you do it. You are conveying a message to the person you love that the currency of love is violence, that your feeling of love is transmitted to them as pain. Or worse, you are informing them that you do not love them at all. I say worse, but I truly believe that the saddest outcome of parenting is a child who desperately loves you and is forced to try to rationalise the violence you visit on them, that this
actually is love. But that is the risk in simply hitting people you love. They might come to believe that you do not in fact love them at all and consequently exclude violence as the currency of love. They stop thinking you're special and just think you're some cunt who hits them all the time.
And you're better than that. You can achieve arseholery without leaving a mark and you can unambiguously destroy love as a feeling for your children. Sounds great hey? But how do you do that?
Not just make them fear you: hitting can achieve that. Not just control them: there are ways to control kids that don't involve being an arsehole and if you actually cared about them you'd have learned what those are (but of course, you cannot do that because you are special
and there's no way anyone could actually teach you anything -- it's a curious fact about us that the smarter we are, the more we come to believe others might know more than us, and the dumber we are, the less: the most stupid among us believe they know everything already, and lack the awareness -- probably because it is deeply humbling -- that there are so many things to know, so many different ways to know, that you cannot possibly have all the answers).
What you do is make your relationship coercive. You make those bitches fear you. You make them afraid when you enter a room, afraid that they will upset you, afraid that they will do a wrong thing they cannot predict beforehand, afraid that they will displease you. Because this is the height of arseholery, the pinnacle, that you are the centre not only of your own universe but of everyone else's within your world. This precludes respect so don't respect your children. Don't respect their space, their needs, their fears. Encroach on them when you want to. Give them what you feel like at the lowest cost to you. Make them afraid. Force them to listen to you. They want to run and play but you haven't finished yelling at them? Make those bitches sit like dogs. Yank them into a chair and stand right in front of them. Get your face near to theirs (like dogs, most children do not like faces near theirs, they fear you will bite them -- if you can manage a bit of spittle at this point, it's doubly effective, saliva signals a drooling mouth, one that will shortly bite -- unfortunately, the lesson you are hoping to impart, if you in fact have something you are trying to impart rather than just expressing your own impotence and rage, will be lost on the child because their reptile brain will have taken over -- having a large animal loom before them that is giving signs of preparing to bite, while they are completely unable to escape, will induce elemental terror, deep fear that is entirely instinctual and cannot be assuaged by rationality -- see how this is truly the master level of arseholery? You are not just hurting a child -- you are hurting it in the core of its being). Make threatening gestures that they can't be sure aren't going to turn into slaps. Cow them. Let them know how small they are and how big you are.
Now I'm not saying restraining a child is always wrong. Most of these sorts of behaviour are within limits fine. The arseholery lies in exploiting that ambiguity. For instance, if a very small child is having a temper tantrum, sometimes it's the right thing to do to hug them tight. This keeps them safe and allows them a steady warm presence to get their bearings from. And those trained in dealing with autistic kids will be aware that there is a safe method of holding a child who is having a meltdown and it is sometimes desirable to deploy it. This is something you are doing for them though. But when you use physical force to make a child be somewhere, you are not doing it for them. You are doing it for you. Even if you convince yourself that the high-volume moral lesson you are imparting, which you want them to sit still for, is truly improving for them you are forcing them to listen for your sake. Perhaps you should reconsider the strength of your moral lessons. If they were that compelling, you would not need to force children to listen to them, right? (But of course, if you want to be an arsehole, you are going to need to acquire the belief that your moral sense is absolutely unimpeachable, that you unerringly know what's right
and the more forcefully you share that unquestionable moral sense with children, the less likely they will be to do the "wrong thing" -- and let's face it, children do the "wrong thing" very often -- how could they not? They have excellent role models who are displaying precisely the kind of behaviour we deplore in them. It never ceases to astonish me that people who wish to raise children to be honest, loyal, kind and peaceable adults think the best way is to achieve it is to lie to them, betray them, be unkind to them and be aggressive towards them. We have probably all found ourselves saying from time to time, Do what I say not what I do. But that's one lesson a child will never learn.
One of the most powerful ways to let someone know you control them is to control their space. We send children to their room because we are delimiting the space they can inhabit as well as letting them know we don't want them near us. We can make them come to us so we can talk to them. This is fairly benign. We make them inhabit a particular space to demonstrate our control and the tone is properly set for expressing something to them. In fact, I think that you can clearly demarcate types of interaction by manipulating space. If you are planning to indulge the children in your fine moral wisdom, make them come to you. If you are reassuring them when they are upset, or giving them something a bit less Victorian, go to them (don't invade their space if they signal to you not to, however, and never force affection on them: as we noted, that's what arseholes do -- and yes, this does not just apply to children: imposing sex on a woman is the same kind of arseholery -- and we're not talking you just rape her, boys; we're talking about making her feel she has to
; guilting her, carrying on when she is clearly not into it but won't say no, pretending consent is enduring rather than episodic -- it's not your fucking entitlement, bro, it's hers: she is entitled to have sex if she wants to, not obliged to because you want to).
But these things are benign and you want to cause pain. Here's a good way. I have done it once in my life and I'm deeply ashamed of myself for it. I learned then how painful it is and how undesirable. Back then, I didn't want to think of myself as an arsehole so I seared the lesson into what I try to pass off as a conscience.
Well, before I do, let's have a think about the concept of space. We understand it on the animal level and lots of how we manipulate it and use it is quite unthinking. Earlier I was talking to Ally, expounding a theory, and I stopped and realised, she had her back to the back door and I was quite close to her. I had "invaded her space". In a benign way, to be sure, and she wasn't showing any signal of alarm. But I had instinctually tried to reinforce the importance to me of what I was saying by crowding her.
I don't think that makes me an arsehole (plenty of other things so I'm excusing that!). I think it's something we understand in each other without feeling it as coercive or ugly. People talk with their heads together. They get close to one another to talk intimately. They position themselves dominantly or submissively depending how they see their roles in conversations. We naturally manipulate space as a paralinguistic tool and I think that's fine. Even things like putting up your hand to signal stop and saying "no wait" when you want someone not to interrupt you are only a little bit arseholey. (I know I sometimes do that and when I think about it, I realise the held-out palm does not just say "stop talking" -- it is intruding into the intrapersonal space and it is also saying "do not move".)
If you want to be an arsehole, dominating space in conversations is not enough. You can certainly get to a low level if you loom over people, if you're intrusive, if you gesture in ambiguous, perhaps slightly threatening ways. And you can certainly be a fucktard by baring your teeth and thrusting your head into someone's space, as men often do when preparing to fight -- this unambiguous invasion of space is meant to provoke the fight or flight reaction (the same reaction that instils the deep terror children feel when restrained by someone shouting at them) and is often coupled by other intrusions into personal space such as pushing. I've often thought that it's wrong to feel that the person who throws the first punch begins a fight -- very often the person they punched began it with the intrusion of space.
So you could push a person or grab them, to intrude into personal space, and at the same time control or change the space someone inhabits. Why push your wife?
Well, you are not just intruding in her personal space, which is always arseholey when not welcome. We're not always clear on this. If you lean into kiss your missus, and she flinches or raises her hand as if to say, no thanks, get the fuck out of her space stat. Unless you want to be an arsehole. Then you need to go ahead and kiss her and if you want to put sauce on it, go "Oh come on" as though to tell her that wanting personal space is the crime here, not intruding on it. Oh that delicious feeling of confusion you give her, as she attempts to process whether she should in fact feel guilty for resisting your intrusion. (BTW, ladies, no you shouldn't. Your personal space should be respected when you want it to be respected, period. That is fundamental and anyone who suggests to you that it isn't is just wrong, probably an arsehole.)
You are also changing the space she inhabits, exhibiting control over where she is physically located. This is psychically painful for us. Studies have shown that being unable to control your environment leads to stress: in some cases, to sick building syndrome. Office workers are stressed because they cannot control the temperature in the office. Windows are much better than aircon in the temperate world. You are unambiguously demonstrating to her that you can decide whether she stands or lies on the ground, whether she is here or there. You provoke the fight or flight response in her, as her underlying brain begins the process of getting its body somewhere it can control its space.
Delicious arseholiness. But don't stop there.
When she tries to flee, as most will -- after all, you were only able to push her to the ground or slam her into the wall because you're stronger than her, and more importantly, regardless your relative strengths, you are more aggressive. When stressed, and your fight or flight response is provoked, you are not as strongly conditioned as she is towards flight; you are more willing to impose physically, whereas a woman is conditioned by society to believe herself physically weak and to prefer flight -- block her exit. Stand by the door. Now you control her. Now the bitch has to listen to every fucking word you want to yell at her. She cannot avoid it. You choose for her the space she inhabits. It's better than deciding which house she lives in (I remember being strongly moved by the story of B's sister, whose husband, an exemplar of an arsehole who certainly wouldn't need the lessons I have to offer, when they were thinking about maybe moving, sold the house they were living in and bought a new one without telling her -- he simply told her one day that they were moving to another suburb, start packing, I'm "going to the gym" (he wasn't going to the gym as such because some time before he had met a woman at the actual gym and by this point, "going to the gym" meant he was going round to her house for sex). Now it may amaze you to learn they're still married but it shouldn't -- when a man is this coercive, this controlling, a woman doesn't feel she has the power to leave him -- it's her fault he fucks other women, it's her fault he shouts at her, it's her fault he has her by the throat -- there is just no way to empower yourself to leave a husband who sells your family home without consulting you) and it's better than trying to coerce her into living in a particular area of town.
It's the ultimate. You have a terrified, panicking human being who wants nothing more than not to be in the space with you -- in that moment, it is their greatest desire, the only thing they want, they have completely lost track of what it was that provoked your rage in the first place, all they can think is "run run run", the adrenaline has shut their thinking brains down -- in fact, you do not even have a human being, you have someone you have reduced to nothing more than an animal consumed with pain and fear.
Only an arsehole would not step aside and let that poor creature gain relief. Only a huge fucking arch-arsehole of the worst kind, a contemptible worm, barely worthy of the proud name "man".
I have been that worm once, just once. It haunts me to this day. I say I'm a fucking arsehole because I know I cannot lie to myself. I did that. I didn't push, hit or otherwise physically hurt my gf. I just wouldn't let her leave a room. And I was introduced to an abyss that I could pour my moral sense into and annihilate it.
Now. You say you want to be an arsehole. And you are. But how are you able to look into that abyss and know that it is all you are?
How I became a fucking arsehole in three easy stages
When I was I don't know 11 years old or something like that a boy who wasn't that nice of a kid said I had a milk gut, maybe I was 13 though, it's hard to recall.
Neil Wildgust, he was not that nice of a kid and you wonder whether he grew to be not that nice of a man because biology is destiny or some rule like that but I'm not sure if I read it or just made it up but certainly I don't understand it because you do have choices don't you?
He was not that nice of a kid and I justify it by peer pressure I justify it by bad parenting I justify it by he didn't understand the redemptive power of love or some rule like that but I'm not sure if I read it or just made it up but certainly I don't believe it because I never got redeemed and I justify every other sinner's bad choices but not mine.
When I reached 14, 15, it became apparent to me I had been marooned on a planet inhabited by another species and not a pleasant one. Mind you, are there any pleasant species? Isn't nature red in tooth or claw? You'd certainly think so if your education in biology consisted of drawing a few cells, skin and what in a generous mood you might describe as male and female genitalia, which, if my memory is to be trusted, mine did.
(Not that I think my memory can be trusted. It's like a poorly designed rummage sale in there. I mean, I did two years of "additional mathematics", which I have a vague recollection was largely to do with trigonometry, but I still couldn't tell you what a sine is.)
I scored 0/10 for female genitalia btw. Which was harsh but fair because you would not wish to be encumbered with what I was trying to pass off as a uterus, I can tell you. I assure you my practical knowledge of that area is quite decent though. I can find a clitoris with the lights off, or at least get within cooee of it. That's not much of a boast though. I've often thought that the idea that men cannot find clitorides was risible since even if they do come in an array of shapes and sizes they are at least relatively in the same place on most women, at least as far as I know. They just don't care to. I say often but I don't remember thinking it more than one other time. There should be a word for that: the memory of memories that you do not actually have. I mean, I remember often thinking it but can't recall any instance of thinking it bar one. There probably is a word in Greek but I learned Latin.
And I remember Neil Wildgust throwing a paper plane at Mr... Mr... Mr... well, at whoever the Latin master was and it's strange, I can remember how his hair was and that he had a certain kind of face but I don't remember his name at all. He was poorly equipped for inspiring young men with the knowledge of the language of ancient Rome but I don't hold it against him: I have been poorly equipped for nearly everything in this life and I expect people to be generous to me about it.
So stage one I never believed I was human. Okay, you could argue that I strongly resembled my "dad" but that just goes to show the cunning of my alien forebears, galactic gypsies who brought babies to Earth like space storks and fooled you people into thinking cuckoos like me are like you by fiddling with our genes -- if we have genes as such -- so that we grow to look like you.
And why would I believe this story about myself (and I did; I'm not even lying -- I very rarely lie, which is one thing that marks me out as not from this planet, since you guys spend practically every waking minute dreaming up new ways to be dishonest about yourselves and to each other)? Because everyone expressed how they felt with a shared emotional language that I did not know how to speak. I learned it, of course, but only by studying you, and I have to be honest (I do have to be honest -- my Earth mother used to claim I had no tact when I was a teen because she didn't understand that I was yet to learn that people expect you to lie to spare their feelings) I have never really become fluent.
The second stage in my becoming a huge bellend was acquiring the belief that because I was not like other people, I should be better than them. I should do better, know better, think better. Which would be admirable if I had coupled it with actually doing better, knowing better, thinking better or in any other way being better than the next guy. It's lucky for me that the next guy is so often a gaping arsehole that simply occasionally remembering to be kind or gentle or thoughtful is enough to vault into the higher percentiles of men.
I mean, shall we not pretend? That is the truth about us, isn't it? It has taken me years to realise I have led a sheltered life. Most of the men I have known have been varying degrees of twat but they have not been particularly dangerous to other human beings. They've been thoughtless, lazy, uninterested, stupid and banal but they have not been pernicious. You might not be able to trust them to take the bins out but they won't thieve your wallet if you leave it lying around.
But they'd probably fuck your girlfriend if you left her lying around. Not that I'm suggesting we can or should control our girlfriend's (or in my case, forgive me for not yet fully having made the adjustment, wife's) sex life.
And yes, we are rapists, thugs, liars, alcoholics, unrepentant dickheads, neanderthal fucktards who walk around thinking the world was created just for us to live in and everyone in it, and in particular women, invented to serve us if we can somehow compel them to, prone to aggressive, poor at handling stress, idiots who find thinking more than one thought an hour too hard, unless we are thinking about pussy (or cock: I don't imagine for one instant that gay men are any less inclined to be ridiculous cockwombles than straights). And on that subject, very few of us are inclined to be in any way accomplished at sex. It's enough that we turn up, whether invited or not. We have centuries, millennia of history of not giving a fuck whether women actually enjoy it and we're not inclined to go against tradition.
I mean, this is what I'm led to believe. Because if I'm anything, I'm a bit naive, and what I've learned, if I've learned a single thing, since leaving my first wife, is that men are on the whole scumbags. I have heard a litany of scumbaggery and downright shittiness that has me almost continually shaking my head, like one of those bobblehead dogs you might have on your dashboard if you're a bit dim. I never even realised what wankers we are. But we are. I have heard about it in excruciating, embarrassing detail. I mean, I want to throw out a blanket disclaimer: it's not all of us because it's not me. Then I get to thinking, has it been me? And from there it's a short step to it's me it's me it's me.
But I think if it really was me I'd recognise it rather than feeling like I definitely
am from some other planet.
And I do care about a woman's pleasure btw. I'll freely admit I only care because it's a way of exalting myself: that I can please, that I can serve, that I can be wanted. And I know that nearly the worst experience of my life was having a girlfriend who I couldn't please at all -- and no matter that rationally that was her fault, if fault is the right way to look at it, and I'd be willing to accept it isn't but it feels that way, I felt diminished in a way that was novel to me. I mean, I had to face two ideas I didn't much care for: first, that I only wanted to please if I pleased as is, if it was easy, just a function of who I am. Because that's me in a nutshell: always wanting to be praised for being whatever I am, rather than doing anything praiseworthy. And second, that I am losing vigour, that my body is betraying me, that I am no longer young and -- this is the important thing because becoming old is not a problem in itself, since it has its benefits -- however I feel, will never be young again.
Which leads me to the third stage. Which is nameless and formless and I don't think I can ever really put it into words but what it feels like is that even though I don't care about what you think and I don't care about you at all even if I can do a passable job of looking like I do (and ffs Alison, that "you" is not you; I care about you in a way that I don't think you comprehend since you've never had it, not from anyone in your life, I care about you in a whole-of-being way that has taken me by surprise but you know it when you feel it; I mean the other cunts, darling, so no need to pace round the garden over that one word that you will misinterpret), the only thing I really do care about is that women love me.
Not enough to be loveable obv.
I mean, I suppose I care that my children love me. I mean, I do care about that. But my being isn't created
by their loving me. I am not a dad. Being a dad is something I do.
I don't know. I've actually never thought about this and now I do, I realise that isn't wholly true. I can ask, is it integral to me? Did anything change when Zenella was born? And it feels like, nothing inherent, nothing intrinsic did.
But of course some things did. I discovered something powerful I had not known existed before. And I gained an element in my life that will last for all my life. I am not saying a purpose. That's silly.
I think I am trying to say that it doesn't feel precisely like a part of me, not like my liver, or my penis, or my ears. I am trying to say it feels like something I do, like breathing, or eating chocolate, or picking my teeth. Something I couldn't not do. I might try but somehow I'd find myself doing it despite myself.
But I don't think of it as being
me. Although I could. I mean, I am a being that breathes. If I gave up breathing, well, I would not be able to be this kind of being. But it doesn't seem intrinsic.
In fact, be honest, your body doesn't always feel like it's intrinsic to you. It often feels like a coat you wear, you have to wear, and not always a comfortable one. And doesn't that suck and suck hard? When you feel like your body is a wet jacket you wish you could just shuck off and let dry by the fire.
But women have defined me, marked out the limits of me, the space that I exist in, and I have only felt able to live when one, or more than one, has loved me.
Yes I'm that needy. I told you I was a fucking arsehole and I wasn't lying.
Sometimes I've settled for grudging acceptance and pretended that was love. Sometimes I've allowed a pale shadow of nothing much to pose as love just so I could feel worth while.
I mean, in the past few months I've had a pretty strong demonstration of how shallow "love" can run, as a succession of women who've spent several years wishing I was happy so long as someone else made me happy have cried bitter tears and sidelined me because they fear I am happy and someone else has made it so. (Which she does. Hey Ally, next time you're agonising over how you can't make my life better, how about you consider this? I'm the kind of arsehole who makes his own life rubbish, who creates enough angst to power a small town without anyone else needing to intervene, and nothing bad, nothing bad at all, has been brought into my life by you, and you are the source, the wellspring, of so much good in my life that seriously I make myself a bit vomity when I think about how awesome I think you are.)
Anyway fuck it. I'm bored. I was going to say more but if you read all this you probably need to read more about as much as I feel like writing it. You got the gist anyway.
The first step to being an adult is knowing that you will never be that ideal you you fondly dream of. And it's no wonder we want to stay children, to somehow hide from the reality that we are no better than we are.
The second step is to think that it's okay to be what you are. And to see the good in what that is, if it's good, and the bad if it's bad. And to accept that you cannot change any of it but you are good or bad and that's that.
Then you die so what's the point of any of that?
The least you can do is say well they are who they are and what's the point of judging when they cannot change any of it and who are you to say they should?
But I have never done any good in this world and that is the pain I am bearing, that I never was good for anything and never will be.
I used to have another blog because I had to have a blog that didn't hide my secrets from my wife. And now I have a wife I don't have secrets from because there's nothing I care enough about to hide. I am caught in a dream that doesn't even hurt enough to be a nightmare and I know your pain is greater than mine but I don't care because caring like that is vanity that even I don't feel entitled to.
Sometimes I do think though that we should be kind because we know how much we can hurt each other and we don't like it either. But some of us do. Be honest. If you weren't hurting you wouldn't even know you are alive. And I don't know I'm alive.
I just surrendered because it's easier to fail. And then I saw that I hadn't even been good at that because look how bad those guys
are. It's like they have absolutely no awareness how hard they have failed, how low they are, how painful their being is to everyone round them and fuck man I am supposed to be the aspie and how come it's me who cares when it's you who's supposed to be able to feel what others feel and I don't even try and even I know how not to be you.
But maybe that's what makes them happy and I say that and I'm left thinking, if they're happy, why aren't they smiling? I long ago decided that the best thing was for as many of us as possible to find happiness but some people don't even seem to be looking and we boil it down to money sex and a good time and maybe that's all there is, maybe there isn't even that, just dark, deep holes and then you die.
I imagined I would be capable of love and then I grew up.
It fucking sucks.
On the occasion of my marriage
So I do not consider myself the marrying kind, yet here I am, married for the second time. How does that work?
Well, in the first place, when asking yourself why I did something, never discount sheer perversity. I am a born contrarian and I've never liked the idea much of being readily labelled. And I don't even really pretend to do principles. I am just who I am. I'm not honest because I think honesty is the best thing in human relationships, although I do think that. I'm honest just because I am. I'm not a leftist because I made a scientific study of what is best in politics and economics, although I do believe our way works out better on the whole. I am a leftist because I feel people matter. Mostly.
I've always believed you should not sacrifice the real for the abstract When I read that someone "died for their country", I tend to feel they're a damned fool because now they're dead. Especially when they have kids, wives, people who love them. How can a country matter more than them?
So I think some things matter but not as much as some people insist on pretending they do. Fools kill each other for disagreeing over what they believe and not even for those beliefs' practical consequences.
More importantly though, I am married because I am an existentialist of sorts, and I fear that once you accept the absurdity of human existence, you are ever a couple of steps from nihilism.
And nihilism is just another word for despair, let's not kid ourselves.
So maybe it is a little bit ridiculous to believe that love is a rope dangled over the edge of the abyss, which you can cling to and use to haul yourself out. But I do. I believe it is our consolation, our reward if you like. Even if we one day resolve the mystery of love, reduce it to chemicals like everything else, I will not care. I mean, you can figure out why coffee smells a particular way and maybe we will one day find that neurotransmitters are released in this way or that when we smell it, but none of that will ever quite capture the reality of the promise, the anticipation, the joy of fresh coffee.
So love matters. Ally matters. And I want to defy the absurd universe and show she matters. Not show her really. Not show you at all, since I've not cared a lot what you think for a long time now. Show me, myself.
On love and grief
When I fall for someone, I fall.
I don't do tentative. I do headlong. What's the point otherwise? If one day you wake up and think, yes, yes I love her, there is nothing to be gained by then saying, let me do it a little bit.
There is no point to worrying that you might drown when the water feels good just to be in.
So I was talking to Ally about who she is. She thinks she is a selfish, hard bitch, or can be, and when she makes me laugh with some of her exploits, I almost believe her. Then I think about women I have loved who did not even think themselves selfish and I tell her, get in line. You are going to need to work hard to beat some of these women, I can tell you.
I told her about S. I loved her intensely. She was older and wiser than me and used me the same way she'd use a rag to wipe her brow. She used her experience and smarts to manipulate me because she saw me for what I was (what I still am), a naive, delicate boy who doesn't know how to protect himself because he cannot quite believe that people really can have any bad in them.
So I saw her for a year, more or less, at university. Towards the end of that year, of course I went home for the summer vacation. She had stayed on campus. She had an up and down relationship with her parents, her dad particularly, and she wanted to stay in Brighton for the summer.
She told me she had one of the really nice flats and I should come to visit. Of course I wanted to. I missed her. I remember the twinkle in my mum's eye when I told her about the flat. She's probably shagging the accommodation officer, she said. We laughed.
So I took the coach on the long journey to Brighton. It took about six hours, although it's not all that far as the crow flies from Gloucester. It was unpleasant to sit through a lovely summer day on a bus but of course I was excited about seeing her, and I had a book to read and I have always enjoyed the countryside, so it was fine.
I got there in the evening and of course she had not come to the coach station to meet me but that was nothing strange. And when I got to her flat she was, I don't know, off but that wasn't strange either. She'd blow hot and cold at the best of times.
She said, I could make you something to eat or you can just fuck me. Which was her in a nutshell. I knew which one to choose and we were in bed a few minutes later. I fucked her for hours (I was a young man then) because that was what she wanted, always wanted, just hours of me pumping away. I thought it was great. At 21, I could not imagine anything I wanted to do more.
Even then, I was a man of little imagination.
The next morning, when I woke up, she was already up. I went to kiss her and she said, wait, I have something to tell you. I have a new boyfriend. You can stay if you want or go, whatever.
I cried all the way home.
My mum was surprised to see me but she knew what it was.
Really? she said.
Yes, I said. She fucked the accommodation officer and now he is her boyfriend and I'm not.
I did not feel bitter. I felt like I still loved her. And although I did what I have always done: went out and found a new girlfriend as soon as I could, I didn't stop loving her for the next year or the year after that, or really at all until she had faded from memory. And even now when I recall her, I know that there is the tiniest little candle that burns somewhere in me. Because I will not let love die. Not for her, not for any of the women I have loved, and still do love. How could I? I was not wrong to do it. The reasons for loving them were not extinguished by their cruelty, their neglect, their weakness, their lies, or anything they did. They still exist; they are still real.
But I didn't come to talk about love. I came to talk about grief. Because they are partners, of course. We do not grieve for those we did not love. And grief is somewhat commensurate with love. The women who I once loved and lost caused me grief. The candles that burn for them, once brightly and with time less so until they barely flicker, are memorials to the love I had for them.
But here's the thing. After a while, as love fades, you
stop grieving for the loves you lost, and the flickering flames of what
you felt grow cooler and hurt less. Of course, some had already burned low because of how things were. S dumped me when I was in the full flush of love for her so it took time to stop grieving because she no longer allowed me to love her. B left our home when any love had long burned down to ashes and I was glad to see her go. (But it remains true that just as with the others, I do not forget that I once cared for her and had reason. I do not diminish my own feelings, belittle my own heart, by pretending that what I once felt had not been real, that she did not, any more or any less than any of us, deserve to be loved while I was capable of it.)
I did not love any of them as much as I loved my first love, my beautiful mum. The candle I have burning for her has a raging light, a fierce strong flame that I feel unstinting and powerful. It has not dimmed one lumen from the day I last saw her to this day. I do not know whether time will lessen the feeling of its burning a little.
There is a difference though and I do not really know what it means. When S finished with me, I wanted the grief to end, to stop thinking about her, to turn down her flame as low as I could, so that it would stop burning me. I knew I would not get back with her, although of course I wanted to because I didn't care that she had hurt me, I never do. I want to be wanted and scarcely care what price there is for it. But I did not want to be in pain. I was, I still am, that delicate boy who shies away from anything hard to handle.
But I do not want my mum's flame to grow fainter. I do not mind the pain. I do not wish to stop grieving for her. I do not want to stop wishing there could be another time I could come into her kitchen, tell her about the travails of her heart, and for her to do what she did, make me tea, grab me into her arms and tell me that whatever women did to me, whatever I did to them, wherever life led me, she loved me.
I wonder though, of course, whether it is just that I do not want her loving me ever to have ended, for it really to be gone. I have never known why any of the women who loved me have loved me, bar those who are my family, and I have never really cared either, so long as they did. I don't really know why Ally does and I don't care, so long as she does. Her flame has overpowered the faint lights of past loves and still I do not really know why. I just know it has. I feel stronger for it and I don't know why that is either. Perhaps it is just the same as the feeling I had when I came home after S dumped me and my mum showed me that there was still love in my life, S be damned (and although I don't remember clearly enough to recall if she did, she might very well have said exactly that -- she could be wicked fierce when her lioness was awakened). Perhaps it is that I have finally found a woman who does not think love is something to be measured and cut, doled out to get what she wants, but like me feels it is a sea you swim in, an ocean you explore, and float or sink in the warm spring sun, float or sink but live and know you are alive.
And perhaps -- it is a tentative thought, not something I have pondered much, but just maybe -- real grief is like real love. Not a sombre, shuffling dying down of what you once felt, but a vivid affirmation of life itself. My mum has died but I am alive still to honour her, and her love has not ceased to sustain me but as it ever did it powers what is good in me, what little is good in me, which I still believe is worthy of loving because she loved it.
perhaps you feel
that you cannot be loved
you know yourself
better than they do
and you cannot
perhaps you feel
the stars are just
pinpricks in a night
it will never be light
but let me tell you buddy
you aren't in fact
you are no less
desirable than the next guy
weird as that may sound
you are capable
of feeling beauty
that's all we take to be beautiful
we only ever see the world
through our own eyes
and the world becomes our mirror
you thought it only worked one way?
you are wrong
you are wrong
in the one way you thought
you could not be
(crossposted from yourownplanet.blogspot.com)