on finding ‘No’…

SOooooooooo the news is: I’ve met someone. There’s someone new in my life. Shocking I know, and even more shocking… it’s another woman.

It all started, like all the best romances – even illicit, extra-marital ones –, with a poem. Then we started hanging out together. The odd coffee and sausage sandwich together here, the odd walk in the sunshine there. On Saturday my husband was out and I put the kids to bed early and we let it all hang out: ready meals, wine, Simon Cowell. It was magic. I have even bought her some new undies. My husband, for the record, doesn’t seem to mind. In fact, when he found us in the bath together singing Taylor Swift he seemed positively delighted…

But, enough of this debauchery.

I am also on the wagon. I have given up beating myself up. I did it once before, for Lent, which resulted in forty days of genuine enlightenment. But then, of course, come Eastertide, it was necessary to be absolutely vile to myself: there was the inevitable Big Disgusting Blow-out of Mint Aero and Self-Flagellation. So I knew I could sort-of do it. But still, when I said I was going to go for it, my husband wasn’t convinced. Are you going to gradually wean yourself off, or are you going cold turkey? He asked. Maybe if you eat all your tea you could let yourself have just a little bit of self-hate as a treat? No, no, I said, it has to be cold turkey. But then of course the stakes are high, because if you fall off the beating-yourself-up wagon, then you risk binge-self-loathing, which is always ugly.

Of course, an extension of not beating myself up is not letting other people do so. Because if I don’t deserve this nastiness from myself, then I don’t deserve it from anyone else either. My little boy is struggling with assertive new Mummy. The other day he screamed at me for a solid hour, largely because he had broken his oatcake in half and I couldn’t stick it back together. Or rather, because I wasn’t exhibiting the familiar attitude to his broken oatcake. Without beating myself up, you see, there was no need to give myself a hard time for not remembering to bring more oatcakes, and get cross with him because he was drawing my attention to my shortcomings. There was no need to feel ashamed to be sitting with a screaming child, and feel judged by all the other parents, and so shout at him to be quiet. There was no need to try and fix it, to promise a world of new unblemished oatcakes and the moon on a stick. All I needed to do was quietly and calmly repeat: Mummy loves you, Mummy knows you’re cross, but Mummy can’t fix your oatcake.

So what’s brought all this on? I’m not sure. Perhaps it’s a coming-of-age thing: tomorrow is Sally Fraser Writes’ birthday. It’s just over a year now since I first went to that boarding-school-wives-and-partners workshop, and I was advised to watch out, because these are people who were raised not to be the stupid, lazy one, and they will look for anyone else to pin those labels on. And part of me must have thought great, I can really excel at the role of lazy, stupid, incompetent one: it is – in Apprentice speak – my comfort zone. Because ninety-nine times out of a hundred it isn’t my husband who makes me the lazy, stupid, incompetent one – it’s me. Or if I can recruit anyone else to take over from me for a bit, then all the better. But me and everyone else have finally pushed me too far. I have, as Nick Duffell would have it, Found My No. Enough is enough.

And I have also been reflecting on how, at that workshop, we were asked to think: why have we done this? We are the women who for whatever reason couldn’t fix things when we were little girls, so we were determined to fix them as grown-ups. We see those eight-year-old boys inside those men and we are desperate to scoop them up, to fix them like we never could fix anything when we were small. But they don’t need fixing; no one does. They (and we) need, or maybe just want, love. And it’s only when the fixing ends that the loving can begin. All of life is ultimately just one big frustratingly broken oatcake. And our only option is to hold ourselves close and whisper the same words over and over: I know you’re angry, I love you, I can’t fix it.

And so, in a noisy bar in deepest darkest Leith, where the Good Lord has deployed Paul Simon on the radio as he does so often to remind us that these are the days of miracle and wonder, me and the new love of my life are raising a glass to a pretty good year. Who is she? I couldn’t possibly say. But I will tell you what the poem is (with a massive shout of thanks to the man who sent it to me):

Love After Love

 

The time will come

when, with elation

you will greet yourself arriving

at your own door, in your own mirror

and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

 

and say, sit here. Eat.

You will love again the stranger who was your self.

Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart

to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

 

all your life, whom you ignored

for another, who knows you by heart.

Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

 

the photographs, the desperate notes,

peel your own image from the mirror.

Sit. Feast on your life.

 

Derek Walcott (1930 – )

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