Have you ever been in love with another person, and then lost them?
Of course you have. Everybody has.
What I really mean is, have you ever loved somebody more than you loved your own life, someone you're totally, helplessly, hopelessly in love with, someone who seems like your soul-mate - and then you lose her?
And not because she died.
I probably shouldn't say this, but there are times when I really wish that'd been the case. When the person you love dies, you still have the memory of her love in your soul. You know without a shadow of a doubt the one you love loved you, and you can tell yourself somewhere some time in some other dimension, love will be fulfilled - because true love never dies. But if she left you because she loves another person more than she loves you, all you have left is emptiness and despair. All that remains is heartache and bitter self-reproach. You weren't enough for her. You failed.
So you come home to your empty flat and you mope around like an idiot. You're hurting so much inside you can hardly breathe. You wonder if it's really true. Maybe it's all a mistake, a joke, maybe she'll change her mind - maybe the sun won't come up tomorrow?
You probably reach for a bottle to drown all the new and unknown feelings cascading around inside you. You're ashamed for example, ashamed you loved her so much, ashamed you're inadequate, ashamed of your weakness in not being able to stop the tears leaking from your eyes. And you're angry with yourself for letting it happen, and jealous of that other guy - so jealous you could cheerfully murder him right there and then.
But more than anything you're surprised - shocked even - by the pain you feel. You never knew it was possible to hurt so much without being physically injured. You wonder if the pain can be real, and you begin to understand this kind of pain is indeed real, and far worse than physical pain. It's pain of the heart - of the soul - and it undermines your belief in life, your optimism, all your hope for tomorrow.
But worst of all is the slow realisation that this pain is not going to be over soon, that there's nothing you can take (apart from unconsciousness) to relieve it. You suddenly see the future looming ahead, filled with endless days of darkness and hopelessness. You understand you must get up tomorrow, go out and face the world, and live every moment of every future day with this pain alive inside you, and you suspect the pain will be like paintbrush, colouring everything in the world with darkness. Indeed there'll be no more colour in your life - all that's left now are endless shades of grey and black.
'Time is a great healer' you tell yourself - and you know it isn't true.
That's how I felt when I broke up with Katherine, and try as hard as I might to hide my emotions, everyone seemed to know. I hated that. It made it worse that everyone knew - that I was an open book for all to see. But although they all seemed to know, none of them seemed to understand. I had so much advice from all my friends, useless advice from people who'd never loved, let alone lost someone like Katie.
Take a long holiday, said one, you'll probably meet someone else and before you know it you'll be in bed with her, and that'll do you the world of good. Throw yourself into your work, live it night and day, said another, you'll soon forget. Come on Jeffrey, said a third, 'snap out it, she's only a Goddamn woman for Christ's sake! Show some balls!'
It was all crap!
I think the only genuinely intelligent advice I had was from an old friend who was a psychologist by profession. He told me, 'You must stop living it, every day. Get rid of the things that remind you of her. Stop listening to country music or love-sick tunes of any kind. Immerse yourself in something new. One thing drives out another, and if you get into something else it'll help you forget. It won't make it better instantly, but it'll help'.
Trouble is I was like that guy in the song: 'Me and the Elephant'
"So I burned all your pictures - except two or three. The one by my bed and one on my TV, And the one that I always carry with me, Everywhere I go."
I just couldn't do it. I know she'd left me. I know she'd shit on me from a great height, but I just couldn't lose my memories of her. Those few precious days when for the first time in my life I believed in love and God and everything wonderful in the world. If I lost the bad I'd have to lose the good as well, and I genuinely felt the good had changed me in some way, and needed to be hung on to.
Or was that just an excuse?
So life went on and the misery went on with it. I got up every day, went to work and played my part. I played it pretty well too, because after a month or so everyone seemed to forget and assume I was over her. I wasn't of course, but there was no way I was going to tell them. I was fed up with sympathy and pity. I don't know what I needed; I just knew it wasn't that.
Maybe I was revelling in the sadness and sorrow? Maybe I liked feeling like some kind of martyr? I certainly wallowed in it when I was alone, and that was most of the time when I wasn't at work. I'd just sit there for hours, looking out the window and brooding. I think I was trying to recapture the 'feeling' I had during the good days.
You see everything has a particular feeling associated with it - every time, every place, every person, and every experience. Most of the time we don't realise we're identifying a person or a place with a feeling - we think it's just a cognitive memory. It's only occasionally we catch the associated feeling for a moment, and identify it as something solid and real. Probably the best example is hearing an old song you haven't heard for years. It brings back memories, but it also brings back the unique feeling associated with the particular time and place. I say 'feeling', but I'm not even sure that's the right word. It's kind of like a 'taste' or 'smell' or a 'colouring' of the past. Suddenly we see the whole of that period was 'coloured' this way, and inherent in the colour are all kinds of hidden memories and personal feelings alive at the time. When I was with Katie, for example, I had this special, magical, wonderful taste. It pervaded my whole life. The world simply looked different to how it had before - everything was coloured by my feelings for her.
Anyway, by now the Katie feeling/taste was fading even though I tried desperately to keep it, and as it faded I felt I was losing something of her. I don't know what, but it made me unhappy and anxious - it was like losing her in real life all over again. So as I sat in my armchair at home staring moodily out the window, I was usually trying to recapture that taste. I was trying to keep her alive in my mind and in my heart.
This self-torture went on for weeks and then months. Looking back I guess I was crazy to keep trying to hold on to her - but then love makes you crazy. In the end it was all too much, and I began to seriously think about ending it all. I went through in my head all the ways I could think of to commit suicide, searching for something quick and painless (I may have been a lovesick fool, but I was a cowardly lovesick fool!). I came to the conclusion a shotgun in the mouth was the best bet. Messy for those left behind, but I didn't care about them. From my point of view it was quick and easy, and would all be over before I knew what happened.
I even worked out how I'd do it. I'd string the shotgun between two sides of a doorway, but one of the strings would pass over and round the trigger. I'd sit there on the floor with the gun's barrel hanging level with my mouth, so I could slip my mouth around it. When I was ready I'd place my hands around the barrel, hang on tight and just fall backwards. The strings would pull the trigger, and hey presto, no more memories!
I not sure if I'd have really done it or not, but I think so - if Mother hadn't suddenly arrived out of the blue.
I hadn't seen my mother for a couple of years. To be honest, I don't think I'd even thought about her for that time either, but suddenly one day there she was.
She was a small, petite, homely woman, who'd always been loving, but quiet and unassuming and not one to stand out in a crowd. My Dad on the other hand, had been a big loud, fire-storm of a man. He was strong, aggressive, and extremely sure of himself. He knew what he wanted and always went out to get it. Looking back they were a strange couple, and I never really knew what he saw in Mum.
Well, that's not quite true. Mum was very soft and gentle and caring, and she was a very feminine woman, if you know what I mean. Her parents - my grandparents - were french, and she seemed to have inherited a sort of 'Gallic charm', which I know for a fact that Dad absolutely doted on. She was never loud or aggressive, she never made a fuss or caused any trouble, but she could wind my dad around her little finger whenever she wanted. I never knew how she did it, but I had my suspicions. Even as a kid I found my mother a very - how can I put this - 'physical' woman. She was so sweet and loving, and I could cuddle up in her arms for ever and ever. In those days, when bad things happened to me I'd always run to mum, and she'd hold me and kiss me softly, and make it better.
Dad had died about ten years ago - he'd had a stroke - and I'd helped Mum sort things out. She was comfortably off and she had lots of friends, so I'd never worried about her. Last time I saw her she'd just come back from six months in her own little villa in the south of France (which she'd inherited from her parents). As I said, that was a couple of years ago, and I confess I hadn't really kept in touch.
Then suddenly one day the doorbell went and there she was, standing outside my door with a half-smiling, half-concerned look on her face.
"Jeffrey," she said simply, "how are you?"
For a while I just stood there staring at her. She aged a bit since I'd last seen her, with deepening lines around her eyes and greying hair, but she was still my mother, my dear dear mother.
"Mom!" I said at last, stepping forward and taking her in my arms. "It's so good to see you."
She gave me a big hug and a kiss on the cheek. I guess I was genuinely glad to see her. She was the first really friendly face I'd seen in a long time, and I knew she wouldn't be one of those so-called friends who tried to tell me how I should or shouldn't feel. No, my mother would be tactful and thoughtful as she'd always been, but she'd be there for me if I needed a shoulder to cry on. And dear God, did I need a shoulder to cry on!
It was only then, as I hugged her, I noticed the suitcase on the floor behind, and I realised a little uneasily this wasn't just a visit. Mother had come to stay, for a while at least. I nodded at the suitcase, and asked in as jovial a manner as I could manage. "What's this Mother, have you been evicted from your house?"
She looked at the case and then back at me. Then she said rather sheepishly. "I thought I come and stay with you for a few days ... if that's alright dear? If it's a problem I can always catch the return train."
"No," I said quickly. "No, it's not a problem. I'm all alone here ... and you can have the spare room for as long as you want."
I think I must have said 'all alone here' just a little too emotionally. I couldn't help it really. I was in a pretty bad state, and my emotions were very close to the surface. The shock of seeing my mother, and perhaps the relief of seeing a friendly face for the first time in many months, were all a little too much. I didn't sob or anything, there was just a slight break in my voice, but mother being mother picked it up instantly.
She looked at me for a moment, and then she said. "Are you alright Jeffrey? Is ... is everything OK with you?"
"Yes," I said weakly and without much conviction. "Yes ... fine thanks."
"Hmm ..." she muttered, almost to herself. "I see."
Anyway, to cut a long story short, she apparently did 'see'. Her visit, as it turned out, wasn't just a sudden desire to see how her only son was doing, but was based on something a little more specific. It seems my 'act' hadn't fooled everybody, and several people at work were worried about me. One of the older secretaries had taken the liberty of writing to mother and outlining her fears. She'd know mum in the past and still had her address, and thought she should know that her son was (in the eyes of many of the staff) 'coming apart at the seams'.
My first reaction on hearing this was anger. How dare they involve themselves in my affairs! How dare they involve my own mother in something that had nothing to do with anyone but me. Mother could see I was angry but, as usual she just stood there and took it on the chin.
"Yes dear ... I know it's not right. I'm sorry. I'll tell them to mind their own business in future. Yes, I know it has nothing to do with them or with me. I'm not here to interfere. I'll mind my own business too ... I just wanted to make sure you were alright."
She let me stamp about the place and fume and curse all those damn busy-bodies. She agreed with everything I said ... and then she offered to leave immediately.
What could I say?
After about ten minutes I calmed down and took her case to the spare room. Although one part of me was embarrassed and angry, another part was grateful, not only to mother but also to that interfering old bag at work. I couldn't say it but deep down but I knew I needed help.
It didn't take mum long to get the whole story out of me, or for her to see just what a retched state I was in. What is it about mother's that makes them so damn insightful, and so damn understanding - and so damn bloody right all the time! Before the end of the first day she was holding me in her arms, whilst I sobbed my heart out. She stroked my forehead as I babbled on incessantly, telling her everything at Katie and about how much I loved her, and how since she left me I just wanted to die. She even wiped my tears and told me that now she was here everything would be alright.
Its crazy I know, but for the first time since Katie went I actually believed her.
That said, the evening that followed was pretty traumatic. Once I breached the dam and told another human being about my feelings, it was like a flowing torrent of emotion that just wouldn't stop. I kept crying for no apparent reason. I could see how concerned mother was, and I didn't want to upset her, and frankly I was ashamed of my own weakness, but I just couldn't stop the tears erupting whenever they wanted to.
She immediately took control of my flat, tidied up the place, cleaned and organised my kitchen, and started to care for me like an invalid. I suppose in some ways I was an invalid - an emotional invalid. When I wasn't looking she slipped out and bought some food, and before I knew it she'd made me a light evening meal. She even set it at the dining room table and made me sit down to eat it. I think she was trying to instil some kind of routine back into my life.
Up to that point, apart from the discipline of work, there was no structure in anything I did, and I guess mother could see this from the state of my flat, littered as it was with liquor bottles and instant meal packets, mostly in a pile in front of the TV. I hadn't even noticed how filthy everything was - not till she came - and then I was flustered and embarrassed. I kept apologising for the mess, until suddenly I was in tears again and sobbing my heart out once more.
After the meal we sat on the sofa and talked. Well she talked actually, telling me about her life since we'd last met. I just listened and drank my evening bottle of Scotch like I always did once it started to get dark. It was the only way I could sleep. I think I expected Mother to tell me to stop, or lecture me at least about drinking too much. But she said nothing about it. She even joined me in a couple of glasses, which surprised me. I think she was being 'wise' and not trying to help too much too quickly.
Looking back things may have been very different it we hadn't drunk so much. I certainly wouldn't have let her sleep in my bed, and thus I wouldn't have woken up the following morning with my hand around my own mother's breast.
How did it happen? Well it's all a bit vague to me now (I was drunk for God's sake!), but I think it went something like this.
I got very drunk, going on endlessly about Katie and unburdening all my emotions for the first time to someone who really cared. It made me very miserable. Of course it's a healthy thing to do, getting all that pent up emotion out of your system, but at the time it's a pretty distressing experience. Sometime around eleven thirty I think I opened a second bottle of whisky and started on that. Mother, trying her best to be helpful and uncritical, must have drunk more than she'd intended, and by one o'clock we were both pretty far gone.
I have this vague recollection of mother helping me undress and tucking me up in my bed. I remember laughing and giggling as she tried to help me out of my trousers. For some reason I couldn't get one of my feet clear of one of the trouser legs and I kept falling over. Every time I fell I'd laugh hysterically and she'd tell me off like she'd done when I was a kid. She was kidding of course, and that just made me laugh even more.
In the end she got me into bed. Apparently she'd sat on the edge of my bed and given me a hug. I don't know why but suddenly all the laughter faded and I'd started bawling again, and I wouldn't let her go. I have this hazy vision of being drunk out of my mind, and clinging desperately on to my mother and shouting at the top of my voice, "make it better Mummy. Make it better!"
Anyway, regardless of the exact sequence of events, it seems she'd kicked off her shoes and lay down on the bed beside me, and she'd held me tight as I cried myself to sleep. But instead of slipping away to her own bed after I'd fallen asleep, she too - presumably the worse for all the whisky she'd drunk - had fallen asleep. I guess we'd lay there all night in each other arms.
Not that any of that would have mattered in itself, if things hadn't happened in the way they did in the morning.
I think I told you mother was a petite woman. What I'd meant is that she was about five feet dead in her bare feet, slim and small-boned, and she had this pretty little face with a small and deliciously pointed nose. Even now she sometimes looked like a naughty little schoolgirl. However, she was a reasonably buxom lady. Not grotesque or anything, just endowed with a generous pair of breasts. At that time she was in her late fifties but I guess even then an independent observer would have told you she was still an attractive woman.
All that said, she wasn't in any way a 'sexy' woman, at least not to me. She was my mother, after all - what else is there to say?
Now some time around nine in the morning of that fateful day, all that began to change. I want you to understand I never intended it to change; I never had the slightest thought in any part of my body about my mother in any way not appropriate for a son to have - at least not then. Later, after what happened, I confess I started to consider things most definitely inappropriate for a mother-son relationship. I just wanted you to know it wasn't my fault - it really wasn't.
Anyway, back to my story.
I guess at some point during the night mother must have turned around, and when I awoke in the morning she was facing away from me and I was cuddled up behind her. Without me realising what I was doing (and I genuinely mean that), my arms must have slipped around her waist and I'd cuddled her in to me. That wouldn't have been a problem if my right hand had not firmly attached itself to her right breast, and my morning erection had not pushed itself up tight to her buttocks.