9 April 2012.
This entry is going to be hard to write. But until I do, it seems I shall have no peace. Nor can I call myself a writer.
Axel Munthe said “A man can stand a lot as long as he can stand himself. He can live without hope, without friends, without books, even without music, as long as he can listen to his own thoughts”. I always believed that. I still do.
But can I listen to my own thoughts any longer? Not when they keep turning, as they have been lately, to Messalina. After all this time I am in danger of becoming obsessive. It is making me ill as if a toxin works in me. Why now?
She must be expunged, and the only way I know is to vomit out all the accumulated poison in the form of words. Tell the story, get it out; told, finished, hopefully over and done with at last and leave the whole mess behind on the pavement. I should have done so before. Tried to, once or twice. Almost succeeded with some close friends. Never managed to completely close off the entire humiliating tale. Never got it all out so I could walk away from it. So I forgot it. It is now haunting me, all the more because it is almost unbelievable. Which is why I managed not to believe it for so long.
All this obsessing started on the bike trip. Too much time to think, to dwell on it, to put two and two together as I never did before, and suddenly see the whole thing from an angle I had avoided before. So here is the context in which it must be told. Something I knew all along and did not face up to, even when the most compelling evidence was thrust before me.
You would think, given the events of the last few years, that any thoughts of betrayal and resulting depression would centre on the one I loved for 25 years until only recently. Yet I have come quite easily to terms with the end of that relationship. I loved her, I want to see her happy, though not necessarily actually to SEE her happy, if you take my meaning. Just to be aware that she is so is enough for me. I hope she is. I bear her no ill will, and indeed I am eternally grateful for what we had, and for our daughters. Any bitterness I felt at first is now gone. I am full of equanimity. It cannot just be because of fluoxetine, because surely then that same equanimity would extend to Messalina? Even after all these years she is both evil protagonist and unattainable ideal. As well as Big Mistake. She still disturbs my mind.
In 1975, having just turned 23 years old, I fell deeply in love with the 17 year old sister of a diving companion. It seemed that she too fell in love with me. I can still remember the heady insanity of that love. The happiness even when apart, knowing that on this day or that, we’d be together again. Always something to look forward to. She was pretty, she was intelligent, artistic and creative, witty, well read, active, and fun to be with. I was all those things too in those days- except for pretty.
The courtship lasted a long time, and was chaste for almost two years. We moved in together in Wellington in late 1976, and in early 77 we married, as I started as a trainee health inspector. We moved to Napier when I qualified, and were married for just less than three years before she left me to live with her employer, a photographer. In 1980 I moved back to Auckland and worked until 1984 for Mt Roskill Borough Council. Four of the most miserable years of my life. Some of the reasons for that I am telling now, and some belongs in another story. Finally I ran away as a VSA volunteer to Solomon islands, met June, fell in love again, married, returned eventually to NZ, had a family and lived happily ever after for 25 years.
That is the story in a nutshell as I usually tell it.
A chance remark from my sister recently. A sharp question. An honest reply. And a whole lot of repressed memories suddenly floated out. The picture was not quite as I had wanted to remember it. I would probably have filed it all away again, but the next few days were spent alone in a helmet, riding across Australia. Gives a man a lot of thinking time. I should have plugged the Walkman in much sooner.
Messalina’s mother and father did not like me. I tried to like them, and got on pretty well with the rest of her family, especially her grandparents. I even learned Nederlands to impress them. The family sent her off to Holland in 1976, in order to try and wean her off me. As I mentioned, our courtship had been chaste. It continued so after her return. But I believe she was no longer innocent. Or, to put it another way, when we got around to it, I was not the first. She mentioned that she had enjoyed some really good times on her OE. I kind of glossed over it at the time. She was back, and still committed. That was all that counted. She was not my first either.
I remember someone once telling me that if we put a shilling in a jar every time we made love in our first year of marriage, and took one out every time thereafter, the jar would never be emptied. I also remember thinking at the end of our first year of marriage (considering how few imaginary shillings were in the imaginary jar) that I sincerely hoped that it was not true.
In three years together, I can honestly recall less than half a dozen times we made love. Surely there must have been more? Anyway thats how it seems now. Never had that problem the second time round. Quite the contrary. The poor jar would not have lasted long at all, despite having been overfilled in the first year. But I digress. My kids would be saying “too much information”.
Because I was going to be working for Napier City Council when I qualified, I worked for them in the holidays. She stayed in Wellington, and I came back on the weekends. My sister Sue came to stay. One time when I was away, She took Sue to a friend’s place, and left my young sister alone while she disappeared somewhere with someone. Sue mentioned it only this month. It was this that opened the whole abscess again.
Here’s how thick I was: when we visited the doctor for crab treatment, I was surprised at the disbelieving look he gave me when I told him we had only been with each other, so we must have picked them up from a borrowed blanket when sleeping on the couch at a friends place.
She was young and beautiful, and quite an outrageous flirt. At first I did not mind at all. After all she was with me. I basked in her light. I could see others thinking what is a honey like that doing with him? Later, when the first suspicions began to arise I suppressed them with thought of Robert Heinlein’s philosophy on women, which was essentially that they are their own person, and we mere men accept gratefully what they offer and do not question what we don’t need to know. But I am monogamous. I wanted my partner to be monogamous too.
I don’t want to list incidents and people but I shall mention some – like dot points. Just mentally composing this has been therapeutic. I shall not even write a half of what I have already composed in my head. I am getting over it already. But even if it is abbreviated, I shall complete the project I started.
- Coming back early from hunting in the Kawekas, to find her not home – and she did not come home all night.
- Learning of her posing nude for her boss (she worked for a photographer) only after one of the photos won a prize and was published on the front page of the Hawkes Bay Herald Tribune
- Allen Maddox, the artist and tutor who became a friend. (The only person I subsequently asked, and received confirmation from).
- The Radio Announcer Boarder and the Guy in the Band at the pub where she worked evenings.
- Frequently coming home much later than closing time at the Ahuriri Tavern where she worked some evenings.
- The Bob Dylan Concert at Western Springs. We went up by bus from Napier for the concert, and I had stood with her sitting on my shoulders for almost the whole show. It was not until we were about to board the bus that she revealed she was not coming back with me and gave some facile explanation that I tried to accept at face value.
- We were both enrolled at evening classes at Hawkes Bay Community College. I was doing the Boat-master, Coastal Yacht-master and Ocean Navigation. and she was pusuing her artistic muse. Our classes were on different evenings and it seemed to me that hers went on later than mine did.
Finally she came home from evening classes one evening and said “We have to talk”. She had not been to evening classes at all; in fact she had not even enrolled. She had been seeing Clive her boss, and now was going to live with him. He was going to leave his wife and new baby for her.
As it happens this relationship did not last long – but she did not come back.
And that was when I went to pieces the first time. Later it seemed everyone in Napier knew the scandal. I left the Council and moved to Auckland. I worked for Mount Roskill Borough Council.
Much later a colleague at Newmarket Borough Council asked me to help him with a pool problem he had. (I had some expertise in pool treatment). He had a commercial spa at a massage parlour with green water and could not figure it out. It was simple to solve, just too much cyanuric acid accumulated. Change the water or don’t use bromine tablets with Cyanuric already added. But i digress. The massage parlour was actually a brothel, and no prizes for guessing who was one of the “receptionists”.
This is the bit I have not told many people before. I am not even going to try to describe how it made me feel at the time .
My colleague asked how I knew this young lady who clearly knew me quite well. I could guess what he was thinking. When I told him the truth, his first reaction was disbelief, then “You were married to her?”
Once the implications sunk in; “Oh”.
I was closest I have ever been to considering suicide seriously. And that is why you never have to worry about me doing such a thing. Because nothing, absolutely nothing that might happen to me now could ever make me feel worse than I did at that moment.
And yet I was still not finished punishing myself. I tried once more to be friends, in the hopes of maybe rebuilding our relationship. I tried to be the good old reliable friend who happened to be an ex husband, like you see in the movies. It did not work of course, and eventually I realised it never would. Not until I had humiliated myself a few more times, like turning up to help with a repair in her flat and finding her in bed with someone else. She had given me a key and I had let myself in. ” Who the hell are you?” asked her lover. “Her husband” said I trying to act like it was all some stupid sitcom. But hurting badly.
It is not all told, even now. But perhaps enough to help me get on. I am thinking I don’t really need to revisit that road any further right now.
As it happens other events were leading me down the track that soon led to me joining VSA and heading off to Solomon Islands.
And that is all I have to say about that for now.
15 April 2012