Mental spring cleaning

I started yesterday’s post thinking I was going to write about relationships but sidetracked myself. I think this one is going to be a little long.

So, as I was saying before I rudely interrupted myself, I’ve been doing a little spring cleaning. Apart from the books and clothes, I’ve been going through old papers, notes, programmes, tickets and the like, most of which have ended up in the recycling bin. I had also kept a lifetime’s worth of photo negatives in a shoe-box, as you do. Like my CDs a couple of years ago, these are now gone, overtaken by technology.

I was pleasantly surprised by some of the stuff I found, including hilarious notes that my little brother had left me at home. I scanned one and emailed it to him and he observed that a college friend had just done the same with a note he had sent her. We’ve all been at the spring cleaning in the last week, it seems.

I also found a letter my Dad left for me when my parents realised my Santa Claus days were numbered. I hadn’t remembered this at all. My Dad is alive but it still makes me a bit teary to type it:

North Pole, Christmas Eve, 1984
Looking at my records I see you are now eleven and getting a bit old for visits from me. I discussed your case with the Christmas Gifts Committee, which deals with these matters, and they agreed to proceed as follows
1. Santa should visit you this year but not next year.
2. As a special sign that you are becoming a young lady we had the enclosed hall door key specially cut in our workshop to give you the freedom of the house.
With love from
Santa Claus (Mr)
Santa Claus (Mrs)

Among some old copy-books and very random souvenirs (including some worrying organic items, such as a few of my milk teeth and my painted thumbnail clipping from that time I grew it crazily long), I found an envelope containing booklets from Tampax, Lillets and co that I had sent away for after getting my first period. The sort of things that came with branded plastic tampon holders that you would never in your life have used for sheer embarrassment but that I think I still have somewhere for storing foreign coins. They have great titles such as “Girl talk”, “A Fresh Start” and “Between Ourselves” (the last one for mothers). I distinctly remember putting the booklets aside to give to my daughter when she got her own first period. As they’re pretty dated and I don’t have a daughter, I threw them in the wastepaper basket. Then I fished them out. They are kind of funny and you never know.

A time for answers booklet cover

Most interestingly, I also found notes I had written in the three or four days after my university boyfriend dumped me, a few days before I was due to go on my foreign exchange for a year.  I’ve never kept a diary but I knew that somewhere among my things I had stashed away my thoughts about that breakup. I hadn’t read them since I put them to paper in August 1992, at the tender age of 19. Over half a lifetime away.

They made me a little melancholy for a variety of reasons. I’m guessing that if I were happily loved up with a nice home life, they wouldn’t have had the same effect. But sitting reading them, it was very hard not to think that the 19-year-old me would have been appalled to know that I was single and childless at 39 – despite having endured way more painful and mature, buy each other out of the mortgage-type breakups since that one. And that I probably repeated many of those early mistakes over the next 20 years, or at least haven’t learned enough from them to choose the right man or make a relationship stick.

The really intense feeling of the notes also made me very sad. There’s no doubt I’ve become increasingly cynical about relationships in the last five or six years but particularly recently. Admittedly, I did fall head over heels last year in a can’t eat, can’t sleep way I hadn’t experienced since that era of my teens. But I think I’ve built up a fairly unassailable wall in the last 12 months. Partly because my energies are now directed elsewhere and partly because that last experience made me feel crappy and vulnerable – and foolish, waiting by the phone for a man to call like a passive teenage girl, when most of my friends have been in proper, grown-up relationships for five or 10 years. As I used to be. And because as much as the heady excitement, hormonal rush and sexual tension of a brand new relationship just cannot be beat, much of me just wants to fast-forward past all the “Oh, you like Margaret Atwood too?” bullshit and cut straight to the part where you’re comfortable to sit in pyjamas together eating pizza and watching Friday night TV and can see each other not as you’d like to portray yourselves but simply as you are.

That’s not even considering the whole other complicated mess of a ticking time bomb that is the dating woman in her late 30s who wants kids.

The 39-year-old me was also surprised by the melodrama of the writing. And O-M-G, I had actually pressed a red rose he gave me for my birthday. However, despite the dramatic prose, it would be churlish not to analyse some of these unexpected words from my teen Ghost of Christmas Past – to learn something about life to be used at a future date perhaps or, at least, dispensed sagely to friends. Brace yourself for some hysteria:

Full of nervy panic this morning, panic pushing up my chest as I write, up to my throat. I could easily cry, but I won’t, not at work. Hardly cried last night. Bad sleep from 6am on… Fear is racing through my heart and veins. Last night makes it four times I’ve cried this year… and all times over him.

Only four times, oh sister! You had no idea what lay ahead.

Sleep is a relief and I’m not being melodramatic about that. But last night’s dream exposed what I think might be my greatest fear… what I’m terrifed of is that I’m going to compare everyone else to [him] and that they’ll all fall short, that I’m going to be one of these women for whom no one is ever the same as the first and who spends the rest of her life pining after him.

I kind of wish I had read this a bit sooner, as there is no doubt that I spent a lot of time looking for the kind of both intellectual and physical perfection I had found in this guy. He was a stunner. I wasted a good few years trying to replicate the physical connection we had when, in fact, my longest and most successful relationship has stemmed from a platonic friendship with a man I didn’t initially find attractive at all. One of my biggest romantic regrets is not having dated a variety of men I wasn’t physically attracted to. Being too choosy, I guess. This guy really did ruin me for a few years. I was definitely more superficial back then and it took me way too long to work that out.

The dream got me thinking of the last night in front of the fountain – beautiful, tender kissing with me thinking, and on the verge of saying, how beautiful kissing someone was, how tender. And thinking that knowing the inside of someone’s mouth was such a gorgeous thing! His mouth, I remember thinking, is so warm and soft and welcoming…

Vomit-inducing Mills & Boon prose aside (seriously, what was I thinking!), I never did meet another man who could kiss like him. That is undoubtedly because teenagers (in my day, at least) spend proportionately way more time kissing than getting down to business. (Which has just reminded me of Business Time from Flight of the Conchords, so funny.) Are adults even permitted to kiss in public? How many of them spend any time kissing at all?

Adults really should kiss more.

The thought of another relationship scares me because I know the hurt that’s involved when it ends… But I still loved the security of being part of a couple.

Therein lies the rub to this very day. I mentioned in my Liebster post that I face a conflict between being a happy sister doing it for herself, and missing being an important person in someone’s life and vice versa. So, plus ça change on that score. You’d think I might have figured that one out by now.

Of course you tell yourself it’s not that important… I’m healthy, I have the great opportunity to go abroad, my parents can (I think) afford it (just), my family is in good health. I’m privileged, middle-class, I suppose… I have good friends… Yet I still feel sorry for myself. I’m still hurting…
The constant feeling of panic seems to have left. I met N for dinner and I was feeling more or less normal. We chatted and she was great as usual. I was nearly handling objectively his handling of the situation and we were laughing… I’m knackered – I need my bed, not to blot things out this time but because I’m tired.
A night out with friends seems to help a lot.

Amen, sister. Count your blessings, which are many. You are a very lucky person. Plus, it gets easier with time and talking does make things better. And what good friends and family can’t get you through, I just don’t know.

I found another scribbled note after discovering those ones, this time describing the excitement of getting together for the first time. An excerpt for your reading pleasure – again, brace yourself for the melodrama:

Butterflies in the stomach every time I think of it. Hard to concentrate on anything else now. Nothing has ever been so perfect. When I think of how beautiful he was – standing out on the basketball court – and how I wanted him then, it is hard to believe that five days later we were together… When he put his arm on my back at the first pre-debs, I physically jumped (with electricity – really).

It was only when I clocked the bit about the pre-debs (pre-prom) that I realised this was from my final year of school. It was dated June 1990, when I was 17. Another guy, at an earlier time. Oh, the fickleness (and intensity, good God) of youthful hormones!

As a postscript, after finding the notes I went to bed feeling kind of down. The next day, after tearing them up and depositing them in the recycling and then hitting the Christmas sales and buying two pairs of suede ankle wedges with my new earnings, I felt a whole lot better.

Superficial, moi?

Explanatory booklet excerpt on how babies are made

Not quite the way it worked out…

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