I made several New Years resolutions. Some were extremely dull and others rather vague and personal. I decided I would start to write about my Teenaged Angst, which should help me with two of them. Won't all fit in the one post, but this will be the scariest for me, which is why I will only get the courage to post it at two in the morning having travelled down to Suffolk today; extremely cold, extremely tired and unable to sleep for worry about entirely unrelated matters. I have to apologise in advance for the use of the word c*nt four times in this particular post. I have put an asterisk in it to avoid offending my own sensibilities. I am pathetic.
Bathsheba (who wasn’t called Bathsheba at all) taught me the meaning of the word c*nt. It was that deeply formative moment in a young person’s life when this fragrant young girl sitting next to you, this heavenly being with so much more grace, charm and sophistication than you could ever hope for, turns to you and says, “You are such a c*nt.”
And somehow you've never heard such a word up until now, but because she had said it, you become totally preoccupied by it. It is not to be found in your school dictionary, so that evening at the dinner table, you see no problem with asking your parents, “What exactly is a c*nt?”
And your father advises you to look it up in the doorstop dictionary whilst your mother recovers from her choking fit.
This was one of the two main reasons that I knew that there was something wrong with my feelings towards Bathsheba; she wasn’t a very nice person. Or at least, she wasn’t very nice to me. And given that she made it pretty clear she disliked me, she did have an infuriating habit of tolerating my company and using me as a partner in various classes when there was nobody else convenient (oh God, even Self-Defence). And just occasionally, when we were alone together, she would say or do something pleasant, worst of all touch me and I would be in torment, unable to think about anything else for a week.
The other reason was, to be frank, that she smelt nice. Considering her the most lovely human being that ever existed, I could have got away with, but we were twelve years old and nobody smelt nice. Clearly there was something very wrong with me.
At first, I wasn't sure what I had to be afraid of. I decided that the problem was that she was perfect and I was abhorrent. She was beautiful, charming and all those other things that make a person adorable whereas I was ugly, socially inept and evidently, a bit of a c*nt. I didn’t deserve to look upon such a creature, let alone love her as I did. And if she had an inkling of the way I felt about her, she would undoubtedly have had me beaten up.
By itself, this would not have been such a miserable position to be in. Infatuation does not need to be really unpleasant. We have all loved people who didn’t love us back. In this case, I didn’t have any expectation, I didn’t have any object, so I could not be disappointed or even particularly frustrated. All I wanted was to be near her, to see her and to hear her voice as often as possible without annoying her or arousing any suspicion.
Hmm, yes, the danger of arousing any suspicion. This I was very conscious of.
Bathsheba was not the first. When I was about nine or ten, I fancied myself in love with a much more tolerant individual who, despite my having no mental image of the lad above the age of eleven, still makes the occasional cameo in my dreams today. But that was all right. I couldn’t tell him and I knew he didn’t love me. But I could tell my friends, I could write his name in piles of dead leaves on the side of hill so that the angels could read it and know to take care of him (eek, well, I was only ten). Discovery would have been extremely embarrassing but he wouldn’t have hated me for it. He laughed at my jokes when nobody else did; he would forgive me that.
But nobody would forgive me should they learn of my feelings for Bathsheba. It was inappropriate. And of course, these things don’t happen in isolation; there was a difference here I was already conscious of. It made me feel like a rotten apple, festering with mould and maggots and all sorts of sliminess in a cartload of healthy, shiny, rosy red specimens. What if the way I felt about everyone and everything was wrong? What if all my feelings towards other women and girls were inappropriate?
So I became anxious about the frequency with which I hugged my friends or expressed my affection. I withdrew from them. As I have written about before, my imaginary friend turned up rather late in my childhood. At one point a close friend was very seriously ill in hospital and living close to the hospital, Iisited her everyday. Someone joked about me visiting so often she would be sick of me, and I began to worry terribly that I had overstepped that all-important boundary. My friend had had a brush with death, she had shards of glass imbedded in her neck and skull, and there was I, anxious that my reaction might seem over the top...
I was terrified of discovery. Not that there was anything to discover; I never did or said anything that would give anyone a clue about this. At this time, I had never even had anything which might pass as an unclean thought. I was extremely innocent - perhaps extraordinarily innocent. It was all to do with love, with affairs of the heart; not affairs of the goolies, not sex.
And for no particular reason other than the fact I've just worked out how to do this, before the “To be continued…”, I will leave you with perhaps the best song from one of the best musicals on film, which I’m always mentioning but nobody has seen. The film itself is very silly and quite rude, but it does have some very good songs in. And some remarkable lipstick.
Origin of Love from Hedwig and the Angry Inch (no subtitles, but the lyrics can be found here)
To be continued...
What a great song.
What a fantastic post. I identify strongly with that adolescent concern about boundaries, though perhaps some of us haven't quite managed to leave it behind in our adolescence..
I've seen Hedwig, by the way :) My work firewall prevents me from listening to the song, so I shall have to save it until later.
For some strange reason, I find myself somewhat speechless today. So all I will (and can) say is: a wonderful post, and hugely moving. Thank you for writing it.
Well said, movingly said, Goldfish.
Wonderfully written! And I absolutely love the Hedwig movie. In fact I was just listening to the soundtrack (and dancing around the house) just this morning). Whenever I watch it, the movie make me feel a little closer to normal. (Not that normal's important or anything, but it's nice to know I'm not the only weirdo in the world.)
For all our advances in the realms of biology and technology in the last 50 years, social education remains a nebulous concept.
Even today, many parents I know appear to expect their children to learn indirectly by interpreting mannerisms and when this doesn't happen they adopt an attitude of blame which sensitive children (of which I was one) pick up immediately. This education by guilt really is such a bad way for a child to learn.
You know, delving into the past can be a very difficult thing to do. I agree entirely with the sentiment here, this is a well written, helpful and moving post.
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