Saturday, September 03, 2005


Sunday morning. Rain prickling on the roof, my wife abed under a blanket of kittens, my brother asleep after his football team won, my niece and her friend reading a lurid book in the bedroom.

It's quiet here.

So. Last issue: I went to the bookshop to get help, like I normally do. I rely on books for a lot of things. They are better than many people; wiser and more discrete. And portable.

Help for what? A biggish hard-to-write-about, harder-to-post thing, actually.


There's this friend of mine - actually, that's not the right word. The nurse who was feeling low from a couple of months back. Slim, dark haired, talks a lot, quick witted. I liked working with her when we were both working at Shipton. She was going out with one of the senior doctors there. About six months after I fled to Florey, she came too.

Anyway, new workplace, unfamiliar faces, you tend to talk a bit to the people you know. She and I talked. And that was summer, and summer nights in the ED are slower than winter, and often at five in the morning you're all just sitting together chatting, and there's that cameraderie I was talking about.

And what happened? Well, she had a crap year. She broke up with her boyfriend. Tears in the staffroom, that kind of thing. And then her mother and her had some spectacular crazy Irish Catholic falling out, and then she had a seizure at home, falling and shaking, terrified her kids, and was brought in post-ictal and aggressively disinhibited to her own workplace. It turned out she'd been having seizures in her sleep (had an old head injury from a car crash at seventeen) for about a year. The ex - a fucking doctor, I tell you - hadn't told her until they broke up. Presumably one of those vicious little barbs you throw at people when you leave them - "Oh yeah? Well, you're an epileptic!". Plus the depression (which responded very well to antidepressants, by the way).

And then lastly another seizure, which meant epilepsy, which meant they take your licence off you, plus you have to go on these horrible horrible drugs, like the mood stabilisers that BPAD patients take but often in bigger doses. Make you fat, stupid, slow, affect you at work. Plus single mum, two early teenage daughters...

Two things emerge from the preceding paragraph. How many troubles she had, and how many of them I knew about and tried to do something for. Well, it's my workplace she has the seizures in. I know about the drugs the neurologist has told her fuck-all about, I've been on one of them myself. I haven't been brought into Florey, detained and frothing as a "psych", but it's an image that's always in my head. She's just around the corner, I could sometimes give her a lift to and from work. What are friends for?

This goes on for months.

What do the smarter of us see coming now? The direction, if not the extent, is already mapped out.

So, what happens (or happened about a month ago)? A few days after her licence gets taken off her (by the extremely apologetic Dr Longstocking), she starts work at quarter to five in the morning. I finish at twelve, which actually means one AM. I'd promised to give her a lift a while back, before I thought this far ahead. So, rather than drive home and get up four hours later, I thought could stay over her place (sleep in the car, or on the lounge, all above board) and take her in to work three hours later.

My wife says "sure, no worries". I think to understand her saying that, you have to understand things from her point of view. Now, in this narrative, it seems incredibly trusting, which it was - that's the kind of person that she is. And if I had to point out a place where things all went wrong, where things started to get out of control, it would be sometime before staying the night. But Sarah is like that. Trust.

I'm aware this can be read as building up to some sort of erotic climax here, and it's not going to happen. There are things I'm not going to say here, but the naked truth is it was not four hours of acrobatic, loin-spasming sex.

But it was conversation, and an inescapable physical intimacy in that there's me and her in the same house, alone at night, and both aware of it. You know that moment when you realise that no-one would know if you did something?

We didn't touch. But I don't know. If you roll the dice again, things could have happened. Maybe we could have touched or something. And I reckon in the end what would have stopped it was her, not me: because it was up to me before to stop before now, way back when I started trying to solve all of her problems, and I hadn't. Her the single woman, not me the married man.

Anyway, went home. Slept like the dead.

And since then my head's been like a kaleidoscope. Accusations, alternatives, plans, regrets, imaginings.

I've told my wife pretty much everything. I've told the nurse she can get her own lifts. To be honest, we (the nurse and I) haven't talked for about a week, we're unlikely to talk as much as we used to ever again. Planets move in orbits, we are receding from each other. That's good. I think she's got some guy now, from what she tells me he's married. What do you say?

My wife, I hope and think, is coping. Partly because she cannot imagine doing such a thing herself, she maybe finds it harder to imagine me being unfaithful, which is what I reckon I was, and had been for some time. Partly because the physical act didn't take place. Partly because she can see that said nurse and I are not the kind of people to ever enjoy that kind of communion (and look, there's another biblical word) that Sarah and I have. Partly because she sees I don't talk to or about the nurse much anymore. Sarah has always said she could forgive an episode of casual sex more than she could forgive or deal with an episode of emotional closeness between me and someone else - the way she sees it this is neither.

My wife fears things she need not fear. When she gets upset she worries I will leave her because she has too many cats*. She doesn't understand that living with her is effortless - the only time in my life I have just been myself and had someone love me anyway. I have only ever been in love once in my life. If I'd never met her, it might never have happened at all.

But my head is full. I see this, of course, in biblical terms - sin, punishment, repentence. No less a thing if the sin is only inside your head, if it's in the realm of potential events rather than actual. I don't know, there's some region in your skull where imaginings become plans, where desires grade into intentions. "Things you think would be nice" become "things that (at some level) you try to get".

I don't know.

Confession. I don't know who the fuck it's good for. I don't know that it eases the heart, I don't know that it achieves anything, I don't know it's good for me or Sarah or anyone. It's a first step, but it's only one step. Thing is, I don't want to be the kind of person who is unfaithful, in thought, word or deed. I was for most of my life before her, I don't want to be it any more.

I have to tear things up inside my head, rewrite the program. Do things different.

There's this black anger in me now, anger at what I did and what I could have done, what part of me I thought I'd beaten wanted to have done. I'm back at the gym, I'm hitting the punching bag, if I could hurt myself I would. Weirdly, I have shaved most of the hair on my head off, I look like some prison escapee. I want to get some big painful tattoo, a crucifix all across my back, like Father Lawrence's in Romeo and Juliet. A scar and a display and a reminder.

And simultaneously I'm trying to normalise things, these things that I, much more than Sarah or anyone else, feel have gone awry. Me and Sarah going to a Vietnamese restaurant. Nights at home alone, the two of us. I always buy Sarah flowers, I've started doing that again, even though at some level it fills me with rage because I see myself doing it, pretending to be a good husband when I'm not. That whole idea that if you wear a mask for long enough, your face will grow to fit that shape, and you won't need the mask any more.

I even bought a book** on it (see? the ancients had Delphi, I have the bookshop). Fittingly for a science geek, it describes extra-pair copulations (infidelity, for the rest of us), amongst animals: blue tits and cave bat bugs. Screw-worms, you will be relieved to know, are relatively monogamous, (despite the name), and vixens are actually devoted spouses. Fairy wrens are sluts.

I don't know. The following is another deeply unpalatable truth. There's some part of me that wants to have sex with almost every single reproductive age woman I've ever seen - I can think of only a few exceptions, oddly enough amongst my nearest and dearest friends. Normally it's just background pornography, you see someone, you think "look at her" or whatever and you get a half-second visual fantasy, but then it gets shunted out the way because you need your brain to actually live your life. Then the next one, unbuttoning her shirt or pushing her down onto the bed, then back to parking the car, then the next picofantasy.

Is this what it's like for every other man, too? I mean ninety five percent of the reproductive age women you see, ten or thirty or fifty a day, every year I can remember? Is this normal?

And I reckon part of this is some crap mid-life crisis, too, one of those self-indulgent breakdowns of which I've always been so intolerant. The last few months I been conscious of how unimpressive I look - something I normally don't think about at all. I compare myself to other people, something I haven't done since high school. I stood outside Borders the other day and looked enviously, as we all do, at the people who look better than me. I feel old, short and balding, I feel "not good in bed". My father had an angioplasty the other day, my ex wife has a new boyfriend, my kids beat me in table tennis. All this is as it should be (well, except the first), but maybe it bothers me, at some grunt-stupid "prove you've still got it" level.

Well, the cure for this self-loathing and rage is not some fast car and a blonde. It's not making a fool of myself. I know what I want to do. I have heard of people who have stayed happily married and faithful for decades. I want to be one. I want this to have been as close as it gets.

After all this writing, I don't know that this is postable. I know too many of you too well to be this open to you, and also, it's bloody humiliating - an example of how mindfuckingly stupid one allegedly smart person can be. But if I do post it, remember what I said about the emotional content of these being more extreme than the life - this is a good example.

Anyway. It's stopped raining. The kettle is boiling, I have made raisin toast. I am going to go wake up Sarah.


*Fifty. Siamese, balinese, oriental. Various colours and stuff.

** Quote from page two: "...those especially imbued with the myth of monogamy often find themselves beset with guilt, doomed like characters from a Puritan cautionary tale to scrub eternally and without avail at their adultery-stained souls, often believing that their transgression is not only unforgiveable, but unnatural."

I've heard sugar soap works, I'll try that.


Blogger Foilwoman said...

BJ: Don't be so hard on yourself. Let me rephrase: you didn't actually do anything. And resist the urge to confess sins you have only thought of. Actually, unless you want your marriage to end, resist the urge to confess sins of the venereal variety in general. Nothing good comes of it. When confronted with a choice, make it and live with it.

Don't beat yourself up. Emotional intimacy and desire are everywhere. There is no way you can change yourself so you don't feel or think these things. Just know you are thinking them and know you are making a choice.

Good luck.

12:05 PM  
Blogger Chade said...

When thinking becomes a sin, I'm doomed. I'm a relativelty honourable deviant. I've done things, I've thought more. I'm comfortable with myself as a human. There are better, there are worse. When I find the brain gets a bit too much, when it fills with things I can't control (desire, irrationality, etc); I write. I channel it out and create something. Some of my best fantasies (not sexual) make the written page. It's good. Try it. Works for me.

6:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think your job as a doctor, especially with kids and youth and disadvantaged, requires you to imagine the unimaginable... Just like police investigations, judges, juries and child health workers.

Also I believe ECT can leave gaps in the memory.

Deadliest of sins, the liberty of conscience

7:03 PM  
Blogger Benedict 16th said...

Following on from Anon above...

"There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did; sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit." Romans 8:1 - 4

I thought this (above) says Thought Crime is not a sin but what would I know I'm an Athiest.

Anyone less moral than you wouldn't give this non-incident a second thought.

Benny XVI

9:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree more with the above...

My thoughts are far less pure than yours, and yes, at one level, I do fantasise about every woman of reproductive age. Just because I do, that doesn't mean I'm likely to act on these thoughts. I'm pretty sure that nearly every male has them...

Instead of punishing yourself for "impure" thoughts, take some credit for not acting on these impulses.

11:43 PM  
Blogger AlmightyHeidi said...

Pure honesty in thoughts in writing from dishonest thoughts in the mind. I hate saying I love your site, in a way that is sick enjoying someone elses madness:)
It is so brutally honest, the things that go on inside the head and heart while sipping coffee on the way to work.

1:25 AM  
Anonymous Camillhu said...

I think the fact that you have talked about it with Sarah, given it so much thought and then posted your thoughts in your blog says everything anyone needs to know about your character. Don't beat yourself up anymore. You don't deserve it.

If it's any help, I've been there too, recently. You're not alone.

9:38 PM  
Blogger Foilwoman said...

Oh, an as for mindfuckingly stupid, that's my picture illustrating that word in the dictionary, dear. Not yours. No fears.

3:31 AM  
Blogger Bronze John said...

Well, I'm overwhelmed.

Thanks to everyone: FW, Chade, the Chair of the Holy See, the Anonymi, AlmightyHeidi, Milly et al.

Seriously, everyone's been really decent, and said some pretty smart and useful stuff about all this. Thanks a great deal.

Now I just have to wait for my hair to grow back.


8:00 AM  

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