Sarah Jane Doe

Tag Archives: Love

There’s been a mistake

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I think there’s been a mistake. A serious problem of emotional accounting has occurred and it’s gone unrecognised. It concerns the idea that No One Can Make You Happy But Yourself ™. We all know this to be true, right? It sounds like it must be true. Mostly because it’s sort of difficult and annoying, like all true things are. You should immediately soak that egg yolk off your breakfast plate or it’s almost impossible to remove later on. That kind of thing.

So it goes that if we rely on others for our happiness, they’ll eventually reject us, fail us, die, become a Scientologist or move to Nova Scotia and then where will we be? Stuck in Unhappy, with no one to play with. Better to nod sagely and agree with the last few decades of psychological sock-pulling-up that is No One Can Make You Happy But Yourself ™.

A card from my cousin arrived and seemed to confirm this. It read ‘In the midst of winter, I found there was within me an invincible summer’. Happiness is within you, it says. And it’s all down to you. Except. Except. I couldn’t help but feel that she had made me happy just by sending me the card. Very happy, in fact.

I looked around at the midst of my winter. It was pretty cold. I was naked, which didn’t help, stripped bare in an un-sexy, pale and goose-fleshed way with just the odd bruise for colour. I was sitting on a winter beach. Not sand, not even pebbles (too smooth) but that awful shale stuff with sharp edges under my skinny haunches; the kind of beach that excites only geologists and the vacationing citizens of Mordor.

From time to time people would pass by on the windy cliffs above me and shout down offering assistance. ‘No thanks!’ I’d shout back, waving grimly, ‘Gotta do this by myself. Responsible for own happiness. Invincible summer within me. Not a group effort. Back to it,’ I’d say, saluting them on their way. And I’d concentrate. Happy. Happy. Yep. Still there. Good work. Winter’s OK. Lots of people like winter. Oh look, a dead seagull. That’s nice.

Eventually my brother passed by and yelled down, ‘What are you doing?’

‘I’m looking for my invincible summer!’

‘Here?’

‘Yeah. It’s the beach – summer – you know?’

He looked sceptical, even from a distance.

‘Pretty sure mine was over the other side.’ He gestured.

‘Really?’

‘Yeah. Want me to show you?’

‘Nope. Only I can do this. Go away. You’re making me happy with your care and attention. Idiot.’

‘Sorry. Good luck!’

But I thought about it and when it got colder, I started up towards the cliffs, climbing rocks and grabbing at wet tree roots until I was on some semblance of a track. Picking lichen out of my fingernails and rubbing my arms for warmth, I ran in to my ex love-of-my-life. He waved a little. He was standing beside a bicycle.

‘Saw your brother,’ he said, ‘Thought you might want this.’

‘A bike?’

‘Nothing flashy, but I fixed the gears and the seat is nice and soft. I also put some beers in a basket on the back, for you when you arrive.’

‘Really?’

‘Yeah. I know how much you like a beer on the beach in an invincible summer. Wasn’t sure which one you drank anymore, so I put in a bottle each of your favourites. Modelo Negro, Sierra Nevada Pale, Carlsberg Elephant, Tusker – like your folks drank in Kenya – and the other beer relating to elephants we drank in Sri Lanka. You enjoy beer with elephant themes somehow.’

‘I do! Thank you, this has made me really ha – wait, I can’t take it.’

‘Why?’

‘The whole No One Can Make You Happy But Yourself ™.’

‘Oh yeah. That’s so true. It’s my philosophy too.’

‘I know.’

We regard the bike together.

‘But the beer…’

‘Yeah, just use it for it bit. It won’t make you that happy. ‘

‘Thanks!’

I set off at a wobbly pace, cold beer clinking against cold metal and cold metal against cold skin. Feeling happiness like small hiccups. happy. happy. hmm.  happy.

A couple of my friends were around the bend with a stall selling Pimms and bikinis.

‘Guys! This is awesome!’

‘Sarahjanedoe, you are crazy naked. Take a bikini, we insist.’

‘No, I couldn’t…’

‘Seriously. You’ve given each of us your bikinis in summers past, what’s a bikini between mates? You’ll feel better in your invincible summer with a bikini.’

‘OK, but you know, this is making me really happy, and I’m trying to get there on my own! My cousin already ruined it with her happy-making card…’

But it was too late, the bikini was on and I was under way again. I cycled for hours. It was cold and uninspiring terrain; it didn’t feel like I was closing in on summer. Maybe I’d gone the wrong way.

I saw a figure in the distance. A man, with a beach towel around his shoulders – a promising sign. As I drew closer I noted his golden skin and the traces of white sand on his feet. Maybe he can help me find summer! Maybe – No! No One Can Make You Happy But Yourself ™.

Suddenly aware of my straggly self on the bike, I dismounted and wheeled by, keeping good distance. The man smiled, an enormous smile, and said ‘Hey! A bikini! Are you also looking for the invincible summer within you?’

‘No,’ I lied. ‘I’m just, y’know, riding. Being happy already. Totally happy. And cool. Quite cool.’

‘Oh.’

He had very blue eyes like the sea in my invincible summer and they seemed disappointed.

‘Are you looking for yours?’ I asked.

‘I was just there…’ he gestured vaguely and scratched his beard. A shimmery dusting of sand fell out. ‘But I’m not sure of the way back.’

‘OK. Look, I lied to impress you. I have no idea where mine is but I know it’s within me, not you or my family or friends, and those people are all slowing me down with their happy-making help. Doesn’t anyone realise No One Can Make You Happy But Yourself ™?

‘It’s true isn’t it? I’ve heard it so often. It must be right.’

‘Yes, because what if you let someone make you happy that isn’t you and then they become a Scientologist?’

‘Or move to Nova Scotia,’ he said thoughtfully.

‘Exactly!’

‘Well, seeing as we agree, maybe we can just go part of the way together. Zero happiness. Promise. Because it doesn’t fit.’

‘Sounds great, let’s go.’

We encountered ridiculous obstacles. At one point a track filled with broken glass looked like it would be the end of the journey until my parents arrived with a care-package of brightly coloured Havianas. ‘Hey!’ I protested, ‘No One Can Make You…’ but they were already heading back to their own invincible summers, picnic baskets in hand.

Before long, the blue-eyed stranger looked at me and said ‘I think your bruises are fading.’

He was right.

‘And you’re much more golden.’

He checked his arms and smiled. ‘I think we’re getting close.’

It was growing warmer.

When at last I arrived at my invincible summer within myself, the bike had become a gypsy caravan of trinkets and treasures from at least thirty people – books and thick towels, suncream and cold bottles of Badoit, tropical fruits, sarongs and even a silver box of sea-bird calls, an unexpected gift from someone who reminded me that you can’t have summer without those sounds, anymore than without the sound of the waves.

The golden stranger whooped and ran straight into the limitless ocean, splashing joyfully. I was hesitant. ‘Come in!’ He said ‘Your invincible summer is fantastic! Have you seen how perfect this sand is?’

‘It’s meant to be within me, though. It’s not real now. Ugh. Exhausting.’

I plonked gracelessly on the beach.

‘I’m going to have to do it all again. Look, you keep this stuff. The beer’s still cold and those coconuts from my neighbours look really tasty.’

‘Aren’t you happy here?’

‘Yes! Really happy. I was happy as soon as I got that card. But not all by myself! It’s all these people who make me happy. They make me happy every day. Even strangers make me happy! That’s not how it’s supposed to be.’

‘What if it’s wrong.’

‘What?’

‘What if it’s wrong, that No One Can Make You Happy But Yourself ™, and it’s actually only the people in our lives who make us happy? Humans are a pack species after all.’

I consider it. It’s a possibility. Have we all just fallen victim to popular psychobabble?

So at the end of a full day of enjoying my invincible summer within myself with added friends, family and handsome strangers, I wrote my own manifesto* on my beach in the sand. And it felt true.

*‘No One Can Make You Happy But Yourself. Yourself Might Need A Lot Of Other Amazing People To Make Yourself Happy, But Yourself Will Do A Damn Good Job Of It ™.’

 

Advice for the new lover

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For the five or six months of your pregnancy that is visible to the outside world, the outside world will attempt to warn you about what’s coming next. People who have a limited grasp on logic or have grown up oddly sheltered from common expressions such as ‘you can’t be a little bit pregnant,’ or skipped health classes in high school where a bored/embarrassed/somnambulant PE teacher explained the one-way street that is second trimester pregnancy, will take it upon themselves to offer the kind of advice that’s as useful as winding down the window of a car shouting ‘Bridge out ahead!’ and waving gaily like smug Samaritans as the train carriage you are strapped into hurtles  toward a chasm with comically bent tracks disappearing into oblivion. In short, it’s not helpful. There’s no way out.

The warnings about the pain and practicalities of childbirth are useful.  I took them seriously enough to introduce myself as ‘Epidural’ upon being admitted to the labour ward last month in the throes of pain that was, as the warners described, indescribable.  But what you largely get warned about is nothing you can medicate away or buy swaddling linens made from sustainably sourced bamboo for.  What you get warned about is so fundamental and irresolvable that it feels more like condolences than advice.  Pregnant! The hands flutter to the mouth or heart. The following is issued, in no particular order, or all at once:

‘It’s like a piece of your heart is outside yourself forever, and you have no control over what happens to it. You’ll never sleep properly again. You’ll have to consider someone else in everything you do for the rest of your life. You start making concessions from the moment they arrive. You’ll do things for them you’d never do for yourself, and then they’ll rip your heart out with a few thoughtless words.’

Baby advice? I could read that out as a wedding speech. And although you can stop that particular train in time, nobody tries to warn you about falling in love. When you say ‘I’ve met someone,’ with shining eyes, no one says ‘Oh God, clearly you don’t value your sleep, free-time and autonomy, eh? But I’m sure you’ll be a great lover, no really, it’s just that, well, it’s so much harder than you think, and no one ever tells you, they just sell you this myth of loverhood like it’s the be-all-and-end-all, when honestly, your life will just never be the same again. You’ll never be the same again. Once you look into their eyes and see that recognition back at you – oh, it just turns your world upside down. You’re powerless. Good luck. It’s a special club, not for the faint-hearted’.

No one says that. No one even offers you as much as a day of new lover leave for all the sleep you’ll miss in the first delirious month, or practical advice on keeping your fluids up to prevent cystitis. New parents don’t sleep. OK, but for how long? Because when you fall in love, it usually ends with someone sharing your bed and disrupting your sleep for the next conceivable ever.  The only break you get from this is when they aren’t sharing your bed and despite your longing for your own bed again, you’ll do anything to avoid your lover sleeping on the couch or in another bed somewhere because the pain of that will keep you awake anyway.  But people rush past these immediate and obvious realities. Instead they merely squeal and want to know your potential heartbreaker’s star sign, occupation or postcode, as if any of these things were important and could provide some prophylaxis to the black chasm ahead. As if anything could.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a romantic. A lover. An idealist. A dreamer. I have so much hope I had to give up scuba diving. My glass is full to the meniscus. But falling in love? My condolences. The very best, truest, longest loves end when one lover dies. Yep. Every time. So the holy grail of happy endings is a terrible accident in which both lovers are simultaneously incinerated with no knowledge of the other’s pain, or a suicide pact. If those are your best outcomes, I don’t think you need me to walk you through the worst. Open a newspaper. Or a novel. See any French film. Sit next to a divorce lawyer on a Sydney to Melbourne flight. Re-read the letters you wrote to the first person you ever loved. Scary, isn’t it? Much more frightening than a little being designed to love you and be loved by you for the rest of your life with no preconditions or preconceptions. Much tougher than that. So my advice? Keep your legs crossed, your eyes closed and your heart shuttered. And never fall in love.*

*Note: By never, I mean truly, never fall in love. Because even if you think you can handle being in love, it often leads to parenthood. And the thing about parenthood is that there’s always a piece of your heart outside yourself…

Sibling revelry

sarahjanedoe and brother

I don’t know too many people who didn’t hate their sibling. Hate them with the kind of deliberate intensity of a chemical burn. Who didn’t dream fondly of their sibling’s annihilation, preferably under circumstances in which the remaining child could be cast as some kind of brave, forlorn hero, treated to a sympathetic over-supply of ice-cream by misty-eyed adults who might also forget about maths homework for awhile. This is perfectly natural. Honestly, what kind of idiot would stand for the peculiar torture of having a pre-verbal arranged-marriage foisted upon them? And not just any arranged marriage, but a kind of polygamist, fundamentalist LDS culty mash-up in which you are forced to love this stranger in the same household with the actual Biggest Love of Your Life? (Yes, that’s Mum or Dad, but you’re young, you don’t get out much).

So who could blame you for fixing a laser-gaze on this little love rival and trying to straighten out the requirement – to feign undying devotion to your beloved’s younger mistress? Seriously? Or to their bogan, layabout bit on the side? And not just love this person, but share all your meagre possessions with them; your friends, your lolly-stash, your treasured pets, perhaps even your own goddamned bed? You are encouraged to swear oaths of protection to them, to present them with humiliating gifts chosen by your true love on your behalf at the certain times of year when these odious pricks are feted, and to spend more time with them – these usurpers, these rat bastards – than anyone else you might choose to know. Love them? You’d have to be particularly stupid to accept this preposterous attempt at physcological reprogramming. But you aren’t stupid. You’re in love with their protector – and that’s all that’s standing between them and a good drowning.

So what to do? You learn fast that resistance is futile. Reports of various outrages, lies, hurts and wrongdoings are never met with justice only punishment to your own person for ‘dobbing’. The whole situation is Orwellian in its operational language, Stalinist in its acts of bleak suppression and Dancing With The Starist in its hopeless duration.  Other – wiser – mammals know this. When the one-too-many polar bear cub turns from runt to popsicle his siblings don’t wail with grief. They don’t even look backwards as they head off down the tundra behind Mum with some added spring in their fluffy little footfalls. In the battle for the love and resources of a parent, they know the bleeding obvious – that less is more.

Did I hate my brother? I can’t remember it, but I must have. Why? Because I was a clever child and adored both my parents. Added to that he had already committed the twin sins of being both younger (therefore severely developmentally delayed to my reading of the situation) and a boy. You know, a boy? Has a weird, rude hose for a front bottom? Likes dumb toys? No dresses of his own? That kind of shit. Love this creature? The best you can hope for in these situations is probably what we achieved. A kind of passive-aggressive emotional cocktail of Stockholm Syndrome blended with a highly dysfunctional workplace relationship. It’s not exactly a nurturing foundation, but it’ll prevent someone from getting shot.

My sibling developed type 1 diabetes when he was four. This disease has all kinds of implications, but the only parts of meaningful concern to a child is that they are going to have to deal with the single most hideous scourge of the youngster – needles, injections, syringes – on a twice daily basis (this kind of horror has no adult equivalent, I’m not even going to reach for one), as well as the absolute denial of what for children is the direct adult equivalent of the best top-shelf porn, booze, cocaine, live music and hot sex experience you’ll ever have rolled into one neon-pulsing kernel of desire – candy. Gone overnight. Verboten. The Dutch have an expression which translates roughly to ‘the devil always shits in the same pile’ and I’d say the evidence in the case of infant acquired diabetes bears it out. Punished enough for me, do you think? My love rival? Was the usurper fittingly crushed? Nay, the tale darkens.

With anything he might ever actually want to snack on off the menu entirely, from cake or grilled cheese to a bag of lollies or a humble breakfast pancake at McDonalds, treats for my brother were now pretty much restricted to pickles.  Yup. Pickled cucumbers. Zero calories yet naughtily salty with a somewhat exciting crunch. Here you are, poor bruised, pale pin-cushion of a darling boy, eat as many pickles as you like! There’s more where that came from! And tiny soldier that he was, my brother even learned to like them. Hell, even I like pickles. Love them in fact. But did that stop me from using my two and a half year head start in linguistics and court politics to turn his one safe snack into a source of derision and contempt? Did it prevent me from carefully scribing the crude missive ‘Pikel Breth’ and pinning it to his door so that yea, all men who pass this house shall know that he who inhabits it is unclean and has the odour of dill and brine upon his toddler-sized tongue? No. No it did not. I did this thing and many others that, with the help of wine and sedatives I can’t remember, because he was my sibling and so I had no choice.

And now? Well, sonny, pull up a chair. Funny thing happened on the way to adulthood. We became adults. And an adult, if you’re lucky (and if you didn’t kill them before you knew they’d be so useful), can have no greater, longer, truer love in life than their sibling. The day came many years ago when I hailed Pikel Breth and kneeled before his mightiness. When I raised a glass to this superior human being and was struck dumb by the realisation that I had once shared a womb with such an utterly magnificent person, and  it was as magical a moment as finding out that David Attenborough, Johnny Depp, Bill Bryson and Ira Glass all put you as number one on their ‘people you’d most like to get stuck next to on a plane ‘  list.  (Note: this did not happen, but thanks to earning  the love of my brother, I know what it would feel like).

Because it’s when shit goes truly, terribly wrong and you realise you’re dialling your own personal Pikel Breth first – despite the resources of say, two amazing parents, a trusted step-parent, some highly skilled BFFs and one incredible super-lover such as the Boy – that no one else on your version of Earth can handle that kind of call without some kind of damage or blowback to themselves. Some kind of judgement. Some kind of this-will-haunt-you-forever, some kind of ‘where did I/we go wrong? What could we have done? What should I have noticed? Did I do this? How can I fix this into the future? Is it me? Is it us?’ devolving into a Joss Whedon ‘Where do we go from here?’ Buffy medly.

Your sibling – ironically after being told they’re responsible for you for their entire childhood – understands they aren’t fucking responsible for you. They alone have this version of love for you. They continue to love you with that same perfect, molecular certainty that used to be hatred.   If you screwed up, if you want to die, if you caused someone else to screw up or want to die – hey, they get it, they love you, they’ll fix it, but they know they didn’t make it. And that these calls will probably keep coming for the rest of their lives. So they’ll deal with it and roll over. Call you next week to ask for a recipe or how to best remove cat poo from something odd. Your adult sibling is just like the Ghostbusters, yes, all of them, rolled into one. They understand that ghosts are just…there. Needing containment. Slime eradication. Possibly a secure vault. Whatever, but the Ghostbusters aren’t losing sleep on how the ghosts got in or what this might mean.  They’re just here to help. Why? Because it’s what they do. They were made for it.  Turns out so were you.

And so if my fellow cub should falter and slow in the snow, I’d hunker down beside him and wait to freeze too. No hesitation*.

 

*I should point out that I just flew him to Bali to hang out with me instead – it’s less noble but also much warmer.