Girl Talk: Jack

You remove the dust cover from the glass screen of your phone, picking away at a corner until the sticky plastic comes clean off. Inside, the device hides your encrypted confession; a man whose potential, and an unstable mind took the best of him. You leave these thoughts alone; they are useless now. You see no need in holding onto a forgotten moment. And so you begin your day by telling yourself that you’re safe, that everything you fear is irrational and, frankly, you’re acting like a bit of a pussy. These thoughts are nothing but a cluster-fuck of words, so put down the phone. Man up.

You step out of the shower, throw a dirty towel around your hips and wipe away a smudge of steam from the bathroom mirror. You catch a pinhole reflection of yourself: your dark hair hangs limp on your face. You fill the sink with warm water as you wipe away more steam to fill the image in front of you. You possess what has often been referred to as a ‘cheeky face’: since you were a kid, a gaggle of aunts, nannas, neighbours and friends’ mothers have pinched your cheeks and told you how handsome you are. You touch this flesh now as you pull the razor blade down your jaw line, removing all traces of sleepy stubble. Dark circles sit loosely beneath your grey-blue eyes. These are all fragments of your charm; pieces of power that have allowed you a life of wicked indulgence and delicious sin. You smile at this thought, letting dents dimple your perfect skin.

Without warning you are caught by a strangling  memory from last night: a hazy reflection of damp bed sheets and carnal inertia. Her hair splayed out like a mermaid’s forming a halo around her peaceful face. A muffled protest.

Just as quickly as you were pulled into your reverie, you are forced back into reality as you nick yourself below your chin. The cut is small although the pain is sharp. Drops of red fill the sink as you hastily splash cold water on your face.

 

You walk into your kitchen to find Marie sitting alone at the table, playing with a large bowl of muesli that was slowly disintegrating into sugary mush.

“Mornin’ bones,” you say to her while grabbing a peach from the fruit bowl.

She looks up from her food and considers you for a moment. “You look like shit Jack. What time did you get in last night?”

You take a bite from the fruit; the sweetness drips down your chin. “I dunno. Around three I guess? Why, you keeping tabs on me?”

“Whatever,” she mumbles.

You sit down on a kitchen stool and look around: this place could look so normal and chummy if it weren’t for the harsh architecture and shitty childhoods it’s harboured. This shelter was where you were conceived and grew up; where you eat and sleep, but the charms are too plastic and ultra-modern despite your mother’s efforts to junk up the joint, and the house is always cold regardless of the warmth radiating from the imitation fireplace. For you, the concept of home was an imaginary place, a figment of your mind that you created to wash away the bad days.

When you were a kid and your dad would fall into a drunken, violent rage, you would attempt to escape through words, fantastical words creating fantastical places. Your favourite was Terry Pratchett, and despite the fact that it took you months and months to read a single novel, you basked in the madness he created, the beautiful madness that took you away from your own. Reading meant that for a moment in time, you no longer had to listen to your mum shouting, or the rhythmic thump from upstairs; those nights were long and cast you into a shell with the your insides growing harder. These days it’s different. Without the childish ability to crawl into your cupboard with a nightlight, you fight violence with violence. He’s calmed down these past couple of years, your old man, but every now and then he gets that mean look on his face and a swagger in his step that indicates the kind of night you and your sisters are going to have.
You can feel your sister watching you. “What do you want, creep?” you ask.

“You’re acting weird.”

“No I’m not.”

“Yes you are.”

“No I’m not.”

She pauses. “Aren’t you going to finish your breakfast?” She points to the peach you hold in your fingertips, its nectar inching its way down your wrist. You stand up.

“I’m not hungry,” you toss the fruit in the bin.

“Told ya you’re acting weird. Where are you going?”

“Oh just fuck off Marie!” You walk back down the hallway to your room where you slam the door with a loud crack.

It’s not enough. You’re full of rage but you’re too hung-over to stomach going for a run just yet. You sit on the edge of your bed, reach down in between your knees and pull out a shoebox from underneath. Inside you find a small, glass bong and a container of cut-up grass. You walk into your bathroom, turn on the fan and inhale the green, each wave of nausea and self-loathing being numbed by your herbal remedy. You lie down and allow your thoughts to drift from the banal to the sublime: memories from high school where you were the king, a reminder to yourself to call Jim for more weed and loose fragments from the night before.

You don’t remember the name of the club last night: overpriced drinks, loud, droning music and sweaty youth – these places are all the same. You were celebrating something, someone’s birthday maybe? Or another mate getting engaged?  Either way you were in your element, your happy place. It was just you and the boys: Jim, Luke and Callum. You’d grown up together in this shit-hole town, and you’d probably all die there too. Alex had. You were only grateful that you weren’t the one who had to cut him down, although these things tend to happen a lot in this place.

You went up to the bar and ordered four tequila shots, casually flirting with the bar-chick. You could almost feel her knees tremble. One shot inside you with a pint of beer to chase away the bitterness, and you instantly felt more confident and strong. You leant against the bar and surveyed the club with the eyes of a specialist, counting six girls you’d hooked up with at one point in the last year. You and the boys had two more shots, and then there’s a gap between the shots and how you ended up in the middle of the dance floor grinding with a faceless brunette; her sparrow-like arms wrapped around your neck as your hands cradled her waist. The pit was hot and muggy but you didn’t care: you revelled in your greatness, how lucky you were with your life, how much you loved your friends and family and even the girl you danced with. You pictured your life together with this Jane Doe: summer nights under the stars, planning Asian getaways and large family picnics.

The strobe lights flickered and for a brief second you thought you caught a glimpse of a ghost. You strained your neck as the crowd heaved under the pulse of the music and you saw, this time completely, your high school sweetheart. Chelsea.

You remember the vulnerability of teenage love, how you would question the legitimacy of your feelings for Chelsea because they were so overwhelming. You doubted the chemical love, while getting lost in the blissful, fleeting moments. You adored her home and her mad, European family with the endless cousins and aunts who cooked colourful and aromatic dishes: potato dumplings in beef stew, dense rye bread with chive cream-cheese, and slices of salami and ham for breakfast. You and Chelsea were going to rule the world: after high school, you planned to take a gap year and travel the globe together. She wanted to see rich European history and art, and you wanted to explore the Amazon. You would take pictures that you would later frame in silver squares and keep in your first home together. Even the idea of marriage and kids didn’t scare you with Chels. Needless to say, you fucked it up. You often wonder how your life would have turned out if you’d only kept your dick in your pants, but c’est la vie.

A moment passed and the tequila finally hit you. The flimsy brunette was grinding against you but you had eyes only for Chels. You shouted something clumsy into the girl’s ear and happily wandered over to your past lover. You had her once, and it was only right of you to assume you could have her again; after all, you hadn’t spoken in almost eighteen months. Surely that was time enough to heal all wounds? Chelsea was standing with her girlfriends holding a glass of golden house-wine. Her long blonde hair was curled in spirals and her eyes were painted a smoky black. Her friend saw you and murmured something into Chelsea’s ear. She acknowledged you with an incredulous look  on her face, her eyebrows furrowed and her pink lips pointed down. You flashed her your famous smile and casually put your arms around her for a hug. You two were friends now. Her back stiffened and she flinched as you sought to catch up over the year, gently pulling her aside from her friends and the stuffiness of the crowd. You talked outside in a darkened corner: she ended up exploring Europe with her girlfriends, and the thought of her memories without you made your stomach lurch with sudden anxiety. You needed a change of environment, but no one could bear that alone. You needed her, and the least she could do was see how much you’d changed. You became paranoid that she was seeing someone else; making new memories with someone more deserving. The thought of losing her to another man made you feel dizzy , so you tucked back a lock of her hair and pulled her sun-kissed chin closer to your face. She immediately pulled back.

“What are you playing at?” She asked.

You leant in further while cupping her face. “I miss you so much Chels. I’ve never stopped loving you, you know? Never have and never will. Let’s get out of here, yeah? Talk back at my place?” She paused for a moment and looked at her feet. When she looked up again she stared at you hard with a brim of angry tears in her eyes. “Fuck off, Jack.” She said, and then walked away, leaving her glass of wine sitting on the table between you.

She left you standing there dumbfounded and shell-shocked. You felt your heart drop into your stomach and you leant against the brick wall for support. Jim and Callum found you a minute later fingering the remains of her lipstick imprinted on the wineglass. Jim brought you back to your normal self with some hearty advice:

“They’re all cunts, mate. Every single one of ‘em.”  He was right although Callum looked away, embarrassed.

You ordered another beer and tried to suppress your hurt; the night was still young after all. You stood leaning against the bar staring into your pint when you heard another familiar voice. Everyone knows everyone in this town. Your rib cage was playfully nudged.

“Jack?” You looked over to find a girl from school beaming up at you. Her elfin face was cropped by her short, dark hair, which only highlighted the marbled green in her eyes. When she spoke again you noted a silver stud in her tongue.

“It’s okay,” she said, “You don’t have to pretend to remember me. We were in Lit together. Lottie.”

She held out her hand for you to shake and you chuckled at the formality of the gesture. She ordered a double shot of vodka with cranberry juice and began to flirt with you, supporting her weight on the bar while you attempted to hold a civilized conversation. All the while you were hoping she wouldn’t realise that you hadn’t the faintest idea who she was. She walked with you over to the smoker’s section while scrambling in her bag for hidden cigarettes. As she walked you wondered how you could have ever overlooked this chick in high school: she wore skin-tight black jeans that hugged the curve of her hips, and when she bent over to pick up her dropped lighter you noticed the small diamond her arse made with her thighs. When she brought the cigarette to her lips you saw a small faded tattoo of a cherry on her inner wrist. Her plunging neckline was leaving absolutely nothing to the imagination, but you weren’t complaining. You wondered what she tasted like. A mere few hours later back at her apartment, and you were to find out.

Ash mixed with sweetness, and a sourness that you guessed was vomit. Fumbling in the darkness, her hands dropped off the side of her bed and her head lolled while you explored her body. You kissed her neck and felt a tremble. In the crescent dawn you awoke and left her apartment without a word.

 

You take your phone and find missed calls from Callum and an ‘x’ from an unknown number from last night. Lottie. You type ‘I’m sorry’ into the keypad and wait a full minute before pressing send. You roll over and find your game controllers, turning on the TV and settling into your pillows.

 

 

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A Dash of Satire: Fake Letter-To-The-Editor

!!!READERS NOTE!!! This was written for a satire assignment for Uni, where I decided to write a fake letter to the editor portraying an over-the-top, racist, homophobic, evangelical nitwit. Please do not read this thinking these are my personal views. If you do then I’m obviously RUBBISH at satire! Ta 🙂

Dear Sir,

This morning as I sat down to my usual bacon and eggs, I found myself choking on my Vegemite-encrusted toast with a sputter of egg yolk and Ketchup as I read the national headlines: Tasmanian Premier Lara Giddings has announced that her state would legislate it’s own marriage laws that would enable Tasmania to become the first state in Australia to allow gay marriage. I am nauseated and shocked to hear such slandering on good, decent society.

I am writing this letter as a representative of the core family values of Australia, and frankly, I think that this impertinent woman should be ashamed of herself, and be asked to resign her position as Premier of Tasmania post-haste. Let me start off by first stating that I have no issue with homosexual coupling as it currently stands: they are free to do as they please, AWAY from the public eye and AWAY from the innocence of our children.

That being said, I feel that I am a compassionate and understanding individual, so I can certainly try to recognize the desire of love, as it takes on many forms. However, I do not understand why any upstanding male citizen would prefer to engage in sexual activities with a fellow man, rather than the pureness of a woman – but I suppose each individual has differing tastes.

Australia has already modernized its moral oversight by making same-sex coupling legal, so I cannot fathom why they should now want to have the same marital rights as us normal folk? I, and the majority of good Australians who have been rightly raised with decent, Christian values, believe that the sanctity of marriage under the eyes of God should be kept between a man and a woman. God created Adam and Eve, NOT Adam and Steve! Procreation and the survival of our species calls for the uniting love demonstrated in marriage, between a man and a woman. Coupling men – to simply put it – cannot naturally conceive a child, so why should they want to get married? The idea is preposterous!

If we were to allow this sort of outright blasphemy to continue, then I can only begin to ponder over what type of heathen trifling’s will prosper under these “modern” laws. We currently have pitiful rallies in our quiet, suburban streets of supporters of gay marriage asserting their “basic human rights”, but I suggest that with this kind of indecent uprising, couples of incest, paedophilia and bestiality will soon be marching down our streets calling for THEIR “basic human rights!” I can imagine that any perverted old man would JUMP at the chance to marry a small child, all under the guise that what they have is the same kind of love as normal couples!

Very soon, every man and his dog will be wanting to get married, and I say that quite literally! Is this what the world is coming to? As soon as we start to let our traditional values disintegrate into the past, all our national, Australian traits will soon be diminished. You can say goodbye to our national pride, our upstanding heritage, our kangaroos and our Mrs Macs!

As soon as we let our moral values die under these modern terms, every Punjab, Mohammed, Hijab and Osama will soon infiltrate OUR country with THEIR so-called “values”, and I’m certain that the politically correct, do-gooders of this embarrassing generation will stand up and fight for them!

You may think that my views are somewhat radical, but I am not without merit to stand by them and speak out when I can see my beloved country going to the dogs. It whole-heartedly saddens me when can I see my sun-burnt country get taken over by this kind of madness. Am I the only one with any sense of decency anymore? I’m starting to think that I am!

My fellow Australians: our sacred country has already been corrupted with the intrusion of a FEMALE ATHEIST as our Prime Minister! Will you stand back and idly watch as our country gets overtaken by more madness, more moral corruption and more atrocities? I for one will NOT!

Join me, as part of the honourable citizens of Australia, as we stand up for the safety of our children, our individual morality under the sovereignty of God, and OUR basic human rights! I will no longer stand for this insanity!!!

The question is; will you?

Yours sincerely,

 

Patriotic Wallaby

August 2012

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Take This Waltz: Variations on Indie Nothingness

“Why is my life, like, so, like, you know?”

Written and Directed by Sarah Polley
Starring Michelle Williams, Seth Rogan, Luke Kirby, Sarah Silverman

Canadian writer/director Sarah Polley (from Away With Her fame) has delivered to us yet another quirky, Indie flick about a lost, charming girl, her adorable husband, and the hunky man who threatens to take her heart. Probably don’t bother with this film. Freelance writer Margot (Michelle Williams) is happily married to her adoring, teddy-bear-like husband Lou (Seth Rogan), however, their relationship has turned into a cuddly comfort rather than the electrifying lust of a new romance. Insert Prince Charming. Daniel (Luke Kirby) is the mysterious and good-looking neighbour who swoons in with all the right words at the right time.

Margot and Luke have intense chemistry, – there is one particular scene where Luke describes in detail all the romantic and sexual things he could do to her and I swear I could hear the women in the audience clutch their pearls and fan themselves – and this chemistry threatens to break the happy and comfortable foundation Margot and Lou have created for themselves. Margot has to make the decision to stay with the familiarity and tenderness of her husband Lou, or to cut off her comfort and embrace the sparks of a new relationship.

The movie sounds set up for a fairly decent, intriguing love triangle, right? Well, yes and no. First of all, Michelle Williams gives it her best shot with our completely two-dimensional and frankly boring protagonist, Margot. The beginning of the film has a lot of hope for this character: she’s perfectly normal rather than your typical, beautiful, bird-like heroine, so before she even opens her mouth, women can relate to her. She’s fresh-faced without makeup, untouched hair and wears ordinary clothes. And yet, somehow, Sarah Polley has managed to indulge in an overly clichéd, struggling, eccentric-gal routine, with some of Margot’s quirks including being wheeled around airports in a wheelchair (even though she can walk perfectly fine), peeing in public swimming pools and generally being a cutesie, bubbly, baby-talking wifey.

Whenever Polley fails to deliver decent, in-depth dialogue, Williams has to resort to looking sad at the camera while soft folk music plays in the background. However, when she’s not staring off into a metaphorical void, she attempts to show the curious emotion on her character’s face through an impressive range of facial twitches and wild bursts of hysterical laughter. On a more positive note, the most stellar performances come from the comedic actors Seth Rogan and Sarah Silverman, with Rogan giving the most heart-breaking, tear-jerking scene in the whole movie. His entire character is completely endearing and likeable but most importantly, he’s believable.

Having only seen Seth Rogan play a burnt-out pothead or a struggling comedian, I was surprised to see such an honest and brutal performance from him. His character saved the film for me when I no longer cared for Margot’s outcome in life and instead I wanted to know more about him and what he was going to do. The same goes for Silverman’s character, Geraldine, who is Lou’s sister and a recovering alcoholic who delivers some serious truth-bombs to Margot. One of the most memorable lines in the films comes from Geraldine when she earnestly tells Margot, “Life has a gap in it…It just does. You don’t go crazy trying to fill it.” Damn straight.

Our man-candy, Luke (Kirby), didn’t do too bad of a job either; even though his character was a little clichéd – laid-back artist who doesn’t like to showcase his work, like, sooo dreamy right? – he still managed to be likeable and relatable. It was just Margot that I wanted to throttle. A little harsh, I know, but see it for yourself and you can decide. Or, just see it for the full-frontal naked scene with Michelle Williams. Whatever. In all, the movie had all the ingredients for a half-decent, enjoyable Indie film: great cast, well shot, interesting plot, “complex” characters etc., but it still failed to deliver anything with any heart or meaning. I predict that Take This Waltz will fall into art-house obscurity, or will be loved by hipster high-school girls. Shame.

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Beached British Whales: Succumbing to Aussie Enthusiasm with Sand in My Knickers.

Great Expectations.

There is a strange phenomena that occurs throughout Australian adolescence which is perpetrated by none-other than their so-called “loving” parents. The tradition goes as follows: at 7 am on a Sunday morning the parents-in-question emerge from a red-wine hangover and wake up their gently slumbering progeny, force a super-speed breakfast, then hurtle them down to the local beach where they will be made to sprint, do push-ups, fake a drowning and save each other’s lives – and the sun has only begun to rise.

The Australian Surf Life-Saving program is – in theory – a fun way to keep kids active while teaching them vital life lessons. It also gives the parents an opportunity to network and socialize with other communities from their neighbourhood. In reality, it’s a gigantic pain in the arse. Here is my experience…

Growing up along the coast was sometimes a bit of a struggle for yours truly: I was a chubby, English kid who said things in a funny accent – an accent so funny that I was made to repeat myself whenever I mentioned ‘yoghurt’, ‘vitamins’, or ‘dancing’. I still don’t understand why my parents ever decided that signing me up to Surf Life-Saving was an ingenious idea: surely I could learn how to not-drown and be bored at the local swimming pool? Apparently not. As I mentioned earlier, my parents and I had to wake up at un-godly hours on a Sunday morning to hurry down to Mullaloo beach before all the parking spots where taken, which they normally were by 7.10 am. I had to squeeze my awkward, pre-pubescent figure into a humiliating bathing suit, while sticking a spandex-tight cap over my gigantic forehead. Because of my unusual tallness for my age and abundance of baby fat, (I’ve had breasts since I was, like, 9) I would innocently strut about the beach getting seedy looks from old, leathered men.

The day would begin with me being thrust into groups with sporty, superior Aussie kids who outright ignored my general presence, (bloody show-offs), while my parents stood in the shivering cold having forced conversation with the overly-enthusiastic, freckled-skinned adults. My dad would often slyly knick-off for a while to have a smoke, so my mum was forced to have surface-level chats with another mum who would list off the various accomplishments of her over-achieving children. I imagine it went something like this:

“Yeah, so, Jackson, Braydon and Ashton have all got their Bronze-Medallions, so they’re pretty much qualified to run the show, ya know? Then Tara, Storm and little Shelley are doin’ real good jobs so far so I reckon they’ll be followin’ in their brother’s footsteps, ya know?”

“That’s wonderful.”

“How’s Cass goin’?”

“Oh Cassie is doing fine. The other day she managed to sneak an entire packet of Mars Bars from the kitchen and ate them all under her desk.”

“Oh…true?”

Once we were split into groups and factions depending on age and what I’m convinced was prejudice against the “fat one”, we were made to jog up the beach, up a sand-dune, back down the beach, then swim about 100 metres out into the ocean. This was always terrifying for me as I had an allergic reaction to waves and the blue, spidery creatures that lingered in its nests. It was during these times in my childhood that I would learn of the classic Aussie motto for life: “Have a go!” These 3 words boil down to simple components of encouragement, embracing new opportunities and conquering your basic fears, however, when a small girl is quivering and crying over the fear of getting sucked into the expansive blue of the ocean, maybe we should let her be? I was to come across this tedious encouragement over and over again in school when I was forced to hold a poisonous snake or climb up a mountain or abseil into a cave or anything that wasn’t being alone in my room learning the dance routines of Britney Spears’ videos reading.

Eventually I would be coaxed into the water with a caring adult, where I would immediately get dumped by a gigantic wave and emerge a few seconds later with buckets of sand in my bathers, snot pouring out of my nose and my skin chicken-poxed with the stings from jellyfish. What marvellous fun!

Then there was the game called ‘Flags’. Any person who has ever been forced to play this game has probably just shuddered a little. ‘Flags’ begins with a row of, say, 10 kids lying face down in a line with their chins resting on their hands. After a suspense-period of around a minute, a starting gun would be shot and the kids would have to jump up and race for pieces of hose sticking out of the ground 100 metres away, to which there were 9 for the 10 kids. Whoever missed out was eliminated. I’ll give myself a small amount of credit here for genuinely trying the first couple of times – I tend to get super competitive even though I’m pretty much useless at everything – but my feeble legs simply couldn’t run fast enough, although I’m sure some kids actually let me win a couple of rounds which is another characteristic of an Aussie childhood – everyone deserves “a go”. It’s a nice thought but somewhat futile seeing as I saw what I was doing as a banal torture.

After a full summer of early Sunday mornings, forced enthusiasm and a dash of trauma, I finally graduated to green caps division for the under 12s, this meant getting a 3-metre foam surfboard which was inevitably going to live in the shed as a crooked home for spiders and cockroaches. When the next summer began I was finally confident with the ocean: I would happily ride the waves to shore or dive under the bigger ones with poise and ease, and I was even contemplating surfing lessons. However, my parents pulled me out that summer after a mere couple of weeks when there were a few shark sightings and a couple of attacks. Apparently mum wasn’t willing to compromise my life over the opportunity to “have a go!”

I had always wanted to grow up and become like the older girls at the surf club; they were tall, tanned, fit and beautiful. They were fearless and ran into the ocean cutting the waves with their powerful yet elegant legs and diving through the deep abyss with confidence and ease. Well, I’m sorry childhood-self, but that’s not who you are today, although you aren’t that scared of waves anymore. Okay…maybe a little. I still like to call myself a bit of a beach bum though, despite the fact that when it’s warm enough for beach-weather, I lie on the sand slowly roasting while reading a magazine. So, I’m still a little awkward, I still opt for “yoghurt” over “yoiiighurt” and I still recoil around rough oceans, but I can honestly say that if it weren’t for my Aussie peers encouraging me to push myself, I wouldn’t have grown into the confident, fearless person I am today, and to that I say bloody-fair-dinkum-gumnut-emu-wallaby-streuth-n-farkin’ THANKS!

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Chemicals, Neurons and Darwin: How to Create an Irresistible Love Potion.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“It is a risk to love.
What if it doesn’t work out?
Ah, but what if it does?”

–        Peter McWilliams

Let me paint you a picture: an eighteen year old girl crumpled in her SpongeBob Square-Pants pyjamas, icing a spotted fruit-cake, while mascara-ed tears and streams of snot pour down her face.  Sound pathetic? Read on…

My tragic tale of woe starts a couple of summers back, on the day of my grandad’s 80th birthday where I was in my kitchen icing the cake with a broken heart. It may sound clichéd, but I wasn’t feeling this way without warrant. You see, my partner of two and a half years had broken up with me the day before. This was my first, proper, unconsoling, heart-wrenching, no-one-is-ever-going-to-love-me-again break up, and I wasn’t taking it all too well.

My mum finally took over the cake-making duties, and let me go upstairs to cry in the shower. Later that night at the party, I put on a mildly brave face while various family members asked me, “Where’s Adam?” With each polite curiosity, the ever-expanding lump in my throat threatened to burst until finally, a crude uncle called out across the room, “CASS! DID YOU AND YOUR BOYFRIEND SPLIT UP?! BLOODY SHAME, LOVE.” The room went deathly silent. I nodded, put down my plate of sausage rolls and left the party. Thanks a lot, dickhead.

The weeks following the break up were a torment of not being able to physically keep food down while feeling like I was constantly walking down a spiralling staircase, with every footstep becoming harder and harder to take. An array of heart-break songs seemed to stalk me every where I went – I can’t count the number of times I heard Sinead O’ Connor warbling Nothing Compares To You, mixed with my continuous play list of Songs-To-Kill-Yourself-To on my iPod.  Work was absolute torture: not only did I have to still show up – my boss didn’t think that “Adam b-b-broke u-up w-w-with m-m-m-e!” was a decent excuse – but I had to serve customers with a tear stained face from the chair, as I couldn’t even manage to stand up. Well, what was the point in standing if you’re just going to die alone anyway?

Adam and I had been living together before the break up, which meant the entire ordeal felt like what I imagine a divorce must feel like. We had to separate all our CDs and books and talk about the lease of the apartment and selling the furniture, all while I had to come to terms with the fact that my previously foreseen future with Adam was not going to happen and that – worst of all – he didn’t love me anymore. That was the hardest part of the whole thing; having to accept that love doesn’t always last, despite what my rose-tinted glasses were showing me.

The one thing that kept repeating through my mind was a very simple, yet philosophical question: Why? Why did this happen? How can you just stop loving someone? And dammit – What is love?

After a few solid months of cask wine, Colin Firth movies and rubbish re-bound sex, I finally pulled myself out of the standard post break-up blues, looking tired and thinner, but ready to start exploring life, and knowledge again. I joined the world of the Interwebs and stumbled upon an article by the ABC entitled, Love Trap. It begins with,

“We call it love. But the most exhilarating of human emotions is merely nature’s way of keeping the human species alive and reproducing.” (Watson).

Huh. Could the solid theories and practical research of science begin to explain my doomed love life? I kept researching and found that actually, yes it can. New Jersey Anthropologist Dr Helen Fisher says that she divides love into three basic components: the first is lust and the “craving for sexual gratification”, the second is that clichéd, romantic love, “the elation and euphoria of first love” and the third system in the brain is the settling down period or, “that sense of calm and peace and security you could feel with a long-term partner”. (Qtd. in Watson, “Catalyst: Love Trap”). In other words, love is nature’s way of making sure that we reproduce and keep our flawed species surviving.

When Adam and I first started dating, I imagined I looked like a cartoon version of myself: a permanent, dazed smile on my face, love clouds floating around me, tiny birds and forest animals dressing me in the morning – the whole shebang. I can’t necessarily say that I had a powerful surge of lust and craving for sexual gratification at that time, simply because I was a sixteen-year-old virgin and the idea of sex petrified me. In fact, the idea of anything sexual was a total mystery to me, as by then I’d only snogged a couple of spotty males at school, and they weren’t exactly top on my list of throbbing memories.

I did, however, find myself thinking about Adam incessantly. When we weren’t together watching Disney movies and furiously making out, I missed him horribly.  I later found out that when a person is in the early stages of love, an intoxicating chemical called dopamine sprays all over the brain, which triggers a passionate surge of pleasure. (Qtd. in Watson, “Catalyst: Love Trap”). An experiment conducted in Pisa, Italy by psychiatrist Dr. Donatella Marazziti found that couples who were in the early stages of love think about each other during a whopping 85% of their day. Dr. Marazziti analysed blood samples of twenty couples who had been in love for less than six months, and noted that their serotonin levels were abnormally low, and equivalent with the serotonin levels of patients suffering with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Basically, these couples where crazy-obsessed with each other. (Qtd. in Watson. “Catalyst: Love Trap”). Helen Fisher tenderly notes in an article entitled The Drive to Love: The Neural Mechanism for Mate Selection, that;

“Romantic love begins as an individual comes to regard another as special, even unique. The lover then intensely focuses his or her attention on this preferred individual, aggrandizing the beloved’s better traits and overlooking or minimizing his or her flaws.”  (Qtd. in Sternberg and Weis. 88).

I couldn’t agree more. I definitely managed to convince myself that Adam was special and unique and unlike anybody I’d ever met before. I was driven by the idea that he was “the one” or that the starts had aligned and he was my destined, kindred spirit. Young love…what can I say?

During these first gooey stages of love, a cocktail of hormones are released from the limbic system in the brain, and more specifically, the hypothalamus. Adrenaline then kicks in, contributing to awkward reactions such as sweaty glands and an increase in the person’s heart rate. You can thank adrenaline for your creeping blush and flop sweating. Alongside adrenaline come endorphins, oxytocin, dopamine, serotonin and vasopressin. (Chapman, 6) Endorphins are the feel-good chemicals that are released during exercise and – even better – during sex. They are responsible for the sense that everything is right and peaceful in the world, after a mind-blowing orgasm. Thanks! Oxytocin is an incredibly important chemical in this love tonic, as it encourages cuddling between couples and increases pleasure during sex. (Ackerman qtd. in Chapman.). It is also responsible for higher levels of trust and attachment, while a high level of dopamine is responsible for pleasure and motivation. As serotonin levels drop there is an increase in obsessive thinking and aggression (we’ll call that passion, perhaps?) and finally, vasopressin is responsible for higher levels of sexual arousal and attraction. (See fig. 1)

Fig. 1. Your Brain in Love. James W. Lewis, Jen Christiansen; United States; Scientific American; Feb 2011; Web; May 2012.

There is also evidence that shows that women tend to experience much stronger effects of oxytocin than men, as women are lucky enough to have more oestrogen which makes the oxytocin receptors more sensitive. That would certainly explain why I and a lot of women out there find it difficult to separate sex from love. This chemical concoction can surely account for the transcendent feeling of harmony I was feeling when I was younger and helplessly in love. Writer Jeffery Kluger from Time magazine says that when you’re in love,

“…there are the flowers you buy and the poetry you write and the impulsive trip you make to the other side of the world just so you can spend 48 hours in the presence of a lover who’s far away.” (Kulger)

Love can drive you mad – in a romantic sense that is. To quote French writer Françoise Sagan,

“I have loved to the point of madness, that which is called madness, that which to me is the only sensible way to love.”  (Qtd. in Goodreads.com)

This was the kind of literature I was reading when I was in love, which certainly perpetuated the wonderful madness. Little did I know back then that not all love can last. After a solid year or so of being together, Adam and I started settling into a lover’s routine. I was no longer an individual alone, but instead I was a part of a couple and completely reliant on that other person for my own happiness. In the end, I found out the hard way that that kind of reliance isn’t exactly healthy. After I turned eighteen, Adam and I found a cosy two-bedroom one-bathroom unit in Scarborough, just a five-minute walk to the beach. If my friends asked me what I was doing on any given night, I would respond with, “We…” or “Adam and I…” and slowly became part of a very grown up partnership. This part of my story is what Fisher refers to as the “attachment” stage.

She says,

“…attachment is a deep, almost cosmic connection to another human being. [It has] evolved to enable you to tolerate this individual at least long enough to rear a single child as a team.” (Qtd. in “Catalyst: Love Trap”).

This is where everything tends to boil down to Darwin’s theory of evolution and the survival of the species. A biological aspect of the speculation of love is called pheromones, which are chemical signals that are released by the body to attract or fend off potential sex-buddies.  (Chapman, 10) For years it has been known in the scientific community that pheromones exist in animals, but recently some scientists have begun to consider their existence within humans, although there are still debates over the accuracy of these claims. Various tests and research have shown that pheromones can determine whether or not a person is right for you depending on your respective immune systems and human histocompatibility complex or MHC (Kluger) – a cluster of genes that are fundamental to the immune system. (Twyman) Basically, scientists’ have speculated that we subconsciously pick a life partner whose MHC is startlingly opposite to our own, hence if we procreate, our kids would inherit a more diverse MHC and therefore a stronger immune system to scare away any nasty diseases.  (Chapman, 11) Honors student at the University of Rhode Island, Heather M. Chapman says,

“Biologically speaking, love seemingly depends on your MHC.”  (Chapman, 11)

Women’s menstrual cycles are also key players in this dating game. In 2011 the New York Times reported on an experiment conducted at the Florida State University, where over the course of several months, male participants were asked to spend a few minutes assembling a puzzle of Lego blocks with a fellow female student. The 21-year-old student was asked to “keep eye contact and conversation to a minimum. She never used makeup or perfume, kept her hair in a simple ponytail, and always wore jeans and a plain t-shirt.” (Tierney) Later on, each man was asked to rate the woman’s attractiveness, and the research showed that the subjects were more attracted to her when she was ovulating. Another study published in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior showed that strippers who were ovulating earned on average $70 in tips, where as those who weren’t averaged $50 in tips. (Kluger) Although one should always be skeptical with findings such as these, if you consider how a large part of our decision-making is subconscious, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to suggest that this kind of research has revealed more layers of our subconscious.

Evolution plays a much bigger part in all this than you might like to think. As writer Jeffery Kluger from Time magazine bluntly puts it;

“As far as your genes are concerned, your principal job while you’re alive is to conceive offspring, bring them to adulthood and then obligingly die so you don’t consume resources better spent on the young.” (Kluger.)

The study of evolutionary psychology and sociobiological thought has managed to theorize love down to the chemicals that control us, and our roles as baby-makers in this officious Darwinian play. (Oikkonen) The logic asserts that there is an urgent need for organisms to procreate in order to pass down our genes to succeeding generations, and to diversify our gene pool. This, in turn, takes our modern ideals of love rightly off the pedestal we’ve created for it. I’m in no way saying that love isn’t special, but with over 7 billion people in the world, (worldometers.info) you surely can’t be so naïve to believe in sentimental notions such as “soul mates” or “the one”. Hey, I did! But with all those chemicals pulsing around my body – that and the fact that a boy actually liked me – you can’t blame me for being cheesy.

So: girl meets boy, they fall in love, they stay together for a solid two and a half years, and then the love fades and the girl is broken-hearted. I didn’t know this at the time, but the sleep disturbances, the lack of appetite, the intrusive thoughts and the actual physical pain in my heart, all came down to the classic symptoms of grief. (Field) I was grieving for the loss of that person in my life, grieving for the failed relationship, and grieving for the future that was deteriorating before my eyes.

Yes, love is certainly a concoction of chemicals, driving us to mate and pass down our genes, but that doesn’t make it any less special or complicated. It certainly doesn’t explain why people can fall out of love, or why sometimes, people don’t fall in love at all. Just because you know how the pain receptors work in your body, for example, doesn’t make stubbing your toe hurt any less. Science is rational and logical and love just isn’t, and fuck it, we’re a damaged species and love is just part of the brutal human condition.

So, would I go back and do it all again? Of course I would. Having all this knowledge of love and the domineering role of science wouldn’t have stopped me crying my eyes out in the shower while eating a tub of ice cream. Nor would it have stopped me from falling in the first place.

You should never deprive yourself of the magic of love out of fear of getting hurt. Life is too short; so let yourself get carried away.

Tom Robbins wrote,

“Love easily confuses us because it is always in a flux between illusion and substance, between memory and wish, between contentment and need.” (Robbins, 69).

I think that just about sums it up.

Works Cited:

Chapman, Heather. “Love: A Biological, Psychological and Philosophical Study”. Senior Honors Project. University of Rhode Island, (2011):  8-11. Web. May 2012.

Field, Tiffany. “Romantic Breakups, Heartbreak and Bereavement”. Scientific Research: Psychology. (2011) n. pag. Web. May 2012.

Fisher, Helen. “The Drive to Love: The Neural Mechanism for Mate Selection.” The New Psychology of Love. Sternberg, Robert J. and Karen Weis. Eds. London: Yale University Press, 2006. 87. Print.

Kulger, Jeffery. The Science of Romance: Why We Love. Time Magazine. 17 Jan. 2008. Web. May 2012.

Oikkonen, Venla. Mutations of Romance: Evolution, Infidelity and Narrative. Volume 56. Number 3. Project Muse. Fall 2010. Web. May 2012.

Robbins, Tom. Even Cowgirls Get the Blues. New York City: Bantam Books. 1990. Print.

Sagan, Francoise. Goodreads. Web. May 2012.

Tierney, John. The Threatening Scent of Fertile Women. The New York Times. 21 February 2011. Web. May 2012.

Twyman, Richard. The Human Genome. Welcome Trust. 30 July 2003. Web. May 2012.

Watson, Ian. “Catalyst: Love Trap”. Catalyst. ABC. 30th September 2004. Web. May 2012.

Worldometers.info. Web. May 2012.

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A Day in the Life of an Old Pervert.

Old men are often going to chat up younger women; that’s basically a fact of life. As a platinum blonde I tend to get this a lot, especially with men in the 60-70 age bracket who saunter into my work and stare at me. That stare with all it’s greasy connotations is a whole issue in itself and deserves special attention in a separate article, but today I’m going to share with you my experience on Thursday morning.

A bit of background on my job: I work as a retail assistant in a second-hand bookshop. I price stock, alphabetize, read, and have awkward conversations with sweaty customers. This Thursday, a man with grey hair, a startlingly red face and an over-hanging stomach waltzes in. I looked up from my book briefly and said, “Hellohowareyou?” This is known as the standard acknowledge-then-ignore tactic, which I use on all of my customers.

He replies with, “Oh…you know…crap. I’m an artist you see. But more importantly,” he leans on the counter, “how are you?” He stares me directly in the face. One eye twitches nervously.

“Oh yes I’m fine thanks. Just reading.”

“Mm yes. You’re quite cute.”

“…thank you.”

At this point I have to note something important: when you work in customer service you are obliged to be bubbly at all times, even if the customer is getting upset or is making a scene, or if he says something like that. There are other customer’s around and I don’t want to scare them off by swearing and yelling at some guy. He has only complimented me, after all.

“So, what type of artist are you?”

“Guess.” He whips out his iPhone and shows me stifled landscapes and charcoal nudes. I, of course, say that they’re lovely. But then…

“I’ve noticed you because you’ve got really great, short hair so I can see your neck and your big, beautiful eyes. I really like the way you stand and hold yourself.”

“Uhuh…”

He then starts going on and on about how some of the models he’s had have been shaved and how he prefers the “pubic region” shaved because there are beautiful lines and shadows – and all the while I’m standing there nodding wondering what he’s going on about, while hoping that the phone rings or somebody buys a book or SOMETHING!

Finally he asks me if I would model for him. After noting my “small breasts and nice, big hips” he says I would be a perfect model for him.

Now, I need to be honest here, because what are blogs for if not to tell the truth? I genuinely considered it. What was going through my head was, “Oh well you’re applying at schools and universities to do nude modelling and this really is quite similar and cash in hand is always nice although being naked in his house is a bit weird and what if he has a sex dungeon and what if all these past models of his are dead now and maybe you’re being too judgmental here because he might actually be genuine so think about it and stop being so prejudice against men but holy crap I can’t wait to tell the guys about this.”

He gave me his card, told me to contact him and left. I looked up his art online and although his drawings were technically good, they didn’t have any life in them. They were all too stiff. About 15 minutes later he came back, saying he was hanging around the shops waiting for his wife. I immediately thought: “I bet you don’t even have a wife.” He started telling me about his art and how people are asking for commissions and what not, and that when he draws nudes, he needs to take photos for future reference to perfect the piece. Alarm bells ringing yet?

That was the line for me (even though the line should have been crossed ages ago). I wasn’t totally happy with the idea of being arse-naked in this guy’s house, but apparently he’s going to take photos as well? He certainly didn’t tell me that with the first sales pitch. I can’t think of anything worse than having naked pictures of myself floating about this guy’s home. He was bloody pushy too: “So will ya do it?”

Finally I said, “Look: you’ve walked into my shop and straight up asked me to do nude modelling for you and you somehow think I’m not going to be creeped out by that?”

He said, “Well okay fair enough. But if you give me your phone number I can let you know when I’m in town next and we can have a proper chat?”

“No. Look. I’ll text you okay?” And with that, he left.

Only tonight have I managed to work up the courage to tell my parents what happened. They know that I’ve applied to do nude modelling for art classes and have no problem with it, but this is what my dad had to say about this dude:

“Send him a text on my phone. Tell him that you’re not interested, and that he’s not to contact you again. If he tries calling or anything then I’ll speak to him. I’ll tell him that no fucking means no and what does he fucking think he’s playing at, and that I know where he lives, what he does, I know every-fucking-thing about him. And if he tries anything else, I’ll take a fucking baseball bat to him.”

Point taken.

Here’s what I learnt:

1)   No, not all men are rapists or perverts or serial killers. But not all men can be trusted. People can’t be trusted, and I’m far too naïve to constantly try to see the good in people.

2)   There are gems like my dad, who care about me and want to protect me. But I can’t protect myself.

3)   I’m not safe. Although this guy never threatened me – the whole thing is kind of funny actually – there is nothing stopping him from waiting outside my work and following me to my car if he wants to.

4)   I need to be wary of old men who say that you’re cute and ask you to do nude modelling for them.

I just wish I didn’t feel so vulnerable all the time.

I’ll try to end on a lighter note: my dad was telling me that back in London, there was this rubbish-man who had an obsession with mum. He started off quite chatty and pleasant, then got creepy when she started seeing him everywhere, at the park, the bus stop etc. At one point he told her that she was the “sexiest woman in Walington.” Mum felt uneasy and told dad. One day, this bloke was two houses down collecting rubbish, and was walking up the garden path towards their house – note: he didn’t actually know mum lived there. My dad saw him, ran out his front door, jumped over two fences and pinned him against the wall by his throat. I don’t know exactly what he said to him, but mum never saw him lingering around her again.

As I closed their bedroom door I heard this and it made me smile.

Dad: “Am I your hero?”

Mum: “Of course.”

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