Middle Way or the High Way?
It has been a strange 8 years by any stretch and come with the proviso that the Kid has lived with me 99% of that time. There is a big difference, however, between living with your lover and living with your child. The first and foremost being that you can, to a certain extent, dictate the rules to your kid, but it's not really on to try it with someone who's supposed to be your peer.
And I should say right here and now that the Kid is now 21 and living at home while they save for a house. It's like having a flatmate but one who looks uncannily like you and who knows where all the emotional blackmail buttons are hidden...
So there I've been, mindlessly minding my own business and getting on with the job of living in a way I want to. Leaving clothes where they fell, changing the bedding as often as I wanted (once a week, whaddaya think I am?), sitting up in bed reading till midday, making only toast for meals. I have wandered where I want and with whom I want.
I have filled the shelves with my own books and found things; the freezer with the foods I love; my days with the things I want to do. Slept in the middle of the bed. Had a bath as often as I damn well pleased. Smoked, not smoked, smoked again. Realised that living in a village surrounded by mud and oomska for 8 months of the year when I hate mud and oomksa (both of which are very different to gardening dust and soil) is no good thing for any sanity. Realised that living in a village where the light is gone by 4pm in November and the nights are so slow-black sloe-black that you could scream Milky-Woody-rhyming-couplets at the top of your lungs and no one would hear.
Left the country for the town, left the town for the city. Changed jobs, changed houses, hung the pictures on the walls I wanted.
Dealt with grief and joy in equal measure. Sat with the feelings, absorbed and examined them, kept some for my mental backpack, lost others along the way. Turned vegan, turned back, went halfway there again. Took up meditation, fell asleep, took down meditation. Dealt with health issues, new births, old deaths. Ditched the TV. Read over 100 books in 12 months just because I could. Took up yoga and surprised myself. Surprised my family.
Listened to Radio 4 and eddikated myself. Listened to 6 Music and discovered new bands. Went to gigs for the first time in decades. Saw films I would never have seen, discovered a love of the hokey horror and stilted speech of the old Hammer Horrors, Godzillas and King Kongs
Wore the clothes I wanted with no one around to ask "does my bum look big in this" or to put their head on one side and say "are you going out in that?" Lost 4 stone. YES you read that right - 4 stone: the slow drip of pounds coming off and back on and permanently back off again has punctuated the days of these 8 years.
I have pupated. Shed the chrysalis of my old self. My wings are battered but they carried me and the Kid through the world with a strength no one knew I had till it was tested. I am me with a carapace, with balls on, with an armoury of self-resilience. I can deal with my own spiders (with much squealing, eyes shut and a need for a hefty drink afterwards) and empty my own bins.
So pity the poor man, especially one who had imagined himself living blissfully, serenely, peacefully alone for the rest of his days, coming head to head with me over where plants should be planted or pictures hung. Do we build the chest of drawers now or next week or when the heatwave/my temper breaks? How many times has that dishwasher been on today? Have you used fabric conditioner in the laundry? Why do you have the bath water so hot? Does this meal have meat in it? Why do you do everything so quickly? Why are those pictures crooked? Do you really need to keep that? How many copies of The Crow Road do you have? How many pairs of trainers do you need? Are you really only using half of the wardrobe space?
I work fast, in order to get things done and out of the way, thereby giving myself more all-important lying-down-and-reading time. He does things carefully, with meticulous planning and measuring, and with exquisitely painful slowness. As he takes measurements, I hop from one foot to the other, whining about how it's fine, hurry up, yes of course it's straight.
As I fling paint, plants and pictures around with merry abandon, I feel him wince. Heard him say with more dismay than admiration, "god you're quick" as I rollered a triple length of wall within the same space of time he'd taken to do one. "Did you mean to get that much paint on you? Can you actually see out of your glasses now?"*
Surely, he suggests, as he gazes ruefully at the positioning of a plant he'd had his eye on for the back garden, now firmly set in the front, surely there is some middle ground.
Middle ground. The OED defines this as "an intermediate position or area of compromise or possible agreement between two opposing views or groups." When I look up compromise (purely for the hell of it and because I'm stalling for time because really, really really, I know he's right but I'm not willing to let this go quite so easily), I read that "the secret of a happy marriage is compromise" but also that compromise means"the expedient acceptance of standards that are lower than is desirable."
Aha! I cry. Accepting standards that are lower than is desirable! And then I realise that he's not listening, he's looking at the crooked pictures again.
*not really, was the answer. It was like looking through a yellow mist. Yes, our living room walls are yellow - it's like living in a bowl of custard and I love it.