There's the box of memories I have which is basically a bunch of holiday snapshots. Stuff I did with friends. I look through them now and again, when I run out of images. Halfway up a mountain in a tent which is being washed away by heavy rain and held up by giggling shouting people in wet pyjamas, that kind of thing. Most of them have audio, mainly laughter tracks, background music. Some are spectacular. Some are just funny.
Then there's the box I guess a lot of people have. The one with old letters. The one you keep at the bottom of a closet or in a drawer nobody uses. Under the bed is too obvious. I put them there and I almost never look at them unless I come across the box while in search of something else. When this happens, I am surprised at how little they move me.
Sometimes I wonder why I keep all this old junk around. Is it necessary to have a record that you felt certain emotions, or did certain things? Does it just fill up space that could be used to store new material? Or is it a concrete lid covering the well of the vast black pit of nothingness that you might fall into, without it?
A sample. Sometimes strangers bring surprises, and unlooked-for gifts. Gallant, he was. There went my preconceptions. Dark handsome American Jewish intellectual, I thought he was bound to be full of arse. We were talking about Baudrillard because I noticed the title of his book, and his face suddenly lit up and he said in mid-sentence: "Would you like a copy?" Startled, I nodded, and he got up, clambered over the table crushing us in, leapt off and disappeared in the direction of the bookshop. I looked at Jo, frowning puzzled: she grinned and said: "I think he likes you."
Nobody had stolen me a book in so long. I carried it about for days, revelling in its clean shiny edges. Someone new to talk to. Then he went and spoilt it by inviting me out to dinner, a blatant request for more. I declined, not being vacant or interested. He pointedly sat on the other side of the coffee bar after that and ignored me. Angry with him for even asking, I ignored him back. All I wanted was someone to swap amusing banter with, catch the odd movie with. Casual, relaxed, pleasant. The kind of thing that keeps the days rattling along comfortably. He seemed to want mess and confusion and intensity. Yet I read an essay of his once: it was a surprisingly calm and orderly piece of work. Dry, even. Very unlike mine which back then were full of Sturm und Drang, passionate support or scathing denial. Pen picked steaming off the page, words charred into the whiteness. I often saw my head back then as a tindery dry place, the Australian Outback, maybe. Flames easily sparked and spreading like wildfire.
I was not vacant, but I was not exactly engaged. Busy, obsessed, working all night sometimes, love switched to low maintenance. I felt at the time that I didn't understand sex. A short messy physical procedure, what's the big deal? Three years into a relationship, there was nothing to make me want to be bothered. Tiring. All that getting undressed and dressing up again. Having to work yourself up into it, wanting nothing better than to be left alone, to let out the irritated sigh which is pushing at the inside of your face, causing you to be wearing The Wrong Expression. Batter it down. Put on a smile, close your eyes, accept the role and play it. Wondering how much of his response is acting too. Wondering what happened to desire.
I began to start fights about nothing, or about something in the past. Obvious now, when I look at it, what I was up to. Trying to trigger the intensity that leads to desire, desire being the element that connects the short messy physical procedure with something else. Thinking that if you could not read, it would still be possible to sit quietly looking at every page in a book, if you were required to. Idly noting: that black squiggle looks like a caterpillar, that one like a snake, this one like a bus queue full of people. But basically bored. Wanting it over, sneaking glances at the clock. Wondering what the point is.
Tears on both sides and then violence. The passionate making-ups that I had unconsciously envisaged never happened: wrong kind of intensity. Too tired, too drained by the floods of fucked-up emotion weathering us, eroding our skin to red rawness. Friends noticing the black eye that was probably all my fault anyway, and saying nothing, but dragging me out to go clubbing. In clubs I would find myself searching the room for him. All the people somehow made the room seem emptier. Looking through the spaces between bodies, fidgeting in my seat, scanning, scanning for anything that might break the mould of boredom and disinterest. It's dried up and dead, he said. We should finish it. I thought so too, so why did I feel like screaming and begging to keep it?
Separated. Ghost limb still present despite the public appearance of a neatly healed stump. Friends rallying round, slaps on the back, the chink of glasses. Saying what they think you want to hear. "Yer well rid I reckon luv. Game of pool, eh?" Keeps you going while you're stumbling around, stumpy. Like an artificial leg: fills the gap but doesn't do much for the neurological damage. Inside, attempting to find answers. Does desire always have to end, jesus god if something this perfect could go wrong then there's no hope for anything, blah de blah de blah in endless circles. Boring yourself sick.
Bad things happen, we wonder why. Faced with them I find myself flipping through selections of approaches, looking for an action sequence. The Zen approach: these things happen and it's nobody's fault and you just have to calmly wait them through, get on with it, move on. The taking-all-the-responsibility approach: it's all my fault, if only I hadn't done x or y or z, I Must Change I Am So Crap. The blame approach: if only he had done x or y or z to make me want him. The chicken-and-egg approach: did all the x start the y? The irritable approach: aw hell it's all a load of bollocks now, forget it. But you never quite do, not until much later. These sequences replay endlessly but choppily, never finding the groove, the seamless perfectly mixed edit to unite the thread in magical flow. That would explain everything, provide closure, end the project.
Then years later you open that box, and there's nothing in it but dry paper, crumpled drawings, old photos. You look with idle curiosity but no pain: perhaps a little nostalgia, for who you used to be, maybe. And realise that closure has just quietly taken place, when you were not looking: that this is how it works.