There are far more certainties in the world than death and taxes. There is bad coffee, love, storms in the summer, things you cannot have, and then there’s choosing the wrong people for ourselves. In 2008 – not long after I had fought so furiously for my life and survived an eight-hour surgery where I had my vagina and rectum cut away, skin grafted and was gifted an ileostomy (poo bag) and then went into a coma doctors weren’t sure I was going to come out of – I fell in
love lust at first sight. It wasn’t a whirlwind – it was a cyclone. The connection this person and I moved through was something I hadn’t experienced since my first love, and like Lantana, I let it seed and strangle me. I had never had any reason to not be free with my love. I gave it away easily – I fell hard for people.
And so, I let someone in. But this person I ‘loved’ inflicted their sense of entitlement and narcissistic tendencies on me. I lived with what I thought were their ‘quirks’, but when it came down to it, I was being emotionally abused, alienated from the people I was closest to and within the vacuum, I lost myself.
Let’s call him Grug.
At first it was exciting and intensely romantic. It was all ‘wine and dine’ and spending wildly to impress me, although he never spent it on me. Instead, Grug would spend ridiculous sums of money on his P.O.S car that he always wanted to be faster and noisier with more horsepower. He would call and say, ‘I love you. I’m going to marry you’, ‘you’re so strong and amazing.’ Grug used a litany of superlatives and ridiculously clichéd euphemisms, but I was IN. He had me. Within the first week, he wanted to buy me a diamond ring, but at a later date, he told me I’d have to ‘earn it’. What the motherfuckity fuck? I should have run far, far away. How dare anyone tell me I have to ‘earn’ something? I was out of my head – literally – with the romance of it all and so cock whipped that after a couple of weeks, I found myself staying at his house for days on end, sleeping, not getting much writing done and basically starving myself to stay as ‘perfect’ as he would keep telling me I was. On our second date when I asked about his mother, he said (verbatim), ‘She’s petite like you, blonde hair like you, although it’s a bit shorter than what my step-father and I would like it to be.’
Massive red flag, yes? No. I was naïve and thought it was sweet. Or perhaps it was the wine. I don’t usually drink and Grug said that he didn’t either, but it soon became apparent that he was using alcohol and, from what I could tell, drugs as a crutch to control his moods, and I was merely a commodity for him. It took me some time to realise that I was never in love with this person – I was totally tripped up by lust and in love with the idea of being in love and being wanted. Following my cancer surgery, I had been out on a couple of dates, but nothing had eventuated. I felt entirely unloveable. I truly believed that no one would ever want me, and even though I wasn’t ‘broken’, I thought that all men would see me this way, which is ironic, because it seems the men I typically
choose chose need my help and counsel with their own issues.
I don’t hate him. I don’t hate anyone. I hate what he did to me. He changed me. Irrevocably, through his actions and dialogue, he changed the essence of who I am. Or who I was. I became an empty husk of a woman who was now certain that no one would – or could – ever love me, and I haven’t been in a long relationship since. There I said it. Fuck me into a new religion, I ACTUALLY SAID IT. As afore-mentioned, I was convinced that I was unloveable for many years, even though I know I flourish in healthy relationships. I’d had successful relationships before, but these relationships had died a natural death and there was little animosity – which is not to say I never caused harm or hurt. I hurt people I loved and still love today as my friends. And it hurts to hurt people. It is not within me to deliberately hurt people.
But this relationship – this person was different. I was spirited away from my family and my friends, and over the years I’ve taken myself back to that place and wondered where my head was at. I know that I was much like a trophy to show off on ‘special occasions’, but mostly, he just wanted me to himself and I naïvely gave it to him. Within four months, I was ground down, depressed, starving (where had my love of food gone?), fatigued and what bothered me most – lacking in compassion. This person showed little to no compassion to anyone and everyone. He had an almost physical aversion to overweight people and a self-fuelled paranoia about the police wanting to ‘get’ him. As my best friend said, he was also far too polite for his own good. He was completely unable to express any compassion or empathy for people less fortunate and this went against the grain of my very being. I could feel my own compassion being stripped away, day by day. I was paint and he was thinners.
More than once I came home to a hyperactive little boy, off his face on who knows what and listening to TOOL*. Another red flag. He only listened to metal – thrash and death metal, if you will which is fine, but that’s all he would listen to. I decided long ago that if a man can’t bring John Denver or Neil Young into his heart, there’s something wrong. He was angry – I just didn’t know it. Specifically, he was angry at his father for ‘not giving him enough’ i.e. – a race car, because he wanted to be a race care driver. Again – WHAT??
He would say implausible things, and the one that strikes me as being the most telling was that he would call me ‘perfect’. I’d giggle and tell him that no one was perfect. But everything seemed perfect, and then the inevitable happened – I got sick with a respiratory virus. It was no big deal – for me, that is. I had a PICC line in my arm (much like a central line, but in the arm or leg for IV access), and when he walked into my hospital room, where he had taken his sweet time to actually come and see me, everything changed. It was as though I had become less of a person and more of my dis-ease. He was repulsed.
I was in hospital on a reasonably toxic triumvirate of drugs, and one in particular – the anti-viral drug I was on – significantly yellowed my vision and rendered me literally speechless. It was as if I had had a stroke. I just could not get my words out, and I’d sit waiting for the words to arrive – and eventually they would – but they seemed to dissolve on my tongue. Before these side effects had kicked in, Grug and I were at
post-coitus at his place, and he asked me whether I was going to become co-dependent on him. I was floored. Co-dependent how? I’ve always been fiercely independent and I said that I’d done everything by myself for nearly thirty-one years and that sure as hell wasn’t going to change. He drove me back to the hospital in silence. I went up to my room and was physically ill.
A few weeks later, we drove back from a disastrous weekend away when we saw some police on the shoulder of the highway. He proceeded to call them ‘pigs’. I have some dear friends who are cops, and I know that what they have to deal with is anything but nice. Attending suicides, fatal car crashes and delivering death messages is something only the incredibly brave can do, and so it was not ok for him to say these things. I asked him who he’d call if his home was invaded and he was assaulted, to which I received a comment along the lines of, ‘I know how to defend myself. I don’t need the fucking pigs’ (until someone breaks into your home. Oh, wait – he did karate).
Full well knowing the relationship was over, I said that if he said anything untoward about the police again, he could pull over and I would get out and walk home. We drove in silence all way back to his place where my car was, and I gave him back his keys and left. Yep – he’d given me his keys in the first week where I’d taken them with glee.
I’m writing about some emotionally tender subjects in my memoir right now, and it occurred to me long ago that there’s no expiry date for grief. It goes on. As does life. But it chips away at you – oft times insidiously – and you can never put yourself back together. All of a sudden you are in a million pieces and you cannot find the fucking glue. Sometimes you need to walk away – from your friends, your family, yourself – everything. So that’s what I did. I spent a lot of time alone, much to my friends concern. I escaped the city and went out bush to my ‘second’ family. I walked out to far away paddocks and screamed myself raw at the universe, threw rocks at the empty air and collapsed into the red dirt every day I was there. The only person who I could talk to about this heavy blanket of grief was my mother. She understood my sorrow and my anger. Others didn’t, and that’s ok.
Sometimes the grief was too much and I thought I would stop breathing. I even hoped that I would. I considered suicide, but my brain yelled at me along the lines of something like this – ‘Why would you do something so selfish and stupid over such an insignificant example of a human being after everything you’ve been through? I don’t think so.’ And so did my Mum. She gave me some tough love and I needed it. It wasn’t so much as I wanted to die – I just wanted the pain to be gone. But I also wanted something that would never come to pass. I wanted every trace of him gone. I wanted to wipe my memory of him. I would see something that reminded me of Grug and it would catapult me back to that place of grief where it feels like you’ve had the spine ripped out of your body. You’re on the floor and you wish there was a door you could open and tumble into.
This experience – not the person – nearly broke me. And I had people who wanted to break and destroy him. One of my fathers best friends who had met Grug over a lovely lunch up the coast wasn’t so sweet on him, so when we finally talked about it over some John Denver, I told him what had really happened. He asked if there was anything I had left behind that I needed, and I made the mistake of telling this man – a tough Ukrainian Vietnam veteran – that I had left some things behind at Grug’s place. His eyes glazed over – I remember exactly where we were standing – and he said with a blank stare, ‘I’ll go and get your stuff. What’s his address?’ I knew that if he saw Grug, he’d kill him and/or beat him into a vegetative state, and I love this great man far too much for him to go to prison over blood lust. The coffee maker I had taken to his house had been a gift to my parents from some very close friends in Italy, and he posted it to me which was great. Except that it was full of mould and old coffee so I had no choice but to throw it in the bin. I noticed that he sent it express post, but through his workplace so he didn’t have to pay the postage. Grug worked for a prominent radio station of which he was and perhaps still is, creative director. I don’t know anything about him because I do not care. I don’t pretend to not care – I just don’t.
For someone who had always loved with reckless abandon, I was in a situation that had paused my life. Limbo smacked me square in the face and for years I couldn’t go back to that place of trust because he took that away which infuriated me, leaving me with a cleft as big as the Mediterranean. How dare he strip me of one of my best affirmations – to love freely. To feel and to love and be loved. But I can do that now, I think. Just be gentle with me, and I’m yours.
Luckily, it didn’t take long for my charter of compassion to return. But he had torn me apart and I didn’t know how to put myself back together, so I spoke to a professional and they made a default diagnosis of a ‘sociopath with Narcissistic Personality Disorder‘. For the first time, I felt that the breakdown of my relationship wasn’t my fault. I wasn’t a failure. There was a reason he treated me with such ‘love’ which so quickly turned to repulsion.
I read about NPD and wept wildly. Everything made sense. His supreme sense of entitlement, the Oedipus-like relationship with his mother, the skewed relationship with his father, the immature sibling rivalry he had with his younger brother, why his first marriage had failed, his obsession about perfection and the most telling, the fact that he had no friends. I mean NONE. I was often berated by him for having ‘too many friends’, and he said to me once, ‘you have so many friends. I don’t understand why you have so many friends.’
Of course I have a lot of friends – it comes with the territory of having a terminal illness, and many of my deepest friendships I’ve been lucky enough to have since both primary and high school. He made me feel like an anomaly for having so many people in my life, and the devil on my shoulder would feed my paranoia. It would whisper to me, ‘you have him now – you don’t need anyone else’ and ‘so you’re staying in for the eighth day in a row. It’s nice. It’s cosy and this is what love is. You have all you need.’
And so … forgiveness. I’ll admit it took a while, but when it happened, I felt like a big, beautiful soufflé. So much lightness. I had risen above; I had survived. I had sown every negative emotion and thought into loose earth and it all just fell away. It took a lot of compassion, but I got to where I needed and wanted to be.
About a year later, and still in the throes of devastation and anger, I met a man. A real man. He was older than me and we just clicked. It went on for long enough for me to realise that I deserved a champion and I’ll forever be in his debt for treating me with such kindness. It was as though we wandered gently into each other, and that was what I needed. The lure of introversion and introspection was now my solid foundation, and we bonded over his spectacular collection of vinyls, books, film and some lust. We are now dear friends who don’t see each other enough.
I believe that forgiveness was key to my healing, as was compassion. Forgiveness is the only way to move on from something or someone that has left you an empty shell. I felt compassion for Grug because nothing and no one would ever live up to his expectations, and he was never going to be happy, even if he believed he was.
And so my message is this – NEVER let anyone change the essence of you and your spirit. Know that you deserve beautiful people, experiences, joy, love and light in your life. Have honest friends who
will look out for you vet people you bring into your life. Be selective about who you do and don’t invite into your life. It’s basic self-preservation. You have to be vigilant about people.
I’m blessed to have a few brutally honest friends who know how to say ‘I don’t think so – I’m going to smack you over the head/what the fuck are you thinking?’ if I so much as look at a person who is not deserving of my time, intention or passion. I could never read people, but have found a a few strategies to be trusting, but wary, so if you’re like me or even if you’re not – surround yourself with good people. Believe in the power of forgiveness and be liberal with your compassion for others who are not as emotionally or spiritually evolved as you.
And now for a song. There always has to be a song that comforts, that placates and gives hope. With compassion Grug, I give this to you.
*I mean, REALLY. I grew up on metal, but Tool?