A Year In My Head
You wouldn’t want to be here, in my head that is. You wouldn’t have wanted to be here for the last year, at the very least.
I bled the first time that Jonas and I slept together. No, I wasn’t a virgin, and it wasn’t that 'time of the month' either, but my periods obviously didn’t emphasise, and started flooding with a vengeance, all over his lilly-white sheets. He didn’t take it well. There I was, with a bright red stream pouring down my legs, fumbling madly and trying to stem the flow with my t-shirt, as I had nothing else to hand. You can imagine how I felt. Embarrassed doesn’t come close; absolutely mortified gets nearer. Such bad luck. Talk about timing! After I had 'kept him waiting', (his words), for three months. Well nice girls have to, don't they?
“Surely you should have known?” he grimaced.
I feebly tried to explain that it wasn’t expected. Of course it bloody wasn’t! Not a good time for a debate. I frantically pulled on my clothes, threw on my coat, and shot off to my car, looking like the victim of rape, at minimum, or more probably, attempted murder.
The pain, and the shame. What can I say? What would he think of me?
He didn’t contact me again that weekend. But me, forever ruled by my punishing conscience, sent him a pathetic, grovelling, letter of apology, and a new white linen duvet set, complete with sheets and pillows. It cost me over a £100, and you should see the state of my own threadbare ones at home. But, ah well, at least I did the right thing.
Doing the right thing has ruined my life. It has been ingrained into me from a very early age and it’s not even as if we’re catholics. My first vivid recollection of doing the right thing was when I found a pound coin on the road, just outside the School playground. I was five years old, and I was thrilled to bits. A pound! My mind was racing with excitement of what goodies I might spend it on. Two comics, and some chocolate, and a can of cola. I was rich.
My mum had come to meet me from school. I greeted her with the news of my lucky find. ‘You’ve got to give it to your teacher,” she said. “Someone may have reported it missing. It’s the right thing to do.” We trotted back to my classroom and handed it to Mr Shearer. Stony-faced Mr Shearer dropped into his pocket barely acknowledging. He wasn’t what you would call a kind-hearted man. I felt crushed.
Doing the right thing, according to our fastidious family indoctrination, also means taking the blame for something you didn’t do, apologising for everything, always being grateful and polite, thanking everyone for anything, not pushing in, not being any trouble, not causing a nuisance, not feeling sorry for yourself, never being late (which means we often have to set off at least half an hour earlier than we should - just in case of ‘unforeseen circumstances’), not being rude, not being greedy, not being boastful, not being loud, not being the centre of attention, never putting yourself first, not asking for anything, not arguing, being thoughtful, being helpful, being kind.
I could go on.
Doing the right thing also has two validation checks, which are, “What will they think of me/us”? and, “don’t upset anybody.”
My mum is very proud that she has brought me up in this way, and my dad, well he has always done the right thing, and never disagrees with her.
And that’s what’s made me such a pushover. And that’s why Jonas has had the best year of his life, making sure that I had the worst one of mine.
Jonas got back in touch, five weeks after receiving his gift, saying that he accepted my apology as long as I wouldn’t do it again, and suggesting that I paid for a night out at a plush hotel, so we could carry on where we left off, and be absolutely sure his bedroom wasn’t going to get messed up in the process. He wasn’t smiling. I did the right thing and agreed. I was taking the pill without a break now, so there would have been no risk of a repeat performance anyway, but I had caused a problem, and my conscience still needed to put it right.
So, I booked 'Tall Trees', the most expensive local hotel, in the nearby countryside, that I could find. Dinner, bed and breakfast. I’d heard that it was a gorgeous place, antique furniture, and cosy fires. It had an idyllic location by the riverside. The dining room had views out across the moors. Although I felt nervous, I was also really looking forward to it, and had packed my best (understated of course) little black number, for the occasion. Jonas asked me to pick him up, so I did, just grateful for a second chance and hell-bent on putting things right. Jonas said we should skip the meal, and go straight to bed. Which we did, but then my conscience worried that I had booked a table, so doing the right thing would be to telephone and cancel it. Jonas said not to bother. I didn’t, but it bothered me, and kept me awake all night. I overslept in the morning, and couldn’t make it for breakfast. Jonas went down for breakfast, telling me afterwards how uncomfortable he had felt to be eating it alone, and how he thought I could have made the effort.....
The trouble with wanting to do the right thing is that you are absolutely beside yourself when you do the wrong thing, and believe me when there are so many ways you can be wrong, you spend your life yearning for approval. Disapproval, on the other-hand, for ‘Doing the right thing-ers,’ is sheer hell.
So next time, I did, make an effort that is. I booked a weekend away in Paris, to compensate. It was my way of apologising for being so wet and unreliable. When I told Jonas, he retorted that he didn’t like Paris, and that I shouldn’t take him for granted. I was absolutely devastated. I cancelled the break, losing my deposit in the process. Jonas then said he was only kidding, and that he couldn’t believe I hadn’t got a sense of humour. I was beside myself. I’d spoilt it all again. I’d been disapproved of. How could I put things right?
Whether or not Jonas knew this or he had just fallen lucky, he was clearly on a roll. Every time we met his friends (or acquaintances should I say, as I don’t think Jonas actually had any friends) he revelled in telling them how I’d let him down, booking a break and then cancelling it. “What a tease I was”, he said. “He couldn’t believe how I could be so mean”. I couldn’t forget it. He wouldn’t let me forget it. It played on my mind. I needed to make amends. So, a few weeks later I asked him if he would like to go for a longer holiday, destination of his choice. But before I got time to say “and let’s go halves this time”, he was in there. “Lisa, Lisa, I love you”, he cried. “You’re so, so kind. Thank you my darling. That will be absolutely wonderful.” And he checked his diary, and chose his destination, Australia, three weeks, on me.
Love! Now that’s something I really aspired to. If someone loves you, then they must approve of you or they wouldn’t love you, would they? They couldn’t love someone they were disappointed in, now could they?
But three weeks. In Australia! On me!
I haven’t told you about my job have I? At the beginning of the year I found myself a new job ‘helping the community’. I work for the local council, on their Help Desk. It’s not a very well paid job, and it’s not very satisfying either. Council help actually being something of an oxymoron. Day after day, we get call after call of complaint. My colleagues love it. They just put the callers on hold for ten minutes, playing muzac interjected with a stereotypical ‘We are dealing with your enquiry and value you call’ message, then pick them back up again, and interject, “The computer system is down today so we can’t help at the moment, please could you call back again later?” I can’t do this. It plays on my conscience. I do the right thing, and try and sort everything out, which is not very wise, when the council’s policy is ‘ten rules for every occasion’ and their strategy is ‘be as awkward as you can’.
The council has rules about holidays. You can take two weeks consecutively or exceptionally, with the kind permission of your senior manger, twelve days. Three weeks isn’t covered by the rules anywhere.
I made an appointment to see Mrs Granger, my senior manageress, to see if a (rule) compromise might be possible, to state my case, and make my plea.
Mrs Granger had made it to the top by applying the council rules not breaking them. That’s how it works. She was a mean weasel-looking woman, with grey, thin lips. Dressed in 100% nylon, (smelly but at least no creases), she was 100% likely to turn down my request, (ditto), and she did. But I couldn’t argue, because that’s not allowed, not in my family’s rulebook, which could give the council rules a run for the money any day. So I didn’t. I went back to my desk, overwhelmed with the enormous responsibility of becoming a disappointment to Jonas, yet again.
Jonas and I had arranged to meet at the weekend, at his, to go through the brochures, and make our selection. Then, we were going to call at the local travel agents and book our holiday, followed by an Italian meal to celebrate. I was in a state of panic. Should I ‘phone first and tell him the news, or should I tell him face to face? Either way, I would be letting him down, and ruining his weekend. Never mind about mine, that’s not allowed, in the rules. It was Wednesday, three sleepless nights to go, either way.
Nights are the worst; that’s when I punish myself with what I should have done – to do the right thing. I should have said two weeks holiday. I should have suggested some locations. I should have checked at work first. I should have made sure Jonas understood that he’d need to pay his share or I should have tried to increase my credit card limit or taken out a bank loan before now. But anyway, none of it mattered as now I was letting Jonas down because I wouldn’t be able to go to the destination of his choice, for three weeks, and how can you go to Australia for less? ... and, he probably wouldn’t see me every again, which would also be my fault. And he had said he loved me, but now I’d made sure that I wasn’t lovable. Now I was feeling sorry for myself, which isn’t allowed. At least I knew that I was, so maybe it was allowed? Probably not.
I’d decided on ‘face to face’ and arrived at Jonas’s with a bottle of his favourite wine.
“Lisa, you shouldn’t have.” Jonas, gushing, all smiles, and kisses
Then me, straight in there, “Jonas, there’s a problem.”
Jonas, visibly stiffening, “What kind of problem!?”
“I can’t get the time off.”
“What do you mean you can’t get the time off? You told me you’d got four weeks holiday left.”
“We can’t take three weeks together.”
“No Jonas, it’s true. I asked.”
“Honestly Jonas, I tried, but it’s in the rules that we can’t take longer than two weeks. I went to ask my boss, and she confirmed that that’s the way it is. There’s nothing I can do.”
“You always could resign!”
Resign? … Now that’s something I hadn’t thought of. Jonas was right, if I resigned, I would be out of there in a month, and we could go away for three weeks. But resigning? Wasn’t that just a bit drastic? I would be out of work! How was I supposed to pay for the holiday with no guaranteed income? But Jonas loved me… so I suppose that resigning would be the right thing to do, so I did.
Nine weeks later we were on our way to Sydney. My suitcases were packed full of new outfits for the adventure. Bright bikinis, snazzy shorts, strappy tops, baseball caps, floaty dresses, new trainers, slick sling-backs, glitzy hand-bags, new beach bags; even the suitcases were new! I’d blown over £1,000 on my holiday attire, and, wait for it, £5,000 on the tickets! Drained of my savings, I was four thousand pounds overdrawn,and unemployed, but at least I wasn’t going to let Jonas down this time, except that I did.
DVT. You never expect it to be you. You never hear how you find out you’ve got one. Well let me tell you! Six hours into our anti-clockwise flight, (relevant apparently), and I was in agony. My left leg had swollen to tree trunk proportions and was getting hotter and redder by the minute. I was not well! Jonas was very impatient with me. “Stop complaining,” he said, “we’re all in the same boat.” I hadn’t actually complained, because complaining is definitely against the rules, but I was fidgeting and rubbing my leg. I guess Jonas thought I was showing off because of the tight leg-room. Eventually, begrudgingly, he called the stewardess who suggested that I get up and walk around. Standing was excruciating, walking was out of the question. I collapsed. This is how they could tell. “Suspected DVT, “ she whispered to her colleague, who was already walking, very quickly, backwards towards the cockpit. Well, that was it, we touched down in L.A. and I was off the plane and sirened-off to hospital, in the matter of fact way that Americans handle so well. Meanwhile, Jonas decided to carry on, to Sydney, on his own.
Fortunately I’ve had plenty of time to recover. Two weeks of it spent in L.A. My holiday insurance covered all the costs. Americans are very nice. They spend a lot of time talking to you. One of my best bedside-medics decided that I needed therapy when he realised that Jonas had sacrificed me for his holiday. The therapist really got into my head. It was him who told me that he wouldn’t want to be there, and me, all I can tell you is that wearing flight socks would have been the right thing to do, and that I will never be able to forgive myself.
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