Thursday, January 26, 2006

Untitled - chapter 2

I wish I had something new to put up here, but I have more or less completely failed to sit down and get anything written. In lieu of something fresh though, I thought I'd take the opportunity to share with you some more of my NaNo novel.

Here's Chapter 2 (you can find chapter 1 here). If you look really closely, you might spot some autobiographical details.




My name is James Archer. I am 31 years old. I live in Nottingham in a nice house that I share with my girlfriend of 6 years. I have a small and deeply unfulfilling job as an IT Consultant for one of the largest corporations in the world. I am quite tall, but I’m otherwise pretty ordinary looking. I am ordinary. I am ordinary. I don’t really have any big problems, except that I seem to have an uncanny knack for testing my girlfriend’s patience. I don’t really know how I do it. I’m not a tidy person, although I would deny that I am an untidy person. I can see how someone might think that of me though, as I have a tendency to put things down. I put them down all over the place. As soon as I have put an object down – a CD, a piece of paper, a lighter, my car keys… whatever… that thing becomes completely invisible to me. Until I need that object again, my brain is able to totally ignore it, even if it happens to be lying on the middle of the floor of our living room. When I need it again, when I want to listen to that CD, find that bank statement or go out in my car, I know instinctively where to find it. If it’s not there, then I can become agitated:
“Have you seen my car keys?”
“They were right here, and now they’ve gone”
“In the middle of the floor?”
“Right there.”
“They were in the way. I kept tripping over them, so I picked them up and popped them on the table”
“But I left them on the floor…”
and so on….

Part of me can completely understand why Catherine might want to pick my car keys up and pop them onto the table. Who leaves keys on the floor where you can trip over them and kick them around? Sadly, part of me will never understand: I put my keys down and I knew where they were. When I discover that they have been moved, I find that a little distressing. No matter how logical the place where they were put, they were put down somewhere different to the place that I put them down.

I suppose I can’t help the way that my brain works, and sometimes I really wish that I could. I have no big problems in my life, but as I get older, I seem to be finding it harder and harder to let the little things go. It starts with the car. I walk away from the car, and I’ve not gone twenty meters when a thought creeps into my head: did you lock the door? As soon as the thought arrives, I know that I have to go back and check. I will jog back to the car, and when I am a few meters away, I will click the button on the car key, and the lights will blink at me to indicate that the car is now locked. I never go and see if the doors were actually unlocked before I hit the button. I don’t need to know. All I need to know is that the car is locked now. Sometimes this happens when I’m inside the house, or when I’m in the office. Wherever it happens, I find it extremely hard to think of something else. Once the thought has crossed my mind, I find it impossible to let it go and to think of something else. It sits in my mind. It taunts me. I have to check. The handbrake is even worse. To check that the handbrake is on, you actually have to walk right up to the car and look inside. You can’t protect your dignity and your sanity from a small distance and the press of a button. You have to walk right on up to the car, look inside and see for yourself that of course the handbrake is on.

Locking the car. Putting the handbrake on. These are both things that everybody does without thinking about them To suddenly start worrying about them seems, well, mad. Sure, occasionally you go back and you find that in fact you did leave the handbrake off, but the car didn’t run away – at least not far. Of course, discovering that I did, in fact, leave the handbrake off only reinforces the compulsion to check it. Or to find something else to worry about.

Ah, finding something else to worry about. This is a speciality of mine. I wear glasses. I have worn glasses since I was five years old. I can’t say that I am totally at one with the idea that I wear glasses, but it has never really bothered me. But suddenly it began to. My glasses started to weigh heavily upon me. I couldn’t get comfortable. They were too tight. They hurt my nose. They rode up over my ears. They weren’t straight. The lenses were scratched. Ah. Scratched lenses. If I could only have back the time I have spent peering at scratching on my lenses that I cannot actually see when the glasses are on my face. The lenses are plastic. They will scratch. I cannot see the scratches, and if I could, they aren’t really all that expensive to replace. Surely it would be easier not to worry about them, to just shrug and get on with my life? Why do I find myself compelled to look at them, to examine them? To search for imperfections? To obsessively polish them with a lens-cleaning cloth, in an attempt to keep them clean that ultimately only serves to increase the probability of scratching?

I’m not stupid. I know when I’m starting to do it. I’m wise to my brain and the tricks it tries to play on me. Does that mean I can do a damn thing about it? Not most of the time.

You’re probably amazed that I can function in society at all. Sometimes I am. You’re probably amazed that I have a girlfriend. I definitely am. I guess I have a mildly obsessive-compulsive streak. It’s funny though. What makes someone mad? Madness is a relative term and is a product of the society in which we live in and what that society deems as “normal”. I sometimes wonder how fine the line is between my mildly obsessive behaviour and being genuinely mentally ill. Not big enough to be comfortable I should think, and yet I can and do function in society. Well. Perhaps not at parties, but that’s another story.

So I was dumped by one of my oldest friends. Would you be surprised to hear that this played on my mind?

I had no right of reply. I could not stand up and defend myself against the charges. As far as Carl was concerned, that email was the final chapter in our friendship. He was putting our twenty years of friendship behind him and he was moving on to his other friends. The ones he felt more comfortable with, the ones he looked forward to seeing again. I’m sorry. Am I sounding bitter? I’m afraid I can’t help it. I just don’t understand.

“Why would you dump a friend” I asked Catherine.
“I don’t know”
“I know he’s getting married, but Juliette always seemed so nice. Not friendly exactly… but perfectly welcoming. It couldn’t be because of her, could it?”
“I don’t know”
“But it’s not fair. Who goes out of their way to end a friendship? Why couldn’t he have just been like a normal person and let it wither?”
“Look. I don’t know. How long have you known him?”
“We met in 1981”
“So more than twenty years?”
“Well it does seem odd, but perhaps he felt that he needed to move on.
“I just don’t understand”

It’s true. I don’t understand, and I don’t think I ever will. He’s always been a bit, well, odd…. But maybe it’s me. Perhaps this is the effect that I have on people. Maybe my other friends can’t wait to be shot of me as well and are only waiting for the right moment.

“Well why don’t you ask some of them?”. Catherine was looking up from her newspaper. This was familiar territory. I had clearly been rambling on about this for long enough, and loudly enough to distract her from the crossword. “Why don’t you ring some of them up and ask them?”
“What do you mean”, I said, knowing full well what she meant. She meant that I should stop moaning, pick up the phone and chat to my mates. Seek reassurance from the people I was closest to.

I don’t think she really understands the relationship I have with my oldest friends. Like most men, I can have a telephone conversation with my mates that sounds to the casual observer a little something like this:
“….. ……”
“Me too.”
and so on for about 5 minutes, and apparently sometimes consisting entirely of grunts. When I hang up, a by-now-very curious Catherine looks up at me.
“What was that all about?”
“I’m meeting John in half and hour at the cinema. We’re going to see the new Kevin Smith film at about 9pm, then we’re going to head over to the ‘City Duck’ for a pint and perhaps on to a pizza.”
“You arranged all of that just now? On the phone?”
“But I only heard grunts. How?”
“Dunno. We also talked about getting all the lads together for a weekend at the Test Match next year.”

I don’t really have phone conversations with my mates to seek reassurance or to discuss my feelings. I have phone conversations with them to make concrete plans to do something. That something usually involves meeting up to watch sport or to go to a gig, and it certainly involves beer. Why would I want to talk to these people about the way I’m feeling? They’re my friends. Why would they want to know about that.

Of course, being dumped by Carl was something that didn’t just affect me, it was also going to have repercussions amongst our circle of friends. Everyone has a circle of friends don’t they? You meet someone and become friendly with them, and over time you get to know the other people they hang about with – their partner, their mates, and their house-mate. Sometimes you become friendly with them and they become more than just friends-of-friends and become mates in their own right. Carl and I have known each other for more than twenty years from the day we first met at school. We had school friends in common. I knew some of his friends from university, and some of his friends from his life in London. Many of these I would be able to drop without a second thought (especially that guy I have met about once, but he somehow wangled his way into our Fantasy Football League and proceeded to win it every year). But others…. Others are a part of the fabric of my life, and I can’t let them go so easily. Some of them I have known for nearly as long as I have known Carl. We went to the same schools. We hung out together. They are my mates, and they are Carl’s mates. I have been dumped and they have not been dumped. How are they supposed to react to this news? When a couple of your acquaintance splits up, although there is often much noble talk about remaining friendly with both halves, in reality this is an extremely difficult trick to carry off, and you always end up choosing. Is this the same scenario? Are our friends going to have to sit down and decide between us? Is this an exercise that they can go through by themselves, or are they able to have some kind of conference to discuss it, to list out the pros and cons.

Maybe I should call them. I think I might need to state my case.


I'm away next week, but maybe I'll get something written the week after, eh?


At 2:26 PM, Blogger Alecya Giovanni said...

I love that phone conversation... It gives me a giggle every time.


At 9:22 PM, Blogger Ka said...

You're like the anti-James Frey: it's ruthlessly autobiographical, yet you're calling it fiction!

I've managed to read up to Chapter 7 in the copy you emailed me, but I'm really crap at reading things on a computer screen. I'm enjoying it very much.

At 9:40 PM, Blogger SwissToni said...

well, I'm calling it "fiction" (but I'm glad you're enjoying it!)

I'd caution against reading it as autobiography though. Some is drawn very closely from my own life (as you can see), but as we go through, that becomes less and less reliable!

...but you'll have to wait and see, won't you (unless I've inflicted an emailed copy on you already!)



Post a Comment

<< Home