“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”
On and off, for just over 18-months, I was living among the debris of a cocaine wasteland.
He wasn’t going to pull out of the nose dive anytime soon so I went home and tried to get on with my life. I could escape relatively unscathed. I was only a tourist. I didn’t even have a visa.
Even as I had my eyes peeled and my ear to the ground, at times, I surrendered. More than I have done before. Because alone with him, for a few hours at least, I could silence the terrible lack of fulfilment; a feeling that rumbled along in my gut like white noise on the radio. Constant background static.
In my wildest imagination, I couldn’t have done a better job conjuring him to the page. He was that deadly combination of peril and potential. An older man embellished with tattoos where the ink had blurred, deep set blue eyes and a furrowed brow; a body that was taut and strong, nearly a foot taller than me. In an identity parade of bad men I would have picked him out every time. There were the scars from the chip shop brawls, motorcycle accidents and the nub of a finger gone entirely – the result of a drunken carpentry misadventure.
At first he pursued me. After parting from our first lunchtime date he sent a cab over to pick me up and deliver me to him. I tried to dig in my heels but boredom and curiosity compelled me to go. A few days later he turned up at a gig I was playing that I must have mentioned in passing. I felt under threat, as if he would milk me of my vitality. I told him it would never happen.
But I festered. Did a 180. He seeped into my veins as if he was feeding me himself through an intravenous drip. After a heavy bombardment of texts there was silence. I was looking for trouble when I asked to see him again.
I had so much swagger back then. Everybody wanted a piece and I thought I was untouchable. I was drunk on the promise of summer.
I thought I had all my bases covered.
One day early in May I told him I wanted to see him. Meeting me at a local pub, he sauntered over the road wearing a pale blue shirt and a wide, easy smile I hadn’t seen before. I was wearily relaxed and so happy to see him. I cast off my doubts. We were going to have a good time.
It was the best of times.
He was the most charismatic, the most exciting. That bright day I eyeballed him with love liked I’d swallowed an ecstasy pill. It must have been weird for him. I was unable to conceal my delight in his company. I didn’t think he would be spooked. He picked me up and carried me across the kitchen – I was done for. He left his t-shirt behind and it smelt of a combination of cigarettes, him and Issey Miyake that made me delirious. I lay on my bed inhaling his scent, conjuring his face in my mind. I was gutted when I put it in the wash by accident.
That was the beginning of my journey into the enchanted forest.
I told myself we would have just one summer together. I gave no thought as to how I would extricate myself from the situation. I’d cross that bridge when I came to it.
There was an ideology attached to my wanting to be his woman. An escape from reality: matching tattoos, bales of cocaine in the boot, swimming pools in rough motels. I imagined us in a getaway car, drug store robberies, driving down a coastal road in his convertible black BMW. I wanted the rest of the world to stop. Nothing else mattered. It was a stylistic choice to date him. To remain in never never land, where I’d always be 27 and not have to think about marriage or children of my own.
Being in his kitchen, listening to him decimate whatever thing had taken my fancy. His critical faculties were ridiculously heightened, I thought he was so clever. But his strongest condemnation was reserved for himself. I’d savour every word. I wanted to learn from him. But what criticism would he have for me? I always imagined he would want someone leaner and sharper; that my edges were too round and soft for him.
Listening to records, taking it in turns to play tracks. Him crouched on his haunches going through the sleeves like a boy of 19. Chain smoking and playing guitar together. He reclaimed his youth. And he was only five years off being 50. That surprised everyone who met him. Drinking in pubs he would attract attention from straight men crushing on him. He was quiet, watchful and yet they would be drawn to him. I thought we would swan around and become this dangerous and alluring couple that everyone would want to talk to. It never happened.
The drives between our houses when he was high, charging through South East London saluting every other wide boy racer in a fast car. I was in heaven, white knuckling it from one red light to another. I shouldn’t have encouraged it but I didn’t care about putting myself at risk.
I am older for having known him. For having watched the man I loved lose everything. He was 20 thousand fathoms deep. Much of the time I couldn’t reach him. I was living in the shadow of his great sadness and able to offer him little comfort. If he had any affection reserved for me that summer I was his last gasp of breath; before the onset of grief made it twilight forever and impossible to carry on with business as usual.
Ours was a relationship ruled by fear. If there was anything good and pure there we could only reach it once we’d done a gram of coke, smoked a packet of cigarettes and drunk all the booze in the house. Then we would connect. Then we could love each other. I never stopped wanting him. I never stopped being thrilled by his body. If he’d let me I would have crawled all over him for hours. I thought he was simply magnificent.
We existed only in a vacuum of time and space. It was the singular way we worked. Holed up in his house and anyone else that wanted to come there was, to me, a threat.
Periods of silence. He distanced himself with no explanation and I was lost. I’d try to date other men but without success. He was my kryptonite. On a whim he would want to pick me up and play with me. On several occasions I was with other men and dropped them to go running back to him. I didn’t care that I was weak because I would feverishly write about it later; chalk it up to experience and abandon the quest for conventional happiness, which bored me to tears anyway.
When you’re addicted to something you compromise the normal standards of what you would expect from that thing. For him, it was accepting lower quality coke. The dealer knows he’s got you by the balls and you’re buying it in such quantities that you simply can’t afford the high grade anymore. In the same way, the more my body and mind ached to be with him the lesser standards of behaviour I would accept. Like being left waiting for him 40 minutes in a pub on a Friday night, my hair and makeup done. Looking like the idiot on a date that clearly wasn’t going to happen. With his birthday card in my pocket. I had to swallow my pride. If I was willing to act like a mug, I couldn’t blame him for treating me like one.
But there was something deeply earthy about him that I adored. Cutting down trees, decimating weeds, even just cooking a joint of lamb. I observed it with hope. In the beginning, he had come to my house and conquered the garden. Yet he seemed to take issue with these things and they became what I most loathed about myself – things I considered frumpy – making me feel bourgeois and bucolic.
Park life, the outdoors, is a basic human need. I didn’t want my desire for sunshine to be an alienating factor. But he was at the mercy of his lifestyle. If you want to tarmac over all your sensual and base human needs with something synthetic then be my guest, but it’s a crying shame.
The thing about being in love with an addict is that you’ll always be at a disadvantage. The parts of his brain reserved for love had been sparked and blasted in coke rampages so that they were burnt out crusts. I was fighting a losing battle, but that’s what made it so compelling.
The words “unfinished business” had hung over us like a
mocking banner for too long. He indulged in a three-day coke binge over new year and I knew I had to throw in the towel.
If he would miss me it would be like the way a toddler misses a comforter rag left on a bus, like the way you’d miss the old family dog put out to pasture with the vet’s needle. I had been the idiot trying in vain to peg down their tent in a howling gale. But for what?
I turned my phone off for a week and roamed around Europe. I could feel the chemicals of love leaving my veins and my resolve and sanity returning.
Now it’s May (two years since I first laid eyes on him) and can I say I’m cured from my addiction? I doubt it. Is an addict ever cured? No. So, there’ll always be a little piece of me devoted to him. He can have that. And even now I don’t regret any of it, but I often feel grateful for having the strength to free myself from the hold he had over me.
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