Pretending Life is Sweet

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Amateur

This is my first attempt at writing a story so i’m testing the water really. Feedback welcomed.

Starts slowly, goes on a bit.

Apparently I can’t write and listen to music at the same time but I was obsessed with I Walk a Little Faster as performed by Blossom Dearie throughout the time I was writing this, hence the title.

*****

Prologue – A Dividing Line

First. There was nothing, then there was a bright light and a lot of people shouting, maybe at me, maybe at each other, really who cares. I wished they would just shut up and go away. Wasn’t this all supposed to be about making everything go away? I wasn’t quite sure where that last thought had come from. There was something hard and cold being pushed up against, and then around, my face and I was coughing into it. I struggled to lift my hands and push it away but someone was holding me back. My eyes wouldn’t seem to focus properly and then it was all black.

Second. There was darkness but at its edges I could see hints of grey and in the distance I could hear quiet voices in conversation. My back hurt and my throat hurt. These were nothing though compared to the pain around my neck which felt as if I was being strangled by a hand made of hot metal. Strangled, ah, right. There was other duller older pain elsewhere in my body too, pain which I recognised and had accepted. I sensed a figure looming over me and a soft female voice saying, “You’re awake are you. Try to drink some of this.” I felt a hand under my head lifting it a little and a straw at my lips so I sucked on it. The water felt wonderful until it hit my throat and then it burned and I was coughing and retching and the pain made me try to shout out but it hurt too much and then I felt really tired and then it was black again.

Third. There was a small room with curtains for walls and in it a bed and me in the bed. I really didn’t feel well and there was a kind of empty dizziness. A young woman in white loosely fitting clothes came in through a gap in the curtains. She smiled at me and said hello. I smiled back. I didn’t want to try to speak as my throat still hurt. She seemed to understand though and she kept on talking and telling me that i’d not been very well. Then I could hear a thin keening sound and feel tears on my cheeks and I realised the sound was coming from me. She sat on the side of the bed and held my head against her chest and distantly I could hear her saying something which sounded comforting although I couldn’t really make out the words. Eventually I must have fallen asleep.

Part 1 – Planning for the Future

I was first sure the difference was there when I was probably thirteen or around thereabouts. I know that is younger than most. So how then. Gender stereotyping was a deeply ingrained aspect of my upbringing so we used to play brides a lot. This wasn’t a game which was played with boys so you always ended up spending a lot of time being a groom. There I was every few days skipping down the aisle (skipping was very big too) approaching or maybe hand in hand with my fantasy spouse and I think I always knew I wanted her to be a girl not a boy.

It’s a silly story which misleads the reader and doesn’t quite answer the question. It also implies that perhaps there should be a moment of revelation and that just isn’t the way these things work generally. So take the story as more of an illustration, a little glimpse, of one of those tiny points of difference which were individually invisible but collectively lifted me into my self awareness.

As the next couple of years passed self awareness became an increasingly uncomfortable place. In our community deviation from the norm was generally a bad thing and best controlled or concealed. Overall that worked in my favour I think as it kept me hidden for a while when I might otherwise have been tempted to look for advice. In turn this gave me time to come to terms with an unsettling truth which I deciphered from the more adult themes of some of the endless sermons. Vicious spittle-flecked speeches denouncing the evils of men lying with men left me in little doubt that the same would apply to women had we been worthy of mention at all. I knew in a vague sort of way what ‘lying with’ meant; I was young and repressed not stupid.

By that time my inchoate childish feelings had started their transformation into the deeper more specific yearnings of adolescent attraction. I was watching girls and was even starting to recognise that I was developing a type – taller than me, more slender than me. It was obvious that the direction my development was taking was continuing to veer further out of line with the local status quo and while I was frightened of this because of the impact it was going to have on my life I was still fundamentally accepting of feelings and determined that everything was right with me and it was going to have to be the rest of the world which changed.

So I concluded that the solution was to leave which was unfortunately a really big deal. You’ve got to understand how small my world was at this point. Elverton is a tiny village in rural Kent, casino şirketleri maybe a thousand people in total and most if not all were members of the church. I knew there was a lot more to the world but i’d rarely spoken to anyone who lived outside the village I certainly didn’t know anyone. This wasn’t something I could handle all on my own. I couldn’t just get on a bus. So I came up with my plan and ironically I suppose I needed to find myself a man.

I’ve always been reasonably good at reading people and i’d noticed some interesting reactions in the congregation to the diatribes against homosexuality. Fervent righteous anger, while worryingly common, was no good to me but subdued fear is as easy to spot if you know what you are looking for and there were a few of those. Several far too old, one a little too young (and too female anyway) but one just right. I watched him for a few days to confirm my suspicions and then I tracked him down when he was on his own and sat down beside him.

He glanced over at me with mild curiosity and then away again so I went ahead and hit him with it. The force of will it took for me to release those first four words into the air was almost more than I could manage.

“I like girls Ben.”

He looked back at me baffled. “Ok right. That’s nice.”

“No Ben.” I said. “You’re not listening to me. I like girls. The same way you like boys.”

He tensed and his face closed up completely. “I don’t know what you are talking about and I don’t want to. Leave me alone ok?”

His reaction was very frustrating, but hardly surprising in the circumstances, I shouldn’t have expected anything else really. I pressed on.

“Right, fine. But look, this problem is not going away for either of us and I think you have enough common sense to have figured out that, people like us, we don’t get treated very well around here. I’ve spotted who it is that is catching your eye and figured you out so it’s only a matter of time before someone else does too. You go away and have a think about that and when you are ready come and find me and we’ll talk about how we are going to help each other.”

It took nearly two weeks in the end and I was a nervous wreck by then. I’d done my best to leave things so that he couldn’t say anything about me without drawing attention to himself but, you know what, people don’t always act in their own best interests. He did what he could to avoid me and I did my best not to seek him out so I didn’t see him much. When I did though it kept my hope alive as I caught him gazing over at me a few times making me think it was probably still on his mind.

I was sitting in the same place actually when someone sat down next to me. I looked over and there was Ben. He looked really upset and part of me wanted to give him some support but I just left him to it. I sometimes wonder about moments like that, whether if i’d given him more and strengthened our bond then he would have fought for me later.

Without looking around he muttered, “Sorry, you’re right. Ok what do you suggest.”

He seemed resigned to it rather than enthused but I could work with that.

“Well, I thought we should get married.” I replied

He nodded slowly. I was impressed actually, i’d thought he might object to that. “I can see how that might work. Less risk for both of us that way.”

“No.” my voice was a little louder than I had intended and I made a conscious effort to lower it. “That isn’t enough for me. I’m not just trying to switch this thing off and spending the rest of my life in hiding.”

“What do you mean, what then?”

“We get married, we move away together, find work, and then we both go and find the people we are supposed to be with. That’s the plan. Take it or leave it.”

So he griped a bit first but in the end he took it and we spent the next couple of years just getting on with growing up, talking whenever we could, exchanging gifts like couples do. We let everyone think what they were going to think and sure enough they did. Along the way we learned a lot about each other and shared confidences we couldn’t share with anyone else. How he thought Malcolm was the greatest thing on earth and would love to wrap his arms around him. How I thought Rachel was starting to look really attractive. How Ginny might be turning out to be one of us but she wasn’t my type.

We talked about how we would engineer our eventual departure. Ben’s family were still in occasional contact with relatives outside the church so essentially what we intended to do was to set ourselves up as a household and then petition a sympathetic uncle or aunt for support.

Part 2 – Change of Plan

Joanne Tulley died on the fourth of January. She’d been sickening for most of the previous year, getting thinner and weaker, and I suppose the cold weather was just too much. If she had only held on for another two months how different things might have been. We had agreed between us that Ben would speak to my father just before my birthday but Jacob was knocking on the door only a week after they buried his wife. Well he had casino firmaları three children under four years old didn’t he, he needed a housekeeper. It seems my father convinced himself that this would be the best match for me, although I do wonder what pressure might have been applied to help him reach that conclusion as Jacob was an influential figure in the church. I know it’s a sad thing that the best I can think of my father is that he might have been bullied into giving his daughter away to another man.

This was the end of my plan. When I was told (not asked of course) I kept myself together long enough to leave the house and then I went and found a place to sit and I let myself cry. Ginny found me there and I told her what little I could, my hope for a different life wrecked. I think she knew there was more, maybe she even guessed something of the specifics, I was fairly certain she was turning out gay too by that point but wasn’t sure if she even knew herself yet let alone knew how to spot someone else. Her family had only joined the church a few years ago though and she had spent most of her life as an outsider so who knew what mysteries she might know.

Ben dropped me completely. I can only ever remember speaking to him once or twice again after that day. Words had obviously been had as I saw him most days in church sitting across the aisle and he definitely avoided my stare. Looking at him he seemed reduced, just not looking at or interested in anything much at all and it struck me that the trap had sprung for him almost as catastrophically as it had for me. My frustrated anger at him mellowed to sympathy; he’d invested a lot of himself too. I hear he married Hannah in the end so I suppose I had been wrong about that too and he did learn how to make that other side of himself go away after all.

With my perspective now I must have fallen into a spell of depression then. I look back on the following months and all I can really bring to mind are long periods of misery punctuated by two major events.

First came the wedding in April. When a wedding is infused with love then it seems to me it can reach its very best and be the birth of a new belonging. The longstanding emotional bonds weaving each family together are acknowledged and celebrated side by side, in step one with the other until finally the two reach out gently and touch. This point of contact is physically manifested in the two central participants and creates, as they meet and merge, a third entity. Then this newborn entity, this dual individual, dances. And under the loving observation of all assembled spins off around a new common orbit celebrating its mutual belonging.

Mine wasn’t like that. Stripped of niceties the process was exposed for what it was, a brutal transfer of ownership, and when that had all been finalised I went back to my new home with my new owner.

To begin with his expectations of me were demanding but bearable. Keeping house and cookery were work I had been trained for. Looking after the children was harder even with the limited experience I had gained through having younger brothers and sisters. None of them wanted me there, they wanted their mum. Jacob didn’t want me there either he just wanted his house and children looking after and his Joanne back. I didn’t want to be there for sure.

Every single day was one long hard slog with no thanks at the end of it for a job well done or more often badly done. Despite my struggle, which I imagine must have been obvious, as the summer passed and the autumn started to draw in my husband’s expectations of me only became higher and higher. I suppose one day you could say it reached a tipping point. Afterwards as I was hopelessly trying to put myself back together I realised that this was it for me now, just one long hard painful journey from here until the end of my life.

So I lost myself for a while at the end of that day and when I found myself again it was all the wrong way around and I was looking in at my life as if from outside. I was undoubtedly hysterical in a quiet focused way, but it all seemed so straightforward at the time, I could just skip the journey. So I put the children to bed and then went through to the bedroom I had shared with my husband. I hitched the cord of my dressing gown over a beam in the ceiling, tied the other end around my neck and walked off the side of the bed.

****************

I woke in a place I didn’t understand. I had to speak to people, medical people to begin with. A doctor wanted to let me know that I was physically well and had suffered no long term damage but that she had to keep me in hospital for a while – I had been detained temporarily, for my own safety, because of something called the Mental Health Act.

A nurse called Anna came and took some basic details like my name and my age. I remembered her from before I was properly awake and was a bit shy about having been hugged so intimately by her while I was upset. She wanted to understand why I had hurt myself. I said that I hadn’t expected it to hurt but that didn’t seem to reassure her much. She güvenilir casino also mentioned that they had done some tests while I was asleep and someone else would be coming to talk to me about those.

When my next visitor arrived very soon afterwards she was striking, tall, straight black hair with a dark blue stripe through it, dressed very smartly in a charcoal grey trouser suit. She was treated differently and, although I may only have had a vague idea of what the police were, I knew authority when I saw it.

She did give me her full name but she asked me to call her Dione and that is all I remember now. She asked whether it was ok to call me Sarah and I said it was. Dione said she had worked with our community before. She used the formal name for the group which we rarely used amongst ourselves. I guessed that maybe she didn’t know us as well as she thought she did.

“Sarah,” she said, “I need you to understand some things. You are seventeen so you don’t have to go back home unless you want to. If you decide not to then I can help you to meet people who can support you in that decision.

“I also need you to know that your injuries, all of your injuries, have been assessed by your doctors and one of the reasons I am talking to you is that they are concerned you may have been assaulted. Is there anything you would like to say about that?”

I knew what she meant. I knew why i’d spoken to half a dozen different women since i’d woken up and they hadn’t even let a man into the room. I knew all about the pain between my legs. I explained that I had a husband and while I did so I did not cry. Instead I asked if, with that in mind, she could still make it so I didn’t have to go back.

Dione told me that assault could still take place within a marriage and I don’t know to this day why she didn’t try to push me any further after that. I’m not saying I put any blame on her for it, maybe she could see what I could, that this was a battle not worth fighting. Maybe she could see too that this information could be a weapon. One I could use, if I had to, to prevent them from trying to make me go home.

In the end it was my mother who came to see me. She was devastated by what I had done and wanting to know what had brought me to it. I couldn’t bear to let her know the truth so instead I just told her I didn’t want a husband and that maybe one day i’d want a wife. Inevitably, and predictably, she raised her voice to me and I cried again then for all sorts of reasons. It all gets so complicated that it is difficult to know exactly why. Partly I suppose it was because i’d been hurt, partly it was because I was leaving everyone I knew behind, partly it was even relief that in spite of the desolation of all my dreams for the future I was going to get away in the end after all. Lastly and most horribly though it was because i’d told my mother my deepest hidden secret and it had had the effect I had always known it would; it had made her not want me back. Sometimes losing and winning are so closely bound together that you can’t tell when one ends and the other begins.

I was moved to a psychiatric inpatients ward a couple of days after that as my physical injuries were fading. This was quite an introduction to the inhabitants of my new wider world. The people I found I was sharing the ward with seemed almost specifically to be the unsaved I had been taught to fear but then again so was I. Bearing in mind the way i’d been treated by some of the supposedly righteous I thought i’d try to keep an open mind about what a potential friend might look like in the future.

I was there for a couple of weeks which from what I could see was a pretty typical stay. As promised Dione had spoken to somebody on my behalf and during my second week on the ward she visited me again. She had spoken to an organisation called the Blossom Foundation which had been set up a long time ago to provide assistance to people who were leaving insular communities and to teach them how to live in the open society of the UK. It is funded by contributions from former clients and in fact a part of my wage every month still goes to them today. They were offering me a place to live which in the circumstances I had little choice but to accept.

Dione picked me up herself on the following morning when I left the ward. We travelled from the hospital to the Foundation’s residential home, Errwood, by bus which took most of the day. It would have been faster by car of course but for me this was all further familiarisation with the outside world so I didn’t mind. Looking out the window on the way I remember the main thing which struck me was that I’d had no idea there could be so many people.

Errwood was largely composed of the old stone workers’ cottages in the grounds of Errwood Hall the stately home in the Sussex countryside after which it was named. Most of the cottages had been renovated for accommodation and there was a central building, a converted barn, which was split into several communal areas as well as the canteen where we cooked and ate. There was a yurt set up in the paddock for more meditative private relaxation. The community was small with I think about thirty people in residence when I arrived and space for another ten more. In a lot of ways the place seemed very similar to home aside for the notable absence of a church.

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