the autogeography of a no/body
Jun 29

love and affection

Between the age of eighteen and nineteen I was single. Not celibate, single. I had a great time. Living in my first house-share, surviving on bad bolognaise, learning how to stand on my own two feet, mostly by falling flat on my face. Yes. Those were the days, when summer meant a kind of freedom, because I was still young enough and daft enough to believe in such warmth. Kick off your shoes, dance in the street; and I did, thinking hot concrete paving slabs were a luxurious feather feed. Everything tickled me.

In late August I went to visit my sister in Israel. I’d not been before, so she made a fuss, a big fuss. I was taken to the caves by the Lebanese border, Megiddo, Metzada, the Galil, a nature reserve full of frisky ostriches who kept trying to fuck our large, black car and, finally, Eilat, where my brother-in-law attempted to smuggle some fire coral out of the sea in his swimming shorts only to discover exactly why it’s called fire coral.

My sister’s second child, a girl, was six weeks old. Pretty thing. And I love babies, always have. I played with her, sang to her. She liked my rendition of Paul Simon’s ‘Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes’. I didn’t know the words. It doesn’t matter with a baby. ‘Oh wah, oh wah, oh wah, oh wah, a-tri-aling aling aling ganja’. She smiled as I lay back, holding her up in the air above my head, wondering if my sister had noticed I’d just said the word ‘ganja’.

We sat by the pool, slapped out out sun loungers, diving into the water or shade every ten minutes or so. It was hot, fucking hot. Coming out of the hotel room was like putting your head into a blast furnace – apparently, but I’ve never even seen a blast furnace let alone put my head in one. I like heat that sucks the air out of your lungs and turns it to chalk in your mouth. It feels big. And big feels real. And real feels like you’re living it, right down in your belly and boots.

I wasn’t wearing boots.

There was music, piped over an intellectually sensitive stereo, tinkling along with the water and shadows and trickling sweat. Oh yes. And it was designed to add to the experience, because anything that detracted would have been terribly something, Eastern European I think, Ashkenazi perhaps, although such a word sounds so wonderfully romantic, stuffed as it is with history and verbosity (the two go hand in hand). We’re white here. White and sizzling, like sausages, kosher sausages.

Drenched in heat I lay perfectly still. My sister’s eldest child, a two year old boy, moved around in abstract play circles. There was a towel on his head. He kept rearranging the plastic furniture. “Mamma, mamma,” looking for her to respond, reassure. She smiled back at him, poked his fat tummy, at one point snatched him up and pulled him close to her, put her mouth in his neck, blew raspberries, and he squealed, wriggled out of her clutches, collapsed onto the ground, kicking, writhing and laughing as if he was going to be sick, but she wouldn’t let him go, she just wouldn’t, and I thought maybe his squeals were becoming screams, convulsive, as she folded him up in her arms and covered him with her body.

“I love you, I love you, I love you,” she said, over and over again, burying her face in his curly brown hair. She clung to him. I watched his chubby hands, knuckles inverted to form dimples, soft finger nails, trying to scrabble away. After a minute she let him escape and he ran, flat footedly, to the edge of the pool, her eyes trailing after him, measuring the distance of her concern.

Sensing my gaze, she turned briefly to match it with her own. We rarely looked directly at one another, maybe because we thought we’d already seen everything there was, mirror wise, family wise. Don’t know. My brother-in-law drifted into view, wearing a battered panama. It was fine. The scene. Complete. And then the music, Joan Armatrading singing ‘Love and Affection’. I’d never heard it before. Such sweet tones, bleeding out into the heat, reflecting off the water, echoing and contrasting, the way that summer does. And I was there, hot, watching, letting my body sink into the whole thing. I was really there man, uncorpsed, listening. It’s not often you’re present, totally. Some part of you always wanders off, to find a missing bit, because we’re fractured, you know, broken up, as if the relationship with ourselves has already gone bad.

So I heard this love song, at a time I wasn’t in love, at a time when I was, well, I was just myself. How often are we just ourselves? Phew. I don’t know. Validity is a strange concept. I remember seeing Snow White when I was seven or something. ‘Mirror mirror on the wall …’. Yeah. Maybe we’re like the troll under the hill who covers up his eyes and thinks everyone’s disappeared, in reverse, if you get what I mean. If he knew folks could see him then he’d know he existed. Tenuous. It’s all so fucking tenuous.

Love is tenuous.

I had this boyfriend once and I told him I loved him, he turned right around and said ‘You can’t love anyone until you learn to love yourself’. He wasn’t wrong. And there was this other guy. I said ‘I won’t let you break my heart.’ And he said ‘You’re already broken, I’m just playing with the pieces’.

I’ve carried this song with me for years because it’s mine. I don’t think you get to understand love by sucking it out of another person, no matter how soft and squelchy their neck is. No sir. Love is something you give, not something you take. It’s not about anyone else. But this is my song, my love song to myself. It’s precious to me for that reason. Because it’s self defining.

I’m forty this year. Forty fucking years old. Jesus, how did that happen? I heard it quite by accident last night, after midnight, full of red wine, half sitting on the sofa (we’ll avoid the word ‘slumped’). And the span of everything in between: marriage, kids, various outbursts of debilitating insanity, the death of both of my parents, sometimes being broke, sometimes being flush, three cats, friends who’ve died. Life’s a tricky business innit? I heard it and just KNEW, I remembered. It’s not about being alone or self sufficient, it’s about knowing who you are and why you are, independent of everyone and anything else.

So, I’d like to dedicate this song to myself and all those of us who’ve made it, made it possible, because we understood what love was and what love wasn’t, because we dared to love ourselves and dared to do it by ourselves. It’s hard. Yeah. It’s really fucking hard. We weren’t wrong though, we just forgot somewhere along the line, what it meant to dance bare foot on hot concrete. It’s summer. Kick off your shoes.



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