You would have thought I’d have learned by now, but forward planning is not something I should entertain as much as I do. Or rather, planning with the expectation that dreams will come true, wishes will materialise or the experience pathways mapped out in books and films will necessarily be those I share. It is possible that I am reading the wrong books and films but I am beginning to realise that its not the events in peoples fiction or biographical journeys that I share, but the humanity and emotional experience that is common.
This morning as my mind surfaced into a new day from dreamless slumber like a hatching chick pecks away at shards of shell before emerging fully although unceremoniously into its new world, I was aware I had carried through sleep a sadness, a disappointment, and a dull ache of longing. Last night, arriving home softened around the edges by some drink, music and pleasant company I was tempted onto the net. I knew what I was doing, searching for her in the stars, and before I knew it she was there, a friend of friend of a friend. The blood around her eyes and the black choker was of course part of her Halloween costume but she looked like she had been crying from a deep wound. How could she be, amongst all her friends? And there, in every picture was her partner; the man she had know all her life, who was good to her, who she should be with.
Despite the evening’s fun I could not help but feel the breath go out of me, a physical deflation. Could she have meant those words, the last she sent me? I had not remembered the time we spent together in the same way she did. The connection I had felt, the energy and possibilities in a moment. The desire. She had not felt these things. Yet I could not forget the four days and three nights we had spent together, barely sleeping, sat huddled against the cold in an armchair by the fire, watched over by a Mother Oak and a canopy of stars shot through with meteorites. We had danced, we had walked amongst the fields, we had kissed and she had spoken to me of dreams, and in them she was with me.
This morning I wished I was still in that chair by the fire, her small body in my arms, my cold nose snuffled in her dark hair. I would have quite happily expired on that last morning, because I knew what I wanted would not be if I went back into the real world..
The pain I felt, I still feel although through self preservation I think about it less now, was born the moment I realised I had something I didn’t want to lose. I wanted to possess her, keep the experience of those days, the perfect days, alive in my life. We had shared ideas, living together, living with the earth, children. I wanted to see her dark, Iberian eyes in my children. I could not, cannot, let the experience live as a moment in time. I was so happy in those few days and now everything else seems just a lit bit less colourful. I am afraid I will never have another experience like that in my life, and now I can’t imagine meeting someone I will feel so intoxicated, and so masculinised by.
The failure of life to live up to Expectations has led me more to confusion and loss of direction than outright anger. I’m not a petulant child that threw arm-flapping tantrums when expectations weren’t met- or at least not any more, although the “chicken dance” was an early favourite of mine, accompanied by clucks of “its..not..FAIR” each word reinforced with an exhalation on the downward stroke of my arms, the pressure on my ribcage and lungs acting like a pair of biologically constructed bellows.
I failed to meet the grade in my early ambition to become a fighter pilot in the RAF. I couldn’t understand why after years of Airfix modelling kits, visiting airshows, viewings of every war film ever made but especially The Battle of Britain, The Dam Busters and 633 Squadron, did not eminently qualify me for my Wings. I even kept a small book with the Squadron Codes of the US Armed Forces listing all the jets they flew, what more could I have done? I didn’t realise, nor was I really prepared for this by my parents or my school, that the skills the RAF were actually looking for were the ability to do simultaneous equations whilst standing on your head, strong leadership skills and attendance at public school. I was physically, emotionally and socially unprepared and after one day at Officer Selection at Biggin Hill I failed every test spectacularly. I didn’t realise then but on the lonely train journey home, I had fallen off the Cliff of Expectation and was plummeting in a freefall into a future without dreams or even boundaries to direct me. I spent the next 13 years wallowing in a directionless void attempting to find an identity and a course for my life that would fulfil my dreams and desires.
Meanwhile those dreams and desires where manifestly more Expectations but this time they were subconscious pressures, mythical albatross that had piled up around my neck like the neck rings of the Kayan lahwi tibeswomen. I was, I am, driven by an urge to accomplish, to drive forward that is so consuming that I rarely find it possible to celebrate my achievements or rest on my laurels. There is always something more to strive for. I’m never quite where I want to be and happiness is something I will experience when I am there, not here. Happiness was something that would be mine when I had got myself back into university to study, then only after I had my Master’s degree; then I had to be using my master’s degree in the best job possible where I was really making a difference. Now I don’t know whether I am making a difference, and the pace of change certainly isn’t fast enough. I have also lost my partner and my dog and the house in the woods that we lived in, and I can’t be happy until I have that back, or at least something like it.
My life is ruled by expectations of happiness to come. For some reason I find it supremely difficult to celebrate the here and now, the small achievements.