Look, today has been a Tuesday you couldn’t fix no matter what, and on Thursday I said I would make it a good one. I do this a lot. I plan things out in my mind and I will them to live up to expectations. Today was different, though, today I know where I went wrong and why Tuesday crumbled.
It started, I suppose, with the real mistake being the fact I spent the weekend packing for our journey, when I should have been reading Emilia Galotti, act 3, past its second scene.
You wouldn’t do it, so it fell to me. I like ticking off lists, and I like anticipation, so I complied – I wouldn’t say I volunteered. I have more suitcases. I have more stamina. I wanted this time to work out. And I am arguably far more worldly! I don’t need to leave Europe to prove that to you. I have explored Greece, and I have dragged my life between two countries for so long, and when we went to Berlin I was the one that told you all about the abandoned airport lanes we could cycle down. I think that was another journey I had a few weeks ago, just before waking up to realise I was sleeping on my notes about Inferno. It felt less real because too much of it was about me, about the woe-infused Canto I’d gone and read. I was too wistful. So I have decided the best way to make these trips last is for them to retain more of others involved.
I packed up all the items I needed: inevitably, plasters, and a sewing kit for my heart just in case the cuts were bigger than expected and needed stitches, and a survival box should we get lost in a forest of foreign vocabulary and misunderstandings. The box contained a smile to proffer whenever I am suppressing my nasty competitive side and my impulsive need to will others to please all feel and think and do what I do, a jar of artichokes, a phrasebook, and a list of things that I know are true about this journey.
The things that are true about this journey are, for instance, that we both want to go sailing, and that it will last a whole week, and that our itinerary will be one that includes sightseeing and dips in the ocean and into the people and customs of the different towns we visit, but also serenity and evening conversations, just us. I have fixed this list on the front of our box, one to read over and over as I make my way towards you.
However, this box also helps me when the planning dream dissolves and I am back to my agonising everyday trudging through silence. But that’s not what I want to think about, I want to go back to the planning. You just needed a book, a shirt, a few pencils, that terrible perfume you wear. I’ve let you tell me exactly what you need – you need to be the captain of our sailing boat or the trip just won’t last as long as I want it to – and it’s a sparse collection of items. It’s almost pathetic how little you decide to bring along.
Yet you’re also, amazingly, too practical. I told you to put aside the Tupperware, that we wouldn’t need a tent, and that I don’t hog duvets, that we don’t need two. Please don’t tell me you’re you bringing a map, we won’t need it when we sail there, it will be a short journey every time. Town to town, port to beach. I will throw my heart into the Channel and you’ll swim after it, pursuing it, while I sail behind you. I should be the one worrying about being stranded in the deep blue enormous slither of ocean. It feels fair to make you the swimmer and myself the sailer before we both get to sail. Last time, Berlin lasted just a few hours, and I wasted most of them in my dream airport, so I didn’t want to take any chances in swimming.This plan has been reread so many times, and you should know by now.
You should know every detail: how we’ll sit around with our patterned plates and sea air, how I’ll convince you that we should listen to compilations if they’re BBC proms and how you’ll finally read Lydia Davis, because every man I recommend her to doesn’t get her. I know that this time it’ll be different, we’ll read her and we’ll laugh and you’ll hold her blue book as you slowly make your way back from the shore while I fold up our towels and resist scratching a mosquito bite on my shoulder, because you once told me if I kept scratching my arm there’d be nothing left to lean on in my sleep. It did work out this way, but on day three, I told you I knew it, I hated the language, I knew I wouldn’t like the words around me slapping me as much as the sea air. Why should the understanding be one sided? This isn’t fair, I said, we should have gone to the Black Forest; you laughed at me and said, who honeymoons and ziplines? So I gave up. This journey is not about me, and it isn’t about us. In that sense, I suppose it’s best for one-sidedness to dominate than for neither of us to understand.
I was in the middle of thinking of whether we should rent a pedalo in Monaco on the Saturday afternoon when you started to fade. The perfume I put up with suddenly seemed to merge with our surroundings until I was suffocated by lavender, and the ragged shorts darkened their light denim colour. It was very peculiar. As the shorts darkened, your hair lightened. I couldn’t make you out anymore. Our villa became my desk. You glittered and whooshed and dissolved. No traces were left, and I recognised the dreaded sense of emptiness I had been greeted by when Berlin had gone wrong. No one to tell, especially you. So I had to let it go. I had to go back to this evening after this disaster of a day, and plan for Wednesday morning – interact with you, get my errands done, tell you all about my silly dream, only it isn’t about you and it’s set elsewhere.
Yet I must confess I couldn’t understand what I’d failed in this time. I tormented myself over the ingredients of the sailing trip while lying in bed on Monday night. The mixing bowl of our journey had involved so much of you, your vices, your mannerisms and your niggles. It had risen well, and baked gloriously in my mind. I had kept my brain well away from it, and you’d given my heart back to me after you emerged from the sea with it – no bitter aftertaste to be spotted anywhere at all. Why couldn’t these getaways ever last quite as long as I wanted to? And then it dawned on me. It was obvious, painfully so, and it was entirely my fault. I chose the destination.