“Try to keep two people who love each other, apart.” Twisting and turning the radio dial, tripping through transmission after transmission, backwards and forwards, and then again, desperately searching for a distraction. Going through the inevitable breakdown of an already crumbling relationship, it was the last thing a person would want to hear. I cried into the steering wheel. I did love him, or so I thought.
It was a brilliant partnership. Me, the creative, him, the realist. We had a beautiful house, a wonderful life, four collectors cars and an extra piece of land to boot. One evening, he picked up a red onion off the kitchen counter and held it up to the light as someone would a Faberge egg. Scrutinising its size and shape, the corners of his mouth sank even lower as he breathed slowly and evenly through his nose. Black eyes fixed in the reflection of the bulb burning above his head, he asked me where I had bought the red onion and how much I had paid for it. Confused, I stammered in surprise, shock even, at such a question. As I tried to form a reply, he threw it at me. The onion hit me square on the forehead, snapping my head back. It became a regular feature in my house. If he was not aiming food at me, he was smearing the dining room walls with it instead. When he was not attempting both at the same time, he forced me to watch him eat while I sat alone with an empty plate at the opposite end of the table. The words, “look what you have made me do now” still ring in my ears more than a decade on. Some months after, I finally advised him to close the door behind him. I discovered he had been sleeping with my next door neighbour while I was doing a five-days a week, four-hour commute to Oxford and back. Sometimes, it was seven-days in a row. I found them sitting on the kerb one Saturday afternoon, drinking white wine and eating flame red grapes in the English summer sunshine. All I had been doing was chasing fluffy white clouds in my head and my last cry for help came in the form of a nervous breakdown. Apparently, it was minor. Clumps of blonde hair lined the pink silk pillows on my unmade bed, and tears of cold sweat snaked in-between my breasts, running down and past my midriff. The back of my neck was permanently sopping wet, and it would sink further and deeper into the damp, ugly mattress that I once naively shared with the Devil, night after night. My voice didn’t sound the same, not that it mattered as I was barely able to speak. A benign tremor attacked my left hand out of nowhere and I was convinced I had lost all rhythm when I tried to walk. My dream machine took another turn for the worse. The family dog was sitting outside filthy, dirty stalls in the middle of a forest. There were twelve cubicles in total. They were smeared and stained with dried urine and faeces, the once white doors were hanging by a thread, the toilet bowls chipped and cracked. On seeing me, she started to wag her tail hard in a helicopter motion and at that very moment, I felt like she was the only living creature that had ever truly loved me. Holding out my hand to stroke her, a man appeared in the background. This time he stared straight at me. I started as I suddenly realised I was approaching my final chapter. This was it: The End. He was swarthy in appearance. Black eyes and hair to match, he wrapped his strong, olive-skinned hands around my neck and started to squeeze. The dog had disappeared. My toes were barely touching the ground. I could still feel the pressure of his fingertips on my throat as I shook myself awake. Ever since, a fear of choking has been a constant companion. At the time, certain people told me I was overly sensitive and took everything too much to heart as they thoroughly enjoyed watching my life crash and burn in what felt like slow motion. They asked, “Elle, where did the love go?” Holding my silence, my thought bubble would spell out, “Where did the music go?” in reply. The Devil has visited me time and again over the years, twisting a rusting, emotionally worn out key in a door I have been locked behind for years. It does not even have a handle.
Forever observing what I believe to be the final credits of my life roll by, I sat in a cocktail bar in Berlin one Tuesday evening and glanced someone I know nuzzle another across the table. I made an innocent comment. The reply was textbook: Nuzzle is not onomatopoeic. It seems you cannot hear someone nuzzle. I could smell the deep affection that was once as familiar as morning coffee, that velvet touch as they stroke your hair, the melt and smoothness of the first throes of love. Whether you like it or not, I heard you ‘nuzzle’. That moment when you have no choice. That split second when you cannot resist, stop yourself from doing in public what is usually reserved for a film script. It is the only time we stop thinking about death. It was almost like the sound of silk when it shuffles. The feel of scrunched up taffeta when you gather the final folds of your scarlet red ballgown from around your feet before descending a sweeping staircase. Eyes closed for a few seconds, nothing else exists. Except for the silent voices playing out inside your head. My public humiliation on being corrected only served to make me see who you are.
Most days, I telephone my mother. When she finally answers, I always say, “It is only me.” She always replies, “Yes. I know it is only you.”