Main Diary of an Oxygen Thief
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I saw it on TikTok, I’ll come back when I’m done reading it
20 April 2021 (04:59)
Yeye saw it on tiktok as well. Pretty good so far
20 April 2021 (16:00)
also came from tiktok. apparently it’s unsettling? will come back after reading.
20 April 2021 (16:16)
i also came from tiktok :) this shit better make me sad or else ion want it
20 April 2021 (19:53)
i also came from tik tok and if it doesn't make me cry i will be disappointed
20 April 2021 (20:07)
didn't come from tiktok but this book was recommended to me, but it better be as sad as i heard or i want my time back
20 April 2021 (20:38)
so we’re all just here from tiktok?
20 April 2021 (20:50)
finished the book in a day because i was so immersed into it. you’ll get that sad feeling after finishing it as it kinda hits you with a reality check, makes me wish that this book was never ending but i’m also glad that the author got bitch slapped with karma.
21 April 2021 (00:30)
I saw it on Tiktok I’ll see if it’s good
27 April 2021 (00:41)
Lmao I also saw this on Tiktok and if it didn’t make me cry I’ll b very mad, I’ll update when I’m done :)
27 April 2021 (05:27)
i’m also from tiktok lawl, i can’t w8 to read it
28 April 2021 (00:57)
i’m also from tiktok but i don’t know how to download this shit
28 April 2021 (02:10)
Yo I'm from tumblr 2015
28 April 2021 (16:47)
how do i read this im new to the website
29 April 2021 (19:26)
like the rest of you, i also came from tiktok. will lyk if its good
30 April 2021 (23:16)
tiktok? gonna update yall
01 May 2021 (02:08)
hey so I'm already 83 pages in I'm almost done with the book so I will be sure to update in a lil bit!
01 May 2021 (21:03)
Yo i'm here form tiktok
04 May 2021 (16:06)
SAME. IM FROM TIKTOK
06 May 2021 (15:19)
i’m here from tiktok also lol
06 May 2021 (19:29)
Talina, you have to press the blue download button.
06 May 2021 (21:12)
Everyone from tiktok huh
08 May 2021 (22:42)
Saw on tiktok, brb after reading
09 May 2021 (17:48)
So we're all here from tiktok
09 May 2021 (19:51)
For those who can't read, try downloading an ebook reader, it worked for me
14 May 2021 (16:02)
Here from tiktok or whatever *rolls eyes*
14 May 2021 (23:37)
Here from Tik Tok Lmaooo
19 May 2021 (06:15)
damn well all here from tik tok
19 May 2021 (22:30)
From TikTokkk I’ll be back when I’m done reading
26 May 2021 (03:28)
here from Tik Tok too
26 May 2021 (07:47)
Hmm. I kindaaa like it but a lil bit disappointed that it didnt make me cry. I was just feeling sad.
29 May 2021 (17:17)
So many of us here from tik tok. lmao
30 May 2021 (16:51)
ok i’m here from tiktok also :)
31 May 2021 (08:55)
From tiktok too lmao
01 June 2021 (23:30)
this book made me a misandrist
10 June 2021 (13:20)
why are so many of us here because of tiktok haha
11 June 2021 (07:05)
this book OMGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGG
13 June 2021 (20:58)
Y'all need to update
So how was it??
So how was it??
22 June 2021 (16:43)
i came from Pinterest the title of the book intrigued me so i decided to check it out i assumed it wouldn't be here but its here and has more comments than any other book I've seen
25 June 2021 (06:31)
Did we all see the same tik tok small world ehh
26 June 2021 (02:47)
Saw it in tiktok. Hope it makes me feel something.
07 July 2021 (07:14)
omg i didn't expect to see so many ppl from tiktok as well ?
08 July 2021 (00:51)
Lmao I came from tiktok and i have mixed feelings. This shit with the creepy cover better be good
18 July 2021 (01:13)
We all here from tik tok? Really?
23 July 2021 (04:54)
Here from tiktokkkkkkk ?
23 July 2021 (14:24)
AHAHAHA why is everyone here from tiktok as well?
23 July 2021 (14:26)
I am here from tiktok ;)
23 July 2021 (15:32)
we’re all bc of tiktok
28 July 2021 (18:40)
DIARY OF AN OXYGEN THIEF ANONYMOUS Copyright 20II V Publishing Published by V Publishing at Smashwords “Artsy, swoon-worthy and kinky.” New York Magazine “I loved this book. The writer does a great job.” Junot Diaz, author of The Brief And Wondrous Life Of Oscar Wao “F Scott Fitzgerald for the iPod generation.” Richard Nash, Editor Soft Skull Publishing “I don't know whether to be flattered or outraged but as I read these pages I felt gratitude. It's hard to find work so drenched in honesty and I was glad for the chance to read it. I think the author is a decent unafraid writer, and that's rare. And as an editor I think the writing demonstrates a raw honesty and humour.” Molly Stern, Senior Editor at Penguin Books “Terrific and genuinely spooky.” Caroline Marshall, Editor of Campaign London “First he steals the oxygen from you, then he spits it back in your face. One of the most interesting and controversial encounters I've made through a book.” Lorenzo DeRita, Editor of COLORS Rome “A great. finely tuned, funny, unique, and oftentimes poetic voice. The sections about St LaCroix are particularly amusing.” Eric Obenauf, Publisher Two Dollar Radio, Brooklyn “Women seem to be very fond of this book. It's a surprise dark-horse Williamsburg bestseller.” Jonas Kyle, Spoonbill & Sugartown Booksellers I liked hurting girls. Mentally not physically, I never hit a girl in my life. Well once. But that was a mistake. I'll tell you about it later. The thing is, I got off on it. I really enjoyed it. It's like when you hear serial killers say they feel no regret, no remorse for all the people they killed. I was like that. Loved it. I didn't care how long it took either because I was in no hurry. I'd wait until they were totally in love with me. Till the big saucer eyes were looking at me. I loved the shock on their faces. Then the glaze as they tried to hide how much I was hurting them. And it was legal. I think I killed a few of them. Their soul; s I mean. It was their souls I was after. I know I came close a couple of times. But don't worry, I got my comeuppance. That's why I'm telling you this. Justice was done. Balance has been restored The same thing happened to me, only worse. Worse because it happened to me. I feel purged now, you see. Cleansed. I've been punished, so it's okay to talk about it all. At least, that's how it seems to me. I carried the guilt of my crimes around with me for years after I stopped drinking. I couldn't even look at a girl, much less believe I deserved to converse with one. Or maybe I was just afraid that they'd see through me. Either way, after getting into Alcoholics Anonymous I didn't even kiss a girl for five years. Seriously. Not so much as holding hands. I meant business. I think I always knew deep down I had a drinking problem. I just never got around to admitting it. I drank purely for effect. But then, as far as I was concerned, wasn’t everyone doing the same thing? I started to realize something was wrong when I began to get beaten up. My mouth always got me into trouble, of course. I'd go up to the biggest guy in the place and look up his nostrils and call him a faggot. And then when he'd head-butt me, I'd say, “Call that a head-butt?’ So the guy would do it again harder. The second time I'd have less to say. One of my ‘victims’ stuck my head on an electric cooker-ring. In Limerick. Stab City. I was lucky to get out of that house alive. He'd done it, though, because I'd been taking the pith out of hiths listhp. Maybe that's why I moved on to girls. More sophisticated, doncha know. And girls wouldn't beat me up. They'd just stare at me in disbelief and shock. Their eyes, you see. All the pretense and rules dissolved away. There was just the two of us and the pain. All those intimate moments, every little sigh, those gentle touches, the lovemaking, the confidences, the orgasms, the attempted orgasms, all mere fuel. The deeper in they were, the more beautiful they looked when the moment came. And I lived for the moment. I was working freelance in advertising all through this period in London. As an art director. A contradiction in terms if ever there was one. It’s what I still do today. Strangely, I was always able to get money. Even in art school, I got a grant because my dad had just retired and I suddenly became eligible. And after that I got job after job without too much trouble. I never looked like a drunk, I just was one, and anyway in those days advertising was a far more boozy affair than it is today. Because I was freelance I could be my own man, so to speak, and I would keep myself busy by ensuring I had dates lined up. None of the girls were supposed to know this. The idea was to have an impressive queue so that when one girl neared maturity, usually after about three or four dates with some phone calls in between, another would be introduced. Then as one went onto the scrap heap, a new one would take her place. Nothing unusual about my method, everyone did it. But I enjoyed it so much. Not the sex or even the conquest, but the causing of pain. It was after my crazy night with Pen (more on that in a minute) that I realized I had found my niche in life. Somehow I was able to lure these creatures into my lair. Half the time I was trying to push them away, but it only had the opposite effect. And the fact that they were attracted to a piece of shit like me made me hate them even more than if they’d laughed in my face and walked away. As for looks? I’m nothing special but I’m told I have beautiful eyes. Eyes from which nothing but truth could possibly seep. They say the sea is actually black and that it merely reflects the blue sky above. So it was with me. I allowed you to admire yourself in my eyes. I provided a service. I listened and listened and listened. You stored yourself in me. Nothing had ever felt so right to me. If I'm honest, even today I miss hurting. I’m not cured of it but I don’t set out to systematically dismantle like I used to. I don't miss the booze half as much. Oh to hurt again. Since those heady days I heard an adage, which seems to apply here, "Hurt people hurt people." I see now that I was in pain and wanted others to feel it, too. This was my way of communicating. I'd meet the women the first night and get the obligatory phone number and then after another couple of days, making them sweat a little, I’d call and be all nervous. They loved that. I'd ask them out and pretend I hardly ever did "this kind of thing" and say that I hadn't been out a lot in London because I didn't really know the scene. This was true though, because all I used to do was get out of my head in local bars around Camberwell. We'd agree to meet somewhere. I liked Greenwich, with the river and the boats and, of course the pubs. And it had a great boyfriend-girlfriend feel. Nice and respectable. I'd be half out of it before we even met but I'd be witty and charming and boyish and shaking. Trying to put me at ease, they'd smile and comment on my trembling, thinking I was nervous to create a good impression. Because I wasn't getting in enough booze my very being would shudder. I'd have to order two large Jamesons at the counter for her every half-lager. I'd down the Jimmys without her seeing and then on with the show. Lovely. I didn't really care if I got them into bed or not. I just wanted some company while I got pissed, while I waited for the courage to hurt to well up in me. And they seemed pleased because I wasn't trying to grope them. Sometimes I would. But mostly I'd be fairly well behaved. This would go on for a few dates. In the meantime I would encourage them to tell me about themselves. This is very important for the successful moment later. The more they confided and invested in you, the deeper the shock and the more satisfying the moment at the end. So, I'd be told of their dog's habits, their teddy bear’s names, their father's moods, their mother's fears. Did I like kids? How many brothers and sisters did I have? A sit-com I had to sit through. But it was okay, because I knew I’d be writing her out of the series. She’d talk, and talk, and talk and I'd nod. Raise a strategic eyebrow. Grimace when necessary. Guffaw or feign shock, whatever was required. I’d watch people in conversation and record their facial expressions. Interest: Raise one eyebrow and raise or lower the other depending on the conversation. Attraction: Try to blush. Not easy this (thoughts of what I was going to do to her later helped). And a blush usually begot a blush. That is if I could muster a blush, she was more than likely to blush back. Sympathy: Crinkle the forehead and nod gently. Charmed: Cock your head to one side and smile apologetically. I'd supply these pre-fab masks on cue. It was easy. It was enjoyable. Guys did it all the time to get laid. I did it to get even. Unkind to Womankind. That was my mission. Around this time I discovered the meaning of the word “misogynist.” I remember thinking it hilarious that it had “Miss” as a prefix. All I know is, I felt better when I saw someone else in pain. But of course, they would often hide how much I had hurt them. Yes, it was a challenge in itself to help her externalize her feelings, but also bloody frustrating to have gone to all that trouble and then not be able to enjoy a dramatic playback. That's why it became necessary to condense everything into the one demonstrative moment. Sophie was from South London. She used to do the make-up for Angus Brady on the comedy show, Aren’t You Glad To See Me? I met her at a Camberwell Art School party that I had crashed. After her, there was that designer girl — whose name I honestly can’t remember – who I’m sure I hurt very deeply because she never called me back. Funny that because even though I never met her again or even heard her say another word I knew she had it bad. How do I know? I know. There was Jenny. She was the one who threw the beer in my face. I was thrilled to have had a hand in causing so much rage. Then came Emily. But she doesn’t really count because she was as good if not better at whatever this is than I was. I kind of fell for her. Laura was somewhere in there. An ex-band-manager with a superb arse that had survived a young son. I woke up one morning and there was an eight-year-old boy watching as I tried to extricate myself from the freckled tentacles of his comatose mother. And then after he guilted me into walking him to school, I got the feeling that mother and son made full use of the men that passed through their lives. Like the Native American and the Buffalo, The Eskimo and the Seal, The Welfare Mother and Me. And the one who started it all. Penelope Arlington. I’d been going out with her for four and a half years. Long time. She’d been nice to me. Nicer to me than any other girl had ever been. When I spoke she turned her head towards me and seemed to abandon herself to the meaning of my words. I liked that. It was only much later that I found out she was terrible in bed. At the time I thought she was wanton. She wasn’t. But she’s the one I regret hurting the most. Why? Because she didn’t deserve it. Not that the others did but she wouldn’t have left me if I hadn’t ripped her apart. And I needed her to leave me because she was getting in the way of my drinking. And one night I just cracked up. It’d been bubbling for ages. Simmer simmer, bubble, stew…gurgle. I got completely fizzingly-drunk and this whole chain of events began to rattle. Why would anyone set out to break the heart of someone they loved? Why would anyone intentionally cause that kind of pain? Why did people kill each other? Because they enjoyed it. Was it really that simple? To achieve a soul-shattering, it is better if the perpetrator has been through the same experience. Hurt people hurt people more skillfully. An expert heartbreaker knows the effect of each incision. The blade slips in barely noticed, the pain and the apology delivered at the same time. I had grown tired of the girl I was going out with for four and a half years. I loved her. That was the awful thing about what I’m going to tell you.The possibility exists that she’s out there somewhere reading this right now. The rest of you turn your heads away, the next bit is for her only. Pen, I’m so sorry. I needed to hurt you. I knew we were coming to an end. I knew you had started to despise me. You tried to hide how you felt, but it rippled across your face. Disgust. I began to hate you for not having the courage to tell me what you really thought of me. So I had to make up your mind for you. The rest of you can look now. It was a Friday night in a pub in Victoria Park. I was out of work early. Yet another ad agency where yet another clutch of concepts had been mass-murdered by yet another ham-fisted creative director. I was sure of one thing. I needed to get soaringly drunk, so I downed pints of beer at an alarming rate. The wizened barman seemed concerned. Then whiskey. By 7:30pm I was stumbling. I was to meet Penelope at 8pm I had to walk my bicycle around to where we were meeting. Another pub naturally. Anger. Boredom. Drunkeness. A bad combination. I began with something like this. “How can I dismantle four years?” Her quizzical look was followed by an evasion in the form of…“Like my new blouse?” “Looks. Like. A. Table. Cloth.” Hurt look followed by… “Another?” More booze. That would usually work. “Girlfriend? Yes please.” Not so much hurt now, as bored. Looking around the pub. Silence. Then she said, “Let’s go somewhere else.” That would usually work, too. But I’d decided that tonight it wasn’t going to. Not tonight. Tonight we were going all the way. This was just the perimeter, the initial sandbags of defense. My svelte band of emotional terrorists skipped mischievously over these insults to their training. “Sure. Let’s go somewhere else.” I resolved to say nothing between this pub and the next. I succeeded. She was trembling now. Unsure. I was trembling, too. From excitement. She ordered some drinks from the bar. Fucked if I was paying for them, and I grabbed a seat at a circular table, over-ogling other girls. She saw me. She was supposed to. Still no reaction. There were four and a half years at stake here. Mostly good. Why wouldn’t she allow me one off night? But that’s what was so exciting. I’d decided. And she couldn’t see what was in my head. The picture of me having sex with that white-skinned blue-veined prostitute with only one breast. I knew I could cripple Pen. She could probably cripple me, too, but she wouldn’t because I was going to do it to her first. Why, though? I knew it didn’t make sense. I did love her in my own way. Very much. She was beautiful and fun and caring but I was bored…so bored. I had to think of other girls to get a hard-on. I didn’t want to start the long arduous road to her orgasm, let alone mine. Afraid to touch her in case it was mistaken for an application for sex. So, in order to feel something through the numbness, I decided to perpetrate on my soul and hers the equivalent of quenching cigarettes on my paralyzed limbs. My hope was that if I registered pain, it would be welcomed as a sign of life. Or maybe I was just drunk. Either way, my resolve had hardened and I said this, “This is what I look like when I’m pretending to listen to your boring conversation.” I froze my sweetest expression with my innocent blues eyes widening in pseudo-interest, the same expression I’d used on teachers. Pen eyed me with suspicion. Here was something new. I turned my face away, like an impressionist readying himself for his next character. “This is what I look like when I’m pretending to be in love with you.” I gazed at her lovingly, but respectfully, the way I had done so many times and meant it. I even meant it then but only because I wanted it to be convincing. “Hang on. What else? Oh yeah. Here’s what I look like when I’m pretending you are even slightly witty just so I can get laid later on.” And I threw my head back in a guffaw with a head-tilt and a sneaky look out of the corner of my eye. Sorry girls. Guys know all this stuff, too. She was starting to catch on. Her eyes dulled. I could help her with that. “And this is me.” This I particularly enjoyed. It had been the catch phrase of Ted Carwood, a very popular British impressionist who’d end each of his shows with that revelation before he bid us good night. It was the one time he appeared as himself. I added a variation. The accompanying expression in my case was one of pure provocation. A mixture of Hit Me and Fuck You that I normally reserved for bar-room fights with men much bigger than me. It always worked. I was saying she was a coward if she didn’t hit me. She didn’t, of course. She just looked at me. Innocently. This was more fun than I’d expected. Shouldn’t she at least be crying? I was impressed, if you want to know the truth. But up to this point I was merely doing stretching exercises. “You think I’m joking. Don’t you?” No response. “I’m going to dismantle us tonight. And there’s nothing you can do about it. You’ll have to sit there and listen while I wrench the U from the S. You’ll question your own judgment. Maybe you’ll never really trust yourself again. I hope so. Because if I don’t want you, and believe me I don’t, then I don’t want you being happy with someone else when there’s any doubt that I might get another girl.” I was not yet aware, you understand, that I was to become the Soulfurnace you see before you. But I was losing the bolt-uprightness I felt I deserved so I added, “Your cunt is loose.” She heard it but wasn’t quite sure how to react. I could help her with that, too. “Let me put it another way. Your vagina is baggy…feels overused.” Now we were cooking. Her eyes widened. I saw how she tried to keep her outrage to herself. But it was too late, I was already in there. I could almost see out through her eyes. She couldn’t hide. Not from me. I was the undercover cop. I knew all her moves. I’d helped her create them. This was too easy. “Your tits sag.” This I delivered like a punch. I leaned back to better view the effect. “They’re too big and they hang too low.” This just in case there was any doubt. Shock can protect and soften the full velocity. Better to be sure you’ve hit the mark. Mind you, a little confusion is sometimes fun because it makes for wonderful expressions. Often she’ll smile at you after delivery of the despicable package, not yet aware of its contents. “To get a hard-on I have to think of some girl I’ve seen on the bus.” I waited for this to sink in. Brought my hand up to my chin as if thinking of the next line. Looked as sweet as I could. I’m good-looking when I’m enjoying myself, or so I’ve been told. “By the way, I had sex with another girl other than the one I told you about.” Now I was winning. So I smiled with sympathy. A winner doesn’t want to gloat. Just to win. She looked like someone else, a new person. There was nothing more for me to extract. I wasn’t sure I wanted to hear what else would come out. No matter how well chosen the words were, the voice couldn’t always be trusted to carry them. Clearing the throat, that was the dilemma. Clearing the throat without letting her know how this affected me.Why was I doing this? Never mind why, the thing is, it was happening. “Had enough?” No hesitation. Just one nod of her head. Down and up again. She must have sensed mercy in the air. She sensed wrong. All she’d done was let me know that I was having the desired effect. That she was sobbing inside. “Yes well even so...I’ve done much worse than just have sex with another girl. It’s very bad... Even by my standards. So bad in fact that I’m going to spare you. I might tell you later. I might not. But you would fall apart if I told you, and I’m not sure I want you doing that just yet.” She was so much in shock there was no point in continuing. Did I feel remorse? Not in the least. To further my torture, I inquired about her job and her blouse and her life. I was careful to utilize some of the facial expressions I had already immortalized so as to inflame her even more. And I seem to remember scrounging some money from her to buy more drinks. But wait, there’s something else. Here’s the weird bit. Because I had now given her good reason to take revenge on me, I offered her some options. The keys, as it were, to me. I think this is where I miscalculated. My logic went as follows: If someone hurts you then you automatically want revenge. It doesn’t matter how long it takes, you want revenge. I thought, if I hurt her enough she would want revenge. Therefore, I wouldn’t have to worry about never seeing her again. Because that is what I feared most. The fact that I was losing her. The question was how not to lose her for all time. I gave her some hints on how to successfully hurt me back. Love in disguise. Never let her know how much you love her or she’ll l you with it. Sadly, though, there is still a little truth in that for me even today. But never mind that, we’re talking, Jesus, was it ten years ago? Yes, I believe it was…. “Call me every night for a few weeks at 8pm. and when I answer, don’t say anything. Make sure there is no music in the background. By the way, I always wanted to fuck your sister…I think she would have gone for it, too. I want you to remember these things I’m asking you to do. I know there’s some guy sniffing around you at work. I want you to go away with him for a weekend. Why not? You deserve it. Just go. Don’t give me any warning. I won’t even remember what I’m saying to you now. I’ll probably have a blackout…I’ll move on to brandy next. That always gives me blackouts. So you’ll do it? Good girl. Also, follow me around in your car. Maybe you’ll even change your car. You can use Paul as a messenger if you like. You want to be free, don’t you? Especially after tonight. Yeah, course you do. Well then, do these things or I’ll badger you forever. I’m serious. Maybe you’ll only do some of them. That’s okay and you may come up with some of your own ideas and that’s fine, too, but I want you to take revenge on me. I want you to hate me…I’m helping you hate me. I’m doing you a favour, setting you free and asking you to do the same for me. “Please?” I had delivered this monologue with as much sincerity as possible. I was in earnest. I wanted her to want to hurt me back. This would be the new US: She looked at me. Into me. Those beautiful eyes glazed over all shiny like little blue bruises. And yet she looked stronger than I’d ever seen her. Unattached. Single. Out of reach. My reach. It was done. Four and a half years. I had to make sure she would continue to know me. At the same time, I didn’t care. I needed something, anything to push me forward. Over the edge, if necessary. I wanted to blame her for what might happen. I wanted to mythologize her. She Who Would Avenge The One Who Dared Rebel. Romance has killed more people than Cancer. Ok...maybe not killed but dulled more lives. Removed more hope, sold more medication, caused more tears. Looking back, that’s what it was: me auditioning for Heathcliff in Hackney. I threw in a few more choice insults like…your father is an idiot, your brother is anal, you’re not clever enough to be my girlfriend because I’m a genius and I’m tired of pretending to be less clever than I actually am just so you can catch up…and headed off to the bar for brandy. As you can see, I did recall most of the details, but there could well have been more. For her sake, I hope not. That night, whilst trying to eat a kebab, I did fall off my big black bicycle somewhere around Victoria Park. I didn’t care if I got up off the tarmac. I was laughing and singing “Born Free” and somehow cycled back to her place later that same night. As usual, she’d left the door open for me. I remember thinking, “The bitch…she hasn’t taken me seriously.” But when I clawed roughly into bed beside her I could feel the vibrations as she cried herself to sleep. I remember her getting dressed the next morning. Writhing into matching white underwear. She was stunning as she stood in front of the mirror. The expression she wore while deciding if she liked how she looked contrasted sharply with what locked into place when she caught me staring at her. I might have been some homeless guy peeping from under those covers. She went away with that guy from her office. I wasn’t prepared for the pain of this. I felt how she must have felt when I hurt her. You might as well argue with the mirror as argue with each other. Afterall, aren’t we all really the same person? Anyway, I have this to say. After Pen left, someone did call me at one point every night at 8pm for about two weeks. That really freaked me out. I’d answer and…nothing. Whoever it was would then gently hang up. The “gently” scared me more than anything else. Passionless. This intrigue suited my paranoid delusions and my drinking had by now progressed from habit to full-time occupation. It was going to kill me and I welcomed the prospect. I attributed my misfortune to the guile and cunning of this mousy girl from Stratford-Upon-Avon called Penelope. And while I flattered myself that she’d seek revenge, I didn’t realize that leaving me to stew in my own paranoid juices was revenge enough. I’d do worse to me than she could ever dream of achieving. When I was nearly sandwiched to death between a car and a motorcyclist I was able to imagine she’d orchestrated the whole event. I suffered a crushed bicycle and a broken wrist. How delighted I was that she should go to such trouble in the name of romantic revenge against me. She really must love me afterall. I couldn’t piss because my left arm was unusable, and my right was road-rashed. Bladder ablaze, both arms stuck out like I was begging for money from the other would-be patients in the emergency room. And I was smiling, because Penelope loved me enough to mastermind this attempt on what was laughingly referred to as my life. I fantasized that she would turn up in a nurse’s uniform any second and administer a long, slow luxurious hand-job…but only after she’d helped me take a long, slow luxurious piss. Later, I convinced myself that she had turned up at my shitty basement flat disguised as a prospective flat-mate. I refused to take this “applicant” seriously. When she asked where the toilet was, for instance, I resisted the urge to applaud. I thought it hilarious that she, having been in the flat hundreds of times, should ask me so convincingly anything about it. She knew more about it than I did since I was very often in blackout. But I wasn’t about to ruin her little sketch. I received each query with a congratulatory smile and answered tongue-in-cheek. Smiling too broadly and nodding knowingly, I showed the young woman out. She didn’t take the room. So there’s me. My baby’d left me for another guy, who had his own flat, a car and a coat. I was entering a world of pain…not all of it mine. Cue the country music. 2 So now I was ready to pass on my learning to the uninitiated. The unhurt. The innocents. With the girlfriend out of the way I’d be better able to dedicate myself. I was seriously pissed off and all I wanted was for others to feel this too. Especially girls. A girl had caused it so a girl would have to pay. I wanted to hurt. It was a whole new world to me. I’d never known it was possible to be hurt so much. I’d been beaten up lots of times and it was nothing like this. I hadn’t expected physical pain. A burning sensation in my chest as if a large smoldering boulder had somehow lodged there overnight. A kind of drawn-out slowly unfolding panic. The exact opposite of excitement. Accompanying this were shooting pains running downward along the back of my arms.What was this? Rejection? Was it really this tangible? All I could think about was that if I could be hurt like this then surely I could also cause it in others.This consoled me. I studied and stored away each new flinch of discomfort. I recorded what had happened and how it affected me. I called and asked her answering machine to hurt me. To be free, I needed to hate her. It was over but I couldn’t bear the fact that I still needed her. So I begged her to hurt me, which she did by refusing to. Meanwhile, I stumbled into London’s night in search of hearts to stab. A teacher from Ireland. Twenty-five-ish. A virgin. No, really. She said I had ”an enviable command of the English language.” I wasn’t sure what I was going to do to her. The answer came to me when I slipped into her bed after cooking my special boned chicken, the preparation of which scared even me because it involved so much tearing of flesh from bone. She was engaged to be married. I hated her for that. It emerged in conversation that being a virgin embarrassed her. She didn’t want her fiancé to find her still intact on their wedding night. I didn’t know where to start. Teach her some filthy tricks that would sow seeds of doubt in the mind of the groom? For instance, I’ve never thought much of a girl who swallows. Don’t get me wrong it feels fantastic and I’m aglow with gratitude at the time but only a slut would ever actually do something like that. Not the behaviour of a wife-to-be. Somehow it was obvious that I should leave her virginity intact. It became about him. How to hurt him through her. Anal sex? That would still leave her a virgin. Did she really want to lose her virginity or was she bluffing? After a huge bottle of wine, most of which I drank from the bottle, I was supposed to sleep on the couch. This I did until 4 when I awoke with a stiffy and slipped in beside her, finding only token resistance. She really did want to lose it. But I didn’t like the idea of me as sexual plumber. I wanted to be present on her wedding night. I wanted her body to remember mine the way I remembered Penelope’s. I began to lick her out. For two hours. When she became too sensitive I waited and started lapping again very gently. I looked up now and then to tell her how beautiful she was. I blew cool air on her. I stroked the insides of her thighs and tried to imagine I was in love with her, behaving accordingly. I pushed a finger in and could feel the stalactite of her hymen. I was careful not to break it. At one point, I had a finger either side. She raised her hips offering the pelvic cup to me. I sipped and drank noisily, satisfied that her wedding night would be the first of many nights of sexual frustration as she tried to communicate her sexual needs to hubbykins without indicating a lack of sexual prowess on his part. It provided an incentive to develop her very own “enviable command of the English language.” Next came Lizzie. She had her own flat. Beautiful hardwood floors and lovely high ceilings. She also had hairs on her arse. That was crime enough but crime number two? She really liked me. Soon take care of that. She was freshly jilted from a long-term relationship and was very delicate. I had two others on the go when we met for our first date. My nervousness made Lizzie more comfortable. She thought it was because I was unsure of her feelings for me. The truth was less endearing. I was an alcoholic who needed a drink. I ended up having sex with her on the kitchen floor in the middle of her making some bullshit vegetarian meal. On the dirty tiles as the pots boiled symbolically overhead. The windows steamed up. Her face. Looking up at me in disbelief, her chin buried under her pushed-up jumper and bra. Eyes wide. Childlike. After I left her there like that, I never saw her again. Later, she left a message on my machine saying I’d raped her. Emotionally speaking maybe I did rape her, but physically she was up for it. No question about it. She was loving it. I could see her already storing away the memories as I fucked her. Her face scanning up and down recording the images like a flesh covered camera, close-up of his face, pan down for a wide-shot of the action below…cut. Maybe there is a law after all. Of nature. Like gravity. An unwritten axiom that governs our emotional dealings. What you do comes back to you with twice the force, fuck it, three times the force. We are not punished for our sins we are punished by them. From the moment I met Jenny, I knew I was going to hurt her. It was just a matter of where and when. I suppose it was no fault of hers that she even looked a little like Pen. It was that fact that seemed to sanction my actions. After being out all night, I was reluctantly heading in the general direction of what I mockingly referred to as home, when I realized I needed more booze. There was never enough of the stuff. I even dreamt about it. One night I was drinking whiskey and even as it was going down my throat I was thinking, “I want a drink.” Tricky one. Anyway, one of the main obstacles to getting more booze was lack of money. And money ran out because I couldn’t always depend on getting more freelance art direction. I had no rent to speak of since I was ripping off the local council who paid my rent and electricity. All I had to do was go and sign on the dole once every two weeks. Parties were a good source, especially parties nearing some sort of end. The amateurs were either passed out on the floor or tucked up at home in their little beds. The music. The brightly lit window. I didn’t have to be Sherlock to figure out there was going to be a fridge full of booze. Everyone brought something to appear generous. Especially if the area was fairly well-to-do but that was a bit more difficult because I had to have my wits about me for the inevitably intricate verbal exchanges. I had to resist bursting into flames with the fury I felt towards these fuckers. I hated these people most of all. The ones who had their lives given to them, who, in my mind, never had to work, who didn’t appreciate what they had. As a teenager in Kilkenny I’d had to pick sugar beet in freezing cold fields, wearing only old socks as gloves. The beet would freeze in the furrows and we’d have to kick each one out of its frozen hard earthen socket before snagging the stalk with beet knives. The term “hard work” is relative. So I’d press the buzzer and say, “Sorry I’m late.” The door would open and I couldn’t help smiling as I took the stairs three at a time. If it wasn’t already open, the door soon would be. I never looked like a drunk, I just was a drunk. In I went. Hit the toilet first and either puked up to make room for new booze or just get the lay of the land. Then the fridge. Oh, happy white oblong. A miniature hospital in a bruised world. The clink of music as it opened. The glow from within. There. A full and as yet unopened bottle of cheap wine with some assorted cans of beer, stragglers from six-packs. Back to the living room with the wine and got it into a pint glass so that I wasn’t clutching a bottle that might be recognized by its owner. And there she was. Sitting on a couch all alone. Alone on a couch at 4am, at a party where only three people were left standing and I was one of them. Long legged and elegant and definitely out of place, she reminded me of a Vogue photo shoot. Beautiful girl in dingy surroundings. The rich well-read daughter of some English MP slumming it in Camberwell. Anyway, I vowed to fuck her up as soon as I plunked down beside her. Even in my very comatose state, I knew that asking her to dance, though not being able to get out of the couch, was endearing. Dancing with a pint of wine in one hand and a joint in the other was mischievous. Before either of us knew it, we were kissing. Two weeks later she’s throwing beer in my face and three hours after that I notice her car parked outside my shitty basement flat. I was drunk and wavering on my bicycle. She was in a Ford something or other. As soon as I turned the corner, the car started up and jolted ferociously forward. The vehicle resembled a mechanized insect that had had its legs plucked and was being poked awake for new tortures. I laughed loud enough for her to hear through the open window, which emitted cigarette smoke. I tried to behave like I was on a horse. She started the engine again and steered it angrily away. Angrily because I could hear gears being shoved around. What had caused this futile display of emotion? Mere words. Earlier that evening she had asked me how I had enjoyed my weekend. “Not bad.” I said. “Got laid.” Stunned she looked at me with the same inquisitive smile that belonged to the question she had just asked. Beer hit my face with such force I thought she’d slapped me. But I had not just delivered the line; it had been accompanied by The Smirk. Penelope had felt its girth and now it was Jenny’s turn. I’d never had beer thrown in my face before. It was flattering. Jenny rose, whipped her jacket from the back of her chair and left. After slowly licking some splashed beer from my lips, I exchanged a look with the barman that said Chicks! and returned to my as yet untouched beer. Not for long. Speaking of slapping and the art of The Smirk, it had been a long time since I begged to be beaten up. The Swan in South London was the ideal setting for just such a beating. Very Irish, very fist-happy. Many many bouncers. They’d stand on stools, the better to police the goings-on consisting mostly of heavily drinking Irish exiles like myself. I was deep in conversation with a tall red-haired man from Dublin. There was much jostling for position as the other exiles attempted to get a little closer to their beloved homeland via Guinness. The spot that the Dub and I occupied was sacred. Right in front of the counter. It was necessary to get there at 3pm in the afternoon to occupy such a position. I’d been there since 1pm. So I turn to the Dub and quite truthfully inform him, “I’ve been listening to your shit all day and I’m fuckin’ sick of it. I wouldn’t mind but to top it all off you have to be from Dublin.” He immediately head-butted me with such force that I was able to see blood dollop into my pint glass. And I debated whether I should try to strain the blood through my teeth in order to salvage the inch of cider left in the bottom of the glass. I began to see it as important that I contain the dripping blood in the glass. Mustn’t for some reason get the place all bloody. I decided instead to announce, “One of us is going to leave this bar and it isn’t going to be me.” I looked up at my assailant whose face bore the throes of bloodlust. Freeze frame. I have only seen that expression three times. This was the first, the next was when I was knocked from my bicycle by the“hired” motorcyclist and was waiting for the ambulance people to ascertain whether I had serious injuries. I was lying on my back afraid to look down at my legs. On the top floor of a passing double-decker sat an old lady in a brown coat.The bus had to stop presumably because of the general commotion. The old hag’s expression was exactly the same as the one our Dublin friend is wearing now. Look at him. Ginger stubble, tongue slightly protruding from between fleshly lips…a cunt if ever I saw one.Other heads protruded into what might have been my last patch of sky…but it was her face that dominated my wait for the ambulance. Lying there I was still listening to Elvis Costello’s “Accidents Will Happen,” I kid you not. My Walkman, although askew, was still on and still playing. That old cow up there looking down from on high seemed to be nodding in time to Mr Costello’s sentiments. I tried to read from the old lady’s face how badly I was hurt. I wished I’d known her better because if she was a complete bitch, the slight smile on her face meant that I was fucked and my legs were mincemeat. But if she was a nice caring person who fed pigeons and stroked strangers’ dogs, I was in good shape because she was smiling on my behalf. I decided she was a bitch and I was fucked. The third time I saw the expression was when the girl I loved…hang on a minute, that’s what this whole bloody thing is about. We’ll get to that. Unfreeze. The Dubliner looked as if he’d just had sex with me. It had taken me this long to realize I’d been head-butted. There was no pain. Just a dimming of lights. Like someone turning down one of those knobs inside a living-room door. “No. We’ll keep it clean. No glasses,” he said. I immediately knew what this meant. He thought I was going to glass him, or the thought to glass me had occurred in him. I was concentrating my attention on directing the strange dribbling blood, which could well have been coming from the ceiling, into the pint glass in my right hand. For some reason it had become important not to mess up the floor of The Swan. To be glassed is to receive a pint glass in the face. The mouth of the glass is positioned around the chin and under the nose. A great deal of force is then applied with the ball of the hand to the base of the glass. The handsome face that hovers over the writing of these pages can only wince at the thought of what could have occurred that evening. So there I was holding a half-pint of my own blood and he wants me in the worst possible way. Suddenly, he was jerked upward as if sucked by a huge vacuum cleaner. Realizing his imminent ejection, The Dubliner reached for the collar of my coat and pulled me along with him. We formed a reluctant Conga train, the locomotive for which was two, then three newly unperched bouncers. Ah yes, nothing like a quiet drink. Dub wanted to get me outside in order to give me a more leisurely pummeling but I simply stepped out of the coat and back to my position and a freshly pulled pint of delicious draught cider. On the house. One of us did leave the bar after all. My coat was brought back folded and presented to me by one of the heroic staff of The Swan. Long may it prosper. After Penny? There was…let’s see…I still can’t remember her name. She was, or claimed to be, a designer. Wild curly brown hair. Shiny. Attractive. Thirty-three, looked thirty-eight. Old when you’re twenty-nine. Mind you, I felt eighty. “You like trees?” That was all I said to her. She told me later that my question enthralled her. She figured out what I was up to much faster than any of the others. But not in time. I spent an excruciating day with her one Sunday, waiting for night. She cooked dinner. Chicken. And invited her four brothers. I found out later this happened every Sunday. At the time I thought it was for my benefit. I was never a dope smoker. I was a drinker, you understand. But I was broke that day so I s-s-s-smoked as much of that shit as I could. All it did was increase my already prominent paranoia to international proportions. I thought the four brothers were going to butt-fuck me as an after-dinner treat and then beat me to death with their white fists. I was high. When it finally emerged, the chicken looked like some felled wildebeest too long in the Savannah. Jesus, it frightened me. To my high mind, it was still breathing. A vengeful, seething carcass. Mercifully, someone had brought a bottle of red wine. I had to resist lurching across the table and necking it. One glass I had. And she had the nerve to drop hints about how much I drank. This from a dope-head? Then I had to wait till the whole pathetic brother-sister thing had expended itself before I was allowed to get into her bedroom and eventually her knickers. The fear and paranoia I’d had to endure that day fuelled each pelvic thrust that followed. A dagger widening an existing wound. Merely an action that was required in order to hurt her later. The next morning, grateful for the absence of a hangover, I left reasonably refreshed. I even grabbed a piece of chicken on the way out. Never saw her again. Next? Catherine had just broken up with her live-in boyfriend and had a young son. I hoped to excel myself here. She’d had some problems. Emotional problems. Attempted suicide was touched upon. My ears perked up. I heard “Kill me”. If I hurt this woman enough I could nudge her over the edge into suicide. I’d be helping her do what she really wanted and it’d be a good test of my powers. It thrilled me to think I could cause a death by proxy. But she proved too strong or stupid or both or something. From her, though, I learned the technique that would later save my own life. I hate to be so dramatic but that, I believe, is how high the stakes were. The pain involved in a pre-meditated broken heart would easily compare with a case of assault and yet no court of law would recognize it as a crime. A broken arm heals. She quickly fell for me, and I was in a hurry to get to the good bit. Once I knew she was in, I began the water torture. I became less available until I banished her to the wintriest regions of my absence. I waited to hear that she had done away with herself, how handsome I imagined myself at her funeral. Or even better to be burying my dick in someone else as she was being buried in the ground. I can’t tell you how insulted I was when she called and cheerily asked how I was. I couldn’t believe it. She was supposed to be in a wheelchair. Crippled with grief. Wearing dark impenetrable glasses and clutching a shiny lock of my flaxen mane before cynically abandoning her life. No. She continued to call and inquire after my well being, which only increased my ill being. It was the way to win, I had to hand it to her. I couldn’t quite accept her nonchalance, but there it was. In retrospect, I think she just wanted to show how well she was taking it. Otherwise why call? Indeed you may ask why write it all down? Who cares? Doesn’t everyone have brown water like this gushing under their bridges? No doubt, but there’s a dam up ahead. In my defense, I could talk about how I was abused by a De La Salle Brother when I was nine. How I’d felt the whole row of desks shaking as he played with his star pupil in the back. How I had to put a safety pin through the fly of my short pants to prevent this young Brother’s religious fervour. He’d go up the leg instead and so I begged my mother to let me wear long trousers. I wasn’t old enough, she said, and anyway it was Summer and Brother Neddy was only being friendly. It wasn’t serious abuse. I mean, I never took it in the arse. Brother Neddy was later prosecuted for his crime and, in a way, so was I for mine. And if you like that, here’s another. My father was shaving. It was a cold morning in Kilkenny. The light was on above the bathroom mirror, so it must have been Winter. He looked like he was scraping off a big cartoon beard. I wanted attention and tried something like, “If you don’t blah blah can’t-remember, I’ll never speak to you again.” Then slowly, very slowly he leaned down with great emphasis. The cream-covered face larger and larger as it neared mine. And from under this comical mask came the three little words that meant so much. “I don’t care.” Even now I feel like I should have capitalized them but that was just the effect they had on me. He said them very quietly. As if he wanted to make sure the message was for me only. Or maybe he was afraid my mother would hear. No fear of that. A sort of earthquake took place within me. A panicky crumbling. I’ll always remember it. That was the moment I knew I’d have to do this thing alone. This thing being life. Doors closed. Like in Westerns when the bad guy walks down the street and all the townsfolk slam their doors one after another into perspective. My father was someone who until then had been my only friend. My mother didn’t even seem to notice I was around and to my two brothers and sister I was merely an annoyance that needed to be babysat. Da was the only one who had shown me any affection up to then. Maybe as compensation. I don’t want you staining my newly published pages with your salty eye-droplets so I’ll get off this topic now. I will say this though. Seeds were sown. Maybe this stuff has links to other stuff that happened later. Maybe not. Maybe I was emulating the only relationship I’d ever had by gaining trust and then breaking it abruptly. Do with it what you will. I invited Catherine and some of the others to my thirtieth birthday party to be held in my back garden. The idea was to create a sort of lasagna of pain. All my ex-girlfriends were to gather in one location. My shitty back garden. These separate personalities, unified by the pain I had caused them, would at last understand the devilish mind that now controlled their futures. Something like that. It was a mess. I was far too drunk to greet anyone. In fact, such sophistication was secondary when all I wanted to do was ladle the contents of the punch-bucket into my already bleary-eyed face. At one point, I dispensed with the ladle and drank straight from the bucket. I assume someone hurt someone somewhere that night, because I never heard from any of them again….except Catherine who only called to inquire as to whether I was alright. Jesus. Let’s just lay a blanket over the proceedings. I was annoyed, though. Like waking up beside a beautiful girl and not being able to remember the sex. By the way, I mention all this because somewhere out there these girls are getting on with their lives and I want them to know what happened to me. That even though I’m walking around free in the world, I did get a dose of my own medicine. And it doesn’t matter even if they never read these pages. This is just me trying to be honest with myself. Like a 140 page note-to-self. I’m not looking for sympathy. I’m far more interested in symmetry. The one who threw the beer in my face called me six months later still sobbing. This was satisfying to me. And Catherine continued to call and ask how I was. Infuriating, but of course I couldn’t let her know this because it would mean she was winning. Maybe you’re beginning to see how futile the whole game was. It went on a while longer until I couldn’t keep up the George Sands act anymore. I basically lost the plot. But hang on, I promised I’d tell you about the one time I hit a girl. Long time ago, before all this other stuff, I was in the Court Arms in Kilkenny. I was leaving with a so-called friend, Lenehan. I was drunk, so was he, so was most of Kilkenny on a Friday night. The bar was crowded and we had to push our way through the throng. Lenehan was ahead of me cutting a path. An attractive girl turned around and slapped me really hard on the face. Before I knew what was happening I had punched her. Now, I don’t know about the rest of you irreligious fucks but in Ireland we don’t stand for that kind of behaviour. I waited outside the pub for the beating I knew I was about to receive. Didn’t matter what the extenuating circumstances were. I’d hit a girl. The word rippled through the drunken mass and it wasn’t long before five guys, who I knew quite well, came out and after much apologizing and wringing of hands proceeded to punch and kick me. But there was no passion in it. And they wouldn’t stop till blood was drawn and no blood would bother to show itself to these amateurs. From my crouching position I tried my best to insult them. My most reliable jibes had no effect until I accused them of having relatives in Britain. It was over in minutes. I remember shaking hands with them. One refused because he was still hurt by what I’d said. I allowed my bleeding eyebrow to run it’s course unwiped, an advertisement that justice had been done. Why had she slapped me in the first place? Lenehan had put his hand under her skirt as he passed behind her and she assumed I’d done it. So I went to Alcoholics Anonymous. And slowly I got better. Eight years later, I still go to meetings. I hope I will always go to them. And I stayed away from the dreaded Female for the next five years. Five and a half, actually. And my career took off. Big time. I got a job in a renowned advertising agency in London and won awards for the work my creative partner and I did. We were quite famous at one point. My name is still known. I went to my AA meetings in the evenings and worked as hard as I knew how during the day. I suppose I must have been good at it, because I never really found it that hard to come up with ideas. It was the awful corporate politeness that I found so draining. Little did I know that London’s corporate world is virtually anarchic compared to it’s American counterpart. After a while, I became disenchanted with my business partner in London because I didn't feel he was pulling his weight. I believed myself more talented and I was tired of working with him. We'd been staring at each other across a desk now for four years and I'd resisted diving across and burying my thumbs in his larynx for the last time. We ended amicably. We really did. He ended up with another partner in the same agency. I was approached by a headhunter to go to a really good agency in the States based in St Lacroix. As soon as the headhunter said the company's name, I knew it was the right thing to do. I was due for two weeks holiday in France with some of my AA friends so I said we'd talk when I got back. She was keen that I call from France. So I did. Killallon Fitzpatrick’s creative director was visiting London for a few days, doing interviews. The conversation that started the ball rolling on the events of the following three years took place in the rattling hallway of an old French farm house in the Dordogne with dogs barking and the Mistral shaking the windows trying to get in. I had no idea what he looked like but his voice sounded hilariously American. Like one of my friends had called to take the piss out of me. The smell of cooking surrounded me, and it must have made me feel more homely than I had a right to because I pitched myself to this American as the Irish equivalent of Jimmy Stewart, only half his height and talent. It was what he wanted to hear. He virtually fell in love with me. He apologized for St Lacroix, Minnesota, warning me the city was no London or LA. He said St Lacroix got “pretty cold” in the Winter, but it wasn't as bad as people made off. You can buy a house there next to a lake. He thought I was the right sort of age for the job. I was thirty-four. There were lots of lovely ladies working in the agency. He felt sure I’d be popular. Pimp. At the time, though, I was ripe for it. Of course, I loved London but I was bored. I'd gotten the awards, I'd succeeded. Time for something new. I told him I didn't care if it was cold because all I ever did was work anyway. They had heating, didn’t they? I apologized to him for not being a smoker or a drinker, knowing he'd be thrilled since Americans were nervous about the British Creatives’ reputation for hard drinking. Didn't go down well in corporate America. In addition, I informed him that I was at the age where I was thinking about getting married. There followed a long moment of silence which could be satisfactorily explained by him punching the air in triumph and straightening his clothes before continuing. He began to talk like someone I'd known for years, dropping all use of the conditional tense in favor of the future. My future. The headhunter called on Monday. “Graham warmed to you quite a bit,” she said, then started using words like “visa” and “resign,” which I welcomed. This all took place with my copywriter sitting right in front of me. I had taken to sticking my head, complete with phone, out the window to get some privacy. It wasn't long before I'd resigned and found myself sitting in my London flat, waiting for work permits to be approved. I was to work freelance from the flat until I was official. But I needed to vacate the flat to let it. So I was living in a hotel in London with my own flat only fifteen minutes away with two strangers living in it and the ink not yet dry on a six-month tenancy agreement and me still without any sign of an approved work permit for the United States. This unsettled state was to become the norm for the next five years. If I'd known what was about to unfold, I would have stopped everything and gone home to live with my mother. But I had also just signed a new lease of life thanks to AA and I was determined to use it. After all, what was the point in getting sober if I wasn’t going to do something with it? And there was the newcomer to think of. A crazy bastard like me heading off to the States for a new career gave the new AA member hope. Or so my sponsor said. I did find myself at home in Kilkenny for a few days before flying from Dublin to the States. My parents were excited for me but sad for themselves. Since I'd stopped drinking, they really did like having me around. I bought them a Dictaphone and convinced them and myself that we'd exchange taped messages across the Atlantic. Never happened. My dad had a rather nasty bubbly cough when he was driving me to the railway station. A month into my new job, in my new country, in my new city, in my new house, I got a call from my mother asking the most ridiculous question. “Are you sitting down?” I knew immediately that my dad was dead. Only, he wasn't. She said he was doing poorly and that I should expect to come back at any moment. My new bosses were very understanding and even helped me book a flight. You only get a cheaper flight if you can prove you have a relative who is seriously ill. You have to give them the hospital phone number. So I flew back and I'm guilty still over the fact that I hoped my father would die within the week I had allotted for my quality time at home. Ever the gentleman, he obliged. He was dusted, dead and buried with a day to spare and, to my shame, I was back at work the Monday after. Well, I was under pressure, wasn't I? I needed to impress my new boss and my old ones in London. I wanted to show them that they'd made a big mistake by not treating me better. Truth is they hadn’t treated me that badly. It just felt convenient to dislike them. The real reason I needed to get away from London was that I hated my creative partner. Obsessively so. I remember one day standing with one of those big long bevelled-edged rulers they use for cutting card with a scalpel. It’s basically a blunt sword. He was standing there to my left. Suddenly, I felt faint. I didn’t fall over or anything. I just checked out for a few seconds. I saw a kind of yellow mist. When I came back, I was terrified that I was going to look down at the ground and see him lying there with his head smashed in. That was the day I stuck my head out the window and called the headhunters. I was afraid of what I might do if I stayed working with him and it was going to be better to leave the country than worry about meeting him in the bitchy streets of London. Or maybe I just needed a change. Newly arrived in my new country, my new city, I wasn't interested in girls. Not in the least. When I think about the chances I missed, I just want to sob. A foreigner like me in the Midwest really stands out. Mind you, I did ask one gorgeous girl out, but she said she was going steady so I thought fuck it if I can't have a beaut, then I'm not playing. The other thing was, of course, that I didn't want to get stranded there with two kids and a dog. I knew from the moment I landed that I'd have to get out. I thought a year would do it. I was wrong. I bought a house, but that was just to convince them I was serious. A house was easy to sell in a buoyant market. And if I played my cards right I'd make some money on the fucker…and anyway when was I ever going to be able to afford a Victorian house with hardwood floors and a cute swing seat on the verandah like the house in The Waltons? The agency talked to the bank to help me get it. The house was great for about a month. In the meantime, I was getting to know the insides of airports pretty well. In America, taking a flight is like taking a bus in England. You get on a plane for a meeting. Especially if you are based in St Lacroix, Minnesota. The first job they put me on was a huge project overseeing the commercials for the car company BNV link-up with the Shane Pond movie Tomorrow Forever Cries. Their new model, the 9T, was being featured in the movie as was their new motorbike, the T2600 Surfer. They wanted to make three commercials and three print ads to announce this highly attractive association of icons. It was a pain in the arse. You had to feature the car prominently and show clips from the movie. Very difficult task. Very difficult to get a nice clean idea while having to include all those separate elements. Then, on top of that, we had to deal with three different clients, BNV North America, BNV Germany and DGR Pictures. It took nearly nine months and three times as many flights to get the bastard finished. In my office on the thirty-second floor of this green-glass skyscraper looking out on the flatness of the Midwest, which stretched for hundreds of miles in every direction, I might just as well have arrived on the moon. It reminded me of a sci-fi programme on BBC called Space 1999. There were a lot of similarities to the year in which I arrived. The interiors of the moon base were all clean lines and hi-tech and the views out the windows were barren and stark. The inhabitants of the base were all handpicked and highly civilized and, above all, disciplined. This was a big thing at Killallon Fitzpatrick. The ability to smile while under duress. They loved that. They liked you to suffer quietly. And I got pretty good at it. I was five years sober. This was what I stopped drinking for. This was the kind of thing I would never have been able to do. I mean on paper it was great. House. Job. Money. Move to the States. When I was drinking there was no way I would ever have been offered this kind of situation. And I congratulated myself that I hadn't fallen into the trap of having a girlfriend, because I would never have been able to go if I had. I resolved to resist any advances by any girl from anywhere in the Midwestern region. I was no fool. I was not going to let myself get stranded there for the rest of my life with some gorgeous wife and blonde kids as Killallon Fitzpatrick slowly turned up the heat until I cracked like Spring-ice. I got myself hooked up with the local AA groups, which were great. I began to feel better. St Lacroix is the capital of rehab. They have more rehab centres than anywhere else in the States. This was one of the reasons I felt so comfortable about a move there in the first place. In fact, on the grounds of the “Pentagon of Treatment Centres,” better known as Hazleton, there is a bar. Yes, that’s right, a bar that sells alcoholic beverages. In that bar there is a sign on the wall. It says, “AA Chips Exchanged.” For every year you stay sober, you receive a little metallic coin called a chip. This bar offers free booze for one night to any lapsed member of AA willing to spend his chip. The wall behind the bar was covered with chips. As long as I didn't drink and didn't get into a relationship, I'd be able to get back to London and resume life and look back on this whole period as an interesting lapse in concentration. Either way, I was looking out my window after having been flown over and paid quite a bit - I was making $150,000 a year. My ego had been fluffed to the point of ejaculation. My favourite pieces of furniture had been carefully packed and shipped, my mother had been sent a huge bouquet of flowers sympathizing with the loss of her husband, my father. The unspoken, unwritten expectation hung over me. Okay, big shot, let's go. That was pretty freaky, but I didn't mind because I was in a good position. If I fucked up it didn't really matter, I was in a foreign country. If I did well it just meant their trust was well placed. And of course, I'd make sure the "folks back in London, England" knew all about it. So I came home to my big Victorian house in the evenings, after my AA meeting, and I liked the fact that I hardly had any furniture. It appealed to me to be living in a house with just a few bits of furniture. The scarcity reminded me of a Deep Purple album cover I used to have, the one that showed pictures of a huge country house in France, with recording equipment and wires and cool-looking fuckers strewn everywhere. This was the effect I strove for. But no one else appreciated the irony of a mostly empty house owned by a shaven-headed Irishman who didn’t seem responsible enough to have been given a mortgage. This amused me. It would not have seemed unnatural if someone had kicked in my door one day and said, “There’s been a mistake. Get out.” I would have left quietly because I really didn’t think I deserved such good fortune. This was linked with feelings of guilt and shame over what I had been doing to people when I was drinking. This need to hurt was lessened when I stopped drinking. Maybe it was replaced with a need to hurt myself. My neighbors tried to welcome me, but they didn’t understand that I could never be seen with them voluntarily. It was okay if someone knocked on my door or invited me over for a beer, which quickly became a Coke. Irony could be achieved under these conditions. Fine until I was forced to borrow a lawn mower. American lawns are loaded with social and political meaning. There is a law somewhere that says you have to maintain your lawn or the neighbours can force you to. I knew nothing of this and immediately revelled in the possibility of allowing my front and back gardens to return to nature. A polite knock on my front door changed all that. The polite knock has a lot to answer for in this world. There he was, frown on forehead, hand on heart, leaflet in hand. The State of Minnesota personified. “Mornin’.” “Oh hi…” I said, feigning surprise after watching the fat fuck trespass his way to my front door. “I was noticin’ how you were havin’ some trouble with your lawn care and well I think you might find this leaflet interestin’.” The lazy pronunciation of words like interestin’ is code for informality. Saying interest-in instead of interest-ing is their way of announcin’ they are just regular guys. “Oh thank you very much that’s really very kind of you,” I said, drawing on the ten years of Britishness that lay in reserve for moments like these. Very humbling though. The lawn mower I borrowed from yet another neighbour had a full tank of gas and even I knew that it would need to be returned full. Such a task would entail conversation with a petrol-pump-assistant. “You’re not from around here, are ya?” Every time. I’d change my accent. Flatten it a little. I could pretend I was from New York or Los Angeles. At least they wouldn't feel as if they'd landed such a catch. If you said you were Irish but from London, it was as if one had performed a method of fellatio so bizarre, their eyes would glaze over and a little happy smile would bend the momentarily speechless mouth. Then the thanking would start. I represented every postcard, movie or rumour that had ever emanated from Europe. And everybody knows ambassadors need to be diplomatic. I'd just pick up whatever I'd been trying to buy and leave. I hated them. Forgive me, but I fucking hated them. When I got back to Ireland for a break at Christmas I couldn't even look at a McDonald's sign without wanting to spit. I'm all right now because I live in New York. Thank you God for New York. But the Midwest is something else. My boss used to point at girls who had just joined the agency and whisper, “She's single.” I couldn't believe it. He actively encouraged me to go out with girls who worked for the agency. The theory being, of course, that if I married within the company, then the company would live forever. And then I might even have kids. Or he’d say, “You come in on the bus, don’t you?” “That's right.” “I met my wife on the bus.” For fuck's sake. He was a decent enough sort of guy. I don't think he did it cynically. He just seemed to have bought the whole package. Advertising is false. Once you know that, you've got a chance. But he believed the hype. The wife/the house/the kids/the dog. I think he was good at what he did and a great boss, he just didn't have enough suspicion. I am of course aware that reading this you could conclude that any unhappiness I experienced was homemade. That my suspicion of my boss’s good intentions was in itself the problem. But it's what I do. I suspect. It's the other stuff I find hard. Like trusting people. Foreign concept. Just ask any of the billions of girls I haven't dated. So the boss had his motives and I had mine. I just wanted to get Killallon, Fitzpatrick on my CV for one year. That was it. A year. I was panicking after three months. If I hadn't just moved into the house, I'd have left right then and there. So, I suppose it worked out for the best. Anyway, it took almost two years before I got out, but that's not what I want to talk about. I only mention all that stuff about advertising to give you a background against which to project the rest of my story. The real point is to tell you how I purged myself of my sins against women and, indeed, against myself. They say you're not punished for your sins, you're punished by them. Also, I'm completely paranoid. I mean, seriously paranoid. Not just mildly interested in the fact that there may be people who don't necessarily have my best interests at heart. No. The word is paranoid. Another word is self-centered. I don't like that one as much, though. Doesn't sound medical enough. The paranoia is worth mentioning because it sometimes fuels my crazy thinking. Like when I thought Pen was paying people to follow me. Why she was doing this was not totally clear. My paranoia only gives me broad scenarios. It’s too lazy to go into details. I believed that people, ordinary people on the street, were operatives in her employ. Their mission was to disrupt me psychologically. Every time I left my basement flat in Camberwell, an old lady or a man with his daughter became enemies I had to avoid. I would wear an expression, which in my poor confused mind exuded the following statement, “I know who you all are. I'm going to give you the impression that I don't know just so we can keep this charade going, but in truth I know. So don't push it.” You may wonder what this expression might look like. I'll tell you. Cocky anger. A snarl with a slight smile, imperceptible, but there. I know you know I know recurring to infinity. Of course, the fact that I've told you all of the above does slightly dent my credibility concerning the below, but my only obligation here is to relate what happened. This is my therapy. I'm too fucked up to go and see a therapist and to be honest, I wouldn’t trust him anyway, would I? I mean it’s not as if my paranoia is going to clock off for an hour a week. And I've got enough on my plate, having to be a genius during the day and at AA leading light at night. I heard someone say, somewhere, that it's possible to write the sickness out of yourself. And, who knows, maybe someone will benefit. Anyway as I said, I live in New York now. Much happier, and even though the way I got here wasn't exactly graceful, I love it here now. It is amazing to me that I do. The first two months I spent in Manhattan were the nearest I ever got to suicide. It was funny how it came to me. The thought of killing myself. It’d only been a week since Aisling rejected me in Fanelli’s and somehow during that period I was able to do a decent impersonation of myself. You’d think it would have been easier considering I’d been my own understudy for years. Taking breaks to go outside and cry helped. So, I found myself looking out the window on the seventh floor of the New York branch of the same agency I worked for in St Lacroix. It was around the end of March and very humid. Nothing like as bad as it gets in July but humid nonetheless, and much worse, because they don't turn on the air-conditioning until then. So there I was gasping for air, a waft, a ripple of merciful breeze when I looked down on the cement below. It was the back of the building so I was looking down on those weird fans they always have in New York. Fuck knows what they are. But there was a little rectangular clearing of combed concrete in the centre. Gently it came to me. Gently now. Not like some crazed jump-cut that makes you blink. Calmly, I saw myself lying as if in REM sleep, perfectly framed in that rectangular area. Left leg bent, right leg straight, left arm bent with the palm of the left hand down. Right arm straight down by my side. My head turned sideways on my left hand, as though asleep on a pillow. Just above my head, and under my left hand, there appeared to be a very neatly arranged abstract area of red. Like a big flattened flower upon which my head rested. Rested. I looked peaceful. Beyond pain. I was in a lot of pain, you see. But it had been caused by an abstract blade. What I mean is, the pain was physical, the cause wasn't. I suppose some people would say I was suffering from a broken heart. Or you might say it’s just life. Or maybe it’s alcoholism minus the alcohol. After all, I’m five years sober at this point. True, but something else was going on. How do I know? I don't. I just can't believe that my emotional state could be explained by such an adolescent term as Broken Heart. I'm willing to be wrong, but I don't know how anyone will ever be able to prove it, so I'm safe enough. That's another thing you'll learn about me as we go on. I don't like to take risks. I'll only offer you the possibility that I'm wrong, if I'm fairly sure I'm right. Makes me appear more humble. For example, if I believe something I've thought of is funny, I'll pretend that someone else said it in order to get an unbiased reaction from the person I'm telling it to. If they laugh, I congratulate myself on having come up with something funny, truly funny, because it achieved laughter from my acquaintance without them feeling that I'd be hurt if they hadn't found it funny. Where was I? Suicide. Yes, suicide came like an old friend. I had just moved from Minnesota to be with the girl I loved but that girl didn’t exist. I couldn’t find her anywhere. I could see her anytime I wanted. I could talk to her day or night. She was very happy to be my friend. The ultimate demotion. The word “friend” registered as Eunuch in my fevered mind. I could see her but only as a non-man. Exquisite torture. And it was so hot. I had so much scary work to do. People to impress. Apartments to see, ideas to generate. I had a strong sense that the world and its inhabitants were trying not to burst out laughing in my face. That they would do that later, when I wasn't looking. The thought came to me. You could use a rest. I felt myself nod at this slowly. And then it'd all be over. No more pain. Cool air on the way down. It made sense. Especially the cool air on the way down. That was very attractive. Something stepped in and said No. I suppose I was kind of numb for a month or so after that, but that picture of myself framed on a gray mattress will stay with me forever. My paranoid Polaroid. That's one picture she definitely had a hand in. So, let's see, we’ve gone too far, let’s reverse a little…right, I'm in St Lacroix, and it's around August. My dad has died and now lives in the ground outside Kilkenny in the corner of a churchyard near his own dad. Strange to think of that. I was alive and well and waiting for what everyone was waiting for in St Lacroix. The Winter. If you're smiling, and brimming with fun, and full of lip, some Lutheran type will savour the moment before saying, “You wait.” They don't like happiness. Seriously. All that Swedish /Norwegian influence has the same effect as a big wet hairy blanket that freezes hard in The Winter for at least six months. Fucking freezing. If you live there, the frozen-ness becomes relative. I felt a sense of elation if I woke up one morning and the asshole on the TV told me it was minus 17 degrees instead of the minus 30 it was the day before. I was all ready to break out my shorts and sandals. To any sane person, from the real world, it's still fucking freezing. Never before has the picture of a girl in a bikini brought forth such feelings of incomprehension in me. There in an ad for holidays on the side of a bus stalled in a snowdrift. Smiling and tanned resting her head on one hand, she said, “You are a fucking idiot.” As the bus crept past me her lips actually seemed to move as she inquired, “Why are you freezing your balls off in semi-Siberia?” I would have cried, but tears would probably freeze and blind me. I didn't know what tears did at these temperatures. How could I? I wasn’t from here. I had no experience of this. I trained myself to derive a perverse pleasure from the surrealism of the place. Hell in reverse. Instead of fire and brimstone, it was snow and ice. There exists in Minnesotan myth, a phenomenon that at certain temperatures somewhere in the minus 40s, a cup of coffee can be thrown in the air and it will crystallize before hitting the ground. I heard this at least three times before experiencing my first Winter. The purpose, I suppose, of this little fact was to scare the fucking shit out of newcomers. It has a beautiful disguise built into it, in the sense that, on the surface it appears to be an interesting fact worthy of mentioning. It even has what we call in advertising a mnemonic.That is to say, it has one memorable thing that you can bring away from it. The story would come under the heading of The One Where Coffee Freezes in the Air. It has that fact as a decoy for the storyteller. The storyteller can impart his story in the guise of one who is merely sharing knowledge. The truth, though, has more to do with the satisfaction wrought from the face of the listener as he realizes just how fucking freezing it must be for a cup of coffee to turn into crystals in mid-air. Then he has to decide whether to react honestly, (blanche and throw-up) or dishonestly (feign interest in the actual physics). One particular night, my Victorian house, had a bed, a table, a hi-fi and a Texan friend in it. I mention what state he's from only because it removes any authority you might attribute to him concerning his knowledge of all things fucking freezing. “Dude, it's minus 35 outside. Let's try that coffee deal.” “It's not cold enough,” I said, fearful of having to make coffee and demonstrate my ignorance of the coffeemaker, which I had never used and only had because someone had given it to me as a moving-in present. “Dude, with wind chill it's plenty cold.” “Well, I don't want to make coffee. I don't think I have any.” “Dude, water’ll do fine. Boil some water.” What the hell, I was bored listening to how great Texas was anyway. I had some saucepans, believe it or not, and before you could say Remember the Alamo, we had a saucepan of water on the boil. “Dude, wait till it's bubblin. It's gotta be bubblin, otherwise it won't work.” And bubble it did. The kitchen opened on to the back garden and there were a couple of steps down to it. I opened the mosquito door, which I had learned to keep shut at all times even in The Winter. You can't take chances with those little bastards. Then, after stepping into my carefully shopped-for goose-down-all in one-duvet-come-flak-jacket (for all intents and purposes a flexible shed) I opened the kitchen door an eye’s width. Tex-Ass was having none of it. In just a t-shirt, he grabbed the saucepan handle with both hands and, careful not to spill anything, motioned the steaming pot towards the night. I pushed the door open wide and flicked on the outdoor light. Well fuck it, if it was true I didn't want to miss it. So out he went to the top step. It looked like there was smoke coming out the saucepan now because of the contrast between hot and cold. He had the pan in both hands in front of him. He said Dude one more time just because there was an opportunity to, and leaning back, he flung the contents into the black sky. There was a little glint amongst all the steam and then an almighty roar. He looked directly ahead and shuddered. At first, I thought he was cold, but then I realized it was the other way. The water, the boiling water, had gone up and then down, landing on him. Far from crystallizing, the water only cooled slightly, and this fact alone saved him a trip to the hospital. Funny how quiet it gets when there's four feet of snow on everything. How surreal to step out of my house of a morning and find myself on the set of Dr. Zhivago. The hairs in my nostrils went hard, and if I tried to pick my nose they would break. The air hurt my lungs. I could feel the weight of it in my chest. I may have had a big funny hat on, but I had better have those ears covered. Extremities were the first to go. Ears, fingers, toes. That's what you always hear about Captain Scott-types having their toes bitten off. You need those funny hats with the flaps. Oh yes. The Winter doesn’t just degrade your physical sensibilities, it assaults your sense of taste with equal fervour. But the purifying effect of cold, sterile air was somehow comforting. It allowed a conspiratorial sloth to envelop the soul. Conspiratorial, because others would assist you in the postponement of life. For that is what it was. I said to myself, well, nothing can be achieved in this. The weather is so inhospitable, there's no point in starting a new project till the weather improves, which I ended up hoping would be never. You’d be in the right place with such hopes. People got so fat in Minnesota Winters that they couldn't go out, which in turn, contributed to their getting even fatter. They had constant supplies of food delivered to their door. The snowplows were only keeping the roads open to feed these fat fucks pizza. The snowplow drivers were not exactly svelte themselves. But, you know what, I'm trying to stop saying that. They said that a lot in Minnesota. You-know-what-this and you-know-what-that. To me you-know-what should be reserved for something truly surprising. “You know what?” “What?” “Fuck you.” Anyway, I was going to say before I interrupted myself that I'd been prepared for The Winter so much by every person I met that when it descended, it wasn't that bad. I was told I had two of the mildest Winters in a very long time. I didn't mind, I didn't feel cheated. I can still say hand-on-heart, that I weathered two Fucking Freezing Minnesota Winters. I served my time. Combine my celibacy, with my Arctic experiment and you've got a potent cocktail of pent-up aggression and self-denial. I began to understand those who felt the urge to walk into McDonald's with an Uzi demanding satisfaction. Admittedly if I had ever entered such an establishment with that kind of mayhem in mind, I’d be the kind of guy who'd refuse to turn the gun on himself. Much better to shoot yourself in the leg and pretend to be one of the victimized. That way you got to see the aftermath on TV in a hospital bed. But wouldn’t the other victims identify you? Not if you’d been careful enough to cover your face they wouldn’t. Okay okay, so I’ve thought about it. One year in Minnesota felt like three. I owned a Victorian house in one of the best neighbourhoods in St Lacroix, by this time I’m making $200,000 a year, my mortgage has risen to $4,500 a month and I’m stressed out of mind. My salary gave me about twice what I needed to pay the monthly mortgage so I could afford it but even so, I’m not rich. I thought I'd be rich. I anticipated being nonchalant about money. Having expensive toys like jukeboxes and sound systems and pool tables and bubble-wrapped antiques. No. But hang on, I was going to make a fortune when I sold the house, wasn’t I? Yes, of course I was, now get back to work. I was convinced that every $4,500 I gave to this Victorian was like putting money in the bank. No. Suitably enough, considering the temperature outside, all I succeeded in doing was freezing the loan in its tracks. Nothing was being paid off. Except the interest and the insurance. Basically I was only paying the rent on the loan. And, of course, I didn't make anything near a fortune on that whore of a house when I eventually did sell it. I sort of almost after-tax-rebates-broke-kind-of-even. Barely. So in retrospect it didn't hurt as much as it might have. But at the time I had a house tied around my neck, a determination not to touch anything that might lead to contact with a female of any species, let alone human, and a desire to get back to London that I could taste in the air around me. I waited for The Observer like a wino waiting for opening time. My sadness when the magazine was sold out or just didn't arrive because of, wait for it, freezing weather was incommunicable. And when it was in, I'd clutch it to my chest. It was already three days old, but so what? I loved the clever, laid-back, almost bored-with-themselves way the writers put across their points. I never realized just how urban I really was. Moving from London to St Lacroix was more of a shock than moving back to Ireland would have been. I found that out soon enough when I spent a few nights in New Dublin. It was so vibrant and young on that Christmas Eve, I had to hold back tears because I knew I would have to go back to Minnesota. The Observer, Time Out London, in fact anything from London. I loved those publications. Typical homesick behavior, I suppose, but I tip my imaginary hat to The Observer, especially for its part in saving the patrons of McDonald's and other Minnesotan eateries from a messy end. Also films. French films. Yes, I had a DVD player. I don't anymore. All I have to do these days is take a leisurely stroll up Avenue A and I've got all the entertainment I need. But back then it was like droplets of moisture on the cracked lips of the dehydrated to see a French film. Not just because the French God bless them, make great films, but to see those old streets and buildings and that weather all damp and moist, Jesus Christ, I loved looking at that. I even took photographs of paused scenes at certain points. This was during my second Minnesotan year, when I had really begun to lose it. I still have the photographs somewhere. I needed to keep connected with Europe any way I could. My biggest fear was that I would end up accommodating expressions like, “You betcha” and “You're darn tootin'” into my vocabulary. So, with my French films (Claude Lelouch was my favourite director) my English newspapers and my Irish self, I kept the European flag flying in the ferocious Minnesotan gales. Two years. Two years physically but spiritually it felt like eight. I trudged to the bus stop every morning through the new snow and crunched my way home in the evenings. Sometimes, I'd walk around the lake, which was only a hundred yards from my frosted front door. Sounds nice doesn’t it? Steady. One of the most telling symptoms of hypothermia, against which one much be constantly vigilant, is hallucination. The imaginary attraction of what was before you. I'd tell myself, you've got a great job, a great house, the people are really nice, the girls are gorgeous, etc…I should have loved it. You'd have thought a thirty-four-year old unmarried man heading out there and finding himself surrounded by such conditions, would be thanking his lucky stars. But I was cursing myself for having created these circumstances. If it was happening to someone else I would have approved and even wished him well, but because it was me I couldn’t bear it, as if I were miscast in my own life. If I saw someone across the street who did the things to me that I routinely do to me I’d run in the opposite direction. But I can’t, can I? I’m married to me. And from what I could see, marriage to other people was the norm out there. I didn't drink or smoke and I was fairly well behaved. At least outwardly. I should have been the perfect candidate for some self-respecting clean-gened Minnesotan girl. But, fuck it, the big toothy smiles, the thick needy niceness. That crazy over-awake stare. I still don't know what that was. Zoloft. Stupidity? In New York, everyone just looks hurt. It seems more honest. Maybe I just identified with them. So I decided, I'd had enough of this. I'm gone. This before my first year was over. I picked a real estate agent from one of my AA meetings since I didn't trust the people who sold the house to me. I truly believed my former real estate agents would pick up the phone and call the company I worked for and tell them I wanted to sell my house. They had invested a lot in getting me to Minnesota, after all, and might be interested as to why I wanted to leave after only twelve months in their employ. I offer this statement in defense of my paranoia. It wasn't until I actually physically tried to leave that I found out how hard it was going to be. The house did not receive one offer. Over that whole Summer nobody made me an offer of any kind. I can't tell you how terrified I became with each passing day, the Summer ticking away, The Winter approaching and the possibility of another year in exile. Nothing sells in The Winter. Sleepless, I would sit bolt upright in the bed. I'd curse the walls that surrounded me and, yes, I would cry. Big, gasping, self-pitying sessions of sadness. I don't think anyone ever saw me (at least I hope not) but sometimes I would end up on my hands and knees. It was the only position where I could breathe. Sometimes, I'd end up laughing from relief. The job was very demanding, too, so I don’t suppose that helped. In fact, work was a lot of the problem. They knew I wasn't going anywhere with that house tied around my neck. They gently applied more and more pressure. It would take at least a couple of months before I sold a house. Therefore, they were comfortable giving me some of their toughest accounts. I wasn't going to resign in the middle of anything. Or if I was, they would get plenty of warning. So the more the pressure built, the more I wanted to sell the house. But the fucker didn’t budge, and I even started to lower the price on my realtor's advice. I wasn't too fond of him by the time we were finished. Coming home to what was a very cute house and cursing him and it, but mostly myself, for buying it. His advice to me was to dress it. In effect, give the impression someone lived there. Someone normal. So I borrowed furniture the kind of furniture that looked like a middle-aged woman lived there. I tended the garden. Installed flowers for every open house. Mowed the lawns. Became the very thing I relished not being in order to sell that whore of a house. But it wouldn’t budge. One night, I returned home after refusing to go to the company Christmas Party. Somehow, they had arranged to have two ice sculptures placed on either side of the path to my door. Big cylinders of ice with candles inside. Quite nice, really. I kicked them both in. To me, these homely sculptures represented the fact that I wasn't safe from their prying eyes, even in my overpriced fucking house. I was in a bad way. So I'd come into work and do the best I could. I did good work. But nothing I conceived ever got through. I couldn't help thinking that all they really wanted was to mine ideas, and lob them into a communal conceptual pool from which the Lifers could draw. Lifers were their favorites. The ones who would never leave and so were never expected to come up with their own ideas. Loyalty rewarded with stresslessness. They were usually married with kids and a house and so weren't going anywhere. They constantly needed new flesh to feed on. And they got it. Fair enough, once you knew the rules. Pretty scary if you bought the party line, which stated, “We love all of our people. You are part of our family.” Made me want to go and wash. My whole raison d'être was not to become a Lifer. Have you ever seen a movie called The Firm? That's what it was like. A company that knew your every move and controlled you. Everything was fine, until you went against their teachings. By the way, I fully accept that a lot of what I'm saying is paranoia. Everything that follows could well be my own imaginings and totally unfounded. I mean, the actual facts and figures are true. Dates, salaries, locations, awards, etc… But the motivations and emotions of the people surrounding those solids are smoke. I was working for a very weird but brilliant company. I didn't care because it was interesting to be in the States even if it was only Minnesota and it was beneficial to me because Killallon Fitz had a reputation for producing fantastic award-winning work and even if I didn’t get anything produced it was more exciting than sitting in London doing the same stuff I'd been doing for years. I won't pretend I enjoyed it at the time, but sitting here in the East Village, extricating myself from London and moving to the States was a great thing to have done. Anyway, well into my second year there, my fourth year off the booze, I was still refusing to get involved with any female. My favourite masturbation technique was to take a nice hot bath and soap up my baldy lad well and truly, and then give him a good old beating. At one stage I was going to write a screenplay all about my right hand, a love story. There would have been scenes where I let my hand brush against my thigh and I would blush. In another, my right hand would get jealous of my left and refuse to make love. Many's the evening I rushed home to make passionate love to myself. Storing away the beautiful asses of the secretaries during the day I’d mentally combine them into one composite perfectitude of buttockness. It worked. As you can see from the previous pages, it didn't have any perverse effect on my mental or spiritual state. If anything, another room full of McDonald's patrons was spared the inconvenience of drawing on their medical insurance. Also, I was saved the heartache of having to spend fourteen years married to some woman of Swedish extraction who was paid by my company to marry me in the first place. Imagine all those ice sculptures on my driveway every Christmas (I'm shuddering here and it's August). Suffice it to say much masturbation took place during this Minnesotan period. You know, anyone reading this, you would be forgiven for thinking, “What's wrong with this guy? What's his beef? He lands a cool job in the States and all he's done since the beginning of this is whine.” Let me just say this, I'm whining in retrospect. At the time, I never whined. Not once. I was the picture of humility and gratitude. “Oh, thank you. Oh no, thank you. Come in on the weekend? Of course, I'm not doing anything, anyway. I don’t even have a girlfriend so there’s no danger of anything like that getting in the way of your requirements. You don't like that concept? Course you don't, it's weak. I should have known better than to present it to you." I'd all but reverse out of the room bowing. I had to. I was in no position to bargain. With a $3,500 a month mortgage, and no Green Card I needed not to piss anyone off. Jesus, looking back on it, it's even more scary than I let myself realize. Funny that, when things are dodgy and I don't like the way they're going, I move into just-for-today mode. It's an old AA trick for staying off booze. I don't have to do whatever-it-is forever, I just do it today. It makes even the heaviest shit bearable. But then later when I look back and see just how heavy it was, I exhale. But hang on, I have to tell you about something that happened the first Christmas after Da died. Remember now, I’ve only been in Minnesota four months and I won’t meet Aisling till the following November. My mother and I were sitting in the kitchen sizing each other up. We were both in shock; her from the fact that her husband of forty years was suddenly missing, (she told me she had a dream where they were on holiday and she couldn't find him) and me from losing my father and being uprooted to live in the Arctic. A roasted turkey with no legs was steaming in the space between us. It was the first time my mother had bought a turkey on her own and it had seemed like a bargain to her to buy the one that had no legs. It was considerably cheaper that the able-bodied version. After a lifetime of having a man to deal with all financial matters, the cost of living had become urgent. The turkey-steam softened our image of each other that Christmas. Later during that visit I was doing the Chair at local AA meeting in Kilkenny. Doing the Chair meant a member told his story. How he drank, how he stopped and what it's like now. At smaller meetings they got tired of hearing the same people again and again so when someone came home on holiday they were often asked to speak. It was my turn this Sunday. Amongst the regular attendees, many of whom I'd gotten to know quite well over the years, was a very young well-dressed red-haired girl, slender, tall, elegant, definitely stood out. Could have been a model. Probably was. I tried not to embellish my story too much for her sake. I began telling the assorted morning circle about how I used to enjoy hurting people, girls in particular. I touched on the pleasure I got from it, the pleasure I felt when they reacted with such abhorrence. The need I had to hurt. Not unlike some of the stuff I’ve shared with your good selves but in a more general way. I went on to say how I now believed this behaviour was linked to my alcoholism, and that I didn't feel the need to do it anymore, and that I still felt like I owed an amends to every one of those girls, but that the AA way was not to go back to places where we might cause even more pain. The best amends I could make was to stay out of their lives. I had no right to go back and make their load heavier just to relieve mine. After I finished my talk, the red-haired girl came up and thanked me. Standard procedure. But she said some things that didn't sink in until a year, and much turbulence, later. She said she had a friend who liked to do what I'd been talking about. Only she did it to men. The kinds of things I described were very similar to the kind of thing her friend got up to. She said this friend lived in New York now but was originally from Dublin. A photographer’s assistant. And if I ever met her, I should be very careful. I must have had my polite face on because she suddenly said, ‘She knows about you.” This girl was obviously out of her tree. It happened a lot in AA someone came in for one meeting and you never saw them again. I hoped this would be the case here. She went on to say she was staying with this so-called evil girl’s uncle that weekend in Kilkenny and that she’d needed an AA meeting because she couldn’t handle the drinking and the sick behaviour. I imagined Satanic orgies going on in the uncle’s house and was even ready to hear some details until she mentioned his name. Tom Bannister. I knew the name very well because I had money with this guy on my father’s recommendation. I suppose you could say he was my financial advisor. She had my attention now but the significance didn’t register. Because there was nothing to react to. Later, much later, I remembered that nine months before this encounter, when I was still working in London, an article had appeared in the Kilkenny People supplied and written by myself announcing my appointment as senior art director at Killallon Fitzpatrick. It was the kind of thing local papers loved. Kilkenny boy does well. I did it as much for my dad as anyone. He loved to brag to his friends about me. He even got a mention as the parent of the wunderkind along with the school I attended and my hobbies (I put writing and music) and I couldn’t help but include the fact that I was single. Well, why not? There might be a nice Irish girl out there reading it. Apparently not. Could Aisling have read this article during one of her Uncle Tom visits? It would explain how she knew about me. “She’s evil,” said the redhead. She herself had witnessed the awful effect she could have on some guys. She looked at me for far too long. Like I wasn't taking her seriously enough. I wasn't. I thought she was just a rich Dun Laoighre type who'd overdone the coke and was in AA to keep her rich husband happy. Now I think she was trying to warn me. She took on an even more serious tone as she turned to me before leaving, “It's her eyes…that's what does it…they can't believe she could be so bad.” I remember thinking it’s a pity she's so fucked up because she’s very tasty. But I also figured that who she was talking about had certainly put the fear of God into her. So I thought no more about it. Why would I? There are a lot of people, some of them strange, some of them not, who pass through AA all the time. I never saw the redhead again. So, off I went back with a heavy heart to the Tundra in January. I made a pledge to myself that I would leave there before the year was out. This was the second time I’d made this promise. It would take slightly longer. I was working on BNV. I was working on BNV only. It's tough when you are only working on one subject, you can't get any fresh air, so to speak. It's very tough when you're on it for almost two years. Also, it's very draining. At one point, I would resist even making a joke with my small circle of AA friends, because I feared the waste of creative energy would usurp my bank and I'd be depleted when BNV came to make yet another withdrawal. Oh yes. When you've been on it four weekends in a row, and there's no sunshine or vacation in sight, and you don't want to be in the country, let alone the office, it's important to refrain from spending your reserves. You may still have a long way to go. And although I promised myself I’d be out soon, my cautious side reminded me that I had said that before. It was now February. Three, maybe four, more months of