What is terrible is that after every one of the phases of my life is finished, I am left with no more than some banal commonplace that everyone knows: in this case, that women’s emotions are all still fitted for a kind of society that no longer exists. My deep emotions, my real ones, are to do with my relationship with a man. One man. But I don’t live that kind of life, and I know few women who do. So what I feel is irrelevant and silly… I am always coming to the conclusion that my real emotions are foolish, I am always having, as it were, to cancel myself out. I ought to be like a man, caring more for my work than for people; I ought to put my work first, and take men as they come, or find an ordinary comfortable man for bread and butter reasons—but I won’t do it, I can’t be like that…
The Golden Notebook, 1962
Experiences with men affect me deeply.
For a while I ignored it. I wanted to feel liberated, emancipated. I wanted to be a ‘feminist’. I believed my rational self to be more important than my emotional self and I repressed the parts of me that didn’t fit into this persona.
But the reality is, I have an extremely rich emotional life. I can’t help it. I can’t hide it. And actually, I don’t want to.
Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook really struck me last summer. At first I was shocked that the emotional life of a woman from over 60 years ago resonated with me so strongly. And then I just felt so comforted by the fact that another person shared my experience. She inspired me. Now I want to wear my inner life like a badge of honour. Shouldn’t we all? Let’s engage with what’s inside. I think we’ll find something that feels very real and very human. I think we’ll find each other.
So here’s my heart, my mind and the depths of my soul.
In September 2018 a short questionnaire at my GP diagnosed me as depressed. I started psychotherapy for the first time and began a process of introspection. My relationship with men became a recurring theme and three men I was intimate with in this time became tied to a painful process of self-understanding.
I wrote these pieces of writing when I was at my lowest. They helped me. And now looking back at them I can see that they describe a very raw and unprocessed journey from hurt to love. They tell a story that I’d like to share.
The three poems you will find interspersed within these pages were written completely independently by a close friend and yet fit so perfectly that, once again, I feel confirmed in my belief that I am not alone in this.
So welcome to my internal monologue. This is me. And maybe also a bit of you?
Natasha Natarajan, 14.02.2019
To men who like cold showers and run marathons.
To men who are disciplining themselves into enlightenment.
To men who reply to vulnerability with borrowed wisdom.
To men who can weep at their longing for God
but stare at you blankly
when you share your everyday pain.
Do as you must. Truly.
Do as you like. Truly.
But don’t confuse others into imagining
this is intimacy.
Don’t confuse hard rock for gold
or cold showers for love.
Have you ever just melted?
I need you with me in the mess.
Right here, right now.
Not in the words of some old long
Come to me. I can be touched.
Part 1: Mr B
Dear Mr B,
Sometimes I imagine a future where I live by water, you live in a boat parked right outside my small house and we alternate nights between our homes.
Dear Mr B,
I wrote you a ‘work’ email the other day. I got so excited when you replied immediately. It was an out of office message.
Dear Mr B,
I really want to hear you say that you miss me. Do you think about me? It feels like you must. But then, maybe I’m delusional. Do you wank to the naked photos I sent you? Have you re-watched the birthday video?
Or am I totally fucking irrelevant?
Dear Mr B,
I want you to be my muse. I want to fuck you, take black and white pictures of your naked arms and neck. And then I want to walk away unscathed and revel in the memories of our encounter.
Sometimes I think I can do it.
Dear Mr B,
Why the fuck are you cycling to India? Am I not interesting enough?
Dear Mr B,
I think I love you.
Or is it just the idea of you? Or just memories of you? Or just sexual desire?
Or is it actually you?
Then again, I don’t really know you.
Dear Mr B,
The next time we meet. I want you to fuck me up the arse.
But only in my fantasies.
Dear Mr B,
I’ve never been this obsessed with someone. My solitude and creative energy is amplifying it.
I think I might like obsessing about you more than I actually like you.
Dear Mr B,
I don’t think I actually want us to be in a relationship. I think I want us to be passionately into each other until we fuck it all up and it ends in tears that I can make art about.
Dear Mr B,
These are all the things I have thought about you doing for my birthday:
– You send an average email.
– You surprise visit me and we fuck all week.
– You call me and tell me how much you miss me and how we should really try this thing.
But I don’t think you know when my birthday is.
I contract at the thought of you. At the mention of you. At the anticipation of talking to you. Not only do I contract but I become inexplicably sad, confused, frustrated or some word that doesn’t exist. It’s a complex hybrid emotion, one that you definitely wouldn’t understand. Because as far as I can see, you don’t have many emotions. Your palette of feelings is very limited. I mean that sincerely. I think you don’t feel that many things. That’s why you’ve never related to me or been able to show real empathy. You don’t know how to. You have no sense of what I am going through. That’s me giving you the benefit of the doubt. The only other explanation is that you’re a bad person. An asshole even.
It’s my birthday today. Your last two birthdays I sent you nice things. I made sure to call you and I sent some kind of gift. My last two birthdays you’ve not even acknowledged me. In spite of everything that’s happened, I thought you might say something. It hurts. It really hurts. In my mind, it confirms that I actually do mean nothing to you. That I never meant anything to you. That’s how it feels anyway. But you probably just haven’t thought about me. I don’t think you think beyond yourself that much. It still pains me though. I feel so embarrassed. So epically embarrassed about all the nice things I felt for you and did for you when you mostly made me feel so small. I thought about you so much while you gave me no thought at all. I let you stomp all over my heart. I thought it was fun. I thought it was funny. We all laughed at my heart. I let you laugh at me too. What’s he done this time? What’s he gonna do next time? It was my fault. I watched you hurt me. I let you do it. Maybe I even took some sick pleasure in it. You told me exactly what you were going to do and I knew exactly how it would hurt and I said ok, let’s do that. You didn’t really understand what you were doing to me, that can be your excuse. But I did, and I still went along. Why did I treat myself so badly? I’m sure I asked myself that question while it was happening. I must have. But now I can’t remember what reason I gave. Maybe I said – it’s not that bad, you’re just over emotional, he cares in his own way, as much as he can. It’s more nice than it is bad. Maybe I saw it as a challenge; either I would win or I would make it into a funny story. It sounded like a win win situation.
But now when I look back, it looks and feels so fucking ugly. My desire for you came from a dark place. A place where I didn’t think I deserved more. I didn’t think I would ever have more. A place where I didn’t think I was worth much. That’s why I made do with the bits and pieces I had to beg you for. I trailed behind you like a dog. Like your bitch. I literally panted on the phone for you once. As a joke. I said “C’mon, throw me a bone.” But looking back, it wasn’t really a joke. It was a crude re-enactment of the core of our dynamic. A dynamic I’d come to think of as normal. It felt normal to scream for love. Scream for attention. But never be good enough to really have either. That was my normal.
But now there’s this new person. K. He says beautiful things to me. Sometimes he calls me sweetheart. Sometimes he calls me petal. One time he called me important. He says I’m fascinating and texts me every day. When I talk, he listens, and asks questions. He looks interested. He acts interested. And he remembers things I have said. He gives me gifts. Ones that he’s bought, ones that he’s made. He’s funny. We giggle together. He finds memes funny too. He uses acronyms and he likes internet culture. He doesn’t belittle my world. He likes my art. He says it’s important that I keep sharing it. He shares it with his friends. He even went to ask a book store to stock my comics. When I recommended him music, he listened to it and said he liked it. He takes me seriously. He makes my life feel meaningful. Through him I feel worthy. When I showed him my dark places, he consoled me. He wasn’t scared, dismissive or put off. Everything about him is so beautiful. Everything with him feels precious. It feels sacred. When we kissed for the first time it was magic. I desired his personhood as well as his body. It felt like he desired me that way too. I’d never experienced that with someone before.
So I devoured him. With love. But also with the acute fear that I would never experience this pure, wholesome and healthy desire again. Naked, we ecstatically explored each others bodies. I was wet with excitement. But he was nervous and conflicted because of a complex existing relationship. He said he didn’t want to taint our relationship and wanted the first time we made love to be special. I don’t think anyone’s ever called sex with me making love. And no ones ever wanted to make sure making love to me was special. He felt so good. So fucking good. At some point, he looked me in the eyes and said “I feel it too,” as if he knew how scared I was that I might be caught up in another one-sided infatuation.
I’m terrified now. I’m scared and I’m fragile and I don’t know how to do this. The truth is, when I really think about it, I don’t believe any of it. I think he’s lying. Every time he says something nice to me, it feels good for a bit, and then I don’t believe it, I don’t believe him. Every time he calls me, I think he’d rather be doing something else. Every time he writes to me, I think he’s doing it out of guilt. I’m waiting for him to become bored of me. To stop liking me. Because I’m not good enough. Not interesting enough. Or experienced enough. Or thin enough. Or funny enough. Or tall enough. Just not enough full stop. Or maybe because I’m too much. Too many issues. Too many insecurities. Too emotional. Too complicated. Just way too fucking much.
The experience of you this past year has ingrained these feelings so deep inside of me now. Not enough and too much. I don’t know how to move forward. I can’t seem to let go of that feeling. To let someone think I am valuable. To believe someone when they like me. I don’t trust him. I can’t bring myself to trust him. I can’t trust any of you. I’ve never felt safe around any of you. I’m so fucking lonely. I so want to love and feel loved. Freely, wholly and truly. But I’m so fucking terrified that I’ll never get to. And then what’s the point of all this? If I’m going to feel this alone forever, I don’t think it’s worth it. I don’t think I can do it. I don’t want to do it.
Today, on the phone, he told me you came to see him at work. That you were cute and proud of him. You sounded like a nice guy. A good person. I didn’t want to hear it. The idea that it was a nice guy that did all this to me. Because if you are nice, a good person, there must be something wrong with me. It’s not you, it’s me. This might be the one situation in which it’s actually appropriate to use that phrase. Please can it be a little bit you though? Otherwise how am I supposed to live with myself? If I’m just a colossal mess of a person. An uncontrollable emotional rollercoaster. How am I going to do life if it’s just me that’s the problem. They say I’ll get better, that everything will be ok. But sometimes I really don’t see how. Apparently that’s my illness talking.
After I got off the phone I had to cry. I tried to figure out what I was feeling but I couldn’t. I was in some kind of panic. In my body. In my head. All over. I became restless. I moved around. I curled up. I stretched out. I got frustrated with myself. I kept thinking: he likes you, you don’t like me, he will eventually not like me too. I imagined you both comparing notes on how crazy I am. Or just not talking about me at all. As if I were completely irrelevant. I’m not sure which one’s worse. And then I felt crazy for having all these thoughts. I felt damaged. I wanted to recoil from the whole situation immediately. Remove you both from my life forever. Especially him. I don’t want to be rejected again. I desperately don’t want to be rejected again. If I’m going to be rejected again, I want to be the one to do it first. But I lose either way. Because if he doesn’t fight for me then his rejection is implicit. It would really just be a test. I would be testing him. So I can’t win. I can’t win this. Love is a losing game. Amy was right. I will always lose this game. I wish I knew how to stop playing.
I feel trapped. It’s as if I’m in a dark tunnel but I don’t see light in either direction. I know that if I turn around I can go back to where I started, which is at least familiar, but I know that I shouldn’t. I know that I need to keep moving forward. But I’m scared shitless, and blind with no idea when or where this tunnel ends.
I play my guitar to calm down. The focus distracts me, the melody soothes me. I start writing this essay to process what has happened. And to make this experience mean something.
Happy 27th Natasha.
I long to be so deep
that I forget
my own smell.
You call it being
but I know it is not.
It is running
Using someone else’s body.
Wanting to be sucked
into a whirlwind
You are sad. You are lost.
I sense it.
So am I.
But this does not exist
in the whirlwind.
Just endless tongues
over and over
I don’t mind that
it is not love.
There is beauty
in two strangers
licking each other
off the ground
even just for a moment.
Part 2: K
If I could go back to 16-year-old Natasha, what would I say? At first, I thought I would hug her and tell her everything would be ok. That’s what I would want to do. I’d kiss her on the forehead. I’d hold her, comfort her and say, with time, things will be different. I’d tell her, one day you’ll feel beautiful and wanted and loved. Some man will respect and cherish you and you’ll feel it. But the truth is, that I’d have to say, 10 years from now there will be a man who will find new ways to hurt you. He will twist the knife that’s already in your heart. Nothing will feel that different. You’ll be older and more experienced but it will still feel painful. You will run into the arms of women who will comfort you. They will make you laugh. They will cook for you and read you poetry. They will kiss you and wipe away your tears. But they won’t be able to remove the knife. You won’t be able to either. How do you even remove a knife? It’s a professional job that requires years of training because once it’s there it holds everything else in place. So you’ll just watch it all happen. Unable to fix anything. You’ll watch him not give a shit. You’ll write about it and then burn the pages, just as you did before. You’ll send him messages and he’ll look back at you blankly. Your belief that something is wrong with you will be confirmed. You will cry. When you meet someone who seems to care about you, you won’t believe it. You’ll make him work hard to fill your heart with love. It will be tiring for him. He will not endure it.
Am I really repeating this pattern? Is life a never-ending cycle of fucked up patterns? Dear universe, please give me the strength to hope it will be different this time. Let me learn from my experiences. Let me be stronger. Let me be wiser. Let me be a better person. A better partner. A better lover. Let the hurt heal. Please let me heal. Show me how to stop crying about things I don’t understand. I want to stop crying.
Everything seems different this time. Mr B isn’t as beautiful as Vasu. K knows more about me because I know more about myself. I’m trying to love myself so he doesn’t have to do all the work. I can see the dark place that let me desire Mr B. I’ve written about it. I’ve made art about it. I’m confronting it head first. That makes this different, right? Something’s happening. Something must be happening. And one day, looking back it will all make more sense. Right? And the crying will have meant something.
I can’t do this anymore. We fucked yesterday. Or day before yesterday now. The next morning I licked your balls in the shower. In our shared email fantasy that is. Then I asked you if we could plan to meet again and it feels like you haven’t given a shit about me all day. You don’t know how much this triggers me. Did you just want to fuck me? You should have done it that Friday instead of fooling me into thinking you would save me from my loneliness. Couldn’t you have just fucked me normally like everyone else and then lost interest? I don’t know if it would have been better but it feels like it would have been more predictable and digestible than this horrible state of confusion I’m in now. Or maybe it would have been just as painful. Because I don’t function like everyone else. How is everyone else doing this? It seems like all I can feel is pain. I’m so into you already. I don’t know how to tell you how much I need from you to make this feel good for me. So I just want to run. I really want to just run far far away from this situation. I want to text you right now. Just get it over with and say: I can’t do this anymore, please don’t contact me ever again. I stopped myself though. I told myself, sleep on it. But it’s almost 2 in the morning and I can’t sleep. You still haven’t replied to my text or called. Are you bored already? But I licked your balls just this morning. You stroked my head and my shoulders. You imagined I’d be smiling up at you. Are you just horny? I’m scared. You’re not enough. You’re not giving me enough. I feel like no one will ever give me enough attention. Because I have a huge hole in my soul. One that I need to fill myself but I can’t seem to do it. I wish I could tell you about it. I want to tell you about it. Tell you that you should stay away. You’re getting out of a traumatic relationship, you don’t need this. I’m no fun. This isn’t beautiful anymore. Not like it was at the beginning with our long emails. Where are those emails by the way? I sent you a long voice message the other day, you didn’t reciprocate. You really are bored aren’t you. You’re not into it like before. I wore you out. It takes more than this to wear me out though. I imagine you and B laughing about it all. Wondering at my intensity over a beer. Discussing it briefly before reminiscing about your band. Man, she was something else – beautiful, but a lot of work. Would you say that about me? He would. Maybe I imagined you to be someone you aren’t. You seemed different but I don’t know if you are anymore. Or maybe it’s all just me. I’m the common denominator after all. I’m fucked up. I’m the damaged one. I can’t experience a normal romantic relationship can I? Or maybe functional is the right word. I have so much emotional baggage, even I can barely carry it. No one will be able to carry it. I don’t know how I’m supposed to go on like this. I’ve been talking to Vasu. I think I’ve pegged him as my new saviour. He’s being you 1 month ago. Revelling in my beauty. How long will it last this time? I just keep jumping on to the next man who will validate me. Who’s next? What’s next? Maybe I should just enjoy his admiration while I can. It’s beautiful to be reconnecting with him like this. Just like our lovefest was beautiful while it lasted. And now it’s gone. Nothing lasts. Nothing fucking lasts. It terrifies me. Every time I feel beauty I just wonder when it will end. I’m finding it hard to enjoy the beauty of things that I don’t believe will last. I thought it might last with you. Your affection felt real. But it’s gone now and I feel painfully alone again. I feel embarrassed that we fucked over email like that. I read love in your words. But now I don’t know if it was there and it doesn’t feel as good anymore. I’m so tired. I want to sleep. But I can’t help but wallow in the rejection I feel you have dealt me. Why don’t you write back? Your communication has changed. Why? There’s no good reason I can think of. Have you lost your phone? Has it run out of battery? Who am I kidding? You just don’t care as much anymore. You’ve lost the motivation to take care of my feelings because I licked your balls in the shower this morning. You’re all the fucking same. That’s all you wanted from me. It was just cloaked in a superficial intensity that I mistook for genuine affection. How typical. Your toxicity just has a different form. I will never trust anyone enough to love me. And if I am to live this life alone I don’t want to do it. I really don’t. The only time I want to live is when I have a hope that I won’t be alone. But that hope is always so fleeting. My eyes are closing. Maybe I can sleep now. Having written all this down.
you are not my soulmate
you are the face my soul
uses to speak to me
to announce its presence
you are the closest
I’ve come to myself
and everything else
Part 3: Vasu
Dear 16-year-old Natasha,
In 10 years, the boy you played guitar with, you fell in love with, the one who broke your heart without explanation, made you cry for months and then disappeared, he’ll pop up randomly on Skype. You won’t see him move or hear him talk but you’ll communicate in written words every evening. He’ll explain why he hurt you. He’ll apologise genuinely. He’ll show you care and affection when you most need it and least expect it. You’ll feel real warmth for him again. You’ll reminisce together, share the mundane bits of your everyday lives, the deep bits too, and you’ll exchange amateur recordings of music you’ve been making – just for fun, because it gives your creativity purpose and because that’s how you’ve always related to each other anyway. You’ll revel in all the positive energy of the situation. On Christmas day he’ll send you a recording of him playing a song you’ve been listening to on repeat. You’ll love it. You’ll be inspired to sing with him and animate one of your paintings. It won’t be perfect, but neither are you. And somehow, finally, it’ll all feel beautifully wrapped up, like a perfect Christmas present.
Love from trying-to-figure-it-all-out Natasha xx
I cried to you yesterday. I cried and you watched me with your big, gentle eyes. You said it’s ok. Not everything would be ok, just, it’s ok. You didn’t say it emphatically, you didn’t repeat it again and again, you just said it with a sensitive assuredness I’d never experienced before. For an hour or so I couldn’t stop crying. They weren’t melodramatic tears, they were quiet and sporadic. The weatherman might have called them intermittent showers. There were even moments of sunshine. The kind of sunshine that appears on an overcast day through a hole in the sky as if the heavens have opened. As if God is coming to greet us. That’s how you appeared to me yesterday. Heavenly.
I kept testing you, asking you questions and you responded with a patient, gentle and graceful confidence that felt impossible not to fall into. What if I only love you because you love me? I asked. You said, I think that’s a good reason to love someone. What if this isn’t real, what if I’m just caught up in another one of my obsessive infatuations? Wait till we meet, you’ll see that this is real. And if not, that’s okay. Calmly, you said I love you, I know I can make you happy. I asked how, how can you know that, how can you be so sure? You don’t even know me that well. You said, maybe I don’t know it but I believe it. There are many things we don’t know but we choose to believe. You told me that ever since your injury you saw things differently. That you followed any sign of light in your life. That I brought so much light into your life.
It all sounded so beautiful. You made me feel beautiful. You make love feel boundless. Around you my love flows freely and I don’t feel ashamed. What a gift, to not be ashamed about feeling love. Your beauty made me shed more tears. Tears of happiness but also tears of disbelief. Because how could this precious thing possibly be real? Be happening to me? Sometimes I’m just waiting for it all to turn. Everyone’s been telling me to be careful. How you could you possibly be in love with me? We haven’t been together in 11 years. We haven’t even spoken in 11 years. We’ve only been talking for a month on Skype. You’re just in love with the idea of me. Maybe you’re a bit delusional. When I told you that you said you couldn’t explain it. You felt a connection to me back then and you feel it now. It sounds too convenient but I feel it too sometimes; an inexplicable comfort around you, a deep emotional affinity.
Yesterday you told me about how important you think feelings and emotions are. You told me you were guided by them. That the reason you were in love with me was because of my openness to them, the way I shared them with you and the way you could relate to them. It was as if you took the words straight out of my mouth, as if you were reading my mind and my fantasies. A prince made of flowers who lives with his heart. You call me emotional like it’s a good thing. You love the thing about me that I find most important but feel most embarrassed about. Is this crazy? Or are we crazy? Is there such a thing as a deep connection to someone? I’ve always wanted that to be true but people have made love so crass these days. The love that I long for has been discarded as a fiction invented by Hollywood or Bollywood. But what about the love of poetry and song that has been told for eternity? Do I dare believe in that? You believe in it, you profess it, sometimes you even sing it to me, but I’m scared to. Most people want to call this another one of my obsessions. But it really feels different this time. I wonder if I’ve said that before.
I’m like the boy who cried wolf. I’m afraid that I’m just lonely and clinging onto this connection because I’m scared of myself. When I told you that you said that through another person, through sharing, through love, we can learn even more about ourselves. We can grow. We need other people to grow. That makes sense. That’s beautiful. I want to see life through your eyes. I want to see myself through your eyes. I want to see us through your eyes. I think I love you. But then, what is love? I’ll have to ask you some time. You remind me of that Rupi Kaur poem you look like you smell of honey and no pain, let me have a taste of that. You taste so good. You make everything feel lovely. You vanquish my fears.
Yesterday you lifted me from a dark place. Usually I would have done it alone, but you held my hand. It’s like that dark tunnel from before. The one where I can’t see any light and I don’t know where it ends. But now I can feel you holding my hand. I can’t see you but you’re warm, your voice is deep and it rumbles in my chest. It feels like you know where we’re going. I want to trust you.