The Encounter

My blue-lipped battered-wife chic is fading.

I encountered our Friendly Neighbourhood New Zealander (see previous posts) on my way back from the supermarket (oh, my unbearably exciting life). One of Andy’s multitude of ‘best mates’ – a drug addict/ dealer who, contrary to all the stereotypes is mild-mannered, almost submissive. He loves animals and this, as I said, endears him to Doug. He is nearly always accompanied by some animal or other. This time he was walking an Alsatian. Like Doug, he is the neighbourhood pet-sitter. Great, so he is adored by animals and small children. A prime candidate for sainthood. Some alert the Vatican – this man must be canonised.

I spoke to him in a loud, firm voice, ‘Hello.’ And then, because I simply could not resist. ‘Aren’t you going to see your ‘friend” The inverted commas were clearly audible in my voice. He had the good grace to turn away sheepishly.

Before guilt could set in, I inhaled deeply. climbed the steps and knocked on P’s door (see yesterday’s entry). He answered immediately – punctuality is something one would expect from a former Royal Navy officer. His story filtered through Doug so I am unable to ascertain his accuracy. When he divorced his wife he was given a bedsit flat (apparently ex-military are given priority when it comes to social housing and, rightly so, in my humble opinion. After all, they are worthier than pseudo- like me ) Later, he managed to exchange flats with C, my rather intellectually-challenged former neighbour.

He invited me in. His flat was decorated with warm, dark colours and was much cleaner than mine but then he doesn’t have Brat Cat Bella who is growing older every day and sheds copious amounts of fur and insists upon using my litter tray – the bathroom – as her litter tray, to contend with. Thick, cream curtains, a sofa and an easy chair. Sony stereo – all separates. Belongings aplenty but he appeared to be much more adept at keeping in order than I am. (I think that’s a result of being in the navy. I think I may enlist). His was one of the cleanest homes I have ever encountered, devoid of cat fur and duck down. (I was bored last week so I started to pluck the feathers out of one of my pillows with a pair of tweezers. Progress was slow so I took a knife and slit the pillow open. Symbolic perhaps. The consequences of my actions were duck feathers all over my flat which no amount of hoovering is capable of obliterating.)

I sat down and leaned back into P’s overstuffed sofa. P. opened a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon. He offered me some Chile-con-Carne which I had to decline, telling him that I was a vegetarian. Still, the New World Sauvignon was exquisite, sliding down my throat and warming me up from the inside out. It freed my mind and loosed my tongue.

‘Now, tell me what happened.’ P settled back into his easy chair

I was startled by his direct approach. ‘Well, I was attacked by Andy and now the police are pressing charges. Simple as that.’

‘What I don’t understand is why you went there.’

‘Given that he was my friend and has been for the last ten years, I don’t see why you find that so surprising. He had invited me, and I quote, to ‘pop in for a cup of tea’ and that’s exactly what I did.’

‘But, given what he did to you all those months ago. Some men would see that as a ‘come on’.’

I was perplexed. ‘A ‘come on’? I’m sorry but I’ve no idea what you’re talking about. What is he supposed to have done to me ‘all those months ago.’

‘When he exposed himself to you. When Doug told me about it, I said, ‘What on earth did she go down there for? Wasn’t it rather like, you know, responding to an invitation?’

I had to work hard to hold my anger in. Don’t some people believe that there is more to life than sex? And I was furious with Doug. What right did he have to go gossiping about me to the entire neighbourhood? I slowly and patiently explained that when Andy ‘exposed’ himself to me he had been in the throes of a manic episode and one of symptoms of this part of bipolar affective disorder is extreme exhibitionism. I pointed out that, once, when he was very ill, he had exposed himself to a group of Catholic priests and I very much doubt he was attracted to them.

The assault was not sexually motivated. I may never know what it was motivated by. Handel’s Messiah was playing in the background as I spoke. and P. told me about his own history. He said his mother had an affair with a young Jewish man who subsequently rejected her when she became pregnant. Her father also rejected her. Homeless and penniless she eventually found a man who would accept her without her unborn child. As soon as P was born he was put into a children’s home. He never knew parental love or affection. (That’s one thing my own parents got right – the first seven years of my life were idyllic until the novelty of parenthood wore off, until I started questioning everything around me – my father’s alcoholism, my mother’s submissiveness. No wonder my teachers used to call me the ‘But Why Child’. If only I’d kept quiet, if only I hadn’t protested, if only I’d been a ‘good little girl’ my life may have been very different. But P didn’t even have what I had – no loving parents during his formative years. He was regarded by society as a ‘reject’ and the staff at the home never failed to remind him of that.)

P is 76 now. He was reunited with his mother in his 50s. I must say he is remarkably unencumbered by bitterness.

Unlike me. But maybe that comes with time.

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