They told me to make a balloon, to colour with all the shades of dawn, to draw the smells of a forest in autumn, to go ice-fishing, to set up my own household. But you’d punctured that balloon and deflated my life: deprived me of the smells of the forest, melted the ice in case it might bring me joy, and I’d already wasted six months designing our household, except I didn’t realise that household was only meant for you, that it was built on eggshells, shaped exactly for you and your moods – a room specifically for those, even. A room for your heavy breathing and stern frowns and eyes that will cut right through a person. A room I would have once used for my paintings (but you told me you’d never want one of those so I threw away the one I was secretly working on for your birthday).
And once you took me to Ikea which for me was an inward fantasy played aloud because I could pick out all the dainty things for our eggshell household (though I’m not sure if you’ll let them in yet, because you haven’t told me the colour scheme, among other things you’ve kept me in the dark about). Ikea didn’t have the right-sized terracotta plant pot you wanted and I felt personally responsible for Ikea’s failure. The whole of Ikea Glasgow, and its multitude of plastic fantasy households couldn’t contain you and your mood then, and I thought: Oh God, how ever will we find a property big enough to keep up with you and your turns?
To compensate for the whole of Sweden’s terracotta failures I danced after you in a bid to keep up (because if you leave me here and drive off I’ll be stuck in this no-man’s-land of fantasy households forever and have to live off Swedish meatballs and shit in the toilets without any plumbing). Like a child, I skipped to the ‘pic-n-mix’ section, past the flat pack furniture department and dodging the orbit of your mood, and I filled us a bag inappropriately high with a coy smile, in a quirky, irresistibly feminine and as-breakable-as-terracotta way, which I knew would swing your mood the other way. We drove home, me in the passenger seat, without a seatbelt but ready for the worst, the next hit and its accompanying adrenaline, and I stuffed too many banana foams into your driver’s mouth, because it was a fun thing to do and you smiled at my foolishness. I know how to keep you loving me and I know how to keep you hurting me.
The facilitators of this workshop for survivors have handed me an Ikea catalogue for scrapbooking out my own feelings and my own household. I flicked through it to find the right-sized terracotta plant pot and there it stood. I was in half a mind to get out my phone and make a call to Sweden right there and then, to firstly make them apologise for the upset they caused you for not having the right-sized terracotta plant pot in stock in the Glasgow store, and to secondly place an order for said plant pot for your household. I fantasised that this could be my contribution.
We were given multiple last chances to be bold, to confide, to collapse, to cower over and display our insides in collage-form: “Are there any other brave souls out there?...Nope? Okay then.” When they started packing away the stupid pom-poms, the lolly sticks, and the crayons, I whimpered and I shared. Childish things cannot be used to illustrate painful, adult things, but an Ikea catalogue can:
I would have loved our Ikea trip to have been about bickering about what colours to paint the walls.
The facilitators told me I must crunch down on the eggshells for my household to have a structurally solid foundation and that can be surprisingly painful, cut your skin even, for something that seems so delicate and harmless from the surface. The facilitators asked me to consider whether my paintings, which are so large and colourful, could use with a room of their own? The facilitators asked me to think deeply about whether I actually like terracotta plant pots, or whether a man who only loves you with when you’re coy with banana foams actually loves you at all?
I was suddenly engulfed by a cloud of strangers. A woman who was refreshingly open about her queer identity held my hand (though she asked for my permission first, and that’s not something I’m used to), and a refugee from Sudan held me and rubbed my arms as if they were two damp sticks that she was trying to ignite a fire with. These people, who other people sometimes consider as less-than-people, showed me more affection and love and mercy than you have sporadically given me over the course of our Phantom-Thread affair. These people make Glasgow, not you. I wanted wholeheartedly to believe you made Glasgow, so much so that I committed to living here, because 500 miles is a safe distance from my family for them to not see the mistakes you’ve made. I’m staying here now because of the allies I’ve collected along the way.
If you or someone you know is affected by domestic abuse or sexual violence, or is seeking advice about these issues, you can find useful numbers and resources here.
‘Knowing Me; Knowing You: Is this the best we can do for cohabiting couples? Engender has responded to the Scottish Law Commission's consultation on reforms to the law governing cohabitation in Scotland. This blog, from Engender's Policy and Parliamentary Manager Eilidh Dickson, sets out why equality in cohabitation is a feminist issue.
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