I turned the tap and asked him his temperature preferences. This man has been inside me but I don’t know how he takes his showers.
‘Cold,’ he said. ‘Always cold showers in Bali.’
I like my cold showers during summer time too but not on this day. He stood in the corner. He didn’t want to share, probably doesn’t know how. I turned the tap to warm. Then warmer.
Suddenly I said, ‘As a teenager, when I felt distressed, I would take hot showers. And slowly I would tweak the tap until the water was boiling, and sit there, hot and hurting, almost meditating, I guess.’
His face scrunched up. ‘You like pain?!’
And I felt exposed then. Because he didn’t get it. Or maybe because he was uncomfortable with pain at all.
I shrugged and told him that yes, perhaps I did. But I turned the tap to cool anyway.
It was our last morning together. It was also his birthday. The night before involved me accidentally getting too drunk to talk to his friends, us popping a shit pill, dropping into a techno club full of prostitutes, and ended sitting on a dirty beach. When we sat down, I was very quiet. This was not the romantic goodbye-night I had had in mind. He asked me what was wrong but I could only speak with my eyes. Eventually he pulled me in and I let him. He said, ‘I like you.’ And I reciprocated. He said, ‘I see you,’ and I nodded weakly because, uhm, NO. It’s a beautiful thing to say but it wasn’t true.
I have an adore/abhor relationship with pain. That sounds complicated. But it’s not. Emotionally, I have suffered simply because I have an aptitude for self-destruction. That’s the bit I resent. But throughout my life I have sought out physical pain too. Along with the scalding showers, I had a nasty cutting habit that took me years to shake. If I couldn’t get my hands on a scalpel, I would dig my nails into my skin, or pull my hair, or even slap myself. And when I did these things, I felt good. Because a cut or a bruise is legitimate pain, pain you cannot ignore. If was hysterical before cut, afterwards I felt calm. And if I was cold before, afterwards I felt the sadness and cried. Self-harm was an escape. Then, those cuts were what I needed to do to survive. And now, I am who I am because of my pain. And even though I’ve modified the escape routes, that pain is still there.
My Bali-boy was sweet, and I know he liked me. And I know he believed it when he said he would commit to me if we lived in the same country. But he couldn’t see me, only the idea of me. And that means that he couldn’t see the other empty-promise scars or the diet-decalration holes. He couldn’t see how much words mean to me, or how I think every kiss is sacred. He couldn’t see the therapy in romance, or that shallow encounters are not worth my time. He couldn’t see my roots, my pain, ergo he couldn’t see me.