There is but one obstacle to happiness now, and it pays a low wage and gives me precisely fifteen minutes for tea. Work, my dreaded and despicable work.
The Proclaimer had worked it out and showed I could afford to go part-time. His scratchy sums on a crumpled bit of paper showed how happiness was possible: I could cut down to three days per week and we'd still have more than enough to live on. This would free up four days in the week that could be devoted to writing.
"But are you sure we could get by if I just worked part-time?" I asked.
"We'll be fine as long as you don't keep buying dresses and Yankee Candles."
A life without Yankee Candles? Yes, I nodded. It'll be worth it.
But work stands in the way. It stands there like a massive granite moron who won't get out of the damn way and let me be happy.
I started my campaign in a pally way. I sent an informal, friendly e-mail to The Chief, requesting to go part-time. I waited for an answer. I bought him coffee and Twixes. No answer. I sent another polite e-mail, then another. I stopped buying him Twixes, then I regretted it and bought him three.
The answer came: we cannot accommodate your request.
Were my Twixes no good? I offered Mars Bars. I said I'd bake him that coffee cake he liked. I'll bake him one every single week.
Then I tried to make him feel guilty, and talked of how I'd worked here for eight years and when I got ill, instead of supporting me they just demoted me. He was supposed to be my friend, was he not? Oh come on, Chief, do me a favour…
Then I got serious and sent in a formal request, stressing my record of poor mental health, how my breakdown had been work-related and that my GP would provide medical evidence showing how a reduction in hours would be beneficial and that I am asking my employer to exercise their duty of care.
We cannot accommodate your request.
They will not budge because they see their staff not as human but as coloured boxes on a spreadsheet. They need a certain number of coloured boxes on a certain number of days. You can't change to a different shade. We cannot accommodate your request.
This was infuriating as I'm finally able to write, but work is still tugging and nagging at me and casting a sick shadow over everything.
But at least I am writing, and no longer need borrowed light.
Because 'borrowed light' is what my whole dating odyssey has been about. I needed a man to provide glamour and entertainment because my own life was simply slogging in a call centre and feeling grimy and low. Now that I am starting to write and be published, I no longer need that. I cast my mind back to the men who once dazzled me and they just seem a bit silly and florid and desperate. Perhaps they too were compensating for something that was missing.
After I broke up with Shug I used to check his Facebook page and see him capering and flouncing backstage in his latest cheap and cheesy musical. He'd be wet with glittering eyeshadow, and squeezed obscenely into silver leggings or some other such monstrosity. But instead of cringing, I'd feel desperately jealous! Surely, you're meant to look at an ex's Facebook page and be riven with jealousy because his status is now 'in a relationship'? Not me. I don't care how many new burds he has, but I care deeply that he's doing something extraordinary whilst I am not. And The Clown? He was the most extraordinary of them all. Every dazzling achievement of his would drive me deeper down into the dirt, down amongst the hopeless and ordinary and plain.
But now I have my writing, and that is saving me. I work in my study and that is my own attempt at the extraordinary. I don't need middle-aged men in eyeshadow anymore. Indeed, it's pathetic that I ever did. I used to cling to these oddballs and live on their borrowed light. But now, their light seems pale and flickery.
It must have been my illness, I think. Only the sick and distorting light of a breakdown could have made these prats into heroes.
The man I'm with now has no gaudy frills and tricks and stage make-up. He has brown hair and glasses and wears clothes in what are fashion politely terms 'earthy tones'. He has no glitter and elan, but he is all substance and heart.
I wasted so many years chasing men in make-up.