My name is Nathaniel and I don’t suppose any of this will make much sense to you, but this is what happened. I was quite happily minding my own business, driving home while munching on the cheeseburgers I’d just got from a drive-through, when I saw the flashing blue light in my mirror. It would be a cliché to say ‘my heart sank’ but it would be true. It did and I knew why.
I’m not usually so stupid and there’re one or two things I could say in my defence. First, I wasn’t ‘drunk’ – I would never have got in my car if I had been – but I wasn’t sober, either. I suppose everyone says ‘I wasn’t drunk’ and some of them might be telling the truth, but, as you might come to realise, I don’t care if you think I was out of my mind on drink. I’m not an alcoholic: that actually is true. I’ve never had that kind of problem.
I had the usual upbringing, the father was in banking management and the mother was a housewife. There was a little spare money going around and we had the odd nice holiday. School wasn’t a fee-paying one but it was a decent enough state-school. Luckily or not for me my school was mixed and I got on well considering I was distracted most of the time. The experience of school failed to stimulate my mind, or anything else, but I did enough to get through without bringing unwanted attention on myself. In a way I learned a lot at school.
After I left I went to university so I wouldn’t have to work in the father’s office, or any other office, and I studied the Philosophy of Religion. There’s nothing quite like studying religion to make a person a non-believer; but not believing in eternal justice has some logical consequences.
The father was an alright sort; he was hardly ever around and the mother might have been happier with a man who was present a little more. I think the poor dear was stuck in a sort of unhappy marriage but happy-enough lifestyle. She liked the house and the spare money and the clothes and the nights out and the men friends and the cars and the attention and the visitors when the father was away and all the rest of things women dislike because they only want to be loved. I know women, trust me.
I’m divorced. I got divorced exactly three years to the day that I married the wife. Believe it or not it was me who started the proceedings – for adultery. I caught the wife in flagrant delicto as they say. I was pretty calm at the time. I remember just looking at them both and shaking my head while feeling a sort of disgust at the sight of them both. It was how she looked with her hair stuck to her sweaty forehead, her round belly and the whole neediness of the situation; the whole ’emotional requirement’ of it. I actually wanted to be sick when I saw them. I told my parents what had happened. The mother decided the wife was a non-person and was the lowest kind of pond-life imaginable. I thought it all amusing. It is funny watching people scrap and fight with each other for a little warmth. A bit like throwing a few crumbs for the seagulls and watching them peck each other and squawk about the place. There are rules these days about feeding them because seagulls are practically vermin.
I never re-married but I’ve had plenty of relationships with women; some went on for a while and some of them were short lived. Some very short lived, actually. Men tend not to frown on one night stands for some reason. I don’t mind that side of it, it’s all the other stuff I can’t be doing with. The domestic couple, that’s the real beast with two backs.
Anyway, the blue light is flashing and I pull over at the first safe place and just wait. I’m sat there with the engine running, thinking about flooring it and getting away but what’s the point? Once they’ve got your licence plate number it’s all over, just a question of when.
The police officer was a female: young – I’d bet in her twenties – with blonde hair all bound up tight behind her head. I could see the silhouette of the other one in my mirror: just sat there, watching.
Most of the time spent in the station was taken up with mundane procedures. There was the photograph I had to pose for, for which I couldn’t show my best side; the DNA swab was taken by the blonde who became the woman who got closest to my teeth without me giving her a love-bite, and another female officer came in to push my fingertips and palms onto a scanner to take my finger prints. I wondered how long it took their computer to find matches of prints and DNA. Not that it really mattered to me. I gave my details to the desk sergeant, a different woman again. I remember blowing into a big machine to get an accurate reading of the alcohol in my breath.
‘If it reads between forty-one and fifty-one we need to get a doctor,’ the officer said.
‘And why is that? I asked.
‘Up to fifty-one is inconclusive,’ she said, ‘so we’d need a sample of blood.’
‘I’ve got plenty of those to spare.’ She didn’t get the joke.
She fiddled with the machine and in a moment or two a long receipt-type thing spewed out: A paper tongue. The female officer snatched at it, ripped it clean off, read it then showed it to me. The reading came out at fifty-seven.
‘So you’re over,’ she said. ‘Not by much, but enough. We won’t need to take your blood. Do you want us to call the duty-solicitor?’
I could see she expected me to say no. What’s the point of a solicitor for a drink-driving charge? The whole thing is, as the cliché goes, an open and shut case. There’s nothing for a solicitor to do.
‘Yes, I think you’d better call the solicitor. That seems to be appropriate. How long will he be?’
‘She. All the duty solicitors are women.’
I’d been sat in the cell for about half an hour when the arresting officer came in carrying a blanket.
‘You might need this. It can get pretty cold.’ She dumped the blanket onto the plastic mattress. ‘Is the bed comfy?’
On paper that looks like a weird question for her to ask. Why should she care if the bed was comfy? In any case it wasn’t a proper bed. The question was asked naturally enough but I saw it on her face: a brief twitch of the nose, the flicker on the top lip; she tried her best but couldn’t hide the disgust she felt. The question was her attempt at sarcastic humour.
‘How long for the solicitor?’ I asked.
‘Don’t know. She’ll get here when she gets here.’
I needed confirmation, just for my own peace of mind, so I asked her:
‘What if I change my mind about the solicitor? Can’t we just get on with it without one?’
‘You want to proceed without a solicitor? Why would you want to do that?’ She was smiling and I knew it then for sure. It starts now, I thought.
Somebody told me that excessive drinking is a form of self-harming and a symptom of depression; though I don’t drink to excess I realised at some point I might be drinking heavily: more than is normal for a person in my position. The person who told me this was a woman called Natalie and we were quite close at times. She told me she used to self-harm and the inside of her thighs were covered in slash marks. I saw them eventually. She made plenty of slits. There are coping skills a person can learn to help them. We got into it quite deeply at one point but I don’t think my nihilistic outlook helped her much but I can’t do anything about it now. Self-harming is not the same expression of despair as suicide. How could I have guessed she’d do it?
We were about four-months into the relationship and she’d promoted me to key-holder so I could come and go as I pleased. She understood that some men need to be able to come and go. I walked into the living room and she was lying on the sofa under a duvet: all still and quiet, quite peaceful and ice-cold. It was strange because she was cold everywhere. She’d left no note, no letter, no explanation of any kind and nobody could make any sense of it. It was a total mystery.
I explained everything to her mother, told her everything I knew: how she’d been, her moods, whether we’d argued recently. I tried to make the woman understand that I’d tried to tell her daughter that life was always worth living, that life was a privilege. But for all I tried it was no use; she couldn’t shake the black moods and she was overwhelmed in the end. The woman thanked me for my kindness and said she was glad her daughter had known me. I was touched by that. Her words helped me cope with the situation and I made a point of visiting that woman several times to help her with the grieving process. We had many long chats and I went into more detail about Natalie’s mood before she killed herself. Her mother needed a shoulder to cry on but she suddenly asked me to stop coming round and I don’t know why that was. I thought she lacked gratitude.
They kept me in the cell for almost the maximum amount of time allowed before charging me. I think it was six AM when the female officer came in and said they wanted to breathalyse me again. When the alcohol in my breath had dropped enough that I could pass a breath test then they could let me go. What a laugh. The female desk sergeant processed the drink-driving and printed the paperwork with the date of my court appearance. That was usually the point at which people are let go. Then a detective appeared, lord knows where she came from, and told me they wanted a chat about other matters so I was re-arrested on the spot. Like I said, I knew it was coming.
I told them everything they wanted to know; didn’t quibble or try to hide anything. I think the whole interview took nine hours. I had all the details ready to go and didn’t see any point in messing about.
My mother decided I’d lost my mind in confessing, that I’d been tortured or something while in custody. It was almost funny that my position of complete disclosure had brought on the largest episode of denial her mind could manufacture.
I walked into my new home a famous man; it seemed everyone had heard of me. My psychiatrist was a woman. Dr Julia I called her. We got along superbly well; had never a crossed word. I was case-study to her, not much else I could be, really. My mother visited occasionally. At least I think she did.
She asked me what my earliest memory was; that was one of the first things she asked. I told her it was of my parents arguing. Then it was something to do with pain – a searing pain and being in total darkness with muffled shouting and the sound of glass smashing somewhere. I told her I heard the sound of a wet thud – like a sand-bag hitting concrete from a height, followed by quiet for what seemed like hours then forever.
All this sort of talk was progress, she said. I asked her: ‘Progress toward what?’
‘Toward acceptance. There’s anger, denial and acceptance. Anger was what you did out there; denial is where you still are. But we’re making progress.’
‘And what comes with this acceptance you’re talking about? A great wave of relief washes over me? What?’
She always seemed to know what I was getting at without me having to say it.
‘I know you know what happened; just at an intellectual level; I know you have a memory, but acceptance is a different thing entirely. It goes beyond knowing into something else.’
She knew what I was getting at but the things she said to me took a day or so to process, like my unconscious had to decode the meaning before letting me realise what she was going on about: apparently if the insight comes under its own steam, at its own pace, then it carries more weight. I think that’s what she said.
This is part of my beautiful journey to acceptance, I’m told – notes for my autobiography. Start with some extended memories, little snippets of essays or stories, and make sure you tell the truth. It can be fleshed out later. I told her I know how to flesh things out. I told Julia of course I’d tell the truth.
I saw the lovely Nicola today, with her friend, the one I don’t really like. Nicola works in the kitchen and collects plates and serves food. Sometimes she helps with the more difficult residents, those who are medicated. She’s a nice woman. I was leaving Julia’s office and they walked past and I just managed to hear Nicola tell the other one she’d lost four pounds that week. They’re told not to discuss personal details or relationships and so on around us. I have no idea why but that’s the rule. Where’s the harm?
Later on she’s clearing plates and comes over, smiling as usual, to take my finished bowl and cutlery.
‘All done, here?’
‘Beautiful as always,’ I said, ‘and the food wasn’t bad, either.’
She gave me that withering look some of them do; that “yeah, yeah – whatever” type look. But she was trying to hide a smirk.
‘Hang on,’ I said, ‘have you lost weight? Looks like you’ve lost a few pounds.’
She liked that one, I could see it. Liked it so much the smirk disappeared and she looked really serious: she buried that pride deeper than I’ve ever buried anything. That was the beginning of our friendship. A little later I asked her if she could bring me a pen; just a simple little Biro – nothing amazing. She knew it was against the rules but did it anyway and from there it was easy. Always start with the small stuff because it works every time. We kept things a secret from Julia because she would have had Nicola moved to another wing. We aren’t seen talking for long. I’ve got Nicola under my wing.