When my lover awakens he weaves his arms out from around and beneath me to stretch them far enough to reach his beer. He cracks it open between his teeth and gulps his thirst away. He smacks his lips in conclusion and rolls back over to kiss me in my slumber. He lands cold lips between my shoulder blades as he shifts his loins till they cup me and my warmth.
He started drinking again last week and is already back to where he was when he stopped.
Maybe it was too easy, the way he put his foot on the brakes and pulled the key out of the ignition. It was too good to be true how he stepped out of the car and scarcely looked back. When he stopped, or rather, paused, his swollen face softened and a subtle radiance snuck into his eyes. He went a month, then two and as he wrapped up his third month he found himself drunk in celebration.
In the dark, when the drinking of the day has softened him enough, he looks at me in sorrow and tells me of how the world is beating him off his feet. Of how it takes his good will and effort and weighs it to find it lacking. Of how his everything is not enough, even for the ones that once said they loved him. His voice thick with liquor and tongue heavy with lament he tells me how he’s ready to stop trying.
Love works differently for him, and it feels like the world isn’t there yet. His love means death. His love means risking all for the well being and safety of those who his love has been bestowed to but many take it and pawn it for whatever they want more at any given moment. It’s unfortunately hardly ever his wellbeing.
So green bottles clang together in his backpack as he heads to work in the morning. He calls an uber and opens the door for me with the hand that isn’t holding his second beer of the day. Sober or sauced, he’s never cared for anyone’s stares so the reactions to his morning coffee, in a cold and cloudy beer bottle, have never moved him in any way. He’s merely trying to survive abandonment and the pain of trying to figure out how the ones you love can love you so much less than you love them.
His favourite sound is glass shattering on the sidewalk.
He smiles and says, “Do you want to hear something amazing?”
And before I can say no his fingers unflex and the beer bottle he dangled outside the window pierces the air with its breaking.
The car would leave it far behind but the sound would loop in my ear each time I realised what I signed up for. The soundtrack for the day I admitted I loved him sounds like something shattering.
He was my lesson on alternative love. Love that needed more work than it rewarded. Love that hardly clapped it’s hands in pride or looked at me with eyes shining bright with love. His hands reached for me more when he was asleep than when he was awake. He’d hold me like a crucifix that scared all the darkness away.
In his waking hours his biggest smile was when he could see that a muscle in my face is about to snap with frustration or when my eyes clouded up and lips tightened to hold everything in.
He’d rile me up on purpose when our day was full of too much laughter and grab at me roughly in public. Snatching up my waistband or top, in one hand, with a grimace on his face. “What?” he’d say with a sneer, challenging me to protest.
“You know when you’re my girlfriend you can’t say no right?”
He’d beg for me to argue with him. He’d stand right on my nose and kiss me on the face and hey!hey!HEY! me into getting annoyed at him and then he’d step back smiling because he’d done it.
It felt like he was balancing an inner equilibrium. Maybe he feared that if he loved me too well he’d have to carry me at some point too. That I’d lose the fire and fight that he was besotted with and there wasn’t enough alcohol for him to manage another human being’s betrayal.
I’m far too sensitive, he’d say, because I ended up crying more often than not.
“Why do you always want to hurt me?” I’d ask because I was new to the concept of someone saying they loved you and simultaneously causing you harm.
But when I wasn’t crying I was raging. I’d fall asleep exhausted from the effort. In his bathtub, sitting on his dirty laundry, as he slumbered on the bed. Or on his couch clutching his only blanket as my teeth chattered. Hugging myself and the decision to end it with him as soon as morning drew it’s first breath.
I tried to explain to him that really I was not all fire and fight. I was mostly moisture and vulnerability. I was afraid he fell in love with the smallest part of me and because that wasn’t my natural state, it meant he had to pry it out of me as often as he could.
Maybe I was a scavenger. I lived for the moments when I accidentally caught him showing his soft, white meat. His caring, his sensitivity, his hurt. Maybe sometimes I’d say the worst things just to see it. To be reminded why i’m still there. To balance my own equilibrium and show that I had some power too, that I too had some control over him.
Sometimes I’d slip up and tell him how I loved the moments of soft and he’d say I’m spoilt. Imagine being starved and told you’re spoilt for the moments you’re grateful for.
I’d voluntarily return into his arms the following day. When the anger in my earlobes had cooled off and I remembered that he may be the first person in my life to take me with all my ugly. Yes, sometimes he’d pull out my ugly and shake it in front of my face till I tear up, but other times he’d take my ugly away and tell me it’s okay and work hard to convince me of my amazingness.
My lover started drinking again and I’m really scared.
Sometimes I think he loves me better when his hand is not wrapped around a green bottle, or a brown bottle or a clear square bottle. That he hurts me less. But sometime it feel like when he’s slurring he needs me more, holds on to me tighter.
I don’t know. I don’t know.
Before him I spent seven years in what I thought was love school. In a long term relationship where I loved one man so much it shone in my face, I thought I knew all the kinds and levels of love.
I guess I never got to master the love of self.
Lerato Mbangeni is a young black journalist and copywriter in South Africa who, although she has written widely on social issues in the country, focuses on capturing the nuances of upcoming arts movements in South Africa following the period of struggle arts during the apartheid era. Her writing has appeared in The Star, Cape Times, Cape Argus, the Mercury, Daily News (KZN), the Saturday Star, The African Independent and online publication OkayAfrica. Lerato was one of three finalists in the 2016 Sikuvile Awards’ Young Journalist of the Year category.
Related country: South Africa