On a spring day in 1975, I had come down to this little house – long before it was to become my little house – to pick up my wife, who was not yet my wife, from where she lived with her parents, to take her back on the bus to my parents’ house, where I was still living, to spend the afternoon and evening together, for the first time ever.
The house was very busy and very noisy that day. My parents were there, and my mother’s parents had come round from their little maisonette half a mile away; by brother and his friend were there, as were my sister and her friend. So to get some peace, and find a space in which to talk, we stayed in my bedroom, she on the long sofa, and I perched on the edge of the bed with my elbows on my knees, and we talked and talked. For six hours we talked, and when it was time to take her home again, I was in love, and I was addicted to her conversation. From that point, I craved her company for her conversation. Everything else immediately assumed the role of distraction, whose purpose it became to tug the seconds and minutes out of the future until, at last, new conversations would arrive, and my addiction was for the moment satisfied once again. At first, we met every day at school, then, once our courses concluded and the exams were upon us, daily contact ended, and on those days when we did not meet, I would always phone her in the evenings, and perhaps for an hour so, there came the conversations that I craved. We would meet once, each weekend when she would visit my parents’ house, and on one day during the week I would visit her parents’ house. The gaps were filled by phone calls, and by waiting, by seeking distractions that used up the intervening time between where I was and our next meeting.
And that craving, that addiction, that affliction, has never left me. Everything else, for our entire married life, was subordinate to our conversations, and nothing mattered, not really, apart from our conversations.
So now, all these months after having been cleaved so irrevocably from the conversation that I crave, I find that I experience matters just as I did then, all those years ago, when the world was divided into the joy of conversations and the barely endurable discomfort of waiting for conversations. So this is what I am waiting for, and this is why everything is nothing but an attempt to find a distraction through which time will pass until it is again time for conversation. Except now, no conversation can ever come again. And that fact makes the distractions useless, makes the waiting pointless. What I await can never come, yet I find that I am waiting all the same. I do not really, not really want to read Orwell’s 1984, but I read it anyway in order to bring closer – according to my old habit – those new conversations that I crave more than any addict has ever craved his fix. Yet they do not come. So I endure a state of permanent withdrawal that will never lessen, as the daily routine of sleeplessness, nightmares, pounding heart, abdominal cramps, revulsion at everything, headaches, dizziness and weeping crash together like runners in the field trying all at once to get through a narrow gate.
I would like my new, my new unwanted life, to be wanted, needed by someone, as my dear wife needed and wanted me for all those years yet, trapped in this despair, I see no way of ever finding an opening I might squeeze through. That I could ever do this, strikes me as ridiculous as the notion that I might one day live on Mars, and step out from an agreeable little modular dwelling – where I still have some of my old books – under its protective dome, where it quite often gets as warm as I remember it back on Earth, all those years ago, before the illness came, and we would walk across the little field close to her parents’ house, or explore the Roman Museum at Verulamium … and where under the dome I would sit on an old, familiar chair watching the horizon, because I know that the Earth will rise in a moment, and as the sky darkens on another Martian day, that distant, distant planet where I knew my conversations, will grow agreeably bright, hinting at a tranquil blue, and for just a second I will fancy that I can hear her voice calling to me, as she used to, from inside, for she has something new to tell me, and now I do so want to hear it, even though we are on Mars. I would want to keep hearing it forever.
But I am not on Mars, I am here, where I have always been, waiting and waiting for nothing.
[The photograph of Mars is a public domain image originating with NASA and sourced from the Wikimedia Commons website.]