It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
Never has Dickens’s opening to A Tale of Two Cities seemed so apt as it has for me during the past week. Writing about how I blew a fortune and face losing the house I worked so hard for, I felt exposed and vulnerable seeing the piece in print.
On Thursday, I went into meltdown, took the batteries out of my cell phone, unplugged my landline and took myself off Twitter and Facebook. I e-mailed a friend making reference to throwing myself off the Brooklyn Bridge. Have no fear: I am way too much of a coward to do anything like that and, in any case, didn’t have the money for the subway to get me there. Instead, I went to bed and hysterically cried myself to sleep mid-afternoon, emptying my body of even more tears I found it hard to believe were still there.
But now to the best of times, because that is undoubtedly what the past days have brought me. If ever I needed a wake-up call as to the nature of true friendship, this past week was it. I had expected derisory comments, a lack of sympathy, schadenfreude by the bucketload; I had, after all, been very stupid in throwing money around in an effort to alleviate loneliness and buy happiness. I won’t pretend that my spending hadn’t brought me pleasure, not to mention pleasure to the people on whom I lavished gifts, but I had been reckless with money.
I don’t resent spending one penny, by the way, on the true friends (and they know who they are) who benefited from my one-time good fortune; they repaid, and continue to repay me, in ways that money can’t buy, and I would not hesitate to spend on them again, if – no, when - my fortunes turn around.
The overwhelming compassion I have been shown has restored my faith in human nature. Generally, I give everyone the benefit of the doubt, anyway, and I believe that the majority of people do not set out to do a bad job in life. No matter what our circumstances, most of us share pretty much the same emotions – love, grief, happiness, sadness, jealousy: our bodies, minds and souls are, at grass roots level, the same. I won’t go into what leads some from the basic human blueprint into the paths of criminal activity, but I believe at any one time we are carrying a complex body of emotions that we all, in our varying ways, are only trying to make sense of.
We just want to get by. Anything else is a bonus.
Longstanding friends were the first to reach out, including my oldest friend from my schooldays, who has not been without her own troubles in recent years. Offers of places to go to have a break were overwhelming – Scotland, Yorkshire, Ireland – as well as offers of food and drink (tea, wine, coffee), not only from friends, but people who know me only from Facebook and Twitter.
Carolyn Hitt, the brilliant, award-winning journalist on the Western Mail, wrote about me in her column. I did not think I had more tears to shed, but they plopped onto my keyboard non-stop as I read. Witty, poignant, sensitive, understanding – it was an extraordinary column about the nature of loneliness that the piece I wrote appears to have brought to light. Because, at the end of the day, what she absolutely got was that I wasn’t writing about money, but about an emptiness in the emotional coffers that no amount of cash can fill.
The line that struck me most in her piece was this: “When you live alone you may always have people to do something with but you don’t have people to do nothing with.” And that’s it, in a nutshell. When I fantasise about having a partner in my life, it’s not parties and nights out that I think about; it’s lying on the sofa, hearing someone’s key in the lock, kissing them hello and hearing about their day, or, in reverse, me coming in and their hearing about mine. The joy of the nothingness.
Not that I think that having a partner is the answer to everything. I would rather feel lonely by myself than lonely in an unhappy marriage from which there is no escape. I am happy in my own company and I work alone. But, as you get older and see your friends clock up decades of togetherness, it gets harder – especially for women, for whom going out socialising alone is still not as acceptable or easy as it is for men in the same situation.
I have been humbled by the outpouring of understanding both from friends and strangers since the piece appeared. I have tried to respond to everyone, to whom I will remain eternally grateful. I finally got out of bed, set about putting the finishing touches to my book, and have written 12 pages of my screenplay.
I’m back on the horse, albeit at a slow trot.