Leon de Kock - 2011-10-11
Leon de Kock
I approach the door of Anna Brink’s rooms in Observatory, Johannesburg, in which her clean-cut therapy chamber is located. I’ve been here before, on a couple of occasions when life – relationships and marriage – got too hot to handle. She knows me well. In fact, she’s like an old friend. I know that, once Anna opens the door, we will go immediately left, into her refuge for the talking wounded. This is a bright, open, minimally appointed room with a rectangular black leather sofa on which I shall sit in various postures: semi-reclining, as I slide back into reflection, or suddenly bolt-upright, as I see something I hadn’t quite seen that way before, or leaning forward, to make a point. This is the place where we sort things out. Talk, talk, talk! It’s like going on a long walk in the mountains; you never quite know where you might end up. What makes it especially palatable here, now, is the approving presence of Anna. She is a sympathetic listener. She smiles complicitly when I most need it, looks serious when the subject deepens, laughs easily when things lighten up, and helps me back to my point every now and again.
She makes me feel like she’s on my side. For that, I love her.
Anna has short, dark hair and lively green eyes that take you into an open confidence. Sexy, full lips. She seems by nature to be compassionate and forgiving, although I understand this would also be her required professional manner. Still, I react well to the feeling I get around her that 1) she really is interested in what I have to say, 2) she’s listening carefully to my every word, rather than waiting for a pause to interrupt, and 3) she doesn’t seem to have any ready-made attitudes or approaches to the matters I raise. In my experience with people, men and women, this is rare.
What’s more, Anna wants to know every last detail of my story, every nook and cranny. She wants to hear about it from all sides, look into it, go over it, and treat it like the complicated human drama it becomes when you’re in the theatre of the second guess. As many replays as it takes. She gives me carte blanche. I suppose that’s what you pay for. She, in turn, talks very little, apart from asking questions. A friend who’s a shrink once explained it to me: the magic ingredient called “transference” only happens when the therapist is a blank slate … and then you write your story onto it. It works. Anna’s silence, this reluctance of hers to make much conversation, apart from umming and ahhing, forces me to talk even more – and then I start hearing myself. I mean like really hearing myself talk, the kinds of things I say all the time, and it begins to sound almost strange. That’s more or less how therapy works, I think.
‘How are you, Sam?’ she asks in response to my hello, smiling at me curiously. ‘What’s up?’ she adds, directing me to the couch, with its side-table on which a glass and a bottle of water, and a box of tissues, stand at the ready.
‘Anna!’ I say. ‘Great to see you. What’s up? You won’t believe it. What’s up is that I’ve just come out of the affair of my life … shit, man, I got dumped!’
‘Ouch,’ says Anna, making a face as if she’s flinching.
‘Yes, ouch, very ouch, that’s for sure! I feel hurt … and I’m the moer in. But this wasn’t just any affair … this little interval of love happened to be with one of the most god-awfully beautiful … and richest, women in town: Sabina Fairbrother! She’s the C EO of Move Media, plus a whole bunch of other marketing companies. To cut a long story short, Anna, first she hired me as a creative director at Move Media … ja, I know, great job … then she seduced me … but wait for it, the best is still coming … then she took me into her Westcliff home as her lover … ass in the butter, I know … and then, eventually, she threw me out like a used tissue from the window of her silver Merc SLK—’
Even by my standards of drama, Anna looks impressed. ‘OK . Looks like we’ve got a lot to deal with here. Maybe you should start at the beginning.’
‘Well, let me try. Basically, I got sideswiped … I got this fabulous job offer from Sabina, she of Move Media … ah, Sabina … opulent and dazzling … a hot operator in the Joburg advertising game … she hired me as a creative director and then, inside of a month, Anna, one fateful night, we found ourselves in a boardroom seduction scene, straight out of the movies—’
‘You two had it off in the boardroom? After work?’
‘Ja! I swear! Amazing, isn’t it? I mean, amazingly stupid of me … both of us, actually. What were we thinking, I know. I know! As if that’s not bad enough, within two weeks, she invited me to move in with her … which I did … and we began a love affair, a real Hollywood love affair, if that doesn’t sound too ridiculous.’
‘Well, let’s hear a bit more.’
‘We had the feeling that this was the one we’d always been waiting for. Both of us. And if we didn’t go for it … like, really go for it, then we’d lose it all, lose the opportunity. So we let it happen. Big time. And we kept the affair secret at work. We didn’t want colleagues gossiping … you know, lurid speculation, that kind of thing. We all know it’s not the best idea to mix business with pleasure. Never chase skirt – or pants – at work. Moenie op jou eie voorstoep kak nie! It creates complicated triangles and mistrust. Would she favour me above them, my colleagues would start asking. Would she talk to me about their confidential stuff?
And, if they found out, they’d take revenge on me, not her, because she’s the boss. Still, there we were, ripping into each other like animals. We couldn’t help ourselves. And hiding it away gave it a charge … a taboo affair. Privileged, secret knowledge. Sleeping with the CEO, for God’s sake! A stunning woman … svelte, clever, stylish … turning heads wherever she went. Sammy Baptista, a snotkop from Mayfair, lands the biggest fish of his life—’
‘Well, well!’ Anna exclaims.
‘… and this deliciously bad sex, Anna – God it’s nice to be bad, to have bad, secret, sexy sex, sex that feels like wrongdoing – this bad sex began to feel like love, like that thing we all long for … although, looking back, I no longer trust my memory, or my judgement. But if I was kidding myself, I had plenty reason to do so. I mean, we were living in Sabina’s plush Herbert Baker double-storey on Westcliff Ridge, with a patio straight out of Garden & Home … from her veranda you could see almost as far as Pretoria—’
‘Mmmm. Very nice …’
‘… lovely, Anna, lovely. And we decided to do love like we did business. Go big or go bust.’
‘And did you?’
‘We went big, but we also went bust. We managed to stay in a kind of love-bubble for quite a while, for a few months, in fact. We had this idea that we were, like, lyrically in love, and this always sweetly in-love mode became our default setting, if you know what I mean … in fact, it became like a rule. It was a rule we proclaimed to each other … if the one wasn’t behaving in the way the in-love rule required, the other would start calling him on it—’
‘Calling him on it, I notice you saying?’
‘Well, I suppose we both did it, but I sure got called a lot on the matter of better ways of being in love … and ways of behaving while in love—’
‘Well, Anna, this default mode … this mutual behaving, always, as if we were still in love … it all sort of completely broke down one terrible night over dinner, several months into our love story—’
‘What happened, Anna, is that she suddenly blurted out at me … told me, basically, that I eat like a pig. That my table manners suck. That I disgust her.’
‘Oh,’ Anna says slowly. ‘And how did that make you feel?’
‘It slayed me, Anna, it slayed me like a beast. I can’t even begin to explain how badly it sliced me up. Like someone gave me the biggest dwarsklap of my life—’
‘She really said that? Just like that?’
‘Well, she might have put it slightly differently, but that’s what our great love came down to, then and there. Her telling me that, blurting it into my face, was the beginning of the end, confirmation that the end was nigh, as they say. Sy’t my lekker genaai. Ha! Fokken lekker genaai … That’s when I realised I would have to think about leaving Sabina’s house, again … leave my lucrative job … and give up my wealthy man’s paradise—’
‘Yes! I saw I was going to have to give up all those dreams of becoming a Gatsby love-boat millionaire myself, me and Sabina living on the slopes of Camps Bay, me and the filthy-rich, supersexy C EO in deep love, living like kings … the most beautiful life you can imagine … now, suddenly, it just felt like a bad workplace affair … and I felt like Prime Idiot No. 1 . I mean, can you believe I was so stupid? A workplace affair. With the fucking boss!’
‘You’d be surprised how often it happens, Sam.’
‘God! I was so … so cock-jocked, so mesmerised by those
cobalt eyes of hers … her Oil of Olay fingers … her poise … that artistic style. I just couldn’t see the wood for the trees any more—’
‘I can imagine!’
‘… but that night, in that moment, everything changed. It changed and it became clear at the same time. And what became clear was that this whole caboodle had never been quite what it seemed to be … not quite; no, boetie, it had all been something else … something else completely …
‘I mean, there I was, feasting on the excess of food … so typical in her house … actually eating the stuff … doing it justice, relishing it. Licking my knife even … yes, licking my knife! That’s what she objected to. That’s what got her going! I licked my knife! I mean, how dare any self-respecting man lick his fricking knife? A fork you may propel into your mouth … you may even do something that looks like licking it … but to lick a knife, to slip a knife into your mouth, so you can transfer food to the inside of your oral cavity … oh no. Oh no! That’s in bad taste …
‘I mean, shit, Anna, this coming from none other than Sabina, the ex-fine artist who rebelled against her high-bred limey father … the rebel who became a film-set painter instead of marrying a well-connected Englishman. She even did drugs sometimes. She got rich and powerful from the bottom up, without the help of anyone. But now her noble instincts suddenly seemed to come back, or maybe they were just in hiding … because one minute we were feasting on life and the eating of it, and the next she pulls her back straight, gets rigid in her chair, and tells me she can’t stand it any longer, my table manners suck so bad it puts her right off her food—’
‘Did she actually use the words “eat like a pig”?’ Anna asks.
‘No, she didn’t, but she may as well have, because that’s what she meant! I put it to her … I said to her, don’t pull your punches,
Sabina, are you telling me I eat like a pig? Is that what you’re saying here?
‘But she just sat there. She didn’t deny it! Sat there with a face like the Sphinx, telling me she had certain … minimum standards of eating behaviour which she liked, “generally”, to uphold.’
‘OK , OK ,’ Anna muses.
‘I mean, “generally”! Behaviour! Standards of behaviour! These are her values! I couldn’t believe it. Table manners! I spit on table manners! Table manners are the last refuge of civilised thugs. I’m willing to bet old Adolf Hitler had excellent table manners! Just dandy was Adolf when he sat down to eat … to the accompaniment of Beethoven! Just immaculate, his table manners, never mind Pinochet and Stalin. I bet they all had great table manners! Three cheers for table manners!’
‘Why do you think this … declaration of Sabina’s … came as such a shock to you?’
‘Because, Anna, actually, she was confronting me on a different level altogether. I’m convinced of it. It was like an assault on my core … a direct attack on everything I was, everything I represented. Basically, she was telling me to curb my appetite! She wanted to tone me down, restrain my spirit, bring me into line … adjust me so she would feel I’m more in keeping with the kind of environment she liked … the kind she felt comfortable in.’
‘You think so?’
‘Yes! You see, Anna, this is what happens, this is why I can never hack it in relationships. You meet someone, and it’s like a meeting of mind, body and spirit. Or so it seems. Bliss. This goes on for quite a while, until mind, body and spirit get used to the fact that they’ve actually pulled this thing off.
‘We can do it, you think, we can do it! Despite our many doubts in the beginning, about sexual and emotional performance, we
can pull this thing off. We can make love, make food together, keep company, talk. You get to grips with the wonderful idea that you’ve actually succeeded in love … especially, in my case, after thinking I’d cooked my goose forever in the marriage blow-up. But then, amazingly, it happens, again …’
Anna nods. Carry on, she gestures.
‘… and when you first go in again, you get the feeling that you’re trying to do the impossible here, getting so mixed up with this … this other person, this person who’s so full of odd habits and nasty surprises. Somewhere in you, you know it’s actually impossible, right from the start. I mean, how can any two people get so close, so entangled in each other’s stuff, without going crazy?
‘How can anyone put up forever with that twitch of the eye when he gets edgy, those eyebrows that arch upwards with distaste … that bush of hair in the crook of his back … the habit she has of chucking cast-off clothes into the corner of the joint bedroom … that nasal snort he makes when he thinks he’s just said something funny …
‘It’s against the odds, right from the start, but somehow … somehow you pull it off. You pull off this happiness thing. And then, for a while, you feel like you’ve been released … it’s a huge relief … you’re in a place, now, that’s maybe exempt from the shit other people go through. You and your lover develop an almost superior feeling … we’re onto something big and beautiful here, something most of those poor bastards down there don’t have any more—’
‘I sense there’s a “but” coming—’
‘There is. You’re as happy as hell, but then, slowly, the eyebrow-raising, the surveillance … the shit … begins. The criticism. In her case, I now see, looking back, disguised … ja, disguised as being disappointed with me for all kinds of things, but in most cases it’s got to do with my being “negative” … as if not agreeing with her about most things was a taunt against her happiness … her precious happiness, for which I had somehow now become responsible.’
‘Sounds familiar,’ Anna chips in.
‘Too familiar! At which point did that happen, I wonder? Exactly when and where did I sign on the dotted line for the job of keeping her happy, on her terms? Weren’t we searching for happiness together? This little switch happened so fast, I swear I didn’t even notice it.’
I look at Anna for some sort of sign, but she stares back at me neutrally. “Carry on,” she says.
‘I mean, in her eyes, I was the man, and she liked her men to be good old-fashioned Dale Carnegies … in business and at home. Strong, well groomed, confident, handsome. Male role models. She wanted her men the way she wanted them. And, as the boss, she had the power to make it clear … this was the way you needed to be if you liked your job. And, for me, your lovely new life.
‘Basically, she wanted me bright and breezy … a hard-jawed, stylish, smart stud. With the gift of the gab. God, she even began buying me bright shirts, in preference to my greys and blacks. One morning I found the “gift” of a vanity set on my side of the bed. It didn’t take me too long to work out what the message was. My only doubt was whether I should trim my nose hairs or my toenails. Probably both.’
Anna stays silent but registers understanding with a slight upward tilt of her head, and then a slow nod.
‘Look, Anna, for a while, during the early phase … what I call the “lust-enchantment period” … it was no problem to keep on my bright and breezy face. We were having so much great sex, we both looked like the cat that got the cream. But then, after a few months, the crazy lust wore down a bit … and the secret slipped out … our colleagues even got bored with the subject.