Before I left yesterday to attend a Christmas lunch I knew I’d rather be staying home, and when hours later I returned my opinion was unchanged: I wished I had stayed home.
I felt it creep up on me as the hour approached when I would have to leave. I didn’t have the energy, nor the desire. It seemed even then a truer thing to stay home with Rigby, my dearest companion after all, and do something genuinely of interest to me. Instead, I must conform to ritual.
I left with a bag slung over my shoulder. At the station, a man in a dark suit wielding a large painted cross got on board with me. I sat by the window looking out the window listening to music. More people got on than got off. Most were like me, on their way to some celebration, but there were others, those who don’t celebrate Christmas, who had other plans.
I arrived a little after 1. I remembered last year walking this way a few days before Christmas, past the little Christmas shop, there still, advertising Christmas decorations and the like that won’t get sold now until next season.
You know what it’s like when you’re in an unsocial mood and forced to attend something you rather not. The smile is forced, the bonhomie strained, your mind wanders, wishing to be elsewhere, separate to things and yearning for something authentic.
It was not the blame of my hosts. I’ve been to their home many times, and many times have had a fine old time. There were some I didn’t know, or hardly knew, but I could cope with that as long as they didn’t expect too much. Mostly it was just the occasion. There’s no day in the year that reminds you more of how bereft you are than Christmas, and attending somebody else’s party just reinforces that.
I felt alone because I am. I was a visitor, a welcome guest, but not one of the family – and had I not been there it wouldn’t have made one whit of difference. I was at theirs because I had nothing of my own. Though I had other invitations, it was all with others.
When you’re in that mood it doesn’t take much to aggravate you. I had a few beers, had a few wines. I enjoyed the meal and even had some engaging conversations. Mostly I was outside of it, and outside of me almost. I was a body sitting in a chair, but I was elsewhere.
The host is a self-made millionaire. He’s very personable with no airs or graces. He’s an intelligent, curious man – much as you would expect, I guess – and many a time we’ve had deeply interesting conversations. I like him and we get on well. There’s something I’ve noticed about some people when they’re around a successful person like him: they act up, and I hate it.
There was a Dutch guy there I’d never met before who was deferential, but really it was the brother-in-law who was really annoying. I’ve met him a few times before, a smug type who doesn’t so much as converse as spew lines he thinks clever. I don’t understand people like him, though I reckon there’s probably a lack of self-esteem, and maybe even some self-loathing at the core of his personality.
He is a bit of a toady. He’s always telling the host how clever he is, or how well he did something or praising him on some other account. It’s over the top and like I say, I wonder how people cannot just be honestly present. There was an occasion once before when I was in deep conversation with the host and it was clear the host thought well of my opinion – at which point the brother-in-law began to ingratiate himself with me. He’s that type.
I guess it’s sadder than anything, but yesterday in the mood I was in it was enough for me to think how fucked everything was. It also had the unfortunate effect of emphasising my situation. I like to think I engage with everyone in the same basic way. It’s not your status I’m interested in, it’s your mind, your opinions. But then, as I listen in on the consistent deference, I’m reminded that the host has all the success that I don’t have. I sit on his back terrace overlooking his inground pool. My home is a ratty townhouse too small for my needs. I may be intellectually egalitarian – as he is too – but the gulf between us financially, and in terms of contentment, is huge. One on one I could overlook that, but there and then, at Christmas, and with the toadies hanging off his every utterance I was made to feel it.
I felt it as a form of outrage at first. I was contemptuous of these others. Where is your pride, I wondered? How can you live like that? And then it roused in me my competitive instinct, which otherwise I set aside for occasions like this. Had I avoided the catastrophes that came my way then even still I would not rival my host, but I would be pretty comfortable (I estimate I’m a million-plus down), and more equal in other terms, less a supplicant.
Of course, that’s self-indulgent claptrap, and I knew it even then. What might have happened is irrelevant against what did happen. And in any case, I was not the victim of some malevolent ill fortune; the choices I made at critical moments were all my own.
And then I was crestfallen – not because of this sorry narrative, not because I was without while others were with, not even because I was alone at Christmas. I was crestfallen because my competitive instinct was up and running, and there was no stopping it. In a lot of ways, it’s admirable, but it’s also a crude thing, blinded to sense and logic. It’s that instinct that led me to some of those ill-fated choices, and now it had me puffing my chest out determined to make things right.
It seems always the battle within, between my cautious common sense and the bustling, combative competitive nature. I don’t decry it necessarily – it took me to a measure of success, and it is the thing that has led me to survive in the most difficult of circumstances. And yet I am thinking in my quieter moments that I must be more conservative. I must accept certain facts, and work with what’s left. This is my way forward. It’s not defeat, but a more strategic advance. But then I see red. I want to leap into the ring. I want to storm and thunder. I want to muscle my way forward and submit destiny to my will. So yes, I have lost – but fuck you, I am not beaten yet.
Perhaps if you have never experienced that you cannot understand it. Let me put it mathematically as if an equation. I am in a rich man’s house enjoying his hospitality. I am his guest. But then there are others kowtowing to him and it disgusts me. I turn my head from it, but in so doing see myself, like them, a supplicant. That I cannot abide. I am no man’s supplicant I feel as the mist envelopes me. I have nothing against my host. I am not his rival. I do battle against circumstance. When I had intended in outsmarting it before, all I feel now is the need to bend it to my crude desire. I’m not entirely dumb – I see this developing. I watch as if an interested spectator, knowing how it works. And I am crestfallen knowing that this will ever be the case. I can’t deny my nature.
That’s one of the problems when you’re a rationalist like me. You see it, you know it, but when besides being a rationalist you are subject to the ego the rationalist in you feels powerless in the face of the voodoo that is pride. And the rationalist understands that if pride cannot be controlled – and its efflorescence, competitiveness – then much of your rational plans are prey to it.
The thing is – I believing in living big, but I don’t want big anymore. It’s not in me, except as some competitive object. I have to figure out if I plan around it, or plan for it.
So anyway I said nothing, I was well behaved as mostly I am. I left a couple of hours later catching the train home wishing I’d never left. There was nothing I gained from the experience except further complication. At home, I gave Rigby a hug as he licked me on the face.