Looking back, can anyone ever find the moment their world turned? The minute, the second – even, when the time before tips over into the time after, and you realize that even though you didn’t see it then, everything has begun to go irrevocably, disintegratingly wrong? Thinking about Chris and me, I can’t help but wonder if that moment isn’t usually when the sun is shining at its brightest and when you seem to hold life like a glowing ball of possibility in the cup of your hands.
If you had seen me that August, in that Ibizan Villa, perched on a hill above its own private rocky cove, there for six weeks to relax with my husband, Cian, and our friends, you’d have imagined my life was perfect. And in truth, perhaps I’d thought so too. I relished my morning swims, before the others had opened their eyes, usually gritty from late night wine, and ignoring Cian’s requests to be careful out there on my own. Frequently ignoring my own cut feet too – the rocks were sharp, but the ocean always more exhilarating in that place.
At that time of day, the sea would seem to belong to me, and I would revel in it, hearing the sounds of distant traffic muted against the notes of wind and water, and losing myself in the changing shades of blue, turquoise, deep green and grey until sometimes I thought I might dissolve too, lose my body. That usually signaled something in me, telling me it was enough, and then, carefully timing my exit against the dash of the waves on the rocks, I would slide myself out, and climb back up to the terrace for my morning latte.
“She’ll never be told,” my husband, Cian, would say to our friends, different couples from our set, who would come and go over the summer. “What will we do with her?” Sometimes I felt like answering him, and sometimes, as a result, epic fights would ensue. But other times I would fight the urge to break the morning’s peace with the observation that there was nothing to be done with me, that my life wasn’t his to tell. But to be truly honest, I didn’t know either, because beneath my tan, and behind the veneer of my various bikinis in every color under the sun, the sheer evening kaftans, the condensation clustered light evening glasses of ice-cold rosé in expensive marina bars, I was well and truly bored.
That morning, I padded up the steps, leaving a trail of fast-disappearing salty footprints, evaporating in the morning sun. The villa was quiet, everyone still sleeping, abandoned glasses and overflowing ashtrays on the terrace testament to the night before. They seemed jarringly unclean against the freshness of the delicate pink bougainvillea, which grew over a trellis to drop confetti petals on the surface of the pool. Why do we always end up making everything we touch dirty? I wondered, starting to clear up.
It hadn’t taken long for that bite of boredom to catch at me. I had only been back in Ibiza for two weeks, only just settled down into the relaxed rhythms of the holiday island after the fractured strain of what seemed like the last days of the Candidate’s broken campaign in Ireland.
None of us had seen it coming. There were tensions amongst us volunteers – all working to make our candidate the first openly gay President of Ireland, that’s undoubtedly inevitable, but we were drawn together in our belief in this human rights campaigner, a larger than life hero.
And it was going well. Public support was high, the poll ratings were up, and financial pledges rolling in. My role as fundraiser seemed almost easy, I knew all the right people, and they were keen to contribute, wanting to be part of the history we felt we were making. I told a good story, but the story was there anyway – we were backing a maverick, and the public loved it. I made promises, depending on what people needed to hear, knowing the value of being at the heart of things. Then, rumors emerged, like little wisps of mist at first, then thickening smokily, turned into flame with speculative newspaper articles. Mutterings became accusations. Were certain letters written by the Candidate in existence? Could he confirm their content? Would he like to make a comment: come on Sir, the public have a right to know… In the absence of clear fact, the story grew, and in the first days of August, the Candidate withdrew from the race. Quoting Beckett, it may have been his finest hour: Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better. Listening to him then, his rich voice rolling the words around the crowd, an instinctive orator, a born performer, I wanted to weep.
I stood beside the campaign manager, outside of the range of the pointing, thickly clustered cameras, and microphones, I wondered if the rumor mongers, the scandal merchants, the tabloid columnists felt any twinge of regret about what they had done. The campaign had felt like it was ours to lose and yet they had created what appeared to be Everything out of the hint of what wasn’t even quite Something. A few words knitted together to weave an implication, a few implications intensifying into innuendo. In the process they had orchestrated the Candidate’s downfall in the name of news, playing with lives to get their story. I wondered angrily who they’d go for next.
“Come back to Ibiza,” said Cian, when I told him on the phone. “You don’t need to be there. Alex and May have just arrived, and the Whites fly in on Thursday. Everything can be done from here,” he added when I demurred, mentioning the loose ends that needed to be tied up, people who should be thanked, books that had to be balanced.
“You don’t quit just because it’s over,” I said. “Well, don’t quit here, with us,” he said. “I worry about you.” And so I went, and now, two weeks later, here I was, in the bright, sleekly modernist living area of our luxury villa, surrounded by the debris of everyone else’s night before, and suddenly jolted out of my reverie by the sound of my ringing phone. I ignored it.
And yet there was still that boredom. The phone rang again. Something told me to avoid it, so instead, I walked up the steps from the lounge area to the chic and sleek kitchen, where nothing seemed to work correctly, and every appliance came with far more switches and dials than must have been strictly necessary. I poked at various buttons on the impossibly complicated coffee maker.
“Will somebody get that bloody phone?” yelled a voice, dense with sleep and irritation, from down the bedroom corridor. That would be Alex, our latest guest who, by day four had already overstayed his welcome, as far as I was concerned. Cian liked him though, and so while I contemplated letting it ring some more, just to annoy him, I decided against precipitating a day of veiled remarks from Alex, coupled with plaintive looks from Cian. Usually, I’m not one to shirk a scene, but we’d had one just last, although for the life of me I can’t remember what had kicked it off. Keen, for once, to keep the peace, I went to ferret the phone out of my bag.
“Kim? It’s me. Can you talk?”
There was something about Brian O’Neill that had always made me impatient. Slight, with delicate features that made him appear younger than he actually was, he had blondish hair inclining to red, thinning-ish at the temples. Everything about him was ‘ish,’ and he wore suits that didn’t quite match his aspirations. He was cocky with no substance, a fast talker with little to say, inexperienced in politics yet utterly convinced of the rightness of his opinions. Was he entirely to blame for what had happened? A sense of fairness made me admit that there were others at fault, and yet he was the kind of man that blame seemed to want to zero in on and attach itself to.
I sighed, tucking the phone between shoulder and ear, prepared to half-listen while I tamped coffee into the metal holder, wedging it into place. I certainly couldn’t handle Brian without, at least, a latte.
“The Candidate is thinking of making a comeback.” That caught my attention. I put the spoon down and walked back out to the terrace. “I couldn’t let it go,” he said. “I knew I could bring him in again. I commissioned a couple of polls, we’ve been collecting signatures, there’s massive public support. Ten thousand people have signed, they want him. Kim, they want us back.” Somehow I wondered if it had indeed been Brian who had made this happen. Maybe it had, I knew the campaign had quickly become his whole life, and his devotion to the Candidate had come to border on the foolish, like an adoring puppy keen to please. Brian had a wife to whom he seldom alluded, and who we never saw. I got the impression he had married her before his ambitions had made him grow, in his own mind at least, but sometimes, when I caught a glimpse of one of his glances thrown in the Candidate’s direction, it looked a lot like love.
As I listened to Brian’s renewed enthusiasm, the shoreline and sea in front of me seemed to dissolve, and I had the strange impression of being out of my body, transported back to Dublin, even the scent and substance of the air around me somehow changed to incorporate exhaust fumes, city dust, the urgency of hundreds of thousands of people making space for their separate lives within its confines. Part of the reason I had been keen to come to Ibiza for so long had been to escape entirely, from all that dirt and noise, and from the incessant badgering of people, both in politics and the press, who had wanted the inside scoop on what had gone wrong with the Candidate and his campaign. Yes, I had been right inside, but no, I wasn’t going to dish the dirt, not then. “So can you?” he asked.
“Sorry,” I apologized. His words had run through my head without stopping to be heard, and I dragged my attention back.
“Can you be here tomorrow? We’re meeting. At the Candidate’s house…” Even the way he said that made it seem like a special treat, a school outing to some place of magical importance. “He wants you there. I want you there,” at that his voice dropped a little, a note of anxiety creeping in. “There’s a new PR guy, the Candidate’s brought him in. I don’t like him. Please come, I need you there.”
“Who was that?” Cian asked, emerging onto the terrace, wearing a white toweling bathrobe and holding a perfectly made foamy latte out for me, last night evidently officially forgotten. Even after two decades of marriage, I was frequently surprised by how handsome my husband was. Tall and dark, with green eyes and a habitually intense expression, he had the build of a rugby player – the game was one of his passions – and a schoolboy sense of humor that I rather liked. He had been only the second significant relationship in my life, he made me feel cared for, looked after. Every morning that we had lived together he had brought me a cup of tea in bed. It didn’t matter whether we had ended the evening in companionable calm, or whether I had been ranting and raving over something that had driven me and my Greek temper mad, or whether he had been out on the tiles with his friends; he was always solicitous of me, sometimes to the point where I wondered how capable I would be without him. And he hadn’t made love to me for more than ten years.
“Brian. I need to book a flight.” His face fell. But if there’s anything that twenty years of marriage can teach you, it’s when to back down. I went along with Cian’s plans in many things, usually because they tend to chime with my own, but I have a look that I keep in reserve, it’s the one that says: don’t argue with me on this one. It goes a step beyond determination, and it came out now. He was about to speak, thought better of it, put my coffee down on the terrace table, and went back inside exuding his thankfully silent disapproval. When we were first together, our fights were wild and explosive, and, if I’m honest, I found them rather thrilling. Now he mainly didn’t bother. I would still push his buttons to see if I could ignite something, but just as often I didn’t bother, and neither did he.
So the next morning found me back in Dublin, alone in the tall townhouse Cian and I had shared for most of our married life, its walls somehow stiller without the bustling presence of our two dogs, fluffy Shih Tzus, little hurricanes of energy, who ruled our lives and were my major love, Cian’s too perhaps. They were currently presiding over my parent’s house, it had been too late to pick them up when I’d got back in, and to be honest, I didn’t see myself staying too long. Check out the new PR guy, placate Brian, see the Candidate, and then bow out gracefully had been my plan.
But that was before I saw Chris Kennedy.
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My Blog to Book is about completed. It’s been hard getting here. I have left behind the person that I once was, I have changed from the person I once knew,
I’ve wasted days and nights on rotten love.
I’ve traded happiness for sad, and trust for paranoia. But I believe as I complete my pilgrimage it will come right again. This is the story of emotional abuse as a psychological thriller.