BiCrushing: Distractions

Issue 81

This originally appeared in BCN issue 81, Sept 2006

Midnight in July, chez Maxine. I’m off to bed, and tonight’s choice of suitably downtempo bedtime music is Suzanne Vega.  Not particularly hip I know, but give the woman some credit: even after twenty years in the business she sounds fresher and more exciting than the half-her-age Katie Melua, and besides, my Amazon copy of the new album from bang-on-the-pulse chanteuse Regina Spektor hasn’t arrived yet. “Marlene On The Wall,” a signature Suzanne tune, is as soothing as it is poignant.  Or at least it would be if it didn’t remind me of how much I’ve recently fallen in love with one of my best friends, who was a rather big fan of “Suze” Back In The Day (the day that I wore pig-tails and went to playgroup).

Yes, what do you do when you’re lucky enough to have an older and wiser Got-The-T-Shirt best friend: a friend who, for the past few years, has been on hand at every turn to assure you that sexuality can be fluid and that who you are is OK, to rescue your battered sense of self-worth, and to listen patiently as you bend his ear about successive hopeless crushes?  Why, you fall hopelessly in love with him of course.  Terminally laid-back, he treats my blatant come-ons with the seriousness they deserve: i.e. absolutely none.  But don’t get me wrong, he’s sympathetic.  After all, he knows these feelings of hopeless fixation well and he feels them exactly the same…. about someone else.

So, sodding that one for a game of soldiers temporarily, I jettison Suze, switch off the stereo and stretch right the way across my single bed, reminding myself of how lucky I am that I can fidget and scratch and scrunch up the duvet without annoying anyone beside me. Then I fall asleep.  The next thing I know, I’m in a recreation ground identical to one near my childhood home.  Female Heroine and Repressed Teenage Crush Numero Uno, is there with me, for some reason – her equally delectable husband and cute Monsoon Baby-clad toddler in tow.  I presume I’ve been so nervous about the prospect of this outing that I haven’t eaten all day because I’m starving and my senses are failing me.  Mrs. Heroine expresses concern for my health and insists I go home and eat something.  I’m reluctant: knowing what an epic procedure it has been to arrange to see her, and how long it’ll be until I next do so, I don’t want to cut us short, but I see the sense in what she’s saying.  Besides which, I’m crap at arguing with her, and perish the thought that I should look too reluctant to leave her and reveal myself as the pathetic infatuated little creature that I am.  In short, I do as she suggests.  After I finish eating, I want to phone her, to find out where she is, maybe re-join her or at least arrange another meeting.  But the carpet of my vocabulary has been unceremoniously tugged from beneath my feet and I don’t know what to say.  I try writing a letter, before it cleverly occurs to me that it’ll be days before it reaches her and I’m not prepared to wait that long.  As a last resort I try to squeeze the contents of the letter into a text message but I can’t seem to manage it: there’s just too much to say and – as the lady herself would attest – brevity ain’t my forte.  Then I wake up from my nightmare, bewildered, dishevelled and sweating.

Across the county-border, the most cynical and avant-garde of my old school friends (the one we all thought destined for Professorship at St Martin’s College of Art) and her 30something boyfriend are probably up and about in their shared Fiat Punto, touring the estate agents of Oxfordshire for a flat close to where she’s just bagged her first primary school teaching job.  And here I am: newly graduated, unemployed, in my single bed, in my parents’ house.  At risk of sounding like a million-and-one boring “Boo-hoo, all my smug responsible-adult friends are outgrowing me” weekend columnists, the thought hits me like a rake I’ve just stepped on.  My friends are discussing houses and teaching children, I’m lying in my parents’ house preoccupied by silly, useless fixations, like some silly, useless teenager.

I lay there with the quilt pulled to my ears for a while, too numb to get up.  After half an hour, spurred on by the insistent internal mantra “it’s just a dream” I manage.  On my shelf from the night before, is the Suzanne Vega CD Mister Older and Wiser gave me.  I file it away and switch on my laptop.  The obnoxious “piiing” sound of MSN Messenger alerts me to the fact that Mister Older and Wiser has just signed in. I allow myself a little chuckle: his use of instant-messaging software is generally a reliable indication that he’s at work.  Downstairs, meanwhile the letterbox clangs – the Amazon package on the mat heralds the arrival of the aforementioned Regina Spektor CD. I rip it open and catch a glimpse of her colour photo in the sleeve notes: dark as opposed to Mariella-Frostrup-blonde, not my usual draw-factor for a woman, but beautiful looking – and dual-heritage too: something we have in common. (Oh for heaven’s sake!).  Regina’s voice has a bohemian quality to it, blended with a quiet sincerity that reels you in.  Track one, Fidelity, appears to be about a woman upset at never been able to commit to her lovers, and unable to escape reminders of the fact: “I hear in my mind all these voices…I hear in my mind all these words…I hear in my mind all this music….and it breaks my heart” she trills:  Sort of the opposite of my problem but somehow terribly applicable all the same.  I am a life inmate in HMP Ridiculous Infatuation, and everything I see and hear leads me back to my follies.  God bless her, bisexual blues siren Billie Holliday must’ve known what she was talking about when she covered “These Foolish Things Remind Me Of You”.  During one particularly frustrating period of my life I even wrote my own personal version of said classic – if you ever persuade me to perform it, you can probably persuade me to marry you – or civil partnership you, if you’re female and insist on calling it that.

Of course, however much it hurts to hear lyrics that serve as poignant reminders of your own hopelessness, you can at least take comfort in the cultural enrichment you’re getting out of sitting at home listening to the likes of Billie Holliday and Regina Spektor.  It’s probably safer for you than going out, where you risk having to leave a clothes shop because it’s blaring out some vapid slice of chart pop that your beloved once coyly admitted to buying.  And I don’t know who Marlene in Suzanne Vega’s song is supposed to represent, but its chorus sticks in the mind: “Marlene watches from the wall: her mocking smile says it all, as she records the rise and fall of every man who’s been here… But the only soldier now is me…”

Indeed. Of every man and woman. And, for what it’s worth, I soldier on.

Maxine Frances

<a href=””><img class=”size-full wp-image-509″ title=”bcn81″ alt=”Issue 81″ src=”” width=”140″ height=”200″ /></a> This originally appeared in BCN issue 81, Sept 2006