Help Me Make Oxytocin

It has been four weeks now. This is one of those cycles. One can be certain that when it ends – and it will end! – then its ending will go unnoticed, but rather it will disappear as though it were never here. I cannot tell you the last time I felt a lightness of mind. I cannot tell you the last time I had an uninterrupted sleep, one from which I did not wake dripping in perspiration, my cheeks sore from slumberous sobbing, terrified by nightmares, my spine aching dully, or just unable to enjoy the hours that were needed. It all feeds into an endless fear, an overwhelming anxiety through which I struggle to cope. Within the most insignificant of sounds, I find another, a terrifying noise that tumbles my thoughts through frightful imaginations until I am paralysed. Even the sound of water from the tap as it strikes the sink or the wobble of a pan on the hob is enough to cause me to jump! Who indeed can live like this? The author, of course. You have not met him. He is rather humourless these days.

Cut down on coffee. Cut down on booze. Consider whether this film, this documentary, this news report, this book will upset your state of mind. Control what you can.

Coffee was the first. A cappuccino for breakfast, and a pot of Uganda in a French press before lunch, but nothing after for the rest of the day. Instead I have green tea because it is hot and the mug brings comfort, although I am not in love with it as I am coffee. No, there is nothing I love quite like coffee. I will lie there on the sofa, and my craving will nag me. O, to reach out and just take a sip. There is a twinge in the hinge of my jaw; an acute longing that manifests in an almost indescribable feeling. No, I tell myself, do not do it. And I do not do it. I make a cup of green tea. It is not ideal. In the office, I drink a lot of coffee, otherwise I cannot stay awake, and it is all torture! One must stay awake at work, and by any means necessary!

I have found drink to be difficult to kick, or even to moderate. There is no harm, surely, in two glasses of red wine while cooking dinner – after all, I have a terffic bottle of organic South Australian shiraz cabernet from twenty-twenty – but it is when I am down the pub that my willpower unravels. ‘I’ll just go for two,’ and I stay for ten. ‘I’ll just stay for two,’ and I black out. ‘I’ll just stay for one,’ and I have five. It is only Wednesday. I cannot go on like this.

The news must be avoided. It is not avoided, but it must be! You have seen those blurry and stuttering images of night skies in Eastern Europe with white light in lines and circles. The television sets, mobile phones and print media cannot replicate such white light. The speakers cannot go so loud. In the hot steam of a first-floor pub, there are televisions on every wall. Footage plays during half-time of midweek football fixtures. One is unable to hear the shells for there is pop music playing. I say to those around me—‘It is twenty-twenty-two. We have survived a global pandemic. There is a war going on. Chelsea are two-one down to Luton. And we are standing here in this pub.’

The next day I was meeting Marianne. She had booked an exhibition for half-six.

The gallery was across the road from where I used to live, and, as I walked there, exhausted beyond measure, fearing that I might collapse, I was overcome with anxiety. Memories of the last six years came back to me, in all frequencies, the white noise of nostalgia. And as I hurried, I was afraid. My senses were being battered. That small stretch of Whitechapel High St causes me to think of New York in the seventies; the pavements are always chaos, people mingling and lingering, passing by dirt, neon and fluorescence, hustling, chatting, panhandling and inconspicuous exchanges, streetwise, the swept-away.
We sat briefly in the bar, two drinks first, as we caught our breath. She composed herself as she imagined me fucking her against the wall. She has a thing for walls. She always wants for me to fuck her against a wall, to push her chest into it, or hitch her thighs up, pinched between a prick and plasterboard. It was good to have a couple of beers before the exhibition. It was my first in over two years. The last I had gone to was with an art graduate, too. Quickly Marianne wandered wordlessly between the exhibits until something caught her interest, and I overtook, the same succession of pieces. There were not many visitors. In one room a video piece repeated with distracting frequency—Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday Monday Tuesday it went on & on & on. ‘That cunt is ruining everything else in here,’ I told her. ‘I can’t stand it,’ she said.

We entered a room that, unlike the rest of the gallery, was a festival of noise and activity. It was full of young women in hijabs sat around a number of tables busying themselves with various activities. Their hands were a flurry of gesticulations, expression and the nimblest fashioning of jewellery and sculpture. All the while they spoke lively to each other in East London accents, laughed, oohed, declared, related, relayed and commented. On the wall was a sign that read THE MUSLIM SISTERHOOD. The energy in the room engulfed and I could not help but stare at every young lady, every table, every work in progress with excitement. They had been the most interesting part of the exhibition, yet they were only an excursion as we went from one room to another.

She and I left shortly after and headed towards Spitalfields for something to eat. It was late and there were few others about. I stared dumbstruck and sad at all the changes that had befallen the old market. How many times had I seen it differ? How long had it been since I had passed beneath its steels? It was all unfamiliar. Two years is a long time; a pandemic is at once even longer and yet the blink of an eye.

We went to a restaurant and requested a table for two. Something about going into a restaurant and requesting a table for two shivers me. After some time, we were still sat there, our plates cleared, finishing our drinks and conversing away as the waiting staff wiped over the tables and stacked away the furniture outside. It was just us, and I sensed that we were being regarded with contemptuous impatience—‘We’d better go.’

We lit cigarettes and walked south. ‘Come back to mine,’ I said—‘I want to eat your arse.’ She chuckled, put her foot down, spun me round to her mouth and apologised, but no—'Invite me round for dinner. Next Friday.’ We sat down on a large stone bench and went through her rota. She was not working on Friday or Saturday. We sat on the bench and I grew tremendously nervous as we kissed so passionately, and she put her lips to my neck and ears. I shuddered like a tree in a storm that was named after a woman. When we kissed good-bye at the train station, I realised that she really liked me. It seems like a lot of responsibility when someone likes you. Amongst the bustle and departure times, we pressed one last time after another. I thought it was easy and foolish to take for granted the trade of tasty spit after a few beers; still, I sit here, days later, reminiscing over those brushes as though they were further away than they are.

The man next to me on the train was dressed in black and ringed with gold chains. He spoke at those around him. Cocaine. Many times he arose and stood confrontationally, only for the drunk stranger beside him to laugh nervously and they put it all to bed. Fearfully, I waited for things to boil over; they did not.

The next morning, arising to subtle sunshine and happiness, I ordered the ingredients for our Friday dinner.