I wrote a part for my husband in my first movie. By the time filming was over, so was our marriage
In every city Ive lived, my sister has been the one to set up the printer, testing it by printing me the lyrics to George Michaels Freedom! 90. I am not the only grown woman entwined with their family, as I am not the only British person entwined with George Michael. When, in 2010, he drove his car through the wall of the Hampstead Snappy Snaps, the resulting hole was quickly daubed with the legend WHAM, by a local who meant it in a loving way. Walking to the underground, I saw it (as well as the aftermath and the commentary on the aftermath) after breakfast with the last man I dated, before I met my husband.
Because Id seen his film (Animal Kingdom), and hed read my memoir (Your Voice In My Head), we had a strong idea of each other before we fell in love. Once we were together, music moved from headphones in walking cities to being blasted from his truck on LA highways. My soon-to-be husband began a rapid career ascendancy, as he endeavoured, simultaneously, to untangle me from my family. As we worked on the wording to our ketubah (Judaisms sacred prenuptial agreement) I could picture beside according to the law of Moses and Israel, the calligraphed lyrics to Freedom! 90: I wont let you down / I will not give you up!
Though Id left home at 16, it felt, in many ways, as if it was only just happening. On hearing me plead my case to my father for why I shouldnt have to invite a relative I didnt like to the wedding, Ben took the phone from me. I heard my dad, in clipped John Cleese tones, politeness enveloping a core of neardemented frustration: It may not be pleasant, but you have to. We had to invite family we didnt want to our wedding its just how weddings work.
Ah, nah mate, Ben answered, fanning out his Aussie accent like a card trick. Nah. That aint gonna happen, and hung up on him. Like many families from minority-ethnic backgrounds, mine is loud. Here was someone who was far louder.
But DMX is loud and Topol is also loud and theyre different and youd be resentful, on marrying, if your concept of how loudness should feel was one and you got the other. May not be what you want from me / Just the way its got to be.
One of the things I absolutely loved about Ben was that when he did not like a much-lauded film, rather than saying, I find I am not connecting with this jazz drummers emotional journey, he instead ejected the DVD, spat on it, opened the window, threw the DVD out, closed the window, then opened the window and leaned out to spit on it again.
One of the lows was me trying to finish a breastfeeding session with our three-week-old and him playing Wild For The Night by A$AP Rocky feat Skrillex over and over from tinny laptop speakers turned to their highest volume. Thereafter, I came to imagine that any vile event in our marriage featured Skrillex. But that day, topless and trapped under my suckling infant, I simply spat as far as I could in the direction of the laptop. The spit landed on the keyboard. Oh my God, shouted Ben. I love you! I love you so much! Did he love my anger, my focus, my aim? I dont think he knew why he loved me, just that we had a primal connection. I felt the same. I followed his scent from room to room.
Neither is it lost on me that the heights of our love are both to do with spit. I think about the English phrase Holding it together with spit and glue, which is another way of saying hanging on by a thread. We hung by a thread for years.
Youre shouting! Id cry, and hed answer, Im not shouting, Im Australian. He still thinks I am too easily startled and I still think he is too quick to anger. This is the circle in which we dance and always did. As a married couple, we were a Tennessee Williams first draft (feat Skrillex). Or as he put it, he was Wreck-It Ralph and I was Vanellope, the girl with a glitch.
In early 2016, I had the nagging feeling that we were going to have to call time. And though I was very worried, I had an even bigger nagging feeling. I had become fixated on the health of George Michael. This could have been Cassandra-style foresight, or, given his lifestyle, just pragmatism. Either way, I wanted George to know how much his music meant to me. I wrote the letter, but didnt mail it and David Bowie died instead.
Ben and I are both autodidacts who dropped out of high school. The last school exam I sat was history GCSE where I was required to write an essay about the golden years of the Weimar republic. Unprepared, I panicked and thought it would be OK to instead write an essay about Golden Years by David Bowie. I tell you this because its one of Bens favourite stories about me, something he enjoyed hearing when he felt tender.
We had just got back from watching Ben not win a Golden Globe for Bloodline when the news came through. I dont know if its more unsettling to get bad news naked or in black tie, but we listened to his songs late into the night and the marriage hung on. When it emerged that Bowie had known he only had a year to live and had thrown himself into completing an album, I thought about knowing youre going to die and knowing that the thing you must do is work. I thought about how to leave a legacy inside the marriage in the likelihood it would soon be gone.
When we first met, Id written the script for Untogether, a film charting how something youre determined to leave as a one-night stand arcs, against your wishes, into a love story. I wrote the role of Martin for Ben, to showcase his guileless, joyful side, the half of him that is Iggy Pop just wanting to be your dog. It felt important to get it filmed before we ended up divorcing. After a decade as a screenwriter, it would be my first film as director. As financing finally fell into place, partly as a result of Bens participation, I realised Id have to direct my husband as we were pulling apart.
I almost scuppered it late one night during a tense disagreement about parenting. This was really it, we were breaking up then and there, film be damned when someone with a flashlight approached our home. Ben grabbed a long kitchen knife and ran outside, shouting: Get the fuck off my property! I will fucking gut you!
We held each other and trembled and were so glad not to have broken up, to be held by spit and glue, that it took until the next day to realise: Ben, it wasnt the meal delivery service, was it? Oh. He said. Oh dear. You should probably call to apologise.
After another fight, my daughter and I went to a friends beach cottage for two weeks, the longest time Ben and I had spent apart. While we were there, Prince died. These musicians we loved so much, who had been our sacred texts on dark nights of the soul, were dying, while we were dying on the inside.
I had a very different relationship with loneliness when I was younger. I lived my life in walking cities (London and then New York) where my mood could be best summarised as music heard through headphones and loneliness was something I let melt under my tongue like a sucking sweet, combating the cabin air pressure of my head.
With many, many swear words in his arsenal, How lonely is Bens most frequent insult. It could apply to everything from a denim jacket sold with pre-applied patches, to a misguided nickname, to a poorly considered For Your Consideration campaign. Loneliness is the greatest damnation he can assign to a person, place or thing.
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