I killed a man, years ago.
He was a Danish political and environmental activist fighting a one man war against the status quo of globalisation and dirty energy corporate muscle. His name was Jesper Rasmussen.
He was, to be totally honest, an idiot. He missed the point constantly, made an arse of himself on a weekly basis and his inability to decipher the subtleties of information frequently had him barking up wrong trees and upsetting people. He was a walking disaster, all told. Yet, people had loved him.
One person especially loved him and that person was my husband. Jesper was my husband’s mad-activist cum Scandi-mental-alterego who lived only in podcast land and my husband’s amazing, creative, Danish head. Jesper was my husband’s invisible friend whom he’d go out to the little office we’d partitioned off in the back of the garage with and freeze his ass off making broadcasts to swim on the great sea we call internet. He’d come back in afterwards and he’d be happy; smiling and laughing about what Jesper had been up to. In the evening lamplight I’d sit and blush red and pink. I’d laugh when listening to Jesper’s antics and then I’d pull myself back in, remembering that it isn’t normal for a man in his late thirties to have an imaginary friend who keeps testing the patience of the liberal Danish police and press. I’d let the creeping tide of convention run up my legs, over my midriff and then into my ears and out of my mouth as I told him to be discreet about what he was doing because – to his delight and my cringefest – people were starting to talk about it, about him, about us.
I was fresh off the back of my second thirsty bout of post-natal depression (PND). In short, that condition is no picnic. One of the effects of my illness was a deep mistrust of my own good judgement. If I thought I might be right about something I’d go out and casually survey people to try and prove myself wrong. That’s one of the ways that depression manifested and lingered for me – by putting my tatters of confidence on self-destruct. My sense of humour dialled down to barely audible and all I wanted was for us to be normal in every possible normal way. Nothing to see here. Absolutely nobody in this house is going mad. Please look elsewhere. Please don’t look at us. Please don’t take away my babies or loosen my grip on the world that’s hanging by a finger. We’re normal. Please walk on by.
In all my fragile recovering I’d heard a local man with a sharp tongue was listening to husband’s podcast. He grilled him about it one day at a kid’s birthday party. I could hear the sneering in his tone. He didn’t get Jesper’s cultural context so he couldn’t grasp the laughter of recognition about his escapades. He thought Jesper was funny at times. He was the type of person who let you know his rampant disapproval about stuff by underlining the words he didn’t say. The polite compliment that someone was expecting about their new hairstyle or car choice would hang in the air between, unspoken. In so doing no lie had been told but, equally, no blow had been misdirected. He got off on pushing the boundaries of what was funny and what was too far. Logic over emotion and propriety, even when someone’s very soul looked like it was hanging in the balance. It’s cut throat stuff, when humans go social-cannibal on each other.
The next couple of times we met him he mentioned the podcast again, each time loudly drawing other people into the conversation. I watched my husband explain that Jesper appealed to a niche audience – people who knew where Hans Island was and who’d maybe been involved in environmental campaigning at some point. What he didn’t say (because he’s kind and didn’t quite pick up the nuance that he was being mocked) is that Jesper appealed to people who have seen enough of life to appreciate their own power and privilege as well as their own insignificance. People like him. There are many. I adore them all by extension.
Anyway, this guy was just kidding, right? Everyone who was now listening seemed to agree. Podcasting was a bit weird and we shouldn’t be so sensitive was the consensus I picked up on. My husband had put this stuff out there on the internet, after all. If we couldn’t take teasing or ‘constructive criticism’ from one guy in a tiny village what were we made of anyway?
And so a bully justifies themselves.
Good naturedly, my husband nodded and smiled; ever the even tempered professional, even in the face of his invisible friend being kicked around in front of us. I died a thousand deaths in the background and felt Borrower small, my only ambitions being those relating to further shrinking.
After that, I capitulated. I wanted that spotlight off my husband when we were out and about with the kids. I wanted the conversation to be about someone else and for Jesper to be left alone for the people who loved him and loved to hate him and laugh at him. I wanted to protect myself from the sting of other people’s words because my skin felt so freshly healed, so sensitive, so vulnerable, so not ready to stand up to someone and tell them to take their self-loathing, jealous, destructive bitchiness and shove it where the sun doesn’t shine or I’ll do it for them, so fucking help me Gaia.
So Jesper died.
Slowly, I got better. I killed a man so I could breathe. What doesn’t sit easily is that I killed a bit of my husband too and I owe him for that, big time. I wish I could travel back there now. I’d stride across the room and fling fucks around as if they were jelly beans at a Pizza Hut dessert buffet. My husband says there’s no debt to be paid. We both know that where deteriorated mental health is concerned the prize is getting out alive and everything else is a serious bonus. I hope that Jesper’s reading this from the other side and experiencing nerves flickering and tissue warming. I hope he’ll come back, just like I did.
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Thank you so much for reading.