J is for joy when we rejoice in the diversity of our humanity and learn more about ourselves from those who are different. J is for Jealousy hits me hard sometimes. Will my partner ever live with me? Nightingales save me from despair.
Jealousy: What does jealousy feel like? Fire in the belly, blisters on the tongue and turmoil in my thoughts. Steam rising from resentment. Why does she make me feel this way – upset, depressed, angry. I can’t take it anymore. Emotions from a childhood long past ambush me in Berlin in June 2021. Several times I steam at speed around the circle and this time I pause by the small cemetery where I sometimes visit the known and unknown graves of World War II. I try to remember the story of the black man buried here but without Schorse by my side, my memory fails me. He has not followed me when I left the house banging the door to which I have no key and wishing hotels were not closed because of corona virus. Glued to his football screen he probably didn’t even notice how upset I was. The nightingale interrupts my thoughts.
Usually when emotions so powerful take me over, I block out sound, townscape or landscape and hear only the voices in my head going ding-dong. Over the years I’ve learnt either to freeze anger in the armour of passive -aggressive resistance or use it to fuel energy for digging, walking or cleaning. Steam doesn’t store very well but has often pushed me forwards from one situation to a new one, from one relationship to another. On a warm June night in Berlin, alone under a tree in the cemetery, I press the pause button on my reactions as I listen to the song of the nightingale. Nightingales don’t migrate to Ireland. My recognition of the song is only possible because of a memory of Schorse’s deceased parents. Once we stood together under a tree on a summer’s evening in Lower Saxony and we rang Schorse’s aunt in France who loved to listen to the nightingale. Now the full-blown sound keeps the pause button pressed long enough for me to give thanks for decades of shared experiences and stories which open my ears.
I breathe deeply but the steam of angry jealousy rises again and I do another speed round, surely Schorse will notice I am not there and come looking for me like he did when I got lost here on the way from the S-Bahn on a November evening in 1998. No sign of him and again the steam rises. Decades of shared life and we have never tried living together. I can’t compete with his life in Berlin here in this beautiful home with his friend Sabine, now my friend too after so many shared years where I have visited and been a member of the household as her children grew up and left home and later Marcus joined the patchwork family.
Commitment to partnership: Of course I have experienced jealousy and envy over the years. Usually, my jealousy and envy are cool and controlled leading me to reflect on what I want from my life. In the past, when jealousy in emotional relationships was too powerful from me or from the other, I would retreat from the commitment. Before I met Schorse, I was not capable of making a commitment to a life partner and assumed I would never get married. When we did marry in 2005, I thought it was also a commitment for us to live together. When Schorse built an extension onto our home in Donegal in 2007, I assumed this meant we would live together sooner rather than later. His work in Berlin, his parents in Lower Saxony, my work across Europe, my mother moving to Donegal shaped our lives differently. But now his parents are dead and I lost my home in their home and somehow the corona crisis meant I no longer felt at home in Berlin.
Commitment to live with a life partner was not easy for me because my fierce independence was combined with a fear of being trapped in a partnership with a woman when maybe I would rather be with a man and with a man when maybe I would rather be with a woman or maybe I would rather live alone. My only previous attempt to live with a lover in London and then Silverdale in the mid 1970’s was fraught with the challenge of my bisexuality. We split when I fell in love with Margaret Coulson. I never lived with her or Pat, whom I fell in love with in the 1980’s.
As feminists we challenged the oppression of women in marriage and in the nuclear family.. Non-monogamous relationships and collective living were the future. Most of the “experiments” didn’t work and brought even more trauma. The breakdown of our failure to live in non-monogamous harmony, meant I was mainly celibate for many years. When I took redundancy from Save the Children, I had no partnership commitments to keep me in England. I moved to France.
Nightingales in Berlin remind me of how I value my bond with Schorse and with Germany. I have experienced the many advantages of a plural sense of belonging summed up in the untranslatable German word “Heimat”. I breathe in the night air and the nightingale’s song with a love of nature, birds, wildlife which has increased tenfold over the last 25 years. The nightingale speaks to me of “yearning, longing and love” to quote David Rothenburg who has added to my reflections with his thought and music as he plays along with Nightingales in Berlin: Searching for the Perfect Sound.
Thanks to the nightingale, my gratitude to Berlin and the network there has more joy than jealousy. For now anyway.
David Rothenberg and the nightingale deserve the last words and song here.
Note: Special thanks to Tracey McAllister of the Tir Conaill Writers’ Group who inspired me to write this down and share it.