Diary of a Free Woman
Day Two: Turtle Doves
Christmas Eve, 24 December 2009

The University is closed for Christmas. I am eating lunch alone in a bakery near the campus. The thought of losing a relationship of thirteen years connects unpleasantly with the taste of pumpkin, spinach, sesame oil and seedy bread: I don’t think I’ll have that salad again soon.

Last night was a vista of passing hours. I don’t feel tired. Sometimes, my insomnia is organic and quite normal; it feels no different from sleeping. The only reason I know I haven’t slept is that I’ve watched four movies in a row. This was pleasant: I can’t remember when I had last done this – perhaps during undergrad days? – or seen a movie from 1938 from beginning to end. And while I watched movies, I thought a lot, revisiting my past.

(I know I should say ‘our past’, but I am trying to unlearn useless habits.)

I remembered Geneva, Switzerland, where I gave birth (had my belly cut). I may be going to Geneva for a conference later this year; this will be strange.

I remembered Beirut, Lebanon, where we first lived and hoped together: where we fell in love with each other and international travel.

Sniffing one’s clothes when one is away came up in our break-up conversation yesterday. He said he wanted to sniff someone’s clothes again.

Our lost love, as a gauge of feeling he wants with someone else?

Hey, this is good. Perhaps I could use it in a book.

What have I done over fourteen years, I wonder, to edit myself out of the sniffing measure of love?

Cried too much for my loss when I migrated? Cooked too many rich meals? Packed too many lunches? Made working in wrong jobs look good? Organised too many parties? Found too many friends? Sat at the computer for too long? Dreamed of things of my own too much? Needed too much lovin’? Ate too much? All of the above?

In any case, it was all too little.

I am hurting. I wonder how I would hurt if I hadn’t needed release from loveless limbo. How I would hurt, if this had been imposed on me? Or if I had imposed it on him?

But the absence of hope does not mean peace. It has a hurt all of its own.


Every love is fragile. I thought our love was an immortal sonnet; one of those strange, unexpected Shakespeare ones, which brings the pulse to the ears.

Instead, in hindsight, it was a sad little attempt: facile, badly written and predictably rhymed.

Even so, an act of writing it was an act of courage. A friend of mine once said: ‘every love that starts, defies its fate’. This applies equally to pieces of writing.

In my strange space between sleep and waking, I fantasize. When I fall in love again, I will say to my man: Hey, let’s work on this thing. Let’s tend to it. Let’s be crazy. Let’s allow the other to play with our body as they need to, even if we’ve never done things like that, even if we’re tired. Let’s take turns.

Let’s delight in each need that is made known to us, that differs from our needs: it is a sign we are with someone else, not with ourselves. Let us fight and have sex bravely, with our eyes open.

Let’s use love as a verb, meaning ‘to do’. Let’s do things that need to be done. Work. Dig. Clean. Write. Paint. Drop kids off. Shop. Cook. Fix the bulb. Fill the forms. Empty the bins. Laugh. Bring coffee to bed. Love. Love. Love.

Let’s do. Let us adore each other in word, deed and (c)omission. Let us never say, or think, ‘what more do you want?’

As I age, doing things becomes the only measure of love for me. Let’s cut the crap, okay? It’s doing things; always doing things. But – and there’s the rub – this doing must be done in a way that’s not harmful to the self, like a personal freedom bound by other people’s freedoms. Doing – but never outside the limit of one’s own dreams. No wise ruler ever asks too much of its subjects.

Tricky stuff.

And above all, let us write. I need to write and be written to like I need air. Let our writing be like breath: sometimes deep; sometimes shallow; sometimes quickened; sometimes congested; sometimes coughing; sometimes fetid, teeth clenched, teeth unbrushed. But let’s do it. Let’s breathe and write.

In my strange space between sleep and waking, there is an imaginary friend next to me. We cry. Then we wipe our eyes, and we turn to each other. We know what follows. I keep my eyes open. Then we kiss, and eat something. We get up and do what is necessary around the house. No more than is necessary. Then we go back to bed, and cry again. (Crying seems to feature prominently in this fantasy). When all the crying is finished, we make love again, almost accidentally: no frills. Then we sleep.

Please, God.

For the millionth time in my life, I have started a diet today. I have vowed that this would be my own diet: a diet of the future Danijela, who looks like the past Danijela.

(It is quite clear that, in this fantasy, the present Danijela does not feature in any way).

A little voice inside my head asks: ‘Are you trying to please or spite you-know-who by striving to be thinner now that you are free?’

Nah. I could not give a shit. But I need to lose weight. I am sitting and trying to understand why.

‘Is it because you are eight kilos outside your healthy weight range?’ – asks the little voice.

Nah.

‘Is this for your health?’ asks the little voice again, hopefully.

Well, both my parents do have diabetes. This would be a worthy motive. But, nah, that’s not why.

‘Are you losing weight so that you can be strong inside and happy with yourself?’ – asks the little voice.

Nah. I’m already stronger than is good for me, and pretty happy with myself. Being inside a body all these years, going through its various changes, tends to give one a sense of continuity and a sense of self-acceptance. After a birth, we know our bodies do amazing things, and they become irrelevant to the inner self – except, of course, as a vehicle for pleasure.

(My Medieval theologian friends would say that this is another trap of the devil to be resisted).

One’s body may have varying degrees of relevance to its desiring observers; but the things the subject inhabiting the body wants are, really, only pleasure, comfortable conveyance from A to B and absence of pain.

‘Are you doing this so that you can be desirable?’– asks the little voice.

The day I accept that I am not desirable now, is the day when I shit on myself. So it’s definitely not that.

Suddenly I stumble on the truth, and the little voice goes quiet.

I am doing this so that I can get pregnant again.

Pregnant?!

A woman who has had five miscarriages, who finally gave birth to a beautiful daughter (a daughter who has just happily exited the expensive child care years), a woman who works on a contract, a woman who has just separated … and a pregnancy fantasy?

Really now: is this one of the altered states of mind following a break-up? A stage of grief? Should I be admitting this in public?

But it’s the truth.

So there you go, gentle reader. Have a piece of ‘veridical’ writing.

I’m losing weight because I want to get pregnant again.

Hey, I may never get pregnant again. But for the few years that are left me, I want to be able to. It’s a girl thing.

And that means thinning down. So here I am – on a gentle diet.

I have turned inward and found the truth. I can now go do something else.

As I move towards the sink to do the dishes, I smile to myself.

Hey, women are impossible. Not out of the relationship for two days, and there is Biology, filling the inkpot and turning a new leaf.

Biology: from the ancient Greek bios, life, and logos, word.

Logos. You know, the word that was there in the beginning, in the book of creation.

Danijela Kambaskovic-Schwartz

Danijela Kambaskovic-Schwartz is based in Western Australia and currently works at the University of Western Australia. She has had poetry published in Cordite and Overland, and won the David Campbell Prize for an unpublished poem in 2008 with a work called 'A Migrant Writer on a Bus (Thinking of Kundera)'.

Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.

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  1. “No wise ruler ever asks too much of his subjects” — how true. But then, it is unhappiness and hurt that result in creative effort. Happy love makes boring stories.

  2. Be gentle with yourself my darling friend.

    The conclusion that I reached from my all too many breakups is that I lose myself too much in relationships. I give too much, change too much of myself believing I am being what my partner wants, what will make them/us happy. Then I find that they have fallen out of love with me and wonder why. My determination is to stay myself now no matter what. Only time will tell if this works!

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