The insatiability of consumerism

Truth be told, I had genuinely believed I was immune to it. That I would become just another consumer, caught up in the endless pursuit of more, more, more was simply not an idea I had given a thought to. I had never been that person before, how could it be possible that I might eventually become so?

And yet several months ago, there I was. A consumer driven by an unquenchable thirst for accumulation. I had in fact become a version of myself that I no longer recognised.
It is no mean feat constructing a comfortable and secure existence in Italy. Any foreigner who has made the choice to immigrate to this beautiful country knows full well that the odds are stacked up against you. I had imagined that after 5 years of living here, I would have finally found my feet. But alas it was not so. Despite everything I still find myself living month to month, unable to get ahead, sacrificing in all manner of ways to fund the one thing I would ideally love to do more of: travel.

The realisation that I was still just treading water sent me on a steep and slippery spiral towards the grips of depression and at one very dark and gloomy point, I almost submitted. But on a random day just like any other, as though the clouds parted after a long and dreadful storm, I remembered who I was and what I had always wanted my life to be about.

Lost had been the girl who, 8 years ago, sold all of her worldly possessions and packed a single suitcase to set off into the world. For years she had lived with very little and not once had she ever felt as though her life was lacking in any materialistic way. Because when it comes down to it, there is very little that we as human beings actually need, for survival and to achieve happiness.

In my attempts to establish a durable life here in Italy, I had become sucked into the vortex of consumerism. No matter what I accumulated, the desire for more only intensified. It was as though each new piece of furniture, every addition to my wardrobe, each added pair of boots to an already substantial collection was fuel on the fire of my want for possessions.

If we are all honest with ourselves, we would realise that far from being an unusual case, my experience is merely a reflection of the norm. The Western world has evolved into something so very far from where we began. And it’s not pretty. The simple values of kindness, caring for others, offering help to those in need, loving thy neighbour and living in harmony with the environment have moved so far down our list of priorities that it’s shameful.

It’s no surprise, however, that this has come to pass. If we think about the potency of consumerism and how it is injected into our minds every second of every day, it’s no wonder that this is what has become of us. We can hardly blame ourselves for not being immune to the power of advertising, the clout of jealousy towards our fellow man or the staggering desire to provide for our families above and beyond what they actually require.

What we can admonish ourselves for, however, is realising where we currently are and actively choosing not to do anything about it. For myself, that was simply unacceptable.

So this is me making the choice to do something about it. I am taking back control of my wants and my desires. I will cease to be driven by an insatiable appetite for property which ultimately never delivers the happiness we are led to believe is guaranteed by its acquisition. I have decided to no longer be a victim of consumerism.

When the past and the present collide

‘Are you going to tell me who that really was?’

‘I told you, it was an unknown number. I never answer if I don’t know who it is.’

‘I would prefer it if you didn’t lie to me, Jane. I saw your face when you looked at the phone.’

‘What are you trying to say?’

‘Nothing. I would just rather not be played for a fool.’

He was right. Jane was fully aware of the fact that he deserved her honesty and she could not escape the guilt she felt knowing that she had been deceiving him for some time. The phonecalls from Daniel had become quite frequent. While she could easily convince herself that what she was doing did not constitute cheating, she knew she might struggle to persuade him of the same thing. Sure, it may not be a physical betrayal of his trust. But what she was doing was so much worse. She was in love with Daniel. Yet she was no fool and realised it would never lead to anything. That wasn’t the point.

There was no point. Several times a week the screen of her phone would be illuminated by the image of her former lover’s face. Jane would always answer. She was palpably unable to stop herself from doing so. What she got out of the conversations she could not put into words. It was the pure, astounding lure of temptation and nothing more. She answered because she shouldn’t. She talked to him because he was forbidden. She wanted him because he was unattainable. She loved him because he loved her but had chosen to walk away from her all the same. At the core of it, Jane was just like every other human being – her own worst enemy.

Yet she was not heartless and did feel responsible for the position in which she was placing the man who walked beside her, holding her hand, gazing at her with genuine care and desire. She had put up such a fight against his advances, fearful of being the one who would be hurt in the inevitable fallout. But somewhere along the way the power had shifted and she was no longer the one in the relationship with fear in their peripheral vision.

‘It was just someone from my past,’ Jane finally responded, attempting to brush aside the situation with a sweeping gesture of her free hand.

‘Well if they are calling you now then your past is very much present. Should I be concerned?’

‘You’re being very dramatic.’

‘I don’t believe I am.’

‘What do you want from me?’

‘I want to know that you’re in this for real. I am falling for you. I want us both to be in this completely.’

‘I thought we already were?’

‘You’re not here Jane. Not in this moment. Not in any moment.’

‘We were having fun. Why on earth would you want to ruin it by labelling us and putting so much pressure on this?’

‘Because it’s not enough.’

‘It is for me.’

‘Then we have a problem, Jane.’

It’s not that she was choosing a voice on the phone from more than 3,000km away over the man standing in front of her. Eventually she would grow bored of the discourse with the ghosts of her past and cut them loose too. But until then Daniel’s voice still sent chills down her spine, the temptation remained deliciously intoxicating.

As each day since Airlie Beach passed, Jane came to know herself a wee bit better. The closer she got to the true picture, the more she realised that what she wanted may not be what everyone else longed for. It was time to start playing by her own rules.

Jane took a step away from him, allowing his hand to slip from her grasp. She looked at his face and saw the regret in his eyes. He was disappointed. Had she allowed this to go on any longer, he may have even been heartbroken. Behind the disappointment was a flash of shock. For the first time ever he was not the one doing the abandoning. He was the abandoned.

When ghosts come calling

Jane stood in the kitchen, resting her hip against the counter as she waited for the kettle to boil. It was a Wednesday night of no particular note in the middle of a normal, non-eventful week. She was alone, which was not unusual. They often spent their weekends together but otherwise their contact was limited to calls and messages, as was to be expected of a new relationship. She held her mobile phone loosely between her fingers, swinging it nonchalantly to and fro as her thoughts lingered on nothing in particular. She was pried from her reverie when the phone buzzed to life.

Given the late hour, she was not certain who to expect. But time suspended as she focused on the photo that had appeared on the screen. Daniel. She watched the phone gracefully slide from her grasp and elegantly drift down towards the floor in slow motion. It was an event that occurred outside of her reality, on which she had no control, so it was useless to try and stop it from happening. She stood rooted to the spot, her body frozen in place. When the device collided with the tiled floor it appeared to bounce before shattering into multiple pieces that ricocheted in all directions. It was rendered silent and all she could hear was the steady pounding of her heart as though it was inside her head.

As the kettle began to emit its high-pitched squeal, suddenly she was thrust into motion and found herself on all fours, scrambling around to gather up the pieces, putting the phone back together again in a frenzied race against time. She pressed the power button and waited the infuriating 45 seconds it took to come to life. And then she waited, heart beating so hard she was sure it would burst from her chest, breathing in short, heavy gasps as though she had just run a marathon. Until it appeared again, the photo of that beautiful man from her past, staring back at her with that smouldering gaze that made her knees weak. She knew him, that he would continue to call until she answered, so determined and stubborn. She waited – five, ten, fifteen seconds – before pressing the button and bringing her trembling hand to her ear.

‘Hello?’

‘Hello angel. It’s been a while. How are you?’

His voice seeped through the speaker and trickled all over her. And just like that she lost herself in him all over again.

‘I’m fine. How are you?’

‘Damn, it’s really good to hear your voice. I miss you.’

‘You miss the thought of me.’

‘You know that’s not true.’

‘Where are you right now?’

‘In bed.’

‘In the bed you share with her?’

‘Jane…’ he started in response, his tone heavy with defeat.

‘If we are going to continue speaking, at least go and sit on the sofa. I can hear the ghost of her breathing over your shoulder. It’s deafening.’

‘I miss you. I miss talking to you. I can’t talk to anyone the way I could with you. I miss our laughter. And I miss more than anything the smell of you. I wish I had never washed it off my skin.’

‘Talk to her.’

‘She doesn’t understand me. Not the way you do.’

‘Do you appreciate the cliche that you have become?’

‘I am aware.’

Daniel chuckled sadly, that deep ironic laugh that she had come to know so well. And suddenly she was back there, in Airlie Beach, in her bedroom, curled up on her double bed wrapped in his arms, whiling away the hours doing nothing and everything.

‘Talk to me Jane. I need you.’

She realised that continuing the call was in no way a positive decision. He belonged to another and she had spent the months after leaving Airlie ridding her body, mind and heart of any trace of him. To not hang up immediately would erase it all and find her right back where she had started from.

And then there was him. The one she had now made a commitment to, who would not appreciate her giving even a moment of her time to this phantom from her past. Betraying him was not something she wanted to do. But this was Daniel, after all this time, saying the things she had dreamed of him saying once upon a time. It was too late now, of this she was aware. They were separated not only by more than 3,000 kilometres of Australian nothingness, but by his decision, by time and by all that she had left behind.

And yet she could not bring herself to hang up the phone. One call and he was back in her system, like the drug he had always been to her, coursing through her veins delivering once again the euphoric rush she craved more than anything in the world.

‘I love you,’ he said, after keeping her on the phone into the wee hours of the morning.

‘I knew that.’

‘Do you love me too?’

‘Always. But the existence of love was never our problem. Goodnight Daniel. Sleep sweet.’

 

Jane and what comes next

Jane had known full well that the walls she had painstakingly spent time assembling around her heart after Airlie Beach were made of sticks and wood and the merest of sparks could see the whole structure erupt into flames. Yet she found herself dazed by the speed with which it all occurred. It was merely a matter of months since she had driven out of that town, leaving it all behind her without even a glance in the rear-view mirror. All that had occurred in that curious paradise stayed with her, but she had buried it deep inside in an abyss she would never allow another soul to reach. There was truly no point. All that she had seen, done, felt was for her alone and had contributed to the young woman she now was. Had she never found herself to be one of its misfit inhabitants, she would surely be a completely different person to the one who was now reflected back at her in the dark sunglasses that concealed his eyes. Even though she could not see exactly where his eyes were directed, she was certain his gaze was fixed squarely on her. She could feel it, the beam of his vision burning into her as he watched her calmly, longingly, with such an insatiable appetite.

‘I wish you were one of those men with his phone permanently at hand. At least that way I would have a reprieve from your eyes on me. I cannot take the pressure that comes with your endless scrutiny.’

‘I look at you because I desire you.’

‘Your desire for me only makes it harder to resist.’

‘Why resist?’

‘Because I cannot shake the inkling that we should walk away from this.’

‘What’s the worst that could happen?’

‘The world might collapse.’

‘Then we would build it up again.’

‘I’m too tired.’

‘Such is life, my dear. If you acquiesce, I am certain we will fall in love, feel exquisite pleasure and happiness. If eventually it falls apart and you are left alone, you will survive with raw and vivid memories that will last you a lifetime. Is that not what this is all for?’

‘It will fall apart, because everything always does.’

Her niggling doubts, however, were insufficient to impede her falling into him. And in return he delivered all that he had promised: passion, fireworks, drama, lust, laughter, happiness. And love. He loved Jane in equal measure to her love for him. It was not a typical affair, one in which a lover’s devotion always runs a little deeper, a little purer than the other’s. It was in fact a balanced, equal and fair distribution of affection. So unlike that which she had experienced with her lovers in Airlie. One had felt so much more for her than she had allowed herself to feel for him. The other had given her only a fraction of that which she had handed over to him on a silver platter. Both liaisons had ended in someone’s tears, someone’s heartbreak.

The irony with which the events in life are played out had never been lost on Jane. Fate had an enigmatic sense of humour that human beings were mostly incapable of appreciating. And so she could not categorically declare that she was shocked by the genuinely inappropriate timing of what happened next. Yet Jane did recognise the fact that it was only fitting she should receive a particular phonecall when she was on the cusp of something potentially real. Why would fate not take the opportunity to unleash havoc at that precise moment? The fallout would be much more spectacular, resulting in the greatest possible damage and drama and thus becoming far more entertaining to observe.

Jane’s acceptance

One kiss. That’s all it took.

The moment in which she allowed him to gently place a strong yet tender hand on her left cheek, it was all over. The electricity that radiated from that single second of physical contact ricocheted through her entire body, melting the remaining few ounces of willpower of which she was still in possession. As she allowed the sensation to consume her, she knew that there was nothing left to fight. He had never pushed her, that wasn’t his style. Unflinching patience, that was what he knew was required in order to claim his prize. And Jane was worth the wait, of that he was certain. But she would resist no more. Jane opened her mouth to speak, knowing that come what may, she would not regret the words that were about to flow forth into reality.

‘Of all the horrific things that happen in this world every single day, it seems futile to dedicate another moment of my time worrying about the dangers of opening up to you. Do you think perhaps God has forgotten about us? Or did he just grow bored with our obsession with self destruction?’

He replied without flinching: ‘I don’t believe in God.’

‘What do you believe in?’

‘Love. Passion. Sex. Desire. These you can see, feel, taste. They exist in this universe, in this time, in this very moment.’

‘Between us?’

‘I don’t doubt it for a second.’

‘Stop speaking and place your lips on mine. I want to believe it too.’

So it was that Jane took herself off the wagon, albeit rather more gracefully than one would have expected. As her trembling voice was silenced by his lips on her quivering mouth, she remembered. It struck her like a bolt from the blue, the realisation that in Airlie Beach she had evolved from once wounded victim into the breaker of hearts. She had learned there that she was in possession of as much control and power as any man she allowed into her life, her bed, her heart.

Jane relinquished. He ceased to be her Boogeyman any longer and for the first time she saw him for what he really was. A man. Just a man. Charismatic, sexy, charming. Exactly like Jane. The shift in power was palpable and she smiled to herself as she surrendered to his embrace.

His name was… it didn’t even matter. He was just a man. The wrong kind of man. The type who would never be entirely available emotionally, who would keep her at arms length yet was so captivating and irresistible she would not realise the distance between them failed to decrease over time. The only kind of man who held any appeal for her. Jane was not so very different from other red-blooded women who wanted and desired that which was unattainable, dangerous even. Although it was this very kind of man who had hurt her in the past, both before Airlie and during, her discipline to resist was non-existent.

She drew away from his kiss and looked him in the eye, truly seeing what was there before her for the first time. She smiled, a serious smile that demanded his attention, before she spoke a warning that once upon a time she would never have dreamed of vocalising.

‘It’s possible I might rip you to pieces. I may tear you apart. I might not intend to do so, but know that I am capable of breaking your heart.’

‘I’m willing to take the risk, Jane.’

‘Why’s that?’

‘For the same reasons you are.’

Jane dates The Boogeyman

Jane sat opposite the man she so desperately feared. Every voice in her head urged her to rise up, turn around and bolt out of the quiet, dimly lit restaurant he had brought her to. Yet she was nailed to the spot, her delicate feet planted on the ground, her body rigid but unflinching in the face of danger. Her hands were jammed between the surface of the hard, wooden chair and her clammy, bare, lower thighs, fingers turned in towards her, elbows facing out in what had become her default ‘I’m feeling vulnerable’ position.

Jane’s head was lowered slightly but her eyes stared directly ahead, peering through her long, thick eyelashes. She was afraid to look away for a moment, to even blink, for fear of what he may do in that split second. The last thing she wanted was for him to reach out towards her. She knew she did not have the strength to pull away when it counted and if he succeeded in touching her hot, nervous skin she would succumb to temptation completely. ‘I’m perfectly OK, as long as he doesn’t come any closer. Or smile. Or utter a single word.’

The Boogeyman observed Jane with humorous pleasure. She was uncomfortable and the internal struggle with which she battled played out in her eyes like a film projected for his amusement. It was too delicious to draw to an end and so he said nothing. Instead he lent lazily back in his chair, his hands folded neatly on the white tablecloth that hung listlessly on the square table. Her probing, anticipating gaze never left his and he almost laughed as she noticeably flinched despite herself when he reached out to take a glass of blood-red wine and brought it to his thin, smirking lips.

She was drowning in him. Panic rose from the deepest recesses of her empty stomach, snaking its way through her chest and accumulating in a tight knot in her throat. She cursed those bottomless, azure irises that burned through her and melted her resolve. She could bear it no longer, the silence was palpable and she knew that if she did not break the spell under which she sat transfixed, she would likely throw herself across the elegantly laid table and into his embrace.

‘I shouldn’t be here with you.’

‘We are just two people having a meal.’

‘It’s not that simple.’

‘It’s entirely that simple. You’re exactly where you want to be.’

‘What I want and what I need are not the same.’

‘You want me. You need me. Simple.’

‘Please don’t confuse me.’

‘Shouldn’t. Need. Confuse. They are mere words. They hold no power above that which we give them.’

She could already taste it on her tongue, the satisfaction that would come with wilting to his charm, his endless advances and evident desire for her. She knew she was supposed to be single right now and that what she needed was to focus on herself. He was a distraction and a complication that would be as beneficial for her as a hole in the head. The Boogeyman was a contradiction to the point she was determined to make. She needed to remember, to be certain, that she didn’t need a man. She was OK on her own. That all which had come before was not for nothing.

But. That’s all there was.

But. And it was all it took.

Jane meets The Boogeyman

‘Hello, Jane.’

‘I’m not supposed to talk to you.’

‘Why not?’

‘Because you’re bad for me. Everyone says so.’

‘Who is everyone?’

‘No one knows the answer to that.’

‘Then why do you care what they say?’

‘I knew a man like you once. He wasn’t good for me either.’

‘Do you think I’m The Boogeyman?’

‘You are The Boogeyman.’

‘No. I’m just a man.’

‘It’s the same thing.’

Finding herself in the presence of temptation was not something Jane expected here in reality. She was certain she had left all that behind her in paradise. This was not supposed to happen. She was not in the least bit prepared to be tested all over again. That was the way it had been there, not the way here. Jane was raw, exposed. Not nearly enough time had passed, Jane had only just begun to heal.

She was stronger than she had ever been, yet making the transition from that place to here was never going to be straightforward. How on earth could it be? She had spent well over two years inside her bubble. Airlie Beach. An oasis where all the lost souls had collided, absent-mindedly ricocheting off each other. They were a family, the most dysfunctional kind. Seemingly tending to their mutual wounds. Only the focused attention caused more harm than good. There were no bad intentions. But when heartache, pain and suffering is allowed to fester in copious, undiluted amounts in such a confined, suffocating space, it was only a matter of time before utopia would implode.

She had made her choices and suffered the consequences. Jane could live with that and sought no excuses nor attempted to justify her behaviour. In that place, there was never a need to substantiate one’s actions. But here she was, bravely attempting to reintegrate herself into the big, wide world and willing to at least attempt to conform to the rules. The last thing she could have foreseen was to find herself once again staring directly into the seductive eyes of a tantalising and ultimately self-destructive temptation so reminiscent of all she had left behind. What exactly was she supposed to do now?