About a decade ago, I crossed paths with a gentleman called Dr. Dolvinsky. He was undeniably screwed up. He was bi-polar, had middle-child syndrome, chronic diabetes, a 50-something German wife, a 20-something Swedish girlfriend, and a fairly heroic cocaine problem. His ancestors were Belorussian Jews who had fled the Pogrums. That said, he was a source of rather sage advice. At a time when my life was in the gutter, he told me that the only question I ever needed to ask myself was, Does it really matter? He assured me that for the most part, it didn’t, and that most people couldn’t come up with a rational reason why it did. Uncertain as to how to evaluate whether something mattered at this point in time, he continued by way of example:
“Does it matter that your husband wakes you in the morning by *insert crude sexual act here* (he didn’t spare me the technicalities, but I will you) in your face?”
“Yes, it really does matter.”
“Does it matter that your husband fails to empty the washing machine?”
“In the scheme of things, no, I suppose it doesn’t.”
And thus I was sent forth into the world.
In the Caribbean, the concept of monogamy is both alien and incomprehensible. Men have wives, girlfriends, mistresses, and one night stands and everyone seems to live in perfect harmony – everyone seems to know their role. At least that’s how it seems to me, who is still, for all intents and purposes, an outsider. I admit that I am not entirely sure whether the women follow the same rules. I suspect that they probably don’t have the time, what with all the working and child-raising they have to do. Yet when the boys come over, there are frequent references to “my girlfriend in New York” or “my girlfriend on St Thomas” floating around. Initially, I rather naively thought they were simply referring to friends who happened to be girls, but I soon realised that a West Indian man would never understand or even contemplate engaging in a platonic relationship with a woman.
On this basis, the Rastaman and I have always had an understanding. I know there are other women, I simply don’t want to know the details and it is his responsibility to ensure that I don’t find out. I am a firm believer that ignorance is bliss. Our system has been flawless for over 2 years. However, recently, an unfortunate sequence of events led to me finding out details about several of his dalliances.
As my heart exploded in my chest, I staggered backwards across the room, pointing at the door and trying to retain composure as I told him that he needed to leave. The Rastaman remained seated and looked confused. He really had no idea why I was losing my mind. As my back hit the wall, my body went limp and I slid down to the floor, choking out dislocated nouns, verbs, and fragments of thoughts. At which point, the Rastaman leapt into action, scooping me up into his big arms and delicately placing me into his lap. We sat in silence, my cheeks wet with tears, his eyes wide and alarmed. It was at this point that I remembered the words of Dr. Dolvinsky and took a breath to ask myself in earnest, Does it matter? We are conditioned to think that it does, but does it?
Was I happy with the amount of time I spent with the Rastaman? Yes.
Did I enjoy his company? Yes.
Did we argue? No.
Did he give me sufficient personal space? Yes.
Did he always come over when I was upset? Yes.
Did I wish to hang out with him when he was drinking shots and getting loaded? No.
Did I want to have sex with him when he was loaded? Categorically, no.
Did I wish to be woken up by him when he got home loaded? No.
So did it really matter that he sought the company of other women in circumstances when I had no desire to see him? Was he not, in fact, doing me a favour by taking himself elsewhere? Is it not true that in all other relationships in our lives we allocate certain friends to certain duties? Yes, we have our best friends, who we can more or less do anything with, but for the most part, we select different friends to fulfill our differing social needs. So why are we conditioned to putting our sexual partners in chains?
My eyes dried. The Rastaman loosened his tight grip on me. As he ruffled my hair, I fell into a deep and blissful sleep. I was onto a winner here, and as it turns out, Dr. Dolvinsky was right. It really didn’t matter.