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  • Published: 16 April 2024
  • ISBN: 9780241441152
  • Imprint: Michael Joseph
  • Format: Trade Paperback
  • Pages: 608
  • RRP: $34.99

My Favourite Mistake

Extract

There’s more to this story than the clickbait headlines, but yes, in simple terms, I had a dream life – then I took a flamethrower to it. In no particular order, I broke up with my long-term partner, bought a small loom, gave away all my stilettos, resigned from my fabulous-if-frightening job, got into a situation in the street with five teenage boys, received a medical diagnosis which didn’t delight me, bought a slightly bigger loom and, after living in Manhattan for nearly twenty years, relocated back to Ireland.

The first sign that something was up came one Friday morning, in an apartment on the Upper West Side, eight months into the pandemic. Deep, discordant moans dragged me from the depths of sleep.

A quick look at my phone confirmed I was still entitled to a precious sixty-seven minutes of slumber and I flared with fury.

The first time I’d ever heard the atonal groans, I’d thought Angelo was in the next room playing a didgeridoo. But the noise came from a large group of monks. Not actually clustered in their orange robes in Angelo’s living room, swinging their canisters of butter-tea, but on Zoom from Tibet. Having been prematurely woken by them most mornings for the last several weeks I felt as if I knew each one personally.

Effing lockdown.

Angelo Torres and I had been in each other’s lives for over a decade. We loved each other, spent at least four nights a week together but had always kept our own places. Slightly irregular perhaps, but it worked.

Then along came Covid. Angelo and I had to choose between living together in a bubble or being separated indefinitely. We went for the bubble and we picked his place because it was bigger.

But being trapped together almost all day every day, in an apartment that seemed to shrink by the hour, was tougher than expected.

The monks were still giving it socks out there so I pawed for my earplugs. The most important thing was to not think about work. If even one thought got in, it would destroy any chance of getting back to sleep.

You’d never think from the nervy state of me, curled in a resentful knot in bed, that I had The Best Job In The World. But ask anyone. As a senior executive at ‘legendary’ New York PR firm McArthur on the Park, which represented some of the most covetable cosmetic brands on the planet, I could have as much free product as I wanted.

This was to the utter amazement of all who had known me during my under-achieving teens and twenties. Especially my family, where I’d occupied the Failure slot for so long they considered making it a lifetime award.

(Admittedly, getting the job was a bizarre stroke of good fortune, nothing more. I wasn’t – and I’m still not – a go-getter.)

In my crazy-happy early days, they could have paid me in blushers. But in fits and starts, I’d been given responsibility, respect and decent money.

. . . But I’d also accumulated anxiety. Lots of it.

It had always been a . . . let’s call it a lively place to work: best suited to those with robust central nervous systems. Take your B vitamins, would be my advice. My life was polished and stressy: early-morning manicures, meetings with powerful neurotics, last-minute flights to Bologna.

Looked at objectively, cosmetics are never a matter of life and death, but when you work in that pressurecooker world, you sort of forget. Until one day you find yourself more worried about bagging a five-star review for an eyebrow pencil than the state of the planet.

The big boss, Ariella McArthur, doled out extra responsibility – more fear – like it was a delicious treat. Throughout my thirties I’d been resilient enough to power through the terror. But more recently, whenever I ‘won’ a new account, I had to swallow repeatedly and tamp down the urge to howl.

Another look at my phone told me I still had sixty-one minutes of sleepy time. Sternly, I reminded myself that my current set-up was absolute paradise compared to countless others’ – a roof over my head, a steady income and enough lifting and firming serum to keep a small nation perky. I needed to cop on and be positive and accept these strange days, so I tried to hook on to the chanting sounds, lengthening and deepening my breath in time with them. Glorious, gorgeous sleep was once again creeping over me when the chime of a prayer bowl vibrated through the apartment, trembling the surface of my glass of water and sending a mascara trundling across the dressing table and bouncing onto the floor.

This was too much! I flung back the duvet, sat upright in bed and declared, ‘For God’s sake!’

Moments later the bedroom door opened and there was Angelo, a leather gong in one hand. ‘Problem?’ He was icily polite.

Yes, problem.

Oh, without a doubt, there was a problem, lots of them in fact. The monks were only the start of it. My body clock was badly out of sync with Angelo’s: I got a buzz from exuberant late-night Peloton classes; Angelo went to bed at nine thirty. (On Tibet time, I used to say. Only in my own head but I suspected he knew.) He liked us to prepare an adventurous evening meal together; since lockdown had kicked off, I preferred to graze all day long on cheese, apples and protein bars. To combat my anxiety, he urged me to join him in daily mindfulness but I got better results from wine.

That Tuesday morning, Angelo and I glared at each other. Despite my fury, the truth presented itself in all its stark glory: after so many happy years (and one very unhappy one), Angelo was driving me mad.

More alarming was his inability to hide his irritation with me. Angelo was a wonderful person who tried hard to practise patience towards his fellow man. That he could no longer keep his exasperation under control was a sign we were in big trouble.

We won’t survive this.

I was scared stiff. Then exhilarated, relieved, sad, anxious, hopeful and confused all at once.


My Favourite Mistake Marian Keyes

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