Notes from a Hollywood divorce: ‘We had a primal connection. But we hung by a thread for years’

I wrote a part for my husband in my first movie. By the time filming was over, so was our marriage

In every city Ive lived, my sister has been the one to set up the printer, testing it by printing me the lyrics to George Michaels Freedom! 90. I am not the only grown woman entwined with their family, as I am not the only British person entwined with George Michael. When, in 2010, he drove his car through the wall of the Hampstead Snappy Snaps, the resulting hole was quickly daubed with the legend WHAM, by a local who meant it in a loving way. Walking to the underground, I saw it (as well as the aftermath and the commentary on the aftermath) after breakfast with the last man I dated, before I met my husband.

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Because Id seen his film (Animal Kingdom), and hed read my memoir (Your Voice In My Head), we had a strong idea of each other before we fell in love. Once we were together, music moved from headphones in walking cities to being blasted from his truck on LA highways. My soon-to-be husband began a rapid career ascendancy, as he endeavoured, simultaneously, to untangle me from my family. As we worked on the wording to our ketubah (Judaisms sacred prenuptial agreement) I could picture beside according to the law of Moses and Israel, the calligraphed lyrics to Freedom! 90: I wont let you down / I will not give you up!

Though Id left home at 16, it felt, in many ways, as if it was only just happening. On hearing me plead my case to my father for why I shouldnt have to invite a relative I didnt like to the wedding, Ben took the phone from me. I heard my dad, in clipped John Cleese tones, politeness enveloping a core of neardemented frustration: It may not be pleasant, but you have to. We had to invite family we didnt want to our wedding its just how weddings work.

Ah, nah mate, Ben answered, fanning out his Aussie accent like a card trick. Nah. That aint gonna happen, and hung up on him. Like many families from minority-ethnic backgrounds, mine is loud. Here was someone who was far louder.

But DMX is loud and Topol is also loud and theyre different and youd be resentful, on marrying, if your concept of how loudness should feel was one and you got the other. May not be what you want from me / Just the way its got to be.

One of the things I absolutely loved about Ben was that when he did not like a much-lauded film, rather than saying, I find I am not connecting with this jazz drummers emotional journey, he instead ejected the DVD, spat on it, opened the window, threw the DVD out, closed the window, then opened the window and leaned out to spit on it again.

One of the lows was me trying to finish a breastfeeding session with our three-week-old and him playing Wild For The Night by A$AP Rocky feat Skrillex over and over from tinny laptop speakers turned to their highest volume. Thereafter, I came to imagine that any vile event in our marriage featured Skrillex. But that day, topless and trapped under my suckling infant, I simply spat as far as I could in the direction of the laptop. The spit landed on the keyboard. Oh my God, shouted Ben. I love you! I love you so much! Did he love my anger, my focus, my aim? I dont think he knew why he loved me, just that we had a primal connection. I felt the same. I followed his scent from room to room.

Neither is it lost on me that the heights of our love are both to do with spit. I think about the English phrase Holding it together with spit and glue, which is another way of saying hanging on by a thread. We hung by a thread for years.

Youre shouting! Id cry, and hed answer, Im not shouting, Im Australian. He still thinks I am too easily startled and I still think he is too quick to anger. This is the circle in which we dance and always did. As a married couple, we were a Tennessee Williams first draft (feat Skrillex). Or as he put it, he was Wreck-It Ralph and I was Vanellope, the girl with a glitch.

In early 2016, I had the nagging feeling that we were going to have to call time. And though I was very worried, I had an even bigger nagging feeling. I had become fixated on the health of George Michael. This could have been Cassandra-style foresight, or, given his lifestyle, just pragmatism. Either way, I wanted George to know how much his music meant to me. I wrote the letter, but didnt mail it and David Bowie died instead.

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Ben and I are both autodidacts who dropped out of high school. The last school exam I sat was history GCSE where I was required to write an essay about the golden years of the Weimar republic. Unprepared, I panicked and thought it would be OK to instead write an essay about Golden Years by David Bowie. I tell you this because its one of Bens favourite stories about me, something he enjoyed hearing when he felt tender.

We had just got back from watching Ben not win a Golden Globe for Bloodline when the news came through. I dont know if its more unsettling to get bad news naked or in black tie, but we listened to his songs late into the night and the marriage hung on. When it emerged that Bowie had known he only had a year to live and had thrown himself into completing an album, I thought about knowing youre going to die and knowing that the thing you must do is work. I thought about how to leave a legacy inside the marriage in the likelihood it would soon be gone.

When we first met, Id written the script for Untogether, a film charting how something youre determined to leave as a one-night stand arcs, against your wishes, into a love story. I wrote the role of Martin for Ben, to showcase his guileless, joyful side, the half of him that is Iggy Pop just wanting to be your dog. It felt important to get it filmed before we ended up divorcing. After a decade as a screenwriter, it would be my first film as director. As financing finally fell into place, partly as a result of Bens participation, I realised Id have to direct my husband as we were pulling apart.

I almost scuppered it late one night during a tense disagreement about parenting. This was really it, we were breaking up then and there, film be damned when someone with a flashlight approached our home. Ben grabbed a long kitchen knife and ran outside, shouting: Get the fuck off my property! I will fucking gut you!

We held each other and trembled and were so glad not to have broken up, to be held by spit and glue, that it took until the next day to realise: Ben, it wasnt the meal delivery service, was it? Oh. He said. Oh dear. You should probably call to apologise.

After another fight, my daughter and I went to a friends beach cottage for two weeks, the longest time Ben and I had spent apart. While we were there, Prince died. These musicians we loved so much, who had been our sacred texts on dark nights of the soul, were dying, while we were dying on the inside.

***

I had a very different relationship with loneliness when I was younger. I lived my life in walking cities (London and then New York) where my mood could be best summarised as music heard through headphones and loneliness was something I let melt under my tongue like a sucking sweet, combating the cabin air pressure of my head.

With many, many swear words in his arsenal, How lonely is Bens most frequent insult. It could apply to everything from a denim jacket sold with pre-applied patches, to a misguided nickname, to a poorly considered For Your Consideration campaign. Loneliness is the greatest damnation he can assign to a person, place or thing.

Emma
With Ben Mendelsohn in 2012: How do you look at someone whose clothes you once wanted to tear off, when there is laundry to be done? Photograph: Hugh Hamilton

I remember walking down to the beach, looking out at the Pacific, thinking, I dont want to end up lonely, but if we dont end this marriage that needs to end, the icons of our youth will keep dying before their time. (It is the artists way to believe that they are useless pieces of shit, but that they also control the oceans. Ben understood that.)

Some friends thought I should let the film fall away and focus on splitting, but the shots my cinematographer and I had planned gnawed at me as I slept, when I bathed, as I carried shopping from the grocery store. Maybe because it was my version of an optimistic love story, I believed I would simply not be OK if I didnt film it. And that it would mean something to some people were it to see the light of day.

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The night before my first morning on set, I called my writer-director friend Shana, needing to say out loud what Id been holding in: that I didnt want to direct this film any more because I didnt want to be on this planet any more. As I sobbed, she gave me the best advice I ever got about film-making: Nobody ever gets to direct a film. Women never, ever get to. Youre going to make this movie and on the last day, you can have a nervous breakdown and check into a psych ward for 10 days, because thats how long it will take for your editor to cut the first assembly.

I was held up in every way by my crew and my cast (with perfect Fleetwood Mac synchronicity, my leading lady, Jemima Kirke, was also getting divorced). One of my favourite days was lifting a scene from the Freedom! 90 video (Jemima angled like Cindy Crawford in the bathtub, elevated by wooden planks, as Id heard its director David Fincher had done). It was a 20day shoot with a few hours sleep a night. By the end, my face appeared to have melted, like the proverbial cake left in the rain. When I was directing Ben on the days he shot and only those days I put on mascara and it was How lonely. To care how you look in front of someone who you dont want to be with and who does not want to be with you.

The day after the November 2016 US election was the only time I cried at work. The idea that you wake up and are a country utterly divided we think theyre the terrible people and they think were the terrible people felt like the global parallel to my domestic reality. Jamie Dornan, who acts opposite Jemima, clocked my face as we returned from our trailers Id say Girl With A Glitch meets Tennessee Williamss bulldog mourning at his grave while Skrillex plays and wordlessly wrapped me in a bear hug as I said Thank you and Sorry, took a breath and shot the next scene.

Leonard Cohens passing actually came as a moment of respite. Of all the celebrity deaths of 2016, it is the only one that can be described as a good death. Leonard, one senses, simply meditated himself off this plain, a peaceful protest against the state of the nation.

Forrest
Forrest directing Lola Kirke (sister and co-star of Jemima) and Ben Mendelsohn on the set of Untogether. Photograph: Brad Frizzell

After we finished the film, Ben moved out to the place where I first knew him, a guesthouse at the top of Laurel Canyon in LA. He would come to put our daughter to bed a few times a week and wed orbit each other in silence, two waning moons. To hear him apologise when he walked in on me changing was crushing. How do you look at someone whose clothes you once wanted to tear off, when there is laundry to be done? How are you going to get divorced, especially with a child involved? Are you going to say, I find I am not connecting with this emotional journey? Or do you eject the marriage, spit on it and throw it out the window? Like most couples who were once deeply in love, we did both.

On Christmas Day, I made blinis with caviar and he thanked me, politely. We were still not sure how to hug, so we didnt. Our kid ripped from present to present as if she were pollinating them, and Ben gingerly gave me a maritime-themed cushion with a removable octopus, a completely random gift that said, I have no idea what we are to each other any more.

He was in the garden smoking when I read about George Michael. When I told him, he put me on his knee and I leaned on his chest and we both cried. I dont know if he was just relieved to see me crying not over our divorce. I said it would be him. He held me tighter: You did. You did say it. It just hurts so much, I gulped, that someone who comforted so many people did not feel good about himself. Ben answered: Thats why we do what we do.

Later, I remembered the way Georges songs swing back and forth from a desperate yearning for closeness to a primal need for freedom. When we finished crying, we danced to his greatest hits, all three of us, and it was a beautiful Christmas.

The next day I told my childs babysitter. A deeply empathetic woman, she just looked at me and asked: Which one was he? George. George Michael. English. Greek. Wham!? He wrote some of the most perfect songs in the history of pop. He had a big, big heart. She thought a long time before her eyes flooded with recognition: Toilet Man? It felt like a sense memory from couples therapy: you could flood the world with beauty, yet only be remembered for your perceived transgressions.

Carrie Fisher died before the year was done. Soon Ben and I would descend into six months of froideur as the financials got hammered out. The last time he was tender with me, he called to tell me about Debbie Reynolds. All he said was: Mummas gone now. I understood right away. I also understood he wanted to be the one to tell me, aware how entwined I am with the family he took me from and to whom he was returning me.

The next time he visited, he was wearing new black wax jeans I couldnt make sense of, and the fact I couldnt make sense of them felt insurmountable (sometimes the clothes do not make the man). Around the time Tom Petty died twice in one day I was at my lowest. My kid and I left the east LA family home for a rental in north London while we tried to find our feet.

I wanted the explosions of Finchers Freedom! 90 video. I wanted them when I signed over the house to him (Freedom! Bam!) and when I signed the divorce papers (Bam!). I wanted to re-enter our flat after a Tesco shop to find a flaming jacket with Rockers Revenge, Naomi Campbell observing me from inside a sweater, Christy Turlington crawling on her hands and knees. An unnamed male model doing pullups, unnamed because the man doesnt really matter, hes just a reason to buy clothes and plane tickets.

As my daughter and I explored north London together, I found that every other street had an amazing view. I played her Petty, George, Bowie, Prince, Leonard. She only needs to hear a tune once to sing it perfectly. My mum sang with her and it was soothing to watch. I was glad to be re-entangled with my parents in a new way, all of us at different life stages.

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Every day at school, my daughters class of five-year-olds began with them singing, If You Want To Sing Out by Cat Stevens. She had come to love it so much, and become so used to the singers we listen to being dead, that she summoned the courage to ask: Is Cat Stevens is he dead? No, I said. Cat Stevens is alive. I didnt say: He has transfigured. He is at once what he was and something new, but still the same soul. I just put her tiny hand in mine and said: Hes still alive. Before bed, I showed her the Untogether wrap present that Jemima Kirke had given me: shed taken my wedding dress and dyed it dusky pink, so it could be worn to parties.

One day, after dropping my daughter at school, I found myself wandering around Highgate. Eventually, I was at the cemetery, admiring the flowers and books at the graves of Karl Marx and John Kennedy Toole. The thing I find most painful about divorce is that there is no marked spot at which to leave offerings. The guard said visitors could only go to George Michaels grave if they knew him. I felt like I could pull that off. I have chutzpah. I walked up to Ben the first time we met, and told him I had been looking for him. But its hard to flex chutzpah when youre exhausted. Waking, feeding, dressing, brushing, getting a kid out the door to catch the bus in the rain every single day. Returned to a walking city, the music in my ears was my salvation. Did you know him? the guard asked. No. I didnt know him. I just loved him. I dont belong to you / And you dont belong to me.

It is very sad that a big-city feminist found it so hard to get along with a hyper-macho Australian of a certain age. It is sad, but its also just the plot of Crocodile Dundee. My experience of love has been melancholy, but also joyfully ridiculous; its that combination, like a brilliant pop composition, that makes it worth replaying.

Untogether is available on iTunes, Amazon and Sky from 12 July. Emma Forrests novel Royals will be published by Bloomsbury in October.

If you would like a comment on this piece to be considered for inclusion on Weekend magazines letters page in print, please email weekend@theguardian.com, including your name and address (not for publication).

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Original Article : HERE ; This post was curated & posted using : RealSpecific

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