An Excerpt From Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle II: A Man in Love

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She fell into a pit that autumn. And she reached out for me. I didn’t understand what was happening. But it was so claustrophobic that I turned away from her, tried to maintain a distance, which she tried to close.

I went to Venice, wrote in a flat my publishing house had at its disposal, Linda was supposed to follow and stay for just under a week, then I would work for a few more days and return. She was so black, she was so heavy, kept saying I didn’t love her, I didn’t really love her, I didn’t want her, I didn’t really want her, this wasn’t working, it would never work, I didn’t want it to, I didn’t want her.

“But I do!” I said as we walked in the autumn chill in Murano with eyes hidden behind sunglasses. However, when she said I didn’t really love her, I didn’t really want to be with her, I wanted to be alone all the time, on my own, it became a little truer.

Where did her despair come from?

Had I brought it with me?

Was I cold?

Did I only think of myself?

I no longer knew what it would be like when my working day was over and I went to her place. Would she be happy, would it be a nice evening? Would she be angry about something, if for example we no longer made love every night, and so I didn’t love her as much as before? Would we sit in bed watching TV? Go for a walk to Långholmen? And once there, would I be devoured by her demands to have all of me, making me keep her at a distance and have thoughts shooting to and for in my brain that this had to come to an end, it wasn’t working, thus rendering any conversation or attempts to get closer impossible, which of course she noticed and took as proof of her main thesis, that I didn’t want her?

Or would we simply have a good time together?

I became more and more closed, and the more closed I became the more she attacked me. And the more she attacked me, the more aware I became of her mood swings. Like a meteorologist of the mind I followed her, not so much consciously as with my emotions, which, almost uncannily fine-tuned, tracked her various moods. If she was angry her presence was all that existed in me. It was like having a bloody great dog in the room growling, and I had to take care of it. Sometimes, when we were sitting and chatting, I could feel her strength, the depth of her existence, and I felt inferior. Sometimes when she approached me and I held her, or when I lay embracing her, or when we chatted and she was all insecurity and unease, I felt so much stronger that everything else became irrelevant. These fluctuations, without anything to hold on to, and the constant threat of some kind of outburst, followed by the unfailing reconciliation of smoothing of feathers, continued unabated, there was no let-up, and the feeling that I was alone, also with her, grew stronger and stronger.

In the short time we had known each other we had never done anything half-heartedly, and this was no exception.

One evening we’d had a row and after we had made up, we began to talk about children. We had decided to have a child while Linda was at the Dramatiska Institut, she could drop out for six months, and then I could take over while she finished her training. For it to work she would have to stop the medication, so she had to set this up; the doctors were reluctant, but the therapist supported her, and when it came to the crunch, the final decision was hers.

We discussed this nearly every day.

Now I said perhaps we should postpone it.

Apart from the light from the television, which was on in the corner, with the sound turned down, the flat was in total darkness. The autumnal darkness was like an ocean outside the windows.

“Perhaps we should put it off for a while,” I said.

“What did you say?” Linda said, staring at me.

“We can wait a bit, see how things go. You can finish your course…”

She got up and slapped my face with the palm of her hand as hard as she could.

“Never!” she shouted.

“What are you doing?” I said. “Have you gone mad? Hitting me like that?

My cheek stung. She had hit me really hard.

“I’m off,” I said. “And I’m never coming back. So you can forget that.”

I turned and went into the hall, took my coat from the hook.

Behind me she was crying, bitter tears.

“Don’t go, Karl Ove,” she said, “Don’t leave me now.”

I turned.

“Do you think you can do as you like? Is that what you think?”

“Forgive me,” she said. “But stay. Just tonight.”

I stood motionless in the darkness by the door and looked at her, vacillating.

“OK,” I said. “I’ll stay here tonight. But then I’m going.”

“Thank you,” she said.

At seven next morning I woke and left the flat without breakfast, went to my earlier flat, which I still had. Took a cup of coffee with me to the roof terrace, sat smoking and looking out over the town wondering what to do next.

I couldn’t stay with her. It was impossible.

I rang Geir on my mobile, did he feel like a trip to Djurgården, it was quite important, I had to talk to someone. Yes, he did, just had to finish off a few jobs first, we could meet by the bridge outside the Nordic Museum, and then walk right to the end, where there was a restaurant in which we could have lunch. And that was what we did, we walked under the masonry-grey sky, between the leafless trees, on a path gaily strewn with yellow, red and brown leaves. I said nothing about what had happened, it was too humiliating, I couldn’t tell anyone she had slapped me because what would that make me? I said only that we had quarreled and that I didn’t know what to do any more. He said I should listen to my heart. I said I didn’t know what I felt. He said he was sure I did.

But I didn’t. I had two different sets of feelings for her. One said you have to get out, she wants too much from you, you’re going to ose all your freedom, waste all your time on her, and what will hapen to all you hold dear, your independence and your writing? The other set said, you love her, she gives you something others can’t and she knows who you are. Exactly who you are. Both sets were equally right, but they were incompatible, one excluded the other.

On this day thoughts of leaving were uppermost in my mind.

When Geir and I went into the Metro carriage coming out of Västertorp, she rang. Asked if I wanted to eat with her in the evening, she had bought crabs, my favorite food. I said yes, we would have to talk anyway.

I rang the doorbell even though I had a key, she opened and studied me with a careful smile.

“Hi,” she said.

She was wearing the white blouse I liked so much.

“Hi,” I said.

One hand moved forward as though intending to embrace me, but it stopped and she took a step back instead.

“Come in,” she said.

“Thank you,” I replied. Hung my jacket on the hook, body angled slightly away from her. As I turned she reached up and we gave each other a hug.

“Are you hungry?” she asked.

“Yes, quite,” I said.

“Then let’s eat straight away.’

I followed her to the table, which was under the window on the other side of the room from the bed. She had laid a white cloth. Between the two plates and glasses, plus two bottles of beer, there was a candlestick with three candles, and three small flames flicked in the draught. A dish of crabs, a basket of white bread, butter, lemon and mayonnaise as well.

“I’m not so skilled with crabs, it transpired,” she said. “I didn’t know how to open them. Perhaps you do?”

“Sort of,” I said.

I broke off the legs, opened the shells and removed the stomachs while she flipped off the bottle tops.

“What have you been doing today?” I said, passing her a shell, which was almost completely full.

“I couldn’t even think of going to class, so I rang Mikaela and had lunch with her.”

“Did you tell her what happened?”

She nodded.

“That you slapped me?”

“Yes.”

“What did she say?”

“Not much. She listened.”

She looked at me.

“Can you forgive me?”

“Of course. I just don’t understand why you did it. How can you lose control of yourself like that? I assume you hadn’t intended to do it? I mean, on reflection?”

“Karl Ove,” she said.

“Yes?” I said.

“I’m very sorry. Terribly sorry. But it was what you said that hit me so hard. Before I met you I hadn’t even dared imagine that I might have children one day. I didn’t dare. Even when I fell in love with you I didn’t. And then you said what you said. It was you who brought up the subject, do you remember? The very first morning. I want to have children with you. And I was so happy. I was so utterly, insanely happy. Just the fact that there was a possibility. It was you who gave me that possibility. And then…yesterday…well, it was like you were withdrawing the possibility. You said perhaps we should put off having children. That hit me so hard, it was so crushing and then…well…I completely lost control.”

Her eyes were moist as she held the crab shell over the slice of bread and tried to lever out the firm flesh along the edge with the knife.

Translated by Don Bartlett.

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