The following is a short story I wrote for The Wild Word as part of my Other Half series. It’s inspired by the relationship between Pamela Anderson and Julian Assange.
“I want to know what happens when I touch you,” I told Julian the first time we met in the Ecuadorian embassy.
He was in his swivel chair with his feet on the bed. The cat was asleep on his lap.
“Come see then.”
I stepped over a pair of dirty pants and a takeaway box that stank of chicken curry.
“It’s kinda filthy here.”
“Hard to give a shit about cleaning when you’re imprisoned.”
“You could at least change the litter tray. And eat humanely.”
“What, like leaves and seeds?”
I moved right up to him and pressed my thumb against his cheek. A purple blotch rose and ebbed beneath my touch.
“Oh my God, you’re right! Thin as rice paper.”
“I told you,” he said. “No sunlight.”
* * *
I asked to meet Julian because he was one of the few people I thought of as a true radical. Someone who went all in. Wouldn’t take no for an answer.
I’d been an animal rights activist for years. But I wanted to do so much more. I needed to connect with someone who had a warrior instinct.
Also, I knew there’d be chemistry between us. I’d watched enough interviews with him on YouTube.
It was in the micro expressions. An elevated eyebrow. A misguided glance. Julian had no inhibitions. You could see it even through a screen.
During that first visit, I asked him why he got into hacking.
He scanned me as if to figure out if I was being sincere. Then he stroked the cat and said:
“The truth is the most valuable currency in the world, Pamela. And the most volatile, too.”
I wanted him really badly when he said that.
But he must have misinterpreted my expression. Because he went on:
“Actually, the Australian authorities just knew fuck all about encryption.”
He smirked. “That first part sounds good though. I should write it down”
* * *
I started traveling to London regularly. The embassy staff got to know me.
“Good to see you again, Pamela,” the porter would say. “Please don’t forget to sign out when you leave.”
I often didn’t until the next day.
The Paparazzi would arrive at the gates at 4 o’clock in the morning. “Pamela!” they’d shout. “How’s Julian doing? Is he in good health?”
I felt bad for taking my time over breakfast when they were freezing outside. I went on chat shows to campaign for his release. “He’s an amazing man,” I said. “His only crime is telling the truth.”
When the TV hosts asked if we were romantically involved, I said, “Sure.”
When they asked if my footballer boyfriend minded, I smiled and said, “Of course.”
When they asked if I loved Julian, I said, “Yes.”
People began to treat us as if we were a couple.
* * *
One night, I made Julian watch a documentary about factory farming. When I told him he’d never eat meat again, he laughed.
The film shows chicks being crushed to death in machines. Pigs having their tails singed off. Cows, dizzy from giving birth, chasing the scent of their captured calves.
Every time I watch it, I feel nauseous. But Julian didn’t flinch.
When it was over, and I demanded a response he said: “I still think steak is as good as sex. But right now, I’ll take whichever comes first.”
* * *
I used to get a kick out of Julian’s schoolboy fantasies.
“Open your legs.” Cup your boobs,” he’d say in his funny Australian drawl.
Amazing how such banal things could come from such a brilliant mind!
But that night, when we fucked, I felt like a piece of meat, and he the butcher.
* * *
I stopped visiting and focused on my work instead. I became obsessed with Canada banning seal hunting. If I could get Russia to do it, I should be able to persuade my own country to do the same. I sent a handwritten letter to every member of the Canadian parliament and posed naked outside a fur store in Toronto.
Julian’s friends told me he wasn’t doing well and I felt bad. They said he’d started skateboarding across the wooden floors in the embassy and refused to feed the cat.
The embassy staff gave him a final warning.
One week later, his diplomatic immunity was retracted and he was arrested by British police.
* * *
I wrote to Julian and told him I was sorry. I’d underestimated the psychological torment of captivity. I, of all people, should have known better.
When people described his behavior as self-destructive, I reminded them that a caged hen plucks out its own feathers.
I visited him in Belmarsh as often as I was allowed and spoke to him through a plastic screen. His skin became even more transparent. I could see the veins beneath his eyes.
* * *
One day on the way to see him, I got an email from PETA. They’d been sent footage of baby seals being slaughtered off the Russian coast. The video had come from an anonymous source who claimed the Kremlin had been instructing authorities to stop enforcing the hunting ban I’d worked so hard to get in place.
I watched the video from start to finish and saw red.
Do you know how many hours I spent with those Kremlin dudes? How many quips about my Baywatch days I endured just to get them to pass that fucking legislation?
But I needed to verify what PETA were telling me before I got in touch with Moscow.
* * *
“No,” Julian whispered from the other side of the plastic screen.
“What do you mean, ‘no’?”
“We don’t hack the Kremlin.”
“We don’t do it. It’s against our policy.”
“Are you fucking kidding me?”
“Every organization has a code.”
“What about the truth?”
“I couldn’t give a fuck about seals being slaughtered in Russia.”
My mother taught me to count to five before uttering something you might regret.
“Asshole,” I said.
A purplish color rose to the surface of his papery cheeks.
I looked into Julian’s eyes. Dead and gray beyond the plastic guard.
And that I was all I needed to know about the man I thought I’d loved.