“They come in the moments when you never knew that you needed them and they stay a moment less than your heart desires. They are interesting and bright and they burn up your time and turn it to the sweetest of ashes that linger on the tip of your tongue. They say wonderful things and terrible things and hilarious things but everything they say no matter how wonderful or terrible or hilarious is something you have thought and said and always wondered if anyone else on the entire god forsaken planet understood.
And then you meet them. These blips on the radar, these open enigmas that answer your questions with blinding honesty each and every time, surprising themselves and surprising you all at once because before you met and shared the same space, you both existed on the fringes of society, successful in your own right and content to be ostracised and weird but now you’re together and it occurs to you that maybe you have been lonelier than you had realised and at the same time maybe not being alone might not be so bad after all.
They understand your passion, your commitment, your drive and the hopelessness that comes from hoping too much. Hoping that it will go okay, hoping that the day will roll by smooth and slick without a hitch and that at the end of it someone, anyone, will pat you on the back and tell you that every moment that you felt you couldn’t breathe was worth it because you can breathe now and breathing is good.
And they know what your face is giving away because they’ve seen that look a thousand times before in the mirror staring back at them and they know exactly what to say to you because they say it to themselves, again and again, over and over, each and every day. It’s how they cope with the fact that they cope badly with coping. They become the voice in their own head and they drown out all others. The shift in consciousness for both of you comes when you realise that for the briefest of moments that choir of voices that you’ve tried so hard to drown out suddenly whispers “You’re doing a good job,” or “I love you,” or “I totally understand,” or “I’m going to miss you like crazy,” and then it hits you in a moment of star spangled clarity – you’ve let someone in.
You didn’t leave the door open or fashion a neon sign that begged them to enter your body and never leave, they slowly crept in and you found yourself talking about them when you didn’t need to and seeing things dotted around the world that you thought they’d like or understand when everyone else would see a lamppost or a coin on the floor you see it and you smile because you remember their idiosyncrasies, the wonder tinted glasses of a child’s eyes that they never lost or threw away or had stolen from them. They waltzed into your mind whilst you were sleeping and you woke and they were still there, still smiling, still furrowing their brow, condemning you to spend an eternity wandering around the room, flitting from hour to mind numbing hour waiting for them to return.
And it’s great when they come back, but sometimes they don’t. More often than not these people that pin prick your brain and let the gold spill out through your eyes, the people that shift your world, tilting it on its side never to be restored to how it was before, these people are like faces on the water. They’re transient and sweet and they leave a scar somewhere near your heart in those moments when they turn to you and say goodbye and you know it is goodbye. You are never going to see this person again. And that’s what makes them unforgettable.”
I write a lot. I always have. From the Snoopy notebook I had when I was seven to the laptop I write this on now, I’ve spent my life writing stuff down. So, you would think that I’ve grown used to finding things that I’ve written down at various times in my life and that I’d have developed a way of coping with the nightmares that drip down my throat and grow teeth in the pit of my stomach when I re-read those things at a different time.
I still find things that I’ve written in an old notebook or an autosaved Word document that at the time occupied every sinew of my earthly being but, like everything important, eventually became unimportant and therefore, inevitably – forgotten. However, it’s not so easy for me to forget things as easily as others like me. So these words sit like silent land mines, buried deep down in the ground, unassuming and waiting, for a click of the mouse or a flick of the page, waiting to go off in my face and tear open a wound or two that I’d forced myself to stop picking.
I’ve spent eleven months of my life writing and re-writing the same series of words. A manuscript I think people call it. And today I finished the first draft. I took my glasses off, like I always do when the work is done, and I rubbed my eyes, moving from my desk to the kitchen where poured the dregs of cold coffee from the machine into my well worn mug. I drank deeply and stared out at the window as the sky bruised pink and my heart beat returned to normal. There was a breeze coming through the kitchen window and I shuddered, hot, tired tears like sand in my eyes.
And I’ll remember that forever. The ways my legs ached from my trip to the city the day before and how my arms itched where they’d caught the sun. How I’d laid in bed with a headache to end all headaches for most of the afternoon whilst my daughter brought me water and rubbed my temples and tried to make me laugh whilst feeding me sweets and telling me about how she thought that Harry Potter should have ended up with Hermione instead of Ginny. The curry I’d made for dinner and the grungy Bob Dylan vest I’d spent most of my very limited spare time earlier in the week editing the manuscript in. The taste of stale coffee and menthol in my mouth. The can of Monster I knocked over on my desk, narrowly avoiding the keyboard of my laptop and sending shooting pains of panic through my pounding head.
I’ll remember it forever the same way I remember standing at a bar in the winter of 2015 and writing the words featured at the beginning of this blog on the back of an old Booker’s delivery note. It was November and I was wearing a t-shirt that I still own and happened to be wearing at the precise moment I found that old Booker’s delivery note at a quarter to ten this evening as I fumbled through some old paper work looking for a book I believed to be in the same box and endeavored to read this evening. It’s a black t-shirt with various guitars printed on the back and a man named Bill who incidentally bought me the Rory Gallagher mug I was drinking coffee out of this evening as I finished my manuscript, had spent a large part of that November afternoon in 2015 naming the various makes and models featured on the shirt much to the vague amusement of the other gentlemen drinking in their that afternoon.
It was pouring with rain and the air was cold and thin. I was half way through a bag of twiglets when I finished reading Something to Tell You by Hanif Kureishi and the bar slowed to silence as the last of the bar flies nodded off in his usual seat under the clock that never quite read the right time. I took a biro from next to the till and flipped over the Booker’s invoice from that days delivery and let my mind wander. What is featured at the beginning of this blog is what I wrote that day. What was on my mind?
In the winter of 2015 it was always him.
And in all the winters that have followed.
Always, him. And now, today, standing in my kitchen in a grungy Dylan vest, smoking an artificial cigarette and staring off at what used to be an alien skyline and is now very much the skyline of home, I found that he was still on my mind and still guiding my hand, all these years, and all these scars later. And, that, I believe is why finding those words at such a moment as today has caused me such insufferable pain.
I once tore off the back cover of my copy of Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman and gave it to the man that preoccupies my mind for fear of my picking up that book one grey afternoon and stumbling across the words I’d written in the back of it whilst staring, slack jawed and wet eyed at a man in the bar where I worked trying for the life of me to remember how to breathe properly. Land mines. Hidden in plain sight in innocuous landscapes waiting to tear me apart. Land mines of my own making, hopelessly attempting to exorcise my brain of it’s thoughts, bleeding all over anything that would hold ink or tears.
Open my hardback copy of Everything’s Eventual by Stephen King and read the first page to pull some stitches out of January 2015. Read what’s written in the margin of page 266 of my paperback copy of The Book Thief by Markus Zusak to see what was breaking my heart in July of 2007. September of 2010 left some scars on the back page of my copy of Reheated Cabbage by Irvine Welsh. March of 2015 brutalized my copy of On the Road by Jack Kerouac and February of 2012 tore up the margins of my original paperback copy of High Fidelity by Nick Hornby. 1984 by George Orwell holds the torturous ramblings of the summer of 2005, thoughts and feelings that haunt me so much that I have bought and read five other copies of the book rather than ever return to the original that drips with the horror of a fifteen year old too tired to live and too scared to die.
When people ask me why I have so many books, I simply say that it’s because I like to read, terrified of telling them the real truth behind my violent protection of many seemingly worthless paperbacks. Yes, I could get another copy of any of them for relatively little expenditure but I would lost with them the memories that made them mine. Millions, and I mean MILLIONS of people have read The Tommyknockers by Stephen King and I’m sure for thousands of people it was their first Stephen King novel as it was my first but do they remember being fourteen walking home from school in torrential rain with their denim jacket pulled up over their face as they stumbled about blindly in the dimly lit streets of suburban Surrey trying desperately to read and walk and not drown or get hit by a car – do they remember walking into the post box and splitting their lip open and turning their head and laugh maniacally as lightening flashed and thunder shook their teeth?
And can they right now walk a few feet across the room and pick up their copy of The Tommyknockers fifteen years later and still see the way the book crumples in on itself two thirds of the way through because the pages never had a chance to dry properly because they refused to put the book down even then, and sat on the bottom of the stairs dripping and shivering and helpless to pause the story?
No. I suppose they couldn’t.
I have written stories inside stories and of all the stories I’ve ever told, the one I finished writing today was different because it won’t pull me apart when I read it back again. I will not in five years time pick it up and feel my blood stop moving or my throat tighten at the memory of standing in my kitchen drinking cold coffee with tears in my eyes because those tears were not normal tears.
They were tears that I think I’ve been waiting to cry for many, many years.
I will, finally, be able to look at something that I wrote and not fear it’s shadow in the years to come because the story I have been telling over the past eleven months, though fictional – isn’t over. And it never would have been written without the person that made me write what I found today and started this blog with.
I’ve spent the past year of my life convinced that my heart was breaking, my head swimming with thoughts of the person that held the sledgehammer that shattered the last of it, convinced that my unwavering infatuation and preoccupation with someone that could hurt me in such an earth shattering way was pathetic and unhelpful. I’ve cried a lot of tears in the time it’s taken me to write this story, enough to know that today’s tears were different.
Why were they different? Because he never left. What loads the land mines scattered in hiding on my bookshelves are the memories associated with the words I’ve written inside the covers of other peoples stories. So today when I picked up that Booker’s invoice and read the words I wrote in another time and in another place, I realised that they weren’t about the same person – at least not the person that he is today. And that if he is not the same person as he was when I wrote those words – then maybe I’m not the same person either.
And maybe I don’t have to ever be any of the people that I was when I wrote anything, ever again. Maybe the next time my hands grope around absently in the dim evening light and my hands stumble across a loaded land mine, it won’t go off in my hands.
Because for the first time in all the years I’ve been writing stuff down – I feel like I wrote something out of bravery instead of fear. And I have him to thank, for forcing me to be brave when I couldn’t comprehend bravery.
That’s what makes those people proud of you, and that’s what makes those people stay.
“And that’s what makes them unforgettable.”