Sincerity

When I was fifteen I was sat outside my maths classroom on a windowsill reading a copy of Stephen King’s Misery, headphones firmly on my ears, huddled up against the cold rain streaked window. It was late morning and my maths teacher, Mr Williams, who had given up attempting to teach me roughly three weeks before this day, had asked me to sit outside the classroom where I could see him but where I could, and I quote – “keep my antics separate from those who intended to learn.”

We had an understanding. I would sit somewhere in view, his beady little eyes darting out at me from behind the small pane of glass in the door leading to his classroom and he would leave me to my own devices on the window sill until the bell chimed and I meandered through the halls clutching whatever life line it was I happened to be reading at the time and listening to the same mix tape over and over again until I was allowed to go home and do it all in the privacy of my own bedroom with a tasty joint and the music on my speakers.

This day, and I remember it well, as I remember all days when someone marks me with a label I enjoy rather than endure, I was sitting with my face in the book aware only of the slight numbness forming in my feet and the cool, gushing wind against the window that seemed to seep through and infiltrate the jacket I wore over my school shirt. I was at the bit in the book when Annie throws Paul down into the cellar and goes away and leaves him in the dark, alone and in pain. The doors at the end of the corridor opened as the door at the top of the Annie’s stairs closed and my eyes flicked up for a moment.

Mr Trigwell, a man who also taught maths and had never been flippant with my idiosyncrasies, though he was not often a man I could describe as kind, entered the hall way. He was from Leeds, I think. Everyone thought he looked like a Womble. He wore a brass band around his wrist for medicinal purposes I thought, though I may have been wrong and he had taught at the school I attended for long enough that my form tutor and IT teacher, Mr Claringbull, had been taught maths by the Womble too. He taught Design Tech, or woodwork, later on in my school career, but at that moment he was just Trigwell, a man of few words but many discerning facial gestures.

He was also the head of the maths department and wasn’t easily impressed by my bravado. I think that’s why I never walked out of his lessons or told him to fuck off, a luxury that Mr Williams was never afforded. There was something there, between the two of us, that at the time I thought was a tired kind of apathy towards me, an attitude of not being bothered by my refusing to placate the notion that anyone in that building had any considerable power over me. Looking back now, ten years later, I can see that it was slightly more than that. It was the knowledge of a man who had taught worse than me, and indeed, better than me but had never taught anyone quite like me.

I buried my nose in the book and hoped that if I didn’t make eye contact I would be free and clear. After all, Trigwell was in charge on that block and if he told me to go back in the classroom, I would have to go. He wasn’t a pushover like Mr Williams and he didn’t puff his chest out. He would ask me quietly and I would go because at that point, on that day, I too was exhausted and drowning in my own apathy. There would be no fight. Just a resigned sigh as I kicked my boots off of the window sill and walked back to my desk, instantly feeling tired and closed in the moment the central heating hit my throat and slicked it with heat. I leant my face against the cold, wet window and closed my eyes.

One of my headphones was popped off of my ear and I opened my eyes.

“What are you doing?”

“Reading.”

“What are you reading?”

“Misery.”

He paused. His eyes levelled and for a second I thought he was going to smile.

“Doesn’t have much to do with maths does it?”

“Pretty much sums it up to me, sir.”

Silence.

Then he did smile.

“Did Mr. Williams send you out of the classroom?”

I nodded.

“Because you were disturbing the class?”

“I think I was disturbing him more than anything. The class didn’t seem to mind.”

“Mind what?”

“My reading.”

“He sent you out of the class for reading?”

“Yes sir.”

He took off his glasses and rubbed them clean on the inside of his grey and blue checked shirt. When his mouth moved his grey beard seemed to come to life like a Jim Henson puppet, moving with strings and pullies. You couldn’t really see his mouth but his voice was textured and rough. I imagined he would know how to hang a shelf straight or unblock a toilet, traits that may not seem all that appealing to a fifteen-year-old but to a twenty-seven-year-old who would probably knock a wall down trying to mount anything on it – they were respectable character traits indeed.

That’s the problem with being young, I suppose. You revere all the superfluous bullshit and rage against the literal machine. He’s wearing a tie, he’s the enemy. It’s as simple and as stupid as that. I’m happy now, content would be a more accurate word I suppose, that I never told Mr Trigwell to fuck off. Retrospectively, that seems like quite a noble thing for the fifteen-year-old me to accomplish.

“Are there any lessons you attend?”

“I don’t know what you mean.”

“I’ve seen you – sitting on the bench,” he pointed out the window to the square of grass known as the quad. There was a bench in each section of the grass, split by paths to look like a window.

“I don’t do P.E. I’ve got a note,” I said, yawning, “or Science.”

“Do you have a note for science?”

“I don’t think my leg would get me out of science.”

“What’s wrong with your leg?”

“Do you want to see my note?”

I handed him a piece of crumpled paper with my mother’s juvenile handwriting draped crookedly across. As he read his eye brows, as grey and animated as his beard, moved up and down. The note wasn’t that long, it didn’t have to be. He handed it back to me.

“How did you do that?”

“Fell.”

“Sounds painful.”

“It is.”

“You used to talk more.”

I just stared at him.

“When you first started here, you were impossible to shut up.”

“What can I say,” I shrugged, “I’ve matured.”

He shook his head.

I now recognise the incredulous look on his face for what it was.

“So the painkillers are strong?”

“Pretty strong.”

One hundred milligrams of tramadol.

My record was eight in a day.

“Does it make it hard to concentrate?”

“On certain things.”

“Not on that, though.”

He looked at the book still in my hands.

“No,” I smiled, “not on that.”

“Will you do me a favour Veronika?”

I stared back at him awaiting the proposition, a vague numbness in my throat.

“Will you look after yourself?”

I didn’t really know what to say.

And that was the first time, I really remember being speechless.

The bell rang a few moments later and I dragged my dead legs off of the unforgiving window sill and tucked my paperback in the inside pocket of my jacket. A few months later I would be expelled from school for pushing someone down a flight of stairs and I would be brought back, with a police officer on one side of me and my mother on the other, before my head teacher and my head of year, on the provision that I attended school for two hours each day after three o’clock when the other students had gone home.

“Will you do that for me Veronika?”

“Yes sir.”

I put my headphones in and limped up the stairs through the doors that Mr Trigwell had walked through minutes before. I stood outside my art classroom waiting for the queue to form and my teacher to appear and let me in. Her name was Mrs Rydell. Judy. She would ask the same favour of me a few weeks later and I would let her down, as I did Mr Trigwell and as I did most anyone who asked anything of me then.

I stood listening to Cat Stevens sing about the world being wild and looked out of the window at the unrelenting rain and wondered when it would stop. When everything would stop, because although I dragged myself from place to place, shedding weight, losing hair, drifting further away from anyone really definable as a whole human being, the world seemed too fast for me then. The pills slowed it down to a crawl and I still found myself trying to play catch up with everyone and everything around me. I was out of my depth and I couldn’t see or feel anything around me. Like I was floating.

There are great patches of my adolescence that I can’t remember. A few years ago a friend asked me if I remembered the time that I headbutted someone in the car park or the time that that one teacher rolled a joint for me because I’d broken my thumb and it was in a cast and I couldn’t remember. I couldn’t remember these highly memorable moments that made me the person that people still remember when I walk into a room a decade later. “You’re the girl that…” is how all those conversations start.

And I just stand there and stare at them and smile when it seems appropriate and show remorse when the situation calls for it, completely oblivious to whether or not they are stating fact or fiction. I don’t remember headbutting that boy in the car park and I don’t remember a teacher rolling me a joint, though I do remember my thumb being broken. I do however, have such a clear and brilliant recollection of the way that corridor smelled and how my body felt, how my eyes felt swollen and itchy and how the cold ran through the window and down my arm as it sat against it.

And I remember the softness in his voice when he asked me to do him a favour.

More so than even that, I remember the sincerity of it.

So for all the lovers I’ve had that had pledged their lives to never leaving and for all the family members that proclaimed we would rise above the pettiness of our parents and our peers only to fade away and to all the friends that promised we would always be so and now are shadows on a canvas so scarred with these unintentional lies and half truths – I remember the words of a teacher who was never particularly kind to me, never really favoured me above anyone else and who would be as quick to tell me to tuck in my shirt as the next sack of hormones waiting in line.

I remember those words now, and probably always will.

Because he asked nothing of me.

But hoped for everything.

All he asked for was a favour.

A favour I intend to keep.

All these years later.

Advertisements

A Good Man Died Today

A good man died today, and like it always does, death has a tendency to make us think about life. So here I am, thinking about life. My life in particular. We’re all selfish when it comes to these things. He was a good man, this man who died today, and he raised good people and loved a good woman.

He died happy with almost a century of his own life’s memories to keep him company in those moments, and that good woman I just mentioned, well, she was right there by his side when he got called up. That’s the kind of death that you can sleep with at night. It’s a just death, a righteous death and, in a solemn way, it’s comforting. That with all the blood and pain and confusion, someone good died a good death in a sleepy little hospital comfortable and calm with the woman who gave him the majority of the life of he had and who was there, like she’d always been, when a muggy grey Wednesday in August became the last day they ever heard each others voice.

So I’m sitting here in a t-shirt that that man’s son gave to me once upon a time, listening to a band that neither of those men would like, with a candle burning like my grandmother taught me and a pit in my stomach. What that pit is, I don’t know, but somewhere in between going to sleep last night and sitting down at my desk right now, something has lodged itself there and refuses to leave. It feels nervous, watery and bitter but most of all, it just feels sad.

I may never have known this man and I may never have found myself sitting on the floor with a cold cup of coffee in one hand and a hand rolled cigarette shaking in the other, crying amongst the broken glass on the floor listening to Nothing Lasts Forever by Echo and the Bunnymen without a hint of irony. The man that introduced me to the man would have found the irony in it. He finds the irony in everything, that man.

I may never have known the woman that the man has left behind or felt the softness of her hands on mine or enjoyed her sharp, sometimes shocking, sense of humour. And to the rest of them, these people who today mourn the loss of a good man who died a good death and relish the memories of his idiosyncratic life, I feel my heart bend and bow for them too. He always hated my hair. He had that in common with his son. That and his laugh. I miss them both. Horribly.

And even more so today because like we said – death has a way of making us think about life and what it is and what it means to us and what we are going to make of it.

There are two ways that this train of thought can go I think.

One train of thought is to sit here and be thankful for the people I have, for the health I have, for the day I was given today that was taken from someone else. To be thankful that I have a job and that I have a home and that when I come home I am safe and warm and fed. To be thankful that at various times in my life I have laid in bed beside people who at various times in my life loved me, irrevocably and absolutely. To be thankful that I live in a country where I can do and say what I wish regardless of my age or gender or sexual orientation. To be thankful that I have a voice. To be thankful that I have a future, however tenuous and transient it may be. To be thankful that the people I hurt moved on and that some of them, I hope, forgave me my disgraces. To be thankful that I am sitting here now with the literacy and intent to write these words and publish them to strangers who may take comfort or reflection in some of the absurdities I ponder.

To be thankful to be alive and here and ready for tomorrow whatever it may bring.

Another train of thought is to be filled with remorse for the people I lost, for the health I destroy, for the day I wasted when someone else had it ripped from them. To complain about how tired I am and how much I hate my job and about how small my home is and how when I come home I am alone because the people I love aren’t here because I’m difficult to love and even harder to live with. To feel my chest cave in when I think about the people that at various times in my life I laid beside in bed that used to love me, irrevocably and absolutely that eventually got over those feelings the way someone gets over a flu that leaves you delirious. To shake my fist at a government that has given everything I’ve always wanted to someone else at every turn and torn my family apart and taken my best friend away from me because I refused to kneel. To loathe myself for the things I did a million years ago and to mourn the hearts I broke, some unintentionally and some more forcefully. To hope that they never forgive me because that would mean forgiving myself. To think of all the potential these hands and this mind had and the tools that they were given that I destroyed and where I could have been had I chosen to be a different person. To wonder whether all of this, these words, this endeavour is pointless and fruitless because who the fuck would ever read this shit?

To feel like it’s not worth waking up in the morning.

Because all of those things are true – two sides of the same treacherous coin that betrays us all.

And now sitting here the sun has broken through the clouds and it feels like summer is whispering into autumns ear. This is the first sunset he will never see and the first sunset that his son has ever seen without him. And it’s beautiful. Looking at that sunset, levelling that coin before it, there is only one side I can see. It’s beautiful. It’s not sad or hateful or intrusive. It’s beautiful.

And that’s how I know that that man was a good man.

Because he raised a son that taught me how to love myself and how to keep going. Even when I don’t want to and even when he’s not here, I hear him. You can do it and even if you can’t, well, honey you’re going to have to figure out a way to do it.

And he instilled in me a desire to make him proud.

And I still want to.

A good man died today and I lit a candle for him like my grandmother taught me to do.

A good man died today and left behind a good man that changed my life.

And for that, I’ll keep him in my heart and savour this sadness while the flame still burns.

Because I never got to thank him for the man he made.

So I’m thanking him now.

The only way I know how.

Just Two Young Punks Pissed Off In Love

 

There’s this song by a band you’ve never heard of called Fuck Shit Up, the song that is, the band is called Ghost Mice. There’s a line in that song that goes “this world was never good enough for us, just two young punks pissed off in love, we’d put that record on and sing tonight we’re gonna fuck shit up” and even though that song is about someone’s best friend dying, it always reminds me of you.

Do you remember that night when you showed up at my house at three in the morning and we listened my records and you wore my cardigan and we fell asleep on the floor, platonically and content, in each other’s arms a million miles away from everyone else? That’s why that song reminds me of you, because it’s about people that love each other although love is something they cannot comprehend, are numb to. Shut off, closed in and denied. These incredible people so full of life and energy and explosive lust allowed to wither together constantly comparing themselves to the people around them that are oblivious to the walls closing in.

Two young punks, pissed off in love.

Man. That was us.

And when we woke up in the morning nursing hangovers and heartbreak I waited with you at the bus stop and I gave you my iPod for your journey home because I knew that you were the only person that I’d ever known that needed music, any music, to get through the hangovers and heartbreaks. Your phone was dead but you text me later that day and said you listened to The Offspring all the way back to Ashford.

Funny how they never remind me of you when so many other things do. And funny how when all I was trying to do was hammer home how different we were, how incompatible and estranged our hearts were, you always managed to make the best of our differences. I pretended that it pissed me off, your enduring niceness, when in actual fact it gave me butterflies. That’s more than likely why I tried to suffocate it. The last thing I wanted to do was like you.

I remember there used to be this hunger to be near each other. You’d call me at stupid o’clock in the morning and tell me how much you loved me and I would get on a bus after a fifteen-hour shift and haul my arse to Staines just on the off chance that you were drunk and horny and alone and that we could relive that first night over and over and over again. It was a loop, you see? And it only worked because we let it.

You were in love with someone else. So was I. And we jumped around in this mosh pit of self-loathing, slamming each other up against walls, drawing blood and inflicting pain, punishing ourselves for not being worth enough to get those people whom we desired so terribly. And we told ourselves that it didn’t matter, that we didn’t like each other like that and that the moment that those people who truly held our hearts held out their hands, the lights would come up and the smoke would clear and we would walk away from each other and leave that dark, sweat stained room behind us.

We measured our failures against each other and found an equal in pain and loss. So, to say that we were in love with each other is incorrect. We were in waiting. Keeping each other warm until the storm cleared, disappointed romantics scraping the hearts from our sleeves. And then you went away, or more to the point I went away. I gambled with a good guy and ending up stamping his heart into the pavement and in those moments, when I thought I could hate myself no more, suddenly you’re there, on my doorstep just as beautiful as I remembered you being.

But you don’t get that. You never got that. Why anyone would ever call you such a thing. I mean because you’re not, right? You’re not worthy of someone’s love or attention or god forbid, attraction? Because all the people you’ve ever really wanted it from have never given it to you. They’ve never seen it in you and therefore it cannot possibly exist. You must be deformed, hideous and too much to bear, otherwise why would they not have loved you back? Why this constant denial of your most base urges and desires if you are all these things that I constantly tell you that you are? Well I’m here to tell you now, whether you read this today or tomorrow or someday or never at all – you have always been, and will always be, extraordinarily beautiful to me.

Not just in the way you look but in the way you are and shortly before my world fell apart in earnest you laid on my bed in my freezing cold, empty flat, with me and kissed me, topless and sober and I thought…well, fuck who knows what I thought. That maybe it was starting to sink in. Maybe, just maybe you were starting to understand the way I saw you and stripped down from ego and bravado and drunken declarations of anguish and lust – you may just have been kissing me instead of the idea of me and I may just have been kissing you instead of the idea of you.

I never dreamt of waltzing off into the sunset with you, of going to dinner with your parents or introducing you to my world, but I dreamt about you. Even in the arms of other people who laid claim to my heart for a time or two, I dreamt about you. And these are all the things I think and feel and have never been able to articulate because to admit that I felt these wonderful and fucked up things would be to admit that I was wrong and weak and, in essence…in love with you.

And why the fuck would I ever want to admit that? Because it wouldn’t change anything. You’ve spent your entire life feeling like no one ever loved you back, loved you properly the way you deserved and after knowing you as a friend, a lover and a stranger I can probably vouch for the truth in that sentiment. But I loved you. Then and now, still now. And if you really want to know the reason why we would never work out, why we will never be anything more than two young punks pissed off in love, it’s simple – I will never be good enough for you.

I’m not the girl that you want to say these things to you and you cannot look past my inherent flaws the way I can look past yours. And that may in part be my fault. We’ve spoken of armour and how the weight of it increases with years, and though you’ve thrown your armour onto your bedroom floor and given me all of you a time or two, I’ve never really been naked in front of you. I ridiculed your aspirations and pretended not to like your music and belittled your intelligence and slated your friends and mocked your maturity – because it was easier to hate you than it was to love you.

Because hate, well I knew I might get it back.

Love on the other hand – I knew you were never going to love me.

So, I’m apologising. For the walls, I built and the blood I spilled and for every time I ever made you feel like anything less than everything. You’ll always be that one, Carlin. That one person who will forever leave me wondering where my words went and how you so deftly and efficiently stole my soul from right underneath my nose. And here it is, in black and white, forever and always.

I’m sorry I broke our hearts.

And be beautiful.

Because you are.

And So Are You

It happened okay

somebody took it away

snuffed out the light

and beat out the fight

let out the air

and condemned all the prayers

left me screaming

into the night

with puffy eyes

and restless emptiness.

How arrogant to assume

that karma works one way

and to think

I’d be beyond

maybe one day

having it all

come crashing back on me.

How foolish am I

to think my heart

the only capable of breaking

of my voice

to be the only one

calling out shaking

begging for someone

for something

for anything

to make it go away

pleading

a thousand reasons

for you to let me stay

and holding my breath

when they say it gets better.

They’re liars

all the same

I know it to be true

because I’m a liar too

and so

nearly beloved

are you.

Purity

I wrote a poem once and it didn’t rhyme

but instead kept time

like a rhythmic beat

and those who read it

and did not get it

moved along and needn’t try

to forget it

but those who stayed

and kept it close

opened a door

onto my most

hidden secrets

a wall of infamy

and of uncharted regrets

for those I kissed

with a mouth full of blood

 and those I impaled

 on their notions of love

 to those who broke down

 the broken bits of me

 and made dust from the diamonds

 that once had made me

 that proved to me

 for once

 and for all

 that the forgotten crawl

and the thoughtful weep

whilst the nihilist do goods

climb the steep knoll

of promises to fruit

and hold their chests

desperate for someone

to tell them the truth

as their hearts come undone.

When I Dream of Dreams

The sun is setting outside and the thick summer heat crowds the small room. Everything seems too close. You sit a few feet away from me, mirroring my stance, cross legged on the floor. You hand me a piece of paper and show me the words that you’ve stitched together, words hidden within other words, worlds hidden within other worlds. I struggle to understand. It’s been a long day, I’m hot and I’m tired and I’m worried. He’ll notice I’m not home any moment now and as the sun sinks behind the grey skyline, a lump forms in my throat.

You sit beside me now, out arms touching, your strong, tanned forearm prickles against my side and sends gooseflesh shivering across my back and chest. You point to the words on the piece of paper in front of me and explain what they are. Your handwriting is messier than I thought it would be but the paper is precious in my trembling hands and I hold tight, tight enough to make the tips of my fingers go white. You stand, bare footed in jeans and a white t-shirt, the way I and everyone always pictures you, in their dreams and in their minds. You ask if I want to listen to some music. How could I refuse?

I sit stoic and scared on the sofa as you place a record on the turn table and the black magic scuffs its way to life. Have we been drinking? Smoking? I feel about ready to float off of the sofa when you sit down heavily next to me and the music takes up the last of the space the heat left behind in the small, sweet smelling room. Your hair is a mess and my heart is a mess and you look at me like you’ve known me forever.

We sit, together, perfectly enclosed in each-others company and listen to the music. You close your eyes and a bead of sweat falls down one cheek. It takes everything in me not to wipe it away with the corner of my t-shirt or to run my hands through the sweaty mess of black curls mopping at your forehead. We sit for a moment longer as one song ends and another song begins, the stop and starts of the record player sending little jolts of awareness through my mind and down to my fingertips.

This will end. I know this will end. But for now it’s here and until the record skips and changes its tune, I know that this is here and it’s now. With your eyes still closed you lean into me your face graving mine as you nestle you hot, damp head in my lap and exhale deeply. Your breath reaches up my bare thighs and settles somewhere near where my shorts begin. I am useless, speechless, dumbfounded and lost. My hands suddenly seem superfluous, my breath seems ragged and painful.

You open your mouth to speak and every word hits my bare legs with a soft gust of hot, fragrant breath. You ask me not to go, you tell me to stay, here with you in this place, in this moment and though we haven’t spoke of my leaving, it appears we both knew I would have to go sometime. Your voice breaks and my fingertips find your forehead, sweeping back your sweaty hair and stroking away the hurt. I have to go I tell you. But not yet.

Not yet.

Imposters

Lawler stood in the vacant corridor as the water washed lazily over his bare feet. Where the water came from was a wonder but it was always there, three inches deep and teeming with hungry parasites, some of which were big enough for him to feel scuttling over the tops of his feet and between the gaps in his toes. He never shuddered, but hovered in the space between disgust and exhaustion. Lawler never went to the Inbetween when he was feeling fine. There were better places to spend the brighter days, infinite places of light and calm and fresh, sweet smells. The Inbetween smelled of desperation and stagnant tears.

            There were nine plain wooden doors running the length of the empty corridor and a single rather ornate door directly opposite Lawler at the very end of the Inbetween. Behind each door, numbered carefully from one to eighteen, odds on his left, evens on his right, there would be someone Inbetween. Lawler began to pad his way through the festering water, making his way down the dimly light corridor. To his left, door number one and to his right door number two. The wood was heavy and old, dead wood some would have said. Dead for the scars it bore, dead for the coldness of its touch, dead for its silence. The doors were unmarked save for one small brass number marking each in its place along the corridor.

            Lawler placed his hand on the cold dead wood of door number one and closed his eyes, wiping the palm of his hand across the space beneath the brass number. He caressed the wood for a moment longer until the wood began to melt beneath his hand and grimy square of glass appeared beneath his fingertips. Lawler brushed a stray curl of hair from his forehead with his now dirty hand and peered through the glass in door number one that moments before had not existed to anyone and was now only his.

            Behind door number one a girl in the midst of her teenage years sat in the corner of the bare bricked room. She was curled into a ball, her face buried in her pale, scabbed knees and though Lawler could not hear the girl through the glass by the manner in which her body shook and convulsed he knew that if he could hear her he would hear sobbing. Her long dark hair covered most of her body, clad only in a dirty white bra and matching panties. Lawler tapped on the glass as a child taps on the glass of a fish tank hoping to catch a guppy’s attention but the girl paid no mind to Lawler or his tapping. She just went on sobbing.

            Lawler looked away from the glass and without his eyes, the glass ceased to be.

            He moved to door number three.

            Through the ancient glass Lawler saw a man in his middle age sitting at a desk made of the same dead wood as the door that held him. The desk was strewn with paper the colour of nicotine. To the man’s left sat a shallow clay pot full of stubbed out cigarettes and to his right a mouldering clay mug that had had many days since it had had fresh coffee. The man was scribbling madly at a piece of brilliant white paper. Over and over again, the same collection of letters and numbers, that made sense to neither of the people looking at them but causing one of the men an extraordinarily greater amount of discomfort.

            Lawler liked senselessness.

            This man did not.

            Lawler moved on.

            He saw a boy of a similar age to the girl behind door number one behind door number five, standing before a mirror of familiarly smeared glass as he carved limp wristed at his chest with a small, chipped blade. After what could have been moments but was more than likely hours, the symbol on the boy’s chest began to take shape and Lawler saw it for what it was and noticed for the first time the boys shaven head and the dark circles smeared beneath his eyes. There were frightened tears on the boy’s face.

Lawler moved on.

            Door seven found a group of three, five or six years from start to end apart in age, huddled in the middle of the room holding one another in silence. The youngest of the three, a girl in her late twenties sat between a woman four or five years older and a man eldest of them all. Lawler felt the water he was standing in warm momentarily as though someone had spilled a cup of tea where he was standing and though the youngest cried the hardest, they all cried just the same. The girl in the middle was holding a photograph of a young couple newlywed, and smiling. The water was still warm as Lawler moved to the next door.

            He placed his now filthy hand on the wood and with his little window safely where it should have been, Lawler looked through door number nine where his breath caught in his throat like a hot wisp of ash, leaving it bitter and hot. Laying in the darkness of room number nine, stretched out as if asleep was a child not long on its feet. Her small, plump cheeks were smeared with dirt and blood and tears and here the water lapping over Lawler’s feet seemed colder than it should have been for the strength of the tears that the toddler had cried. For a moment it appeared that the child had ceased to breathe but the Inbetween was not a place for those so far to or so far from death. You had to be in the middle to be in the Inbetween. This child was alive, though her breaths were shallow and weak.

            She wore dirty yellow pyjamas with smiling rabbits on them the colour of candy floss. Her feet were bare and scratched. One eye was swollen and bleeding. Lawler noticed then that the child, in an act of instinctual comfort was sucking her thumb. The action, so soft and so sweet, seemed ludicrous when everything else was taken into account. Her lips puckered and sucked her thumb deeper into her mouth, half her face shrouded by yellow blonde hair.

            Lawler tapped on the glass.

            The child did not stir.

            Lawler tapped on the glass again and the girl opened her eyes. They were the blameless blue of an autumn sky and Lawler’s face immediately cracked into an uncomfortable smile. The girl, though her smile was much more alluring, mirrored Lawler’s face. He held up one finger and when he was sure that the girl was looking at it he pointed down towards the door handle. The girl stumbled to her feet and as she walked towards the door, Lawler could see that she was older than she looked, just smaller than she should have been. He heard the door handle click and felt the stifling air wash over him as the child pulled open door number nine.

            “Are you here to help me?” The girl said, her voice small but sure.

            “Do you want me to help you?” Lawler asked.

            The girl nodded. “I don’t like it here.”

            “Me neither,” said Lawler, holding out his hand, “do you want to go somewhere better with me?”

            “What’s your name?”

            “My name’s John,” Lawler said, still smiling, “is your name Daisy?”

            The girl’s eyes widened, her hand hesitating ever so slightly.

            “It’s okay,” Lawler said moving his hand towards her once more, “I know everybody’s name.”

            Daisy took Lawler’s hand then, content that that explanation was all she needed. They turned in the warm, writhing water than covered all of Daisy’s feet and ran quite a way past her ankles. Hand in hand they walked towards the door that Lawler had entered through, the door opposite door nineteen.

            “This water is kind of gross,” Daisy said looking down at her feet, “could you piggy me, John?”

            Lawler bowed before the small, blood smeared girl curling one arm across his midriff and lowering his head. The gesture made Daisy laugh, a sound so innocuous it made his skin crawl as it rippled through the walls of the Inbetween. This was not a place that savoured laughter. “It would be my pleasure,” Lawler smiled, “but we have to hurry.”

            Daisy climbed onto Lawler’s back. “I’m going to put you to sleep now, okay?”

            “I’m not,” Daisy yawned, her mouth comically wide, “sleepy.”

            “Just try, okay?” Lawler said to the door in front of them. He felt Daisy’s soft swollen face rub against his shoulder as she nodded. “Good girl.”

            Lawler carried Daisy out of the Inbetween shrouded in the safety of sleep where he knew that her dreams would keep her safe from the nightmare that she would wake up to. It was temporary, Lawler knew that all peace was, but it was peace nevertheless.

The Past – Why It’s Worth Dragging Up.

Invariably in every confrontation we have with people who have known us long enough to know our past behaviors, we’re taught not to drag up the past. We’re told that there is no use talking about stuff that cannot be changed and that the past is in the past and should be left there.

However, when dealing with present behaviors, I have always found it serves well to remember how people have acted and what they have said in the past. In the moments that we attempt this comparative study of past and present however, someone, usually the other party in the confrontation, will throw one of the aforementioned leave the past alone sayings into the mix and then you look like the regressive moron.

But why do we do that? Do repeat offenders not get their old rap sheet hurled into the court room? I know, I know, I know – but Ronnie, they’re criminals, they’re a danger to society etc. But isn’t the entire reason we argue with other people in the first place because offence has been caused on one or more usually both sides? Doesn’t that make us offenders of a sort?

I have been going of my mind for the past few weeks caught up in a confrontation that I didn’t see coming and seems to have largely been caused by the age old fuck up of people talking about each other behind their backs. In this instance, it seems I am the offender and that seems to be what has knocked the wind out of me. Me?! What the hell have I done now?! Yes, these were my initial thoughts.

So I originally intended to go into this confrontation with all guns blazing and lay waste to the lies with my super-mega-awesome-laser-gun-of-truth but instead I tried to listen and understand what the other person was saying, and in turn, try to detach myself from the situation as much as I could in an attempt to retard my own emotional investment and rectify the situation because the truth is – no one wants to be the bad guy.

And I don’t know what it is about arguments that bring out the worst in people but suddenly you remember every single negative thing that that person has ever done and you simultaneously forget for the sake of winning the argument that that person is in your life for a reason, whether you chose for them to be or not, and that hurting them is the last thing you want to do. But still…you know you can do it.

And when bullets start flying in your direction, why is the first instinct to pick them up, load them into your gun and fire them back? Why not just leave them on the floor and accept that the pain of wounds inflicted on you by that someone else’s words are the price you pay for having been the offender? Why are we programmed to have to “win” arguments? There is nothing at stake here – no land, no beautiful forlorn Greek goddesses, no treasures to keep – so why are we stuck in this passive aggressive cycle of modern warfare where no one actually says what they mean until they cannot contain it anymore and it comes spewing from them like so much frustrated hurt?

I have always endeavored to be a person that other people could talk to and no, I don’t like having my past brought up, and yes there is always a context, a series of circumstances, whether they make sense to the person bringing them up or not, that can directly explain why someone acted the way they did or said the things they did at any given time. I don’t attempt to defend most of the mistakes I made because most of the mistakes I made have no defense. They were the mindless acts of misdirected anger, immense confusion and pure, unadulterated pain. I will not defend the things I did when any of these three emotional states were in play. All I can do is apologize for the hurt that I caused whilst in them, ask forgiveness for any wounds that haven’t healed since them and ask that I am given all the right opportunities to make sure that history does not repeat itself.

But, in the end, context is everything. The wrong things put into the right context suddenly don’t seem so random and cruel as they did before and likewise were you to take a seemingly innocent incident and put it into the wrong context, scandal and fury would abound. So – you want to know the catch here ladies and gents? The past has no context.

Because it’s gone. There aren’t really even any facts left over to paw bravely out of the dying fire of the memory either because people disembowel their pasts and re-digest every single day without even noticing that they’re doing it. Things that we thought had been laid to rest so many years ago have a tendency to creep into our subconscious and sit stoically in our minds like unwanted house guests that refuse to leave. It’s these things that keep you awake at night going over and over in your mind again and again the actions and circumstances that brought you here, now, to the place you’re sitting at now reading these words, the inherent, almost base need to go back as much as we go forward, to relive our lives as much as we plan them and to take comfort in the fact that the only person we are actually responsible for is ourselves.

We are not responsible for the actions of those around us and we cannot be held to account for things that are done or said in our absence, even if they are done or said in our name. And responsibility is a transient thing. It’s not locked in the past behind an iron gate of impenetrable force. If you didn’t take responsibility for something in your past, you let it slide, you excused it away and walked carelessly into the sunset away from your unaddressed disgrace – it’s never too late to take responsibility and ownership for the stuff you did wrong.

And no, not everyone is going to follow suit and yes, most people will willingly throw your past in your face and use it in an attempt to keep you from getting off of your knees, but if you face your pass, you drag it up kicking and screaming from the deepest depths of your tattered mind and you address it, you learn to understand your past and why you yourself did the things you did and why you yourself said the things you said – then you come out on top whether or not their is a victory to be won in your personal confrontations or not.

Because the people that don’t want to talk about the past are the people that are afraid of it. They’re the people that are afraid of becoming fallible to those around them and they’re the people that will never understand why you did those things you did and why you said those things you said. It serves one great purpose though – you can stop trying to convince them that those things don’t matter anymore, that you’ve worked through them, that you’re better for it now – marginally at least, because let’s face it, exorcising your demons…not a lot of fun.

And the time we spend trying to convince everyone around us that we’re good people would be better spent trying to behave like good people, void of petulant passive aggressiveness and ever mindful of the fact that once in awhile – everyone deserves to be forgiven.

How to Die

Some people are just born restless, I guess.

They’re the baby that never slept and the toddler that always got stuck trying to fit through unexplored spaces. They’re the five year old that flooded the bathroom trying to make a swimming pool and the nine year old that broke their arm climbing the fence to see what was on the other side. They’re the pre-teen that can’t sit still in the classroom or keep their mouth shut when they need to and they’re the teenager that experiments tirelessly with all those fantastic things like sex and drugs and alcohol whilst they’re still young and blind enough to see the high gloss these first precious follies into the land of adulthood wear for a time.

It’s rebellion, they say.

A phase.

They’ll grow out of it.

Most of us learn how to suppress every exciting instinct we have by the time adulthood kicks in proper. The vast majority of these restless children figure out a way, all be it and most often subconsciously, to remove the shrouds of mystery and wonder from the even the most common of common place things. The kids that started out with safety pins in their ears and green streaks in their hair grow up and grow tired of the extraordinary amount of effort it takes to be extraordinary. Their futures suddenly begin to stretch further than the weekend and the debauched revelry crammed so tightly into those two days that used to make them salivate now makes them nauseas. The idea of spunking their weeks wages up the wall instead of squirreling some of it away for the ominous “rainy day” that they always heard their parents speaking of when they were small, terribly behaved children, now fills them with dread.

Preparation.

The Prepared Generation.

They have learned from the financial fuck ups, crashes and collisions of their fathers and their grandfathers and now owning their own house and being able to keep up with the mortgage payments is a far more seductive midnight thought than playing to a crowd of a hundred thousands fans screaming the lyrics to their songs back at them or packing a bag and hitting the road Kerouac style. That instability that used to be so ethereal and enthralling is now a nightmare of monolithic proportions.

Stability.

Safety.

And, comfort.

They don’t want the world, these people.

No, they just want a little four bedroomed piece of it with a patio out back and room for two cars on the driveway out front. They want to marry nice people and have nice children that will then go on to populate the world with more nice children. They want to leave a legacy of niceness now, instead of neurosis. They want to go on holiday, all inclusive of course, because anywhere out of the resort is dangerous, especially in all those terribly trendy places like Cape Town and Dubai. They want to drink wine with their lunch on a week day and feel like buying the bottle is a daring feat of absolute insanity. They count every calorie and work off the red playing sports that they don’t really enjoy or fully understand, like badminton, or heaven’s forbid – squash.

And when they’re not on some court or another they pay a portion of their monthly wages for all inclusive membership to some shiny shit hole known as a Health Club (always capitalised, of course, ‘for these are the only places where one can purchase Health with a capital letter) where they run on treadmills like rats in cages never really getting anywhere or anything but heart palpitations and sweat in uncomfortable places.

They spend hours cooking elaborate meals for people that they have known for years and hardly know at all and they spend more money than they ever would have spent on a ten bag and few pints down the pub in their younger years, but it’s a worthwhile expense because it’s all so dreadfully sociable and lovely. They compare their children to other peoples children, but not in a candid or even remotely honest way. If Susan just graduated from Brunel with a BA in Mathematics then Benjamin better be working on his fucking doctorate in molecular biology from Oxbridge, quick sharp. Won’t have the likes of that bastard Benjamin showing me up to Terry and June from the Health Club.

It’s all about appearance, you see.

But then again, it always has been.

And your parents did it with you.

I know it’s hard to believe but when your parents first got together, they couldn’t keep their hands off of each other. Even worse, still, your mother, beloved mummy has at one point or another had your fathers cock in her mouth. Shocking, but true. What’s even more shocking is that the dirty bitch fucking loved it. Your old man probably grabbed a handful of her hair and tugged on it when he shot his load at the back of her throat and depending on what kind of woman your old lady is, she may or may not have gobbled that goo right up.

We’re all interesting when we’re young because we’re dangerous.

And we’re dangerous because we’re stupid.

And we’re stupid because, for the first twenty five years of our lives or more – we have absolutely no fucking idea what we’re doing. And I’d love to tell you that we reach an age of enlightenment when some magical light bulb dings above our heads and we suddenly know exactly what to and where to go and who to be but for many, hell, for most, it’s a slow and arduous trudge to the finish line. Some of us, crippled by the weight of this hopeless disorientation, cash our own chips and punch a one way ticket to the end of the line long before our time, but the comfortable and contented masses wander aimlessly towards death, treating it with a weird breed of apathetic inevitability like taxes or hiccups.

Everyone dies.

It happens to the best of us.

And the worst.

It’s what ties us all together, isn’t it? We’ve all got a whole heap of shit in common with each other. We’ve all got a mother and a father out there somewhere, whether we were raised by them or by wolves, at some point in time, two people came together, figuratively and literally, and boom – there we were. A cluster of tiny cells brimming with infinite potential, cooked for nine months and heaved out screaming and naked and clueless. We were all taught how to do even the simplest of things like tie our shoe laces and write our names and fry an egg and open a window. These weren’t things we were born knowing and at a time in all our lives we were novice egg fryers and amateur shoe tiers.

Repetition, if not necessarily practise, made us into the beautifully broken people we are today. We were taught tact and how to read people’s emotions. We learned slowly and through this art of subconscious repetition, the difference between angry faces and sad faces and happy faces and later on we learned a tonne of new faces like stoned faces and drunk faces and come faces. We learned how to read people around us and how to interact with them like we once learned how to interact with the building blocks we had when we still got a round of applause for shitting in a bucket with feet in the living room.

And whether you were brought up or dragged up, we all learned how to make coffee and how to make out. Some of these things were learned by the art of education, by someone showing us how to do something or by teaching us about it had been done before and hoping that we would have the same successful outcomes were we to re-enact their battles. Others were learned by the brute force of experience, trying something once, realising that you ballsed it up, rewinding and going again until you got it right, or if you couldn’t get it right, you got it better than you did the first or third or fifth time.

Some things, though, even the most intelligent and interesting of people have absolutely no idea how to do. There are some things during the course of all of our lives that no matter how much we prepare or practice for them, when those things come around, we’re just as fucking clueless as we were when we were cutting our teeth.

How to feel.

How to forgive.

How to die.

That last one is probably the most important. I mean aside from being born, the second most significant day in our lives is when we are effectively unborn – when we die. Yet no one prepares you for it. You’re not taught about it at school and your mother never sits you down when you get to an impressionable age and explains that one day you’re going to close your eyes and you’re never going to open them again or that your heart’s going to stop beating and your lungs are going to stop breathing and more than likely you’re going to shit yourself.

They never prepare you for the fact that one day you might find yourself sitting in a little magnolia office somewhere with a doctor whose name you cannot remember and couldn’t pronounce even if you could remember it, being told that you’ve got something really fucking aggressive and nasty living in your breasts or bowels or bones that’s going to kill you pretty damned soon.

And when you’re a kid and you go to bolt across the road and your old lady yanks you back just in time to save you becoming road kill, she never says – “Look, Timmy, if that car had hit you it would have killed you and we would have had to scrape your skull off of that pavement and bury you in a black bag to keep all the leftover wet bits of you together.” And because your parents never tell you that, you’re not scared of a car slamming into your tiny body at fifty and rendering your once wonderful life pedestrian pate on the side of the road. So when you’re mums not about, you cross without waiting for the green man.

That’s universally a very early and very common act of defiance.

A sign of things to come.

But if, if, your old lady had said that to you the first time you did it and put the fear of endless darkness and death into you, you’d probably have grown up to be a much more cautious kid than you were. You wouldn’t have hung upside down off of the monkey bars or climbed loose limbed trees in the sunshine to survey the forest from the heavenly plinth usually reserved for birds and squirrels. You’d never have found the biggest hill you could have and rode your bike or scooter or board down it as fast as you could. And you’d never have jumped off of countless bridges and piers into the perilously shallow waters below to cool off when the air was still and the heat was fierce.

If you’d been warned about the inherent permanence of death as a child, you never would have taken that unknown pill at that party or a bummed a drag of that strange kids long, loosely rolled cigarette in the park when you were a teenager. You wouldn’t have known the bittersweet sorrow of that first, barbarous hangover or felt the pleasant shame of coming inside someone bareback or indeed having someone else’s come drip down your thighs and as a result, you’d never have found yourself alone in your bedroom trying to make your body do what it did with someone else’s hands on your body with your own hands.

And that’s why we don’t tell kids about death.

We don’t want to scare them.

Because it’s hard to live when you’re so preoccupied with dying.

This Time.

I would have told you that everything you do is art – the way you walk, the way you talk, the way you tie your shoelaces, make your tea in the morning and the way you laugh, but most of all, the way you feel. That always felt like art to me. The way you saw through the layers of the universe at the glue holding everything together without any deep scientific or philosophical meaning but with the burned out black and white eyes of someone who never got a chance to be a child and I would have told you how aggressively innocent that made me feel sitting next you, like my soul wasn’t stained with the same mistrust and mistakes and how you made me feel like maybe, together, we could have stitched all our broken pieces into each others hearts and made them whole again.

I would have told you that I knew how you felt and that I too had knelt in the darkness of the early hours of the morning with blood and tears and vomit in the back of my throat and begged for the gods to take it all away, but you knew that, because we knelt together, red eyed and cold limbed, in the night, praying together for the boat to stop rocking, to stop throwing us against the walls of our world and hoping blindly that the icy water lapping around our ankles would stop rising. I would have told you that we were in the same boat and that I didn’t need you to tell me that it was sinking, but that I needed you to let me help you bilge the bloody deck and that way, maybe, just maybe, we might have reached the shore together, shattered and bruised, but breathing and by each others side and alive.

I would have told you that one day you would have been as happy as they made you pretend you were and that one day, close to the first one day, you would have found the courage to run away from everything that made you feel miserable and worthless and out of place and out of sync with everyone around you. I would have told you that you’d find your place, in amongst the freaks and the geeks and the burnt out weirdos, that there was the most wonderful little nook carved out for someone with words on his arms and scars on his heart. That somewhere, out there, there was a woman of breathtaking beauty who had been living her life just waiting to find someone who she couldn’t live without, and that that someone, well, it would have been you.

I would have told you that it’s never too late to be who you would have been and go where you would’ve gone and seen what you would’ve seen and loved who you would’ve loved. I would have told you that because I know how important love was to you, how you lived for it and ached for it. How you managed somehow, when love was low in my bones to siphon out the last of it and pull me back from the brink more times than I’d care to count and how the first time I met you, you were singing “All You Need is Love” to a piece of pineapple whilst you read your book and how your jeans were too big for you but still somehow too short and your Cookie Monster socks were showing. And how you hadn’t shaved or cut your hair and how completely unkempt but entirely lovable you actually were.

I would have told you that were you ever to leave me, that’s how I would have remembered you. Entirely untethered to the world and those around you, free whilst trapped inside a place that revokes your freedom and your smile, reading Dean Koontz because you knew it would make me talk to you and like you said, you were looking for a way to start a conversation with me. And I would remind you of how I came and sat opposite you and when I spilled my soup on my shoe and you smiled and asked me if I was stoned and then you laughed, fuck man, how loud you laughed and everyone looked at you but you were only looking at me. And then you told me to sit down and asked me what I was reading and when I showed you the cover of ‘Salem’s Lot you ripped up the conversation you had had planned in your head since the day you saw me and instead we argued for the entire hour in that canteen about who was the better author.

And I would have told you how I fell in love you as the leaves fell through the courtyard and your hair got longer and my scars started to fade. I would have told you that I fell in love with you in the most organic and plausible of ways because I never once had the urge to kiss you or to run my hands through your hair or to fuck you or to even hold your hand. I fell in love with your voice and the way you said certain words and the way you used to take the piss out of people without them noticing. I fell in love with the way you used to rub your earlobe with your thumb and your forefinger when you were nervous and how you used to put a kilo of butter on your crackers and insist that the cracker was just there as a vehicle to get the butter to your mouth. I would have told you that I loved how soft your clothes were even though we all washed our clothes in the same place but somehow yours always seemed softer. I would have told you that the night you held me in your arms when we were still strangers, whilst I shook and threw up everywhere and screamed that I wanted to die was the closest I’d ever come to feeling like I was safe until that point. And I would have told you that you were, and always would be, my best friend.

And I would have told you to stay, Joe.

And I would have told you that one day you would wake up at ten thirty in the morning on a sun drenched Sunday next to someone who loved you in all the ways I did and in all the ways I never did and that you would get out of bed and go into the kitchen and flick the kettle on and that everything would be okay. That it would have stopped hurting if you’d stopped picking at the wound and allowing those around you to keep it open with their own warped fantasies of how you should have been, because, man – you were incredible. In everything you ever said to me and everything you didn’t. You never told me that I was a bad person or that I was toxic to those around me and you never made me feel like the twitchy little junkie I actually was because you never saw me like that.

You saw me when I didn’t even recognise myself in the mirror, but you were the mirror to myself that I could never look away from and I saw you break your own heart along side my own. And I would have told you that that day I walked into you flat and saw you on your kitchen floor, covered in blood, white as the sky outside I have never been so scared and so angry in my entire life. And that when I skidded on my knees through your blood, because, man, it was everywhere, and I took my hoody off and wrapped it round your arms all I could say was “no” over and over and over and over again because it was the only word that summed up just inherently adamant I was that this wasn’t happening. You hadn’t done this, not again. I wasn’t going to lose you, not again. I couldn’t be alone, not again.

But you did do it this time. And I did lose you this time.

Difference is – I’m not alone this time.

So I’m going to live, my friend. And I’ll miss you, hell, I’ll damn near go out of my mind wanting you back here with me where you belong but if there is one thing our friendship taught me and taught me well its that there is nothing I could have said to make you stay.

And there’s nothing left to say now but to paraphrase Kurt Vonnegut, whom we spent many hours arguing about, I hope that wherever you are now, that everything is beautiful and that nothing hurts.