Other People’s Battles – Why They’re Not Worth It.

Out of all of the fights that I have had the pleasure of being in during my life, I can count on one hand the amount of times I landed a punch on someone’s jaw because of something they did directly to me, and though, in my old age some would say, I have become a docile creature more likely to cry when confronted now than start cracking her knuckles, I, and more than I would care to count, could assure you that I was not always like this.

I broke a boy’s nose when I was fifteen because he threw a rock at my best friends head and called her a lesbian. The rock barely scraped her, but the door handle I smashed his face into made up for the former lack of blood. Needless to say, he had nothing to say after that. I pushed another fifteen year old girl down a flight of stairs because her little sister made my friends little sister cry. I punched a girl in the face within the first three minutes of my becoming a prefect (my only three minutes of being a prefect) because she started rumours that I was using heroin…yeah, I was that kid. I head butted a boy for telling everyone he slept with one of my friends which would have been less retarded if my friend hadn’t actually had slept with him. Twice. I once again head butted a boy for pushing my little brother over, placed another upside down in an outside bin for being a general dick to him and slapped, smacked and stared down countless others, all in the name of defending my own.

But I wasn’t just some underappreciated teenage hero in the game of fighting for the underdog – I was a genuine nut bar and in the great grand scheme of hindsight, I hurt a lot more people who did nothing wrong than those that did. And there’s a whole heap of ‘em out there right now rocking scars that they didn’t deserve to get because they were foolish enough to be a witness to my uncontrollable rage. And if I never I apologised then, I apologise now.

Because as I said, I’m not that person anymore. I was lost for a long time. I was scared for a long time. And I spent my whole life feeling like there was not one motherfucker out there in this big wide world who would ever understand my warped brain or my fragile heart. Then, a little short of six years ago to the day, I gave birth to my best friend and slowly, but surely, she proved me wrong and loved me right, whitewashing all that rage and I can’t remember the last time I threw something across the room or screamed myself hoarse, let alone the last time I put my hands on someone in anger. But this blog isn’t about the fights I walked away from – it’s about the fights that left blood on my hands.

My violent outbursts and seemingly endless disregard for any convention whatsoever landed me up in the office of my head teacher with my mother on one side of me and a police officer opposite us, accompanied by a slight, balding man who ran my school and had little time for my sarcasm or sincerity. This dude didn’t like me on sight, and as an adult now, I can kind of see why…I wasn’t just a poster child of teenage angst, I was like a walking talking H-Bomb of what you hope your kid doesn’t turn into but on the flip side of that I was one of the most intelligent (and I fucking knew it, man) kids in that place and as such I commanded much more patience with the staff than other more retarded nut bars did. I abused this intelligence more than I used it and I got away with a hell of a lot as a result of my wayward genius (my English teachers words, not mine). In short – the school was going to kick me out permanently a few weeks before my final exams and my mother made a deal with them, a deal which turned out to be a rather breaking one for this particular psychopath’s soul.

My mother’s deal? Let Veronika come into school at a time when there are no kids around for her to punch in the face, like maybe, after school has ended? Yes. They loved that idea. What they loved even more than the idea of my only being around for a few hours was the notion of laying claim to my grades and flaunting them to the local press who hung around the car park on exam day at that particular school just waiting to proclaim how hard these poor, disadvantaged students had failed. So the school got to keep my statistical smartness and I got to…well, I don’t know what I got out of it save for the ability to sleep until one in the afternoon and watch Diagnosis Murder before I slipped off to school at sunset to smoke cigarettes with my English teacher and eat peanut brittle for three hours with my art teacher.

Sounds like a pretty good deal for a kid that was seconds away from getting arrested doesn’t it? Well, it wasn’t like that. Not at the time. And not now with the added pepper of ten years hindsight. You see the issue was, that all those kids, all my friends, that I had stuck up for and defended, all those people that had used me like a rabid Rottweiler on a long leash for their defence and kept me tucked away like a loaded gun for their own peace of mind – well, they all kind of disappeared when I did.

I remember one particular instance when I had broken my foot by kicking a wooden chair six feet in the air in a fit of hulk like rage and then staggered, stoned and seething to my school for whatever faux lessons my teachers had planned for me. I made my way through the dining hall, dressed in a Bob Dylan t-shirt and ripped jean shorts, my faithful shitkickers screaming on my broken foot – in short I was a mess. A group of my friends stood in the space between me and the doors that led to my classroom. On their backs they wore white school shirts signed with Sharpie. They were laughing and drinking cans of Coke and taking the piss out of each other and generally enjoying their last days as a school kid. And they looked straight through me.

I wasn’t in uniform, because I wasn’t technically at school. I wasn’t laughing, because I wasn’t anywhere near happy in any capacity. I wasn’t drinking Coke, I was…well, coke meant something different to the teenage me. I had become invisible to the people that I had once been invincible too. And it stung more than my pride. I felt my eyes begin to brim with hot, frustrated tears and as I limped in agony past them, slamming my hands into the double doors and sending them crashing into the walls of the staff room, I let the tears fall as I crumpled into a heap at the bottom of a stair case. Within moments my English teacher (and general Veronika-wrangler) had been alerted and swept me up the stairs into the sanctuary of his classroom where I screamed my eyes dry and ate bourbons for an hour or two listening to his new album…yeah, he was that teacher.

I faded away on the brink of burning out and it’s a thought that still creeps into my mind all these years later when the sun hits my face in the dead summer or when I bump into someone from school who remembers me fondly as “fucking mental”. But if there is something that I have learned as an adult that I never knew as a teenager (aside from drugs being bad, M’Kay) is that it doesn’t matter whether you burn out or fade away – the moment you’re gone, everyone moves on.

So, needless to say, I never got my shirt signed and I spent my prom with my foot in a cast, eating Dorito’s, reading Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption waiting for the Season 2 finale of House to start. The day was balmy and I was perilously close to overdosing on tramadol and self loathing. I found out as an adult that my head of year had actually called my mother on the night of the prom and given me permission to go. My mother told me that when she came to tell me the news and found me lying on the grass in the sunshine with my headphones on, book in hand and baby rabbit friend asleep on my chest – she already knew what my answer would be.

And for all the fights I ever fought, and for all the punches I ever threw, I had nothing to show for it. No tight knit group of amigos who had my back when I needed them like I did when they needed me, no band of merry men hell bent on defending the weak and pathetic, no one to harass the teachers and the tyrants that took me from them…because in reality, I hadn’t been fighting for them or because of them. Every single time I lost my shit and did something ridiculously impulsive and violent, I did it because I wanted to do it. I wanted people to need me in a way that no one else could ever be needed. And yeah I could make them laugh and they could copy my work and we could share CDs and I was always a one stop shop for smokes, but no one else was willing to physically knock somebody out for them – which meant I loved them more, right?

Wrong. It meant that I was an incredibly manipulative and volatile kid, with an immensity of anger issues that are all but resolved as I write these words. I still get angry. I still want to smash the place up. I still feel my hands go cold with rage. I still bite my lip just before I’m about to lose my shit. The only difference between now and then is that there aren’t a whole lot of battles that seem worth it anymore. So I take a deep breath. Or I go for a walk. Or I call someone and cry for a moment down the phone to them. Then I mentally slap myself round the face and carry on with my day.

Because no one remembers the battles you fought and lost.

But they do remember the battles you fought and won.

And something I learned from all of this?

The only person worth fighting for is the one that looks back at you from the frozen puddles on the forgotten streets you walk each and every day. Alone and alive. Whether you like them or not, they’re the only one that’s got your back. And they’re enough. Most of the time.

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When I Dream of Deserts

There was literally nothing around me but hard, red dirt and cracks of endless dust tearing through the barren rock. The sky was as blue as I have ever seen it, the sun a chrysalis of frosted glass, hanging between clouds almost soft enough to taste. It was hot. It was far too hot to be a normal day and sweat spiked on the nape of my neck and dripped into my eyes. I wiped at them tenderly, as they shrieked in their sockets.

I knew that I was not alone, but I could not see anyone. So I started to walk, ignoring the intensity of the heat beating down on my body and cooking my flesh. I walked, the dust kicking up from my shoes and settling on my wet skin. I felt as though I were caked with dirt, my throat slick and scratchy. I could hear footsteps, small, scuffling footsteps. The footsteps of something too small to make noise, or something that did not have walking down to a fine art. I would find out that the footsteps belonged to both something small, and something unable to walk.

There was a building in the distance, not so far away that I could not identify it as an indoor swimming pool, but still far enough away not to be able to make out whether or not it was in operation. I focused my exhausted eyes on it and continued, one step after another, the way I always had. The scuffling noise returned and I spun hard enough on my heels to swirl a cocoon of dust around myself, momentarily disappearing into the redness of the air.

There was a strangled sound of gargling, as though someone were trying frantically to breathe through oil laced sea water. I could feel my heart beating in my mouth, when I realised at once that the strangled sound was actually coming from me. I tried to smile, the skin on my scorched lips cracking and allowing tiny runlets of copper coloured blood to rise to their surface. I licked tentatively as them, wincing back against the enormity of pain, but savouring the taste of anything in my mouth, even if it were my own blood.

Caught in the monotony of walking I did not notice the deep crack in front of me until I was at eye level with it. My head hit the hard pan with a sickening thud and for a moment the sky lost its allure and became a speckled black greyness that seemed to swamp straight into my bones. I rolled over onto my back and closed my eyes, a dizzying sense of becoming unravelled settled over me and I allowed it to take me.

When I opened my eyes I could see them coming towards me, slowly staggering, as though they did not have full command of their bodies. I want to say to you now that they were mutants, out there in the middle of nowhere, the left over products of a wasteful and even more hurtful society of experiments and forgotten mistakes. However as they drew closer I saw that they were not in fact mutants but children.

They were about seven or eight in total, but grouped together amidst such nothingness there may as well have been a hundred of them versus the one wounded me. They walked with their arms drawn into their chests, their wrists locked out at awkward angles, as though they were mimicking a praying mantis. Their feet pointed inwards, their hips slanted and the closer they came to me, I realised that they had no fingers or toes. It did not look as though they had been born without them, more so than that they had been forcibly removed.

It was their faces that made me get up and away. Their heads were cocked back like an angry pistol, their twisted grimaces of what could have been pain, but could just have easily have been pleasure, saluting the silence of the topaz sky. I now realised, with a gut wrenching certainty, that the noise I had heard before my face hit the floor, the gargling sound of strangled breath, was not coming from me after all. They were all trying to speak, but their words were dead before they could be born, as though their lungs were full of sand. Every single one of them was hideously sunburnt, to the point that their skin was peeled off in great, weeping welts all over their naked bodies.

I started to walk as fast as I physically could, knowing that if I had began to run I probably would have fainted. Instead I briskly broke through the air, creating a much needed breeze against my sweltering face. They were drawing closer, in my head I was moving faster than I thought I was. I could not so much as hear them behind me, but feel them, as though the movement of their deformed feet dragging through the dust sent physical waves through the earth and up my legs.

The swimming pool was as close as it had ever been when I fell again, this time hitting my head hard enough to knock the wind out of me. I laid on the floor curled into a ball. I could feel their breath on me, hot and sour, like cabbage left in the sun to stagnate. Their eyes were the whitish blue of a blind man, and where the white should have been was blazing red. Blobs of dead black blood and hard green pus sat in the corner of those eyes. I now knew that they were not grimacing in pleasure, but in complete and irrevocable agony. A fingerless hand touched my face and I felt my heart shatter.

She could not have been older than seven, but her face was twisted and full of confusion. Her hair was blonde, hanging in dirty patches all over her head. Across her chest the skin had peeled away to bone on her ribs and in the unforgiving sun it glistened like a fish on the deck of a boat. She smelt of rotting earth and flesh – hot, decaying flesh, but something in her ethereal eyes made me want to save her. That same something inside myself told me that she, like the others, was beyond saving.

She leant in closer to me, her breath now almost too much to bare. Her eyes flickered back and forth over my face, as though she were trying desperately to see me clearer. A sticky, black tear lurched sluggishly down her cheek as I touched her face, my own vision starting to focus. As I lay there on my back, spitting distance from the swimming pool in the middle of the hard pan, a shot ran out and the girls head exploded across my face, a swatch of dirty blonde hair landing with a coy splat my face. It smelt like a memory.

I laid there on the dark, hot hard pan and laughed. I laughed until the girls blood trickled into my mouth and down my throat. I laughed until I was physically sick all over myself, but still choking on the vomit, I laughed some more. The other children were retreating from the gun shot now and I could hear someone shouting in the distance for them to disperse. Someone said that their was a girl on the hard pan covered in blood. I laughed until I I passed out, but I did not fall into the blackness of unconsciousness, but the sacred, still blue of the first and last sky I ever remember seeing.

When I Dream of Syringes

It was cold and most certainly night. I was drunk, for the most part and standing with my usual crowd outside of our local supermarket. I was wearing my blue paisly shirt and my olive green Lee Coopers. I was smoking a cigarette and laughing, a bottle of something strong and tepid in my hand. He approached, his eyes bluer than I could ever recall from photgraphs burning into me. My friend stopped and put her hand on my arm,

“He’s looking at you.” He came straight up to me and took out a pen. He smiled, his face reminiscent of what I knew but something was different. Stubble speckled his young cheeks and he laughed,

“You can’t be though, you haven’t got any hair.” He had cut his hair to half an inch all over but his face bore a similarity too uncanny not be frutiful. He shook his head and closed the distance between us. He uncapped the pen, which was laden with white ink.

“Can I?” I nodded, my mind still and my heart beating in my ears. I breathed in as he pulled one side of my half open shirt aside, revealing the black of my bra. He scrawled a word, an autograph on the portion of my left breast that showed and let the shirt fall gently to rest. I reached out to touch his face and he took my hand before it could.

“Come with me.” He pleaded. I could see poison under his eyes, swimming in the blue that was never quite captured on the cameras where I had come to know him so well. I turned to my friends and realised that they had moved away. He squeezed my hand and we walked out of the car park and into daylight. We were by the side of the sea. There was an immense heat baking off of the ground but neither of us looked pained for the weather. The cool sea breeze wafted through my hair.

We came to a wall, hand in hand, and beyond it lay nothing but ocean. He let go of my hand and climbed over the wall, almost glided over the wall and hit the sand on the other side with a soft thud. He then reached his arms over and helped me, also somehow glide, over the cinder block obstacle. Our foreheads touched and my stomach knotted when he kissed me briefly on the mouth. On the wall now stood out a face, melted to the brick, its skin grafted to the very mortor.”It’s for nothing.” Its mouth was disorted, a hideous grimace marring the scarred, powedery skin but its words were clearer than the ocean that now lay before us. It shifted and came closer to us, almost sinking into the brick and oozing back through the wall now only a foot from us. His grip tightened on my hand and we ran, we ran like we were trying to beat the devil, until blood pumped in our eyes and our mouths were are dry as the sand under our now bare feet.

We skidded to a halt on the side of the ocean, a platform about three foot over the water. We sat down and caught our breath, words were exchanged but they escape me now. He took out a leather pouch. Inside the pouch was a syringe, a white ball of clinge film and other random pieces. I watched as he sharpened his arm, the muscles writhing underneath the roadmap skin and popped the needle of the syringe through his the cleft of his arm. He immediatly fell back, his muscular stomach now bare and glistening in the light of the rising sun.

I went to stand, placing my hands next to me when he shot up as it electrocuted and stabbed the same syringe, now full once more, into the soft flesh between the knuckles of my index and middle finger. As soon as he pushed the plunger down the platform broke and I was flung two hundred foot into the air, the platform rising and blood pouring from the wound on my hand. I could vaguely see him but his voice was lost in the wind.

I had to throw something. He wanted me up there, that is why he had stabbed me. I had to be that high up. I could not remember what he wanted me to throw though. The wind was heavy and the platform unstable. I shifted my weight and looked out onto the horizon. There was ocean for as far as I could see but behind me was a dense city landscape, with life and sound melting together. I reached into my pocket and pulled out a green guitar pick.

That was what he wanted me to throw. I held it against my mouth, the metal in my lip chinking against it. I pursed my lips and kissed the pick before shuffling my feet to the edge of the platform. Then I took a deep breath and thought of the man who had led me here with neck length dirty blonde hair, a green cardigan and a guitar in his hands singing about the scent of teen spirit and then I remembered who he was and what he wanted from me. I let my feet continue off the platform where they found nothing but air.

But I did not fall. I floated back down to the platform where he now stood smiling, his hair grown back to the length I remember it being. He had tears in his eyes as he took me into his arms and kissed me once more. With my arms locked around him, he dissolved into dust and was carried away by the wind. The day faded to night in seconds and I was back standing outside the supermarket with my friends, although now I was covered with sand like powder and my hand was black with dead blood.

“Are you okay?” I nodded and we walked up the high street and into one of the pubs. I ordered my drink and excused myself to the toilet. No one had said anything about my hand that was now twice the size it should have been. I stood in front of the mirror and watched as my hand returned back to normal and the dust like dirt all over my shirt washed away into the air and out of the open window.

I unbuttoned my shirt, standing in the harsh light of the pub bathroom and let it fall to my elbows. There written on the nape of my left breast, almost as while as the flesh was his word as if to assure me that he was not a dream but somehow more. Four simple letters in untidy scrawl that brought an exhausted tear to my eye – live.

When I Dream of Buttermilk

It’s one of those days when the air just isn’t moving and it sits in my mouth and lungs like ash. I can smell the dirt and the tobacco on my hands as I wipe the sweat out of my eyes and make my way through the crowd. You’re not looking at me because you never do and I’m looking at you because I always do. And I wonder how you’re not clawing your beard off in this heat, effortlessly cool in every possible sense of the word as you sip a warm beer and laugh like a lunatic. People are melting out at your feet. I’m just melting.

She creeps up behind me and asks in her own flamboyant screech if I would like a drink. I see what you’re drinking. I tell her the name of the beer and she scurries off, eager to please me for reasons beyond my own comprehension. She returns and hands me a lukewarm beer that tastes like old milk and I wince as I take the first sip. She asks me why on earth I would want to drink that stuff and I shrug it off, not content to tell her that it’s because it’s what you’re drinking and that it’s probably the closest I’m ever going to come to knowing what your mouth tastes like.

I look at my battered boots and smile, my hair falling in front of my eyes. I look as insane as I feel. Because here they are, suited and booted and dressed to the nines, in their sling backs and halters, all bare skin and radiance and here I am in a sleeveless R.E.M shirt, black jeans and the same dusty boots I’ve kicked the ground with for most of my life. I’m a shadow in a room full of stardust and it’s no wonder you’ve never noticed me lurking in your peripheral. I take another sip of the awful beer as she slinks away to go irritate some other poor bastard with her own desperate sense of companionship.

Everything’s hitting me in monotones and monochromes, a sea of nude fabrics and sterile music thumping through the air like an infected tooth. A woman pushes her ample chest against yours, standing on her tiptoes to whisper something in your ear. Your hand, the tattoo on the back of it crystal in my eyes even from this distance, presses against her lower back and she wafts back down to her normal height, looking at you with expectant eyes that beg you to laugh or nod or shake your head. Instead you look up and through the sea of faceless people in nameless gowns, your eyes find mine.

It’s your turn to whisper and as your hand leaves the woman’s back, violent ripples of gooseflesh break out all over my body. Your eyes are still on mine, those dauntingly dark eyes and as you make your way through the ebb and flow of desperate creatures in dainty gowns, all the blood rushes out of my body and hits my cheeks. My face is on fire by the time our toes touch. It’s like I’ve being queuing for a roller coaster nine hours of my day and when the time comes to get on and buckle up, I want to run. And that’s just what I do.

I run. Through the crowds and out into the blistering heat of the day. The sun hits me like an open palm and I gasp in the dusty air, doubled over with my cold fingers biting into my shaking knees. A few moments later, silence fills the air. You haven’t followed me. I wait for my heart to climb back down from the roof of my ribcage and when it is safely beating at a steady pace, I begin to make my way through the ruins of what was once a car park. Where I’ll go, I don’t know but I know one thing is for sure – I will never come back to this place again.

On the other side of the car park I hear my name, whispered in buttermilk. My heart loses it’s mind again and begins flickering about the place, a manic moth caught in its own dead lights. You say my name again and my shoulders slump, ready to swoon, but I don’t. I hold my shivering right hand out in front of me palm down and force it to still. Then, methodically, as if reciting some sacred incantation, I turn my hand palm up and slap myself across the face hard enough to draw blood. My cheek stings and the corners of my eyes begin to run with hot tears. I run my quivering tongue over the torn groove in my bottom lip and laugh.

You say my name again, and this time, I wake up.