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.

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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.

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.

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.

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.

Dragonflies

Suffocated in the silence of splintered injustice, she’d kill herself if someone could guarantee her that the memory would die with her. She’s got this far on the distant dawning of carrying the pain with her through the doors of death and into eternity. Would that be hell? She wonders…to be locked away in a windowless room with nowhere to go but inside yourself? No ones face scares her more than her own, no ghostly shadow cast against the bare walls makes her skin crawl more than the black silhouetted copy of her shape, hunched and vulgar in it’s profanity.

Just a guarantee.

That’s all.

What use would it be to get a little too close to the edge of the canyon – to taste the dust that lifts from the bellies of pebbles pushed recklessly to their deaths by the soles of her shoes that rest unsteadily atop the soft blanket of spicy pine needles, that sting their scent into her eyes, feral wasps, the beauty of the cold air coursing through her veins, her teeth bared in predatory lust – as she stands crucified to the blameless blue of the sky, her bastard shadow grimacing on the ground, the awkward mould of a dragonfly laying in wait behind her on the cracked red clay?

And she’s ready. She’s been ready for a long time. And she listens to him still, now, even though her ears of full of blood and words. Too many words. They cram themselves in, tripping over their own tongues and stumbling just before the finish line, a heap of broken backs and fallen friends, their carcasses piled high on the brink of comprehension. Her ears are heavy and aching, the rasp of their breath that close to her consciousness, toxic and unpleasant. And he told her, didn’t he? He told her all that he is, and all that he was, and all that he’ll ever be. And she knows what he can do. She knows because he did it to her. She is too tired to cry.

Her stained fingers brush against the swollen welts on her face, cracked and red they mirrored the earth where her inner dragonfly still waits. It laughs. Her fingers trace the shape of what was once her mouth. It hurts, the flesh hot and tender, a new burn yet to turn pink and fade to coffee. She bites down, hard, on the bottom lip. It splits, a rotten melon, and gushes foul coppery blood. It spills off of her chin and runs eagerly down her neck where it pools. A warm flower, the colour of claret, begins to bloom across her breasts. She is septic inside.

The muscles in her legs twitch, her chest muscles tensing and relaxing, repulsed by the feeling of blood against bare skin. Her head swims and inside her putrid body she feels something rising, like smoke, violet in the sun, grey in the shadow. Is that sadness trying to escape her, or is it something else? Is it all hope, rising and falling, following the wind obediently to a place where it can settle, where it can be left alone, and nevermore picked apart by the mind of a person addicted to their own cruelty and punishment? A ripple of revulsion crumples her to the floor, pine needles draw blood from her palms, the once great dragonfly now a cocoon of its former self. It seethes.

And she cries. Silently on the fractured lip of the ubiquitous canyon as the smoke that she mistook for sadness envelopes her, hands and lips and faces and eyes, all of the same, all around her. It’s not the sadness that is leaving her tonight, as the sun bleeds red across the tangerine sky.

Tonight is the night that hope leaves this girl and where it stops, nobody knows.

When I Dream of Fire

It was dark and the house had no windows. Whether day light prevailed beyond the mortar that surrounded me I have no idea, but in the back of my mind I hoped it did. There was a rectangular glass case in front of my on a platform. As I approached it, the tank filled with water. I took a few steps back and inch by inch the water evaporated from the tank. I took a few steps forward and it returned, not falling from the ceiling or rising from the tank, but materialising as if from nothing.

With my nose practically touching the cool moist glass a key manifested within the water. It was larger than a normal key but no more ornate. As I watched it, it seemed to stand up, lifting itself with the help of the weightless water, until it stood on its narrow tip, the dull head now level with my eyes. The glass of the tank began to bulge and break, the water remaining shapeless and still.

As I brought my hand up to touch the glass the door behind me opened with a creak. I didn’t turn to see who it was. I couldn’t turn. The key was looking at me, begging me with all its heart to take it with me and not leave it trapped in the tank. My fingers grazed the glass,

“I wouldn’t do that. Not if you value that hand” The sound of his voice broke me and I fell to my knees. My eyes trained on the wooden floor below me, my finger tips digging into the soft, untreated oak. Tears started to speckle my view. I pulled my tired eyes from the floor and the tank was gone. The door behind me was closed. I felt as though the blood had stopped moving in my veins and the rhythm of my heart had been knocked off tempo.

I rose slowly, my ankles clicking. How long had I been on the floor? When I turned the door was still closed, its silence mocking me in the dark, damp room. I placed my hand tentatively on the handle, wincing slightly as if it were to burn. It didn’t burn. It levered evenly with a squeak and opened onto more darkness. I have never been afraid of the dark, but ran my entire life from the light. I slunk into the safety of the shadows, letting the door click closed behind me.

I could sense him everywhere. I could smell his body, the sweet, stale aroma of his sweat. I could hear his laugh, the beautiful sound of utter desperation masked with the bitter honesty of his smile. I saw his eyes in every nook of the corridor, glimmers of green and gold danced along the surface of the otherwise dull walls. Footsteps echoed and they were not my own, but for what felt like miles only the dimly corridor spanned my eye line.

Then a break in the hostile nothingness. An arch, not a doorway, now stood before me and resonating from beyond that arch way, a calm orange glow. As I drew closer to the arch way a burden of warmth engulfed my chest and tears once again broke out on my cold face. If I had tried to stop them, which I didn’t, I am sure I would have felt physical pain.

With one hand placed on each side of the arch way I hung my head and breathed from knees. The tears stopped momentarily but my face was still damp with their ghost as I stepped through the arch way. This room had a window but it was covered with boards, the ancestral slices of light cutting through the hot room and casting shadows upon the shadows.

A fire crackled neatly in the centre of the back wall. He was sitting with his body facing me but his head hung down as mine had been at the arch. I could feel his heart beat radiating through the room, clawing its way from the floor boards and up into my feet, then my legs and resting in my gut. The entire room smelt of him and as I searched for his face in the waltzing silhouettes the fire cast upon his body, I now saw that the fire did not glow orange, red or yellow, as one would suspect – but the palest shade of olive green and silken gold.

His face glanced up from the floor and his eyes met mine. He smiled and the whiteness of his teeth broke the air. We both knew our search had been killing us and the look in his eyes suggested that he was rather proud of the fact that once we had finished our hunt, we were both still breathing. He uncrossed his legs and stood, his boots in the fire. He held out his hand as one lock of thick hair wafted in front of his face.