Patching Up the Past #1

Cartoonish Regular

1

He once told me that our relationship didn’t have to play by any rules, that we were free to make up our own rules, our own milestones and our own tropes of true love. There was an age gap of almost thirty years and though we had more in common with each other than we’d ever had with anyone before, there was a gulf of difference between everything else – the way we were raised, the way we saw the world, the values we held and the plans we had.

One thing we always had in common was music. I know a lot of people say that music is their life and I believe them, but with him music meant so much more than life. It was more than life and one of the bands that brought us together was Stiff Little Fingers and barring an impulsive Paul Heaton gig in the winter we got together, SLF were the first band we saw live together.

It was December and we’d just bought our first Christmas tree together. He bought tickets to see them down in Brighton and I think it was the first time that year that I’d been excited for something that was purely for my enjoyment. I packed my bag into the boot of his car and we drove down to the seaside. The cold was brutal and the walk from where we were staying to the club was hellish, but there, standing next to me for the first time in my life was a boy who was excited to see a band I liked.

He used to do this thing when we went to gigs and that night was the first night I noticed it. He’d stand behind me, all six feet and something of him, and he’d put one arm around my waist and pull me into him. He didn’t really dance, neither of us were those kinds of people, but he sang loud and out of key and he screamed along with Tin Soldiers in the sweat soaked club on the sea front and I felt how I was supposed to feel all those times before – I felt like I was in love.

After the gig we sat drunken and laughing eating kebabs soaked in chilli sauce in a hotel room with a broken thermostat that was trying to mirror the heat of our food. The Fratellis had released an album that year that would become the sound track to our first year and we put it on my Bluetooth speaker and we got into bed. I still can’t listen to a few of those tracks, even now but I hope one day when Slow ticks on or Desperate Guy shuffles onto my speaker, I’ll be able to listen to them and look back on that night when he was young and I was happy.

There is one song, I will link it below, called My Dark Places and for the longest of times it became our song. The first (but not the last) mix tape he ever made me opened with the original version of the song and closed with the acoustic version and there was a time when I was in his car, torn to pieces from one of many battles I waged during our relationship, and he quietly put the mix on his iPod and just looked at me knowing that when he didn’t have the words to help, SLF always would. He never knew, and I guess I’m telling him now, but the night of our first real date, after I somewhat assaulted him a few nights before and made my feelings known – I almost bailed.

I was sat in the dilapidated house that came with my job looking out the window of the living room at the pub where we met and the pub where we were going to meet and it felt like my heart was going to crawl out of my mouth. I still remember what I was wearing, the date, what I’d done earlier in the day and the way my hands were cold and sweaty. I’d spoken to my friend on the phone moments before and I stood with the phone still in my hand contemplating what this sick horrible feeling in my gut was.

I know now, for future reference, that it was butterflies. The first butterflies to have hatched in my gut for almost a decade. As an adult, so sure of myself and my identity, to have this ethereal man sweep in and save me from myself was the antithesis of what I believed I wanted. And I was scared. Scared that he wouldn’t find me interesting enough or smart enough or pretty enough, that every woman he’d ever had before me made me pale and unworthy. I put him on a pedestal then, and to a great extent, I still hold him there and probably always will. It was like I had closed my eyes and wished real hard for “that guy” and then, as if by magic – that guy was sitting across the road waiting for me.

I picked up my iPod and hit shuffle, not knowing then that the song would unite us the way it did. My Dark Places by Stiff Little Fingers ripped into my ears and Jake Burns started to shout about ashes and sadness and refusing to give up. I didn’t wait until the song had finished. I grabbed my keys and closed the door behind me, the cold October air hitting my face like an open hand. I walked up to the door of the pub and yanked my headphones out as the song finished and the warmth replaced the cold.

Then I saw him, all green eyes and smiles. And he was wearing a Stiff Little Fingers t-shirt. It was the cover of Inflammable Material, the first SLF album I ever owned. I’ll never forget the way he looked at me that night, like there was no one else in the room or the way we talked all night like we’d never had a real conversation with anyone else before that moment. Or the way he walked, all be it hammered, on the right side of the road so that I was tucked safely into the pavement. Or the way he tried to hold my hand.

The rest, as they say is history. And though there are other moments when this band made sense to us (we saw them four times in total together, I believe) I will end this post with the last time Stiff Little Fingers played a hand in our lives together. It was the afternoon when he came from work and our bedroom was covered in candles. He sat down on the bed and I got down on one knee and I pretended to propose to him with Star Wars rings I’d bought online to make a mockery of marriage, and institution that both of us had had painful experiences with. Listen, by the band in question was playing, and though it seemed unplanned, I chose that song on purpose though I never told him.

Long story short – it was the beginning of the end. The reaction he had was overwhelmingly negative and though now I feel like it was born out of a misunderstanding of what I was actually trying to do, at the time it just hurt like hell. Well, fuck, people it probably broke my heart if I’m being honest which I am indeed trying to be. In an attempt to comfort him, to prove to him that I didn’t need a white picket fence or a diamond or a wedding dress to be with him forever and be happy to be his regardless of what my last name was, I sent him into a spiral of panic that lasted for nearly three hours and exhausted the both of us.

And I don’t think either of us, or our relationship, ever fully recovered from that day.

The lessons I’ve learned from this patch? Don’t fall in love with a guy that likes the same music as you, because if it does go wrong, which it most certainly will, he will take those songs away from you forever. My Dark Places gave me the courage to go into the pub that night and now when I hear it I want to scream. Something that used to make me feel bullet proof now riddles me with them by the time the first riff is a few seconds in. The other lesson I learned from this patch? Fall in love with a guy that likes the same music as you because they will always know where to find the words to make you understand how they’re feeling or how you make them feel. Also, you will have an absolutely incredible soundtrack to your lives together.

Bonus lesson – nothing lasts forever (though this isn’t an Echo and the Bunnymen patch, the sentiment is true) but everything has the ability to grow into something new – pleasure from pain, healing from hurt, relationship to friendship – but enduring through it all, unwavering and refusing to ever bow down to change is what this patch taught me clearest, though it may have been the hardest lesson to learn – love always remains.

And I love this patch and the person it represents and as he is the person that told me to work on a project to get me through the rougher (pardon the pun) patches of my life, this project wouldn’t have been the same if I hadn’t have kicked it off with his very own patch. And yeah, there are other bands that will always remind me of him and yes there are still albums I can’t listen to without feeling like there’s an elephant sitting on my chest, but Stiff Little Fingers will always be “our band” and My Dark Places will always remind me that there are people out there that know how I feel and that I have never and will never be alone in my own dark places.

He’s got his own project now and I cannot wait to see what happens next.

For both of us.

So, number one with a bullet (a reference I hope he would get should he ever read this) Stiff Little Fingers.

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When I Dream of Alison

I’m here again in this honeycomb of cul-de-sacs and it’s hot, like it always is. The white heat of the day evaporates the outlines of the houses and blurs them into a repetitive reel of blocky windows, flat lawns and tired looking fences. I’m walking. There are blisters on my feel and I feel them rubbing painfully against the damp insides of my boots as I make my way through the immaculately cartoonish suburban nightmare.

I’ve been here before and it always end with heart ache.

My feet stop outside a house distinguishable from it’s kin only by the Christmas decorations in the windows. It can’t be Christmas – it’s too hot to be Christmas. I walk up the path way to the front door where a wreath hangs sprayed in fake snow. There are flakes of it all over the door mat that someone has etched a ghoulish outline of Santa’s laughing face on. I reach into my pocket and draw out two keys attached to a solid silver snowflake charm. I hold them for a moment in my sweating palm and feel all the saliva in my mouth dissipate.

I’ve held these keys before but these keys used to open the doors to a small apartment in a wooden building by a man made lake. I think of how cold it was there and how the tree swallowed the view of the lake from the front room and I feel my heart stammer in my chest. I don’t need the second key for this house because there is no second door. Just the one before me, white as snow with the hanging wreath on it.

I open the door and step inside. It smells like cigarettes and clean washing. I push open a window to try and let some air in but there is no air. There is never any air in this place. It’s like it’s stopped moving and when I look up and see the vast empty room before me, my blood stops moving too.

Crammed into the corner of this empty room is an extravagant Christmas tree that reaches from the floor to the ceiling. I take a few steps closer and see that it is tied with small navy blue velvet bows and expensive looking glass baubles that catch the sickening off yellow lights of the pulsing bulbs that smother the tree. Beneath this monolithic creature are a handful of small wrapped presents with oversized tags.

I make my way closer to the tree, my sweat smeared face flashing in time with the bulbs. I kneel down and feel my knees click. I want a cigarette. That’s my first thought. And there just so happens to be a packet of Chesterfield red tucked to the side of the tree with a clean ashtray that has a Greek island painted on it and a packet of matches. I light a cigarette and inhale three times before I feel anything at all.

Then I turn my attention to a present in front of me. It is small and square and neatly wrapped in white paper with silver trees stamped into it. I hold it in my hands and flick the tag back with the tip of my finger, spilling a dot of ash onto the carpet. There in the looping handwriting that adorned many of my own gifts, another persons name is written.

Alison.

I feel my eyes start to itch as hot tears force themselves to be heard but I fear my head hasn’t caught up with my heart and as the tears begin to fall and my stomach hardens, I march through the other presents.

Alison.

Alison.

Alison.

There’s a stocking right at the back. It’s red and has glittering gold reindeers embossed into it’s expensive fabric. Along the white cuff of the stocking is the same name.

Alison.

The stocking is empty.

I put my cigarette out dead in the centre of the one of the gifts and I stand to leave, my eyes now raw with hot, angry tears that match the way the rest of the room feels. I turn to leave when out of the corner of one bloodshot eye I see another gift, wrapped in brown paper and tied with dark green string. It’s by itself, underneath the window. The curtains are drawn, to keep this bastard heat out I think to myself, but it’s low enough that it’s got a view of the garden.

I wonder, then, if there’s a lake.

I make my way over to the parcel, my body suddenly tired, my muscles sore, my bones splintering. I’m running out of time here. When it starts to hurt too much I am pulled from this house that I’ve been to so many times before, but I can’t go yet. Not just yet.

I lay down flat on my stomach and my hair falls into my face. Beneath the blind I can see the garden, so I lay my face flat on the floor and turn my head so that the tiny brown package now looks as big as the tree behind me. The lights twinkle in the glass of the window.

The garden is covered with snow.

I let out a breath and melt into the carpet with my tears.

There are shapes out there that I know – a bench, a barbeque that’s been covered over, a bird bath, flower beds, a little sagging shed – and the sky is white and frozen and everything is calm. I turn over ever so slightly and look at the window behind me a few feet away from the tree and it’s the same as it ever was – harsh beating light, scorched grass, lazy birds flapping slowly through the bright blue sky.

I turn my head back to the winter window and take the parcel off the floor. There is no tag on this one and its small and flat and square. I pull on the green twine that holds it together and it unfurls like a flower. I feel fresh tears spike as a piece of card falls out onto my face. There is a name on the card written in the same looping handwriting.

Ronnie.

There’s a CD case inside the brown paper. It’s cheap and flimsy and green like the twine. I open the case and written on the opal coloured front of the hand burnt disc is one word – sorry.

I close my eyes and let my chest judder out a sob as I clutch the case white knuckle on the floor as through the winter window it starts to snow again.

 

 

 

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.

All That We Keep

I have moved from place to place for the past ten years of my life never really knowing the difference between going back and going home. During these unstable years of my adolescence and early adult life I have amassed a collection of oddities that sometimes I regard with a bemused confusion, as to why those few tokens of my past have survived the years and never seen the inside of a bin bag.

There is the stuffed lady bird that I bought from a charity shop in Walton less than twenty four hours before my daughter was born. My sister Lizzie was living in Cyprus at the time and she was one of the only people I wanted on that day, yet she was one of the only people I didn’t have. I saw this lady bird poking out of a basket of teddies and toys that was bathing in the mid spring sunshine of the baking pavement. I picked it up and instantly knew I could not leave it behind. It wasn’t until I climbed back into my mother’s car, thoughts of my impending hospital stay weighing heavily on my mind, that one of the stuffed lady birds wings flipped up and I saw “Lizzy” embroidered into its back. Since then I have never had the heart to confine it to the injustice of a charity shop basket again.

Then there is the empty Woodbine packet that I have carried with me for nearly five years. When I met my ex-husband we were young and terribly romantic. I was smoking Woodbine’s, a filter less cigarette that harked back to my years in the second world war, or so I mused, and every day during our tender courtship, he would appear at my front door with a packet of said cigarettes in his hand. We would sit and smoke in the cold sunshine of the autumn we met, his hair longer than it will likely be again and my heart far more open than it is willing to roam these days. For the life of me, I cannot understand why I have never thrown this memory away along with the empty cigarette box, but there are some things that remind you of the good before it turned bad, a reminder I feel bitterness is all too quick to dismiss and discard.

I have given away a number of bracelets and necklaces to the people I love throughout my life and my best friend could probably start a collection of odd bits of tat that I have given her over the ten years we have known each other, and likewise I too possess many random fridge magnets, scraps of paper, knots of thread and beads that I too will probably never lose for her spirit and the spirit of our enduring friendship is symbolised by all of them. There is one piece of jewellery though that meant so much to me from the moment it came into my life to the moment it left that I cannot help but wonder whether or not it is treasured in the same way I did regard it when it was mine.

A grey clay pendant with Ugarit wedge writing blacked onto the face. I loved this necklace and parting with it was difficult but it was something that tangibly meant a lot to me and knowing the person who now owns it, I knew it would mean a lot to them too. There is something sacred about giving an object to someone, something so personal that has lived and breathed against your skin, been chewed at, rained on and shone in the sun that saturated the days the person wore it. I suppose that is why you give rings to those you love to not only quantify but cultivate your love for them.

And that brings me to the final thing I hold onto that I have no earthly business to endear. My engagement ring. It’s a simple white gold band with a diamond big enough to matter but still not so big as to cause offense to my rather peasant like tastes. It was given to me by a man many years ago, a man whom for the briefest of moments was my everything and I his. There was frost on the ground when he gave it to me, in a small silver box and asked that I be his for then and forever.

I must say since the day I took it off and placed it in the box with my parents wedding rings, as well I my own plain white gold band and his, I haven’t look upon it too much. But I know its there for those moments when I question when and how I came to be sitting where I am no writing what I am, as the person I had no idea I would become.

I think this is why we hold onto such seemingly superfluous reminders of our past that to someone else would be misconstrued as junk – train tickets, buttons, badges, key rings, strips of fabric fallen from a favourite t-shirt, a shoe lace from that one pair of shoes you always hoped would be immortal, clothes that don’t fit and never will again, empty bottles, photographs, notes that survived the years since you have sat in a classroom, dried flowers, mugs, sticks of bark, pebbles and stones from somewhere you found peace.

Then above them, buried somewhere that spring cleaning and moving houses cannot accidently dispose of them  are the things that we cherish most. The intangible but ever present and ever growing bank of memories. We hold onto these physical oddities as a physical reminder that what we went through actually happened and that the things that sometimes feel like they were too good to have been true, actually were.

You were a child. You did fall madly and irrevocably in love. You did like that song. You did laugh until you couldn’t breathe. You did sit on that shoreline. You did say those things. You did dance in those shoes. You did pick that flower. You were friends with that person. You were another half of a whole. You were an innocent. You did treasure those most pointless of things. Once.

When you’re young and the future is something you need not comprehend you are instinctively inclined to cherish the memories you have and you hold onto anything that will remind you of those days. As you get older you find yourself wanting to forget as many memories as you want to remember. Now those who choose to forget, granted get to experience a much more painless life through the entire process of moving on.

But to forget the bad memories, in favour of the good ones, is to live half a life, to breathe with half a soul and love with half a heart. You didn’t get to where you are now living a life of one sided grief or joy. Remembering the calm before the storm will only serve to desensitize you to the enormity of emotion that those storms can bring. I try to remember everything I can that helped to beat the path I was inclined to walk.

And when I am asked what defined me I will answer in all honesty I was not defined by the memories I chose to cherish, but by the memories I hoped to forget.

A Series of Ambiguous Questions

Love is not a new subject for my rants, in fact, it is one of my least favourite but most committed sources of anger, confusion and genuine exasperation, hence its appearance as those three emotions are usually at the core of all of my rants. However my friends, I am not going to knock love to the floor and kick its teeth once again, no, I am going to ask you a series of questions that I want you to answer in your minds. I want you to answer them in your minds because were you to vocalise them, to me or anyone else, you would not be telling the whole truth. Love and truth are the mistresses of the mind, enticing us and crippling us in a matter of moments. They go hand in hand and as such, you must keep them away from each other as much as possible. We all know what chaos they can cause together.

In my experience on this earth, which after all is what this entire charade is about, I have come to accept that when love is on the cards, there are three types of people in this world – those that are IN love, those that WANT love and those that HAD love. And so comes my first question to you, my inquisitive readers … Will you read on?

Are you IN love? Do you share your heart, your mind, your body and your soul with another human being, so carved from the heavens that even the mention of their name sends your stomach tumbling in on itself? Do you perish at the thought of that love dissipating, or *gulp* disappearing altogether? Do you hold hands in the street and steal glimpses of each others infatuation when at the dinner table? Have you got that crooked grin that all lovers wear, that says “She is mine and I am His”? Do you wake up in the morning just to watch them sleep? Is the thought of any harm or pain coming to your love so overbearing that you would literally die before you saw them shed a single superfluous tear? Have you found the only other hand that you will ever hold on this mortal earth? Are you in love?

Do you WANT love? Do you want to commit yourself to another entirely and regardless of fault or flaw? Do you want to belong to someone else’s family and be enveloped in to their pasts and futures? Do you want to sign birthday cards with two names instead of one? Do you want to have someone there for you whatever the need or cause? Do you want someone to hold you and tell you that everything is going to be alright, even when in all honesty things probably won’t? Do you want to be able to say “This is my boyfriend/girlfriend”? Do you want the kisses, the cuddles, the commitment and the confusion? Do you want to be so consumed by someone else’s body, that the worries about your own no longer matter, because someone genuinely thinks you are beautiful already? Do you want love?

Did you HAVE love? Did you have those moments that felt like they would go on forever? Did you have those perfect trinkets of your love together, however meaningless to the rest of the world, that meant everything to you at the time? Do you find a stray item of their clothing and find yourself powerless to bring it to your face and inhale the scent of what you lost? Do you hear a song or see a movie and feel a hot prickle of tears in the back of your throat? Do you walk down the street and convince yourself of the words you would say to them were you to bump into them again? Do you find yourself powerless to tense up whenever their name is mentioned, intentionally or otherwise? Did you ever think it was possible for a human body to produce the amount of tears yours has? Did you have love?

They are my questions to you my eager love fuelled companions. Now comes the fun part. It will only happen with a few of you I am sure, but it will happen most certainly with a few. I am going to ask you one more question and I want you to answer it again in your mind. When I stated at the beginning of this rambling mess that there were three kinds of people in this world, I know you subconsciously allocated yourself one of the labels without the need to read the questions posed. You decided whether you were IN love, in WANT of love or indeed if you did HAVE love at some point. Here is my final question – Did you change your label after you read the questions?

My point is this – love is not a static emotion and what you want from it changes as your experience with it does. Those who have never been in love long for the tiniest things that those that are in love mostly overlook. Those that are in love fear losing it, but those that have lost it, well some of them are regrettably happy to have done so. Love is blinding and that’s why as human beings we are obsessed with it. The wrongs in the world seem a little less sharp when someone holds your heart and somehow love helps most people to function, gives their lives a deeper meaning and they find stability and calm when completely consumed by another’s embrace. The world is a horrendously ugly place at times, but to go home to the comfort of your love’s arms, to hear their voice and feel their heartbeat beneath your face, well, that’s a very special thing indeed. However I propose that this love, this one integral, ball breaking, would-die-without-you love, only comes but once a lifetime. Its logical really.

If you have bore the first label in my list and no longer do then by default you have also had to burden the third label. Subsequently, by bearing the third label, you will find yourself wearing the second soon after your heart begins to work again. There is no adult human being on this earth that has ever experienced love, that will not at some point feel all three of these labels pressed against their forehead.

Now you’re probably thinking, well what if you fell in love and that love lasted forever, and I think you know what I am going to say to that. Those that convince themselves that every love is THE love of their life are cheating themselves out of a wealth of experience, because the world is not black and white. In order to make the extraordinary shades of grey that shape us as individuals you have to mix the black and white, the good and the bad, the love and the loss – otherwise, you will find yourself perpetually blinded to the TRUE power of love.

Being love is an amazing feeling and one that I wish every human being will experience in earnest during their lives, but losing a love, well that my friends is a whole different matter. All the gooey emotions of being in love fade, they don’t disappear if it is real love, but they slowly begin to fade into the background as life steals you from your lovers bubble. All the tormented emotions of losing love, however, well they never really fade. To experience loves better side, that is beautiful, but to experience loves ugly side, that my friends is real. If you have never felt what its like to be at the bottom, you will never truly appreciate what is at the top, even if you remain there your entire life.

People fall in love too quickly, put rings on their fingers, children in their bodies and hope in their hearts, and as much as the media would have you believe it, teenage pregnancy, marriage and scandal is nothing new. Ask you grandparents how old they were when they met, married and had your parents. It may surprise you. But when a child is born out of love, even if that love fades, that child is a lucky one indeed. So many people have children to literally manipulate feelings of love in those that have lost the capacity to love them back. Love has become a weapon and a powerful one at that.

I disarmed that weapon a long time ago and threw the ammo into the Thames. I used to wear the second label, of someone who wanted desperately to be loved and then I was lucky enough to wear the first and finally, had the pain of bearing the third as we all inevitably should. Now I don’t think about love in those terms, which is hard for someone as neurotic as me to do but I try. Now I don’t try to think about love at all. My theory, because you knew I would have one, is that if love wants me back it will come and find me. In the words of Allen Ginsberg I gave it all and now I am nothing.

And I would rather remain nothing to love, than ever have the duty of any one of the three labels mentioned above. Love shouldn’t be a duty, it shouldn’t be something that comes quickly and fades like wise. Love should be real, it should be true but only one love will ever be forever. The words “I love you” are thrown around far too much by people who have no real understanding or respect for the word. Love has become a notion, a card once a year and a broken memory of what it meant to find the other half of your soul.

Love in those words has no place in my heart, nor I in its. And we get along just fine that way.

Socially Acceptable Suicide

Even in 2015, there are still a hole heap of social taboos that centre around how an individual causes themselves physical or emotional pain or even death. Suicide, self harm, sexual promiscuity, drug addiction, alcoholism – all of them will raise an eyebrow or two in any “socially acceptable” forum. However, and I am saying this as that little voice on the other side of the fence, there are ways that people mutilate their hearts and heads without ever picking up a razor blade or contemplating a one way waltz off of a tall building.

I’ll give you an example – when my marriage broke down, my first reaction was to get my nipple pierced. Now, for a couple of seconds can we just forget that the nipple is a “rude” place to get a piercing and just concentrate on the task at hand. It was a Tuesday evening and I called my mother to ask if she was around and if she wanted to pop by to the house that I had shared with my ex-husband, our daughter and two fabulous lodgers. She said yes, and I had a request – that she bring a cannula and a reasonably sized BCR. She obliged, without questioning this as she had been piercing me and my brother for years. Yep, we’re that kind of family.

So Ma pulls up and gets out of the car, comes in to the house and plops herself down on the settee. My friend and lodger was sitting on the other settee, my daughter asleep, the male lodger at work and my ex-husband was somewhere probably doing something that he shouldn’t have been doing. Or someone…I was in pain. And that pain wouldn’t go away. So, in the true spirit of fighting fire with fire, I, no noob to a cannula, asked my mother to pierce my nipple. My friend and my mother laughed, knowing that it was ludicrous and that I’d always maintained that I’d never be stupid enough to pierce anything below my neck for the simple reason – that shit hurts, man.

But I wanted it to hurt. That’s the point I’m trying to get across here. I wanted something to hurt more than my heart did, something to sharpen that dull, relentless ache in the pit of my stomach, something to spike some fresh, lucid tears from my swollen eyes. So, my mother, being the woman she is, pierced my nipple for me as I sat there on a cold Tuesday in November and my friend cringed right beside me. Needless to say, I don’t think she’ll ever be getting her nipple pierced…

And you want to know something totally fucking insane? It worked. For awhile. For at least the first week after I mutilated my left nipple, whilst the pain was still fresh and it ached like a rotten tooth somewhere near my heart, I felt like I could breathe again. So much so that a few weeks later, when the house was gone, the lodgers moved on and my marriage officially in the gutter, when I moved in with my mother for the first time since I’d left two years before, I asked my mother one day as she made her way out of the door, again on a Tuesday – if she had time to stick a couple of cannula’s through my lip. I didn’t bother asking her to “snake bite” me because my mother learned how to pierce people before people gave said piercings such ludicrous names. Again, she obliged, and I had two newborn piercings in my brutally swollen lip to get me through the next few weeks until they healed and the real pain came back again.

So then, after those piercings were on their way to healed, I went out and gave myself a rather nasty case of the “dead drunks” when I decided that a cocktail of tramadol, anti depressants and whiskey would numb me for a night in February. It worked, until I woke in a hospital bed feeling more shit than I thought was humanly possible. I trudged home looking like death warmed up, apologised profusely to my mother and sent a bunch of flowers and a thank you card to Joy, the nurse who had to deal with my issues that night in the emergency room because I hadn’t quite figured out how to tame my demons on my lonesome by this point. Rest assured, it was the last time I ever did that.

It all boiled down to distraction in the end. I started writing more and reading too much (as many as four books a day) and gardening, fuck me, the gardening. I started walking everywhere and playing my guitar and baking all the time. I was drawing, painting, sewing and even tried my hand at ceramics before I realised just what in the hell was going on – I was shutting down, slowly but surely each and every one of the little lights inside me were burning out whilst I was busy knitting or learning the chord progressions in Bruce Springsteen’s newest song. I was a husk of the teenager I had been, caught somewhere on the front line of being an adult, being a mother, being a woman and being alive.

Slowly, I was drowning in my own distraction. So I stuck a pin in it and tried, fuck me I tried, to be a good person and for the most part its worked ever since. The issue is, sometimes, things still hurt. It’s like I have a chamber in my heart solely reserved for a swarm of hornets that hold my all the tiny arrows the poor bastard has taken over the years and every now and then, one of those hornets stings against the bars I have carefully built up around it and its friends. Sometimes, the really determined ones even manage to break free of their cage and terrorise the softer patches of my heart.

And that’s when I’d give anything to feel a tangible pain again, instead of just the vague burning sensation that comes with immense emotional distress. Something I can get my hands on and sink my teeth into, a pain that I can control and manipulate at my pleasure or discomfort – something to make me feel anything other than what I’m feeling when one of those mutant wasps breaks free and pours its poison into my veins.

Pain is the key here, people. And yeah, you can pick up a razor or a piece of something broken and sharp, maybe even something poetic like a mirror, so that you can watch yourself hurting yourself and take comfort in the solace that knowing the attacker brings. And yeah, when it all gets too much you can get punch out a single and ride the train to the end of the line. You can drown in the bottom of the bottle or soar on the tip of a needle, or you can throw your beautiful, broken body at anything willing to call it so for a time or two just to feel like you’re not entirely worthless. And all of these things, were you to tell them to a psychiatrist or a even a friend or family member, may wind you up with an intervention at the best and a funeral at the worst, depending on the quality of the people around you.

But there are a million and one socially acceptable ways to commit suicide. You can, for example, become addicted to the most foul and fiendish drug of them all – nicotine. You can smoke your life away one cigarette at a time and never once find yourself alone in a room full of judgemental faces and inquisitive eyes. Hey, you smoke, yeah you shouldn’t but my grandaddy smoked for like a hundred and two years and lived to be seventy nine thousand years old, or something like that.

You can go out every weekend and get blackout drunk, so drunk that you don’t remember how you got home or where your shoes are or what in gods name that is down the front of you t-shirt and you’re fine, because you only do it at the weekend. You hold down a nine to five, you pay your bills and you don’t beat your old lady when you’re wasted. You don’t drink and drive and nine times out of ten you walk away from the fights that find your face in those fabulous shit holes you frequent Friday to Sunday. But you’re just Dave, the local pisshead, everyone’s favourite pet yardstick that they measure their own failures against. Oh well, you weren’t as fucked as Dave was…is anyone ever as fucked as Dave is? Lol.

Spend your days walking around so stoned that you couldn’t tell your daddy from the postman. Go on, do it. You’re allowed to numb yourself so relentlessly against the bullets flying at you because you’re funny when you’re stoned, you’re easy when you’re stoned and easy is endlessly endearing. Pump yourself full of Valium and Prozac, hell skin up one hell of a joint and blaze your life away, because weed is natural and it doesn’t hurt anyone and it should be legal, man. It doesn’t hurt anyone, it helps people. Look, I’ve got this killer Wiki list that details all the good things about weed. You know, it doesn’t say anything about the fact that any chemical or natural substance, that takes you away from the way you feel is inherently dangerous to your basic understanding of identity and position, but you know… could you pass the oreos?

And here’s the best and the worst, saved for last as all things of its ilk should be. I’m going to tell you now to call him. To pick up your phone and call him. It doesn’t matter that it’s one o’clock in the morning and he’s probably passed on someone else’s bed, y’all just go ahead and call him. Tell him that you can’t live without him. Tell him that he will never, EVER find someone who will love him like you do. Tell him that you fell like you can’t breathe without him. Tell him that he’s the only thing that stops the voices in your head because he is the only fucking voice in your head. Tell him that you’re sorry and that you’ll do anything to be with him. Tell him that you’ll die without him. And believe it. Believe it all. Every. Single. Word. Of. This. Bullshit. Boil it down and breathe it in, because nothing, and I mean nothing, quite compares to the powerfully destructive pain of desperately timeless unrequited love.

And that’s how we do it. That’s how we live, creatures of immeasurable misery integrated fully into a functioning society that wouldn’t know us from the next. It’s how we survive by ritualistically torturing our minds and hearts and bodies with a whole heap of socially acceptable forms of self mutilation. We stick needles through our genitals and tattoo our rib cages. We drink, smoke and fuck like the worlds going to end, because in our heads, it already has. We throw ourselves into experiencing our lives in means and ways that we’ve told are enjoyable but in actual fact are dead end attempts to be happy on a road to absolute fucking misery.

And there’s hundreds of thousands of us out there. Some of you might have even read this and nodded along or sighed or shaken your heads because you know Dave the piss head, hell y’all might even be Dave the piss head. And you might be high now or smoking a fag or looking at your phone wondering if they got your text, telling yourself that it’s late and they’re probably asleep, crossing your fingers that they’ll text back in the morning with the obligatory apology and inadequate excuse, all the while knowing that the reason that they’re not texting back is because they’re busy living without you.

And you question whether that would be living at all because you haven’t realised that they have realised this already.

So, yeah, we’re all in pain and we’re all trying to find a way to make that pain go away or at least shut the hell up. Sometimes we win and it does shut up. And sometimes we lose and it whispers in the backs of our minds and we feel that wave wash over us, feel the water trickle down the back of our throats and find ourselves crawling through the hours on all fours gasping for the air that everyone around us is breathing seemingly with so much ease. And we wonder if that pain will ever go away. We wonder if we’ll ever be able to breathe again.

And sometimes, we hope we won’t. We call it a day and we settle into a sleep that we wish, somewhere deep and dark inside ourselves, that we don’t open our eyes again. That we just silently tap out of all it is that weighs us down and tears us apart, but then, more often than not, we wake up and realise that the world woke up again too. And that it would whether or not we were here or gone. We realise how small and insignificant we actually are and it scares the shit out of us. The notion occurs to us that were we to shuffle off this mortal coil and into the blessed abyss, no one would care. Yeah your mum and you dad would probably be devastated and your friends would probably go get your name tattooed on them and raise a bomb to you every other weekend, but given time, they’d live, because like all things, pain fades.

So you have a choice. You can either accept the fact that the world will go on without you just fine, that even those that would want to die if you did, would find a way to deal with that pain and would remember you always but that there would come a day in even their lives when they would be pouring milk into their cereal in the morning and your face wouldn’t be in their mind or your voice in their ears – you can take this information and drown in it, or you can take this information as a free pass to live exactly how you want to live without fear of what the world will think – because it doesn’t care, remember?

You’re free. Free to do whatever you want whenever you want with whomever you want for whatever reasons you want. The world doesn’t care. And neither should you. Be yourself, your own magnificently mutated self. And remember, that that place in your chest that aches all the time also beats all of the time, and in those moments of universal despair, lend a hand to that spot on your chest for a moment or two and take comfort in the fact that it never stopped beating, through it all – however much you may have wanted it to.

And be beautiful.

Because you are.

And know that we’re in it together.

Because we are.

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.

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.