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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A Good Man Died Today

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I still want to.

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

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

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

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

So I’m thanking him now.

The only way I know how.

Just Two Young Punks Pissed Off In Love

 

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

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

Two young punks, pissed off in love.

Man. That was us.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m sorry I broke our hearts.

And be beautiful.

Because you are.

Purity

I wrote a poem once and it didn’t rhyme

but instead kept time

like a rhythmic beat

and those who read it

and did not get it

moved along and needn’t try

to forget it

but those who stayed

and kept it close

opened a door

onto my most

hidden secrets

a wall of infamy

and of uncharted regrets

for those I kissed

with a mouth full of blood

 and those I impaled

 on their notions of love

 to those who broke down

 the broken bits of me

 and made dust from the diamonds

 that once had made me

 that proved to me

 for once

 and for all

 that the forgotten crawl

and the thoughtful weep

whilst the nihilist do goods

climb the steep knoll

of promises to fruit

and hold their chests

desperate for someone

to tell them the truth

as their hearts come undone.

When I Dream of Dreams

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not yet.

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.

Rivers and Forests.

I read somewhere once that music is like a river. That everyone whilst being able to appreciate its beauty cannot appreciate its power unless they fully submerge themselves in the water and become part of the current. The people that become part of the river, the people that become the continuous ebb and flow of the water, the forever changing patterns of ripples and tides, the sunken debris forgotten by all and missed by none – these people are musicians.

They understand the river better than the river does and when mere mortals hear just an incessant babbling of water over rocks and lapping against the banks, musicians hear something entirely different. They don’t hear the noise of the river, rather than the music of it. They have become part of the river and respect its ability to take them anywhere and away from anything. People who do not have the ability or the inclination to be part of the river become passive observers to something that at first appears as simple as a body of water or a string of chords, but to the river, and to the musicians, there is a far deeper and more complicated meaning to its composition.

When I read this I instantly began to think about the river in all its complexity and my mind drifted to the forest. During the day a forest is possibly one of the most breath taking and beautiful places you would be lucky enough to find yourself standing in and its omnipresence is astounding sometimes. Mile after mile of trees that have stood longer than your lineage and will outlast the best of us, intertwined forever with the earth through a connection of soil, roots and promise. Massive natural structures completely untouched by man that dwarf you into insignificance and remind you just how unimportant you actually are.

Sun breaking through bough after bough of fragile looking leaves, no two the same that seem so utterly breakable but are in fact intricate natural phenomena that put our peasant like cardio vascular system to shame. Trunks as wide as cars and armoured with bark that is so easy to break and impossible to replace. Stagnant earth swamps your head and on a hot day can become absolutely intoxicating. The smell of soft, damp, breathing wood and the muddled sense of belonging to the earth and it to you when standing in such a place.

Every possible crevice your eyes could search rich with life and death in equal quantities, a never quite silent place that is as unnerving as it is attractive. You could be a hundred miles away from the nearest human being or they could be hiding behind the nearest tree but the forest will never forsake your solitude. You came to it and you took the time to breathe with it, if only for a moment and if only coincidentally. For that single moment, you were alive with the rest of the world and in that single moment you were perfect.

Then you start to feel an unsettling kind of bewilderment radiating from your stomach and forcing your teeth to clench. The sun is dipping behind the broken boughs and shadow begins to steal the way out. It’s getting cold and suddenly there are too many trees, too many twisted skeletal remains of various fallen friends blocking your once safe path and threatening to send you spluttering onto the damp, dead floor. You start to shudder as shadow begins to envelope you as well as the forest, and your heart begins beating in your ears. Saliva pours into your mouth and you realise that you are frightened.

Because what was so beautiful just moments before the sun disappeared behind the now suffocating canopy of translucent leaves and insidiously shaped branches, is now one of the most intimidating places you dare to imagine. The liberating closeness of the trees now feels claustrophobic and the quaintly sporadic half walked paths that were roughly guiding you through to the end have now disappeared in the darkness and you are on your own and out of your element.

You are now alone in the dark with the earth and the earth doesn’t seem to like you very much anymore. The fractured roots of monolithic trees catch your feet and send a jolt of adrenaline straight to your already over excited heart. Getting out of the forest is all you can think about now. The sounds of crickets and birds are now haunting and unsafe, the low rumble of what you thought was a toad in the day light, the ruffling of leaves on the forest floor that would have been a rabbit were the sun still up, have now become the sounds of ravenous wolves and angry animals the likes of which your pressured mind need not comprehend for fear of complete and utter terror.

But there is one consistent in it all, one thing about the forest that never changes even when the light surrounding it does. Like water is needed to make a river a river, trees are needed to make a forest a forest and it is the likeness to these trees that call to mind the similarities between musicians and water.

Just as musicians are ever changing, flowing with what seems to be at times unbridled passion and unadulterated abandon for what convention has to say about how they choose to follow the bends in their banks, writers and the words they string together are stoic and unchangeable like the trees of a forest. A musician on stage performing a song can change it at any given moment, improvising or just following a tangent of unthinking trust that the music, the river, will guide them to the end of the performance unscathed.

Writers have a harder time adapting their work once it’s completed.  The moment those words pass through a press and onto the page, they are their forever, the deafening deepness of their roots hard to ignore or escape. Books do not flow, they do not adapt and their trunks are only soft when they are young. Once they are complete, finished and rooted in reality they stay the way they were made forever, or until someone cuts them down and rebuilds them in their own image.

We cannot improvise and we cannot comment, we are instead forced to stand on whilst the sun fades behind us and what you once treasured about the stories we told becomes marred with sadness and fear. We cannot uproot and clear a path for you to follow, we cannot lap against your ankles and offer you comfort when you so desperately need it.

All we can do is what we have always done; look on with concrete confidence and hope that even when the sun sets on our time together, your knowledge of and trust in the forest of the day will accompany you to the end of our affair with a deeper understanding of just how hard it is to be one tree in a forest, one drop in a river and one story that at one point, needed to be told.

It is through this understanding of relative simplicity that we cease to be rivers and forests, men and women, broken and whole and we simply become what we were always meant to be but never really took time to notice we were – alive.

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.

When I Dream of Rain

I was sitting outside of the art room with my headphones in listening to Cat Stevens singing about fathers and sons. It was raining but it was the see through rain that speckles the windows before the real storm breaks. The corridor smelt of plaster and heat, the radiators were turned up almost to the point of scorching.

I hadn’t slept and I was waiting for my art teacher to unlock the classroom door so I could get on with my after school lessons. I hadn’t been doing them for long and the whole process of going to school for two hours a day was new to me. It wasn’t helping me. It was hurting me. It was allowing me more hours of unguarded time when you weren’t there to stop me breaking my own heart.

My battery was dying and I was beginning to get anxious. I could handle it when there was music or a book, but I had nothing that day. I wasn’t even wearing shoes. If he had walked by at that moment I would have been sent back to that place, even further from you. Then the door at the other end of the corridor opened and I knew without looking up that it was you. I knew it was you because I felt you before I ever saw you.

I could feel you looking at me and as I began to cry you came to me and slumped down the wall onto the floor, side by side. You called me a wayward genius once and I called you a cunt more than once, but there was something that connected us. Maybe it was because we were both such good liars. We did it so well. I would tell you that I was always fine and you would always tell me that everything was going to be alright. They were the greatest lies we ever told and we told them to each other.

I slipped my headphones out and you asked me to come with you. I would have followed you anywhere and a couple of times I did. I sat on your desk and put my head phones back in. You watched me as I mouthed the words to Fast Car by Tracy Chapman and cried the tears of a teenager who was too young to know how far gone she was.

You put your hand on my chin and lifted my face up to meet your eyes. They were the glassy and as horrifically blue as ever. You took my headphones out, so softly. They fell to my neck and I heard my heart beating in my ears where music had been moments before. I don’t know if you ever fathomed what your hands did when they were on my body. It wasn’t sexual, it was almost … chemical.

You told me that people get addicted to other people. I took it as an insult and pushed your hand away. I could see that you were hurt and I liked it. I liked hurting you. I lovedhurting you, because you never stopped hurting me. All your words, your jokes, your manipulation of the rules and your time, none of it ever stopped it hurting. And you were too distracted to realise that what you were actually doing was killing me.

I told myself that the reason you said that about people being addicted to people was because I relied on you too much and you were pointing out that you were fast becoming just another pointless thing that made me feel good that I couldn’t live without. Just as I was about to leave you held my hand and I felt my stomach melt out of my knees.

Then you kissed me. You kissed me. You kissed me.

When I pulled away your eyes were wet. I wasn’t crying anymore. I was confused and I still am all these years later. I always thought you were a figment of my imagination and if people hadn’t have spoken of you in terms of reality I would never have mentioned the way you made me feel. But the truth of the matter is you are real and your words were real and every time you smiled or cried or kissed me, all of that was real too.

But now I look back and all I see is the notion of you. The promise that one day it would get better. The promise that you would never, ever leave me to face it alone. The promise that you and I were something far greater than what the world was allowed to see. The promise that somewhere, deep, in the dark part of your mind that tells you what we were doing was wrong you saw it as right and tried to convince me it was so.

You never convinced anyone. I find it hard to think of and every time I see your face in my mind I go back to that day when you first pressed your mouth against mine. November Rain by Guns n Roses was playing through my head phones hanging listlessly around my neck when your lips first grazed mine. Maybe I have better taste in music now, but I still cannot listen to that song.

I wonder if you ever think of me. If you ever think of the teenager I was when you took to kissing me and wonder what kind of adult that mess of a girl became. I wonder if you know now that although I no longer pay rent in the darkness, I stay there occasionally and almost always when finding myself in the shadows recall the strange way the rain fell against the windows that day.

Most of all I wonder that if were we to meet now, whether or not you would allow me to protect you from yourself the way you protected me. I wonder now if you used me as a distraction from what was going on in your mind. I wonder now if I ever meant anything more to you than what we ended up as.

I wonder now if you knew at the time, that I was unattainably and irrevocably in love with you. I wonder, every day, if knowing that would have changed your mind.

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.