The door swung open, revealing my haggard reflection in the mirror above the sink in my old room. My bed in the corner lay perfectly made, as if waiting for my younger self to come running in and mess it up. She stood with her back to me looking out the window at the garden. I went to speak but my words stuck in my throat and I wretched. My insides dropped under the pressure of everything I wanted to say. I reached out to touch her as she turned to face me. Wasted tears burst from my eyes as her empty sockets pulled me in toward the rotted grimace that used to be my mother’s face.
I woke suddenly, my retinas burning under the glare of a tube of sunlight that cut through the smoky air of my room. I sat up and blinked until the flashing stopped and the smudges cleared. I reached around the bed for a bottle of water. I finished in three gulps. Ignoring the impending coughing fit, indicated by the alarmingly loud rattle that accompanied each inhale, I reached for my box and began to roll. Once I’d tapped it level and twisted the end, I paused:
My lungs feel like hula-hoop packets.
Don’t think about it.
I stared at the flame intently, going cross-eyed as I lit the joint. After the flame went out, I found peaceful distraction in watching the smoke tumble up; thick, bright white wisps alongside thin streaks of electric blue cascaded upwards, ascending hurriedly causing it to twist and coil around itself, as if dancing to the beat of the universe. I exhaled a barrage of grey cloud, which tore through the elegant form, creating momentary storm clouds that eventually grew still to a thin mist.
The mist that was always hanging around, filling my room; I never used to think I’d smoke, let alone in my room. But for as long as I can remember, there’s been this kind of mist in my head. As a kid it was there, waiting in the background; and as I grew up it became thicker and darker and less easy to ignore.
My head feels stuffed.
I reluctantly dragged my attention away from the smoke and glanced over at her. She was sound asleep, of course. I should be asleep. I couldn’t remember the last time I had slept for more than 2 hours. I finally had nothing left to distract me from my surroundings so I heaved my gaze up to survey the damage; the floor was a state, a wasteland of empty baggies, parched water bottles and an array of different buttes. On the desk, amongst various books of past students, there was half a cracked plate on top of which sat the powdery memoirs of the night before. This sight finally brought my attention to the ever-increasing dull ache, emanating from deep within my nose. As I sniffed, it snorted in condemnation at me. More baggies littered the table, interspersed with wraps made from old unwanted takeaway menus; scrape away the Coke and you’ll find chicken Chow Mein.
All of a sudden I just had to leave. With energy that took me by surprise, I jumped up, pulled on a pair of trackies, a jumper and made for the door. I stopped as a massive head rush left me momentarily blind. Once my vision returned I sighed, then turned back into the room to gather spliff-building materials, most importantly a lighter. I picked a couple of buds out of the all-too-quickly diminishing bag and left it by her head. She’ll want that when she wakes. I left my phone next to the weed so she’d know not to worry.
Once outside I took a deep breath in, filling my lungs to capacity. It hurt. After a brief coughing fit, a familiar wave of panic began to engulf my entire body.
My insides started churning as my breath quickened so I started walking. Away from the cars, the cement, the other people. As I found a comfortable pace and left the city behind for rolling hills of green, the knot in my stomach began to slowly unwind. I wasn’t sure how long I’d been walking or what I’d seen, I was stuck inside my head. I used to think being around others would distract me from wanting to kill myself; but company made me so aware everything thing I wasn’t. If our reality is only confirmed by experience, then the more time I spent alone, the more I could pretend I didn’t exist. And if I didn’t exist then finally I could stop poisoning the lives of those I loved.
That’s how it all started anyway.
A man calling his dog in the distance dragged my attention back to the material world. I looked around and caught my breath; the view over the city was incredible. When I’d left the house it had been humid and overcast, but since I’d been walking, the clouds had cleared to reveal a glorious pale blue sky, lit up by a furnace of a sun. I wished I could just throw myself into it, right then and there; drown in the vast expanse of celestial light. I had a knife in my bag, I always carried it. I’d thought about killing myself, for as long as I could remember. Honestly, I was surprised I’d made it to 19. But not that day. No, that day the beauty of a sunny sky saved my life. That day, I didn’t want to die when the universe was trying so hard to convince me to live. For that day.
With that decision made, I sat down to roll a zoot. If I wasn’t going to slit my throat, I may as well have a spliff.
I didn’t know how long I’d been there, staring at the front door. I found some Ketamine in my bag on the hill and forgot everything. I could see the light was on, I couldn’t remember what it meant. I’d stayed on the hill until sunset and I think it was light when I left. I hadn’t noticed the darkening sky on my walk home. Now I felt a chill and found myself squinting against the unfocussed blackness. I’d forgotten whether or not it was the right house. I took a deep breath, stared at the lock and slid my key in.
‘Yo man, that you?’ Her voice wafted out of my room, draped in the familiar scent of Cannabis.
‘Yeah, I -’ just realised I hadn’t thought of an excuse, ‘Had to run to the shop.’ I lied. Terribly. ‘How long have you been up?’
‘A few hours,’ she replied, avoiding my gaze. She was my best friend, we’d been friends since school. Sitting next to her in A-Level Psychology was the best thing I ever did. We even ended up at the same Uni. Right now she couldn’t look at me and the worst part was I didn’t give a shit; I couldn’t even if I wanted to.
‘Oh cool, well yeah, I really needed some air.’ I clumsily explained. My brain sluggishly perused topics of conversation and landed on drugs. ‘You got the weed, yeah?’ Obviously, the air around me was thick with evidence.
A painfully awkward silence followed, but I made no effort to break it. I was so tired already and company wore me out. It took everything in me not to scream out that I was not OK. I’d often imagine it, during those endless insomniac nights of my adolescence; picture being with her and telling everything: about the hole in my chest, the nagging voice in my head, the constant urge to end it all in one foul swoop; but then, in reality I’d try to bring it up and choke as my throat closed, as if her presence in the empty space around me was too much pressure for my lungs to stand. They crumpled and I would change the subject.
‘So, what’s going on?’ She finally asked.
‘What do you mean?’ I answered her question with my own, stupid one.
‘C’mon, dude. You’ve been weird for ages. I haven’t seen you in weeks; you haven’t been to Uni in about a month. Did you even submit any work?’
‘Yeah, of course I did.’
In fact I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to make it into my second year.
‘Ok, if you say so. And what about your meds?’
My heart skipped.
‘What about them?’
She reached under the sofa she was sat on and pulled out 3 boxes of my favourite chemical, Fluoxetine. As if we were in some intervention scene in a shit American teen film, she then proceeded to empty out each box, revealing the last 3 months untouched happy pills. She still hadn’t looked straight at me.
‘Look, it’s not what you think -’
‘Don’t lie to me.’ For the first time she looked right at me,
Her eyes turned to the floor once again. It looked like she was pissed off or hurt even, but honestly I didn’t know why she cared so much.
‘Trust me, they’re not working. All they did was make me angry, I spoke to the doctor and the best he could say was ‘at least you don’t feel sad.’ Which was an assumption on his part. And, I mean, I’m tired of dependency.’
She let out a small, sarcastic laugh. It even sounded stupid to me; I just wanted this conversation to be over.
‘Look, it’s not my place, whatever. But there’s three months medication there. You know what happened three months ago. But anyway, everyone’s going to be here soon.’
‘Why is everyone coming here soon?’
‘Are you joking?’
‘What? About what?’
‘We’re all going out. Mate, it’s your birthday.’
‘Shit,’ I picked up my phone and the screen shone back letting me know it was 20:20 on my 20th.
I picked up my phone and unlocked the screen, revealing 29 missed calls and 1 text, each from my sister (or Twat: her alias in my contacts). I opened the message and it read:
‘ANSWER YOUR FUCKING PHONE!!!!!! I’ve been ringing you for days. No surprise you’re being the selfish brat you always were. Get the fuck home, dad needs us.’
She was right; I’d been ignoring her calls for three days now. I just couldn’t be bothered with yet another phone call lecture from her on how I’m a waste of space; I had enough of that from myself. The time on the phone read 20:20, I always thought it was weird when that happened. I selected ‘Twat’ in my contact list and pressed the dial button. The ringing seemed to last forever. Suddenly her voice broke through,
‘What the fuck are you playing at?’
‘Yo, sorry I – ’
A gaggle of voices and knocking on the door snapped me back into the room. She looked at me with a fear in her eyes I didn’t recognise.
‘Are you gonna be OK?’
I pulled the corners of my mouth into, what I hoped would be, a smile and nodded. She didn’t look convinced but she didn’t protest. As the knocking increased she got up to open the door. I sat and thought about the look in her eye until they all came running into the room wishing me the happiest of birthdays. It was my birthday but I wasn’t happy, at least they got something right. After the initial madness, the drinks began to flow and everyone started ‘getting ready.’ I never really took part in this ritual; I couldn’t quite get it right. Looking around, all of them were so pretty before they’d even made their faces up. Then they’d sit and stare in the mirror until their make-up was finished, enhancing natural beauty I could only dream of. I couldn’t look at myself that long without smashing the mirror and slicing myself with the shards. Each of them took turns in asking if I was all right at different points. Each time I hoarsely replied that I was fine, just a bit tired. Each time she looked at me, not thinking I could see her. I sat and observed the 5 girls that were here to celebrate my birthday. They weren’t my friends they were hers. It had always been like this, since school she’d made friends and they’d had to put up with me. She was my carer. I found I cared less and less about articulating any kind of normal conversation, so I sat in the corner and tried to be invisible.
He sighed with an air of worry, tinged with impatience. I looked at him and tried to keep my face neutral, to no avail.
‘Look,’ he said finally, ‘you seem to be really fucking sad all the time.’
‘I know. I’m sorry, it’s not your fault.’
I wished I could blame him, though. The closer he pulled me the further away I’d drift, the more he loved me the more I hated myself. That really was my own problem.
‘If something is wrong I want to help, but I can’t until you talk to me about it.’
I suppressed a laugh; there was so much I hadn’t spoken about. Sharing wasn’t my thing. I looked him in the eye and ran my fingers down his chest. He was hard before I’d reached his waist. The glazed look that swept over his face let me know that the conversation was over. For now. I breathed out and climbed on top of him. There was something about the sex we had, something I’d never felt before. He made me feel like every other guy was just filler, if you could excuse the pun. I felt like I was in a book, like I was in love in the 1800’s. I hated it. I felt vulnerable and I couldn’t trust myself to be with someone like him. His fingertips dug into my thighs as I felt his body convulse. He pulled me forward and our lips met as we both came. The French refer to the orgasm as ‘la petite mort’ or ‘the little death’; the Romantics used to believe that at the point of climax the souls of those taking part left their bodies and intertwined with one another in a celestial embrace. It was at this point I finally understood what they meant. This was the last time I was ever going to see him, and I knew it. So I let a piece of my soul pass through my lips as a gift. He’d given me so much, it was the least I could do.
Once they’d all finished their make up and respective bottles of wine, they started clicking in my face until my focus was dragged back into the room.
‘We’re heading to the club now, it’s free before midnight, init.’ She said with the same look of fear in her eyes. No one else seemed to notice.
‘OK,’ I whispered, coughed and then continued, ‘let’s do this.’
Each of them knocked back a few rocks of ecstasy wrapped in rizla papers. One of them offered me a little wrap. I tried not to wretch as I shook my head. I had rather rinsed MDMA a while ago and had no intention of ever taking it again. As we set off I wish I’d made some kind of excuse, but luckily the club was on the seafront, only a ten-minute walk down the road. We arrived and it was already packed. As the rest of them made their way to the bar, I went into room one and claimed my space in the darkness of the back corner. At first I stood still, eyes closed, just letting the snares clap and the bass break through me. My head started nodding as the sound rippled through the air and brought out in me a cathartic necessity to dance. So I danced. I danced harder than I ever had, even during my time as a die-hard raver I hadn’t danced this hard. I felt the beats jerk me from movement to movement. I opened my eyes to see the floor flying at me from all different directions, I had no idea what I was doing, and then I noticed I was screaming. I’d spent as long as I could repressing an innate urge to scream and cry, but I’d never gotten around to releasing it. Now seemed like the perfect time, muffled by the deafening music I could scream as loud as I wanted.
I zoned back in as the tinny, robotic tones announced my stop. Home. Or whatever that was supposed to mean. As I walked the road I grew up on, the old familiar hiraeth began to rise up from my stomach. I never knew what it was, but I spent my entire life feeling like I didn’t belong, yearning for a place to feel at home, God knows I didn’t feel it with my family.
That’s why I was always running away. I thought it would be safer that way. I thought I could protect them.
I walked into the house and my sister was in the living room, her back turned, she spoke without bothering to face me.
And that was it.
I slowly scaled the stairs, gravity becoming stronger and stronger the higher I got, until finally I was on the same white-carpeted landing I used to know so well but it felt like my body was at the bottom waiting for me. He had obviously heard me as his voice came from my old bedroom, sharp and meditated, just like when I was in trouble as a kid; I heard his tone quiver with restraint.
‘I’m in here.’
I took a deep breath and pushed the door open, revealing my haggard reflection in the mirror opposite the door. He was stood by my desk looking out the window. Everything that had made the room mine had been taken down, there were unmarked boxes full of my stuff all over the room. I almost didn’t recognise it. The bed lay unmade, in bits on the floor.
‘Hello,’ I tentatively attempted.
‘I don’t want you here long. I’m surprised you’re back.’
‘Of course I came back. I’m sorry.’
‘Too late. She was with us yesterday.’
Yesterday. A word meaning the day before this day, a harmless word with no agenda. Semantically, I don’t think a word has ever hurt me so much before. Yesterday I was unaware. Yesterday she was alive. Today I am aware. Today she is dead. It’s weird how life fucks with you like that.
‘I only wanted you to come back so I could say this to you and be sure that you understood.’ On this he turned to face me. His visage was stained a sickly grey colour, once plump now sagging and gaunt. I was braced for him to shout, but now I wasn’t so sure he could. He continued in a strained tone,
‘I want you to know that it was your fault. 2 years ago you just left and we heard nothing from you except a five-minute phone call every few months. Then three months ago she had a turn and ended up bed-bound until the early hours of yesterday morning. She said your name and passed away. You are no longer a part of this family. She was ready to forgive you right up to the moment-’
He stopped. It looked like he was about to cry. My whole body was numb. I stammered and stuttered that this was never what I wanted, I couldn’t feel things like normal people, that I ran away to protect them from me. All my protestations dissipated, however. He looked right at me and said ‘you can leave now. And don’t come back.’
I couldn’t work out how long I’d been dancing, the electronic mess of sounds all merged into one and I had nothing to judge it by. All I knew was that something in me had changed, a sort of calm had started to spread about my body, bringing with it clarity of mind I’d only ever experienced on Acid. Unable to find my ‘friends’ I decided to go outside for a cigarette. I passed her on the way out; as I tried to slip by unnoticed she grabbed my arm and gazed at me in fear once more. I turned to her and smiled a smile that, for the first time in a long time, actually felt real. She followed me out. The smoking area was packed with black eyes, swinging jaws and I love you’s pouring as profusely as the sweat. I avoided it and started rolling on the pavement on the other side of the fence. She stood in front of me and without saying anything, started to roll her own.
‘You OK, yeah?’ She asked, sheepishly.
Her tenacity touched me. I let out a brief laugh and nodded.
‘Oddly enough I am actually. I really needed that dance.’
She looked mildly convinced and we puffed in silence for a bit. Then she took a deep breath and started,
‘look, I know whagwan right. But, it wasn’t fair of your dad to blame everything on you. That’s a lot of shit for one person to deal with. Especially someone like you. And I know you blame yourself for everything with him, but he should’ve thought about what he was getting into before he said all he did. And to do it by text was just a massive par. None of-’
‘Stop. It’s OK. It really is. I ran away from my problems and they caught up with me. And as for him, I kept so much hidden he never stood a chance. I’ve had every opportunity to be happy, but it just doesn’t seem to sit right with me.’
She looked kind of crestfallen, but seemed relieved that I was speaking to her. In fact, that’s the most I’d said on either subject to anyone. She was always there, always wicked. I’d miss her the most, definitely. She flicked her butte into the gutter and started to go back inside.
‘In a minute. It’s a bit intense in there, I might just stay out here and breath a bit.’
The familiar look of fear spread over her face and she stopped. Looked right into my eyes and then nodded, smiled and wished me a happy birthday. We shared a hug and she went inside. The wave of calm washed over me, immersing my entire body in warm glow of comfort; something I was not akin too.
I made my way slowly to the edge of the beach, and before I took the first step onto the pebbled mess I turned around, looked at the club one more time and thought of her inside it. One solitary tear came to my eye, burst over the edge and slowly left a shining trail down to my jaw. The first tear I’d cried in 5 years. A smile spread gently across my face as I stepped onto the beach. I walked and walked until I was stood at the very edge, watching the waves lap at my toes. I was stood on the edge of the country and I’d never felt so alive.
For so long I feared turning 20, I thought it would be the end of the world. But I liked it; I felt brand new, clear and fresh. I’d been devastatingly low and unimaginably high. I’d met some amazingly influential people, and some equally as bad. I’d learnt all my lessons the hardest way, but I can’t say it hasn’t been fun. And now I felt reborn. I felt like I could take it all. And I wanted to stay this way. But I knew it was only temporary, soon enough there’d be more lessons to learn, more pain to bear. Well I for one could not be arsed. Every time I closed my eyes all I envisioned was the last time I saw my mother’s face alive, the worry lines etched by me personally. I saw his loving gaze, mingled with the misinformed fear. I couldn’t do it anymore. I hoped they knew that none of any of it was their fault. Dad, I hoped he could find it in him to forgive me.
I was ready to take responsibility for myself.
Old enough to look back and adequately survey a period of time in an objective manor. Old enough to know – to opt out.
Thanks for the ride, but I’v had enough.