The Trip II

Later on that day, we all went out for drinks. Adam, the guy from earlier whose name I had finally learnt, was deliberately avoiding me. I went to the bar, took three whiskey shots and bought him a beer. I wanted to make amends or at least let him know that I had the potential to be better.

Potential is such a weird thing. It’s like the future, the promise of something to come. Everyone has potential. Potential for greatness, for cruelty, for kindness, for love. Until you die. Then you just become the sum of your parts. Were you actually kind? Were you actually great? That’s all that matters. What you actually are. And at that point, I wanted Adam to look at me differently.

So I went up to him. He was sitting with my friend Monae’s new boyfriend, Max. I’m assuming Adam was his close friend, because as I approached he stepped in between us.

‘Having a good night?’ He asked, looking past me. He didn’t care about the question. He was just trying to distract me. So, I said.

‘I ran into Ellis earlier.’

And by earlier, I meant the day I had picked up the pills from Ellis. But Max didn’t wait to clarify. He ducked out sheepishly.

I sat down next to Adam and offered him the pint.

‘No, thanks.’ He said, folding his arms.

‘Go on,’ I said, ‘I’ve paid for it now.’

‘You drink it, then.’

‘I got it for you.’

‘Why?’

‘I was rude earlier. I’m trying to show you I’m not always like that.’

He took the pint.

‘Max says you are.’

‘Yeah, well. I think Max is a bit intimidated by me.’

‘Why’s that?’

‘Cos I know he was with Monae while she was still with Ellis.’

His eyes widened, and I realised I’d hooked him. That’s why I love secrets so much. If you reveal them at the right time, everything leading up to it is irrelevant.

He asked for details as he sipped his beer and I regaled him with a story that wasn’t mine to tell. I spoke in a whisper so he had to move closer. I looked at his lashes as he took it all in and I thought about how hypnotic it would be being fucked by him. Lying under him as he opened and close those big blue eyes with every thrust-

‘It’s not just Max, though.’ He said, when he’d finished his beer.

‘I know, it takes two to tango-‘

‘No, I mean it’s not just Max saying I should stay away from you.’

So we were back to this again.

‘People say stuff they don’t mean all the time. Like this afternoon, I didn’t mean to laugh-‘

‘They meant it.’

Under the table, I curled my hand into a fist.

‘I think you can tell that I’m sorry.’

‘But you haven’t actually said sorry.’

I dug my nails into my palms.

‘I bought you a drink.’

‘Yeah. Thanks. But you didn’t say sorry.’

His eyes bore into me. He was smirking. It was like he wanted me to be in the wrong. No. It was like he didn’t care who I was, like he’d seen enough. There was no use saying sorry because he’d made up his mind about me.

‘Well, if that’s how you feel.’

I got up from the table.

‘Enjoy the rest of your night.’

I picked up my coat before he could protest and marched for the door. He wasn’t going to get that apology. I was never going to apologize ever again.

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The Trip I

The second and, most importantly, final time I stared death in the face occurred on the same trip.

You won’t be surprised to know that something that started off so badly, ended much worse. After my near miss on the plane, I spent the rest of the holiday light-headed. I felt like I had been dislodged from reality. Like, instead of being in Sweden, I was floating alongside myself, watching the spectacle. Which was ironic, since that’s what most people think dead people do. And now that I’m dead, I can say: we don’t. It’s a very dangerous way to spend your time.

Here’s an example of what I’m trying to explain: I remember being at a meal. There was so many of us on the trip. Too many of us for the restaurant. We’d split into fours to get everyone seated, and it immediately reminded me of primary school. So in my head, I named all the tables like they did at school. Red table, blue table, green. But instead, I used less abstract nouns. Dumb table, Obnoxious table, Unbelievably Vain table.

I was having fun with it. I even started laughing to myself. The only other person on my table also started laughing.

‘Why are you laughing?’ I asked.

‘I dunno. You’re laughing.’

‘You just laugh cos other people are laughing?’

‘I laugh cos sometimes I miss the joke. I don’t want to be rude. You know, cos I’m deaf in one ear.’

I did not know he was deaf in one ear. To be honest, that was the first time I had spoken to him throughout the trip. It had turned into one of those open-ended, tell-who-you-want, kind of things and before you knew it you were sharing a bed with someone’s cousin called Ben who you may have met once at a Graduation party or a Housewarming, but no one knows for sure.

For some reason, either the surprise of it or my own shame, I burst out laughing. I laughed so hard that everyone turned to look at me. And I couldn’t stop. At first, the guy opposite laughed with me but then he got really uncomfortable. He kept blinking his big blue eyes like he was trying not to cry and I thought at that moment he had never been, no- No one had ever been more awkward or more beautiful. And I wanted to tell him, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t stop laughing.

Eventually, the laughter subsided to tears. I wiped my eyes on the tablecloth and went back to studying the menu like nothing had happened. I felt the eyes on me. Not just the eyes of the guy sitting opposite me, or the people I was with who were now rolling their eyes, or all the other patrons who were looking down their noses. It was my own eyes. I felt like I was standing over myself watching myself. And I didn’t find that funny at all.

 

The Pre Death Jitters

I was too young when I died. Most people will say that, but honestly, I was young in the way it counts. I had just really started to get it. To realise that there was a whole world outside of mine and instead of being liberated by it or excited, I found it overwhelming. It intimidated me and it made me hardnosed and stubborn. I kept butting my head against the unknown, daring it to fight me. Come on! Come and have a go!

And it did. Twice. The first, and unsuccessful, attempt was on the way to Sweden. I had taken two Valiums, or at least two pills that I thought were Valium. I’d bought them from my friend’s ex boyfriend, a guy I shouldn’t even have been talking to, let alone buying drugs from. I’d never taken any drugs before and never would take anything like it again, so to say it was out of character would be true but also, a boring cliche, so I won’t.

The thing was- I’d been having nightmares. Proper scream-inducing, jolting out of bed and wrestling with the covers level nightmares and they stared just before the holiday.

It started like this: I’d be walking up to the AirBnB we had booked. Surrounding the AirBnB was a tall green hedge, circular, like a moat between us and the rest of the world. Every time I turned around the hedge was right behind me, no matter how far forward I walked, how much closer to the door I got. I’d look to the left and the hedge would be there. I’d look to the right and the hedge would be there. I put the key in the door and I could feel the hedge against my back. I’d turn the key and the branches would be pressing in on me. I had no time, no space to open the door before I was slammed up against it, the branches of the hedge starting to pierce my skin.

I know what you’re thinking: She’s scared of a hedge? Everyone I’ve ever told started off with sympathetic eyes but as soon as they heard that a hedge was trying to kill me, their eyes would glaze over. I’d see them mentally check out. Even the most polite ones. The rude ones just out and out laughed.

As I got older (if you can call it that), I realised that the people who laughed probably recognised the fear better than anyone else. They’d almost always grip their seat as I described my face being crushed against the wooden door as thorns punctured my cheeks. It’s crazy how a person can cry and laugh all at the same time.

After two weeks of that same dream, I called the person I shouldn’t have been in contact with. He agreed to give me some of his Dad’s pills if I gave him information on my friend.  He assured me it was above board. He just wanted to know if she was seeing who he thought she was seeing now, and whether they’d started talking before or after he’d finished with her. I lied. He’d asked for information, he hadn’t asked for the truth. When I met up with him to get the pills, he asked me if she still mentioned him.

I said, ‘Yeah. Apparently one night she called your name out in bed. By accident. Or so she said. Maybe they’re into that, though. I don’t know.’

He nodded and handed over the pills.

‘You’re a bad friend.’ He laughed as he walked away.

‘Maybe.’

Maybe to you.

So that’s how I ended up on the plane with 2 pills that definitely weren’t Valium. I popped them like they were paracetamol. I was waiting to melt into a dreamless sleep but the opposite happened.

I got real sweaty and head high. I couldn’t sit still and at some point, I started crying but I don’t know when or why. I just remember my friend asking me why her blanket was wet and I guess I had been using it to hide my face? Who knows. I made it to the bathroom just as my heart started to beat out of my chest. Literally. I am so sure I could see it moving, forcing my whole ribcage forwards and backward and I slumped to the ground thinking this was the end. Thinking, Well, you’ve done it this time. You really have done it this time.

I leaned against the toilet. Just about able to cross my fingers. Willing myself not to die on an Easyjet flight.

To this day I still don’t know what he gave me. A couple of years later, he died of an overdose himself, so I guess he probably doesn’t know either.

 

Earth

We were on the balcony. He was leaning on the flower box, distracted by the heat. His elbow slipped in, speckled his shirtsleeve with dirt. He brushed it off with his hands, and then the dirt was on his palms. He brushed his hands together and then the dirt was on his shoes. The whole thing was farcical and he had a silly grin on his face.

‘Smells like home.’ He said and his smile swept all the way up to the corners of his eyes.

He pushed his hands under my nose and I took a deep breath in.

It smelt like dirt.

When I smiled back, it barely reached my ears.

‘You should wash your hands,’ I said, turning away before he could see me wilt, ‘I don’t want any of that muck on my dress.’

Persy: Drapes

The thing about Aiden is- he always gets what he wants and he gets it by doing nothing. Honestly. One time we had a decade-long argument about the drapes in the front room. He insisted they were peach. I said they were salmon. He said it probably didn’t matter anyway, but he was sure that I was wrong. So I said-

‘If it doesn’t matter, then why bring it up?’

‘I don’t know, Persy.’ He replied, ‘I just thought you cared about that stuff.’

I should probably provide some context. Our living room, at the time, had a colour scheme which had been mostly informed by the drapes.  The drapes had come from the old house, a house that had never needed drapes but was filled to the brim with them. At one point, we had drapes disguised as throws, as rugs, as table cloths. Drapes on drapes on drapes, even. It had been a little joke of ours since our old, old house had been so- I suppose desolate is the only nice way to describe it- that we had made a pact to go ridiculously over the top decorating the next one.

There were many houses between that house and the very last one. And by then the drapes had completely lost their jovial, light-hearted warmth. They were instead a reminder of a place that we were both slowly realising we could never go back to. They went up with no joy. They filled the room with no love. We never walked past it and prodded the other, saying-

‘Drapes on drapes on drapes, eh?’

We just didn’t talk about it.

Didn’t talk to each other at all. Aiden had work. I had work. We had split the domestic duties so that he got the kids and I got the house and there was no overlap. No reason to interject while the other was sinking further and further into the empty nothingness of modern day life.

Until the drapes.

I can’t remember what he opened with. or how he closed. I just couldn’t get the thought that all my work had come to nothing. That something was wrong in our showroom home. It was my job. It was one of my only jobs. And somehow, without me realising, it had changed colour with no warning and no prompting. Or had it?

If I had been looking at it objectively, and I can never look anything objectively when Aiden is around, I would have been able to decipher his coded message. For clearly, what he had wanted to say was-

‘I can’t bear to look at those drapes every day, Persy. I can’t comprehend how much has changed since we lived in Florence, and Marrakech, and Constantinople and Carthage. I know in the beginning it was bad, sitting on uncomfortable stone thrones, sleeping on a wooden bed that was too small. Your mother would visit and make you cry. You couldn’t get anything to grow down in Hades. But somehow, now, I think it was good. Am I crazy, or do you see it too? We thought we had nothing, but, in fact, we had everything. We had each other. We sacrificed so much to have the chance to grow together and it seems growing has actually torn us apart. Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I’d never taken you with me all those years ago.’

Something like that.

But Gods forbid he actually say it. Actually do something.

So he left the thought with me. Left it to me to destroy what was left of our marriage. Because I heard a different message in the following silence. I heard-

‘Take it down and start again.’

And I knew the minute it settled in my head that I could not start again. Not again. Couldn’t repeat the pause and reset combination again. I was spent. I was overdrawn.

There comes a time in every 2000 year old’s life when she must make peace with the fact that some things, some obstacles are insurmountable. That patience and love and understanding are not a fountain, but a well and the well will run dry if you dip in too much and too often. Being married to a man who is scared of his own voice is a sure fire way to turn that well into a cavernous abyss. And the abyss will start within you and then move between you. And then swallow one of you whole.

Aiden got what he wanted. I took the drapes down. I took the drapes with me, and I left. For good. The thing about me is- I never get what I want. But I’m very good at tricking myself into thinking I do.

 

Not in this timeline

When I finally got out, the world was…It wasn’t the same. Everything was painfully dull. After you watch so many people die, it’s hard to be focused on washing dishes, or brushing your hair. The world is flat and heavy but I feel lighter. Like something otherworldly, floating through it. I have no roots any more, nothing grounding me. Everything I was before, everything I became has been erased. And the weirdest part is, I have no desire to start again. I’m spent. I’ve had enough of trying. I just exist now. Living my life on mute. So when it finally comes time to take me out, I’ll have nothing to miss.

When I meet people their mouths move but I can’t hear anything. When I’m working, I turn the keys and I stack the shelves and I walk up and down with my clipboard, but my mind is elsewhere. I just do what I’m told and live in my head.

I can’t really describe it. This french guy who fixes the vans told me about the idea of multiple timelines. I think that’s close to it. In my head, there are many timelines and I can tune into whichever one I want. There’s this one, where I’m siting in a four by four room with no furniture, smoking cigarette after cigarette until I fall asleep. And there’s another one, where I’m living in a log cabin. Or another, where I have a dog.

My favourite is the one where V and I- I suppose actually we have normal names in that timeline, names like Ben and Rebecca – but we make it. We meet for the first time somewhere normal, at work or at church maybe. We fall in love in a romantic way. Candlelit dinners and picnics and holidays and smiles. We get married, we buy a house. We have arguments, sure, but they’re about such inconsequential things, like what colour to paint the hall or where to host the wedding reception, that they’re more fun than destructive. We get pregnant. Have a child. Have four. We’ve got photos on the walls. Family videos. Tricycles are lined up next to bicycles int he garden. Little clothes hand on the washing line. When we go out we walk hand in hand, kids running ahead.

It is the best part of my day, visiting that timeline. It’s always warm in the house. It smells like pastry. There’s always chatter, always giggling and excited exclamations. As I walk into the living room, someone runs up to me. The youngest, maybe. She has my eyes, and V’s smile. When I hold her, she smells like baby powder and biscuits. She clings to me and I choke up. She’s lost her first tooth, she tells me. Asks me if I’ll stay up and make sure the tooth fairy knows where to find it. Eventually she falls asleep on my lap, and V is beside me on the couch, and we’re just watching TV. It’s getting quiet now. Calm. I carry her up to bed. Swap her tooth for a two pound coin.

Then we’re finally alone. I play those scenes out slowly. They’re part foreign, part memory. I tell I love her over and over. Sometimes she says something back, sometimes she just looks at me. It doesn’t matter. She’s here. She’s here with me. We are wrapped around each other. She’s so soft and warm and mine. Mine, mine, all these things are mine. And no one can get to them. Not even me.

I would never be sick there. I would never be high. Never think about my adopted father, or my dead brother, or all the shit and piss and pain and blood I’ve seen. I’d never wake up in the night screaming. Never hurt anyone. Never leave V.

I’d just enjoy it.

Really, finally, enjoy being alive.

The nights are the hardest

I have nightmares. Or at least, I call them nightmares. They don’t necessarily happen at night, or even when I am asleep. But they keep happening.

She’s at my dinner table. She’s washing dishes at my sink.

There was a point where I didn’t recognise her anymore. And rather than watch her drift away, I chose to leave. I believe some people are capable of holding onto something until it turns to dust in front of them. I cannot imagine ever holding her in my arms and seeing nothing in her eyes.

She’s behind the counter at the supermarket. She’s a nurse on the cancer ward.

At first, she would hold onto me so tightly that when they prized her away, she’d take my sleeve with her. My hair. One time, my skin.

She’s wiping down the table next to me. She’s giggling into a phone.

When she came back, she tore at the scar. Punishment for letting her go. Her rage was just as intense as her sadness, and though she was making my suffer, I knew that she was suffering too.

She’s pushing a child in a pram. She’s ringing the bell on her bike.

To have that go away. To disappear completely. To see that bright spark turn to a dim flicker, a shadow of itself-

She’s pouring over my hand. She’s slamming the door in my face.

I packed a bag and left. She didn’t come after me. I thought it would be easy. Easier.

But I keep having these nightmares.

I’m driving back to my house. She’s in the middle of the street. I know she’s not real so I keep driving. But she doesn’t move. Just looks at me. Looks so sad. So I stop the car. I get out. She’s covered in flowers. As I approach her, she falls back. Lies prone, flowered arms crossed over her chest. I kneel over her. I see that she’s not sad. She’s dead. Her black eyes are grey. Staring.

The flowers are wreathes around her naked, decomposing body. Her stomach is bloating, bloating- the skin splits. 

Fingers reach out. An arm. I recognise a scar that stretches from the elbow to the wrist.

I’m climbing out of her. A version of me that I do not want, cannot meet right now. 

I run back to car. It won’t start. He’s ambling towards me, damp. Naked. 

I slam my head against the window. Over and over until my surroundings fragment, fall apart. When I am back in this time, this world, blood drips from a cut on my forehead.

I wonder if she still suffers like I suffer.