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.

Taking Liberties: Julius Caesar

So recently I watched a production of  Julius Caesar and it struck me that Shakespeare, who I thoroughly enjoy, can be a bit, well, verbose. I think it’s something I struggle with too, but it’s much more noticeable when peppered with doths and thous.

I usually have an unfair advantage with theatre, in that I’ve read a lot of plays. But I have not read Julius Caesar, and for the first time in a long time, I found myself noticing the play and not following it. So it got me thinking:

Why is it when theatremakers want to ‘modernise’ Shakespeare they always just end up changing the setting, or the  costume, or the genders of the characters?

Is there a way to keep the imagery and metaphors while at the same time, making the play a little easier to follow?

As a generally muted person, how can I relate to the overwrought emotions of a Shakespeare performance?

So I decided to have a go at tackling those questions by rewriting the scene where Cassius visits Brutus after the death of Caesar. Read on.


 

I want to leave, Brutus.

(Approaching him) Now, Cassius. This is the time for us to stand together, brother.

I’m not your brother! Okay? I’m just a member of a conspiracy you happened to get involved in! One that should have ended a long time ago, but, for some reason, some oversight, has twisted into this- abomination that I don’t recognise. I don’t want any of this! I did what I set out to do and the results are what they are. There is nothing I can do about it now, so let me go home. I need you to let me go.

This feeling will pass.

You don’t understand! If I stay here any longer, I’ll lose my mind.

You’re exaggerating.

And you’re not listening!  I shouldn’t have come this far in the first place! Let me go. Please. I’m not doing you any favours by being here.

You’re doing me many favours, actually, without even realising.

Then, let me rephrase: You’re not doing me any favours by keeping me here. We will lose-

(Turning away from him) Stop it, Cassius-

We will, though, unless you send me away! I am not a warrior, Brutus. I’m not a commander. I’m a man. A man who spoke too rashly and acted too quickly. You will lose if you continue to take my advice.

Then don’t consult me about the war! We can talk about something else.

What else is there? The games? The Lupercalia? Should we sit and discuss the murder we committed? Run through it scene by scene, like a play? (Forcing his knife into Brutus’ hand) You take this knife, and I’ll pretend to be Caesar! (Kneeling) Put me out of my misery, Brutus.

(Throwing the knife aside) This isn’t a game, Cassius.

(Jumping up) Yes! Exactly! It was never a game. What we did with our two hands was snatch a life. We took control of something that was never ours to control.  We were stupid- I was stupid to think that killing Caesar would be a quick fix, an reversal, a slight shift. What we have created- What I led us to create, and I can take full responsibility, is worse than what came before. (Turning away) We thought we were liberating Rome by killing one of her fathers but what have we given her instead? Freedom or Chaos?

Chaos is not something to fear. In the beginning, there was chaos.

Yes and nothing else. For centuries. Is that what you want? Is that why you plunged that knife into his heart, so we could be ravaged by war for centuries? In the beginning there was chaos, yes. But this is not the beginning. Life has already started. We have this great land, this spirit, this history. To return to chaos would be backwards, would be wrong. A sin against the very state that we made Caesar bleed for. What we created, what I missed in my patriotic mania, my jealousy even, was that we are a civilisation now. And we damage our own foundations when we behave in uncivilised manners.

What should we have done then, Cassius? Do you think democracy would have saved us? Do you think we could have talked Caesar down?

Down from what exactly? From ambition? From pride? From our pride? Our ambition? No, Brutus. It has never been the task of men to judge their peers and cut down those whose senses are heightened. That belongs to the gods. That is why we have the Fates. Caesar’s crime was being beloved, and being beloved is not so great a height, when you remember how fickle the rabble is. I was beloved once. You were beloved once. And now we are here. Called traitors and conspirators. (He paces the room, distracted)  Nothing is permanent, Brutus, and if we had practiced patience- (He changes direction) Who would have thought that such a quick act would have led to these long and tumultuous years? If I’d known- (He turns to Brutus) But isn’t that always the way?

So impatience and jealousy led us here?

That is what I have finally understood. At my very core, I am impatient, I am jealous and you must not let me lead you again. Send me home, Brutus. Or better still, don’t send me home. Don’t let me face my mother, my children, my countrymen while I  wear this shame. Exile me. Exile yourself! It’s what we deserve for robbing Rome of a father, and robbing ourselves of Rome as we knew it. For after this nightmare will come another and I would sooner gouge my eyes out than witness my city burn.

Junior

There is a certain power that comes with being aloof. Some people have nice eyes or sweet voices, but aloof people, we have mystery. The mystery is what keeps you coming back for more. You wonder if today will be the day you break down my walls and find out what’s at the heart of me. And I know that. So all I have to do to keep you around is never let you in. Never. You won’t leave without an answer, so you’ll never leave me. I keep you, for as long as I want you, because you’re weak and live for a good riddle. Or probably because your dad did the same thing to you. You recognise it in me and mistake its familiarity for comfort. It’s not. It’s not comforting. You should be repulsed. You should run in the opposite direction, because this is not a gimmick. I’m not playing at being broken, I just am. You want to know, need to know why I’m so gloomy, so comfortable with being alone. You cycle through causes, each one getting more and more romantic. ‘He’s a weirdo’, to ‘He’s lonely’ to ‘His dad walked out on him’. But the truth doesn’t matter. It will never be as good as what you imagined. It will never help you find the cure.

There isn’t one. You’ll go on trying to get at me, to get to know me and I’ll keep holding you at arms length. Cos I don’t have nice eyes and I don’t have a cute smile. I have a lot of anger and distrust and fear. I wear that shame the way he did because I have his name.

Most people, when they leave you, they just leave you. Pack a bag and disappear into thin air. Recollected, if ever, in whispers. You can forget about them. You can even begin to wonder if they ever existed. But my dad, it’s like he branded me. Stamped his name across my chest so that everywhere I go I get that look. Any place he’s been before, it’s like I’ve been there before too. They look at me like I’m something familiar even though I’ve never met them before.

What’s your name again?

I mumble it, but it still clicks. Still registers. I get a knowing smile and dig in the ribs.

Freddie’s son.

No. Not Freddie’s son. Just Freddie. I am Freddie. I am not his son, not just his son. But it’s no use. When you hear that click, watch it register, it’s already too late. Freddie, the Freddie that I am, evaporates. The phantom of my father stands in his place.

It happens anywhere, everywhere. I’m never quite prepared. One time I was at the greasy spoon around the corner, breaking up with my girlfriend and it happened. Another time I was at a church for my cousin’s wedding and it happened again. The weirdest ones are the furthest away. A pub in Manchester, for example. I walk through the door, someone hears my name, and there’s suddenly a swarm. Everyone thinks they know me. Everyone wants to tell me stories. Stories. Can you imagine what that’s like? People reciting memories to you, your own memories sometimes and you haven’t got a clue what they’re talking about? You’ve deleted them. You’ve actually removed them from your mind because they’re too painful to recall.

I met you when you were a boy, just a ickle boy. So high. You were bouncing on yer daddy’s knee, dya remember?

I saw you at Southend. You had a bucket hat on, sucking on a piece of rock. You and your cousins and your uncles and your dad. Do you remember?

I bought you a silver rattle for your christening. Engraved. Real fancy. I know your dad probably teefed it, but do you remember seeing it?

That one I did remember. I did recall seeing it in its box once in a while, when we would be moving and mum would forget what was inside. And then very abruptly, I remember seeing the box empty. I remember my mum yelling at him on the phone and I remember he was dead silent.

Hunger of the Pine

Getting off a person is a lot like getting off a drug. There are ups and downs of varying lengths and triggers that you never expect will hit you with such force.

From day to day, your feelings about the situation change. You don’t care about him anymore. You never cared about him. You just liked the idea of him. You liked the way he made you feel, and not necessarily how he did it. You don’t trust him, you can’t trust him and this, all of it, cutting him off, cutting him out of your story, is for the best.

But you love him. Or at least, it feels like you do. You’ve felt things like this before, but not to the same degree. Not in this overwhelming, painfully raw way. You loved being with him. That is true. You loved what he smelt like and his smile, his smile-

His smile was a lie. Everything he ever did, or said, was a lie. Those things were nothing to him, he would tell anyone. There was nothing special about you.

But he made you feel special. He saw you. He spoke to you in a way that got you to feel safe, for the first time, with someone other than yourself. And that’s important. That means something. That there’s someone out there for you. That maybe he could be that someone-

He left. He left. And every time you meet up, he leaves you all over again. Reopening the wound over and over, not giving you room to recover. Maybe, he likes you like this. On the edge of your seat, drinking him in. Aching. Pining. Someone to come back to when his confidence is low. Someone to reassure him that he is loved, liked at least. So he comes back, he seduces you, you start to fall and before you can catch yourself, he’s gone. Left you behind while he continues his life without you in it. Writes you out, like this is his story. Is that what you do to someone you love? Someone you care about? Is that that the kind of relationship you want?

But he’s only human and humans make mistakes. Maybe he’s as confused as you are. Maybe he’s just as insecure. Maybe hunkering down and letting this blow over, ignoring all these messy feelings, is how he protects himself. Just like you.

And that makes him a coward. You can’t build a life with two coward. You deserve more than that. You want more than that. You are deluding yourself if you think you can make something with a person who isn’t strong enough to know what they want. What you want. Who isn’t strong enough to make it happen.

But do you know what you want?

You want him. You want him always. To speak to him always, hear him always. Look at him, touch him-

It’s not healthy. It’s not rewarding. There is nothing glorious about this, nothing here to crave. Relationships require two people. Two. And at the moment, there is only one. There is only you. And by that logic, there is no relationship. There is nothing to mourn. You miss him and that’s fine. That’s allowed. He was your friend. But what you think you’re missing, this great life the two of you could have had, never was. He never was. Never was yours. You started to build, wanted to build and keep on trying to build, an alter. Some great shrine to this pure and perfect love, even though the foundations are on sand. Worse than sand, dust. Worse than dust, nothing. Air. A vacuum.  It’s a thing that you do and have done and are doing right now. But you must focus on what’s real: He wasn’t for you. He was close to it, but he was never going to be yours.

That’s what real. The life, the prospect, the dream, the cusp of something, was all just that- Abstract nouns. In real life, there was nothing. Is nothing. And that’s what hurts. That you feel so strongly about something that isn’t tangible, never was. It’s okay to dream, but you lost your way and thought the dream was real. The dream was happening, taking shape before your eyes. And now you’re both mad at him and mad at yourself for not being more present. More careful. Smarter. You do know what’s real and what is not, but you thought, maybe this time, fantasy might trump reality. Because, in reality, you’re bored. You’re lonely. And he looked like he could take you away from that. But here you are. Here you always were.

So now, back to the lull. The silence. You don’t ache anymore. You feel nothing. And there’s a kind of relief in that. You have pressed reset. Your mind stops buzzing and plaguing you with fanciful thoughts and all you’re left with is you. You look at yourself for the first time in a while. See yourself for what you are. Who you are. What you want, what you need. You can spell it out, you can touch it. You can make a choice to either grow or regress. It’s entirely in your hands. You’re in control again.

So close your eyes. Properly this time. Face the darkness, the unknown. Tomorrow will come, and maybe you will get answers or opportunities and maybe you won’t. But that sadness, that desperation, that displacement – it will dull, get duller until you think of him with polite indifference again. Like when you first met. Reset.

 Oh, him? You’ll say. Yeah, he was my friend. Just a guy who used to be my friend.

Be You

I attended a careers fair recently, and during one of the panels the main pieces of advice they gave us was: BE YOU.

And it got me thinking. What the hell does that even mean? Should I walk into an interview and tell them about my daddy issues? I’m not sure how or why that would get me employed, but it does in fact make me who I am. So I should let the tears flow, right?

The truth is: I don’t know how you’re supposed to market internal things.

For example, I think too much about television. It’s borderline obsessive. And I’m not exaggerating. I have stills and sound bites that play over and over in my head. Betty shooting at the birds in Mad Men. Don throwing money at Peggy in Mad Men. Joan finding Lane Pryce’s body in Mad Men. Most of Mad Men, actually. Do I put that on my CV? Or do I wait till the interviewer asks me about myself to say ‘The thing that made Don and Peggy’s relationship so special was the fact that it transcended ideals of friendship. It was a mishmash of love, and respect and envy and pride. Shame. It was pure. It was nurturing. It was both ugly and honest. Also I was born in London.’

I have very particular compendiums of knowledge. I’ve been told that makes me ‘quirky’. But quirky is another word I don’t understand. How is quirky a skill that’s necessary in an accountancy? I can tell you so far it has not proved useful at all. In fact it alienates a lot of people and sometimes even offends. So what am I to do with the stuff I know? What job could possibly need someone who knows about men’s shoes, Nollywood, Ancient Greek Drama, taking out tracks of weave quickly and efficiently, 90’s hip hop, Latin Language, Kings of Leon, Harold Pinter, Marlon Brando, true crime, coat styles and casseroles? And do the things that I know make me who I am, or is it the person that I am that makes me interested in these things?

The phrase ‘BE YOU’ is so complex, it’s like being left in sea of words without a life jacket.

Does it mean how I respond to situations?  My dry humour? Should I enter the room and immediately start mocking the interview or should I wait until they offer me the job?

And I’m not funny all the time, or in an accessible way all the time. Sometimes I can be painfully serious. Sometimes I can be dangerously absent minded. Sometimes I switch on my computer and think: This is it. This is my life for the next forty years, and it makes me want to scream and or quit. Is that a professional trait or should I keep that one tucked away.

I can be disinterested, easily bored and highly irreverent. During these times, I have been known to make a mountain out of a mole hill, just to entertain myself. I wrote a film about such a situation, where a guy loses his mug and goes on a mini epic quest to discover its whereabouts. I have the ability to be that guy, and also to be the person observing that guy and thinking: what a loser.

I know a lot about current affairs, but it doesn’t interest me nearly as much as reading articles on Vulture. I have no stake in the  Kesha/Dr Luke drama, but it doesn’t stop me scoring the page for updates. What am I going to do with this information? Nothing probably. But it’s a thing I do. Just because I can.

I’m passionate about a lot of things.  A LOT OF THINGS. I don’t know how you could be a writer and not want to consume as much information with as much fervour as possible, but I can see how ‘broad general knowledge’ could read as ‘generic words to fill up blank space on empty CV. Disregard.’

I find emotions messy and distracting, so I cannot describe myself as ‘trusting’ or ‘tempestuous’ or ‘happy’ like other people might. Bubbly, I am never. Hopeful, even less. But if you put a problem in front of me, I’ll solve it. I might not do it record time, but I’ll sort it in the easiest, least painful way possible. I’m hyper logical, I see things in parts and then as a whole, which means I’m good at finding needles in haystacks. Or at least I would be, if I wasn’t visually impaired.

I’ve never had time for small talk. I don’t see the point in it, and I never feel more wasted than I do asking people I don’t know about weekend plans I won’t remember. But I love talking about big things, broad things, lofty things. Things that might seem silly, or insane, or personal or inappropriate, because that’s how ideas form. I’ve never puzzled over a conversation that’s started ‘Terrible weather’. But some of my favourite bits have come from deliciously absurd thoughts like ‘How do I know  if you can actually read, though?’ (You had to be there.)

I’m an organised, well presented whole made up of misshapen, bordering on contradictory parts, and it has taken me a long time to mould all the above into a person that can walk and talk and hold conversation. Even hold attention at times, if I may brag. I don’t really like the idea of deconstructing it and reducing myself to a cliché phrase like ‘I’m a graduate, passionate about TV and eager to make my mark in this highly competitive industry’.

Unless, of course I can get away with an addition:  I’m a graduate, but then aren’t we all? Madly in love with TV, because TV has never read my text and then not replied. Eager to make my mark in this highly competitive industry, where everyone wants to be famous and hardly anyone wants to be interesting.