I had a flashback of this house party that I went to a few years ago, where I was sitting in the kitchen sink drinking lukewarm vodka out of a Sports Direct mug and talking to a guy who had a portrait of Jack Kerouac tattooed on his right pec and he was gorgeous but a total arsehole, much like Kerouac himself, but this guy looked like a member of the Riot Club, all upper-class-pretending-to-be-middle-class and floppy hair and perfect teeth and skiing holidays and bonkers opinions, and we were arguing about a popular quotation that he thought was Bukowski but I knew it was misattributed and I wanted to punch him in the face but instead he lifted me out of the sink and carried me
through to the front room where everyone was rolling spliffs and fixing CK lines, that’s a mix of cocaine and ketamine that goes up your nose and makes a thousand tiny holes in your brain but it feels like one massive hole right behind your eyes, so we had uno lino por favor and were attempting to speak Old and Middle English to each other because nobody else knew it and it was like our secret but we only knew words like meadhall and shield and protector and riverside and jewels so it wasn’t much
of a conversation, and then the person whose house it was took this big, ugly urn off the mantelpiece and opened it and said, “This is my nan” and he poured out some of her cremated remains onto the table and got a credit card and made a line out of her and fucking snorted her ashes saying that he wants to feel close to her, and we said well, do you? do you feel close to her now? and he yes, yes I do and then this crazy
girl, the kind of girl who looks like she isn’t actually alive because there is so little blood in her drugstream, she weighs about the same as an Argos catalogue and she sold her soul to a man who rapes and beats her in exchange for a gram of speed, like if she were a cartoon she’d have black crosses where her eyes should be, that kind of crazy girl decided to snort some of his grandmother and then some other girl licked her finger and dabbed it in the pile of grandmother and rubbed her bone fragments and burnt skin onto her gums and when she smiled her teeth were greyer than they were before and then suddenly this bloke was racking up lines of his fucking grandmother and people were rolling up notes and receipts and snorting her and it was fucked up even by my standards, don’t get me wrong, I’ve done some fucked up shit but this
was too far even for me, and then I noticed that the blind guy was missing and I hadn’t seen him for a while and I knew he’d dropped a load of acid and drunk 2 bottles of red wine in the space of an hour and had been boring everyone to tears banging on about the Byzantine empire and I know he’s a fucking accident waiting to happen because he lived in my building and once he drank a bottle of bleach and the mental health team asked me to keep an eye on him because I’m chronically suicidal so we had “something in common” which was literally like the blind leading the blind but still I felt obliged as a human being to find him, plus I didn’t really want a death on my hands, and besides nobody else gave a flying fuck where he was so I looked for him in every room and noticed that the front door was wide fucking open and I found him lying out in the street, a few doors down, rolling around in the snow and he said to me, “This is what heaven must be like” and I told him to come back inside but he wouldn’t because he thought I was Mary Magdalene and he didn’t trust Christian figures so I said, fine, fucking freeze to death and decided that I wanted
to fuck the Riot Club guy because fucking him would be the closest thing I’d ever get to fucking Jack Kerouac which is one of my many unachievable dreams so off we went but I had to fuck him with my left hand over his left pec the whole time because tattooed on his left pec was a portrait of Edgar Allen fucking Poe who, as much as I admire his writing, I definitely did not want to fuck because he sort of scares me and not in a risky kinky way but in a creepy uncomfortable way because whenever I think of him I think of him as a dead man and I see him as a corpse, sort of like the crazy girl who was downstairs snorting some guy’s nan’s ashes and screaming I CAN TASTE YOUR NAN AT THE BACK OF MY THROAT!
~magazine and sheet music paper collage, hand cut and assembled
She counts the chairs in our dining room, one, two, three, four, five, six. She points to each chair as if unconvinced, her brow furrowed in concern. She circles the dining table and counts the chairs again and again. One, two, three, four, five, six. I lose track of her revolutions. My leg begins to cramp, where I sit on the staircase, crouched in the shadows. I feel cold. It is later than I thought. But she is almost done. She touches the backrest of each chair. She grows weary now. When she collapses in a chair, I will bring her tea. She will take it and I will wonder as I always have if she ever thinks about where the tea comes from
Mindless knick knacks
Shouldn’t be called out
For their lack of internal organs
You of the empty chest
You say so because you have to
We understand, they said
I don’t and won’t and don’t
I won’t and please leave all of us
Alone. Please leave us.
I’ve said it to my girls before and they’ve said it to me, too:
“You’ve lived without him before so you can certainly live without him now.”
You know the spiel, I’m sure you’ve rattled off the same tired cliches to your friends when they’ve found themselves suddenly single after the break-up of a long-term relationship. And it is true – you survived perfectly well for all those years before you met him, so you can sure as hell live without him now.
But this is different. I have never lived without him, not once, not even for a second. He was in my life before I’d even been born. 8595 days we lived together. If we weren’t under the same roof or in the same town or on the same continent, we were still together – just a heartbeat, phone call or telepathic thought away.
But it’s over now. I am alive and he is not. I am living and he is somewhere that I can’t reach. I can’t see him. He left. He left me. I’m not angry, I’m just sad. I’m heartbroken. But not the type of heartbroken that I’ve been before.
The abrupt ending of this lifelong friendship cannot be fixed by a gallon of ice-cream and a girls night out.
Nor can I replace him with someone else for there is no-one better, there is nobody who could ever come close.
I can’t shake this off with a radical new hairstyle or by moving to a new town.
There is no app for this, I can’t swipe right for a new father, and getting drunk makes the pain worse sometimes.
I can’t throw money at this heartbreak; I don’t want a gym membership or a designer handbag or a fancy holiday.
Beyoncé does not know what this pain feels like, nor does Jesus Christ because neither of them have ever experienced it.
I don’t know how to live without him and I don’t want to live without him.
It’s a lot of the same symptoms though:
checking your phone every hour to see if he’s texted you,
hearing a song that reminds you of him and feeling like you’re suffocating,
driving past a place that you always used to go to together and fighting back tears,
seeing something in a shop and picking it up to buy it for him and then remembering and hastily putting it back on the shelf,
not knowing what to say when someone mentions him or asks you about him,
realising that his smell on his jumper has faded and having a breakdown because you feel like that’s the most tangible memory you had left,
not sleeping, not eating, sleeping too much, eating too much,
feeling like you’re drowning when four, five, six times a day you remember, “Everything has changed and I am alone.”
But where I dread the prospect of bumping into an ex-boyfriend in the supermarket or at the pub, I would do anything to see my dad again. And there’s a strange sense of guilt that I feel whenever I catch myself “functioning like a normal adult.” Like washing the dishes and singing along to the radio, and then thinking WOAH why am I okay? I just didn’t think about him for a while, what’s wrong with me, am I forgetting him already? Of course, rationally, I know I’m not. But when I’m laughing at a stupid comedy show or making pina coladas with little paper umbrellas, I feel guilty anyway. This is stupid because my dad WANTS (wanted?) me to crack on and enjoy life. He would hate for me to mope about. I just panic when I realise that I am living without him. It doesn’t feel right.
I’m scared that my memory will fail me
and that I’ll forget his wisdom
or his voice
or how he’d squeeze my hand and wink at me whenever he thought I needed support
or how when I washed his hair the long strands of silver would get caught in my rings
or how he’d shout “GEOMETRY, GIRL! It’s all about the angles!” before I took a tricky shot in pool
or how we’d get super stoned and watch The Ruttles
or how he nicknamed my last boyfriend Lanky Streak of Piss and even abbreviated it to LSP
or the little red notebook in which he wrote the title and author of every book as he read them and then tallied up the total at the end of the year (2008 was a good year)
or how he’d cut interesting bits out of the newspaper for me and post them to me when I was away at university
or how he had phases of being obsessed with certain foods for a few months and then never eating them again (coleslaw, garlic bread, crabsticks, spring rolls, chocolate raisins)
or how the first four lines of Auguries of Innocence were so beautiful to him that he wished he’d written it himself.
I wonder if people can see it: the blood pouring from my eyes as I write this in a pub on the Holloway Road (where he worked once upon a time), the red tears streaming and pooling on my white shirt, I think that everyone can see the grief on my face, but no-one dares to reach out, no-one dares, and my God does this fucking hurt.
“You’ve lived without him before so you can certainly live without him now.”
Half of that sentence is untrue. We’ll have to wait and see about the other half.
Image by Christine Renney
Tyler was amongst the first to stop sleeping. It was quite possible he was at the head of the chain, although officially it would not be recognised because Tyler didn’t tell. He did not want to offer himself up for scrutiny and, despite everything, he held to this and managed alone.
At first, Tyler believed the insomnia was the beginning of something else; that he was coming down with a fever, a virus of some sort. That it was just a freakish interlude and that the excess energy would eventually lay him low and that after a few days in bed he would recover.
A couple of sleepless nights didn’t seem so unusual and in fact, whilst at work, Tyler forgot. It wasn’t until late in the evening when his wife was readying for bed that he realised he didn’t feel tired and it was then that he remembered he hadn’t slept.
Nevertheless, Tyler followed her upstairs and lay beside her in the bed. For a third night he stared blankly in the darkness and he tossed and turned, trying but failing to settle and the following day he didn’t forget.
Tyler began to worry. Something was happening or, more accurately, had already happened. He neither could nor needed to sleep and that night, the fourth night, for the first time Tyler abandoned his bed.
He untangled himself from the twisted duvet and his sleeping wife and, in his robe and bare feet, padded out onto the landing. He hovered for a moment – he didn’t know what to do or where to go.
He stood at the sink with a glass of juice and peered through the window, trying to see into the garden. His wife appeared in the doorway and Tyler watched her reflection in the glass as she moved toward him.
‘Can’t you sleep?’ she asked.
‘I don’t know. Just not tired.’
‘Aren’t you feeling well?’
‘I feel fine,’ he snapped. ‘I’m not tired, that’s all.’
She reached out and placed a hand on his shoulder.
‘Come on,’ she said, ‘let’s go back up.’
‘No, not now. It’s not worth it.’
‘Don’t be silly, of course it is. Come on,’ she urged, ‘let’s go.’
‘You go,’ he said softly, ‘I’ll be up in a few minutes.’
He watched her in the hallway, sleep already reclaiming her and it almost had her but she would of course make it back to their bed.
Tyler placed the glass, still untouched, on the counter and he leaned back against the sink. He waited like that until it was time for him to get ready for work.
Even before the end of the second week, on the eleventh day in fact, the others began to emerge. At first it was just something on the internet with only those directly affected participating. But they were doing what Tyler could not do; they were talking, desperately trying to understand, to make sense of it and wanting to be heard and believed.
Tyler studied the news on the web. Late in the night, whilst his wife was sleeping, he sat with his tablet, frantically scouring site after site, scanning from page to page, reading and re-reading all the brief messages and devouring the lengthier blogs. Although tempted, he didn’t add any comments of his own. Not even out there in the ether Tyler couldn’t say it, he wouldn’t confess.
As the days progressed, the others began to post video diaries. Amid the speculation there was much talk about what they were doing, how they were utilising the extra time, they were sharing and comparing and coming together.
There was a college student in Cranston, Connecticut, who had set himself up in front of a webcam, where he intended to stay put for as long as he needed in order to silence the sceptics. But the doubters of course would cling on and it seemed to Tyler an entirely pointless exercise. He could see quite clearly just how quickly the phenomenon was building, that it was spiralling and could not be contained.
Nevertheless, Tyler found himself drawn to this self-proclaimed spokesperson, who in a manifesto of sorts, had stated his intention was to read. He had even made a list of the books he intended to keep close at hand. But whenever Tyler checked on his progress he was always talking, either directly to the camera or with his girlfriend who sat off-screen, only coming into the frame when she leant forward, gesticulating in order to make a point.
Tyler wasn’t listening, he didn’t switch on the sound. He didn’t want to hear, what he wanted was for him to fail, for the college student from Cranston, Connecticut, to begin nodding off and to fall asleep. But of course, he didn’t. Like Tyler, he remained rigid and wide awake.
Tyler couldn’t help feeling that he should be making better use of his time, doing something with it rather than simply standing and staring into space. And yet here he was again, leaning back against the sink and gazing across at the clock above the fridge.
He could read, not in a showy and attention grabbing way like the ‘college student from Cranston, Connecticut‘, but down here. Uninterrupted, he could get to grips with “War & Peace” at last, or Don DeLillo’s “Underworld”. Tyler realised that, other than news reports and the testimonies of others on the internet, he hadn’t read anything at all, not since this began.
Or perhaps exercise was the key? He could easily picture himself out there, beneath the street lights, pounding the pavements, head down and breathing hard, weaving his way in a tracksuit and running shoes, although he owned neither. But a strict and gruelling regime might help to make the time pass. But of course it couldn’t and wouldn’t.
By the middle of the third week it had escalated and as Tyler had expected it was everywhere. He watched his wife at the breakfast table struggling, bleary eyed, with the newspaper, readying herself to face it, to contemplate it yet again.
‘It’s remarkable,’ she said at last, ‘unbelievable.’
She began then to really grapple with it and it didn’t matter that Tyler wasn’t contributing. It was a monologue and one he had played out in his own head many times. And now all he needed to do was sit back and listen.
He was almost ready to tell her but not quite. After all, he had been granted all of this extra time and so why shouldn’t he linger a little longer? A few more hours, another day at most. Let it build, become even bigger. It had already been estimated that a least twenty five per cent of the world’s population had been afflicted. Those not sleeping, the non-sleepers, had been angered by the use of this word. ‘Afflicted.’
Declaring that what was happening to them wasn’t in any way an affliction, with many claiming that all the evidence suggested that only healthy and well-adjusted individuals had been affected, had, in inverted commas, ‘been chosen’. Those who could manage, who were able to cope.
Tyler wasn’t really listening to his wife now but he found the sound of her voice soothing. She was excited and although she wouldn’t say it she was wondering if she or he or perhaps both of them would be next.
Tyler stifled a yawn. He stretched out and, pushing back his chair, made himself comfortable. For the first time in weeks he felt at ease and also very, very sleepy.