There are only 2 ways to stop us
Sending each other drunk messages:
Quit drinking, or
And I’m not going back to rehab.
There are only 2 ways to stop us
Sending each other drunk messages:
Quit drinking, or
And I’m not going back to rehab.
For context, read ‘Pablo’ here.
I went to McDonalds at Waterloo to buy a cup of Fanta to pour my vodka into. As I was doing so, an announcement sounded over the tannoy:
Please can ALL passengers and staff exit the station IMMEDIATELY.
A modern air-raid siren began wailing, echoing through the suddenly silent station. Everybody stopped what they were doing and stared at each other, unsure what to do. Whispers of “terror attack” rolled through the concourse first in rivulets, then intensifying in power, tsunami-like, as it gathered more fear, more panic. Most people up and left, scrambling for the nearest exit, pushing each other out of the way. The staff behind the counter slowly disappeared into back-rooms. The guy next to me took his headphones off and watched me unscrew the vodka bottle while listening to the announcement:
Please can ALL passengers and staff exit the station IMMEDIATELY
OFFICER *crackling noises* DOWN.
The guy looked up at me and asked, “Is this for real?” “Sounds like it, but who knows,” I replied, mixing my drink with a straw, half-anticipating the sound of gunshots. “Well, I guess we’ll find out soon enough, init,” he said, biting into his hamburger and putting his headphones back on. Then the tannoy shouted:
REPEAT, OFFICER SANDS, STAND DOWN.
I shrugged at the guy and he laughed, shoving fries into his mouth.
Outside, Southwark smelled of burnt rubber and sour milk. It turned my stomach.
I’d last seen her fourteen months ago. In fact, that was the first and only time I’d met her. I saw her every day in the postcard tacked to my mirror, but I hadn’t expected to see her in the flesh ever again. I was frightened of her because she looked like me and I am frightened of myself. I had assumed that she’d have been moved on, moved to a different city, to be pored over by fresh, foreign eyes. I was shocked when I entered the room and she was there, in the corner, right where I’d left her.
She was bigger than I remembered, which was a pleasant surprise. I watched the people looking at her. Well, they weren’t really looking at her, they were taking photos of her on their smartphones, looking at a version of her on a 5 x 3in illuminated screen. Nobody actually looked at her, even though I could hear her screaming, “LOOK AT ME! FUCKING LOOK AT ME!” from behind the glass. I was scared to get close because I had a feeling that she’d reach out and grab me and keep me and refuse to let me go. But as soon as I was in front of her, I found myself a nose away from her nose. So close that I could see a rogue hair from Picasso’s paintbrush stuck in the oil.
At one point, she and I were the only true living things in the room. Dali et al were dying around us, fading into insignificance before disappearing from the walls entirely. I found myself smiling because we share a secret. She knows what I know. I felt the presence of a security guard hovering on the periphery. I stepped away from her, turned my back and began to walk away. Dali had returned to the opposite wall. I thought, and genuinely believed, for some reason, that she was no longer on the wall behind me. I quickly turned around, expecting there to be a blank space where she once had lived. I was relieved that she was still there. I felt so bad for turning my back on her, for abandoning her. She looked to be in more pain than she was before. I felt that I’d betrayed her. I went back to her and stood close.
Lost in our shared grief, my focus blurred and I found myself looking instead at my own reflection in her glass cover. I was struck by how unwell I looked. My eyes, usually kind, soft, approachable, were glazed and full of terror, like a rabid fox. I looked wild. “Help,” I whispered, reverting my gaze from my own eyes to hers. I didn’t realise I was crying until a teenaged boy in a group of Spanish schoolchildren pointed at me and said, “Look! The Weeping Woman!” and they all laughed, then started taking selfies with the only other weeping woman in the room, the one on the wall in the corner, trapped behind glass.
Back at Waterloo, it was business as usual. A false alarm, it seemed. Exhausted, I got on the Tube and promptly put my sunglasses on despite it being late in the evening. Eyes are too powerful. I didn’t want to look at anyone’s eyes or have anyone see mine. I’d seen enough eyes for one day. Suddenly, an announcement crackled over the system:
Ladies and gentlemen, this train will NOT be stopping at Embankment due to a person on the track. I repeat, this train will NOT be stopping at Embankment because there is currently a person on the track. The next station will be Charing Cross, next station Charing Cross. Mind the doors.
A woman down the carriage tutted too loudly, and the drunk man opposite me slurred, “Fuckin’ people on tracks, man, f’fer’fucksake.” I closed my eyes and filed the day away with all the others in my brain, in the folder marked: Another Sad and Strange Saturday Night in the Greatest City in the World.
There is a man standing at the door, I don’t know whether he is lost or left, he is staring at a table of FAB-YULE-OUS LAST-MINUTE GIFT ITEMS; a bottle cap dart board, an essential oils reed diffuser, a bundle of three cheeky-Christmas T-shirts, an array of Yankee Candle Holiday collections, and so on. He is still wearing his jacket, bundled to the neck.
I follow my wife passed him, he smells cold as we pass.
My wife stops in the ceramics and begins perusing. A large man passes me, a child holding the end of his jacket, his wife speeding ahead with the cart, he is playing something on his phone. His hat is on and his beard is unkempt.
“Should we get this for my parents?”
I turn, my wife is holding a ceramic jar with a plaque on it that says “MILK.”
“Sure,” I tell her.
She picks up something else, I wonder about the last time I saw a milk carton and what must have happened to all of the runaways.
“Or this one?” my wife asks.
“Sure,” I tell her.
She frowns, “which one?”
“You’re not pointing at either of them.”
“The milk one.”
“They are both milk ones.”
I refocus. “Oh, that one.” I point.
“That one is for tea,” she cries.
I shrug, and she waves her hand at me, annoyed. “You’re annoying, go away.”
I head back for the door. I pass a younger man in a display chair. He has a patriot’s jacket on and is staring into an aisle of discount lotions. I head for the exit. Someone has collected the man who’d been by the door. Good for him.
I stand outside the door looking out on the parking lot. I notice a spot three rows from the exit. We parked about ten rows back. I go and get the car, move it to the empty spot and sit in the heat. I notice in the rear-view that someone has moved from a spot in the first row. I reverse out and straight into it, cutting off a PT Cruiser.
Who the hell still owns a PT cruiser, I think, as the man behind the wheel flips me off.
I sit in the car another twenty minutes before slowly making my way back inside. As I pass the shoe department, I see an old man sitting on one of the stools, he isn’t trying shoes on. He is just sitting, two hands on his cane as an older woman bustles around him with an armful of sandals.
“Eight dollars, dude!” I hear someone cry out. I turn, two teenage boys are looking at a pair of sneakers.
“Eight dollars! Merry Christmas!”
“Merry Christmas, eight dollars, dude!”
“Merry Christmas, ZOOOOLLA!”
They run off with the sneakers.
I find my wife in pet accessories.
“We should get the cats something.”
I nod, watching a Hispanic man help his wife pick from a giant pile of Buy three get one free Christmas socks. Another man walks by on the phone, “WHICH ONE!—That one? You have one of those!—because you’re always THROWING IT TO MY SIDE OF THE BED!”
My wife has a Santa cat outfit held up to her own body, she is looking down at it.
“Should we get this?” she asks.
I smile and nod.
It isn’t enough.
I give her a thumbs up.
She rolls her eyes. An old lady, digging through a table of hand-creamers, laughs.
“Men are so useless, huh?” she tells my wife.
My wife laughs.
The woman laughs.
Am I living in a sexist narrative, I wonder? Do I only not want to shop because I have grown up in a patriarchy? Would helping pick out a cat outfit make me a better, more gender inclusive? Is that what that means? It doesn’t seem to have impacted that guy over there.
I glare at the Hispanic man who has just made his wife laugh after hanging a pair of socks off each of his ears.
I look back at my wife. She is fingering through a rack of cat treats. I walk over and grab one off the rack.
Christmas Turkey Dressing
I open it and take one out.
“Hey babe, watch.”
She looks up at me.
I pop the treat in my mouth.
She stares at me as I chew the treat. Her face goes very quickly from curiosity to disgust, and by the time I swallow, concern.
“Why the fuck did you do that?” She asks.
I look down at the bag of treats, then to my other empty, then back up at her.
“I thought it would be funny?”
She looks at me, then to the old lady who’d also stopped, arms deep in the pillow-pile, to watch me eat a treat. They share a look. The old lady smiles sympathetically.
My wife hands me her armful of goodies and pats me on the arm.
“Go find somewhere to sit by the registers sweetie, I won’t be long.”
I love my job.
Someone managed to change something. They shouldn’t have been able to. But, that is the company’s problem. Someone needed to die, again.
Killing someone is not an easy thing. Killing them again is even harder. Killing them the same way as before.
That is art.
Her name was Mary Harris. Nineteen years old. Strangled.
19:23 exactly. My hands are already around her neck. Not too soft. With passion, as before.
19:24 she is dead.
On the dot. Man, I’m good. I stand up and look around. The room hadn’t been wrecked. That is always an annoyance. A simple strangulation. I look down at her. Turning blue.
“Sorry, darling,” I lie.
I would feel sorry for her, really. Her savior is in jail. Her killer is still unknown. But, I don’t. I feel hungry. I’m a professional. Only professionals know when they are hungry.
I study the room. I study the body.
One of her eye-lids is shut. I bend down and open it wide, just like in the picture. Sadness and terror, it says. I smile.
“Now, that is art.”
It is late, the dark has started weaving nests into crannies. I’m drunk. We’ve only known each other a few weeks.
“I don’t want this,” I told her, a few minutes ago.
And so, she paces.
“What are you?” she asks, her arms limp from nail biting.
I frown at her, drinking something–a beer, probably. “I’m a man?”
She frowns, “No–no! You are arms–yes, legs, eyes–yes, three hundred pages of verse, maybe–but you are not a man.”
She goes back to pacing.
I roll my eyes. “Why are you being so dramatic?”
“I’m not being dramatic,” she tells the other side of the balcony, “I’m being poetic.”
She walks back and stands over me.
She looks down, into me–about to cry or kill me, I don’t know.
“Some butterflies are beautiful for only a day and then they die,” she whispers. She kneels down, places her face on my leg. I put my fingers in her hair.
“Am I supposed to be a butterfly?” I ask, finishing what certainly seems to be a beer.
She shakes her head. “No–you are not so lovely a thing. You are a stomach ache, you linger–you do not die, not beautiful enough to die.”
She sits back on her haunches, she laughs. I laugh too, not understanding.
Like a blind man clapping at a magic show.
My laugh goes on much longer than hers. She kisses my hand.
“You poor boy,” she tells me.
She stands up and goes inside.
When was the last time I just watched rain fall without feeling the need to be understood on others’ terms? In youth I learned to notice and, like you, I learned silence from the talkative, flipping back and forth between metaphors and delusion leaving snowdrifts of sawdust in my head because nothing is traceless. Nothing is traceless—I say it twice for double meaning, leaving less to the imagination, sickened as I am by our constant struggles over goodness, as ridiculous as the time I traipsed through NYC in flip-flops feeling perfectly alien and all in.
Not wishing ill but feeling it, Styron feared feeding the evil person within and therefore starved himself by swallowing his perceived failures and eschewing the sustenance of his success at touching people, for better or worse. There’s such a thing as writing to prove your sanity, I confess. I was the one who killed them, he and she, the two of us, perhaps, but it was only a dream and in the dream I stood hesitating in a small room of a three-steps-down-from-the-street garden flat with my finger on the trigger of a gun that belonged to someone, a gun which had just a moment before put a bullet in her. I pointed the gun at him as if to say here please take this before there is no going back to prove anything, counterfactualizing the past before it happened and that loathsome duality was rendered single, killing me.
We left the bodies in the bathtub and I left by the back door, plunging into the dark, blue-green water of the small harbor there, alone. Submerged, I opened my eyes to navigate the subaqueous opacity, white boat hulls floating above, a forest of black dock pilings all around, and green seaweed rising from below slowing the going as I swam through the underwater labyrinth of my final moments of freedom without coming up for air or needing to. Now, I wondered with resigned disillusion, how to negotiate the terms of my latest armistice: wonderment, fear, and awe, all in the same held breath—that’s the future, gray, my second favorite color, though more so from familiarity than appeal. Gray is cover and blend, possibility and lack, the native hue of indecision and liberation. Give me blue or absence, all in or all out, I thought, kicking my foot flippers to keep from sinking deeper into darkness and pulling myself forward with cupped hands, anything but this in between, clutching both and going nowhere, on the run from the ghosts of us.
This, here beneath, is both my refuge and my pulpit, where I float and drift through embryonic muteness, where my voice bubbles and rises to the surface, giving me away, a blessing and a curse. Soon, my body will follow, ill-made as it is for such environs, and I will rise while there’s still time, still time, time still to believe in the strange virtues of freedom and evasion within the context of an undetermined certainty that our days are toe-tagged and body-bagged and on those tags are the names of our teachers and the volume of our ingratitude, right down to the last gasp of asking why we can’t stay.
It’s windy tonight, and fateful. The trees sound glad. If they were more consistent, they’d sound like the sea, I think, and I feel it: be happy, choose to be, choose rare, true, and free.
Pain depends on me to be its host:
suffering is the needy child,
and I’m the parent who never says no.
As long I write, the pain is necessary. If I stop, the pain becomes unnecessary, pointless, all for nothing apart from what it is, which is inherently bad. I am a hostage, and if I stop transforming the pain into something better I will essentially be throwing away all chance of survival: I will not make it out alive, merely allowing myself to become another casualty of a sinister, seemingly unstoppable higher power who tortures me daily even though I have nothing to reveal, nothing it wants, nothing it needs. The pain becomes sheer cruelty with no objective other than to destroy me. As long as I write, I stave it off, I delay my death day. The narcissist in me likes to think that my torturer is secretly looking forward to reading what I write next.
I don’t invite the badness but once the pain decides to stay, it becomes hard to turn it away. The pain of unhooking it from my skin is enough of a deterrent. Easier to let it stay: less bloody that way. So I turn it into something else – something creative, perhaps even something beautiful, or helpful. I try to, anyway.
I’ve been given a life sentence.
I’ve been punished, blacklisted, labelled evil.
But it’s not me. It’s not me.
I’m not the villain.
It’s my mind!
My mind is the guilty one.
I’m not the evil one, my brain is!
My decisions are not mine to make.
My actions are not mine to take.
Everyone called it “attempted suicide” but it wasn’t,
it was attempted murder, my mind tried to kill me,
it was my mind, it was my mind, not me!
My mind is the one that did it!
Why can’t you see?
Don’t you believe me?
I have proof.
And the evil things that it does to me, all that badness, I try desperately to turn it into something creative, into words on a page. All of these filled notebooks, all of these poems, all of these scraps of paper: the proof. The proof. The proof that I have suffered for two decades, against my will.
Writing feels to me like an attempt to prove my innocence. They all have me down as guilty and I’m stuck on death row. My execution date is drawing ever nearer and writing is my last ditch attempt to prove my innocence. It feels like gathering evidence from the confines of my cell and presenting it to my unsympathetic lawyer:
Look at how I’ve been tortured and beaten and terrorised.
Look at all these years of misery.
You’ve got to listen to me.
I deserve to be free.
I’ve done nothing wrong.
My mind made me do it, made me do all of it, and all of the stuff that I didn’t do, too. They’ve got it all wrong.
Look at all this pain.
Look at it.
LOOK AT IT.
But it’s too late. I myself have been forgotten, and only ever remembered as mad, sad, bad. I stay locked in my cell, sharing a skull with the real danger, a bed with the real monster. I swallow my pills and eat my greens and am polite to those unfortunate souls whose jobs have led them to encounter me, the ones that are always unable or unwilling to help me, the ones who have written me off as mad, sad, bad, bad, bad. I play sudoku and collect smiles of pity. I keep writing and suffering, collecting my evidence. I suffer and I write, night after night after merciless night.
I dream of my grave and always smile when I see it. You dream of your name in lights, I dream of mine engraved on a marble headstone. Sometimes it says I died in 2008, sometimes 2015. It varies. The stone is always clean, polished. Someone’s been looking after it. Lush green grass has always grown over me perfectly, evenly, even beautifully; the first true natural equilibrium that has ever befallen me. The world is a better place. I smile until it hurts my face.
Upon waking from my latest grave dream, I reach for the box of evidence that is stowed under my bed. I unlock the box for the first time in a long time, so long in fact that I almost forget where I’d hidden the keys. Starting in 2003, I begin to read. Even though it is my own story, I am shocked at what I read. Look at all this pain. Look at all this trauma. Look at all this sadness. Look at all this writing. Look at all this suffering. Look at it. “Look,” I say to no one. “LOOK.”
My biggest regret is taking myself for granted. Appreciate your intelligence, your personality, your abilities, your beauty. You may wake up one day and find that your own brain has decided to take all of your goodness away.