life, poetry, prosetry, Uncategorized

Going home

Old and new

Play

Like friends who never liked each other

Standing here, I could be there

Laughing, lolling about Route 66

Your hair wax stained cowboy hat on the table

The clink of sweating beer bottles

I always did better striving than living

Being a pretend person, now . . don’t knock it

Has some draw

We laughed out of fear and the fear felt good

Like real life and grabbing things by beaded throat

We roared our mirth like tigers, at the absurdity and the sorrowful

It reminded me of my grandmother’s funeral

My dad and I weeping with hot besmerched giggles

She would have understood, she would have joined in

that Katherine Hepburn smile, and the outline of something sad

That’s just how this family rolls

We laugh when tragedy feels crushing and put reality on hold

A frozen picture on TV, static and unspoken

When the wake is over and everyone has left their condolences

In a nice row

Searching for your people

Coming up empty handed

Just as I thought I couldn’t give more away

You call me out of the blue

A stranger sharing my last name

Funny how life takes and takes

And then it gives

Like a hand on your shoulder

When you’re thinking of jumping

The both of you grew thin

I put on all your weight, inherited the space

Given away by years and wrinkles

You said; Now heed me young lady

You’re standing in for us now

Do a fine job and I saw in the line and curve of your jaw

The man you were, the man you were not anymore

Strangers and bloodlines, all running together

Now you’re both gone

I’m relieved and itchy under the skin with the lie

Pretended so long

I don’t know how to be, whatever I am

We were a tribe the three of us

Now I’m starting over

In my own land again

A stranger

Of familiar, unknown places wearing unreadable clothes

Sharing my bed with regrets and hope

Like nothing and everything has changed

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life

Alien

“Do you want this top?” I asked, holding up a wisp of metallic fabric by its spaghetti straps. “I don’t have the tits for it.”

“Er, I won’t be able to wear any nice tops like that for while,” she said, “…you’re going to be an auntie again!”

I stepped back and looked at her belly.

“What?”

“I’m 18 weeks pregnant.”

I paused for slightly too long.

“Oh my God, congratulations! I’m so happy for you!” I said, kissing and hugging her, careful not to squish the little life inside her.

Shit. Now I have another reason to stay alive.

“Wow guys, you’re going to have a new baby brother or sister,” I said to my 2 current reasons for staying alive. “Are you excited?”

“Yes! I hope it’s a girl. We heard the heartbeat yesterday and it was like whoosh whoosh whoosh and it moves around so much like it’s dancing!” said my niece, barely able to contain herself.

“Wow that’s cool. How about you, little man?” I said to my nephew.

“Mummy has an alien inside her tummy,” he said, looking at the ground, clearly fuming at the reality that soon he won’t be the baby anymore.

“Ewww, I know, it’s kinda gross isn’t it?” I said, expressing my own true thoughts under the guise of kid-speak. He nodded earnestly.

I looked at her bloated stomach. There’s a little life in there, I thought. How peculiar.

Another reason to stay alive.

It’s so strange how women walk around for months with little lives inside of them. And how women can have something growing inside of them for weeks before they even know it exists. And some women grow a whole human inside of them and have no idea until it starts screaming at them from the toilet bowl.

I will never have children.

I briefly considered that the alien might be an Einstein or it might be a Hitler.

Another reason to stay alive. To see how it turns out.

I suddenly felt annoyed. How could you? I feel bad enough about leaving these 2 little humans, now I have to hang around to meet and fall in love with this alien too? Stop giving me reasons to stay alive. I don’t want to.

“When’s it due?”

“Early Feb 2019.”

Fucking 2019! Next calendar year! I have to stay alive until next year?!

Maybe this little life, this little alien, will be enough to melt my cold, dead heart. But I don’t want it to. I don’t want any more reasons to stay alive, I don’t want any more reasons not to leave. I am so selfish. But that’s just one of my reasons for wanting to go. And one of the reasons why I’ll never have children.

A new target.

I stared at her belly. It houses another magical being that should be enough to make me fight my diseases. But I already have 2 magical beings and though I wish they were enough, they are somehow not. They disappear when I take a knife to my wrist, they can’t shout as loud as the voices that visit me at night, they don’t see me cry like a child, they don’t pull me back from the edge of the platform, they can’t cancel out years of pain and they can’t erase thousands of bad memories. I wish they could but they can’t. It’s too much to ask of them. I realised this while I was staring at my sister’s stomach and telepathically asking the alien, “Are you going to save me?” No. No one can.

“I’ve got a new target then,” I said.

I live by targets. My last target was April 15th 2018. I reached it. I have been living targetless, and terribly, since then. Now, at last, a new target. One I’m not sure if I want, but one that I know I need.

Another reason to stay alive.

Another target.

Another alien.

“Can’t wait,” I smiled.


This is my 100th post for Hijacked Amygdala, so I’d just like to take this moment to thank all of our readers for the love and support you give us – your continual kindness is so very appreciated ♥ and may I also say what a pleasure and honour it is to share this platform with such incredibly talented souls. Long live HA! xx

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life

Tantrum

January 10th 2007. I had just broken my New Year’s resolution which was to attend whole days of school, from 8:40 to 3:15 every weekday, instead of leaving at lunchtime or walking out mid-lesson or writing the whole day off and failing to turn up at all because depression was killing me from the inside out. Apparently I had to go to school because it is the law. There should’ve been a law in place to protect minds like mine being infected with lugubriosity but I suppose parliament were too busy dealing with the impending smoking ban to really care about the rapidly snowballing mental health epidemic. They’re still too busy now.

Anyway, it was 12:40pm and I’d just walked out of Physics. I knew mother would be at work. I knew father left home to go to the pub between 12 and 12:30 every day. I dragged myself home to our disgusting council flat on the A1000, silently praying that I’d feel even just a tiny bit better after having a cup of tea and a spliff, whiling away the afternoon lying on my dad’s bed, staring at the ceiling and listening to records with only our cat and the voices in my head for company.

I turned the corner into the entrance to our block. My dad’s car was still outside. Shit. What is he still doing here? I thought he’d be out. I needed to steal some of his tobacco for my spliff. Damn. I ducked behind a bush and threw away my roll-up. I didn’t want him to know that I smoked. He’d be disappointed and blame himself. I dug around in my bag and found the sickly sweet body spray that I’d nicked from Superdrug a week prior. I sprayed my uniform and my hair and my hands. (In hindsight, this makes it more obvious to parents that you’ve been smoking but at the time it was all one could do). I stuck a chewing gum in my mouth and spied on my dad.

The car boot of his fourth-or-fifth-hand-definitely-belongs-in-a-scrap-yard Vauxhall Cavalier was open. It was a red car but was so faded it was practically pink. The back seats were folded down. He was throwing full black bin-bags into the car in a semi-organised fashion. ‘Girl From The North Country’ was playing from the tape deck. What the fuck is he doing? I crept out from behind the bush.

“Dad?”

“Hiya babes. Give us a hand with these bags, would you?”

“Sure, what’s all this? Are you taking stuff to the charity shop?”

“Not today.”

“Ohhhhh, you’re going to The Dump?”

“No, I’m dumping your mother.”

“What?”

“I’m moving out. I can’t take it anymore. I’ve found a flat. I’m sorry, princess.”

“Are you fucking joking?”

“I’m not going far.”

“What about me and T? You can’t fucking leave us with her, you CAN’T.”

“You can come and visit whenever you want.”

“Aren’t we coming with you? How many bedrooms is it?”

“Just one babes, it’s a one bedroom flat.”

“But we can come and live with you, right? We can sleep on the floor? We can get sleeping bags? You said we’d all leave her together, and it’ll just be us three, the way it’s meant to be.”

“I’m so sorry, darling. I’m so sorry. You can call me anytime. I’m still your dad, I’ll always be your dad. Nothing will ever change that, even if we’re a million miles apart, I’m still your dad.”

And in that moment I realised that this would be one of those scenes in my life that would be called a “major life event”, one that in the future I would look back on to see how greatly it affected the course of my life, one that therapists would ask me about, one that might be described as a turning point, a new chapter, one that cements a new fixture on my timeline, a “before dad left” and an “after.” I knew that this would be something that I one day write about. I had to do it right.

I realised I could do this one of two ways.

I could either kick and scream and shout and throw a teenage tantrum of epic proportions. I could tell my dad that I hated him and that I’d never forgive him for leaving us with her and that I’d never trust him again and that he’s a bastard for walking out like this and that I never wanted to speak to him or see him ever again. I could cause an almighty fucking scene, shout louder than the traffic, grab the bags from the boot and toss them into the road, strew clothes all over the street, frisbee his vinyls into the trees. I could beg him not to leave.

I could cry and hold onto his legs like I did when I was a small child. Every morning when he left to go to work I would grab onto his legs and refuse to let go and I’d cry and cry because I didn’t want him to leave. He’d peel me off and escape through the door. I’d sit by the window all day waiting for him to come back. I’d look out, nose pressed to the window for hours until I’d see his head bobbing up the street, then I’d run to the front door which I wasn’t tall enough to open and wait to hear his keys. He was always so happy to see me. I could guilt-trip him into staying. I could try to persuade him to let us live with him somehow. I could propose that mother live in his new flat and us three continue to live at this place. I could just keep screaming and crying until he realised he couldn’t leave me in a state like that, that what he was doing was wrong, was mean, was bang out of order. Was unforgivable.

‘A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall’ started playing from the car.

“I will always be your dad and you will always be my girl,” he said.

Or I could be delighted for him. I could be pleased for him. Pleased that he’d escaped the asylum, the house of horrors. He was getting out of this place alive. He wouldn’t die in that room, as I’d feared he would so many times. He’d be so much happier in his new place. T and I would have a safe place to go after mother beat us or kicked us out. We wouldn’t have to sleep in the park, we could sleep at dad’s! We’d probably get to see more of dad, since he largely avoided the house other than to sleep and bathe. It might even be cool – I could leave the house with no need to make up mad excuses about where I was going, I could just say, “I’m going to see dad” and she’d never know because they don’t speak, she’d never call him to ask. When I’d get in trouble I could go to dad’s. When I’d get into trouble at school they could call dad, instead of the wicked witch on the landline. Maybe things would be better for everyone. Maybe with dad gone, she’d be less angry in general, and therefore may be less angry at me and T. He must feel so guilty for leaving us as it is, I shouldn’t make it harder on him. I should help dad move out. I should help dad move out. I should support him, just like he’d support me if I’d moved out first. He’s free. I should revel in his freedom, breathe it in like second-hand smoke. He wouldn’t have to deal with mother anymore. He wouldn’t have to see the violence and feel powerless to stop it. His mental health would improve. Maybe even his physical health. He was free. He was free. Finally. A week after they’d ignored their 17th wedding anniversary. Free.

“Why aren’t you at school?” he asked, breaking my chain of thought.

“Black dog.”

“Shit,” he replied, worried that I’d inherited the same madness that he’d been plagued with for so many years. “Come here.”

We hugged by the car and he said,

“I’m not leaving you. Or your brother. I’m leaving her.”

“I know,” I replied.

I decided that I didn’t want to look back on this and be ashamed of my reaction. It was up to me now to protect myself and my brother. I had to keep my shit together. And I didn’t want my dad to spend the last stages of his life riddled with guilt. You should never trap or try to contain a free spirit – the best parts of them are always the first to waste away.

“Give us a hand then?”

“Okay,” I said, walking head down into the block. “Hey, Dad?”

“Yes, love?”

“Seeing as you’re moving out and you’ve got the biggest room… can I have your bedroom?”

“Course you can. But you’re probably gonna have to fight your brother for it anyway.”

“Challenge accepted.”

I picked up a box of books and heaved it out the door to the car. ‘The Times They Are A-Changing’ played. “They are indeed, Bobby,” my dad said quietly, sighing.

Then I went inside and emerged with two of his acoustic guitars.

“You know what this means, don’t you?” he asked.

“No, what?” I replied.

“You’re gonna have to find someone else to steal tobacco from.”

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prosetry

Cover Up and Say Goodnight

Between us, I suppose did all the feeling. The inherent disobedience of singing our contrapuntal song above outside around the din was to me in my youth like tying dreams to kings and great things, though knowing better than to presuppose any manner of nobility coursing through our line of magnetic men of middling, modest talents and infernos for intellects, consumed by sublime, contemptuous ambition like true artists, was of course in the nature he so vigorously bestowed, father to son.

Then one day I felt a feeling of his. The effortful suppression, the stifled idealization harvested from exiguously-tended fields of experience, finding it easier to form a new habit of staying from the choppily selective remembrance of what it was like to “go there” than to actually still continue to try to (let myself) go.

Well, it’s about being, I’ve come to realize, after so many years of fevered, young becoming when there was always somewhere else to be. The line ends here, though, I say; I say I’ll be the first of us to release my grip on this familial melody and allow my ends to fizzle into truly new beginnings, and in the saying sneakily suspect I hear faint echoes of this verysame tune I now find myself singing, wondering if he’s heard them too, knowing I’ll never ask, finding contentment in a discordance I with feeble bliss presume to be my own.

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life, prosetry

Ivy

I bought 10ft of artificial ivy once, off t’internet, for pennies, as part of the Poison Ivy costume I was making myself to wear at a Hallowe’en party. I didn’t go to the party in the end – I hung out with you that night instead.

The ivy remained coiled up in its plastic bag. I hung onto it though, certain I’d find another use for it, planning to make art of it, but it collected dust alongside all my other great ideas.

A year passed and I relocated. Having to declutter and still unable to find a use for the ivy at my new house, I binned it, scolding myself for wasting £2.89. Then I walked to your place and we watched University Challenge. You failed to answer a single question. You were catatonic. You barely said a word. You were not my dad, you were a skeleton bobbing in a sea of morphine. I hoped that you’d be better after some sleep. You always got better.

Three weeks later I was standing in front of your coffin. It was decorated with ivy vines, it was wrapped around the wicker handles, around the edges. I touched the leaves: it was real ivy.

I said to mother, “How much did that ivy cost us?” and she said £90. I laughed incredulously. “You do know the ivy’s going in the oven with him, right? You are quite literally burning our money!” She told me to stop being difficult. You would’ve been absolutely horrified to know she’d wasted £90 on ivy. (That’s £90 of booze we’d never get to drink at your wake!)

Then, as I kissed your casket goodbye for the last time, you said to me telepathically through the wicker lid, “Hey, where’s that artificial ivy you couldn’t find a use for?” and I realised that was your last bit of advice to me:

what we lack in finances we more than make up for in ideas, and what we lack in assets and material possessions we more than make up for in mind and soul, so stay creative, stay humble and keep on keeping on. And don’t let your mother make any more decisions.

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life

What’s Yours Is Mine

I’m on the Northern line reading Angela Carter. This book used to be yours; I remember the strange cover. You lent me this book years ago in exchange for my copy of The Bloody Chamber. Now I have all of your books. They live alongside mine in shaky stacks, perilously piled around my flat, propping doors open and lining windowsills.

I am so impressed by Carter’s writing, as I always am, that I stop reading and take my phone out of my handbag to send you a particular sentence of hers that I know you would love and to express how gutted I am that she’d died when she still had so many words left in her. Then I remember that you’re dead too and put my phone away.

I am trying not to make a habit of crying on public transport so I turn the page over to the next story and find a flattened Rizla packet wedged into the spine. On the packet, in your handwriting, is a note reminding you to remind me about an upcoming reading of Joyce’s Ulysses on BBC Radio 4. The title of the story where I find this note is ‘The Executioner’s Beautiful Daughter.’ I wonder if this is coincidental and I miss you more than ever.

I always feel especially close to you when I’m reading your books. I like the fidelity of my thumb pausing in the same spot where your thumb once rested while you absorbed the page, how your thumbprints on the cover or bottom right corner are slowly being replaced by mine, smaller but nonetheless comfortable.

I remember exactly how you’d read, how you turned the pages, how you used your finger to guide you down the lines, how you would straighten the book out on the table when you stopped to roll a cigarette, putting it perfectly in its place until the next devouring.

I like the idea of my brain ingesting these words in the same order that you did, of my heart processing all of the unwritten words and underlying slivers of brilliance that exist between the lines just like yours did. I cannot live the stories of your life just as you could not live mine, but we could live the tales told by master storytellers together.

I also like the things that I find inside your books, and I’ve found allsorts. Some of your books were gifted to you by girlfriends past, and sometimes they had written an adoring note to you inside the front cover. (We personally believe writing in books to be a sin but I suppose these decades-old sentiments have survived longer than you have).

I’ve found plenty of bookmarks: a beer mat lodged at page 341 of The Glass Bead Game, a shopping list hiding in between pages 226 and 227 of One Hundred Years Of Solitude, an appointment card to see your vascular consultant lurking towards the end of The Master and Margarita. Scraps of newspaper, napkins and cigarette papers hibernating in many more.

We don’t believe in dog-earing books and you would scold others when they borrowed a book from you and returned it with folded corners. I found a couple of “real” bookmarks, one made of leather with your initials on it and a metal one in a Celtic cross design. I like the beer mats more.

You’ve given me tens of thousands of pages, all smoke-stained to a degree. In fact, I can work out when you first procured a book based on the level of smoke-staining. Your books from the 60s and 70s are tar brown and smell like stale incense and damp fireplaces. Your books from the 80s and 90s are entirely yellowed, the edges of the pages are darker than mustard. Your books from this century are less ‘smoked’ but all smell like Golden Virginia tobacco, a smell that will always remind me of you for as long or short as I live.

I also like looking at the prices of books and how they’ve increased over the decades. Some of your books are priced as costing a florin (two-bob), four and thruppence, and 4/6, all shillings and half-crowns and other ancient values. Then there are the books costing 25p, 40p, 60p, 75p: classic novels that would now cost me around £8 paperback in Waterstones. And the prices go up from there.

Your books present all kinds of other matter, too: cigarette ash, sand, the odd blade of grass, a flattened bug, biscuit crumbs, sticky tea rings on the back cover, strands of your silver hair caught in the spine, a smudge of blood from a paper-cut, train tickets, a pressed flower, general grit from your manual labour days, splashes of paint where you’d been reading on your lunch break, post-it notes, business cards, phone numbers written on the back of receipts, prescriptions, an unwritten postcard from Milan, a cartoon strip cut out of a newspaper, a £50 note… last week when I opened up The Rebel I found a couple of tiny rocks of hash stuck in the valley between pages 14 and 15.

It was decided about 15 years ago, when you first faced death, that I would get all of your books and my brother would get all of your music. I am lucky and grateful to have all of your books. You didn’t start reading serious literature until your late 20s/early 30s, and I am so glad you instilled a love of literature in me from day one.

And I am really enjoying making my way through your books, your favourites, page by page, word by word, and finding odd little notes from you. Like in The Snow Goose, you wrote (against your own rules) on the title page, “To my darling girl, A book as precious as you are. Oodles of love, Dad.” You wrote that in 2002. I just found it a few weeks ago.

These books were yours, you held them in your hands, you learnt from them, you formed opinions from them, you had your own ideas from them, these books informed your personality, your thoughts, your attitudes, these books inspired your own writing, your own poetry and art, determined how you treat yourself and all human beings, enabled you to grow and improve and teach others. Now these books are mine, and through these books you are giving me the opportunity to become great, just as you were great.

You are still here with me. You still exist every day: through your words, through my words, and through the words of all of these incredible authors who continue to teach me even though you no longer can.

You were gifted a collection of Emerson essays in 1978 by a girlfriend, we will call her H. I just found this smoke-stained note inside it, handwritten in blue biro, saying, “Don’t think anything of me giving you this book, but DO read it, right? (You know it’s very inexpensive to sit in the garden and quietly read a book– you can even afford an occasional ‘special’ cigarette, for example).” This little note perfectly captures you as a reader, and is how I will always remember you.


[Featured image source here]
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