poetry, prosetry

Not A Mother

“You can’t say anything It’s not your problem Don’t get involved”

Sometimes I want to knock on your door
and grab you by the shoulders and shake you
and look into your eyes and say:

Listen to me I know it’s hard I know you’re tired but you’re doing it wrong

I’m not allowed to because I am not a mother

I can only watch (silently) and worry (secretly)
and I do every day because although it’s none of my business
although I’m not a parent although I shouldn’t care at all
although the crying always stops eventually
I was a child once

“You don’t know what goes on behind closed doors”
“Well, I do I can hear it Through the walls All day long”

And I wish someone had shaken my mother and told her
warned her of the type of future
that she was forging for her daughter
through her maternal ambivalence:

a future fraught with fear fear fear so much fucking fear
a future of pain and anxiety and confusion and doubt and misery and rejection
a future in which her daughter decides so adamantly so young
that she will never ever become a mother:

a future promising no future at all
promising nothing but fear

“Who are you to question someone’s parenting?”
“You’re right I’ve got no right I’m not a mother and I never will be”

I can only smile and wave and worry and pray that one day
your kid finds the tools from somewhere
learns the skills from someone
to nurture her own future
to forge her own way

“You can’t say anything”
“But—”

“Promise me Promise me that you won’t get involved?”
“Fine”

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prosetry

A Brief History Of Tea

I used to resent making my father cups of tea. “Why can’t you just make it yourself?” He’d just stare at me until I skulked off to the kitchen, dragging my feet, banging the mug down on the counter, slamming the fridge door. A simple task but apparently asking too much of me.


When I was a teenager, a cup of tea and a spliff was the only way to start the day. Life could not move forward until tea had been consumed. Tea first, life second. Get your priorities straight, girl. Always tea first. Always tea. Always.


My first poem published in print was about a young girl who was addicted to tea and died as a result of her dependence on caffeine mixed with a disgusting amount of sugar. Addiction, death and tea: a portrait of my family. Nobody knew at the time that this morbid poem, written and published when I was 10 years old, was the start of my career writing depressing poetry.


All these years and you still don’t know how I take my tea.


When I was 16 I went to the dark side. Depression and psychosis were killing me from the inside out. Feeling so exhausted from the fight and zombie-like thanks to citalopram, while also knowing that I needed to do every single crazy thing my mind was telling me do, I found myself trying to find energy from any possible source. Crushed caffeine pills mixed in rum and gumming speed wasn’t enough so I decided to start drinking coffee.

I’d always said that I hated the taste of coffee but in truth, I had never tried it. I had a pal who’d dropped out of school and starting working in this failing coffee shop. I’d pop in to see him and down espressos until either my hands were shaking too much or they’d stopped shaking altogether, then rush off to do whatever mad thing my brain told me was imperative to do next. “If you don’t run 8 miles to this specific postbox and kick it with all your might using your left foot, your dad is going to die. Tick tock.”

I still don’t even know if I like the taste, but nowadays coffee seems more vital to my existence than tea. This somehow seems sinful, anti-British, maybe even anti-Dad. Father said that he drank a coffee in Rome in the 90s and it was crazy-expensive. He never drank a coffee again and never understood why I did.


Sometimes, when he was too ill to speak,
he would make a letter T shape
with his hands. That meant, “Tea, please.”


My first suicide attempt. Brother said We need to get her to hospital, I’m calling 999. Mother said Absolutely not, and confiscated the telephone. I was put on the sofa. I remember my head hanging over the edge, upside down, and my left arm lolling with it, my hand near the carpet. My organs were in my mouth. Mother said Drink this tea. I can’t speak I can’t I can’t I can’t I can’t keep my eyes open. Mother is ironing and watching Desperate Housewives while I am dying behind her. When I was conscious I could see the cup of tea on the floor by where my hands were hanging. When my eyes rolled back into my head they retained the image of the tea. Dark green mug, white leaves, flecks of gold. I couldn’t move to get it. When I was unconscious for too long, Mother poured cold water on me. Drink your tea, she said. Brother was not allowed in the room. I drifted, in and out, mostly out. The tea went undrunk. Eventually my whole body slipped off the sofa. I came to, drenched, lying on the floor, to the sound of Mother shouting at me and my brother crying in the hallway. I had wasted a valuable cup of tea. I slept for 3 days.


Me + D @ university:
Tetley when our student loans dropped.

Green tea when studying, using the same teabag 3 or 4 times.
With lemon if I’d managed to swipe one from Tesco.
Chamomile when we were depressed or had period pains.
Hot water when we were skint.


We never had coffee at home (too expensive). Running out of tea caused the entire household to fall apart. Mother had black tea. Brother and I had milk and 2 sugars. Father drank several cups in the morning while waiting for the pub to open. We learned to fear the empty PG Tips box. Life simply could not go on without tea. A frantic scrambling for loose change and sending one of the kids running down to Mr Shah’s would follow. Then the parents would get their tea and the order that existed in our household (albeit a very low level of order) would return.

I was glad when father drank tea. It was better than when he drank beer.

I was glad when mother drank tea. It meant that she would take a minute to calm down and wouldn’t be so angry for a while.


Today, I am the queen of tea-making. I remember how everybody takes theirs and make them perfectly to their individual specifications. I like seeing their faces when they take the mug and peer in, nod in approval, take a sip and say, “Corrrrr, that’s a lovely cuppa tea, that is,” and they are simply happy. It’s so British it hurts.


When I began making cups of tea for my father I was about 4.

Too tiny to reach the kitchen counter, let alone the kettle. Had to drag the red plastic step over and climb on it. If there was too much water in the kettle it was too heavy to hold so I’d tip it over into the sink and refill it with just enough for a cup.

Four heaped teaspoons of sugar. PG Tips pyramid bag. Careful, careful with the hot water. Let it brew for the correct amount of time. Add a little milk (blue top). It had to be a certain colour, the tea, a very particular shade of beige. Stir stir stir so that the sugar doesn’t get stuck to the bottom of the mug. That mug. It was huge. You used that mug for over 20 years. I don’t know where it is now but I hope that someone has it.

Careful, careful with dragging the mug over to the edge of the counter. Step off the step, carefully. Two tiny hot hands carrying the mug over to Daddy. “Thank you, princess.” Sometimes a critique. “A little too much milk in this one, babe,” or “Did you put sugar in this or is it all at the bottom?” or if I had spilled a bit on the journey, he’d describe the tea as being “low tide.”


I knew his mind was gone when he wouldn’t drink his tea.


Something awful happens. Make a cup of tea.

Something needs to be sorted out. Let’s all sit down and have a nice cup of tea.

Someone dies. For god’s sake, get that kettle on.

A lovely catch up with an old friend. Tea and biccies.

Bad news. Cuppa char. Good news. Celebratory cuppa.

Big news. Make the tea first then tell us all about it.

Sad news. Sit in silence holding onto your mug of tea for warmth and comfort.

New roommate, new neighbour, new colleague, new boss. Bond over a cup of tea.

Hangover. Drag yourself to the caff for a fry up and a mug of builders tea.

Hungry but dinner is ready in an hour. Have a cheeky cup of tea.

Visiting nan and granddad. Call them when you’re 5 minutes away so they can get the mugs out and the kettle boiled.

Work break. Tea and a quick smoke outside.

In hospital. Complain about the weak tea and get friendly with the nurse so she gives you extra milk and sugar.

Foreign country. Do you have any English tea?

Visiting friends abroad. Bring a box of Twinings Breakfast tea as a gift but drink it all yourself during your stay.

Break-up. How about a lovely cup of tea and a slice of cake?

Freezing cold. A cuppa will sort you out.

Heatwave. I don’t care, get that kettle on.

When in doubt: TEA.


After your abortion I didn’t know what to do
so I just made you a cup of tea and held you
while you cried.


The only words that father learnt in Polish (my mother’s language) were kochana and herbata. “Darling” and “tea.” All he ever needed.


Daddy used to write in my birthday cards,
“I love you more than all the tea in China.”
That’s a lot of tea and a lot of love.


I used to resent making my father cups of tea but now I would love nothing more than to hear him say, “Lal, stick the kettle on and make us a cuppa, would ya?” And I would. Happily. So happily.

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art, prosetry

Mind Full -ness

There it goes, her life, into the fire. Pages baptised with teenaged tears, up in flames. Overdue relief induced by finally facing up to the formulae of her fucked-up family. All of those secrets, shredded and scattered upon a stack of sticks. Her old self no longer sits on her chest, swinging her legs. Instead, she indulged in a long soak in a bath filled with petrol and quickly succumbed to the allure of asphyxia, choked by the black smoke of hundreds of burning memories. Her current self finds that she can suddenly breathe. The air is sweet. But it’s not over yet. She knows what she must do next but doesn’t know how. She finishes her cigarette and stamps on the ashes, the cremated remains of her former self, and as she walks away she wonders how to set her brain on fire and throw her heart on the pyre, too. But first: to remind herself that she is but dust and to dust she shall return: to ignore the possibility of her former self being reincarnated as a phoenix: to empty her mind of the vision of watching her history burn: to just breathe in that relief: to leave that life, that trouble, that girl entirely behind.

[For context, read F.E.A.R here]

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poetry, prosetry

Inheritance

You left us nothing but your everything
You gave us nothing but your all

no bank account, no savings, just that envelope of drug-money:
enough to pay for a cab to the crematorium, your wicker coffin and a good old fashioned piss-up afterwards

your microwave, your hunting knife, a tin opener, a wooden spoon

over 40 years of poetry in smoke-stained notebooks

a box of photos of girlfriends past, birthdays celebrated, weddings attended, funerals suffered

that ugly glass squirrel statue that I always hated, that you insisted I must keep after you die, so that “whenever you feel sad, you can look at the ugly squirrel and laugh

morphine, temazepam, lorazepam, zopiclone: all the good ones I swiped before mother swept in and threw the rest away (she never saw an opportunity for money-making like we did)

your watch collection (for brother)
your guitars (for brother)
your records, tapes and CDs (for brother)

more notebooks, filled with the profundity of others, in your handwriting

I am angry that you destroyed your journals
but I suppose if I’d read them I would probably have begun to believe
that I didn’t really know you at all
and that would hurt more than any secret stashed in a suitcase

your denim shirt; your PROPER CORNISH jumper; your old fisherman’s smock;
none of which I dare wear, lest your scent disappear from the fibres

an unpaid electricity bill,
12 unsolved crosswords,
half a tin of Amber Leaf,
97 packets of Rizla,
5 lighters (2 working, 2 needing fuel, 1 needing a new flint)

no trust fund
but total trust
and so much fun

your good books, your good looks

the gifts of our gabs
the depression gene
the addictive personality
the grey-hair-in-your-twenties gene
the too-much-of-a-good-thing tendency
the “you’ve got laugh or else you’ll cry” mentality

a beautiful black Ibex horn
which fits perfectly in my grip;
which I use to shut my Velux because I’m too short to reach the lock;
which is solid enough to kill a man if I were to smash it against his skull

an address book with personal numbers for celebrities, royalty, tycoons, sports stars and political bigwigs

manners & morals

your blue Salbutamol inhaler
affectionately named ‘Sally’
that you used 30+ times a day instead of the prescribed 3 times a day
that I use about 3 times a month when I’m having a really bad attack
your voice in my head saying “Breathe, babes, just breathe,” and “It’ll all be over soon”
I fear the day that this inhaler runs out

no property, no vehicles, no investments
no valuable antiques, no precious heirlooms

but you were the valuable antique
and we were your precious heirlooms

passed down a generation
to be passed on to the next

the carefully curated wisdom,
the ferocity of our love,
our soft-boiled eyes,
our way of bearing our bones
to those who get close

the (hi)stories, the DNA, the surname

all of the skills
all of the lessons
all of the laughter
all of the memories

no “assets”

we were your biggest asset
and you left us us:
your chef-d’œuvre,
your magnum opus,
your greatest achievement:

you left us
us.

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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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