Hidden shallows

In which I didn’t get the memo

It turns out my niceness is only skin deep. 

Beneath the surface, I spit glittering vitriol in an acid arc around myself. These spattering thoughts blister words into the dirt: ‘Join me in lockdown… feel this grief for a past life… falter here with me, in this stuttering uncertainty.’

But there are those who continue to grow within four walls, plucking opportune plums from a laden bough and making life sweet. They barely stutter at all.

The bastards.

I, meanwhile, simmer in my acid bath, my skin growing thinner with every slow second. The liquid blooms rose-pink and rises.

At some point I should stand up and wade out, before too much of me is lost. But the burn is comforting and the return of full gravity is too much to bear.

I’m staying here. Hip deep in shed niceties, I pass the time by drowning well-meaning platitudes until they dissipate to nothing.

Afloat

In which I drift

The water felt warm, a soft lulling comfort that whispered my eyes closed.

In the months that I’ve been here, floating under a gentle sun, I have drifted further and further from the shore I once walked. 

The longer I lie here, the less I remember why I fled land for sea. There was something about pain, I think.

Soft waves sluice away thoughts before they can take shape. 

This was a safe place to wait.

But there’s no longer a shoreline on my horizon. 

Panic hears the skip of my heartbeat as a starter gun, and she charges toward me, eyeballs rolling in a rearing skull. Her hooves syncopate with heartbeats.

The water starts to churn.

And I open my eyes.

All the leaves are brown

In which the sky is grey

The post-holiday blues are sniffing at the door, scrabbling with intent at the letter slot. Anxiety gives a howl as she butts at the drooping handle, while Misery sits back with his old head resting on his paws, waiting for the inevitable opening of the door. Irritation nips at the others and gives a volley of angry barks at being kept in the cold.

Every song that plays on a playlist that I know to be filled with chirpiness somehow hits a mournful note.

I’m keeping the blues at bay by imagining myself launching into the blackened sky and flying higher and higher until I’m above this thickened layer of mist and rain.

I emerge into blazing blue skies and find the Sun’s fierce glow.

I dance over the cloud plain until the memory is locked in place and I can bring it with me as I descend back down to earth.

I nail another plank over the front door.

Heel drag

In which I attempt to summon motivation

There’s this thing I should be doing.

Well, several things to be exact. 

And they’re determinedly shifting back into sight whenever I sulkily swing my head in the opposite direction. 

They’ve been swelling with every hour that passes, from tiny tweeting companions to hulking feathered dinosaurs that send jerking fear into my stomach whenever they stomp into view. 

They hate being ignored. Hate all those other things I choose to look at instead, hate the way I airily dismiss their existence to other people, ‘This evening? That sounds lovely, I’ve got no plans at all.’

Eventually they’ll tire of the chase and they’ll move in for the kill, no longer allowing me to avoid. Black sweeps of wing will reach around me so there is nowhere for my eyeballs to flee.

Dealing with them is painful: every feather is sharply serrated and sticky and progress is slow. But they eventually shrink as I face them, rhino-sized to ostrich, to turkey, to chicken, to blackbird, to a sneezing puff of minute feathers drifting slowly to the ground. 

My horizon remains clear for all of five minutes. 

Then I hear tweeting behind me. 

Time warp

In which I wait

Sometimes it seems they’re caught in amber, in beads cast down by a sweating Sun. And it’s a beautiful place to be – all golden light and weightless suspension, and they’re barely aware that the slide of liquid has stilled around them.

And sometimes the amber darkens to tar. Surface long unbroken, they suspend beneath a blackened crust accompanied only by the larvae of petroleum flies and the souls of all those creatures who discovered the afterlife was hot and sticky. 

And sometimes a light catches the tar and it turns to ice. They’re barely visible within, just shadowed potential, but the faintest signs of thaw mark the gritted grey surface. There’s no way to know if they will emerge from Schrödinger’s ice cube unscathed despite their years of stasis.

But each slow drip sounds like hope.

Raw

In which I’m a little sunburnt on the inside

The scent of the sewage works is sliding around the window. Not exactly offensive, just faintly organic. A nasal weathercock that signifies an easterly breeze.

It’s raining on the shed below (and, unsurprisingly, elsewhere), and each drop has its knees bent up, arms wrapped around for maximum velocity, and is making a satisfying thwack-splat on the plastic-wrapped roof.

Through the collisions of kamikaze rain come the sounds of planes, every takeoff and landing a slow, deep rumbling sigh in the contented chest of the heavens.

I can feel all those sounds in my bones, the smells trickle along vertebrae, and that grey light – so often loathed – offers a soft cloud buffer between the world and me. 

I’m a little raw today. 

Last night, I unlocked one of those boxes I keep in my head and spilled its contents out, despite my brain’s best efforts to squirm and wriggle out from under your mercilessly gentle spotlight. 

And under that light, the shadows of the Dread Shame might have faded a bit.

So I’m wrapping myself in greys and rumbles, bathing in the faint scent of sewage, and hoping I’ll have a while before doubt wheedles its way back in. 

Rattled

In which I remain a mystery

There’s a kneading in my chest, a drawing out, a punching in, a folding over. I’m not quite sure what the end result is meant to be (and I’m doubtful it’s worth all the commotion). My lungs are doing their best to press on despite the surrounding churn, thin breath in, thin breath out, a constant battle against diaphragm. 

Shoulders are corded tight, ratcheted two clicks past comfortable and tugging up toward my beleaguered neck. They too, appear to know something I don’t. 

It slithered in from somewhere, maybe alongside that dream last night with all that frantic dismemberment and panicked swipes of fingerprints. Maybe it came in as I drew away from the present and slid toward the past without shuffling my thoughts into order first. 

It’s refusing to answer questions in any case.

This feeling is the one that wants to consume everything in sight. Fill all bodily cavities until there is no room for churn or movement or tightness. There is only the sturdy counter press of repletion. 

It always passes, sliding out of my skin and into another’s without any pattern or cause. In the meantime, this mound of flesh I call ‘mine’ will continue to jitter and jolt its way onward, desires and motives entirely opaque.

Labour of love

In which we wear judgy-pants.

“Is she in love with you?!” They ask, young eyes wide at the impossible concept of love actually being a many splendored thing: one apparently shouldn’t write poems for one with whom you are not in love. 

I didn’t get the memo.

And then there’s the careful note in the arms of someone who feels that love has now become something to be coloured within the lines. The innocence and ease has become increasingly self-conscious and cautious as childhood disappears into the distance. 

Eyebrows rise if I share a room with my brother or father when travelling, and assumptions are made if I go to dinner with a male friend. Handholding over the age of ten seems to only signal romantic love, so I receive speculative eyeballs when I support my mother – lover? Daughter? Carer? 

A spectrum of love exists to be expressed in a spectrum of ways. So I’ll take off my judgy-pants if you take off yours.

Scatterbrain

In which I figure we’re all zombies

I’ve opted to donate my brain to the public. I slice away a wafer of grey each day, and post it for consumption, dissection and deliberation. Reassemble all those slices, and the shape of my thoughts starts to emerge – every normalcy and abnormality revealed.

People talk about the ‘courage’ it takes to paint the internet with the contents of your head, I suppose because there is a worry that others might take your weaknesses and wield them, or that others might view you to be less because of your revelations, or that you might discover that you’re unacceptably abnormal and a case for social exile. 

Mostly nobody’s all that special. There are millions of brain spatters across the web. Each slice sets off a bell in a similar slice of someone else’s brain – commonality results far more than rejection. 

I feel like most of us watch the world in the hope of finding others like us, people who make us feel a little less strange and alone. Some of us keep our brain firmly locked on the inside, lest it give away our less palatable selves. But that only serves to make us more afraid that nobody else is like us, we are alone in the universe with a bitter brain.

I find that sticking slices of brain on the web gives me an extra step of distance – I’m better able to look at myself and reflect on that complex lump of neurons. The shadow self that emerges looks different from my assumptions, visible in all its objective glory.


And so I keep on serving another slice. Bon appétit.

Baggage

In which I realise I’m not exempt

I fear I’ll be transmuted into a millstone – rough around the neck, with an interminable grind that erodes temper and tether. 

I’ll become sickly sweet, cloying and claggy even as the mouth gets rinsed again and again. 

I’ll be a duty, one to tick off each day with a plummeting stomach and stiffening shoulders.

I’ll be an unreachable thorn latched in a once smooth flank. A ball and chain without a lock. An albatross that was shot without understanding just how heavy it would feel once wrapped around the neck.

And mostly I fear that all the while, I will know. 

No cigar

In which memory stings

I’d never encountered anything that I couldn’t achieve so long as tried. 

So I tried.

I held smiles on lips that no longer worked, turned precognition to maximum to put things in place before they were needed, and tried to follow the rules spoken on a million forums (not too much, not too little, not too keen, not too distant, be less annoying, be less pathetic). 

I tried harder.

Helplessness began to claw its way up my throat over and over again, refusing to be swallowed back down. Wet footprints trod cheeks at first in darkness and then began to march in daylight. 

I tried harder.

My heart was rubbed raw with myriad microscopic failings. My ears began to ring with siren calls that drowned every scene with portents of failure. 

And when I finally cut myself loose, I still didn’t get it. I couldn’t understand that the problem was not one of effort but one of being:

I needed to not be me.

Stuck with me, as it were, I came to recognise the futility of trying.

And yet sometimes those sirens still whisper sweet nothings.

No matter how hard you try, you will never be enough.

Soft spot

In which I feel uncomfortable

I’ve got a real soft spot for you. 

(Get your mind out of the gutter.)

It’s the tenderness of a piglet’s belly, the nestle of warm sheets, the helpless puddling of ice cream in summer sun. 

It feels like I’ve only just realised how stabbable I am, how all these knotted organs are wrapped in flesh rather than the spined armour I always assumed I wore.

Like the Emperor’s new clothes, once I realised it wasn’t there, I was left naked and flinching at how easily a word could slip between a rib to puncture or nick. 

Fear wraps his arms around me, holding me immobilised as I see your words approach. But they slip over my skin, loosening the clutch of those bony fingers and soothing the bruises beneath. They glide over ribs with the softest of pads, slow and gentle until the tide of anxiety is reversed.

Fear returns the next day, and the next, and yet your words never sharpen with impatience. A disgusted part of me watches the floundering and shrieks for me to weave back the armoured illusion I once wore. 

But then I look at you.

And I think that soft spot might stay.

Out of my shell

In which I find a new home

I crawled into my first shell in childhood, a tiny whorl of cream that settled a comforting weight around my shoulders.

Likes reading, more slapdash than her brother, bit of a temper, proud, lies really well, perfectionist.

I outgrew that first shell in my teenage years and found myself a larger one, a cone splattered with brown.

Thoughtful, doesn’t like getting things wrong, good at big picture stuff, hates trying new things unless she knows she’ll be good at them. Good with other people but doesn’t always have the confidence to speak up. 

When I headed to university, I moved into a long pale spiral that gleamed inside.

Works well with others but needs her own space, will step up to lead if given a shove. Picks things up quickly, sees too many sides to successfully argue just one angle.

And so I moved as I changed, finding new homes whenever I outgrew the last.

I’ve been in my current shell for the last few years. It’s a gorgeous mottled green, fading to yellow at the tip. It fitted well, holding all that I am, all that I enjoy, and all that I was capable of. 

But now it hangs loose about me.

The person who chose this home saw the world differently, had different expectations, and had assumptions that can no longer come to pass. 

It is time to choose another shell.

There is a sadness in leaving one behind: I’m losing the familiar and the loyal, and moving into the unknown. But with change comes potential and possibility.

This new shell will contain my new self as it moves along a perpendicular path. It will be a shelter to life’s tides, a safe place to regroup and regrow. 

And one day it will feel like home.

Cracked chest

In which I reflect on changes

I used to form relationships with a locked chest, living in fear that the lid might open or a rib might crack to reveal an uncurated and unsanitised heart.

That heart still had expectations and needs, but they were tattoos etched invisible under my skin. Those who failed to read these imperceptible instructions were subject to imperceptible resentment and anger – thick jagged lines that boiled beneath my skin’s surface.

It took pain to unlock the chest and strip away the opaque and callused layer that covered my feelings. I emerged raw and vulnerable from my shed skin, tattoos meeting the eyes of others for the first time. 

I began to form relationships with my ribs spread wide open, the catch broken and hanging by a single rusted screw. My inner self was finally congruent with my outer self and my relationships were no longer rent by disparity.

One sharp tug by a pair of knowing eyes and my heart spills onto the table with a wet thwack, pulling itself toward those eyes with a hundred bloody arms.

The extremes of life scrape and soothe more loudly than they did before, and sometimes these tattoos cause burning shame or fear of rebuff. 

But that old skin with its suffocating shielding would never fit me anymore.

Verge

In which I made a decision

I can’t get between my ribs to that stuttering heart.

(I think there might be something wrong with it, but the warranty ran out a while ago.)

My brain seems to have turned into one of those big glass bubbles with ping pong balls of thought flying in every direction.

New thought: utterly irrelevant.

New thought: completely nonsensical. 

Lungs still seem to be working though, focus on that.

There’s familiarity, sure, but also a realisation that there’s so much unknown behind the line you toed. Familiar never felt so strange.

In air cooled by rain long due, risk marries possibility and spins excitement into anxiety’s arms in a nauseatingly glorious waltz.

I can’t find another footing, the next handhold is in the dark, and it’s a bit of a bloody nightmare for someone who likes to satellite view every journey before she takes it.

That’s life, apparently. 

I’m not sure I’ve been designed to the necessary specification to cope with it.