I remember the feel of it, that blanket of trust and warmth and pride and ease. From the inside, it seemed impossible that anything could exist outside the golden globe.
But I’m on the outside now. And I can’t find a path back through the purpling bricks of disappointment and hurt. A wall started stacking the minute disillusionment hit, the minute I slid out of the golden bubble. Each brick whispers a memory, and as I brush my fingers against coarse surfaces, those jolts of remembered pain rip their way back in.
And I jerk back from love.
My body built those bricks in response to threat: each one shaped around grit that would have scoured my heart raw. Each one is a warning that this love hurts.
To get back to love, I would have to pass through these mounds of past pains, feeling them anew.
I know that love is somewhere in there. But it might not be worth the journey.
Dismembered heads seem entirely Innocuous until the Object in question is a Child. Pale lips an eternal moment from speech, Locks of hair unmoved by chill breeze, and Eyes never carved to completion. They loved this face enough to make it marble. While the laughing boy Is now forgotten, love Anchors to his every Nick and fracture.
When I love I leave sticky fingerprints on every surface: remembering something forgotten, picking up something out of my way, gifting small joys like a cat dragging in half-battered birds.
My mother has always said that love is shown through actions, words are too easy. I took her belief and buried it in my heart, folding it again and again until rippled metal shone.
My mother and I, we love in absolute balance, action meets action in a constant clash of sparking steel hearts. But not everyone forged their hearts this way. I run the risk of bruising or crushing, or of suffocating others with a barrage of gestures that I watch unfold with impotent horror.
While it is easy to keep words under body arrest, it turns out I have only clumsy control of my actions.
This steel heart consistently runs the risk of stake raising. A gift for a friend that’s more extravagant than warranted, repeatedly putting yourself out until the other person feels a keen imbalance, giving when someone else feels unable to give back.
I’ve gathered ruddy rocks to smelt chains that can wrap this heart of mine tight and slow the pendulum swing. And maybe one day I’ll figure out how to wield it without wounding.
Rationally, I accept that most kids go through a phase of being selfish, whiny, demanding bastards.
Somewhat irrationally, I find it really hard not to hate them for it – quite possibly because it’s like looking Past Isla in the eye.
Past Isla was what polite company might call, ‘head-strong’, and what people behind closed doors might call, ‘a pig-headed, smart-mouthed, amoral princess.’ She was determinedly unwilling to accept that she might not be the centre-point of the universe’s orbit (she was, after all, much more right than anyone else), and she made sure to correct anyone who failed to recognise her supremacy.
Backing down was for lesser beings. Lies would escalate, piling on top of one another like teetering blocks held only in place by steely belligerence. The universe fell into line with a whimper when she demanded that it be just so. And when something failed to align with her plan, her wrath was terrible to behold. Eardrums shuddered at her rage, skin burned under laser stares, and smoke crept from beneath doors as she smouldered.
It didn’t take her long to learn that there were other ways to force the universe into line. Sweetness and light was a new one, all wide eyes and shy smiles, obedience that went beyond the letter of instruction, liberally slathered in butter that made it all the more likely that she’d win. She continued to smoulder underneath, of course, but learned to tuck the smoke inside and stop it from pouring down her nostrils.
The sheer humiliation of being told off sent rolling waves of scorch down her face and along her arms, blew deafening white noise into her ears. This was unacceptable. She adapted, it was imperative that no-one find out things that would lead to a bollocking. Instead, she hid those infringements, honed her lies, and began to work in earnest on her outward facade. She needed to appear perfect from every angle, no gap to reveal the complex calculations and mechanisms that clicked and clunked beneath.
Eventually, the facade was perfected and the smouldering child lived wholly within its walls. As that facade grew more familiar and those actions and reactions became second nature, her fires banked and her hackles gradually lay smooth against her spine.
I remember her when I watch another child give the world a hard kick in groin, reptilian eyes showing only satisfaction and menace. And I wonder if Past Isla’s still in here somewhere, if I’m unwittingly carrying Versuvius within my skin.
I always talk about not having a real role – no jobs with my initials, no tasks that are mine and mine alone. The baby quite often doesn’t, especially when surrounded by Gods of Practicality. I’ve always pattered around and lent a hand where needed: I hold up planks, check ovens, weed unruly patches, carry washing, grab people when it’s time to eat.
But I’ve finally come to terms with the fact that it’s okay for my role to be invisible rather than practical.
I am the glue. And occasionally, the WD40.
I trot from one workplace to the next – shed, garden, house – find a perch and begin my work.
I listen for the things that create frustration, the needs unmet, and when I move on to the next person, I carefully pollinate ideas to improve understanding.
I translate when you’re listening wholly with your assumptions and pipette an appropriate amount of humour into the situation, defusing the tension.
I acknowledge frustration and gently attempt to lend you someone else’s shoes to try on.
I tease, peeling up the edges of sunken spirits until the hulking mass begins to rise upward.
I soothe ruffled feathers, am silent when you need it, and my arms are always open.
And in return, I am the recipient of such utterly uncomplicated love that it flows from heart to heart with no hesitation.
When I’m with you, I’m lit by the blazing sunlight of your presence. Everything becomes more entertaining, more challenging, more exciting.
But I fade from your brain as soon as my footsteps recede, and I only buzz a mental alarm clock when you encounter an overt reminder.
I know it’s just the way you are – I’ve always known. It’s an integral part of you and it couldn’t be changed without everything else changing.
I learned to let go of expectations because there was only ever one result: I would get hurt and then the same thing would roll around and happen again. Expectations form a wedge of resentment that slides between your heart and mine, but I’m the only one who knows it’s there.
I catch myself now and then, caught between hope and waiting. Gilded with the bladed edge of bitterness. And then I remember that there is no decision between you or the lack of you. I cannot live without the sun.
So I store up those glowing hours and let them cast light on darker times. I absorb apologies into my skin and know that they are completely sincere in the moment, for all that they may scatter into ashes in the next.
And when I walk into the sunshine once more, it will burn away all but the heart you hold in your hands.
I came here rootless, one of those here-one-day-gone-the-next millennials that weevils into your roots when you’re not looking. We’re generally a toxic bunch, hollowing out localities with our disinterest in history and community, turning homes into places to sleep and neighbours into parcel collectors.
So it meant something when you welcomed me with open warmth and a hefty handful of humour.
You let me piggy back your stories, rummage through the memories you’ve collected, and become part of something that began before I was born. You gave me rides, sent me emails and offered company when I had no one else nearby, weaving a net that would catch me without a second’s thought.
And you always keep a weather eye out for anyone sitting alone.
I find the ecosystem you’ve created utterly beautiful – you’re a bastion for my faith in humanity.
This is what kindness can build.
No longer a parasite, you’ve let me graft to your trunk, so I can begin to call your roots my own.