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. 

Heart to heart

In which I really appreciate the uncomplicated

It still puzzles me, what happened.

One moment, vague curiosity, the next?

Bolt from the blue, soul deep recognition, and cat noises.

It feels like we must have had some kind of tie in those former lives I don’t believe in – Sisters? Partners? One soul cleaved in two?

The harpoon that runs heart to heart feels ancient. 

There’s something wonderful about being able to love wholeheartedly without careful gauging of the other.

There is no watching the other person’s speed as we run toward each other, no careful dosing of affection in case the wrong message is given, no swallowed thoughts or stymied feelings. 

We’re a collision for the ages, stars plotted our meeting, bird guts had it writ large for centuries.

You’ve got those sharp edges I love, snarks spark under your skin, and that heart of yours glows incandescent.

You and me, we’re simple. 

It was about time that we met.

The glue

In which I figure out my purpose

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. 

Aglow

In which I catch the sun

I struggle to exist when I’m out of sight.

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.

Rootless

In which you’ve sung me home

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.

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.

Unbridled

In which I count the ways that I love you

She’s a no holds barred, shits ungiven, unbridled pillar of purest sass. 

She’s got more eye twinkles than a children’s poem, a laugh that’s seen you without your trousers, and a tongue that can choose to dice you or nice you.

Mountains cower at her command and slink off at the jab of a finger; chaos parts before her, scrabbling frantically to order at a single glance. 

She’s got a heart that gives and gives and gives, and she writes no return address on the back. 

Her love feels like the rise of the sun on cold skin, a warm pair of arms after years at sea.

She’s hidden in plain sight so only the luckiest can see her. 

I’m so glad I could.

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.

Even keeled

In which I send my love

It takes hundreds of miles for her to feel free. 

To chisel away at those layers of sediment worry,

Until she gleams beneath.

It takes a bitter wind to steal away her fears.

To rip at eyes and skin, until there is no room left to dread,

Only a world narrowed to a single, simple opposition.

It takes a problem solved to remind her of power.

Amid all those wicked chains that whip wild at the future,

This, alone, is in her hands. This she can do.

The sky folds down on every side,

Slicing through the heartstrings that she gifts so easily.

No longer pulled by faraway hands, she rocks on her feet, 

And takes her moment.

Hatches unbattened

In which I find someone I had lost

A boy I once knew slouches cock-sure on a ratty red velvet sofa.

A decade dead, but still in those tight jeans, legs crossed, grin in his eyes.

I never grieved for him properly, unable to puzzle out just how long forever feels.

But tonight, I curl under his arm, head to a bony shoulder that no longer exists,

Pressed against a heart that pumped kindness with every beat.

He laughs at the girl who never knew how to unbatten hatches,

Who snarked from behind razor wire fences

That she hoped would cover a permanent state of panic.

A different person sits beside him. 

She’s better at opening heart to heart,

Letting others see her weep without shame,

Allowing feelings to flow even when her mind screams. 

He, who never had the chance to grow older, 

Already knew how to do all those things a decade younger. 

It turns out forever feels longer every day.

And ‘never’ ties a weight to your heart strings,

So they plumb a depth ungrounded.

I’m going to stay here a while longer

Next to a boy I once knew, on a ratty red velvet sofa.

Time waits

In which I receive a call.

Come home, she says, a repeated plea.

Home.

There’s so much love there. Two people who will literally sandwich me when I’m howling and bathed in eau du vomit. They will hold me fast against the strange forces that wreck my body. They will feed me, comfort me, walk for me, and help me scrape the bottom of the barrel for sticky dregs of laughter.

Home.

Time stops there. Away from the life I have built for myself, the people I have collected, the places I call my own. There live the ones who knew me first, from knee high upward. There are the ones who taught me, inspired me, keep me in their hearts even now. It is there that childhood memories are unpacked.

Home brings summer flowers and cool rooms, new grown frogs and an old purring lap blanket. 

And yet a part of me asks, what then? 

Is this forever? 

Am I letting go of this life I’ve been building and falling a decade backward? Acceding to whatever it is that tears at my body?

Perhaps home must be given new lines to speak. I must dust it off, wipe away the sepia and see it in the light of the present. 

Safe harbour in the midst of this ship-wrecking storm.

Dentally challenged

In which I choose my words.

Some have sensitive teeth. 

Enamel worn by the acid of life and the fracturing punches thrown by fate.

To you, who life has rubbed until all loss devastates, I’ll tell only tales of romance before it cracks, never stories of the broken pieces.

To you, so weighed down by clouds of darkness that you cannot carry mine too, I’ll give only the gossamer and tuck away dragging tendrils of sadness.

And to you, for whom feelings are glowing iron between icy teeth, I’ll give only carefully cultivated words to amuse, shorn of the emotions that tumble alongside.

I’ll brick away my broken pieces, my tendrils of sadness, my tumbling emotions, and keep each of you from harm.

But remember, there is more to me than meets your tooth.

Ode to Ibuprofen

In which I dwell on a love lost

Pencil and watercolour sketch of a snake eating frogspawn by Isla Kennedy - Medically Unexplained

I was young when I met you.

I, sixteen, and you sixteen in a pack – so strong, so reliable. You seemed so available back then.

I couldn’t get enough of you. Ignored the murmurs from my family, my friends.

I needed you.

But your sugar coating was skin deep.

You turned my bowels into burning pipes of doom.

O! The diarrhoea!

The tender eruptions of our love!

My stomach filled with the broken shards of our promises, and inflated till it tried to escape my chest. Vomit stained my nights.

My stomach in my mouth, I had to let you go.

Many years have grown between us now. I watch others flirt with you and bite back warnings. They will learn.

He sleeps now, my Morpheus, he doesn’t know I once loved another. He is a gentle tonic after your burning love, for all that he is slow to respond when I call him.

You, oh, you were my first love.

I wonder sometimes, if I were to meet you again, would we be as once we were?

Sweet sixteen and the pain of the world washed away.

But my digestive system belies my heart.

My guts have never forgiven you.

Isla’s web

In which we consider the nature of relationships

I stand on an island.

Isla on an island. (How satisfying.)

It’s around 30 feet across, covered in the springy grass that only grows atop really peaty soil. About two feet in from the edges are thick metal loops that have been hammered into the ground, each as thick as my wrist and veined with faint reddish streaks. They’re buried at one foot intervals around the circumference of the island, and while some lie empty, others hum and spark.

The one nearest me is barely visible beneath a mass of shining, seething threads, each stretching and intertwining with its sisters to form a single thronging rope that throws itself beyond the island and out into the mist. This is by far the busiest hive of threads.

It leads to my mother’s island.

Every thread is a message, a photo, a phonecall, a hug, a shared laugh, a rushed journey to comfort, a warm meal, an eye roll, a word to the wise. The threads dash from my end to hers and back, the rope between us now too thick to grasp in both hands and electric with activity.

A short walk away lies another loop. This one empty but for a single sparking thread that noses the air, then tentatively slips away into the mist.

Let us watch and wait.

After minutes-days-weeks, the thread begins to vibrate, and from beyond the island comes another line, intertwining with mine until it reaches the metal loop. As it does, the filaments grow brighter, stronger. This is the birth of a friendship, the tentative creation of a relationship that will grow stronger as the threads continue to weave between the islands.

On the other side of the island are the loops I avoid, letting my eyes slide away as I walk past and tend the others. They still have thick bundles of threads tied to them, but they are withered and grey. There is no spark, no movement, and if you stand and watch, you see only fraying and splintering. Some of those cords still stretch in vain out beyond the island’s edge, but others hang limply over the side, severed and flailing helplessly in the wind.

The threads of these relationships stopped flowing: one too many missed calls or failed replies, a long forgotten argument, a barrier of pride.

One too many cancellation.

Every time I cancel – a dinner, a birthday, a meeting, a concert, a rehearsal – I watch a nascent thread falter and fall still. For newborn relationships, it can be fatal; with established relationships, I can see a thickened scar of burnt out threads.

I tend to my island with love, haunted by the burnt out cords that flap failure in my wake.