Racing With the Rising Tide to my Father’s Door

In my dream, because odd, mystical little pockets of my subconscious are the one consistent thing in my life, I’m up to my waist in the sway of the sea. I can feel my legs fighting the sweep to and fro as the waves race each other to break their hearts on the shore; it reminds me again how powerful, how full of nature’s raw force, is something as clear and soft and submissive as water.

Christ wades in, the ocean moving like silk around him. I smile even in sleep because I remember how this man is no stranger to the sea and wonder why he doesn’t simply stand upon the surface as it whispers and shushes around us, then I think of baptism and purifying baths from time and temples immemorial and remember that in some ways we must be like children to enter the kingdom of Heaven, and I imagine he enjoys playing in the sea as much as the next wayward kid. He is wearing a plain robe that must have once been white, some kind of flax or rough linen, now rusty with red dust. We both look at the horizon, a long line of indigo melting into a strangely coloured sky that isn’t day or night.

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A silence that is not silence blooms; that feeling you get when you are with a dear friend and there’s no need to communicate with something as clumsy as words when a smile, a raised brow, the click of the kettle’s switch will do. Christ and I rarely talk in these strange little visions of mine, but that doesn’t mean nothing is said. The keening, echoing cry of the gulls comes, arcing across the water like dry ice.

He tells me in the silence that I will have to be brave, that I cannot be afraid of emptiness, and I feel rage bubbling up like lava in my gullet because I am done being brave, I have spent years in the exile of emptiness, I have wasted my life treading water in this lonely ocean and I will not crawl any further on bleeding knees, I will not come to you with wounds weeping vinegar, I will not be broken I will not I will not Thou shalt not…

He says nothing, merely watches the water, but I think he understands.

The tide turns. Now the pull is back to the sea and I feel my legs protest against being dragged out into that roiling void where monsters propel themselves through the black canyons at crushing depth. I stand firm with the rough tongue of the the sand against my soles and turn to look at the man beside me but Christ has gone, as quietly and unobtrusively as a feather falling to earth. The water whispers its ceaseless, primordial lullaby, the sky has darkened to the violet glaze of perpetual sunset.

Above my head, the gulls laugh.

The Well of Loneliness

‘What’s it like? The new place?’

I struggled to find the words. Cold. Bleak. Liminal. I wanted to show her the slim rivers drying on my cheeks, leaving a trail of ashes and salt. I wanted to play a film of the last six weeks and have a lightning flash of understanding tear through muscle and electrify bone. I wanted to say the unfamiliarity is killing me.

I was sitting in my room – my strange, alien room – after I was released from the clinic – (none of these memories will be in order, by the way, Mind: Out of Order) – knocking back black instant coffee, sharp and sour and necessary as breathing, curled up in the hollow of God’s palm like a spider caught in a match flame; a jumble of delicate, breakable limbs. I wanted to say: You know I had a fiancé, right? A warm home in a beautiful part of the country? A glamourous if stressful job? Now I’m single and jobless in halfway housing, what do you think it’s like?

‘Yeah…It’s okay actually.’

I was a coward. I sipped my thin, watery caffeine and remembered standing on the warm concrete of the clinic yard watching the stars come out, like spots of bright rain on the other side of the glass. Life suspended in the atmosphere, life as a spinning plate, life as a shard of stardust wandering bright and aimless under Heaven, step by faltering step.

STEP ONE – list five things drinking/drug taking gave you in the beginning…

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…and I wrote power…escape…belonging… among others. Thinking about it, right from the first time the glass lip of a bottle clinked against my teeth, I was swallowing escape. A magical elixir that could make me like other people, that could tailor the awkward suit of my own skin more neatly around my transgressive, psychedelic watercolour soul, that opened a door to anywhere but here. I used to think the miracle ‘Drink Me’ was about lifting myself out of the well of loneliness; but I realised during Step One that it was always, always about crawling right inside the broken ribcage of my loneliness, shuffling on bleeding knees like a sinner to the foot of a rotting cross, and dying there.

I cried when I put down the phone. I knew I’d get on the floor and talk to God in a minute, another minute, a breath, another breath; dragged in and out of my lungs like an oxygen clock, but the dial tone pushed my head under the water and put me deep in the well, listening to the sound of my own breathing echoing off the stones

If I Live, If I Die

    Lord if you hear me, I’m falling down

Day one. I’m on my way to rehab. We’re tearing down the motorway in the spitting rain and everything is grey, even the grass banks seem to be flowing away up to the horizon like watercolour. I can feel the sympathetic green of my eyes leaking too, melting out into the white canvas of watery optic around them, getting right into the fine cracks. Emerald-shot.

‘You’re sure you want to do this?’ My stepfather is smoking a cigarette out of the window. ‘We’re all behind you…It’s just…’

It’s just that I’m thirty years old and these wheels are hissing through the puddles on the road and I’m jumping off into empty space like a guy about to beat the hangman to the drop. It’s just that the the first half of my life has dwindled like a dollar store candle, guttering into A&E visits and psych hospitals and what’s left of the flame stutters now with the slightest shift in the air. It’s just that my heart is floating somewhere above the earth, one trembling thread tied to a blade of grass, just a cobweb kissing the ground and only visible to those blessed people who take the time to stop and watch the wind change. I can feel myself straining at the confines of my own skeleton with every glass of hot amber like someone swimming in the wild at night, waiting to be sucked under by a stray current like the bad end of a Victorian romance; white leaden limbs catching in the feral green hair of the river.

In front of us, a lone black Lexus weaves across the lane. My stepfather snorts.

‘What do they think they’re doing? The dozy motherfucker.’

I shrug, my shoulder blades feel dislocated, my brain is rattling on its stem like a dice box trying to throw a six. ’They’re probably daydreaming about what it’s like to not be driving a Lexus.’

He laughs and we race in silence past storage units and roadside diners and trees still thick with summer green. I am leaving my past life behind me as easily as the glowing embers of that smouldering paper cigarette-end as it bounces on the road. I almost say: I had a dream last night that I was looking through one of those spyholes you get on apartment doors, and I knew there was someone on the other side waiting for me to answer but I couldn’t make nothing out but a pair of dark eyes. I think it might have been the Devil knocking. What do you think of that.

 My faith is weary, my soul is too
Lord if you hear me, I need some proof

He hauls my bag out of the trunk and I stand there as the rain stops falling. Everything about this place is horrifyingly new and strange and I stand there by the cricket ground, hollow as a chapel as the car roars off, my fingers aching and the thick, swampy beat of this song I’ve had rolling around my skull for weeks – about the last-chance, bleeding-out ache of a soul on the rocks – coming back to me, watching my breath hang in the air like I could stop time or make a wish or God would answer my prayers if I can just faithfully count every droplet of water taking flight from my lungs. I think:

Fuck me, my life is a church that burned down.

I wonder how my legs are moving when my spine is an anchor ripping through deep water, when the seconds are sixty air bubbles a minute in lungs crushing under all that oceanic pressure. Then the door opens and fluorescent light pours out into the chill and misty air and suddenly my hands are empty, and I step through the door staring down at the dead white lines across my fingers, where the blood has stopped flowing. I remember signing the contract for treatment because I walked through the doors sober. I remember carrying my light bag – 28 days worth of hastily gathered t-shirts and jeans, a toothbrush, a dusky pink snake of adventurine prayer beads – up the echoing stairs to an attic room, opening the skylight and watching the beech leaves dance in the wind. Looking at my own face in the mirror, bleached and blank and bare, like the walls.