Persephone’s Feast

Get up, because the draught has woken you again, make a thin, weak instant coffee and listen to the absolute feathery white static silence of the night. Try to be positive; think how lovely this breeze will be in the summer, as you rub the blood back into your feet. Check the cupboards and nibble a slice of hardening bread.

Back in bed, with the covers wrapped cocoon-like around you, wonder if today’s the day you can have a hot shower, or a bath without boiling the kettle seven times, because maybe by some miracle the plumbing your landlord won’t fix is better now. Wonder how many calories there are in the bread you’ve just eaten, tell yourself to relish the cold night because shivering burns fat. Wonder what you’ve become.

There’s an ethereal quality to the hours just before dawn, when the night is over but the day not yet born, it’s the counterweight to faerie’s dusk, when it’s dangerous to look in hallway mirrors. You know you should be writing but instead you’re thinking about Victorian seances and bathroom suicides and bad omens (before you woke you dreamed about a buzzard dying with its wings torn off). About bisexuality and lesbianism in bohemian Paris, about the likelihood of WWIII predicted in Buzzfeed articles, about dying your hair in lilac pastels and changing your name again. About the food you can’t afford (it doesn’t matter, starvation has 0 calories).

IMG_0247.JPG

When the sun comes, listen to the crowing of a rooster in someone’s back yard. Dress in cold clothing, staring at the freckling of peridot moss on next door’s tiles. There are bargain plums ripening in a bowl on the kitchen counter but they are not ready to eat; remember that time you bought a pomegranate and every seed was flawless and the most mystical thing you’d ever tasted, rivalled only by farmhouse eggs with the richest yolks of golden orange. Remember a house with heat and light and carpets, look around at the mould beginning to creep through another coat of nunnery-white paint. Wonder what you’ve become.

Call your partner, your sponsor, your friend. Tell them everything’s fine. You miss them, you’re still sober and getting to meetings, what are they up to. Block out the insistent whispering in your head by trying to act like a normal person. With going to the shops and gazing longingly at meat that won’t be reduced until 18.00 like a normal person. With running a tepid bath and lying there until your flesh is numb obsessing over torturous cold water therapy in Georgian sanatoriums like a normal person. With picking up the tablets that stop the worst of this putting you back in hospital.

Wait…Just wait for the quiet night to roll around again, when it’s just you and your ghosts in the Hades of this room, waiting for revelation between the clock hands, eating up the seconds like those pomegranate seeds.

Wonder what you’ve become.

Venice of the North

‘Look at that,’ she says, pointing out of the train window. There is a wave of roiling cloud washing through the trees, streaked with yellow; a bruise flying over the fields. The long key is a kind of cold bone in my hand, the carriage smells of damp wool. ‘Do you think we can race the storm?’ I smile, I don’t tell her that we raced it months ago and lost. The little bed under the eaves has a patchwork quilt. An old dressing table leans by the window as the rain gently hurls its melody against the ground. She twirls, laughing, the hem of her black lace skirt ghosting across the old floorboards.

‘Isn’t it perfect? Isn’t it sweet?’ The beaded necklaces around her neck clack together, lapis lazuli, carnelian, amber. Her hands are as white and smooth as lilies, the brass buttons on her coat catch the light like old coins. ‘It’s Alice in Wonderland! You can be the Hatter.’

Yes, I think. Eat me. Drink me.

Outside the surreal womb of the hotel, the clip-clop of hooves striking the cobbles is always in the background, like the church bells. Faint wisps of snow flit across the bridges like tentative spirits; a haze of Christmas lights and camera flash and the raw wind stripping you, like silver bark peeled from a birch tree.

IMG_3263

We go to see the Holy Blood, a strange, speckled cloth housed between jeweled crowns, and her eyes fill with tears. I know she is not Catholic, but she crosses herself and smiles with folded hands and damp eyes at the woman standing patiently behind the sacred relic. I see communion in the woman’s eyes; happiness, approval. How does she do this? How does she connect so completely through so much impulsive artifice? It’s like holding a gloved hand, can’t they see? I want to drag her out into the aisle and shout, ‘It’s an act! Look! She’s an actress!’ As though the plaster would crack and fall and they’d all see the brick beneath.

I won’t. It never happens. Only my silence is required. I wonder sometimes if I am even there at all. I watch the glow of candlelight warming the old white stone and think of all the people who huddled in church as winter roared silently on down the centuries, staring at the little flames as I am now. Sanctuary. A pool of gentleness in the long, medieval terror of freezing water and salted meat.

After the wedding, we walk slowly through the town. There are shreds of cornflower and rose petals in her hair, from the moment they rained gently on the bride and groom. When she smiles, I remember everything. Somewhere underneath the plaster, the brickwork shifts. The laughter of tourists in a canal boat reaches me, a babble of French voices in a major key. I love that musicality transcends language; that I can tell those souls upon the water are happy, even though I do not understand what they are saying.

 

Flying in the Crucible

‘I’m not a mental health writer.’ I say, watching the water beneath me tangle itself up in silky spirals that vanish again in an instant. Beside me, he blows the air out of his mouth hard, frustrated.

‘You should be. Do something with it.’

I try to explain that teasing everything that’s beautiful about the world to the surface is all I’ve ever wanted to do. It was never about how the warped lens of my brain saw the way sunlight looks rippling across a shallow riverbed, or the way the ground in that blistering olive grove I visit year after year steams after the rain. The silence you only ever find in church, candle smoke and frost.

On Sunday, walking home at night, I breathed in the air as it turned towards a new season and instantly flew backwards 22 years to throwing open my grandmother’s bedroom window, amazed at the sweetness of the evening air as summer comes. I remember pulling in deep lungfuls of it as a child, high on its perfume, and even the fullest, most rib-breaking breath never being enough. The same drugged sensation came over me again on Sunday night; it was intoxicating, it was Midsummer, it was faerie, it was limitless possibility and I wanted to run and run over the fields until I slipped somehow through the veil to the world beyond I always secretly knew was home.

It reminded me of all the time I’ve been wasting, trying to be normal. Because I do want to talk more about the strangeness that blooms under my skin in secret petals, about always being impossibly Other.

IMG_2877

Honesty is a refinement of the spirit, a crucible that makes a molten puddle of your deceptions, but in this case I ask myself what good would it do. I worry; wonder if my words would disappear into the void of ‘mental health’ rather than remain standing as they are, barefaced. The way I see the world is warped, through sea glass and stained glass; lit by halos and moonlight on silver shillings. It’s the sound of doors to everywhere opening inside me, a thousand grandmother’s windows thrown open to let the night in. I don’t want my world to shrink to a word, would it? Why should I care?

Perhaps I’m protesting too much. Perhaps he’s right and I do have a gift, something to say about living with a mind full of watercolour. The fact remains that my name is stamped in black photocopy in doctor’s offices along the coast. I eat pink pills every night just so that I can get some sleep, but when I do dream, it’s of flying.

Momentum

Opposite my window lurks the gaunt, grey shadow of the old people’s home. I look straight into their dining room, lit almost every hour with dim, soothing lights. The glint of ready cutlery. There is one woman in particular who sits out in the garden when she can, and always on the second-floor balcony at three. She wears a white dress and has beautifully styled hair the same bleached linen colour. The White Woman. Last time she was sitting out there she had a birthday balloon tied to her chair. My neighbour and I were going to take some roses around, but we got drunk in the afternoon and forgot.

I feel like pounding my fist against the door with a question – what the hell happened to me over the last few years? Too much solitude, the keyhole whispers. That long, dark brain of yours ate the silence and then it ate you. I ended up hating this pretty town; endless rainy pavements mocking every step, the ocean’s whisper sultry and lethal: ‘Come away, come away with me.’ I was most happy (back to the question of happiness) on a little boat, surging out to a jagged full stop of an Irish island, salt-fresh, lung-expanding bliss. The sensation of movement (this is also why I adore trains). I clung on to some railings with the flute strapped to my back in case we sank and smoked cigarettes with a cable-knit guy, so massive his shoulders took out the last view of the vanishing mountains. That was happiness, simply moving forward in no-place, no-time. A speck of flesh with momentum. The sea is a hungry time warp; brilliant and deathly and uncaring. I didn’t rate my chances if we flunked it, smooth as it was that day; the sun beating it into diamonds in a second when earth takes a million years to be so intensified.

DSCF2235
Glass Boat, 2009

And then I was back, heavy again. Back into the world of execs quibbling over cab fare, back into the world of birds that sing only when the traffic dims down its white-noise mechanical hum, at the close of day, or the opening of it. Back to the world of the communal (yet also of the solitary and desolate, as without action the relationship between you and the other lives stacked up above and around and below would remain passive and insensate). It’s too peculiar. I can feel the splinters of other lives in the walls working into the skin of my own, getting under the cells; like a piano being played atonal in the next room.

I said once to him that other people’s lives picked me out like torchlight; a beam slung under a canal at midnight, and all you can see are skeletal shopping trolleys and the dark, rainbow obsidian gleam of dirty water. Toads, reeds like long, green razors. Broken radios that have stopped talking about stranglings in basement flats and other unfortunate things that end, always, always, in boxes being lowered into the exhausted ground. One of the windows opposite has been dark for a while, a tiny postage stamp of black. There is no wheelchair patiently parked on the balcony at three. I don’t think the White Woman is coming back.

Tripwire

There is a tapping against the window. This time of year, spirits are abroad; floating like solitary shells or thundering through the teeming clouds on horseback. And because I see things they tell me are not there, I turn my head. The glass, of course, is blankly black. Raindrops shiver where they have fallen; tiny, delicate globes. No ghostly hands. No wavering faces.

In the morning, the bed is quicksand. I dress slowly, slipping on dirty shirts. I haven’t slept again; spinning in the 3 a.m. eye of a constant storm.

They tell me breakfast kickstarts your metabolism into solidarity, but too often I forget, and brew bitter coffee instead to wipe my eyes and rearrange insomnia’s regret. The fear hums through my body at night like a soundwave, reels of imagined and inevitable catastrophe; shadow play on the walls. I take my seat and buckle up, answer emails on automatic pilot, crash.

Because I am an adult, but I do not know how to live adulthood with its loss and focus and exit wounds. Its filthy fingernails, its silent, stoic, grown-up crying, its poisoned wells. I am sick, and yet my sickness manifests invisibly; in walking on clouds until my wings scorch like Icarus. In tidal waves of frenzied creativity. In terror of coffin-lining.

I call the crisis team, they say: Make a cup of tea. Have a hot bath, have two.

Imagine if I changed my name and ran away. To Amsterdam, Rome, Prague. Imagine a pretty, functional girl trailing through picture postcards. Imagine if I could starve myself back into perfection; ethereal slenderness, escape my life with a skeleton key. It’s never worked, it won’t now. Defeated, I sit back down, press send. Answer the phone and rattle out affirmations; yes I will do the things you ask, even though my head is a helium balloon held to my collar with safety pins.

1377096_591086040952697_690674298_n
Daere (Fiend). Self portrait.

I hate this loneliness, hate skittering around the inside of my skull like a spider in a matchbox. The sheer, pinned-butterfly exhaustion, the long squeezebox crush of the clock, the deathly irritant of the same frustrated faces all wishing they were somewhere else. The sudden surges of my too-bright rage and happiness, swirling together in terrible colours. Might as well plunge your hands into a bucket of nails, spend your cigarette break standing in a barrel of gunpowder.

I go and wait on the street corner speckled with drizzle, just to look at the people. Headlamps glide past me, a continuous river of will o’the wisps. A half-bottle, 6o mg, and the vague beat of music through the wall ceases to fall across the tripwire of anxiety, and the fire in my head dulls to a chapel’s glow. A soft prison formed of old walls, protecting the marshmallow and butter of me.

These things are a shield against the long silence, against the fear. It is a wall between me and the things I half-glimpse; behind my reflection, in doorways, stairwells. It is protection against the evenings too scared to leave the room, fervently imagining the flaming sword of the Archangel Michael sweeping down in a blaze of ferocious light. Watching shadowy heads fall. It is in these long nights that I realise the depths of my own insanity, covering the mirrors with cloths and saltwater.

Dark Amber

I’ve been away for a while. I try to explain why, but it’s like opening a bag full of amber beads, polished into whiskey darkness, that scatter everywhere. How do I say, ‘my brain is a bear trap and it’s caught my sleeve again.’ Sometimes, they try to blame it on the time of year. My doctor and I look sourly at each other, we both know I am more likely to be hospitalised in the spring.

One of us has to die, I realise. One of my selves, because the tug-of-war is getting stale, like trying to chew old bread. It makes my gums bleed.

But which self lives, and which is taken away? Can you even remove a part of yourself like that? They say ‘fake it ’til you make it’ but what’s there to fake? I am twins, but only one of us can be born again. Do I save the soft and anxious ingenue or their darker, cleverer sibling? A fairytale in each hand, but I have to cast off one of the witches. Which one burns?