Prologue Everything has a beginning, middle and an end, something everyone has been conditioned to accept from day one; but what about the parts in between, the transition? The change is something nobody ever really gets used to. I mean, how do we truly know when one thing has ended and it’s time for another to begin? For example, we’re born and we live the first few years as an infant, then we move on to childhood, then young adults and so on, but where is the line? Where’s the divide? Who decided that we when we live the first five years of our lives that we’re ready to start learning about the world around us? Who decided that after the first 13 that our bodies would become ready to have sex? Who decides when we’re ready to ‘grow up’? I know, it’s refreshing to hear adolescent angst along the lines of an identity crisis or whatever but that’s not what this is. I know exactly who I am; I’m just not sure whether I like it. Christopher Isherwood once said; ‘I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking.’ It sums up all I am and all I ever will be, for that is exactly what I am, a camera that does not think but still takes it all in and reacts. This is the reaction. That is all.
Wake up. That’s all I had to do. Wake up; drag myself out of bed to greet the New Year. As my tired limbs slowly shifted from beneath my duvet, my whole body felt numb and lifeless; January never was my favourite time of year. This year, however, in an extremely ‘Bridget Jones’ fashion would be different from the others. For starters, I was not going to allow myself to mope for another three hundred and sixty five days about how ridiculously pathetic I am. Next on the agenda was to attempt to silence the enormous alcoholic monkey on my back, or at least quiet him down a bit. And finally, do something important with the year. Anything of significance would do, if for no other reason, to break the incredibly boring cycle that has been the last eighteen years of my mundane life. My bare feet met with the linoleum, pretentiously made to look like ‘real wood’, of my bedroom floor carefully selected by my mother to match the awkwardly modern design of the rest of my room. In keeping with the modern design, I had to move no further than ten inches before reaching a sink strategically placed in front of my shower. It’s important to note at this point that by no means do I mean I had an En suite bathroom, I mean I literally had a small ceramic sink and a shower ten inches away from my bed. I can’t quite decide whether or not that’s a good thing. On one hand I’m no more than ten inches away from a sink, but on the other I’m no more than ten inches away from a sink. Either way, as the cold floor tickled my feet and I managed to stagger towards the sink, I caught sight of my reflection, right there staring back at me was everything I wasn’t sure of.
What exactly did I see? A boy, about five feet and nine inches tall, pale skin and dark hair that’s kept purposefully longer on top than at the sides; his name is James, James Harlot. I wouldn’t say the face I saw was particularly unattractive but at the same time I wasn’t about to give myself the eyes and wink charmingly before flexing my non-existent muscles and moving swiftly on. An average sized male with an average face for an extremely average existence. God, even as I write I can envision these printed words processed through a cheap filter and slapped on Tumblr. Two eyes, blue, staring directly back at me filtering through the idea that I would have to become an active member of society; unless of course I decide to crawl back into bed and never resurface. I could see the headline already; ‘MILDLY ATTRACTIVE TEENAGE SKELETON FOUND UNDER DUVET CARESSING EMPTY ICE CREAM BOXES’, what was that resolution? No more moping, “Active member of society it is” I said out loud to myself. Waking up is the hardest part of the day, you never feel like yourself in those first few seconds. Forcing ourselves from a completely silent world of our own and moving us forward into the big wide world ready to face the day, where’s the sense in that? From the moment we open our eyes in the morning choice upon choice is thrown our way, like what to dig up from the pile of clothes on the floor to wear today, or what to eat for breakfast, whether or not I’ll be in a good mood today and whether or not to leave the house and do something productive. More conditions and more routines, it’s not that I particularly mind, it just is.
Coffee is the lord’s’ saving grace to any cold and miserable morning. I am a firm believer that anyone who says they’re a morning person without any extra stimulant is a liar. As I took a sip of the bittersweet morning glory I was ready to become me, I now felt like me. I now felt like facing whatever lay ahead for the day, with unprecedented optimism of course. The usual combination of skinny jeans and awkwardly sized knitted jumper would be the pull out choice for today; as with most days if I’m honest, before taking another look in the mirror. What exactly did I see? Me, about five feet and nine inches tall, pale skin and dark hair that’s kept purposefully longer on top than at the sides; my name is James Harlot. An average sized male with an average face for an extremely average existence.
The streets in the winter time always make me feel like I’m a part of some profound, one-off BBC TV drama, the kind with a lot of unexplainable slow motion shots of me walking down along the pavement, having just had a life-changing epiphany. The story of a young boy that learns that it’s ok to be different, that ‘he’s not alone in this world’ and whatever other cliché the writers could think to throw in. Ray LaMontagne or Damien Rice would feature on the soundtrack. Not that I have a problem with any of the above, it’s just I am far from profound and the real nature of me leaving the house was that I had made plans with a friend to get very stoned, what’s profound about quite literally smoking my life away out of boredom? Nothing. A few minutes of walking with my headphones bleeding unbearably loud music and I was there. I’ve always found it handy to live so close to such a good friend, my best friend in fact. The fresh, crisp air chilled the inside of my nose as I edged towards the front door. No car in the front drive, this meant her mother was out of the house; perfect. I knocked and I could immediately hear the muffled sound of footsteps frantically searching for the keys. Something about leaving the door locked when you’re home has never appealed to me. It just means morons like me wait on the doorstep three times longer than needed. The door clicked as the lock was turned and the door flew open. There she was, tall and slim with a mess of dyed red hair loosely hanging over her shoulders, “you’re late” she said to me as I stepped through the door and into the hallway. I smiled and gave her a friendly hug, sarcastically retorting “Sorry Anna, I was having a deep existential crisis and couldn’t decide whether I wanted to get out of bed this morning”
“Shut the fuck up and start rolling” she joked, laughing as she handed me a small zip lock bag and a pouch of tobacco. I laughed back and made my way through her kitchen grabbing an old Yale key that sat by the microwave. The kitchen door clicked as I opened it and entered into the back garden, key in one hand and tobacco in the other. Immediately the cold air hit me again as I meandered to the left, leaving the door open behind me, my converse slipping slightly on the icy decking. There it stood; a decaying brick shed hiding in the corner of her garden. The outer plaster was peeling and flaking away exposing the orange mossy bricks beneath, surrounded by gravel and weeds it was a hideout and a refuge for us. I have no doubt that my GCSE English teacher would say that the shed was some symbol for the decomposition of our innocence and its decaying settings was just “juxtaposing our perfectly happy situation” etc. But no, it was and simply is a place to do whatever we wanted and not get questioned about any of it. I let myself in. The smell of damp was expected and a cloud of dust flew into the air as I flung myself onto the faded orange sofa that idly sat in the corner of the tiny, worn out shed. A few minutes passed and I had done what Anna had asked and she had joined me in the shed with a lit candle in hand. Apparently the economy was in too much of a bad state for us to be able to afford lighters or whatever other witty remark she could come up with.
She sat on the floor as she inhaled the first drag of my poorly constructed joint; the earthy scent filled the air as she passed it forward to me. Anna slowly edged back and rested her head on the floor, gazing idly at the ceiling, following a trail of smoke. Minutes passed and we continued to pass joint after joint back and forth to each other. We sat in silence mostly until she caught sight of another trail of smoke, “Smoke is so beautiful. I wish I was smoke, and then I’d be just as beautiful”
“Yeah, but then after a few seconds you’d be gone forever” I replied,
“At least in those few seconds I’d be the most beautiful thing ever. Better to feel beautiful for a few seconds than never at all” – and that, that right there was singularly the most insightful thing I had ever heard. And it came from someone who was baked like Dr Oetker, what does that honestly say about everything? I mean we live in an age where people who haven’t even completed puberty are taking class-A drugs and having orgies and yet Anna and I sit on the floor of a dirty shed talking about being smoke. That was it then, “Anna, let’s go somewhere and do something, please?” she sat up slightly, looked me dead in the eye, cleared her throat and said “Food first, productivity later” I of course laughed and we made our way to the kitchen. I lifted myself onto the kitchen counter, reaching for a box of cereal that had presumably been left over from the morning and helped myself. The first wave of lightheadedness hit me as Anna joined in on the dry cereal feast.
“I’m going to move away from here one day” I said resentfully. Anna scoffed, and then scoffed some more as she loaded her mouth; “As long as you take me with you”.
That was a year ago. Give or take. As the warm bath water around me started to turn cold, I looked up with a glassy eyed blank expression. My bathroom ceiling became a white washed reverie as I came crashing back to reality. A siren sounded in the distance as I moved my eyes towards a green, squared bottle that rest upon my bathroom tiles. My resolution didn’t stick apparently. As the bitter taste of gin burned my throat I slipped back into the water and let it grow even colder. Another siren sounded.
As I placed the bottle back onto the floor, I lifted myself from the bath tub and joined it there on the cold bathroom tiles. Once again I found myself looking into the mirror. Two eyes, blue but slightly bloodshot, pale skin, dark hair. It looked like a boy; a man some people might argue but all I saw this time was smoke.
To be continued..