The LGBT community is one that has faced many obstacles in its short public existence. For the past few decades it has grown in the media and we’re now seeing more and more representation in tv and film, celebrities are coming out everyday and the world is changing to allow us to be married in multiple countries. Whilst the majority of us in the western world can now live an open and happy life, much of the community still lives in fear however being a member of this so called ‘community’ for twenty one years (seven openly) has taught me its biggest obstacle is itself. To put things in perspective I’m going to use what I like to call the M&M analogy. Imagine you have a bag of peanut M&M’s and you’re allergic to peanuts. However, in this bag, all the red ones are safe to eat so naturally you wade through the bag picking out all the red ones. Now, this bag is shared with everyone else but some people are like you and can only have he red ones but some people can have he red or blue and some people can have any colour they want but sooner or later you’re going to clash with someone that wants the same red one as you. Not only will you clash, with the limited amount of red M&Ms you will probably grab one someone else has already had and put back. It’s unavoidable. That’s the gay community. You would have heard the term ‘gay agenda’ thrown around by straight rednecks who believe all we want to do is make other people gay or trans or whatever the target person may identify as and all honesty there’s some truth in that. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying the community wants the world to be like them the way the world wanted (and still wants) then to be, but I am saying that all too often the LGBT are ready to attack each-other for being different. In a world where loving the people you do isn’t the norm it’s tough to finally come to terms with that. I’m not denying people’s struggles although not personally having to go through it as I was lucky enough to be brought up in a family that didn’t care either way. With that in mind, everyone should then understand that everything is delayed. Being a twelve or thirteen year old straight kid when you have your first ‘boyfriend’ or ‘girlfriend’ and then breaking up with them after two weeks and listening exclusively to Kelly Clarkson’s ‘since you’ve been gone’ or Avril Lavigne’s “complicated” on repeat isn’t something the LGBT community gets to experience authentically. As a result, the early 20’s is that time and furthermore people seem to be trapped in this endless cycle of immature insecurity. It’s a community that gets angry if you go on a date with someone that a friend was remotely involved with ten years ago, a community that allows itself to propose and be engaged to two different people within a year (and be with neither of them in the present) and it’s a community that begs for equality and acceptance by putting itself in a smaller box. It’s men that are in committed relationships for years only to get dumped and then find the love of their lives weeks later or fall in love with a ‘straight’ man and allow themselves to be used as the token. Its a place where babies are born because one man decides he needs to be straight and it’s a place where a person can moan about their significant other and proclaim their hatred for hem only to crawl right back into bed with them with not so much as two words between them. It’s a community that is divided between the left wing liberals and the right wing ‘not real’ members. Side note: all of the above are real examples that I have seen and are in no way fictitious. There’s a sub culture of “if it’s not intense or dramatic then it’s not real” and that’s bullshit. There needs to be a balance and there needs to be an understanding that if two gay people meet by chance they don’t need to fall in love or get married or even sleep together, they don’t even need to try and date each other. I’ve learnt in my short stay that the real gay agenda, for all of us is to love and be loved back. I’ve also learnt that the attempts to get there are somewhat misguided and are not in any way equal. Speaking from personal experience, I’ve had men ask me out on a date and within two minutes are coining the phrase “show me your big…” and whilst I’m flattered at you’re description of my penis it’s not the way to go about seeing it. I’ve had guys offer to pick me up and say something along the lines of “you can come out to my car” as apposed to knocking on my door and picking me up like a respectable human being would. I’ve seen other members of the community be taken advantage of because of their need to feel loved by someone who legitimately is only giving them the time of day for attention. It’s a self hating void that needs to learn to love itself before asking for what they think is love or any semblance of a normal relationship.
There’s a man on the train, he sits and he minds his own business in silence. There’s a man on the train and he’s trying to prove something to his friends by bragging about the many conquests he’s had that weekend. There’s also a man that doesn’t think anything at all, he sits in silence and judges you as you walk on by but he lets you go about your day. There’s a man on the train and he worries about his relationship, he’s concerned that he’s not loved by everyone he loves and there’s also a man that’s stewing in his regrets.
There’s always someone, somewhere, wherever you look that’s thinking and calculating just waiting to be recognised or ignored. As a functioning member of society it’s your job to figure out which one. My point is, that everyone, no matter how big or small, is doing their own thing. Everyone is concerned about their own lives and everyone is affected to that end. I had a teacher when I was in secondary school and she said something that has stuck with me; “everyone’s problems seem big and important to them because they are their own”.
Everyone is dealing with something and they all have something they’re going through so try not to project. Recently I’ve been watching a this show called the good place, its a humorous take on the afterlife. I cannot help but think about what happens when our time here is up, would you end up in the good place?
I would not. In all honesty, I would end up in the bad place, I’ve never thought about anyone’s feelings and I certainly haven’t given people the time they’ve awarded me. I’m the man on the train, I’m going to sit in silence and calculate.
There’s a man on the train, and he opens his eyes, he realises that being alone is better than faking it. There’s a man on the train. And that’s it.
Chapter 2Track 2 – Bjork – Unravel
You have to be always drunk. That’s all there is to it—it’s the only way. So as not to feel the horrible burden of time that breaks your back and bends you to the earth, you have to be continually drunk.
But on what? Wine, poetry or virtue, as you wish. But be drunk.
And if sometimes, on the steps of a palace or the green grass of a ditch, in the mournful solitude of your room, you wake again, drunkenness already diminishing or gone, ask the wind, the wave, the star, the bird, the clock, everything that is flying, everything that is groaning, everything that is rolling, everything that is singing, everything that is speaking. . .ask what time it is and wind, wave, star, bird, clock will answer you: “It is time to be drunk! So as not to be the martyred slaves of time, be drunk, be continually drunk!
On wine, on poetry or on virtue as you wish.
-Get Drunk, Charles Baudelaire Chris and I had been together going on two years. Our relationship was textbook good, he loved me and I loved him. It’s easy to sit and analyse my actions, saying that there is no way I could’ve loved him, between drinking and the abhorrent infidelity it’s hard to believe it myself, but I did. There was something inside of me that couldn’t let him go, I couldn’t tell him everything either. As far as I knew my drinking wasn’t affecting our relationship too negatively, unless you count the fact that I found it hard to remember most of our conversations. The next morning my eyes slowly pried themselves open, the stale copper taste lingering in my mouth as I sighed deeply. The back of his head slowly came into focus; his mousy brown hair seemed to lift me in the morning. When your life is overrun by addiction, it’s amazing what your eyes or your nose or mouth can find solace in. The smell of bacon cooking in the morning, the cheeky smile Chris gave when he told a joke that wasn’t really funny, the fish swimming in the tank between the kitchen and the dining room; they all made me feel like I was comfortable. Without realising I had created a strong network of comfort. The back of his head in the morning was one of them.
The answer is always yes. To every question you ask yourself every morning, the answer is always yes. Whether or not you realise it at the time, even it feels like a no, you will always reply, yes. Do I want to live this lifestyle? No. Will I drink today? No. Will I still hold that grudge against that one person? No. Am I going to be completely shut off and pessimistic today? No. These are things I said to myself every morning but the answer was always yes. The word held so much potential to be turned around and used positively and to aid me when I needed it most. It was this word that kept me clinging on and hoping for something else or some kind of reward. Am I going to stay positive today? Yes. Will I stay sober today? Yes. Can I let small things go and not worry? Yes. Will I stay comfortable and continue living this way? Yes. So you see, it wasn’t that the answer was always yes, it needed to be.
Once again coffee proved its necessity to me, meagrely climbing over Chris to reach the bedroom door. He moved slightly. I stopped, looking back to see if I had disturbed him. I hadn’t. I moved towards the bathroom across the hall, letting myself in and instinctively locking the door behind me. As I stared at myself in the mirror I noticed that my eyes were burning red and my skin had become paler. I resembled a blood splattered sheet and felt the same. My eyes looked like a match that had just been extinguished with ashy circles surrounding a red ember. 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.
I turned my head towards the toilet and the previous night slowly seeped through. I fell to my knees and extended my arm around the porcelain base where a gap no wider than four inches lived. My fingers felt for the cold glass of the bottle I had left there and pulled it towards my face. The plastic cap was half on and there was still some gin left in the bottom. I must’ve stopped myself when I got out of the bath to join Chris the previous night. As if it were an automatic response, I limply twisted the cap off and finished the bottle. An enormous amount of pressure swelled in my head as the stale copper taste was encompassed by the bittersweet flavour of gin. My body slumped on the floor as I placed the bottle between my knees. I kept my eyes closed for a moment, silent, listening. Today the answer would be yes, I lied to myself. Every other thought that stumbled through my head momentarily subsided and allowed me to feel the cold tile of my bathroom floor with more compassion than before. It was comfortable; it made the world stop spinning, just for a second.
My silent reverie subsided in an instant as I unsteadily rose to my feet. I carried the bottle loosely in my palm, carefully pressing my head against the bathroom door. I was listening for any sign of movement, nothing. I turned back on my heels, my bare feet slapping the tile and flushed the empty toilet grinning slightly. The door lock was stiff and loudly clicked as I opened the door and left the bathroom, bottle in hand, immediately heading for the stairs all the while looking in the direction of the bedroom. My eyes stayed fixed on the closed door as I continued down the stairs.
The second my feet lifted from the final step, my head began to fill with cloudy euphoria and I moved toward the kitchen, floating almost. The kitchens comfortable warmth greeted me as my eyes adjusted to a light orange glow that trickled through the window. I wrapped the bottle in kitchen roll and pushed it to the bottom of the bin. Simultaneously I switched the kettle on and let it boil. Above the kettle there sat a generic wood veneer set of cabinets and inside those there was a ceramic flour pot that I sometime hid money in, for emergencies. The cabinets didn’t reach the ceiling, leaving a considerably sized ledge on top. As the kettle bubbled wildly and the steam flowed from the spout I stretched my arm above my head so that my fingers could just curl above the top. I felt the ledge length ways until my fingers felt a small, rectangular packet. I grasped it in my palms and brought it down to the counter top as the kettle clicked. I opened the packet I silently counted the number of cigarettes left inside, five. Chris didn’t know I knew about these ones, he called them emergencies. The two had now become synonymous. If ever he would go out in the night he would call them emergencies, he would ask if I had any or wanted any all the while substituting this word for what they were. He was supposed to be cutting down; with every new packet we would open he would declare them as his last. It didn’t bother me; I mean we both had secrets. I ushered myself through the living room, grabbing a stray lighter from an end table by the sofa as I passed and left through the sliding doors that sat adjacent to the stairs. As my bare feet met with the concrete floor the sound of birds broke the silence and I closed the door behind me. I was stood on our small balcony with a communal garden below, empty and lifeless. I could see the city in the distance with the gherkin on the horizon as the sound of police sirens eclipsed my ears.
I placed a cigarette between my teeth, held it there for a second and then lit it, inhaling deeply as I let the ashy taste fill my lungs. You’ve heard this all before, you’ve heard that “it’s a metaphor” right? Well this was not a metaphor, it was a fucking cigarette. I couldn’t stand the idea of being another one of these dissociative teenagers, the kind in the films that develop a terminal illness, fall in love and die. I wanted more than the straight, white protagonists who by definition are assholes. I didn’t want my life to be nothing more than a pretentious title that doesn’t mean anything yet somehow fools an entire generation into believing they’ve had a deep and spiritual connection with literature. But that’s what was happening. Then again ‘to kill a mocking bird’ would just be called ‘Black Man faces extreme prejudice from a racist society’ and let’s face it not much has changed in the past sixty years. I needed to allow myself to be more honest and realise that sometimes there wasn’t a deeper meaning behind things and that sometimes things just are exactly as they seem. I understand the irony in all of this, I do. I am a villain for over analysis and by no means am I saying that throwing metaphorical drivel at people is damaging but it’s difficult for me to keep up with. I would have felt so much more content if everyone could pop a Valium or two and let go of all the unnecessary angst. I was drinking because I felt like it and I was smoking because that’s what drinking made me feel like doing. I inhaled the last of the tobacco and through the cigarette filter over the edge.
An hour passed by as I lay on the sofa, nursing my coffee. By this point my legs had become numb from the alcohol induced elation that had fully set in. Chris still hadn’t surfaced so I was free to let the drink take control. All that really meant was that I could eat the entire contents of my fridge, snack unreasonable amounts for this time of morning and have no one question me on it. It also meant that I was able to re-watch episodes of Buffy the Vampire slayer and aggressively hum along to the theme tune and not have to explain to Chris what’s going on. If you’ve ever seen it you’d understand what a hard task that would be to someone jumping into the middle of season 6. “Why is she invisible now? Is that a power she has?” “I thought her job was killing monsters why is she at McDonalds?” and so on and so forth until I try to remove my ear drums with a pair of rusty tweezers. Silence is, in fact, golden… sometimes.
The combined haze of the previous night and this morning’s lapse made me feel drowsy yet I couldn’t sleep. I heard his feet on the on the bedroom floor above me and immediately jolted upright. His routine never faltered, he was a creature of habit and I could rely on that, as I expected he went into the bathroom. After a few minutes I heard the toilet flush. Then he moved into the bedroom (presumably to change) before jogging down the stairs. Every morning was the same. This worked in my favour.
He joined me in the living room and gently kissed me on the mouth. He held his face close to mine for a moment, his mousy blonde hair was dishevelled and his stubble was uncouth. His masculine ruggedness was complemented by his Nordic features and medium build. “Morning” he whispered, his voice croaky from having just woken up, “have you brushed your teeth yet? He winced playfully. I just flashed my empty coffee cup.
“It is the morning, I say that, it’s just past eleven but you know what I mean” the combination of cigarette smoke, coffee and stale alcohol was enough to pass as common morning breath. He smiled and moved into the kitchen and I heard the kettle click, another part of his routine; a cup of tea, milk and no sugar. He called into me and predictably asked if I wanted one. I refused.
“Are you not at work today then?” he asked
“I’ve got the day off, I did mention it yesterday… it think” I replied, trying to keep my words as steady as possible. Pausing the TV I listened for anything else that he might have to say as he shuffled though holding his mug close to his face before sitting opposite me. The menial conversation continued back and forth for a few minutes, he mentioned his work for the day and I said I had nothing planned. “My new office chair is being delivered today listen out for the door please” he said before moving from his seat.
“Will I have to sign for it?”
“Of course you will, have you never had anything delivered before?” he retorted. I didn’t reply. He finished his tea and continued his morning blissfully unaware of my state.
Mid-afternoon came around and Chris had started work, leaving me to occupy myself whatever way I saw fit. He worked from home, mostly web coding for various clients and running his own freelance business. I began to sober up and my hands started to shake again and that’s when I heard the sound of my phone vibrate. I hadn’t even looked at it since I left work the day before, mostly out of fear and the possibility of resurfacing guilt. I glanced at the screen and saw a name, John. I had forgotten about him and being reminded wasn’t an issue at this point. Chris continued working upstairs and I hadn’t moved from my spot since the morning, by this point I had sat through three more episodes. I thought about it for a second, hesitatingly unlocking my phone and reading the message. It read:
“Hi, how’re you? I’ve just come back from my trip to Spain and cleared out the duty free lol, fancy popping over?”
John was a fairly wealthy man, in his thirties, who had begun talking to me when I was at work about 6 months ago. He had a home on the coast of Spain and a flat not too far from mine to which he would invite me over countless times so we could drink, so that I could drink for free. I hadn’t heard from him in over a month but the last time I had seen him he offered me a job being his assistant and I politely refused on the grounds that I had other things planned, this was a lie but I was not ready to commit to the life of Lolita. When he suggested me visiting I knew exactly what it meant. He wanted to ply me with alcohol and allow me to act like Julia Roberts and do everything except kiss on the mouth. He was an average looking man but in all honesty his money took him from a possible seven to a solid nine, ten at a push. I ignored his message for a few minutes, my heart pounding as I debated whether or not I could live with more guilt and as I thought about what seeing him would mean my stomach began to tie itself in knots. My hands began to shake and my throat began to itch. Before I knew it I had typed out a reply:
“I can’t stay for long, I’ll just hop on the train and be over in five see you soon”
I hit send. I felt a lump in my throat, as if it weren’t me who had control over my hands or even my feet as I marched up the stairs and threw on a knitted jumper and some jeans. He had previously commented on this outfit before so it only seemed fair. The drink was taking over again; it was the Jekyll to my Hyde, the Hulk to my Bruce Banner, and The Gollum to my Sméagol. I told Chris I was going for a walk and would probably do some shopping on the way back; he accepted this without hesitation, kissing me before I finally left to catch the bus.
The problem I faced day to day was that I lacked the contrariety to care; I lacked the moral compass to point me south when I got lost in the haze. Everything was casual, nothing had a sense of urgency or importance and nothing became prevalent in my behaviour that made me stop and think: I am in trouble.
Every morning is the same. A collection of measured time, from the moment the abusive and irritating alarm sounds, that seems to run out quicker with each passing day. What used to be a 6.30am start turns into a 7.45am rush for the train, what used to be 25 minutes for breakfast and a shower turns into a biscuit and a spray of the nearest available perfume. Quickly swallowing four pain killers and washing them down with whatever is available before leaving the apartment and entering street level; an active member of society. I am one of them now, I am just another commuter that has to push and force myself on to the train before I end up an hour late for the job I don’t actually enjoy. This is of course amplified by the fact that I had a canary wharf wannabe’s armpit in my face for the majority of the journey and apparently he didn’t have time for a shower either. I tried to hold a chesty cough in the back of my throat but it forced its way from my body and I could feel everyone’s eyes on me; the taste of copper and stale alcohol hits my tongue and I feel like now more than ever people’s eyes are on me.
Regardless of how invisible I am on the morning commute I can’t help but feel an unwarranted pressure to carry myself with confidence. It’s almost as if every other person in the world is looking at me and if I don’t have every inch of confidence on my face then its game over. Life is a game of retail. We are constantly selling ourselves, consciously or not. When you start telling the story of how your weekend went to a relative, when you put your make up on in the morning, when you crawl out of bed at three in the afternoon and wonder into the streets with no care in the world you are selling yourself to everyone else. You want people to believe the stories and invest their time in you and give you the satisfaction of being noticed. As we’ve all experience the sales pitch isn’t necessarily the product you are getting. Weather you care to admit it or not, that’s what’s happening every moment of every day. We all do it and we are all guilty of doing it to other people.
I like to play a game on the daily commute. I call it; guess the sales pitch, where by I take a look at the general public and see what they’re portraying versus what they are, for example:
Tall guy, dark hair, well dressed and carrying a brown leather suitcase. That usually translates as a confident business man.
1A) in actual fact he’s a middle aged prick with a long list of ex-lovers and probably has a fetish for dominatrix’s
A blonde, muscular ripped jean wearing beard with his hand grabbing at every arse it sees
2A) translates as closet homosexual
2B) probably also has a fetish for dominatrix’s
And well, you get the picture. I can’t help but wonder how many people have done the same with me as I push my way through the mass of workers. How many people notice me at all? The underground becomes such a beautiful place in the morning; it turns into a clockwork beehive. Every individual face blurs into one rushing mass all as eager to jump on the train that will have another one arrive in less than a minute. This mass has no concept of time other than the fact that they’ll be late if they don’t squeeze themselves on to the train that’s about to close its doors potentially losing an arm or every shred of dignity for that morning. So with that in mind, the world seems so much smaller.
In such a small world it’s surprisingly easy to get lost and in a large crowd of people it’s surprisingly easy to feel alone and with all of these large crowds in such a small world it’s so very easy to find that something is missing. There’s a large gap inside of every one of the worker bees in the clockwork hive. These gaps then form their own large spaces that need to be filled; everybody knows that. But what if these gaps can’t be filled? What if these busy worker bees in the large crowds of the small worlds can’t fill those large gaps? Do they wonder empty? Do they live with it? Of course the two aren’t mutually exclusive, it’s perfectly possible to wonder empty and live always having something missing. The real question is; how long can this go on? Suddenly it all makes sense, every irrational argument you’ve had with a lover or every time you’ve had more to drink than you should have or every time you’ve ran for that train that you know you can’t make; it’s all to fill the gap. To distract ourselves and to keep it at bay, just for a little while.
Then the distraction ended. I found myself anxiously making my way in through the front entrance of the shop, ready for work and ready to become an active member of society. My eyes scanned the floor for any sign of my manager; a feeble and repugnant man. The sort of man that you might avoid if you had any choice but somehow when you did interact with him you couldn’t help but laugh and enjoy his company. A person who was a walking contradiction, this allowed me to work for him resentfully, but maintain a level of camaraderie that resembled friendship. An enjoyably loathsome experience; like listening to the latest Taylor Swift single in a nightclub. I stood there silent for some time removing my bag and adjusting to the idea that I would be stood in the same place for the next six hours.
“Morning!” the high pitched and overly joyful tone resonated through my ears as he appeared from beneath the counter.
I smiled. The masquerade begins. I stood vacant as he reeled off every task for the day ahead, pretending to take the slightest bit of interest in everything he had to say; I knew where this was ultimately going to end up. It was the same thing most days, besides today was a Thursday and that meant it was my turn to close late and that also meant that he would find any excuse to stay late with me.
On a side note, let me just say that anyone who claims working in retail is easy is a liar. They are a liar and there is no other explanation. Sure, certain aspects of it are easy, processing sales and standing around all day is fairly easy but that isn’t what working in retail is, that’s what you as a customer are shown. Contrary to popular belief, the customer is not always right, in fact they are usually wrong and an asshole. If you have ever impatiently pushed in a que, or gotten angry with a sales consultant for the price of something or not listened to them when told you can’t return something because it doesn’t fall within their policy, you too are an asshole. But hey, I’m not here to scald the innocent, I am fully aware that the majority of the general public have no idea that they are the problem when it comes to shopping so I’m going to give you some golden rules to live by; remember these people are providing you with a service, they are doing you a favour, act like it.
If you are in the middle of a phone call, DO NOT enter the shop, wait and allow everyone else to enjoy their day.
Ques are very important, wait your turn or don’t wait at all. It makes everyone involved very uncomfortable.
Saying “Please” and “thank you” make everyone’s day better. NEVER demand something, avoid using words like ‘let me have’ or ‘give me’ – Frankly it’s rude as shit and no one wants to help you.
If the stores doors are closed or the shutters are down a bit, and I can’t stress this enough, do not try and shop. If you encounter this, ask yourself “can I get in and out in two minutes or less?” if the answers no then leave and return the next morning. To be honest the shop has probably been open nine hours prior stop leaving things until the last minute.
And lastly, if you ask a question try your hardest not to get offended by the answer. Do not attempt to keep asking the question in hopes of getting a different answer, it doesn’t work like that. Unless it falls under policy you can’t return it, there’s nothing we can do about the price unless you have a voucher and no if it doesn’t scan it is not free, that joke was never funny GET OUT.
Back to the story; I dealt with those five rules every single day. Within the last hour I was counting down every single minute that was left. The reasons for me wanting to leave so urgently are still unclear, a part of me wanted to be in bed sleeping all day and another part of me just wanted to be at home endlessly watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer. That’s when the inevitable happened. The shops shutters dramatically closed on the hour, of course I had the key to do so which filled me with a sense of power no one had ever managed; it was as if I were able to command the people. I was called to the stock room. The metallic shelves lined the walls filled with excess product. In the corner sat a white telephone and a few post-it notes. A part of me wanted to draw crude doodles on the post-its, detailing everything I knew to be true.
The metallic shelves shook as I was thrust upon them in a heated passion, my back felt bruised m the force. He fell to his knees and unzipped my trousers; this was it. It had happened before, but now it was a habit. There was a part of me that couldn’t help myself, by all means I was not attracted to this man but something allowed me to enable his passions on me. I looked directly at the top of his head and groaned with feigning interest as the shelving units behind me shook once more. I looked to the ceiling and closed my eyes as my mind went blank. A few minutes passed. I could feel his mouth on me and his breath had never felt as enticing as this moment, I knew it was wrong. Then, as if it came from a different part of me that didn’t exist yet, I could feel the energy surging through me. I could feel the exact reason as to why I let this happen. “I’m going to cum” I murmured, as he nodded. It happened and he swallowed every part of me. Immediately after I had orgasmed I felt an astonishing sense of grief, as though I had lost myself. I felt as though a part of me has been taken. This was of course to be met with a casual sense of normality. He stood up making eye contact with me as I bent over and quickly pulled my work trousers up to hide my nakedness. “I’m disgusting” I mimed to myself, turning away, as an itch began to grow in my throat. The itch spread and overwhelmed my body as my feet began to twitch and I rapidly tapped my fingers at my side. We parted ways as I ended the day as I had begun, with a commute.
This time I became one of the rushing bees, swerving and dodging the hive, risking life and limb to catch the first possible train as I had so effortlessly mocked others for doing before. I couldn’t shake the urge to reach the other side of my journey, to reach home and soothe the burning in my throat. The journey seemed more important this time. An hour passed as my train pulled to its final stop, allowing me to leave the hive and continue alone. My front door had never seemed more important than this moment as if everything behind the door could ease the guilt I felt boiling up inside of me. My key couldn’t work fast enough as my hands shook with anticipation. Then I stopped. I stood in the silence of my hallway, leaving the street behind and entering my own world. To my right was the kitchen and straight ahead lay a dark corridor leading to an empty living room. I turned right. Feeling for the light switch, I remained silent. I stopped and listened, silence. I flicked the switch as the humble kitchen dimly began to illuminate. I stopped again thinking for a moment. The small square room left a lot to be desired with just the basic requirements and all around vinyl counter tops a large plastic bin sit beneath the counter directly opposite me. Behind the bin was a small panel leading to gas pipes, presumably they had some significance to the well-being of my home; they had a completely different significance all together. Slowly I knelt on the floor, pushing the bin to the side and removing the panel. The itch in my throat grew even more, my hands shook and the guilt I felt dawned on me as I reached inside a small crevice. The hole was just large enough for me to fit my hand in and pull out a small green glass bottle. There it was. The medicine to soothe everything I felt. I unscrewed the white cap and drank allowing the bitter liquid to burn my throat slightly.
Gin was the medicine of choice today. Not that it mattered much; usually it was whatever I could afford at the time, coupled with the value and alcohol percentage. For example one day I could buy a litre of Gordons because it was on offer in my local Tesco and then the next I’d be gulping down a small bottle of Glenn’s Vodka because that’s all the off-license had that was over 35% proof. Keeping it a secret became easier and easier as I became more creative with hiding places, only buying bottles that I could decant into water bottles of the same size allowing me to drink on the train or buying bottles, like this one, that could fit in a small crevice behind a bin. I sat on the kitchen tile for a few minutes, taking sips occasionally until I no longer winced at the bitter taste and the burn became a gentle tingle. The feeling of numbness radiated from my feet and worked its way to my head creating a euphoric dizziness. I stood up from the kitchen floor and shakily made my way to the bathroom, bottle in hand. I felt better again. The guilt had subsided into a joke and I laughed quietly. In the bathroom I stood for a minute, letting wave after wave of euphoria wash over me, placing the bottle on the floor. I removed my clothes and turned the taps allowing water to hit the bottom of the bath-tub. Instinctively I locked the door behind me and sank into the ceramic basin, letting the water fill up around me. The sound of falling water muffled the outside slightly and that’s when I began to close my eyes. The alcohol had begun to take effect and I pulled the bottle from the floor and into the bath with me, drinking slower this time.
“Hello?” a voice called out, I jolted from my position, frantically placing the bottle beside me and turning the taps to stop the water. The muffled sounds of footsteps climbed the stairs and I could feel my heart beat faster as I sat still, frozen in my position. The bathroom door shook slightly, “You in there?” the voice asked, and he was home. “Do you want a cuppa love?” he asked.
“Please, I’ll be down in a minute” I lied. The sound of footsteps receded back down and I receded back into the water.
To be continued..
There’s a point in everyone’s life when we compare; we compare how different we were three years ago, we compare how different our friends lives are and we compare ourselves to ourselves on a daily basis. I’m guilty of it and with today’s social media presence it’s impossible not to, it’s there, in our faces constantly. Wether it be a comparison of what other people have or even what people don’t have I have to ask, why do we do it?
What good does it do to our lives to constantly compare, to make tiny little observations and dwell on how things used to be, or worse how they could be? To compare ourselves and the things we have or don’t is to place a value on ourselves, it places a notion within our minds that we’re better or worse off and the truth is, there’s no such thing.
I look at how my life has changed in the last year alone and without sounding like I’m awarding myself some well earned self pity, to coin a common phrase, I would never have imagined this is where I’d be. A year ago I was living in my own apartment in London, with a partner of three years planning for our future together, I was well travelled and independent. I was in love and I felt as though I was loved back and I had a job that I enjoyed. My job paired enough to support my lifestyle and I enjoyed it a regular amount for a position in retail mostly due to the people I was surrounded with on a daily basis. My partner was doing something he loved and we were happy with where we were. Now we fast forward a year and I’m living with my parents again, my independence stripped away along with the relationship I was proud of. The partner would sooner move to mars than talk to me again and I work in a job that I don’t see a future in that pays a fraction of what I used to earn. My friends are studying and preparing themselves for their own futures, as I did, but it’s ok. It’s fine, don’t pity me because I don’t. And I’ll tell you why.
I used to be angry, I used to have visions of taking a shotgun to the face of people I thought were to blame. That was stupid, I’m to blame and that’s ok because although it took me a while to get there I finally realised that it doesn’t matter.
I have not lost anything, I gained a sense of self worth that I didn’t think I needed and I learned to do things for myself instead of solely because a partner suggested it was a good idea. I was pushed to limits I was surprised to learn I could be and still manage to enjoy myself. I’ve discovered, through treating myself the way I would’ve my partner, that looking after yourself is more rewarding than having anyone else do it for you. My friends are still there and my family will always be there and no ,after how far you travel or how much you see you ultimately learn the most at home.
During this year I’ve learnt that ultimately, comparing is caring, people can pretend all they want that they no longer care or that they aren’t interested in seeing you make a positive change but by comparing, by shifting the focus fro, yourself onto the choices of others, you’re showing, albeit the way a child would, that you do in fact care.
I haven’t lost anything and I stand to gain even less by wasting my time on comparisons that won’t change the outcome of things. I’m finally doing me and I welcome the success of others because it doesn’t change my story, or ultimately where I’m heading.
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..
Usually I make a point of never making any form of political statement, the internet is full of serious comments boasting a political agenda and quite frankly I’m not politically informed enough to comment. It’s very easy at this point, also, to put down any political information I may relay down to some more ultra-emo ramblings of another disgruntled millennial with twenty-four-seven wifi access. That’s not what this. In actual fact, I hold my hands up, when the older generations comment on how ignorant us young ones are, typically I am one of the young ones. I have never voted and some think that this is means to say that I am part of the problem but as the week draws to a close I’ve noticed, time and time again a consistent theme. The phrase “if you’re not angry you’re not paying attention” is thrown around so carelessly these days and the truth is, I am paying attention. I’m not angry but to claim that anger and awareness are the same thing is just deluded nonsense. The nazis were angry as are the left wing. The black panthers were angry and so are the KKK. In all of history has anger really gotten anyone anywhere? In the same stroke however, peace and silence has probably done even less and in my opinion it’ll continue to do even less. The honest answer is that there is no quick fix, people will continue to be angry and others will continue to be blissfully ignorant, no amount of votes are going to change that.
I got in to a taxi over the weekend and anyone who follows my riveting snap chat story on a regular basis will know that I was faced with a very uncomfortable situation. I’ll preface this by saying it was 1am on a Sunday morning and I was coming back from a friends house so you can imagine my surprise when I stepped into the taxi and the gentleman behind the wheel had verses from the Old Testament playing on the radio. At first I laughed, I recorded snippets and sent them to my friends making jokes along the lines of being part of a ritual sacrifice. It was then I heard the booming voice, in stereo, repeat “And the merchants of the earth will weep and mourn over her, because there is no one left to buy their cargo..” I have since come to learn that this was from the book of revelations, a fitting title since I was having the revelation of a lifetime; I’m going to die. It was as we were driving down the country road, with nothing but darkness ahead of us, I plucked up the courage and asked for the radio. My reasoning was simple, it was too morbid to listen to after enjoying a fun-filled Saturday evening. The man smiled and immediately turned over to whatever repetitive chart singles were playing that night.
At this point, my curiosity was peaked and I asked him why he was listening to bible verses, more so I was baffled as to why any public service worker would make such a public religious statement; if it were the Quran he would’ve received an unfair amount prejudice. He stayed silent for a moment, mulling over his answer, as I imagined every possible way he could drive his car into a tree and murder me and my flagrantly homosexual self in the middle of the woods.
“I’m a Muslim” he spoke, my eyes widened as I only became more intrigued. Immediately before I knew the mans religion I had judged him and made jokes about it. Now I was sat with a man listening to a religion that we are taught opposes his ideologies and one that we are consistently shown does not match up with his lifestyle, yet here he was listening. As the car continued through the various roads he explained that he was listening to the bible to gain understanding, to learn the teachings as he had been taught from an early age. He revealed that his understanding was that everyone was fighting for the same lessons.
It was at that point that I realised that the only thing that is going to make anything easier or make any sense of the world around us is to be less ignorant. I don’t follow a religion, my answer to the this is the same as my political stance, I simply do not know enough to commit my life to one way of living. But we could all stand to be a bit more open minded and willing to learn, to listen and to make informed decisions based on those findings, not what we’re told. It was also at that point that I realised not everything is about race or religion; sometimes people are just assholes. Religion and extremism, race and stereotyping are all very extreme sides of a very thin coin.
That being said, we’ve witnessed what using that thin coin to pay for our mistakes can lead to. It’s for this reason that there will never be a fix and there will never be a way to make everyone happy. The only “fix”, is for everyone to educate themselves as much as possible and not become prey to the general ignorance of the world. Travel, expand your friendship circles, surround yourself with as many different people as possible. Very plainly: become a part of the solution, not the problem.