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Monthly Archives: July 2014

one: the origin of love.

2010. I sit in silence, running my toes through the mottled peach carpet of my parental living room. In front of me is my first boyfriend, a depressive boy two or three years younger than me. He sits, black hair tangled, knotted through his hands as he alternates between clawing at his face and pulling said hair. Tears stream down his face.

Three days earlier, on New Year’s Eve, I drunkenly made out with a friend of ours – a friend who was also, at the time, in a relationship – and as tends to happen in these situations, my world exploded, for a time. This boyfriend had received the news with an eerie calm, helping me clean the house after the incident occurred, tending in equal parts to my hangover and my self-loathing, and had, in fact, not been incensed that I had cheated – only that this friend had made out with me instead of him.

“What about me?”, he’d asked. “I’m not attractive enough?”. I hadn’t the heart to tell him I’d have traded places in an instant, if I could.

2003. Some six and a half years prior to this aforementioned incident, I had a grand plan. This plan was to commit suicide.

The depression of youth, combined with an overarching sense of isolation and displacement from my peers, my teachers, my family, began to be too great a burden, and I began to believe it was a burden I wouldn’t be able to carry. I’d toyed with the idea for a while – imagining the pain and beauty of the ceremony, my mother, weeping, dressed all in black, the looks on the faces of my tormentors; the vicious boys who’d beaten me, grabbed at my flesh and screamed in my face: “FAT!” and “FAGGOT!”, time and time again – and began to squirrel away painkillers of varying strength as they came into the house. In the beginning it had seemed like a game. A game of chicken with death itself; cockteasing the end of my own life, always with the feeling that no matter how bad it got I wouldn’t really do it. Six months on, it felt less like a game, and more like life. It got bad, as it tends to when you flirt with stupidity and loathing. My fantasies became less about the aftermath – about proving that somebody loved me – and more simply about blackness, an all-consuming quiet, a great Alone.

One day into this period, a small package arrived at my door. A handwritten letter, purple scrawl for eight pages wrapped tight around a burned disc, with the words on it: HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH. And below that, “listen to track 2!!”.

I did so. And as the song played, something in me lifted. Nothing huge, but still: something. Something that spoke to me of emotions I hadn’t, at 15 years of age, yet felt. Something that told me: this will pass.

At the end of the letter, still in purple ink, was a hand-traced drawing of the Hedwig tattoo: two halves, opposite, trying to connect. The promise that the whole was better than the sum of the parts.

Back to 2010, and the boyfriend, crying.

“I’m so fucking sad,” he manages between sobs, tears freefalling to the ground. I make no move to comfort him, but something in me figures: this is good. I get it. Tell me I’m shit. Tell me you hate me for cheating. Just let it out. Let it out so we can talk about it, and hopefully move on. Because I’m sorry. I’m really, really sorry.

He stares at my arm, wrapped in plastic, ointment sheen across a black-inked wound in my flesh: an image of two halves, opposite, trying to connect. Then he says:

“I just – I wanted a tattoo so bad, and I can’t fucking believe you got one before me.”

two: lycanthropy.

“Let no foot mark your ground/let no hand hold you down.”

I’d always imagined I’d wait ‘till I met Patrick Wolf in person to get this one, and get him to write the lyrics on my arm – or a piece of paper, at least, to get transcribed. Of course, when I actually met him, I was too star-struck (and a little too inebriated) to do much else but gush, awkwardly, about how much his music meant to me, and attempt to pose like a real life human being for somebody’s camera. It was fine, I’d thought. He’ll be back and I’ll just meet him again.

Six months later one of my best friends was dead by his own hand. Not long after this, I found myself in a tattoo parlour, staring at the transcription on my arm; waiting for the needle to descend.

“Are you okay?,” Cloe – my tattoo-parlour bastion of moral support – asks, squeezing my hand.

“Yeah,” I reply, and shut my eyes. Bring on the pain. And, later:

“Did he like Patrick Wolf?”.

“No,” I reply. The truth of it is, he’d never heard Wolf’s music, and probably wouldn’t have enjoyed it if he had. “But it’s not for him. It’s for me.”

A month or two later:

@_PATRICK_WOLF does anyone have any PW tatts? I’d love to see photos! X

@a__forest Lycanthropy lyrics to remind me to have strength & courage. Picture attached.

Two days after that:

Congrats! “Patrick Wolf” now follows you on twitter!

and

@_PATRICK_WOLF retweeted one of your tweets:

@_PATRICK_WOLF ink under skin, let me in “@a__forest Lycanthropy lyrics to remind me to have strength & courage”

three: christopher robin.

Drunk on too much beer, I slur to a friend as I pull down the neckline of my shirt:

“Watch this. Watch this!”

The friend, also drunk, obliges. Etched into the skin of my left pectoral is a robin, perched on a branch. As I lift my arm up high, the robin squishes together, becoming puffed up, eyes slitting together in anger and heady disappointment like an avian mother; perpetually displeased. The friend laughs, sending tiny flecks of foam out into the night and across my chest.

“Now watch,” I manage, and lower my arm. Slowly, surely, the robin returns to normal, red-crested and noble, face stretching back out.

“It’s Weight Watchers,” I say. “For birds!”

“Why a robin?” Tania, my tattooist, asks, a cheer in her voice as she lays out the colours. “Any particular reason, or you just like them?”.

“My mum and I used to read Winnie the Pooh together. It got to the point where everyone in the family’d call me Christopher Robin, like the character.”

I remember long Sunday mornings at the age of 6 or 7, snuggled on the couch with her, a hot mug of milk and Vegemite toast, reading A. A. Milne’s classic kids’ novel – and overwhelmingly the feeling of warmth, of safety, of support.

My mother, upon seeing the tattoo: “What on Earth have you done to yourself?”.

four: baby bear.

A woman, chewing gum, clacking red press-on nails across her black vinyl bag: “What’s that on your leg?! That tattoo? What is that? Is that a bear?!”

“Yes,” I reply. “It killed and ate Goldilocks.”

My boyfriend at the time, about to go down on me, pauses for a second, twists my leg around to look the bear in the face. Then: “Rawr!”.

A friend of a friend: “It’s funny because it’s a bear, but you’re not a bear. Like, as in, you’re not a gay bear.”

Me: “I… I know.” And, to myself: “You’re not a boxer, but you’ve got one of those on your arm.”

five: daisy buchanan.

He clutches onto me in the dark of the midnight air, tears fat and hot, rolling down his face to pool on my chest, in the crevasse between each nipple. He’s holding on to me for dear life, body wracked by sobs, and I am still: still and calm, and heavy, a quiet dread descending through every fibre of my being.

Things haven’t been going well. We’ve moved in together – thankfully not alone, nor into the same room, but still, the same house – and this has exacerbated the numerous issues in our relationship, widening each one like an infected wound that refuses to heal, only growing wider, deeper, stinking and hot, and it is all too painful and all too clear: we do not belong together. I think: are you going to make me do it?.

And finally, blessedly, he speaks: “I’m not ready to break up with you yet.”

Six hours later. It is in the dead of Winter, and I wake with the sun in an unnatural cold. My window has blown open during the night and wave upon wave of sub-temperature air floats in, raising thousands of tiny goosepimples across my naked torso. I am alone.

Slowly, my body coming to life, I retrieve my phone, and message Tania. I’ve been waiting for this one for a while.

I remember lying in darkness, next to my best friend, someone I hadn’t seen for six months, and admitting, a wave of shame sinuating itself around my neck: “I think he loves me more than I love him.”

I remember, a month after we moved in together, how he’d shut his computer when I’d walk into the room; the familiar sting of a cacophony of message notifications, like I wouldn’t notice: Grindr, Manhunt, Adam4Adam, each one a mocking symphony of computerised noise that seem to scream: “YOU AREN’T GOOD ENOUGH FOR ANYONE.”

I remember, two weeks after we broke up, desperately doing sit-ups in the dark of my room as he came home, bags full of expensive shopping: champagne, dip, triple-cream brie, olives. “I’m going out,” he’d said, to nobody in particular. “I’m having a picnic.” Two glasses, two plates, two sets of cutlery, too.

I remember fighting with him: “you owe me $200 which you haven’t paid me back – but you’ve got money for fancy cheese and alcohol?”, and him storming out, slamming the door after sneering: “Happy Valentine’s Day”.

Still, I remember holding him close, his frame much smaller than mine, body to body, my arm wrapped tight across the cage of his chest, feeling his heart beat, the comfort of his body expanding and falling, expanding and falling.

I remember thinking: I honestly think I could marry you.

And I remember a passage from Chapter 5 of “The Great Gatsby”: “There must have been moments even that afternoon when Daisy tumbled short of his dreams – not through her own fault but because of the colossal vitality of his illusion.”

six: molotov heart.

Two days after a boyfriend breaks up with me, I message Tania.

“Got any spots free? I’d love to get that heart we talked about. x”.

She replies straight away, and we lock in a time for the following week. It’s not long before I’m sitting once more under her needle, the colours blooming out under layers of skin, the dull ache setting in, and…

And after several hours, I pay and leave, sporting that familiar pain shooting spiderwebs across my forearm. I lift the wrapping, marvelling in the swirls and whorls of colours and shapes that have taken house under the layers of dermis to form a heart, in brilliant, saturated colours, a dripping Molotov wick spurting out of a valve, and a lit match nearby, at the ready. The message is clear: set me on fire.

And I think: this is new. This is something just for me; something you can’t touch. This is mine, and mine alone.

And I think: wear your heart on your sleeve. Show it off. Let it be a decoy.

And I think: Please, though. Please keep the one in your chest safe.

“2003: This LJ is officially friends-only. Due to certain… people in my life, it’s a general necessity – think of it as screening my calls, so to speak. Comment if you wish to be added.

I am twenty-five. It is last week. The sun is surprisingly cruel for the middle of Winter, beating down with a torrid insistence that only serves to aggravate the tail-end of the vicious hangover I’m nursing as I walk down the street. Far in front of me, a small man cycles in my direction, pumping his feet up and down with sweaty determination as the gears and chains of his machine kick into gear. And then: in sudden and glorious slow motion, his bicycle lurches forward, sputters, pistoning on its front wheel. His mouth drops open, wide, as if to scream, pop-pop-popping like a goldfish and he topples over, hits the ground, his traitorous cycle slamming down upon his chest.

There’s a pause – a single moment of dread. He is flat on his back and still, the bike twisted serpentine over the curves of his body, and I am stuck, zombie-like, a prisoner in my own body as my legs continue to push me towards the vicious crash site. And then he sits up; shakes his head, and with a sense of youthful wonder taps lightly on the neon purple helmet strapped to his head. He’s okay. My legs are still forcing me forward, closer, and he looks now in my direction, and I’m tired, awkward, unsure of what to do. He turns and there’s a graze, hundreds of tiny crimson criss-crosses pissing blood down the side of his face, his bike clutched in one hand, and I think – I think, I should check if he’s okay. And then I walk straight past him.

I pass another man as I push on, a man much kinder than me, and his disapproving glare cuts daggers through my sunglasses as he rushes past me. I turn up the music I’m listening to, but it doesn’t help. I am caught out: I am shamed, a non-helper, a callous human being, and I know it. I know it, but still I don’t turn back. And…

“2006: I seem to hate nearly everyone on my MSN list, even myself, as no-one seems to want to talk to me. Either that or they’re lazy, but I seem to instigate all the conversations, and get only one-word answers. When someone does actually instigate a conversation, it seems to always be Kasey or Bridget, who, for some reason or another, I usually don’t want to talk to. They’re nice people and all, but… I dunno, maybe I just bitch too much.

And I am dancing – which means I am drunk – to a song, some song, in some bar, and god, none of it matters except for the dull pounding of my heart in my chest. There is a boy, and he is dancing with me, my friends, too, throwing sideways glances in my direction; the gravity of their expectation adding to my growing anxiety. Another drink, for the nerves, and he is there, smiling wryly, running a hand through waves of jet-black hair, and – back to the dance-floor.

We have spent the night together, exchanging jokes, stories, practically inseparable, and as time has worn on the excitement and anticipation has turned into a traitorous stone; a weight to be born. Still we dance, making occasional eye-contact through the invading beams of neon light playing vivid and unrelenting across both of our faces.

A friend, pulling me aside as he runs back to the bar: “You’ve got to do it. He’ll never do it. He’s too shy. But you could.”

I voice my agreement, smiling falsely as this friend attempts to encourage me, but whatever else I am now worse off: caught in a snare-trap of blind fear, unable to act on my desire. And we lock eyes, and he smiles at me, and I smile back, genuinely, now, take a swig of my drink, and… nothing.

Later. We lie on cool grass together, droplets of dew soaking the underside of my jeans as I shiver; the freeze of the night permeating the thin material of my clothing. There’s a pause, a lull in conversation, and slowly, surely, he moves towards me; rests his head upon my stomach. Automaton, I raise my hand and stroke that jet-black hair, wishing interminably so that I could be sober, be confident, open up and plainly say: this is who I am; this is what I want. What do you want?

Later still. We are standing stock still, caught in a painfully bright hallway, the age of drink pressing down on both our skulls.

“Well then,” I say.

“Yeah,” he says.

Neither of us move. Either direction involves separation. Then: I dart forward and kiss him on the cheek, a chaste, useless, weak gesture. He returns the kiss just as quickly, and we linger for a second, cheek to cheek, the smell of his cologne and sweat mingling with mine, the heat of his body emanating out, one hand running through that hair, and…

“2008: A few days ago, smoke from recent & ongoing bushfires made its way into the suburbs & turned the sun red.”

There is a message on my phone. It reads: Hi, hope you r well. Have bn thinking of u a lot lately.

It is from my birth mother. I haven’t seen her in seven years. The last time I saw her she took me out for coffee; dropping past my childhood home with a tired smile, eyes crinkling like tissue paper up the sides of her face and belying a deep and foreign sadness. We sit on the train together in a mutual, comfortable silence, listening to the constant rumbling of steel upon steel.

“Couldn’t you have driven?”, I’d asked.

“No,” she’d replied. I learned, later, that this was at the height of her alcoholism; her car had been disposed of and public transport was her only option. Instead, she’d posited it to me as a fun adventure.

We’d sat for an hour, maybe two, over Italian hot chocolates – the kind like chocolate pudding, thick and slightly bitter to the taste – sipping in silence, awkward attempts at conversation thrown feebly across from either camp; each offer sailing brilliantly over the net and crashing hard and violently down into the ground. Finally, we reached a kind of impasse, both sitting in silence, both dreading finishing the dregs of our respective beverages and the inevitable train ride home, the silence already becoming heavy, weighted, entirely unforgiving.

We ask for the cheque. It is brought to us: seven dollars, exactly.

A pause, and the look on my birth mother’s face flashes in hyperspeed from shock, to anger, to panic, and disappointment. Her gaze avoids mine; suddenly intrigued by the inner workings of the hardwood table in front of her as her hands desperately search her pockets for some money, any money. Nothing.

Then: “You don’t… do you have any money on you? I can pay you back?”

I don’t. And although I remember that moment as she realised her pockets were empty with a certain kind of dread, I remember even clearer the hurt, the shame in her eyes as she asked, voice low and quavering: “Can you call your… can you call Therese to ask if she has any money?”

I stare at the message, and will myself to reply, to say something, anything – to simply connect. My hands don’t move. My fingers refuse to co-operate; to type any discernable message. And…

“2010: So after a particularly tumultuous New Year’s Eve and day, and the distinct possibility of breaking up a relationship & losing both members of said relationship as friends, I find myself back to square one- almost. I’ve spent the past couple of days in a state of sadness and inertia, but I’m finally kicking myself up the backside. Life doesn’t stop because I fuck up, right? There are lines to learn, photos to take, exercise to do and people to see.

Things aren’t 100% better, and they’ll take a while, but the fact that they can get better is more than enough for me at the time being. I’ve achieved so much in the past year, but still nowhere near as much as I’d hoped to. Without pushing myself into the extreme, I’d like to give this whole “motivation” thing a red hot go. I think I owe it to myself.

I am sick of being ruled by my insecurities. It’s time to step out into the world.” 

And I stand, drunk on NYE, in the middle of the road outside my suburban childhood home. There is a boy in front of me. Some metres away, tucked inside my suburban childhood home, is his boyfriend.

He looks at me. I look at him. And inside my organs collectively tense; muscles knot and fret as they do in that singular and terrifying moment before the drop, before human contact is initiated. I tell myself: no. I tell myself: he has a boyfriend. I tell myself: you have a boyfriend. I tell myself –

But he kisses me, soft lips pressed tight against mine, his hands reaching ‘cross my frame in some sort of drunken frenzy, and in that moment I surrender, whole-heartedly, to whatever’ll come next, and whatever the consequences may be. And…

“2011: A portrait of the artist as the stupid bird that flew headlong into your living room windows, repeatedly, and fell to the ground, haemorrhaging, neck broken and bloody.” 

And, fuck it. Learn nothing from history! Stay exactly the same. Send your gaze out, out into the world, to fall upon the beautiful and fucked up individuals that surround you and tell yourself that you could never match up to their greatness. Don’t reach for the stars: they are bodies, giant bodies on fire, and they will burn you if you dare to touch them. It is too embarrassing. Hide it at the centre of your very being, inside a box with a combination lock. Cover that box with sass and accolades, with false hope and false security. Dress it up. Make it look flashy. Hope that nobody ever manages to figure out that combination or open it by any other means. Die as you lived, alone and scared. This is fitting, because you are inside that combination box – and inside you are alone. Malnourished and skeletal. You could find your way out, if you wanted. But inaction is comforting. It is seductive. And you are shivering in the darkness. And…

And maybe, instead, we can say: this is who I was, and, this is who I am, and, best of all: this is who I want to be. And maybe we can achieve that, all of that. Maybe we can do better – or try.

At the very least, we can try.

“2012: …….”

2012. I wake with a scream – not my own.

It is alien, harsh and racking and full of torment and it cuts through the inky blackness of my bedroom. I am 22 years old, living in a dilapidated apartment on the border of South Yarra and Toorak – both fairly affluent areas, despite the state of the abode I’m co-renting – and as such, screams in the night are practically unheard of.

Trams shrieking viciously down a main road at one in the morning? Sure. A few drunken girls, shoes in hand and slurring – “Becky! Becky ya fucken’ slut, wait up willya, SERIOUSLY!” – as they teeter-totter out of TRAK, the all-purpose multilevel liquor palace that looms on the hill over our apartment complex like a teenybopper parody of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s disembodied Dr. T. J. Eckleburg billboard, sure. But cries of pain?

I will myself to move, stand up, turn on the light, open my window, investigate. I do not. And outside, that sound again, crying, now – sobbing, a female voice, wailing in a dialect I don’t understand, and below it a more sinister voice, male, speaking calmly, deeply, with purpose and command.

The woman’s voice again, in English, now: “No!”. A beat, then: “No. Fuck you, no.” And back out again. I think she’s Italian, though I’m not sure.

An insidious disquiet begins to wash over me. I feel pinned, my body pressed, weighted down onto the bed, unable to move, to extricate myself. Does this woman need help? What help could I possibly offer?

My mind wanders, renegade, to Year 9 Psychology and Mrs. Tattersall, our teacher. I can see her now: a slight woman with tight, cropped brown hair, wide eyes pressed into a sponge-cake face and nervous hands belying a concrete, ballsy voice.

“Who here,” she begins, stalking through the classroom in grey kitten-heels, a matching dress-suit, “has heard of the case of Kitty Genovese? …anybody?”.

The room is silent, except for the clack, clack, clack of Tattersall’s heels on white linoleum. She comes to a stop at the head of the room; turns around to face the class.

“1964. Around 3AM in the morning, Catherine Genovese was driving home from her job as a bar manager. Now, she lived in an apartment complex, which accordingly had a shared parking lot, about thirty metres from her doorstep. From safety.”

She pauses, now, twisting on the spot and clacking over to a nearby window; the afternoon sun playing across her face as she indulges in the theatricality, the gravitas of it all.

“Thirty metres; that’s all. At some point during that thirty metres, she was approached by a man in a long coat and wide-brimmed hat, who made a play towards her out from the darkness of the parking lot. Startled, terrified, she ran, but he intercepted her, attacked her, and stabbed her repeatedly. At this, Kitty screamed. Again and again, she cried for help. But no help came.”

Another pause, breaking away from the window and returning her attentions to us, her charges.

“How many people do you suppose heard that cry for help, hm? One, two, four or five? No. Thirty-eight.” A beat. “Thirty-eight people heard her cries for help, maybe even saw her in that parking lot, and – outside of one man who yelled from his window – not one of them did a thing to help her. They let her die. Why do you suppose that is?”

I look down, rifle through the glossy pages of my psych book – the words TENTH EDITION!! printed proudly in a rich, royal purple – and sure enough, there she is: poor Kitty Genovese, hair perfectly coiffed, eyebrows raised to the heavens, a knowing smile on her face. I try to swallow, but can’t: my mouth has dried up completely. And the silence has become heavy, now, pregnant with fear and wonder and perhaps an air of disbelief.

“Diffusion of responsibility,” Tattersall answers for us, voice cold, commanding. “Or what we might call, ‘inaction’.”

2007. I am 19 years old, having dinner with an old school friend, Kristen, at the Brown Cow, a Brighton (“Braaaghton”) institution. We sit and chat as day breaks into evening, feeling terribly adult over house wine and thick cut chips; discussions about our lives post high school. The night is almost over; we’re about to pack it in when a word, a dirty little word comes twisted and jarring from a nearby table to greet us:

“Faggot.”

I turn, ever so slightly, to see three particularly stunning meatheads from my alma mater, coughing slurs behind heavy, veined hands the size of steaks; streaked hair and skin thick and brown from fake tan. And again, with the conviction of someone reading out a shopping list:

“Faggot. Poof. Poofta. Faggot. Faggooooooot.” 

Somehow their lack of vitriol stings even more – they can’t even be bothered to properly insult me.

“We should go,” I mutter to Kristen, wishing I could do something.

“No,” she replies, and there’s a fire in her eyes unlike anything I’ve seen before. “Sit down.” I do. Then, her voice brilliantly loud, a tinge of Sandra Sully, carrying louder than their insults yet soft like honey:

“Have you ever been with a man, Chris?”

The insults pause, for a second, tilting on the precipice of something, something, and I understand, vaguely, that I have the ability to push them off this precipice. I lock eyes with Kristen, and in that same voice:

“Why yes, I have. Many times, in fact.”

“WONDERFUL!,” she bellows. “Ab-so-lutely wonderful. I must say, I love a hard cock, don’t you?”. My hero.

We continue on for a good ten minutes, but we needn’t have – the meatheads have vacated the building.

I arrive home an hour later, clutching desperately on to that fire, that heat that lay in Kristen’s eyes. In a daze, a furious daze, I open up my MySpace, the blog function, and begin to type:

“Tonight I was verbally attacked by people on the outskirts of our supposed friendship group. I was called “faggot”, along with a myriad of other inventive names. Well, here’s the thing: Yes. I’m gay. So what?”

Thirty minutes later, after much deliberation, I post the thing. The responses are positive, glowing, even, from people I don’t even know particularly well. And then, a private message appears:

“From: iOTA.

Hey mate, just read your blog and wanted to say I’m proud of you. Look after yourself.”

And then, on the blog itself:

“iOTA.
Alright, my turn. Some mates of mine were making out and asked to stop…”

I blanch for a second, a wave of inexplicable fear and happiness coursing through my veins. Then, I put on an iOTA CD and start to formulate a reply.

2010. I sit with a friend, Emma, on her single bed, in her single room. We are holding hands. The past few months have been something of a personal hell as I’ve progressed through the stages of some unrequited fantasy with a mutual friend; found myself stuck at some permanent crossroads of flirtation v friendship, playing endlessly and sick out through my brain.

“You’ve got to do it,” she says.

Written, structured, in my “drafts” folder is a particularly long text message laying out the situation. There have been several opportunities for me to diffuse the situation, to call it out, but each time I’ve found my mouth turn to putty, traitor body shaking in a fear and revelry that I can’t push out of.

“What’re you afraid of?”, she asks.

Everything, I think to myself.

I send the message.

2012. I’m back in that bed. That’s it. I’ve got to do something. I can’t possibly let this happen – whatever “this” may be. It’s been ten, fifteen, maybe twenty minutes and the woman won’t stop crying, that man’s voice still calm and low underneath and my mind has made up a million situations to place this couple in and none of them are good. I focus. I’ve got to get up.

Then, a third voice like gravel and broken glass blasting through the midnight air: “OI. IT’S FUCKEN’ TWO IN THE MORNING. SOME OF US’VE GOTTA WORK, CAN YOU SHUT THE FUCK UP.”

As quickly as they began, the two foreign voices slink back into the night, no conclusion to be heard, no sound, now, except for the faint hum of insects, a sprinkler, and far off, the insistent beep of a pedestrian crossing, and…

I slip back down and away, into the luxurious mires of sleep once more: with ease, with relative ease.

2007. I am at a gig at the Corner with a few friends, and I’ve had a couple beers; enough to buoy me up with a sense of brazen self-confidence and joyous attitude. Tonight’ll be a good night.

I dash down the stairs and am stopped dead in my tracks. Three metres away is iOTA himself, taller than I’d expected and inexplicably terrifying. My confidence drains immediately; flushed away like waste down the sink. We stand, he and I, stock still for maybe fifteen seconds, and even as my body screams to run my mind attempts to kick into gear: Say “hi”. Tell him what his message meant to you. Say “hi”. Fucking say “hi”!

My body wins out and I twist on the spot, ready to dash back up those stairs, my mind already filling up with shame. Then:

“Oi!”. A hand on my shoulder, not unkind, and I twist back ‘round to face him. He’s close, now, and he looks me in the eye: “You’re Chris. You wrote that blog!”

“I did,” I manage, heart in my mouth, mouth on fire.

“That was awesome,” he grins. “C’mon, you want a drink?”.

2012. I lie on that same bed with a boy watching inane YouTube videos. We’ve been out – had dinner, drinks, the lot – and now we’re lying, side by side, barely touching in the Winter air.

I think: someone, help. Then: how do people do this? How does anyone connect?

He says: “Give me your hand.”

I do, and we lay like that for a time, hand in hand, my heart once more jumping out through my very skin, body ready at any second to revolt.

I think: fucking get your shit together. And for better or worse, I slide down close, move towards him, kiss him.

2012. Morning has broken, and groggy with sleep (or lack thereof), I shuffle, a zombie, down the brutal cold of the stairwell and out into Autumn’s morning sun.

Sitting calm on an old brick fence just a few metres down, sipping at an enormous cup of black coffee, is beautiful woman in a pale blue dressing-gown. She has thick black hair and eyebrows, the faintest stains of colour on the edges of her lips, and deep, heavy bags under her eyes; bags that match my own.

I watch her for a time, unselfconscious in my sleepiness, as she mulls over her morning brew, using her little finger as a temperature gauge – nope, still too hot. As she sits, a man pads out behind her; slides his arms around her.

“No,” she snarls. “No,” and, “Fuck off!”. I’d recognise that voice anywhere. The man looks hurt, his face crumpled, and he pads back inside.

I walk over to her, and she tells me that they’re boyfriend and girlfriend; he got home that night with lipstick on his collar and she’s deciding if they have a future.

I walk over to her, and she tells me they’re brother and sister; their mother died and left a precious family heirloom, a wrist-watch, to him, even though it’s the one item she’s always coveted and he’ll probably sell it anyway.

I walk over to her, and she tells me he’s some guy she took home from a bar; he has erectile disfunction and of course, of course it’s just her luck that the first time she does something like this she picks up a dud root.

I walk over to her and she tells me to mind my own fucking business.

I walk over to her.

I walk over to her, and…

And it takes a second, but finally, she recognises my presence; her face angular, beautiful in the morning sun. We lock eyes.

“Can I help you?”, she intones.

A beat. Say something.

“How are you?”, I ask.

She pauses, one eyebrow raised, slight smirk on her face. Then:

“Fine. How are you?”.

Another pause, and I’m genuinely thinking, racking my brain for something, anything to say.

“Yeah,” I reply. “Yeah… I’m okay.”

She smiles, and takes a sip of her coffee.