“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.