Tag Archives: stories

You’re a big girl now

I had the ink done in my early 30s, just the inside of my arms across the elbow joint, to hide the scarring. It felt stranger than I’d expected sitting in the chair and feeling a needle again. In a way I kinda liked it, liked that the first sting wasn’t immediately deadened by that familiar, spreading honey, but was just followed by more sharp stabs. Repeated little reminders that this was the difference between being alive and being dead. It had taken me a long time to figure out that being alive cost a little pain that you were supposed to endure and not numb. I’m not trying to kid anyone that I had some sort of straight edge awakening as I got older – I still drank a little more than I should, still rolled the occasional joint – but on my own terms I’d been sober for four or five years.

On my left arm was this rose design I’d been kicking around on notebooks since as long as I could remember, probably all the way back to school. The centerpiece, which covered most of my old tracks, was the main flower, fully open as if you were looking down on it from above. Trailing off it and running up and down the sides of my arm was this interlinked chain of barbed wire and petals. After all those years in rehab and therapy you’d have thought I’d have shaken off something so clichéd but, like I say, it was a pattern I’d been sketching out for a long time. It felt like it was me: there was something beautiful there but you were going to get cut up pretty bad if you tried to touch it.

The right arm didn’t need quite so much attention; I’d never gotten the hang of shooting with my left hand and I never trusted anyone else to do it. There was just enough romance left in me to work up a design from the lyrics for “Rhiannon”. Something that’d remind me of the kid I was that first saw footage of Stevie Nicks twisting and spinning on stage, gossamer sleeves seeming to suspend her above the stage. She was the fiercest, prettiest thing I’d ever seen. But even then I could see the sadness and I think that was what stuck, that idea of facing it all down like the coolest fucking lady to walk the earth even though your heart’s broken up. “She rules her life like a bird in flight and who will be her lover?” There was enough romance for me to pencil it out but not enough for me to bear it permanently on my skin. I settled on “Never ever been a blue calm sea, I have always been a storm”. Tusk wasn’t my favorite album but I always liked that song and it said what I wanted to say I guess. It felt good to reconnect with the things I’d claimed as my own when I was younger, those early markers of identity that I’d near obliterated in a blizzard of powder through my 20s. Felt good to find common cause with Stevie again that wasn’t cocaine.

The guy that did my tattoos loved Dylan. I sat in that studio for hours listening to Bob wheeze his way through his abstract riddles whilst my mistakes were blotted out in reds and blacks. I didn’t get it. On some level I guess I admired the poetry but it didn’t speak to me, didn’t move me. I found him bloodless. Almost like if we’d swapped places and he’d been sitting in the chair the needle would jab him in the arm and there’d be nothing. Perhaps he’d drawl something sly and sardonic, rational and detached, launch into thirty verses of metaphor when all I really wanted him to do was tell me how he felt. Does it hurt, Bob? You don’t need a weatherman to tell which way the wind blows, he says back. Come on, let me in a little: does it hurt?

Me and Zac, the guy that did my arms, didn’t really talk much but towards the end I asked him why he only listened to Dylan. Called him on the whole emotional absence thing. He raised an eyebrow at ‘emotional absence’ and asked me just how much therapy I’d had. Those phrases stay with you, I said, and besides don’t change the subject. His response was to play me ‘Blood On The Tracks’. Said he barely listened to it these days, that it was too raw for him, and, besides, customers generally didn’t like mention of blood in the studio. I think that last part was his idea of a joke but neither of us laughed. We listened to it in silence, he even stopped using his gun, and just let the songs puncture my skin instead. So it does hurt, Bob. It’s ripping you apart, just like the rest of us.

When it was done I asked him to put “You’re a big girl now” on again and I let my thoughts wander back to a time when I knew someone. Really knew someone. Sure, we were just kids but you were the only one I ever let through my barbed wire, the only one brave enough or stupid enough to ride out my storm. That’s the trouble with storms though, isn’t it? They blow in and, just as quickly, they blow out again, leaving all that wreckage behind them. I hope you forgave me.

Bob was singing “with a pain that stops and starts … like a corkscrew to my heart… ever since we been apart” and I found that I was crying, tears falling over my outstretched arm, a blur of ink and blood smudging Stevie’s words. I have always been a storm.

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Fragments

I remember the bridge and the accident. Or, at least, I remember that I wrote that there was a bridge and that there was an accident. Something bad happened. We can agree on that. I’ve been coming here for weeks now, perhaps months, and trying to talk about it but the words just won’t come. The summer house at the end of a garden, slatted windows open in the late summer to let in the air, shuttered tight in the winter to protect the heat rising at our feet from the electric radiator. There’s a box of tissues that I’ve never reached for although there’s some part of me that thinks that I should: the absence of tears no doubt noted dutifully in the book of notes I never get to read. Am I a secret to myself ? A wasp drones angrily at the glass in the summer house door.

“Perhaps we should let it out ?” he asks.

I look up at him, at his eyes, at his eyebrows raised expectantly, at his kindness.

“Letting things out isn’t my forte,” I reply ruefully. He lets me lapse back into silence and watch the wasp, a study in impotent rage, continue to fail to break through the glass, fail to fly to the garden it can see but not reach.

I remembered the shattered shards of glass on the bridge after the accident. The lights from the ambulance refracting through the splinters, red and blue light dancing across the wet tarmac as I waited for them to tell me what had happened. Does it matter if there was really an accident or if I just wrote it ? Something bad happened. It seems easier somehow to dramatise it rather than  just lay out the bare facts because the reality was so banal, so mundane, or at least it was when I said it out loud; inside it felt like an accident. It’s not as if I don’t have the words. I am not short of the words, whether recounting the miserable, ordinary slide into depression, or describing it second hand via a series of thinly disguised metaphors. All of those stories came from the same source, the same white light scattered through the mosaic of broken glass strewn across the bridge, a myriad of separations, a spiders web of my shattered self reflected back in shattered glass. Does it matter if the bridge was real ?

“So what did you want to talk about ?” he asks, more questions.

“I’m not sure that I want to talk about any of it to be honest,” I reply. “You know I prefer to write it all down.”

“The stories ? The music essays ?”

“I’m better written down,” I persist.

“But it’s another front, isn’t it ? Another way of packaging yourself up to present to the world ? The pieces of yourself you’ll allow people to see. Carefully considered and thought through. Nothing in the moment or out of control or truly vulnerable or exposed.”

“Pieces of splintered glass,” I murmur. “I don’t know. Is it just a front ? I’m not saying those stories amount to ‘Blood On The Tracks’ but there’s all of me in there if you search. They seem as real to me as a hand shake or a late night conversation with a friend or, or I don’t know, an imagined road accident on a bridge and its post traumatic fall out.”

“So why don’t you cry ? Or get angry ? Through all that pain, through that trauma. Where does it all go ?”

“It goes on the page. Or it pulls me down, eats me up. It’s better on the page. I’m better on the page.”

“And do you think you could put yourself back together on the page ? Tell enough stories, find enough of the fragmented strands of yourself that you can stitch them back, weave a tapestry out of the threads. Work it all out on your own. Is that the point ?”

“That’s not the analogy I use. In the story – you know, the first one – it’s glass. All of those stories are just the little pieces of glass sprinkled across the scene of the crash, little reflections of a part of my whole.”

“So change the analogy. Glass doesn’t really yield. It shatters or breaks and even if you could glue it all back together you’d always see the joins, you’d never see through it as clearly again. Sure, we unravel sometimes but when you knit the frayed threads back together you can make something new; just as strong as it was before, maybe stronger if you can see where the stitches failed last time. Don’t write stories to describe the fractured pieces of glass. Weave.”

“How would I start ?”

“I don’t know. You’re the story-teller. How do stories usually start ?”

 

……

This is story 41 in a series of 42 to raise money and awareness for the mental health charity Mind. My fundraising page is here and all donations, however small, are really welcome: http://www.justgiving.com/42shorts

This is intended as a wrap back to the very first story: Beginnings. It either all gets a bit meta or it disappears up its own arse. It’s a fine line… but it’s well intentioned. One to go.