Battlefield

I wrote this a while back:

I’ve just had my heart broken. Not in a small, ‘Aw, that’s a wee shame’, kind of way, but in a ‘My heart has been utterly shredded by the one person I trusted with it, I think I’ll spend several weeks alone in a darkened room and swallow a lot of Valium’, kind of way. No one has ever experienced the pain I have experienced. Ever. Not Abelard, not Romeo, not Don Quixote, no one.

Well, except you. You have.

Love is a wonderful, wandering thing when it’s going well. It fills you, enriches you, and informs every decision you take. Your mouth is drenched in new flavours, your ears hear sounds that haven’t been heard since the very beginning of time, and the colours? Oh, the colours. Your every waking, and probably sleeping, moment is focused on that perfect object of your adoration, and it just feels, well, divine, doesn’t it?

But when it goes wrong, when it stops unexpectedly and unasked for, you become transformed into a zombified, undead shadow of yourself. All that moment-filling and decision-informing continues, and your waking and sleeping moments remain focused, but your loved one no longer loves you back. Your emotional skin has been torn from your soul and the world you inhabit is an ocean of salty lemon juice. It fucking hurts. You cannot move, you cannot function. And no one understands.

Except, everyone does.

Let me be candid, I’m old. I’m beyond all this teenaged, fanciful, hearts and flowers nonsense. I have lived, sired children, earned money and respect. I have bedded down my gravitas in silver hair and aged wisdom, yet when my heart was broken, I was six years old again, crying for my mother. It was truly awful.

You know exactly what I’m talking about, don’t you?

It’s not the first time my heart has been broken. It was demolished when my marriage ended. That was the worst thing that had ever happened to me, and I knew I could never live through such pain again, hah! And before that. And before that.

Why do we open ourselves to such potential destruction? We have a desire, it becomes a need, our need is returned, and fuels our own desire. We immerse ourselves in love, in the sure knowledge that every nanosecond of avidity will be returned, as fiery and hungry as all we’ve offered. In love, we consume one another, but the returned love restores us, and so we have a perpetuation of the conflagration. The fire that builds as it burns. I’m beyond all that though. Yet I’m not. No one is. Not if we are to genuinely live the lives we’ve been given.

Vulnerability is an essential part of being human, it allows us to connect with people, with things, and incorporate them into ourselves. If we don’t embrace that vulnerability we are rejecting one of the basic building blocks of our individuality, of our commonality, and we reject life.

The thing that sets us apart and makes us unique, the sharing of a unique bond with another unique being, is the thing that connects each of us to every other. And the pain that arises when these bonds are broken, betrayed, thrown under a bus, trod upon, mocked and destroyed, is a pain we all share. I once heard a counselling tutor make the observation, ‘it is our wounds that connect us’. Understanding this doesn’t reduce the pain, but it does make it easier to bear.

Buddhism talks about the concept of non-attachment, the Dalai Lama said ‘attachment is the origin, the root of suffering; hence it is the cause of suffering’. I see the wisdom in this, yet it’s not something I can comprehend, selfish, self-centred man that I am. I cannot reconcile non-attachment with loving someone else. Maybe that’s the point, maybe it’s weakness that causes us to cling to people and things as though our lives really did depend on them, our desire is what ails us after all. Non-attachment and detachment are, so I’m told, totally different things, but I’m not sure I can understand the difference. I guess I am a long way from ‘satori’.

I feel as though these new wounds, on top of old scar tissue, will never heal, though I see evidence of healing every day. There’s a paradox to be observed here, maintaining your vulnerability in the face of rejection is somehow a protection against the hurt that vulnerability opens you up to.

And here’s the thing, the flash of inspiration that keeps me going, you know what I mean, you know what I’m talking about.

Love is a battlefield, and I’m not convinced anybody wins..

Winter II

My mouth is stopped and my hands are tied,
I cannot present my care.
I have only words. My words must create universes;
Split atoms,
Weld souls.

Though I watch your eyes soften as you see me,
And feel your hidden need;
The curve of your smile,
asymmetric pleasure,
And the hairs on your skin stand.
Reaching.
For me.

I feel I know what you feel, deep below this surface.
I seize an acknowledged bond;
My words fill the spaces in your spirit,
And I too am full.
My two mistresses:
Desire,
Obsession.

Welfare

Beyond the chestnut bars
Manicured brightness of nature
Designed deep in the earth
In the imaginations of hewers of rock
Formed over aeons
From gardens designed
In the mind of god

Hours stolen from darkness
The hard, hard work of leisure
Gives delight to the unaware
Each quilted square a life
Each colour a promise
Beauty formed by hard, blackened hands
For eyes that never will know the dark.

Seeking

Throughout my life I’ve been a little obsessed with history. Not history in the ‘Norman conquest’ sense, but personal history. I would hazard a guess this has much to do with the fact my father died just weeks before my entry into the world. The only way I could learn about him was through stories from my mother, or photographs and old documents she kept in a little letter case in the dining room sideboard. I used to spend hours, as a child, raking through that sideboard and trying to piece together some sort of personal narrative, though I hadn’t a clue at the time that’s what I was doing. Trying to find myself.

I still have that document case, and it still fills me with questions, most of which I didn’t ask when my mother was around to answer them. My father remains two dimensional and monochrome. I remain open ended and unknown.

This obsession with history manifests itself in various ways.

I keep things that are of significance to me; cinema tickets, door handles, pieces of stone, furniture that looks completely incongruous in any current setting. Things that remind me of people and moments, feelings and beliefs.

I used to have a little metal sweet tin that contained soil from the valley of the Somme. I had become obsessed with the Great War when reading Sebastian Faulks’ ‘Birdsong’ during a holiday in the south of France so, on our drive back to Calais for the ferry, I took a midnight detour to the battlefield and visited war memorials by the light of a full moon. My wife wasn’t the happiest during that little detour, especially when we got the car stuck in a field and thought we were going to have to walk to the nearest farm and beg, in very poor French, for assistance. I was convinced that the soil in my tin somehow contained something of the essence of the soldiers who fought and fell.

I used to have a cardboard sign that read ‘Please do not Touch the Dancers’, a memento of a trip to the most incredible strip joint I have ever been in (not that many). That was in Canada and, still, every time I hear ‘Heard it Through the Grapevine’ the image of a naked woman dressed as a California raisin hammers into my forebrain.

I keep returning to locations that have been significant in my life, the house I grew up in, parks I played in, schools or colleges I attended, places I snogged, argued or fought with someone. This part of my obsession can be quite disturbing as many of these places no longer exist or have changed so much they no longer resemble the place I remember. Or perhaps it’s the memory that’s faulty.

When I was younger and still lived in my hometown I used to go wandering, late at night, after too many beers. I wandered miles round the town, looking over fences into the gardens of former homes, standing in the middle of roads that, when I was a child, were coal bings, my playground. Occasionally I met other wanderers. I recall meeting an older man one time, this guy had been a famous hard man, a well used, very well used, bouncer at local night spots. He was also looking for something of his glory days and we sat against the wall of a funeral director, sharing a can, while he told me stories of fights he had won, long forgotten by anyone else.

I think I wanted also to be remembered as part of something. Once, on one of my late night rambles, I came upon a group of young men hovering outside a closed off licence. I started talking to them, needing some sort of recognition of my place in history. I ended up with a bottle smashed over my head.

Smells trigger memories for me. Very strongly. When my mother died, 24 years ago, I kept a cardigan of hers when we got rid of the rest of her possessions. For a long time, years, when I was upset or lonely, I would get out my mother’s cardigan and smell it. When I did that, she was there. Eventually it didn’t smell of anything any more and was just a cardigan again, so it went into a clothes bank skip. Lavender takes me back to my grandmother, who kept little sachets of it in with her clothes. The smell of hot tar draws me instantly to road-menders outside our first house, sitting in their little hut drinking strong, sweet tea, which they’d brewed on top of their brazier, out of old tins. Many smells do things like this to me.

I, as most people probably do, go over conversations in my head but with wittier or wiser responses than the ones I actually gave. I’ve been known to drive past ex-girlfriends’ houses with tears in my eyes and ice in my bowels, even years after the conclusion of a relationship. I worry at things like a dog with a bone, never satisfied until I have explored every possible alternative interpretation of events and found reasons for whatever has happened. Often this can be painful and even disabling, but my end result is always to come through with a deeper appreciation of what has gone before, if no greater understanding.

I sometimes, often, wonder about memory. Is it fixed? Is it accurate? Does it tell us anything at all? I’m convinced that I slowly modify and manipulate my own memories, unconsciously, to suit my self understanding. Therefore memories of long ago now almost always underline and confirm beliefs I have about myself. In the past this has not always been a good thing, my self belief being somewhat distorted and twisted by accusations thrown at me by people I loved or cared for, broken by perceived failures or unmet promise.

The internet has opened up a universe of memory for me, meeting online with friends from pre-school days, giving me photographs and descriptions by others of the things I remember, showing me I am not totally wrong.

I traced my ancestry, through my father, back to a small village just outside Cambridge, and the year 1607. I come from a long, long line of journeymen, and one pauper. It comforts me to think I am keeping with tradition, somehow.

Is it useful, this obsession? Not in any obvious way, though I do keep my finger on the pulse of who I perceive myself to be. Is it harmful? Certainly there are aspects of it that do less for me than others and, when I feel lonely or down, isolated and alone, I have the tendency to disappear in spirals inside my memory, recounting other lonely moments, periods of rejection, abandonment, wishing for home.

In fact, I think that’s exactly what the whole thing is about, a seeking after some sort of home that I can return to and feel safe and comforted. I’m homesick, Homesick for a history that may never, ever, have been.

Who am I? I am the accumulation of everything I have ever seen, done, read, heard and felt. I am also everything that assimilated experience has become as shaped, moulded, broken and rebuilt, by my imperfect and very cloudy eye.

The Dream

A crow sits in a dead tree, a leafless reminder of mortality within an ocean of green. His krraaak krraaak sounds echo and are returned by a sky of fluid blackness. He spreads his haughty, metalled wings and hangs their tips as he listens for a sound of dying. Blue sky glints, jet eyes glisten, the bird seems lit from within as knowingly he watches and waits for a prophecy of carrion.

In a shallow gorge beneath the tree a stream flows. Deep amongst the shadows a splash of red edges the water, affirming the fluidity of movement in a fleck of discordance. A face stares upwards at circling black in a sky framed by rocky protrusions and jagged branches. The face is pale, gaunt and haunted. Short breaths emanate from between bluish lips. A red tee-shirt, wet, clinging, covers the torso but conceals little of the skinny frame.

The gorge is overgrown and lush, simultaneously welcoming and unnerving. On the other side, vegetation parts and a face appears. A long face, a thin face, a face that belongs. A twig breaks underfoot and the face turns to look directly at you. The eyes are deep green, intense, penetrating, hypnotic, and you feel the gaze reach deep into your soul. Memory bubbles in your consciousness: memory of childhood, of longing, of misunderstanding, of mystery; and still the green eyes hold you. Virescence fills your perception; the leaves and grass and lichen and ferns and still the eyes, the knowing eyes.

The sound of the water gurgling in the gorge increases in volume until there is no other sound but water, there is no other place but here, no other time but now. And below you the motionless figure in red.

You begin to scramble down to the stream. The earthy sides of the gorge crumbling under you as you descend. The roots of saplings and the bracken provide uncertain security, something to hold as you slip downwards. A rock dislodges and tumbles ahead of you, bouncing and rolling. The sharp clack of stone against stone, softened by a subtle plash, and the rock comes to rest mid-stream, making new patterns in the water, changing the shape of the brook.

To your left, slightly upstream, lies the reason for your descent. You move closer and find it is a young girl. All she is wearing is a red tee-shirt and underpants. Her left side is in the water, her right lies on wet stone and sand. The edge of the stream caresses her, strokes through her fingers, laps against her waist, her leg. Her wet clothing glistens and you can clearly see the shape of her narrowness under the material. Her ribs are discernible, the concavity of her abdomen and the slight swell of her belly. Her hips, the joints of her shoulders the flow of her skin. She breathes shallowly and, as you lean over to look in her face, her breath catches and a soft moan escapes her lips.

“Please. Don’t be afraid. I’m here to help you,” but you have no idea how you are to help her.

You look upstream, downstream, there is no sign of how she got to this place. No evidence of passage. Did she fall? Was she thrown? Perhaps she was born out of the earth of the stream bed? You look upwards and the face of the forest is still there, watching you, encouraging you, pouring warmth into your soul. A hand appears by the face, three fingers outstretched, making some sort of sign, and then there is nothing. No face, no hand, only the bushes and the walls of the gorge echoing the soft water sound and the noise of the watching crows far, far above. And the motionless girl.

Leaning over her, you see her eyes move to yours; blue eyes, alive, aware. There is no fear in them, only sadness and acceptance. You pick up her hand, her cold hand, and, as your warmth flows, you feel an answering pressure from her; she needs something.

Just at that moment there is a grating sound and in the stream above her head the waters part, flowing around empty space. Unnatural but not out of place. The stream bed is visible and the silt trembles. Slowly a mound appears, growing shakily, uncertainly; and a noise emanates from it, a deep earthy croaking, as of something long buried and long forgotten. The wet earth falls away and a large, ugly bullfrog sits disoriented; its grotesque body made beautiful by the nature of its skin. Pearlescent, multicoloured, glittering, bejewelled, a Faberge frog made living. Croaking deeply the frog hops to the side of the girl’s head and appears to nuzzle her ear, then it turns and leaps into the stream, sparkling into the depths of a small pool.

As if released from invisible restraints the girl moves; first her head, then her shoulders, arms, hips.

Around you the gorge has gone, melted to a shallow depression. You find yourself in a sandy glade, through which the small river runs. Rock edges enclose a pool and beyond fades into forest. You are on a pebbly beach and, close by, a huge fallen tree lies over a runnel, creating a sheltered haven. As the girl struggles to move, you help her to her feet and stagger to the sheltering tree. In front of it is a wood-fire, prepared but never lit.

 

[To be continued]