Blood Brothers

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‘My friends don’t amount to one hand.’ – Mark E Smith

I picked more small pieces of paint from the wall beside my bed. It was pink. Flaked off easily once you got your nail up under the edge. The hall light shone under the bedroom door. Somewhere at the other end of the house the little black and white tv was showing something. Not loud. My parents were watching. Tired.

I never worked out why my bedroom was painted pink. I’d got some pictures of dinosaurs up on the walls, and above my bed there was a baby mobile of sea creatures: whales, dolphins, all smiling insincere grins down at me in the dark. I watched them, hardly moving in whatever draught was coming in with the light. A car came past on the u shaped road, down the hill then up the other side. Every car changing gear at almost the same point every time. I listened for them, mimicking the noises under my breath, guessing the moment.

The shelves above the tiny desk in my bedroom were full of books. I’d read them all. Even tried writing one: something about a murder on a ship. Some fantastical island paradise turned bloody. They caught him in the end. Something to do with him working alone; no help to dispose of the bodies. Mistakes were made.

I had no friends on the road. There was an idiot two streets away – Warren – but I avoided him because when he laughed, spit flew out from his goofy teeth and he looked like a cartoon character. The only people I ever really hung about with were Jack and Floyd. They lived further away on the island. We knew how to get girls pregnant. You pissed on their belly. With such secret knowledge, imparted by Floyd one afternoon to me and Jack, you had an edge over other boys. It was a frightening proposition to be in charge of creating life, and so easily. I wasn’t sure I could bring myself to piss on Leanne (my first girlfriend). I mean, we hadn’t even kissed.

The three of us played down on the mud flats, over the oyster beds. Prodding the silt with bamboo canes, digging for slippery gold. Throwing huge globs of clay at each other. Laughing. We were pretty much the Kings of the Primary school. No-one could outrun me at sports, or outswim me. And me and Jack would fight anyone, even each other, until the sun set. We became blood brothers – cutting each other’s hand with a blunt penknife and holding the two tiny cuts together while saying some gibberish about growing up and becoming men. Being bonded. Fighting forever.

We moved before my cut had healed. Before I really had time to say goodbye. Up to the North. Two hundred miles away. No friends.

 

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Sunshined

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You know that feeling when you hadn’t realised how much you missed someone?

I had that feeling yesterday – it’s still carrying over right now as I sit at this old desk, magpie staring at me from the garden gate. But even that evil black and white thief can’t darken the mood today. No, no.

Yesterday an old friend came over to go for a walk. Have a catch up. It’d been twenty five rotten years since we last saw each other. I recognised her from a hundred feet away, driving her mini up the hill towards a fat man in a blue shirt waving furiously like a child on sports day. I might have even punched the air. I can’t remember. I was too happy.

She got out of the car and hugged me. Simple act on a bright and hot day. Two people standing outside an old stone barn and hugging each other. Just a basic act and unremarkable in every way except I loved it so much. For me, that little gesture sent a third person camera up into the sky above us and good, fine, music played over the ending credits of some harrowing film where the finish of the story is a happy one and the shark had been killed/the baddies driven into shallow graves.

We walked for miles (9), watched stoned young men jumping about on the top of the viewpoint near my house, smelled the scent of Weed, and talked about the past. I never thought I’d be remembered. But she hadn’t forgotten me, despite all the horror she’d faced in the past few years – more than I have. I felt proud of her; sad that someone so good had had to go through so much. I felt her pain, for what that cliché is worth.

She hadn’t changed at all. Still beautiful. We swapped stories. I told her dogs always poo’d facing North. I don’t know why. I think I panicked in the moment. Someone said once that if you’ve got nothing to say of any use, don’t speak. I never lived by that advice.

We watched a really bad village brass band play songs from Grease, saw my neighbour’s filthy false teeth rattling, and drank Yorkshire tea. And I wanted to turn the clock back, do it all over again the right way. My entire life. For a moment there she had stopped me hating myself. And that, my friends, is better than any medication. A wondrous talent to have. Two old friends sitting in the sunshine up on a hill, accepting time, the fraught nature of growing up, the curveballs we dodge or which smack us in the face, the simple joy of that act nearly made me cry.

After she left I went back inside my old cottage and sat down and put on loud music, staying up until past midnight, sitting in the dark watching bats, thinking about the swirling way people can touch you inside.

 

Plain sight

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The blind guy had a white stick and was being helped onto the train by Station staff. ‘Step up here, sir.’

He tentatively put one foot onto the train, then the other, waving his stick, looking into the blackness, his eyes going in all directions, not seeming to see anything. She lead him to a seat and helped him into it. I was pretty sure by his mannerisms that he was totally blind. He looked just past her shoulder when he said thanks. Stared off into the back of the seat in front of him.

After a few minutes the train went through a tunnel and I wondered if the blind guy had any light perception at all. I turned around as we exited it. As I got a look at him he seemed to catch me and, for a moment, looked right at me the way anyone would who was being stared at by someone twenty feet away on a train. Then, as if he remembered something, his gaze moved to the window. I watched him following the sight of a herd of cows, turning his head a little to watch them as we passed. How blind was he? I needed to know if he was conning us. Like it mattered. Like it was my business to find out. The jaded and judgmental thoughts of someone coming back from therapy with too much to think about.

My Psychologist had just told told me she thought I was lonely. Hard to take in. I don’t feel lonely. We agreed that I would try to make some friends, just to test out the fear I have that they’ll hurt me, or they’ll find out how horrible I am and the whole thing will collapse they way it always does. I was hating on myself on the train, sitting there judging that poor blind guy. Taking the nastiest possible line of thought. The feelings made me feel sick. I took out my meds and necked a couple, hoping they’d sedate me enough to get off the train without upsetting anyone. Which worked.

An old friend from 25 years ago is coming over this weekend. I haven’t seen her in all that time. I’m nervous. My therapist says this is lucky, and to use it as opportunity to prove myself wrong. To show myself that people can really like me. All I know is that deep down I’m right about myself and she’s just doing some psychological back-slapping. Expensive cheerleading. It’s what you do – positive encouragement, compliments, ‘don’t kill yourself’ – in order to try and shift the balance in people like me. I rate her ability to keep focused despite our arguments on the subject. Her face flushed red with frustration and anger this week. I wouldn’t do her job, just like I wouldn’t tie myself to a chair and watch twenty hours of back to back shark attack videos.

Time has taught me it’s much better to keep myself secluded away, where I can’t form appalling thoughts about blind people, and where I can’t do any damage to folk. Where my vile form can’t be mocked by strangers in the street. Where I can’t be laughed at. Where people won’t work out what I’m really like. I like my Psychologist’s optimism and pig-headed take on my diagnosis, but the walk with my old friend won’t be anything other than showing someone I once knew that I am even more awful than all those years ago; a massive let down; a dreadful mistake. Even if my friend is blinded by the yahoo of our shared youth and memories of good times long gone, the truth of my ravaged personality disorder is in plain sight.

 

The last ride

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By then I’d switched to lemonade. There had been a point twenty minutes earlier where I thought I might tip over the edge completely. Booze can do that to you without a seconds notice. One minute I’m there, the next I’m gibbering to somebody about how Tyson Fury once punched me in a Belgian forest. The lemonade tasted shitty but my head wasn’t freefalling anymore, despite the conversation.

I don’t see this friend all the time, but enough to know he’s still there for me – and for him to know it’s reciprocated. In fact, he is the only friend I have left after years on the BPD treadmill. The others could only take so much, and I don’t blame them. This friend is a guy I’ve known since we were young. We grew up in the same small village in the North of England; totally flat lands going right over to the boulder clay ridge where a Steelwork town belched into the skyline. It was all under-age drinking and smokes of hashish up at the churchyard until we could get into the pubs and get really legally wasted. We were the village fuck-ups, polite and well-meaning, but always on the look out for ways to get out of our heads. We’d gone through cheap sherry, hash, speed, LSD, even lighter gas, and I was pitching in and out of irregular heroin use.

We ended up separately after we got to our mid twenties – I married and started work in a prison, and he drifted from job to job, got with a girl, bought a house, and had a baby. In the end we both got fired, fucked up, and divorced, quite independently. He ended up in rehab and I ended up in a psychiatrist’s office. Fun times.

About five years ago we got back in touch in a good way and we’ve seen each other fairly regularly ever since. Through a quirk of fate, despite me moving away from the village, he now lives pretty close to me.

This night was a get-together with our partners. We were enjoying it. He’d made me cry again with laughter. Now we were arranging his stag do (I am the Best Man).

It was going to be fairly simple. I’d found a remote recording studio for us and his band to stay at. He’s a great drummer. I play guitar. We’d spend maybe five days recording whatever we wanted. On the shore of a Scottish Loch we’d play our hearts out, talk, laugh, and get a little drunk maybe. It would be a liberating and cathartic week for us both. But talk had turned to what to bring.

It started out with clothes and food. We’d take booze, for sure, and a little weed, but now we were on to serious enjoyment. He thought for a moment and then said he’d like to take some cocaine with us. I didn’t ever have a problem with that, but he did. Then I heard myself offering to stockpile my codeine and pregabalin, even my diazepam prescription. Before we knew it, the drug bag was growing and we were both wrapped tight up by the prospect of one last blow-out up there away from civilisation. The last ride of the junkie brothers.

“I’ll be found slumped naked on the loch shore with a semi-on in my hand,” he said.

“Man….this could be the best week of our lives.”

“Or one of us has a stroke.”

We laughed. We would be ok. It always was. Outside I told my partner that she had nothing to worry about. I said I had always believed in picking the right people to get fucked up with – people you can trust in a tight spot – and he was the only one left. We’d been there enough to know the way if one of us got lost. There would always be someone tending the light at the end of the tunnel.

And I forgot everything of the last twenty years; every tear and moment of distress was gone. Things were no different now to the yahoo of youth all those years ago. We were the same people as back then anyhow, weren’t we? There was no danger in a drug-fuelled trip into the past. There had been no consequences before. The drug gods had been kind enough to erase all the hurt and the terror now they were getting closer on the horizon again. We were old hands. Lead on. Nothing could be simpler..