YOU (September 1994 – June 1996)

You. You’re six foot two. Six foot two and fourteen stone but that doesn’t matter because you’re a coward. A coward and a wimp. They know. They all know. They all know because they’ve always known because they’ve known you all these years and there’s no growing up away from it, there’s no changing who you are, who you were. They know and you know and that’s all there is to it. It’s too late for anything else. There’s no escape. Not now.

You’re sixteen. Sixteen and six foot two and you’ve got long hair and you’re greasy and you stink. You can’t smell it, you can’t smell anything, but you know it. You know it and everyone knows it. You can feel it. You sweat and you sweat and there’s nothing you can do to stop it. You dread sitting next to people in class. You dread the sweat patches under your arms. You dread the summer, dread not having a jumper for protection. Dread having to raise your arm in class, dread people looking, people seeing your shame, those yellow stains that won’t wash out, won’t ever go away.

You’re sixteen and you just want to be liked but you aren’t liked. You’re sixteen and you’re boring and you’re weird and annoying and a coward and you smell. You’re sixteen and you’re an arsehole. You’re sixteen and no one knows you exist. No one cares.

You don’t exist. That’s what you think. You don’t exist at all. You’re separated from everything, separated by a great distance, lost all the way back there at the back of your skull, miles from the world, back there in the cave of your mind, the cell, miles away from everyone and everything that’s passing you by. You peer out, the world in slow motion, the world so far away everything takes an age to reach you, takes an age for you to understand, to react, to respond. You want to shout back, because of the distance, because they might not hear you, might have forgotten you, because you really don’t exist you don’t have any presence you don’t even register you don’t you don’t you don’t.

You don’t.

You used to be clever. You used to be clever but you’re not any more. You used to be clever and you used to be able to do things easily, do everything easily but now you can’t. You can’t and you don’t. You don’t know how, don’t know how to force it, don’t know how to try, don’t know how to persevere. You don’t know how to dare. You can’t do it. You don’t do your homework and you don’t read your school books and you don’t go to your lessons and you lie. You lie. You lie about why and you lie about what you’ve done and what you’ve not done and where you’ve been and where you haven’t been.

And you lie about everything else. You lie about what you know and what you’ve seen and what you’ve read. You lie about what you’ve said and what you think and what you feel. You lie so much and so often it should be confusing but it’s not. You remember every lie you’ve ever told, remember who you’ve told them to, when and why. You keep it all in your head, a tree, a tree of knowledge, of deceit, of shame. A tree of possibilities, of better worlds than these, roots and branches you can escape down temporarily. You can never stay.

You evade direct questioning. You deny everything you can. Deny them the chance of using it against you, using it to challenge you, ridicule you, bully you. You deny it all, deny what you’ve done, deny what you know, what you don’t know, deny what others have done, what they’ve said. You deny your own mind, you’re own knowledge. You deny certainty. You insert mistakes into your answers, pretend you can’t remember things, can’t remember what was said, what you’ve read, what you know, what you’ve always known, what everyone knows, what everyone knows about you.

You would deny your own name if you could.

You like nothing. You admit to liking nothing. You’re scared to like things. You’re scared how much you like things. How much you like what you read and what you watch and what you listen to. Deep down you’re afraid you like everything, anything, anyone, anyone that would have you. You’re afraid of having no opinions of your own.

Opinions are important. You know that. So you borrow them. You borrow them from your brother, from magazines, books, films, tv. You hate what they hate. You’re not afraid of hate, of hating things, of admitting to hating things. Hating things is easy, comfortable. Hating things is comforting. It’s the only comfort you have. You wear your disdain like a jumper. Wear it to hide the uncomfortable stains of the things you like.

You read. You read everything. You read anything. You read and you read and you cannot stop.

You read Stephen King and and James Herbert and Clive Barker and Shuan Huston and Richard Laymon and Dean Koontz and Thomas Harris. You read novelisations of Doctor Who serials and Star Trek episodes and The Omen movies and Aliens and Star Wars. You read Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams and Arthur C Clarke and Frank Herbert and Isaac Asimov. You read Tolkien and CS Lewis and the Iliad and the Odyssey and books about talking moles and talking rats and talking rabbits.

You read Shakespeare’s sonnets, Hardy’s poetry, Marlowe, Browning, Wordsworth, Coleridge. You read Sylvia Plath, Stevie Smith, Fleur Adcock, Joolz Denby. You read Shakespeare’s plays and Hardy’s novels and Conrad and Dickens and The Death Of A Salesman and Death And The Maiden and Margaret Atwood and Harper Lee.

You read the NME and Melody Maker. You read Edge and Super Play and Total and even all your old copies of Your Sinclair, over and over again. You read 90 Minutes and World Soccer and Four Four Two. You read your younger brother’s copies of the Beano and Shoot. You read your older brother’s copies of Select and Vox. You read your friends copies of White Dwarf and Smash Hits and Empire and Variety. You read the newspapers in the common room, the free papers that come through the front door, flick through every magazine in John Menzies.

You read every page of teletext every day while eating breakfast, and then again after school, just in case anything has changed. You read the ingredients on boxes of cornflakes, packets of crisps, tins of beans, bottles of sauces, cans of drink. You read the labels in your clothes, the warning stickers on the backs of all your electronics, even the price tags on every item in the co-op. You remember them all.

You remember them all because you work there on Saturdays and there’s nothing to do but remember every item and every price and every customer that comes in. You work on the tills and you restock the shelves and you work in the stock room and you work out the back cutting up empty boxes and putting them in the skip. You don’t smile and you don’t talk and you don’t make mistakes and you get paid fourteen pound and fifty pence for 8 hours work every Saturday, or 9 hours work by your reckoning because of the hour for lunch that they don’t pay you for because you’re not working. But that hour’s not your own now is it, it’s not your own at all. It’s theirs. They’ve stolen it.

You spend every lunch hour and every one of those fourteen pounds in the record shop next door every week. You buy everything. You buy anything. You buy cd singles, cd albums, 7 inches, 12 inches, tapes. You even buy videos if they have them. You buy records by Smog, Gravediggaz, Ruby, Senser, Blur, Oasis, The Verve, Portishead, Pulp, The Bluetones, The Wannadies, Supergrass, The Stone Roses, Gene, Animals That Swim, Ash, Tricky, Massive Attack, Back To The Planet, Ned’s Atomic Dustbin, Jimi Hendrix, Underworld, The Afghan Whigs, Dinosaur Jr, The Lemonheads, Juliana Hatfield, Kristin Hersh, Smashing Pumpkins, Gene, Built To Spill, PJ Harvey, Bjork, Public Enemy, Low, The Beastie Boys, The Brotherhood, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Tori Amos, Tindersticks, The Walkabouts, Whipping Boy, Prodigy, Bomb The Bass, Leftfield, Spooky, Lamb, Nirvana, Screaming Trees, Pearl Jam, The Boo Radleys, Bob Marley, Alice In Chains, Sabres Of Paradise, Two Lone Swordsmen, Aphex Twin, Orbital, Autechre, The Chemical Brothers, The Auteurs, The Nubiles, Beck, Compulsion, The Breeders, Sugar, REM, Pop Will Eat Itself, Wu Tang Clan, Come, Dave Clarke, Plastikman, David Holmes, DJ Krush, DJ Shadow, Tortoise, Tiger, Super Furry Animals, Drugstore, Radiohead, Earthling, Erik B and Rakim, The Roots, The Fugees, Stereloab, Spiritualized, Jane’s Addiction, The Jesus Lizard, Joy Division, Lambchop, Mazzy Star, Nick Cave, Primal Scream, Prolapse, Rachel’s, Rocket To The Crypt, Slint, Therapy, Captain Beefheart, Frank Zappa, Scott Walker.

You listen to them all and you love them all and you don’t tell anyone whether you love them or hate them until they’ve told you whether they love them or hate them so you can agree or disagree arbitrarily in whichever manner seems most fitting at the time.

You’re in a pub. You’re in a pub and it’s the summer and you’re seventeen. You’re seventeen and you’ve got long hair and you’re sweating and you stink. Your with your classmates and you want to fit in but you don’t know how to fit in and you don’t know what to say so you watch the tennis on the tv and you drink your pint and then you finish that and buy another one and you stare at the television and you don’t smile and you don’t speak and you don’t cheer.

Look at the grim reaper, someone says. They laugh. They laugh at you and you don’t flinch or turn or acknowledge it in anyway. You just drink and listen and watch the screen pretending obliviousness but you’re not oblivious at all you’re intensely aware of everything you’re so aware of everything you can feel it you can taste it you can see it like smoke.

The grim reaper because of your thick black greasy hair like a cowl, your unsmiling face like a skull. Looking down at everyone, looming, looming.

The laughter hurts. You’re six foot two and you’re seventeen years old and they’re laughing at you and it hurts, it hurts. It always hurts. You borrow someone’s walkman and put the cd you bought that afternoon in and listen to it all afternoon instead of going to your lessons, the same three tracks over and over again until it’s time to go home and you want to cry but you don’t cry.

You read. You read everything. You’re seventeen years old and you hate yourself and you listen to music while you read. You read Irvine Welsh, James Kelman, and Iain Banks. You read On The Road and Naked Lunch. You read Dracula and Frankenstein and Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde.

You read maths textbooks, science books, Stephen Hawking and Richard Feynman and Roger Penrose and whoever else your older brother has books by. You read the dictionary, old encyclopaedias. You read books on chess and go and card games and dice games. You read the backs of video boxes and the sleevenotes of every album you own. You read videogame instruction booklets and the rules in all your boardgames and the operating manual for windows 3.1.

You go to gigs every week, whenever you can, whenever you’re asked, whenever you’re allowed, wherever you can get served. You go to gigs and you love it and you don’t care why you’re invited or who you’re seeing or where you’re going. You just love the music and the noise and the smoke and the drink and the crush of it and the movement and the heat and the shouting and the queueing and the waiting and the posters on the wall all bad photocopies advertising whoever’s coming next.

Even here you don’t fit in. You can tell. You’re too young you’re too boring you’re too much of a conformist you’re not enough of a punk. You’re an impostor. But you love it too much to care. You hide behind the drink and behind the noise. Hide yourself behind it and hide your joy behind it. Hide your joy behind whatever you can, behind your disdain, behind your sneers, behind your hair and your coat and the crowds and the noise.

Hide your joy because it frightens you more than anything has ever frightened you.

You go to see Gene, Laika, Elastica, Kites, Garp, These Animal Men, SMASH, 60 foot dolls, Dogs D’Amour, Dog Eat Dog, The Nubiles, Back To The Planet, Salad, Oasis, The Beastie Boys, covers bands playing hendrix and and cream and the stones, covers bands playing rage against the machine and pearl jam, your friends bands, their friends bands, anyone, anyone.

You love it best when its winter. When its packed and it’s ended and you go outside and you can feel the sweat freezing on your body under your clothes, everyone standing around in clouds of frozen breath and cigarette smoke while you’re all trying to sober up before one of your dads comes to pick you up and take you all home and its finished again for a week, a month, back at home, back at school.

You wish it would be winter forever but nothings forever except for school, except for being seventeen and six foot tall and ashamed of yourself and ashamed of your body and ashamed of your life.

You react to a joke in the common room with a fury you don’t understand, kick a friend out of his chair, scream at him, call him a cunt, come on then, come on then you cunt, and in the silence you can hear the smirks you can hear the giggles the laughter you can see his disgust you can see how much he despises you how much they all despise you. You pick up your bag and march off home and you can hear the laughter still you can hear it all the way home you can hear it all weekend. You’re seventeen and you’re six foot two and you’re a wimp and a coward and you’re an arsehole and they hate you.

You hate you. You turn your fury inward and hate yourself, hate everything you’ve ever said and ever done. Hate yourself without respite. You sleep with your leg jammed between the bed and the radiator in the hope you’ll snap your knee ligaments while you sleep. You try not to look when you cross the road. You slice open your lip when you shave, and your chin, your cheeks. You hesitate with the blade at your neck. You wait until everyone has left the house and smash a glass in the sink in the hope it’ll slice open your hand. You want it to look natural. You want it to go unobserved. You don’t want to have to explain. You don’t want anyone to see.

You burst the blisters on your feet, peel the skin away in long strips until the pain’s to much, until the blood’s too thick, running too fast. You try to summon up the courage to break your own nose, to slice cuts into your own head, across your arms, into your own wrists. You never do.

Your sister finds a story you wrote. A story about committing suicide, a suicide note abstracted away as fiction, as a story, just a story. She reads it in front of you, to herself, in your room, the single most excruciating minutes of your life to date. Are okay? she says. when she’s finished. Are you sad?

You’re not sad. You’re never sad. Of course you’re not sad. It’s just a story you tell her. Just a story. You aren’t sad at all. She leaves you alone and you will never write a story again, never write anything down where it can be found, where people can see it, where people can read it and find it and find out how you feel. You’ll never let people see inside you and see what you are. Never again, not now. Not now.

It’s summer again. You’re six foot two and you’re eighteen and you’re 15 stone and you keep your jumper on no matter what, no matter the heat, no matter how sweaty you are. You’re eighteen and you stink and you think of your body as a tomb from which you cannot escape.

You read a book by Stephen King. These are the best days of your life, it says, these years at school. These are the best friends you’ll ever have, it tells you. You’re eighteen and you’re six foot two and you hate yourself and you can feel yourself falling, falling down forever, falling down into the tomb of yourself and these are the best days of your life. These are the best days of your life.

These are the best days of your life.
__________

1. Initially written in March 2014
2. Then hidden away in shame for another 6 years
3. Until now
4. When I re-wrote it
5. A bit
6. And made it slightly readable
7. But no less shameful.
8. The picture above was taken by my sister, in August 1994
9. So it’s probably cheating really to include it
10. But I do not care

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Graduation

They did not reveal to us our true nature until we were close to graduating from high school. An assembly was called, and a member of our class was brought on to the stage. As we watched, they peeled back the skin of their face, showing us the metallic structure beneath.

Knives were handed to each of us, so that we could confirm upon ourselves. We were thus sent out into the world, unsure of what it was, what it had been all this time.

I pulled the skin back down over the hydraulics in my wrist. The lacerations healed without scars. I never spoke of it again.

This was how it had always been done, how it always will be done.

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Notes:

1. Written on August 15th, 2019

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A Play

I was watching a play. It wasn’t a very good play. We were sat up in the rafters, looking down at the room below. It was set out like a school classroom – rows of grey desks, uncomfortable looking green chairs, a blackboard. A pupil, oversized in his chair, uncomfortable in his uniform, a pen gripped in his fist like a crucifix. And a teacher, standing, impassive, implacable, administering the punishment with no hint of pleasure, just blank indifferent duty.

An hour of near silence, of tedium, of watching this man, this boy, copying down the text from the blackboard, from a textbook, from the teachers recitals of poetry and history. An hour of growing unease, a slow and steady increase in the animosity of the teacher towards her pupil, verbal hectoring blossoming into physical violence, torture, finally excruciating bloody death for the schoolchild beneath the barrage of her blows.

I left hurriedly at the end, baffled by the enthusiasm of the crowd around me as they rose en masse to give the performers a standing ovation, baffled by what they could have found to appreciate in such an empty and unpleasant performance. As I reached the bottom of the stairs and began the long walk down the corridor towards the exit I heard a door open behind me, footsteps on the tiled floor. And a voice, loud, clear, condescending.

“Where do you think you’re going, young lady?”

And I stopped and turned and followed her into the classroom.

__________

Notes:

1. Written on 26th February, 2016

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