Discover more from portrait of a body (in pieces)
19. Sorry, we're open
July (part one)
This is chapter nineteen. It’s even better if you start from the beginning.
Some two-hundred-thousand people a year are injured in DIY accidents. Most of them fall off ladders, rather than the surface of reality. But still, I’m in good company.
The bandage on my wound has been getting smaller, to the point that it’s no longer a bandage at all but two three-by-five self-adhesive dressings on my wrist, one either side. I have spent most of the last month hiding out in my flat, embarrassed, waiting for the wound to heal enough that I didn’t have to walk around with a huge bandage. When you’re a depressive with a bandage on their wrist, people make assumptions. So, I haven’t braved the beach yet. Haven’t been for a swim. Haven’t been to the pub or to the supermarket. Thankfully the delivery mechanisms for every conceivable necessity put in place by the pandemic and made possible by the gig economy mean that I have only had to open my door wide enough to let groceries in. Not that people would ask me about it if I did go out. But they’d look. They’d stare, and I’d feel compelled to try and explain myself: No, actually, the reason I drove a six-inch spike through my wrist wasn’t because I was trying to die, not at all! I can see why you’d think that, yes. But the truth, I swear on my mum, is that I was trying to live.
In case you’re having trouble following, I was missing six body parts; my right arm, my left eye, my tongue, my heart, my brain, and my stomach. And now I have them all back in various states of disrepair. Along the way I have lost my kidney, which wasn’t missing but I pawned to pay for a trip to Amsterdam and the renovations on this flat. Fern has been delivering lunch to my door and leaving it there with a knock on days I didn’t want to see anybody, which has been most days. It was Fern who found me, sat with me until the ambulance arrived, who kept pressure on my wrist with a tea towel. It was Fern who asked no questions, who made no judgements. It is Fern to whom I owe a great debt. One which she’ll likely be annoyed if I try to pay back at some point. I haven’t wanted to see her because I don’t know how to go about paying that kindness back. But also because I’ve been processing. The LSD unlocked memories and feelings I haven’t had access to in a long time. But it also offered me a sense of calm, a serenity I’m not sure I’ve ever accessed before. In some ways, my seclusion over the last month has been about finally letting myself heal, physically, from all the traumas wrought by the world and my own hands. About getting used to my body again, making sure I didn’t reject any of the organs; and that they didn’t reject me. But it’s also been about grieving. The peace I felt during the trip was the most remarkable experience of my life. To see and feel and relive events, to let emotions come and go as they needed to, to feel fully present for perhaps the first time in my life, was something I will grieve. I am grateful for the experience. But my god it was good. I will also grieve the loss. Innocence, choice, past selves who were moulded and shaped by events I couldn’t control. I will grieve for my inner child, who deserves better. He rejected me. Ran somewhere safe. And I understand why. If I’m going to win him back it’s going to be when he chooses. When he feels safe and seen and cared for. And if I’m going to do that, I need to feel those things too.
Things are moving fast in Seagate. Long empty blocks are fully occupied and every other previously boarded-up shop front is now someone’s idea of a trendy emporium. These are the kind of shops you open when paying the rent on the building isn’t an issue. There are coffee shops, record shops, coffee shops that sell records, and record shops that sell coffee and do a pop-up seven course tasting menu in the evenings. Entering one of these establishments is an exercise in zen and the art of hostage negotiation. It seems the prerequisite for opening a shop in Seagate is being someone who has no business owning a shop. Either through temperament, business acumen, or both. Now the town is filled with places selling things people don’t need that only open daft hours on days that don’t make sense. We’re open Wednesdays unless it’s raining. We only open every other blood moon. We’re currently closed for the equinox even though the equinox was last month. If you do make it inside, prepare to be greeted with customer service that ranges from mildly inconvenienced at your presence to an active hatred of the concept of commerce. In many cases it’s unclear if the staff know that they are supposed to facilitate the exchange of goods for money. I like to joke that the sign outside these establishments should read: Sorry, we’re open.
Mum arrives with flowers for the flat and a hug for me. She’s been trying to visit since I moved but I haven’t let her. Wait for summer, I said. The sun has taken its sweet time arriving, but the season is in full swing now, so I let her book a train. It also gave my wrist time to heal. After the accident I knew the size and location of the bandage would worry her. On top of all the other worries. The flowers are a nice touch though. Put the kettle on, she says and sits to catch her breath. She remarks on the colour of the paint I’ve chosen, and how nice the floors are sanded back. I pour her a tea and sit with her on a new sofa set, one without sweat stains. How are you feeling? she asks. This time, I have an answer. Really great, I say. She assumes I’m being facetious. But I mean it. Because the thing I’ve felt most during the past month, despite the grief, amid the pain and the processing and the soul searching, is, in a word, excellent.
Dawn blushes across the walls of the flat, casting shadows off lamps and light shades and making the television impossible to see. In the kitchen waiting for the kettle to boil I trace the outline of a bloodstain with my toe. I did my best with it, reduced it down, removed some of the crime scene of it all. But there’s no amount of scrubbing, sanding, or bleaching that’ll get blood out of untreated wood. My DNA is part of the flat now, on every surface, every crack. Blood and dust. Mum arrives as the kettle clicks which isn’t an accident. Boil it, and they will come. I ask her why Dad didn’t join her. She watches me assemble the tea in each mug. I asked him not to, she says. He argued, but I wanted to see you. To talk to you. I stir each until the tea is an appropriate colour, a light tan, somewhere between beige and caramel. Have you lost weight, she asks. She stands back to get a better look and I tell her to give up. That’s what you wanted to talk about, I say. She rescues her nearly over-stirred tea from my spoon. You look good, is all, she says. I’m your mother. Am I not allowed to comment? I tell her it’s fine. My stomach and I, we made a truce, I say. It’s not a big deal. The truth is I feel really good, and the weight loss has been noted with great enthusiasm in the bathroom mirror. I just don’t want it to be commented on. It would have been helpful for dad to come, I say. Could have used a hand with some light fittings. I sip my tea and turn around to investigate breakfast options, pretending not to know that would hurt her. I thought he annoyed you last time he was here. Wound you right up, you said. The cupboards lack excitement. I tell her it was probably my fault. That I have the ability to be annoyed by anything. I decide to scramble some eggs. I always get the feeling like he doesn’t like me very much. Without saying anything, Mum takes the eggs from me and parks herself in front of the hob. I decide to let her mum for a bit. He loves you, she says, which isn’t the same thing. But I don’t say this out loud. He’s very proud of you. He just has a hard time saying it. And you don’t exactly make it easy. She whisks the eggs with a fork and pours them into a pan. She waits a moment then adds a pinch salt. In all this introspection you’ve been doing, have you stopped to consider that maybe he’s lonely too?
Mum and I have managed to avoid many of the most obvious conversations. We don’t have DIY in common, so there is nothing to do in our silences other than sit and wait for someone to say something. The words are right there, stuck to the roofs of our mouths like peanut butter. I make an attempt. There was something I was thinking about, while I was lying on the floor of the kitchen, I say. You know, after it happened. I was covered in blood and losing consciousness, thinking about how I got here. About the choices I’d made that led up to this. And I was thinking about where this will lead. About who I’ll be next. I lost my teen years to worry, my twenties to doubt, my thirties to depravity and depression. What will I lose my forties to? My mum smiles. Whenever I think about that sort of thing, she says. The big questions of life and death and everything in between. The answer is almost always love. I roll my eyes. Okay well if you’re not going to take this seriously, I say, forget it.
I sneak out onto the balcony for a cigarette. Mum knows I smoke, but I don’t want to do it in front of her. I take out my list and study it. The various organs and limbs, all now accounted for, each roughly crossed out in whatever pen I had handy at the time. This list was the answer. I needed to be whole, and this is what I had to do to get there. And yet. I’ve come all this way and am still feeling no closer to completion. In the way epiphanies strike, after a considerable amount of thought and then none at all, it occurs to me what I have to do next. It wasn’t enough to just gather my pieces and hope for the best. What I wasn’t allowing for this whole time was what I couldn’t see. Even with both eyes. The answer lies between the lines. In the gaps between the organs. In the voids that exist at my core. What’s missing are my emotions. I’m not feeling my feelings. Not entirely. Not the way I could under the influence of a shit load of psychedelics. I grab a pen from the kitchen counter and start a new column: Joy. Anger. Sadness. Excitement. Contentment, Love. Six things I felt on my trip. Six emotions that for a fleeting eternity I had free and easy access to. Six things I still need to find to feel whole. I’ve just finished the list when the balcony doors open and mum steps out. Go on then, she says, and I pass her the smokes and a lighter.
We talk into the early hours. I tell her everything. The parts of myself I’ve tracked down, and how I lost them in the first place. I tell her about the pawned kidney, the LSD. I tell her about the trip. That I dreamed that this was all a simulation. That my friends were people I’d never met. That Lily, my niece, her granddaughter, didn’t exist. I tell her I saw a younger version of myself. My inner child. I tell her that ten-year-old me ran away. Wanted nothing to do with me. She sips gin and I make coffee and we smoke another cigarette. I ask how she carried on after my biological dad left. She laughs. I didn’t have a choice, she says. I had two boys that needed me. And I didn’t want to poison you with bitterness and spite. I wanted you to get to know him on your own terms. She takes a final drag of her cigarette. Maybe he didn’t deserve that kindness. But you did. You both did. With that, she says goodnight. The answer, as it goes, is almost always love.
I wake early to an empty house and a new plan. Mum has left me with a couple of houseplants, some cash, and two bags of groceries. I grab a plastic bag and tip out the contents, then wrap it around my bandaged hand and duct tape it shut. When I get to the tidal pool the water is already dotted with bobbing heads in brightly coloured swim caps. The sun is burning the edge of the sky and the air is still. Waves laps against the cement wall of the pool. It’s peaceful. I haven’t braved the water since the dip in January. But it’s July now and the sea is inviting. The morning swimmers float in gaggles, talking amongst themselves, ticking off laps. I drop my shirt and kick off my flip-flops and make time for a few stretches. Wouldn’t want to pull anything. As the sea swimmers approach, I take a running start, jump as high as I can, tuck my knees right up to my chest and smash into the water with a huge splash. The sea is a tonic. Chilled, but not cold. I surface with a leaping punch into the sky and a big roar, sucking in air and laughing to myself. The tuts are numerous, and their scowls audible. But that’s never stopped me before. I swim to the ladder and go again. The next one is for little me. I leap higher this time. July is for joy.
Chapter 20 arrives July 11. And just like that we’re half way through. Writing and editing this novel is a lot of work, so if you’ve enjoyed reading this far please consider upgrading to a paid subscription. In fact, to celebrate reaching the midway point, here’s 50% off:
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