Love is like a butterfly

You are too big to miss for a day, too loud, too busy, too many words on the end of the phone. I couldn’t feel you in a day. But over many days?

Over many days, the full impact slowly rams me down to the ground and I’ve been left winded, ribs caved in, bruises blossoming on my chest like defiant lavender.

Over many days I replay summer afternoons, lost slippers. I remember the answer to the Sunday crossword, the one that had us chewing our pens and sharing a biscuit – 6 down: artichoke. I tell other people about that time you fell off your chair, and we laugh together. My face feels tight.

Over many days a small crystal tear forms in the back of my eye. It is like a shard of glass, nestled in deep, and I can’t seem to cry it out. I carry it with me like a hidden dagger, only sometimes it shows itself. In the silence, in the grey days, it pokes free and glints back at me in the mirror.

Today is one of those days. Today you have consumed the sky and blacked out the sun, filled the inverted blue cup with criss-crossed fairy lights and wispy lace scarves.

I know this won’t be the only day, I know you will spill out into a thousand others and knock me senseless again.

I know I will wake up and think of your curled fingers waving through the air, conducting a silent orchestra; I know I will seek out breakfast and find myself singing Dolly Parton with you as you make a cup of tea.

And I know, that as I go to hang up the phone, I will hear your voice on the other end calling out ‘Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye.’

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Reporting for Duty

I curl my fingers around the stem of the wine glass. My fingers squeak on the crystal as they move up and down. The bottle is curiously warm to the touch as I trace my fingers along the edge of the label and run them around the swell, before picking it up with a swing of the arm. Music is playing through the speakers; I hum along regardless of who it is.

* * *

Sand has thickened the flag that hangs stiffly from the pole, lining the fabric and masking the Union Jack in a muted dirty yellow. Years of exposure have deadened it, although lines of soldiers still salute to it every morning. I salute with them, my hand shaking from exhaustion and doubt.

It used to remind me of home. Of quaint English habits and the trumpeting national anthem; the Queen’s weedy speech on Christmas day and bushy, dark moustaches on the mouths of men. Now it is part of my scenery, in sight from anywhere within the twenty five mile radius of the camp, blasting its obnoxious tune with oblivious immortality.

We get anxious out here for too long a time; with nothing to do, we end up pacing, snapping at our tails and whining like dogs, waiting on orders. To make us feel more at ease we have a steel tin trailer, marked ‘Pizza Hut.’ You can order a stuffed crust margherita from the middle of the desert and call it British. I get excited when it arrives and jostle in the queue with the others, but it is disappointing, all I taste is grease and grit. I wonder if it was any different back home.

* * *

The wine tastes bitter as it slips down my throat, but the effect is pleasant. I feel a gentle fuzz wrap itself around my brain, taking me into those familiar arms of a mother soothing an infant. It rocks me, back and forth, back and forth.

Back and forth.

* * *

In a distant corner of Camp Bastion is a football pitch. A rickety corkboard sign is propped up at the edge of the set rectangle, with clumsy letters painted in black.

KEEP OFF THE GRASS.

I like to watch the men play. I love the way their faces set into determination as they race after the ball and crack into a triumphant grin when it bounces past the unknown marker for ‘goal’. I sit on the side-lines and wait to be called in as referee; this happens often and is a near impossible task. In the thick of the sport, the sand is kicked up into a swirling dust cloud that pools around the players’ lower bodies. Within seconds all I see is disembodied chests and heads bobbing through the cloud, following no pattern and getting nowhere.

That was a foul, you must have seen it.

Hands in the air: I didn’t see anything, sorry. Try again. I’ll look harder this time.

But no matter how I squint, how deep into the cloud I wade, I see nothing and shrug my shoulders at the players. All’s fair in love and war, I say.

* * *

Turn the music up. I can’t hear it. No one ever talks about how wine deafens you. I poke my belly: the wine has filled it and pushed it outwards, I am a bloated, stranded whale on the sofa. When I try to stand my legs flutter as if filled with water from the thigh to the ankle; it is sloshing around inside of me. I shake my head, eyes rolling as if to clear the buzz: but my lids are heavy and my brain soft like candy floss – the pink kind, the kind that kids share on a first date at the pier.

All of this I have felt before. All of this I expect. But I had never realised how wine dams the ear canal with cotton buds and refuses entry of sound. I clap, trying to scare noise back into my body, imagining it as having crawled out of me in fear. Come back, I clap. Come back.

My pulse drums in my neck. In the mirror, I can see the throbbing artery pushing at my skin.

* * *

The Mastiff moved like a lethargic monster through the sands, beige, caged, prepared for any disaster. If you saw it from the outside, it looked blind, the slots where windows should be boarded up with white board, eyeballs without irises. Instead, the sight was electronic, streamed through cameras and fed to screens mounted in front of the noses of two drivers. I never understood why they needed two. Maybe the first would get lonely, seated by himself in the small compartmentalised front.

It was an afternoon of smooth transitioning, scouting the surrounding area, reporting back on sightings of Terror. Smooth, until –

BOOM.

The world was flung into disarray, my head smashed against metal, and all went black.

Fifty two hours later, I watched as the Mastiff, chest swelling in pride, rolled out of the repairs warehouse. The scorch marks were rubbed away, the dents popped out. It was brand new, ready to do it all again.

* * *

The faster I spin, the more I laugh. My arms are outstretched, brushing the prickly branches of the Christmas tree, the smooth oak of the mantelpiece, the steel stalk of a lamp. A beautiful man – really beautiful, just look at him – stands in the doorway. His arms are folded and he looks serious. I wish I knew why.

Come and dance with me!

He doesn’t move, and so I ask again. And again. And-again-and-again-and-again.

He leaves.

* * *

The world is on its head. There is a shining boot swinging gently in front of my face and I know it is not mine. I wonder whose it is. My eyes feel as though they are about to burst from my sockets. That is how I know I am upside down.

Panic sets in.

I look around me, left and right. Three other men are suspended like me, two of them unconscious. The one other who is awake is bracing his body against the truck roof – or floor, I can’t tell which. He is gulping in air, his cheeks ballooning and collapsing in on themselves in a rapid rhythm. Blood is oozing from a gash in his head; he is blinking crimson rivers from his eyes and he has noticed me. He calls my name, asks if I am ok.

Silence. I fumble at my lap, trying to find the clasp to the straps holding me in. Be careful, he tells me. Brace yourself.

With difficulty, I wrench the belts from me and fall headfirst onto the floor – ceiling. It hurts my bones and I lie still for a moment, just one moment, waiting for it to pass. But I mustn’t stop for long. I shake my head, trying to ignore the screaming ache that is setting in, the thick muted noise that is playing ceaselessly in my ears, and move to help.

* * *

There is a picture of me in uniform hanging on the wall. I hate it. With unsteady hands, I remove it from the nail and tell it this. I tell it three times before I throw it at the fireplace and watch it smash into a thousand glass-shards.

* * *

The news that we are going home reaches me early in the morning. I feel a leaden feeling set in my stomach at the news and start packing up my belongings. It doesn’t take long. One pack; one pair of boots tied at the laces and slung over my shoulder.

A convoy of 31 trucks is lined along the main road through camp. I am pointed to my transport and climb aboard. Our packs are jammed against our knees, cramped in the tiny space. When we set off, my palms start sweating and I wipe them repeatedly on my trousers. I recognise the man sitting opposite me: it is the man from the Mastiff with the tears of blood. He is really beautiful when you look at him. I hadn’t noticed that before.

My eyes don’t leave his face for one second. We are going home. A loud clang sounds through the cabin as we jolt over a rock, and I notice his nostrils flare, the whites of his eyes expand in panic. He notices me watching and his mouth grimaces an apologetic smile before his faces realigns.

* * *

The sun is rising, its grey light seeping around the frayed edges of the curtains. I raise my head to it and stare. My tongue is dry and sticks to the roof of my mouth; I have a cut on my hand and I don’t know how it got there. The empty wine bottles have been kicked out of sight so I don’t have to look at them. Good.

Wincing, I hobble to the window and clutch at the curtain. I pause before I wrench it open and allow the light to blast into the room. The pain is unbearable, intense, blinding, but it is real. I am home.

I am home.

 

*****

This is a piece of fiction I wrote, inspired by real life stories and blogs I have read about soldiers during and after war. It is being published in the literary journal of my university and was written for the theme of ‘Now’ ; right now, we are in a position where we are witnessing men coming home from years of war, and I wish to honour them and remind others of their humanity and sacrifice with my words.

Dance the blues away

It is starting to get truly cold outside: that kind of bite of ice that shivers up your face and pinches your cheeks into a startling red blush. Walking through the front door into warmth and love feels like so much more of a blessing when there’s that meanness to the air.

I have just collapsed at home after an exhausting session of zumba. For those of you who don’t know what that is, I shall merely say that despite the promises of wicked dance moves and Shakira hips, in reality it is a bunch of women waving their arms and stomping their feet, blinking the sweat out of their eyes as they ‘dance’ for an hour.

…Well. I love it.

Today’s session was particularly intense – and here’s where my rather grim relay of my exercise routine peters out. Our instructor made it different. She’s a woman who constantly amazes me with her endless repertoire of skills, funky blue hair, and seemingly bottomless pit of energy. She’s kind to everyone, tells funny anecdotes whilst you wobble around in Pilates, and makes time to help you when you’re struggling, be that due to a disability, a minor injury, or just a bad day.

Today though she was wired. On edge. Jittery.

She told us at the start of the class that she’d had some bad news. That she was going to a funeral tomorrow.

She tried to make us laugh about it when she told us the disaster story of her trying to buy a dress to make her feel like a lady. Then she turned the music on louder than ever before and danced like she was possessed. She wanted to ‘dance the blues away’.

And the thing that really blew my mind was this:

Every single stomp of the foot, every twist and turn and shout and jump, was danced for our instructor today.

Every clap, every cramp, every gasping breath was pushed through for our friend; our support and guide.

Every single woman in the room danced that hour for the blues.

 I have never felt such charge in a room, such united love for someone who, despite her wonderful character, remains a stranger in so many respects. Today I felt like a family with a room full of people I don’t know and wouldn’t recognise in the streets.

And it was painfully, heartbreakingly, beautiful.

Lady Purple

Source: lets-stay-wild

Source: lets-stay-wild

I have often heard the phrase ‘It’s a small world’, but recently I have had to disagree.

The world is INFINITELY huge. It is not land mass that makes a planet, it is the people that live on it’s surface, and people cannot be shrunk to a number or a list of character traits. This world is the battle for life that is fought behind every front door; it is singing the same song over and over again just so you get it absolutely right; it is loving your family fiercely and unconditionally; it is having a favourite colour that you wear on every special occasion; it is believing in a happy ever after.

Each step that is taken, each word that is spoken, echoes through time and ripples out from one person to the next. Our own little worlds bump and collide, whether it is a shared smile with a stranger or the monumental event of falling in love. We cannot survive without these pocket worlds, even if we have no knowledge of them. And I like to think that it is this that makes us so vulnerably human.

Now, each and every one of us is different, with varying priorities and beliefs. But recently, I have learnt that there are those of us out there whose worlds stretch across oceans and embrace every stranger, with a solid smile and an unfaltering trust. There are real life heroes who teach through example, touch hearts with ease, and leave a lasting impression even when they’re gone. There are people who revive belief in humanity and kindness, and give us something to aspire to be. These people make the world infinite, for their pocket lives bump against everyone they meet and create waves of goodness as a result.

And I know that I want to spend my life striving to be one of those people.

So on this Easter weekend, even if you have no other belief than a fervent love of chocolate, be sure to bump into another’s life. Smile at a stranger or make an extra effort with a person you love.

And let’s honour those who make the world an infinite, beautiful place.

* * *

I would like to dedicate this blog post to Lisa Marie Nora Doran, an inspiring woman, hero, and idol to my best friend and sister who recently lost her battle with Cystic Fibrosis. May you be forever singing your heart out with the angels upstairs.

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If you want to make a donation to help towards fighting Cystic Fibrosis and enhancing the lives of those who suffer, you can donate to the Cystic Fibrosis Trust in the name of Lisa at: http://www.memorygiving.com/lisamarienoradoran

Lost by my own hand

I was asked to write a piece centered around an object from my past that I had lost and that now held some significance to me. Unlike a lot of people who cherish an old teddy bear forgotten in the dusty recesses of the garage or a specific mobile phone that lost them contact with the wider world for a whole WEEK (or something equally traumatic), I couldn’t think of a single thing that I had accidentally lost.

But this made me ask the question: Why does something ‘lost’ mean something that you misplaced and, by mere coincidence, cannot find again? Can’t you lose something on purpose? Have YOU ever ‘lost’ something in order to bury or hide a part of you that you can no longer face?

This led me to write the following short creative non-fiction piece, exploring the realms of objects that are lost for a reason and by the possessor’s own hand.

* * *

The rusty metal beneath my clenched fingers is icy to the touch, but I cling on to the pain, sharp and distinct. Sea specks freckle my defiant face, upturned to the call of gulls sweeping high above me.  It would be magnificent to fly free of this earth, to coast on a current of air and bridge the gap between the heavens and earth, skies and sea.

My heavy leaden feet root me to concrete.

In the bitter air, my lips are sticky, wisps of hair whipping around my head and clinging to them stubbornly. This annoys me but I do not reach up to tuck them away. As has become my custom, I let it happen to me without objection. I have no power here.

Though, looking out at the wild ocean, a calm settles over me. Churning masses of grey rear up to reach their brother clouds before crashing back down again in a swirl of dirty green and ominous teal. The barrel chest of a mighty boulder bears a cracked and bleeding stance in the face of oncoming surges, battering them back with a determined cascade of salt and spray. It’s the role model I need to give me the courage to finally glance down at what I grasp.

In my palm a silver chain cuts into my skin, wrinkled and knotted, snaking an intricate history to the delicate silver pendant. Some of the shine has ebbed away, leaving in its wake a dull sheen, a foamy echo of its former brilliance. A strip of silver has peeled from the facade, revealing an ugly copper graze as a scar unavoidable and permanent. The sight no longer wrenches at my gut; no more does it burn wet tracks down my cheeks. Instead it hardens me. It turns to stone what once would beat fiercely with life, and scolds away a carefree embrace.

Enough.

The necklace is released from my arm like a spring and soars through the air. Time slows as it twists and squirms down towards its fate. No light glints from the metal, no screams of dismay reverberate down the pier as it sinks into the inky depths. But a flutter of my heart sends blood pumping through my veins with a renewed vigour, and, for the first time in months, salt water of my very own drips from my spidery lashes.

by kuchenuwe-komo

It’s all in the eyes.

We all have a story. It may not be the most dramatic, the most romantic, the most heroic…but it’s still a story. That man you walked past this morning? He’s just found out his wife is pregnant. The teenager you saw waiting at a bus stop in the rain? She’s just stood up for herself to the boy she loves. The old couple feeding the ducks by the pond? They’ve been together for 56 years and have never stopped loving each other.
Every story is different and yet equally precious.

One of the most amazing things about human beings is our ability to miss magic. Sure, we’ve all read Harry Potter and it was fantastic but it wasn’t REAL. It’s people that are real. With their flesh and bones and blood and feelings. There are REAL LIFE stories happening to REAL LIFE people all over the world-they’re happening to you-and yet we are so consumed by our own dramas that we don’t stop to consider that there may be something bigger out there, waiting quietly in the corner until it attracts our attention.

It’s all in the eyes. If you stop, if you REALLY stop and look at other people, you can tell. You can read happiness in an eye, you can read sadness. You can tell if someone is exhausted or excited or high. All of these stories are right in front of us to see and yet we don’t even bother to look. It’s life that is the magic here.

I recently lost someone I loved. He was an amazing man. One who would sing to you and dance with you and deliberately get your name wrong just so he could share a cheeky wink with you when nobody was watching. He loved life-you could see it in his eyes. He had so many stories to tell, so many more to create. And then, in an instant it seemed, his story ended and none of us were ready for it to end. We hadn’t heard enough of it, we hadn’t paid enough attention when it really counted.

Don’t ignore the stories that are all around you. Don’t waste your time looking inwards when a few steps to your left is the next Mozart, his fingers fluttering out the melody of his next timeless masterpiece. Forget Harry Potter. You-WE-are the real magic.

And it’s all in the eyes.