[Trying to write what I don’t want to write about]
Above all I wanted to transcend. People never understood this. They thought it was about boys, celebrity, eternal youth, self-obsession, jeans, bad influences, etc.
But do you know how it feels not to eat for days? It feels like being on the verge of something better.
It feels like writing a poem and knowing it’s good.
It feels like being a poem.
None of this is real, of course.
A selection of a few of the most disgusting things I’ve ever done:
I chewed dried apricots, spat them out, then couldn’t resist eating them again.
Countless times, I ate from bins.
I threw balled up puke and toilet paper out the bathroom window of a nice farm house in Norfolk. It was New Year’s Eve. There was one of those rings of refraction around the moon; it almost seemed as though someone was looking down at me. This was not a comforting delusion, I didn’t want to be seen.
There wasn’t enough blood getting to my skin. It went sort of brown in patches, it balled up and rubbed off. It floated from my limbs in the bath. I didn’t care, I could fit my hands around my thigh with ease
I used to mix cornflakes into baked beans and then pick them out with chopsticks. I used my left hand for the chopsticks. When the cornflakes were done, I used my left hand to eat all the sauce with a teaspoon until the beans were a sticky kind of ball. Sometimes, I ate the beans too.
I puked. I puked everywhere and I was too fucked up to know I was leaving a mess.
When my father confronted me about it, concerned, because he’d heard me and I could hardly lie this time (except – it was a one off, of course I don’t do that anymore) I punched him in the stomach.
I didn’t shit for weeks. I didn’t get my period. I went to the doctor about the periods, and they gave me an ultrasound. Instead of a healthy womb, a moving peanut, a beating heart, the ultrasound showed shit. Weeks of compacted shit. The doctor said, ‘Your ovaries look fine, but when did you last have a bowel movement?’ I lied. I was in the habit.
It turns out people believe you when you lie. When you’re a smart girl, the easier sibling, not a troublemaker at a crappy London comprehensive. When you’re just not the type to be swept up in that kind of thing.
I learnt to lie, and honestly I’m so fucking good at lying I feel like it has an impact on who I am now. I lie to myself. I lie to my best friends. I’ve lied to the girlfriends of guys I’ve fucked, the boyfriends of girls I’ve fucked. And none of it feels like lying. Because I became an adult human through, with, beneath, lies.
Another time, years later — when I was fat as fuck and trying to get everything up. Trying to turn myself inside out and excavate lard and meat, heavy heart and the liver I had, by that point, been pushing to breaking point for years. Trying to lose everything that tied me to gravity — I split the top of my gullet. You know, where you can feel the edges of the top of the tube that leads down to your stomach? When you stick your fingers down your throat? Maybe you don’t. But I do, and I split it and it’s still split. When, in occasional stressful moments, I revert to coughing up whatever I last ate, I feel that split and I remember why I should stop at one slip up.
When I split my throat, I bled. I bled a lot. I didn’t stop puking, purging, but I was throwing up star and moon shaped cereal, water, and strings of bile and blood. I thought maybe I would die. I didn’t really mind. Name me a religion that doesn’t let its dead float free. Often they are allowed become smoke – the Romans did this to deify. The Hindus do it to let souls lose. I burnt myself too. Cigarettes, hot spoons. I would sit in classes and push my thumbs into the burns. There was puss all over my clothes. The stars and moons floated in the toilet water, and the strings of blood and bile spread around them like distant galaxies.
Leaving Barcelona, Gaudi looks like baby teeth, fallen and piled in lucky beauty.
Yesterday, you looked up from your litre of Estrella and commented on the guts of the men who perched on gothic cathedrals to place gargoyles in their proper places. Sure, I said, but imagine the view. You could only imagine how that granite would scrape at the pads of fingers, and what was their scaffolding made of? I told you they would be able to see out to the new-finished railway, that maybe they arrived on a few years back from the farmland in the north, or even from Portugal. I said, Imagine unwrapping the empanada your wife packed for you, and feeling almost as high as the mountains that surround the city as you took your first bite.
In Barcelona we learnt that the Sagrada Familia is not yet finished. Gaudi spent so long casting live donkeys in plaster and adding every snail to that huge wall that he was hit by a train long before the church could ever be done. This never mattered to Gaudi, who believed God works through us, and that we only ever discover, never create. I will admit that this feels true for me sometimes, and that standing in the Sagrada Familiar with the light filtering through the columns, staring up at the honeycomb roof, feels like my first time laying under a tree on acid. I am the tree and it doesn’t matter. The church is the earth and the mountains. Gaudi insisted the tallest tower was to be one metre shorter than the tallest of the mountains that cup the city – not wishing to eclipse the pure work of God.
I wonder, as we float above the mountains, in the way that planes, moving so fast, sometimes seem not to be moving at all, whether Gaudi knew that mountains are being ground slowly down. Gaudi’s tallest tower, on the other hand, is still under construction, the work of generations. The work of piecing together flakes of plaster-model. The work of software creation, something Gaudi could not have imagined. And of whole lives dedicated to a monument they will never see. I don’t know if it will stand for long enough to be taller than the mountain. I don’t know if people will still be around at the mountain’s base, working together to make art, by the time it loses a metre. I do know, I think, that there is no God, but that I agree about nature. Very little of this piece is true, for example, though the facts are. And I’ve been to Barcelona. Did I create it, or did I discover? Everything is here already, in a way, we just arrange it because we love patterns.
PHOTO OF YOUR GRANDMA!
It arrives attached to a birthday present PHOTO OF YOUR GRANDMA! the wind is blowing the seagrass and her hair. She looks like a member of my family. This makes her both interesting and not interesting. She looks like all five of her children. The grass looks like sea grass and so she is beside the sea, or maybe she isn’t beside the sea and maybe it’s some crop or maybe reeds, maybe she is beside a river. Are they in Derbyshire? There is a dog in the photo. I wonder if the dog died first, or if my grandmother did. Either way, they’re both dead. The dog is new to me, and not a composite of painful Christmases, hard-of-hearing alcoholics and the hanging curtain of religion/notreligion/art/how children were raised. It’s a beautiful dog, some kind of whippet or greyhound. It is a dog I would like to own if I had a life stable enough for a dog. I would like a dog I could take running, by the sea or by a river. When I was a child I cut myself on seagrass, rolling down dunes. This grandmother, she believed that wine was literally the blood of Christ sometimes, but she also reached into women and fixed them, when they were bleeding or when they were not bleeding. The one time I took Christ’s body on my tongue, they were out of blood. The priest had to bless juice – what did this do to Christ? Was it like a bad transfusion? What did it do to me? Maybe it was better. Maybe he couldn’t tell, because of the bad blood, that I see him only as art. My grandmother died of blood loss, during surgery, in the kind of sterile room she would have been used to if she were conscious, years before I was born. I don’t believe in the mysteries of blood, but sometimes my mother tells me I am like her mother and I have heard her told she is like her mother too. I want to ask her about the dog; what was the dog like, and how did the dog die?
Update: I have checked again, and the dog is not a whippet or a greyhound. The dog is a sausage dog, which is something I would have known if I’d thought about it. Visual memory is particularly tricky. I wanted it to be a nice light dog, of a breed I admire, because that would go well, in black and white, with the seagrass and my grandmother’s light-grey hair.
My mother has told me many times about her family’s dachshunds, how there was a long line of them. All with the same blood. Or maybe she hasn’t; maybe there was only one dachshund. There was one called Sooty I think. Perhaps I am just looking for a good braid to this story – back to family sagas and to shared blood.
When I ate a flake of Christ I was in Tanzania, on government money, being a white saviour. When my mother’s mother died, my mother was in Thailand, on government money, being a painter. In Tanzania I got a small parasite in my foot that was drinking my blood. It was full of my blood, but this didn’t make it anything like me.
I used to think the whole past was, for real, in black and white. I have a memory of asking my mother what it was like to live in black and white. In this memory we are walking past the hedge around the school caretaker’s house, and then we are walking along by the brown school fence which is topped with spikes. I remember that road so well, the paving slabs I used to take wide steps over so as to avoid cracks, the young trees and their low branches that I would try to jump and touch because if I touched them and if I avoided the cracks, then bad things wouldn’t happen. All of this is probably wrong. Or I was somewhere else when my mum laughed and said, What? and corrected my perfectly logical misconception.
It is tempting to feel as though we are shaped by our pasts, and often the only access we have to those pasts are our memories. In actual fact, as science sees it now, because we are constantly rebuilding our memories they are shaped by who we are now. Our current selves shape our pasts. I see what I want to see in the photo. The snake is eating its own tail. There is a loop that contains the whole of us, with nothing at its centre.
I stepped over the cracks because they scared me. Fear is more memorable than tangible things like the exact colour of berries on a tree branch, or which paving stones were rough and brown and which smooth and grey. I could go back and check, I suppose, but it’s been 20 years since I made that specific memory. Half the paving stones could have been replaced.
RIDING IN CARS WITH…
I have a serious fear of doppelgängers, and also that people around me may be possessed. I imagine skinsuits hanging in cupboards, or that when the person I am sharing a bed with gets up to piss in the middle of the night they will come back and not really be themselves. That I will go to the bathroom later and pull back the shower curtain to reveal their limp body. That there will be blood crusted around their mouth, and their eyes will stare at me still and milky and they will be contorted in some awful way, folded into the tub.
Tonight, I got into a car with a stranger. I have got into many cars with many strangers, and have only very occasionally had to make an excuse and bail or yell ‘STOP THE FUCKING CAR’ or open the door like I’m about to throw myself out. Far more often I have drunk homemade plum brandy, been offered a bed for the night, had tea and cigarettes thrust upon me, or been taken home to meet wives and have lunch.
This time, I was standing at a bus stop, probably looking despairing because I was despairing. I had been waiting for the bus in the sweaty hug of 10:30pm, October, Virginia, for half an hour. Before that, I had been babysitting for seven hours, including having a tiny penis and arse flashed at me and watching the same Disney Channel cartoon three times. When I put the kid to bed he started crying because he remembered a horrible commercial. I told him I would sit outside his room and do work as he fell asleep, and that he’d be able to hear the clacking of my keys. He said, ‘thank you. Sometimes I just get scared, you know?’
I know. I often have dreams that are so terrifying they follow me for days. Most recently I murdered my own parents, sold their bodies to an international terrorist organisation, and knew, staring hard at myself in the mirror, that this was not a dream, and that I was going to have to live with this guilt forever, never stopping, never staying still long enough to be noticed, changing my name and avoiding connection until eventually, mercifully, I one day died too.
Before I got in this particular stranger’s car, after he’d said, ‘Do you need a ride to campus?’ I said, ‘That depends, are you going to murder me?’ He laughed. He said, ‘I hope not.’ He was a kid, maybe 21, and he talked to me about school all the way to UCB Kroger. He asked me about culture shock moving here, and when I got out he wished me good luck with my grading. When I got home (after buying a bottle of wine to help with said grading) and texted friends about my good Samaritan they replied with WHAT THE HELL. As in, what the hell, who the fuck gets in strangers’ cars. Short answer: I do. I don’t trust society and its patterns one bit, but I do trust people. And I trust my own ability to swerve away from situations that are uncomfortable, and to know when they are getting uncomfortable.
And this could be some kind of deferred fear, because I’m 5’3” and 120lbs and basically anyone (definitely any man) could overpower me, but the bus stop was right in front of a large and pitch black park, and everyone knows that parks are full of werewolves and worse. The park, the distant fence post and the manicured bushes in front of them, anything could lurk there. There could be something that looked just like me, squatting out of view. And if I waited too long, waited for the late bus, its headlights might sweep the pavement and just miss catching my pale skin where I lay half in the ditch, blood and skin under my nails from the fight, as it stepped onto the bus with my school ID held out, smiling at the bus driver, scratches on its neck.