I know that my writing is not successful when I am not being honest, specifically when I am not being honest with myself. I have always used my writing to understand the world I live in, to understand how I form and partake in this world, to understand how I feel about myself; my actions, my emotions, my learned behaviours and my ability to change. My writing does not work when I set out to document a topic, my writing works when I have a problem, something I need to unpick, dissect and evaluate. It does not work when I am doing it self-consciously, or when I have an audience in mind; I am not writing to you, I am writing to me. This is why I have actively chosen not to pursue my passion as my career. I cannot stand the idea of someone paying me to write, for me to work to their restrictions and agendas, for me to formulate words based on a brief; there is not enough freedom or creativity in that space. Introducing a financial incentive means that truth is unable to take its rightful place at centre stage, there is someone else to adhere to, someone else to please, someone else’s opinion to impose.
As a teenager I wrote avidly. I’ve never written creatively; I am caught up in the real world, not a cynic, just a realist. I have filled notebooks upon notebooks with joy, anger, sadness, bitterness, achievements, failures, lost loves, countless relationships, first experiences, exciting milestones and those which have troubled me. Some of these I have read back, some I have read the first sentence, and upon understanding the idea shied away from its confirmation. By my fourteenth year I was filling these notebooks with my pain. I would write it out, get it all out; put it on the page so it was no longer in my head, as this pain was important to me, I couldn’t stand the idea of forgetting it, but I no longer wanted it. I would give my pain to my notebooks, changing my handwriting as the years went on, trying to formulate an identity for myself in every aspect of the written world. This isn’t so much the case now, it’s difficult to convey so much of one’s self through the impersonal and mechanic identity of machinery, the writer must work harder to convey their whole being through the pure arrangement of the written word.
Some of the most troubling times in my life have been the times when I felt incapable of expressing myself. When my Uncle died so suddenly I was unable to write; I was so frustrated, all I wanted to do was write away the pain and document the absurdness of my everyday, as even in the midst of all that grief I knew that one day the pain would change and I wouldn’t be able to comprehend the fact that I was ever that sad. From that day I have a series of key images, like stills from a film, which will be forever permanently impressed on my mind. One is being incapable of carrying myself, of collapsing in the hospital corridor, unwilling and unable to hold the weight of this sorrow. I was half carried; half dragged, into the smallest room and told I was having a panic attack. A nurse handed me water, which was disgustingly lukewarm, yet I was incapable of expressing this sentiment. I gratefully drank, ever the people pleaser who doesn’t like people.
Ten hours later I was back in Manchester, disorientated and numb. My mother and I had woken my siblings to tell them. This was my idea, my mother uncertain whether to wait until the morning; I said it couldn’t wait. We sat on my sister’s bed and sobbed, all four of us, and within that moment the room felt impenetrable. I don’t remember how I got home, or when I went home. I didn’t live at my parent’s then, my partner came to get me, opened the door and gave my mother a lingering hug. My grief was never secondary but I think to those outside of my immediate family I was doing better than I was. I lived that evening and into the night in a daze, refusing to go to sleep until I had no option, as in this day, Wednesday the sixteenth of March two-thousand and sixteen, my Uncle Ben was still alive and I was not willing to let that go.
The second thing I distinctly remember is waking on Thursday and before my eyes were open there were tears coming out of them. I remember this so vividly because it did not make sense to me. In my experience it is the closing of the eyes that makes the tears fall.
I tried with all my being to write throughout this. I wrote, rewrote and wrote again what I was intending to say at the funeral. Eventually I ended up beginning and completing my final public goodbye on the morning of the event, whilst I panicked that the dress I was wearing was transparent and one of its buttons was missing. My hair was red and I hated it. I put make-up on to cry it away and berated myself for the fact that my tights were the wrong colour. I wore all black, not because of the occasion but because I’d been intending to wear the dress to a wedding as Ben’s plus one. When I’d bought it a month prior there was nothing in my consciousness that could have comprehended the fact that I was now wearing it to his funeral.
The week before he died I dreamt I attended his funeral. The coffin was so small and as always with my dreams, the scene was exceptionally vivid. My subconscious has a fantastic way of making the most absurd unrealities reality in my deepest sleeps. Normally they are unpleasant, filled with my everyday but with disturbing distortions. Sometimes they reflect my anxieties, those I am conscious of and those I do not yet know. Sometimes, as with two nights ago, they are blissful, I am in Paris, drinking coffee in Le Deux Magots and looking across at a mirror that reflects layers upon layers of gold and I am grateful that occasionally my subconscious reminds me of things I found so beautiful.
I did not admit my dream for sometime, afraid that somehow I had willed the event to happen. I finally admitted it to my mother stood in one of the doorways at work, panicking and unable to hold myself together. I was regularly unable to hold myself together at this point, yet went back to work as I felt there was nothing else to be done. I was told to take a year away from my Masters so threw myself into a full on working lifestyle. Everyone assumed that at work my mind would be distracted from all the things that troubled me. Those who believe that one’s mind can be distracted from such a thing as uncontrollable grief have clearly never experienced it. I would cry whilst I served customers and complete monotonous tasks in the never-ending daze I existed within; that isolation that makes one feel like they are living within an invisible bubble that does not allow them to fully engage with the real world. Everything is filtered, not quite real, and untouchable. You are numb.
Normality is always just out of your reach. Every time you think you’ve managed to grasp it, put that first mouthful of food into your mouth or laughed hysterically at that moment in your favourite film, the crushing weight of your reality forces itself upon you and you are frozen, crying over pasta you are then unable to eat, laughing until the joy becomes uncontrollable sobs, because how on earth can you manage to continue with your every day when it is so very far from normal. It did not seem right that I should engage in those activities which assisted in sustaining me, did not seem right that I was able to even smile, let alone laugh so carelessly at things so trivial. I remember thinking that I was never going to be able to be happy again, and in those moments that thought was true. People regularly told me that time would heal. Time doesn’t heal, time changes. Over time my loss, and my reaction to this loss has changed; it hasn’t healed, I haven’t forgotten, it is not diminished, but it is different.
Now, I find so much joy in my every day, more joy than I ever thought imaginable and I did not have this in my life five years ago. My Uncle Ben brought me a wealth of happiness, and his sense of humour and intelligent wit is something I miss on a daily basis, along with his perspective, opinions and comfort, but I was lucky enough to ever experience these things in the first place and they have helped me become the person I am. I find joy in finding something funny, or interesting, or ridiculous and knowing that Ben would agree with me. I find joy in coming out with a phrase, a comment or an opinion that seems extremely Ben-esque and thinking to myself that he could almost be in the room. I am comforted by the fact that even though sometimes the only person I want to talk to is my Uncle I can probably quite certainly come up with a suitable answer to my problems that could have come from his mouth.
When we buried him, and were stood in front of his grave, I told my stepdad that now I must learn to drive so I could come and see him. His response was simply this: ‘you don’t need to come here to see him, you just need to look in a mirror’, his voice breaking in those final four words; my heart breaking in response.