Oh, I need your bedroom eyes

The hours to the sunrise creep, but I don’t care. 

A cloudless March sky in a place where there are usually blankets of clouds cocooning the sun. A red raincoat not needed but instead tucked inside of a hunter green Longchamp bag with beaten corners. And the enchanting humming of a California-born lo-fi band coming through earbuds.

There is no hope for any sleep if you’re not here. 

Cheerful beats and blasé attitude give way to a deeper meaning – it has only been one night together but I don’t think I can live a life without you. And that is not normal. I never think this about anyone, ever. Feet slide into ruby red metallic Dr Martens that pinch, burn and ache. Feet slide out of ruby red metallic Dr Martens by the seaside. Seagulls screech and waves crash in and out. The sun shines. A breeze carries the scent of saltwater and battered fish and stale pubs.

In another scene, in another bed, you’re sleeping. 

Don’t we know that this is only temporary? That I’ll go my way and you’ll go your way and the past year that has led up to this moment was all for just that – a single moment? A strangely perfect moment where it felt like everything clicked into place and everything felt right. Aren’t we supposed to say goodbye after this? That was my plan. That was your plan. But I already can’t stop thinking about carving out a niche in your bed and how I don’t want to leave you behind.

So won’t you come and visit me when I’m dreaming?

Shopping bag swinging, carrying £10 black Oxfords from Primark that have been replaced by those ruby red metallic Dr Martens. Impossibly white buildings against a bright blue sky. And again, the enchanted humming of a California-based lo-fi band coming through earbuds. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

Oh, I need your bedroom eyes. 

I know I’ll find my way to you again tonight, and that we will have one more night together before separating. And you will become an anecdote that I will retell over again when people describe how someone’s touch made their skin fizz and how placing my hand in yours felt like dropping my keys on my kitchen counter after a vacation. But this is all temporary, right? We never meant to mean anything to each other. So why can’t I get you off of my brain in ways I never thought I would envision you and why can’t I stop thinking about things that I didn’t know I could want with you?

I fear that I’ll never sleep again. 

And I haven’t. Something awakened inside of us that night. Something that has been building since before our paths crossed. The way I felt about you limping home in my first pair of Dr Martens, swinging my shopping bag and playing a song on repeat – that hasn’t changed. I’m awake to you and the things that you make me feel. Your turn now. Wake up.

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Untie, untangle, unwrap

One year ago I crashed through your facade of being happy and settled without me in your life. And I don’t know if it has gotten any easier. I had different expectations a year ago. I didn’t think you’d melt effortlessly back into my life, a snowflake in July, but also didn’t expect to be where we are right now.

It seems so simple for everyone else. It seems so much easier on television. Of course Ross immediately realised that Julie was not the one for him and that he should be with Rachel. Of course Rachel got off the plane for Ross, giving up her dream job in Paris. Of course Marshall returns to Lilly even though she was the one who broke off their engagement in the first place. Of course Ted gives Robin the bright blue French horn again after years, effectively rekindling their romance without any entanglements. But that’s the thing about real life, I suppose. There will always be entanglements.

I’m not sure why you’re still tied up in yours though, enmeshed, bound. You clearly aren’t happy – if you had everything you needed to be happy, your ache wouldn’t be so tangible. I don’t know if you know that every day without you feels like I’ve added another year onto my life. I don’t know if you know that on paper and at surface value nothing has changed but maybe in the bigger picture, it has.

I can’t stop choosing you, you know? I’ve tried. I have tried so many times. My life would be so much easier if I stopped choosing you. You could ask me every important question in the world and if my answer isn’t an immediate yes, it’s a “let me think about this and eventually yes.” I can’t say no to you, which is why when you overwhelm me, I roll over and let it happen. Fighting you is pointless. So why are you fighting our inevitability so hard?

The things I want from life, I don’t want them with anyone else but you. If they do not involve you I do not want them. So wake up and realise you want the same things. I know you do. Because think about it like this – the hardest part? The finding the other half part? The guarantee that they want to be with you? That’s over. That’s done. It’s been found. You’ve asked Father Christmas for that bright red bike and it is sitting under your tree on Christmas morning. All you have to do is unwrap it.

 

 

 

Ted.

I desire the things that will destroy me in the end,” wrote Sylvia Plath in her personal journal. It has always frightened my mother and those around me how much I relate to the late poet. To be fair, it frightens me as well – to see some of my most haunting thoughts I cannot express poured out onto a page through a vessel that is not me. My darkest places are brought to light and I can no longer hide them. And I connect to Sylvia because I too love an Englishman who, at this moment, is not present in my life and belongs to someone else. Sylvia fed herself into Ted Hughes, resulting in the loss of her life, and while the loss of my life will not be at my own hands, isn’t that what I’m doing for you? Am I not bleeding myself dry for your sake?

I remember the day you left all too well and the first person I crawled my bleeding, broken self to for comfort was Sylvia Plath. The hours blurred together as I devoured poem after poem and line after line voraciously as if her words were the only substance that could fill the gaping void you had left.  “I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead/(I think I made you up inside my head),” she seemed to croon to me via her villanelle, “Mad Girl’s Love Song. Because you were doing your best to convince me that I had dreamed you, that I had fashioned you from the deepest corners of my mind, and that you had never existed for me in the way that I wanted you to at all.

Now, don’t get me wrong, Ted was far from ideal and far from perfect. Sylvia’s demons were far more unruly and harder to cage than mine are. You are also far from perfect with your own demons desperately begging to be caged. I am pouring myself into you like an empty glass to maybe make your soul a little less empty so that it can finally coexist with mine. It will happen, I need to be patient, but I am draining myself dry and if I don’t stop, I will have to be discarded like an empty carton of juice. Because, my darling, that’s how these demons work. They wait until we are bled dry, and then cast our withered husks into the abyss, not caring if we leave a gaping hole behind. Sylvia’s demons poured out her essence and threw her away, leaving a legacy and broken pieces and a man with a reputation for womanising and callousness. That is not us. This is not who we will be.

You still consume me like a fire from within, burning through my reserves and withering me from the inside out. I still search the skies for clear days when the blue matches your eyes perfectly, I still hear your voice in my ear in the darkest hours. The universe still screams at me that you will be back, and I have to be better about trusting those messages. They are there. They haven’t stopped.

Each minute without you passes like a year. You have been gone for decades, for centuries, for millennia. And I know that with every eon that has passed, we are one eon closer until you will be back and you will be mine.

So we could rave on, darling, you and I/until the stars tick out a lullaby/about each cosmic pro and con/nothing changes, for all the blazing of/our drastic jargon, but clock hands that move/implacably from twelve to one.

 

Control and yards of tulle

From the time that I was two years old, I wanted to be a ballerina. My best friend and I would don matching pink tutus and watch Baryshnikov’s Nutcracker in my family room and twirl gleefully. She and I both could not wait until we could take ballet classes and eventually earn those pink satin pointe shoes that every little girl ballerina covets. I would be the one to stick with ballet past the point when most little girls decide they’d rather do something else. I earned my more-peach-than-pink satin pointe shoes. When I stopped dancing at the age of 14, it was because an unfavourable studio situation led to a complete burnout of that love I carried for ballet. I could not be bothered to resume ballet even after switching studios. I had been so miserable for so long that I had forgotten how happy it had made me.

I would go through these immense periods of ballet nostalgia. I would work out to music from The Firebird, The Nutcracker, Petroushka, and Coppelia because it felt comfortable. I am trained to work my body for an hour without stopping the minute that classical music pops on. I saw The Nutcracker in DC and spent nearly the entire first act surreptitiously wiping away tears because I missed ballet so much. I even resumed adult ballet classes, purchasing, for the first time in a decade, a new pair of pointe shoes (and I finally got lovely pink ones instead of those weird whitish ones I had to get – I have a wide foot but a really skinny heel so I am difficult to fit).

Ballet is my first and longest love, but why? Why specifically ballet, and not dance in general? I’ve dabbled in many kinds of dance – Irish step, tap, jazz, modern. I hated modern. Hated it with a passion. But why?

It’s all about control.

Ballet is precise. The dancer must be able to control her movements gracefully. The hardest steps should look effortless. The goal is to make dancing in a shoe with wooden blocks for toes seem painlessly easy. Each arm and leg movement has to be perfect, graceful, timed and controlled. There is a right and wrong way to do things, and although it takes a lot of effort to learn the right way, it is doable. A ballerina is perfection and this is because she is controlled (this is also where eating disorders often spawn but that’s another story).

I hated modern dance because there aren’t really rules. The objective is to look free, flowing and light, expressing emotions through movement. The modern classes I took involved a lot of rolling around on the floor barefooted. And I hated that. I wanted someone to tell me to wear a specific coloured leotard (pink at age 5, light blue ages 8-10, burgundy ages 10-12, and black ages 12 and up) with a certain shade of pink tights. I needed someone to correct me when my arms weren’t in the right position and tell me to control my leg on its way down from a grand battement. I spent a decade relying on those few hours every week where I was completely in charge of my movements and I was the only one with any say over how they would flow.

I am not good at letting go of situations beyond my control. They are my least favourite kind to deal with and the hardest for me to handle. I am horrible at surrendering my needs to any higher being, and this is what is kicking my ass right now – this inability to let go and let be. I spend my time trying to make sure it looks like I am effortlessly balancing on my toes even though they are being painfully pounded into wooden blocks. And that’s the situation I have been dealing with and the lesson I have been unsuccessfully trying to learn for the last two years.

It’s not that I don’t try to get the things that I want for myself, the things I want are just beyond my control at this point. There is literally nothing I can do to get them except just let go. And for some reason, I am spectacularly bad at that. The situation I am currently in? I need to trust that the other person involved will fix himself. I need to give him the stage, hang up my pointe shoes, and wait in the wings. Because I know my cue is coming, I just have no say in when that is.

 

Sensory overl(dn)oad

I can smell my loss so clearly in my nose, a cloying stench of train station and Britney Spears Fantasy perfume. It smells like rain and smog and saltwater and sea and smoke. It smells like fried fish, and curry, and soot, and stale beer spilt on the floor. It smells like cigarettes, and shisha, and crowds, and poppies in November, and I am gagging for my breath whilst holding my hand to my nose to prevent it from filling me.

I can taste my loss so clearly on my lips, and it tastes like clotted cream. It tastes like Strongbow dark fruit and Grubb’s burgers. It tastes like cheeky Nandos, and 99s, and Sourz, and pitchers of Purple Rain. It tastes like Battenberg cakes, and Viennese whirls, and jam tarts and I am gorging on something I don’t ever remember developing an appetite for.

I can hear my loss so clearly ringing through my ears, and it sounds like minding the gap. It sounds like the whoosh of a passing train, and a crisp voice, and an unexpected item in bagging area. It sounds like every meaningful connection, and like being on the brink of something bigger than yourself, like an unsaid I love you and a softness in the harshness of an American accent. And I am holding my hands to my head to keep these sounds from penetrating me to my very core.

I can feel my loss so clearly and it feels like a bleary day after a red eye flight. It feels like accidentally walking 15 miles and getting soaked in a torrential downpour. It feels like waiting in the taxi queue at half past ten on a Thursday night. It feels like burning your tongue on a cup of hot tea in the middle of July, like sitting on the top deck of a night bus at 4 in the morning whilst people scream around you, like an unairconditioned underground train carriage during a heatwave. And I am standing in the middle of an empty room flinching from the searing pain when these touch my skin, and I want it to stop.

I can see my loss so clearly in front of me, and it looks like a skyline that doesn’t exist and a grey sky I don’t even recognise. It looks like tears during Love Actually but not at the parts one may think, tears during Peter Pan, tears during Harry Potter, and tears during scenes from an old Olympics opening ceremony. It looks like a tea-stained mug, and an outdated Railway card, and old train tickets faded so that the journey dates are no longer visible, and a pair of heathered blue Lululemon leggings tossed in the bin. It looks like receiving crumpets in the post, and like pouring elderflower purchased at a speciality shop into prosecco, and like a poster of a city on a wall held up by blu-tack. And I just want to close my eyes until I won’t have to smell, taste, hear, feel, or see this anymore. Until my loss fades to black. Until it is no longer a loss.

 

Infinite playlists, quick flames, slow burns.

I have always valued the ability of the music of others to say what I can’t.

When I was in high school as the art of the mix CD was dying out, I hoarded songs on my iPod as though they were the last box of Jaffa Cakes. I used the lyrics of others to vocalise what I wasn’t able to put into words myself. And so began the infinite playlists, the playlists I would craft with specific people in mind. I would take songs that the subject and I had discussed, songs I knew they loved, or songs that just plain made me think of them, and add them to an On-The-Go playlist, which I would later merge on iTunes.

The boy I loved in high school had the first playlist. And after six months, his playlist had about 500 songs. 500 songs that made me think of him. I added these songs to the playlist the way a child eats Smarties – by the fistful. If he mentioned an artist, I scrutinised each song title and tried to determine which ones best suited him and the way I felt about him. Blink-182 was the staple artist on his playlist. Their lyrics summed up everything I thought I felt about him at 17 – what I thought was love, the pain he caused me by simply being my best friend and nothing more. I was naive. And much like anything that starts off with a bang, it ended in a whisper. We haven’t spoken in about four years because the girl he was dating from our senior year in high school to our sophomore year in college decided that I was a threat to her relationship and he could not have me in his life. The feelings are gone now, his playlist has been deleted, but I will always think of him fondly and laugh at the many life lessons he gave me – such as the thought process after hitting a deer with your car (“Male or female? Did it have antlers? How much did it weigh?”) and how to deal with crossing guards.

The second boy with a playlist was the boy from college. We met in a car and bonded over a Lana Del Rey song playing on the radio (you can read all about that here if you are so inclined). He was your stereotypical hipster, square-framed glasses, loved film noir and anything on vinyl. After three months, his playlist had over 1,000 songs. He and I used the lyrics of others to say things we couldn’t say. He had eclectic tastes and I think he loved the idea of “educating” me musically (mind you, he wasn’t musical. I have never seen him pick up an instrument). We would lazily spin records in his bedroom. I went overseas soon after we met, and because of who he is as a person, music became our best way of communicating. He would send me lists of albums and artists that he wanted me to listen to, and he would become withdrawn and silent if he heard of anyone else recommending music for me (he literally hated my flatmate for this reason, but if anyone has any business educating anyone musically, it would be him). Our biggest fight ever was about The Smiths. By the time he called things off with me, his playlist had grown to over 2,000 songs. And because that ending hit me hard, that was over 2,000 songs that I could not listen to. But our playlist, much like our relationship, had exploded at a rapid rate. It grew so quickly I don’t even think I listened to all of the songs, which I guess you could use as a metaphor for us. We escalated so quickly I don’t think I ever really knew him at all. When we ended, I think I mourned the loss of the possibility of all the things we could have had and could have been instead of mourning the person I had actually lost. I deleted his playlist about a year after things ended. He was an important lesson but not one that will make me look back fondly.

And now, we look at the most recent boy and his playlist. When we met, he didn’t get one. His permanence wasn’t even on my horizon. When we reunited about 10 months after we parted, the minute I got back to the US, his playlist began. I remember walking through the streets of Brighton, on a quest for my first pair of Doc Martens, listening to “Bedroom Eyes” by the Dum Dum Girls, and that became the second song on his playlist (the first was The All-American Reject’s cover of “Jack’s Lament” from The Nightmare Before Christmas, don’t ask). I didn’t continually add to his playlist the way I had with others in the past. And unlike the other playlists, the evolution of us is very apparent in the song selections. The Regina Spektor song with the catchy chorus in English and French that begs the listener not to leave in the most upbeat way? Added to the playlist. The song by Bright Eyes that he said reminded me of him? Added to the playlist. The Death Cab For Cutie song that he played for me on his bass? Added to the playlist. The Bob Dylan song that tangled us together after he left? Added to the playlist. The playlist shows when we were happy. It shows when we were apart. It shows when things were carefree and when things were difficult. And I know almost every song by heart – I’ve listened to his playlist now more times than I can count.

It’s been over 4 years of knowing each other. His playlist is only 102 songs. If listened to continuously, it would only play for 6 hours, 19 minutes. At first, it concerned me that I wasn’t behaving the way I had in the past with other boys. Why wasn’t I gorging myself on songs, stuffing his playlist full of the catalogue of an artist he had mentioned to me once? And I think that our playlist, much like the one for the boy before him, serves as a metaphor for us. It is a slow burn. Songs are added as they are relevant but only if they truly have meaning. It has grown with us. At times it is idealistic, at other times it is raw. But the fact that our playlist continues to expand, slowly, reflects that we are coming together, slowly. Slow and steady wins the race, and if it has taken this long for our playlist to be crafted – and the fact that it is still being crafted – maybe means that, much like our playlist, we are truly infinite.

You, me and anxiety

I am a worrier. My mother is a worrier. She was the first person to tell me about all the times she was anxious enough to be physically sick. I remember being 12 years old, waking up bright and early because of a sinking feeling in my stomach that wouldn’t go away until I sang “The Holly and the Ivy,” which we had just learned in music class, over and over in my head. I think I was spared a lot of my anxiety throughout my childhood and adolescence because my mother absorbed that burden for me. She took on the anxiety I should have been feeling, adding it to her own. I am eternally grateful for that.

If a situation has the potential to go wrong, I will think about all the ways it could possibly go wrong. In my head, if I worry about all possible outcomes when one of these outcomes happens, I’ve already been worried about it. This does not work. This really does not work because all it leaves me with is dry-mouth, a racing heartbeat, and a heavy feeling in my chest that leaves me fetal in my bed, cocooned in a blanket until my breathing regulates.

I had my first panic incident about four years ago while I was studying abroad. A sorority sister had come to Brighton after she finished her term abroad in Italy, and what I had intended to be a three-day visit turned into a two-week stay. My room was the size of a cell, my bed was a twin, I had exams in less than three weeks, and I was already pushing it by visiting my childhood best friend in Austria. Long story short, I was suffocating, I was nervous about my exams, and I had no time to myself. I was also low on funds. We arranged to go to Croatia for 5 days as a way of getting out of my cramped flat. The cheapest flights were from Stansted Airport, which is a massive trek from Brighton. Also, I was completely unaware that the Stansted Express existed, so the only option I knew of was to take the train from Brighton to Victoria and then endure 2.5-hour bus ride from central London. We arranged to go up to London the day before our flight to stay with another sorority sister as a way of breaking up some of that travel time, and because the girl who was staying with me had never been to London.

Now, my favourite thing about my term abroad was absolutely the people that I lived with. They made my experience incredible and I love that we are still intertwined in each others’ lives today. So it made sense that the girl who was staying with me also enjoyed partaking in our standard activity – drinking in the kitchen until the wee hours of the morning. But the night before this sister and I were supposed to head up to London, I had only one request for my guest – please don’t stay up all night because I’m going to London early for your benefit and we are going to be doing a lot of walking before we meet our other sorority sister. I attempted to be responsible and go to bed around midnight but woke up at 2am unable to fall back to sleep. I lay there, thinking about how many hours I could sleep if I fell asleep right then. And I did that until about 7am when I just decided to get up and start my day.

My heart was racing. I was shaking. I was nauseated. I decided I needed to shower as a way to feel better so I wrapped myself in a towel and headed to our communal bathroom. I stood in the shower, letting the firehose-esque nozzle drill into my back as I shook under the stream, trying to figure out why there were iron-winged butterflies taking up residence in my stomach. I ran into my guest in the hallway – she hadn’t gone to bed. She greeted me with a good morning and I responded with rapid-fire, irrelevant babbling. My hands were still shaking as I blurted out, “IdidntsleepatalllastnightandIdontknowwhatswrongwithmemyheartbeatisrunningawayitslikethatNickiMinajsongboomboombassfucksomethingiswrongsomethingisnotokay.” She looked at me, puzzled, and I headed off to my room to get dressed.

Before I could get dressed, there was a knock at my door and my giant male flatmate walked in. Bless him, because I was there in a towel, and he was only 18 and dealing with his own shit. My guest had gone to get him, assuming that he would know how to cope with me. I had never felt this way before and he had never dealt with anything like this before, but as first panic attacks go, he is a great person to have around. Yeah, it was a bit blind leading the blind, but if I could have anyone around during an all-out anxiety attack, it would be him. He crouched down by my bed and let me incoherently word-vomit at him until he gently took my computer, opened iTunes and began playing tracks by Belle and Sebastian. He told me to lie down and take deep breaths, focusing on the music and trying to breathe in time with it. It worked, I calmed down enough to function, and went about my life. A year and a half later, I found myself visiting him in Brighton and as we stood in his back garden under the stars, he revealed to me that he had had his first panic attack over the summer and now finally understood what had been going on that day. Fast-forward to today, and his band has dropped a single called “Anxiety,” making it still very much a thing he has to confront. But this isn’t about his anxiety. It’s about mine.

My anxiety has gotten worse since falling in love with and then being separated from someone else with anxiety. I am very sensitive to the emotions of others, and even though at this point we aren’t together, his anxiety seems to feed mine. It lies in wait, growing in tandem with my anxious thoughts, whispering fears that grow like blossoms along the same vine as mine do. My anxiety steals my appetite and breath. It makes my heart flutter like a hummingbird and my mouth dryer than the Sahara. It leaves me with a heavy knot in my stomach and hands that shake like leaves in an autumn breeze. It leads me to Google types of hypoallergenic cats that I will spend the rest of my life with and to make myself a human burrito of duvet and anxiety. It makes me cancel plans. It convinces me that my friends don’t want to see me because they don’t like me. It leads me to procrastinate and then lay awake at night panicking about things not getting done.

And it’s exhausting. It’s exhausting always being in fight-or-flight mode, poised for flight. It is exhausting lying in bed, watching the clock change and not being able to wind down or shut off my brain. And it is exhausting spending a day in bed, unable to move because my heart is racing so fast and I can’t control my breathing. I am tired of being this way, and I am tired of it being something that I cannot control. But it is something I have to deal with. It is something I have to handle. And it is something that will be with me for the rest of my life.