Maybe I peaked in childhood.
I can now legally say that I am a 23 year old woman. Woman. Goodness. I used to hate that word when I was younger. It seemed crass and weak to me. I preferred ‘lady’. I love being a ‘woman’ now.
I don’t know what changed. I think as I have grown I have begun to associate the word ‘woman’ with all the strong and incredible women in my life. My eyes have been opened.
I think my mind was 23 way before my body was. I don’t feel any different. I don’t feel excited about ageing, as I used to. I just feel like a person who is an adult and has some responsibilities and aspirations. I also feel worried and sad because I miss my parents tremendously, and being an adult means I have to be away from them a lot. I just miss them. Thinking about them makes me want to cry.
Is this normal behaviour for a 23 year old lady?
I don’t want to list 23 things I’ve learned from my 23 years on Earth. Honestly, it feels pretentious. I feel as though I can learn so much more, and change so much more, and that actually I am a little green when it comes to knowledge and life experiences. I also don’t know what to think of life itself.
I have a lot of hope, but I know that if I didn’t have faith, I would be one of those hopeless people. I keep thinking that my time here is limited, that I am worrying about what doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things.
I feel like it’s my fortieth birthday. When I pass young people I view them as ‘young’, then I remember I am too, but I feel so removed from them. I just don’t feel it.
I feel it when my legs want to run in the sunshine, and my energy spills out of my mouth in excited babble. I feel it in my bones when I move. But my mind feels weary. The world doesn’t feel real to me, somehow, like it is my road to…somewhere. I do believe it is, and I feel like a stranger. Like I have travelled for years and years and my time is nearly up. The truth is however, I have not travelled. Not really. Sure, I’ve been to Spain and Paris and Morocco and Italy – but in between those travels I have been lazy and unproductive and have done nothing at all. Not a single thing, save for university assignments. And maybe teach a little at school. But in three years …. nothing. What have I learned?
I honestly feel sickened with myself. I should have been experiencing the world but I didn’t.
So why on earth do I feel so old? Feeling old signifies having a tonne of experience and living a full life. My grandmother, God rest her soul, used to say towards the very end of her life, ‘I’m done now. I’ve raised my kids, I’ve lived to see my grandkids grow up, I’ve got nothing else to offer.’ Granted, she said it whilst in constant pain and hurt, but she had lived a complete, whole life. Not a very happy one, but she spent her days always doing things. She touched so many hearts and lives, people still come up to me and tell me how good my grandmother’s soul was. For all her unhappiness, she spread so much good in her world.
I spend my days saying I will do things but never doing them. I feel like I wasted my twenties. I feel old and not in a good way; in the way that I have nothing to show for my years on earth.
But you see, I am hopeful. So every single night before I go to sleep I tell myself that tomorrow is a new day to make amends with my soul. To step out of the house. To exercise and explore and learn and work and be. To make it so I DO have something to show for my time on earth. I try so very hard. And I shall keep trying until my time on earth is up – because the hopeful thing is… my time didn’t finish yet. So while I am still here, I will never stop trying.
I knew a girl once, at primary school, who told me one afternoon while we were having lunch that if I visited her one day, we could go to Japan for a day and visit her father.
She was insistent that you could do that, so easily.
‘Easy,’ she said. She was half Japanese, and her name was Jasmine.
‘I don’t think you can do that,’ I said, cautiously. ‘Don’t you think you would have to fly there on a plane? And it’s terribly far away.’
At that time, at the age of nine, Japan was far off and oriental to me. A land of mystery and romance. It was not mentioned in any of the books I devoured, which, at the time, were all 1940s-50s classics about Western children who dressed well and had adventures, and a charming Canadian girl with Titian red hair. Japan, to me, was unknown, therefore un-interesting.
‘Oh, but you can!’ she was nodding wildly, her mane of thick black glossy hair falling over her smooth caramel skin.
‘My father is from there. He always says I should go and see him for a day, and we can have so many adventures. And they put up red dragon flags everywhere and we can eat dumplings. And I can give you a red silk gown so you won’t feel out of place. Tell your mom, she will drop you off at my place and we will be back in no time.’
I half believed her, because she was so earnest. After all, why shouldn’t it be true? There was nothing to suggest its implausibility. And Jasmine was so adamant that she had done this several times. The idea appealed to me; I stared up at the copy of leaves above the school playground and dreamed I could go with her. How exciting. And her father sounded so child friendly and accommodating.
When I told my mother about it later, I heard my voice sound just as adamant as Jasmine’s; it was my dream just as much as hers now, and I would not let my mother dampen it for me by telling me it wasn’t real.
‘But you can go and visit her, of course. I shall certainly want to see her mother again.’
We never did go. I don’t know why. I heard on the grapevine, and by grapevine I mean the chatter of adults unaware of childish ears eavesdropping, that her parents were divorced and her father had deserted his children.
As an adult, that explained Jasmine’s sad eagerness to visit him in Japan for an afternoon.
But you know, I will never forget that magic in her black eyes, dancing and alive, truly believing in what she was saying. So strong I believed it too, and hoped so hard for her. We all need coping mechanisms.
Pip, I have known you for approximately six years. And forty seven days. And three and a half hours (at the time of writing this).
We met the day I met with my fate. My fate was you, of course. Didn’t you know?
We were both looking at the same teapot. It was yellow and had blue spots on and I remember thinking you had to be a certain kind of person with a certain kind of taste to like such a teapot because let me tell you, it was hideous.
But there was only one of them left and you said, ‘Oh, you have it.’
And I said, ‘Please, no, you have it.’ Because I didn’t even want it in the first place.
And you said, ‘Oh, no, I was only looking. You have it.’
And I said, ‘I wouldn’t be a gentleman if I took it when a young lady has her eye on it. It would be daylight robbery.’
And you snorted and said, ‘Well how about we halfsies it and then share it.’
‘What, like, monthly swaps?’ I asked, ‘or shall we cut it in half?’
‘Sure.’ You were nonchalant. Casual. You even shrugged and that is when I noticed the apple green jacket you are wearing. It was hideous also. (Please don’t hate me. We have discussed the ways colours are worn. And apple green blazers were out of the question. I even made a graph. Please see attached piece of paper for reference.)
‘Well,’ I said very carefully, ‘that then means, of course, that we shall have to swap details.’
‘Let’s buy this thing.’ You picked it up gently and as I reached into my pocket to take out my wallet my elbow jerked yours and it slipped out of your hands and fell down, down down onto the brightly polished John Lewis floors.
We both stared at it.
‘Ah well,’ you said, ‘I was only looking at it because I was curious about something so ugly. Good riddance, I say! I’m Pip. What’s your name?’
I stared at you in pleasant surprise and I felt my lips stretching out my face of their own accord.
‘James.’ I said, and then, ‘let us look for more ugly teapots.’
Of course we had to pay for that ugly yellow polka dot tea pot. It was atrocious. And then for your birthday present a year later I got you a similar teapot which you use for your indoor geraniums. It was from John Lewis and you killed yourself laughing at it and told me I was a money waster because there was no way you would use that for anybody. It could never grace your table.
I remember asking you all wounded, like, ‘What, not even for the reason that it was graced by my hands?’ I was also slightly flirting even though we were firm friends by then, but I could not resist. I can never resist you, Pip.
‘Nope.’ You were very firm.
I am writing to tell you that I want to marry you. I can’t say it to your face because you have beautiful eyes and I know exactly how they will look at me and I will not be able to help myself because I will kiss you and then I will be done for. I know you will be impatient with that and tell me that is nonsense and of course I can help myself but I will not want to. Help myself. At all.
Also I asked my aunt if she read those French books I gave her and she said yes, they were lovely books. You were right. She didn’t read them. Else she would have called me to lecture me horrendously about them. Lovely books indeed. She asks about you a lot and tells me I should marry you quicktimes before you grow too old to have kids.
So back to my fate. You are my fate either way. If you say yes then it will have been a good fate and if you say no I will be broken hearted forever and when I do eventually heal and marry somebody for realsies I will still remember you as the first ever woman who broke my heart.
You know love is a strange thing. So strange. I used to think I loved a woman before. I was seventeen. She wasn’t particularly beautiful but I was infatuated by her and loved her to pieces but she always treated me badly. And one day she went too far and I discovered she was sleeping with a right old tramp of a fellow, but I forgave her. Well I told her I did but I don’t think I really did. Something inside of me snapped that day. She walked on me one too many times. And three miserable months of forced smiles and fake kisses later I met you and the day afterwards she wanted to see me and I called her and I said, ‘I can’t. I can’t do this anymore.’
And when I was with her I thought there could never be anyone else because she was my first love. But it was meagre and ridiculous and pathetic and also desperate. Compared to what I feel about you. I am crazy about you. I look at you and I see my future. And I want to spend all my time with you and walk home from work with you and call you every single day but I stop myself because I don’t want you to get sick of me. I also want to kiss your forehead. It is so gentle and smooth and beautiful.
But see, if we were married I could call you everyday and it wouldn’t be weird, right? I could also kiss your forehead and it would be comfortable.
So, what do you say, Pip?
Yours sincerely and faithfully and truly (scrumptious),
That one day
I can have peace
A private room
to live in
and to do my washing
Without having to wake up at 5am to do it
And to kiss my husband
As passionately as I like
without worrying about a knock on the door
Cuz PDA is gross
To sleep during the day
thinking I am lazy.
I am not.
I am constantly working.
On the move.
That is why
All the time.
4 hours sleep,
kind of tired.
I haven’t got a story anymore and I am exhausted.
Well, no, I do have a story. But it is shredded to pieces and I am too tired and emotionally drained to pick anything up. Also my heart feels like a heavy sack that is sinking low into my abdomen and it is making me feel sick.
So I am eating cupcakes to mask the pain only the cupcakes make the pain worse. There are vanilla ones with a vanilla buttercream frosting, topped with strawberries and blueberries. There are chocolate ones which came out beautifully glossy, with a sheen of chocolate icing. And a sprinkling of chocolate curls.
Well, cupcakes are delicious and delicious things are good for you – within a respectable limit, of course.
Listen up, folks. Adulting is about dealing with your problems and communicating with those who are important to you, also not being afraid of confrontation. I am terrified of confrontation.
But, Mr Damian, I have plenty to talk to you about and I will talk to you about it. I will. I must. I can’t not.
I don’t trust people because when I do make that mistake I am usually disappointed.
Maybe it is that I don’t know who to trust, and can’t suss out a person well enough before I make the mistake of trusting them. Or maybe it is just that I have not yet met a decent person who I can fully trust yet.
Once a personal secret exits my mouth, I know it is no longer in my hands. I have no control over the dung tornado that might take place and I cannot handle not being in control of my own personal business.
So I am suspicious of everybody and I trust a minuscule amount of people.
I don’t even trust certain young ladies who I have known for nigh on sixteen years now.
Also, side thought, wow. I can say I have known somebody for sixteen years. Can you believe that? It wasn’t so long ago that I myself had only been walking this planet for sixteen years. Where have six years gone!?
I am not sure why this is. I have certainly been betrayed in the past. I have moved around quite a lot and lived in three different countries because of my father’s line of work. Also I find it disconcerting when I have confided in somebody for them to constantly bring up my private business when they have no business doing that. It is ill mannered and downright rude. Also it makes me realise that they are petty people who cannot behave like adults even though they have been for quite some time.
Do you have problems trusting a lot of people?
My issue with trust has meant that I have more acquaintances than friends, because I am afraid of divulging too much information about myself. Also, in this city that I live in, news gets around surprisingly fast. The other day a stranger walked up to me and knew my name and asked me how did it feel to be married so young and was my marriage doing okay?
I didn’t know this busybody of a woman. Nor did I care to. Also I have been married two years now (almost three) and it is getting SO DAMN TIRING hearing people I don’t know very well asking the same old question over and over again.
‘How is married life?’
That question puts my teeth on edge and makes me want to scream. It makes me so irrationally angry!
‘Sorry, do I know you?’ I said to the lady, as politely as I could. Apparently her husband’s cousin works with me, and she used to be my mother in law’s neighbour. Well, I told her it was fine then excused myself and walked on.
You see? People are nosy and not to be trusted. I mean, if she knows me, could she not have introduced herself and spoken about something else? Also, I see her at work now and all she does is ask nosy questions about my marriage and when I am planning on having kids and whether or not I have had any problems yet.
Well. It is not all salt and vinegar. There are some very lovely, loyal, trustworthy people about who I can completely trust and who would never ever betray that trust. And they are certainly worth holding on to.
All the odd things started to happen when Damon Ludwig moved in next door. Things at home had withered away into stagnancy. Nobody celebrated birthdays properly anymore, and Father was constantly in his study or making important phone calls. So when the Ludwigs moved in, and there was all that commotion outside, Laura darted out of her cold and empty house to investigate.
Everything was a façade. Their smiles were a façade, every time they opened the door to greet the outside world. Their speech was a façade, in its bizarre normality.
‘Pass the butter.’
‘Did you finish your homework, Tristan?’
‘Laura, let the cats out please. They’re doing my head in.’
‘Father says to please shut up, he’s trying to work.’
Such normal sentences, Laura thought to herself, in such an abnormal situation. Does life dissolve into normalcy after an integral piece of it has been painfully removed? And yet she carried on buttering her toast, and everybody else around the table carried on getting on with their days. What else would they do, though, really?
‘I don’t have a mother,’ was the first thing Laura said, the moment she clapped eyes on Damon. She sat calmly on the low stone wall that separated their front gardens. He stumbled up the front garden path to his front door, sweating under the weight of a massive crate, red-faced, only just noticing the small child with the wild chestnut curls and distinct little voice.
‘You what?’ he blew through his teeth, and dropped the crate onto the porch with a loud thump.
‘I don’t have a mother,’ she repeated, then offered to help him with the crate.
‘Nah, you’re alright.’ He waved her off, then bent to push it forward over the wooden floorboards of the porch until it was just inside the front door.
‘So what this about your mum then?’ he said, seating himself next to Lemara outside, as they both watched the moving men carrying in a grandfather clock between them.
‘She’s dead.’ Laura said, matter of factly.
‘Do you always introduce yourself by talking about your dead mother?’ Damon asked bluntly. Then he held out a brown paw, his fingers were dirty and dotted with tiny scabs and scratches.
‘Damon Ludwig.’ He said. She shook his hand.
‘Laura,’ said Laura, ‘I’m ten.’
‘Well hullo Laura who’s ten.’ Damon laughed, jumping off the wall and walking down to the lorry, where a man who looked very like him was emerging with a cardboard box.
‘Sorry about your mother,’ he threw over his shoulder. The sun threw dappled rays over Damon’s shock of black hair; he was wild and brown, an exclamation mark of a human. Laura watched him darting in and out of the lorry, lugging things to and fro, leaping down the porch steps and cartwheeling back to the lorry to get more things. She wanted to get up and dance around too. But she sat quietly and watched them slowly turn the empty house next door into a home. Men came in and out, carrying chests and mattresses and rugs. Curtains went up in the empty windows as the sun sunk lower and lower in the horizon, a great big orange orb, its edges wavy as it hung between the hills in the distance. Warm golden lights lit up the house next door one by one, a golden palace next to the drab darkness looming up behind Laura’s back. A cold breeze made the roses Mother planted in their front garden nod at her, as though they were telling her to go indoors. She wasn’t ready yet, to go indoors.
Everybody cried at the funeral. Alex with her black dress that was too tight around her blooming chest, her arms halfway out of the full length sleeves. Laura secretly thought she looked stupid, but so pathetically stupid with her puffed up face and tear stained cheeks that she felt sorry for her. Tristan blond curls had been attacked with a wet comb, by Aunty Nora no doubt, and he sat demurely in a corner in his little black suit, sniffling over a sausage roll, his fat cheeks soaked with tears. George stood with Father by the door, almost as tall as Father now, hugging people and nodding sadly at their quiet condolences, his eyes wet and desperate. He was looking into their faces as though they would resurrect her with their sympathy. Laura knew better. What did they know, any of them? What did they know about the gaping hole in her chest that she tried to fill with pastries and devilled eggs. They hugged her and told her she was a poor thing to lose her mother at only eight years old. She ate and ate and ate until she felt quite ill, then fell asleep in a corner, her hole still as wide as before, a gaping abyss in her chest. And not once did she cry.
The first odd thing that happened, of course, was that Laura stopped growing. It didn’t happen right away, though. The Ludwigs settled in first. Damon and Mr Ludwig built a shed at the bottom of the back garden for Damon’s workshop. He made the beautiful wooden patio rocking chair that Mrs Ludwig put outside her back garden French windows. Mrs Ludwig called it her ‘forty winks chair’, and brought it inside when it rained. It sat in her warm and cosy kitchen throughout winter, and Laura spent many an evening in it as she watched Mrs Ludwig potter about her kitchen preparing dinner for her family. She never stayed for dinner when they asked her, though. She always said,
‘No thank you, Mrs Ludwig. George will be looking out for me.’
That was a lie, though. George stopped looking out for her a long time ago. Sometimes Alex would look out for her and give her a scolding for staying at the Ludwigs’ for too long. She would shove her down at the table and dump a cold plate of something congealed on the table in front of her. George, however, was generally nowhere to be seen. Mind you, he was working double shifts at the shoelace factory in the next town. He had to catch early buses, and generally left the house while it was still dark and everybody was fast asleep. He returned home long after sunset, and quite often missed his bus and had to catch a cab home. He started smelling of cigarettes and sweat, and on his late-missed-the-last-bus days Laura steered well clear of him because his mood was appallingly sour.
Extract from the book I am writing.
I think I will start by describing someone to you and see whether or not you find any significance to this person. I sit here, under the baby oak trees, the wind ruffling my lanky hair. (You’re probably wondering why I am describing the setting. Well, it is just that Master Jeffries, my English teacher who may well be reading this right now and swearing to high heaven, has always told me to add in a setting to accompany my description, as it adds orientation to the piece of writing, and I aim to have a very orientated piece of writing.)
As I watch the gulls squeal high above me, I see her walking past.
She carries a brown leather satchel that is slightly faded, and her long golden braids are decked as though for conquest, with coloured strings of exotic varieties of colour, ranging from the deepest opal to the strongest indigo, all weaved intricately through those long plats as they swing down her back and over her shoulders. A few wisps of escaped hair frame her heart-shaped face, where the brightest pair of striking eyes scan the path before her, and its borders, as she carries gracefully on. Her shoes, I notice, are of a turquoise tint, braided at those edges which touch the skin of her foot with exotic-looking beads. She looks like nobody I have ever seen, and yet I set eyes on her everyday at this very spot. You might think that it is a very cheesy thing for me to say, that I have never seen anything like her, because, logically, I have. Since I told you I set eyes on her every day, and have done for the past two years. It’s like I am contradicting myself, if you look at it in a logical manner. However, that is not so. I will deign to explain.
You see, everyday she looks entirely different. Some days, she will come with hair so short she could pass for a boy, if it weren’t for her pretty heart-shaped face. Other days she would come with skin so dark she could pass for a person from Africa or Australia. Some days her nose would be hooked, other days it would be snubbed, but mostly it would be straight and true, and I knew that was her original nose. I lived for the days when she was an original, with her natural colour skin, which was peachy beige, with a tint of rose, and her natural colour hair, which was a sandy colour which glinted like finely spun gold in the sunlight. How, you ask, do I know it is the same person if she appears completely different each day? The answer is actually surprisingly simple.
You can always recognise someone if you notice them enough, if you watch them every day. You recognise the way they take their steps, their little mannerisms and habits, the way they pass, glance at things, the inclinations of their heads and their gait. Most of all, though, it is their eyes. You can always tell someone by their eyes; they are windows into your being, existence, soul. I know the previous sentence might be a cliché, but some cliché’s are worth repeating, such truth do they hold. Her glittering, vivid, bright greeny-grey eyes are unmistakable, and she can never change them. I suppose, if you had a technical mind and really considered it, she might be able to change the colour of her eyes, by wearing contact lenses or something of the sort, or get them dyed (I heard the other day that that was possible to do), but she never did. I’m not sure why, but I cannot say it disappointed me in the least that she did not. It made me appreciate this strangeness even more, and observe it with much more care and attention, wondering at the oddity and sometimes utter impossibility of her daily change in appearance. Yes, impossible.
How did one go about changing their skin colour in such a way? How did they manage to pass the same spot, each 24-hour interval, with differing lengths of hair, differing colours and differing textures? How did they manage to go from a shorn-off look to long flowing locks the very next day? This, dear reader, is what I would consider and mull over daily, waiting for this apparition of absolute brilliance to pass by me each day, as I sat on my insignificant bench. She passed by me each day, but she never seemed to notice me or acknowledge my presence. Sometimes her startling gaze would pass over me, vague and unseeing. Blank, glassy. I knew I could never mean anything to that. Nor did I wish to mean anything to that. I, and forgive me, although I haven’t got the faintest clue why I am asking for this forgiveness, saw her as food for thought. I wondered why one human wanted to look different every single day, what ulterior motive that human might have. I wondered whether that human enjoyed what appeared to be a such tedious task, what must be going on in that human’s head, what must that human’s daily life consist of.
I present to you, dear reader, the Phenomenal Girl.
The above is as narrated by Twig Blackadder.
Fridays are my days off. I cherish these days.
On Fridays I still wake up at 5am, and there are still a myriad of chores awaiting me. However they do not involve getting ready and leaving the house. They are not associated with rushing madly around trying to leave by a certain hour, and charging all day from one place to another, always alert, always stressed. They involve minor things like shaving my legs and hoovering and putting dishes away at my own pace.
They involve driving my mum to the supermarket and meandering about as she does her shop. They involve washing clothes and tidying up a room that has been trashed by four days of two adults rushing around getting ready every morning.
Small chores. Menial tasks. Sips of coffee. Gentle face wash. Slow application of makeup. Maybe a cake will be baked. Maybe a friend will be visited. Fridays are my break days, the gentle rest before the mad rush of a hectic weekend and the plunge into exhausting Monday again.
So, lately, my favourite day of the week is Friday. Friday is my quiet day. My contemplative day. My day to relax and allow my brain to ..actually… think.
And I really do thank God it is Friday.