23

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.

Cheers! 🙂

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Love Letters #2

26th April, 1927

My Dearest Petra,

I am writing this on a warm day in April. It’s the blossoming month, and I am looking forward to summer when you and I both can enjoy a glass of lemonade on the promenade…

I couldn’t write anymore, my fingers shook and itched uncomfortably, and the words spilled out of my pen in a scraggly, scrawling mess. It was jittery and wrong.

I dropped my pen on the pristine white tablecloth, and glanced around me. The hotel restaurant was slowly filling up with people, the murmur of their voices rising as shining cutlery clinked and domed dishes were brought through by meticulous waiters brandishing cloths.

Would I ever enjoy a glass of lemonade with Petra on the promenade again? Petra with her long curly hair, gleaming ringlets of honey dropping across her rosy face. Petra with her soft, caressing hands and large, innocent eyes. Petra with her almost too-wide mouth, her slightly plump, curved body.

The last thing she did before I left was tuck my collar over my cashmere jumper, so that it sat neatly. Her eyes were focused on her work, as though it were a tremendous task of great importance. Perhaps, to her, it was. Then she touched my face, looking into my eyes.

“Be good, Tom.”

I watched her forget-me-not dress ruffle wildly behind her as she huddled inside a large grey goat, her arms folded against the furious wind that flew in from the ocean behind her. My carriage trundled away, her figure becoming ever smaller and darker in the distance as the waves crashed madly against the sharp, black rocks so close to the looming towers of the fortress she called home.

 

Oh I do like to be beside the seaside
I do like to be beside the sea
I do like to stroll upon the Prom, Prom, Prom
Where the brass bands play
Tiddely-om-pom-pom
So just let me be beside the seaside
I’ll be beside myself with glee
And there’s lots of girls besides
I should like to be beside
Beside the seaside, beside the sea.

I crumpled up the piece of paper, and pulled a postcard out of my pocket instead. It depicted a painting of King’s College chapel of Cambridge, the magnificent face of the building illuminated by bright sunlight. The paint strokes depicting the water and the vivid, grassy bank were flawless. I fingered the sharp edges of the card for a few moments, before taking up my pen.

Petra,

It’s beautiful here. Exams are looming up ahead, and the boys are keeping their noses to the grindstone, believe it or not. As am I, in fact. Terribly sorry I haven’t written in a while, too much going on, last year of Medicine and all that. Looking forward to summer and lemonade on the promenade. Keep well. 

Tom

I surveyed it. One of the lines was smudged where the side of my palm had accidentally rested on the wet black ink. I was acutely aware of how cold the note was. I was careful to omit any references to the both of us, together. She would hurt, I know, but it would harden her, this uncertainty, and when I returned she would be icy but hopeful. I slipped the postcard into my pocket, and left the restaurant.

***

“Be good, Tom.”

Her words echoed in my brain as the beautiful lady walked up to me. She was nothing like Petra. She was glamorous and tall. A simple country dress would not do for her, she wore expensive jewels and silk scarves. Her hair was glossy and glorious, piled at the back of her head. Her curls were neat and carefully arranged, and dotted with tiny, glittering diamonds. I took her hand and placed it in the crook of my arm, and we both walked into the ball together. I murmured a scathing comment about the event, and she bent her head over my arm in silent laughter. I knew how to charm girls like her.

***

“Be good, Tom.”

Had her voice been hopeful? Was there a tinge of fear to it, as though she knew, long before anything had happened? I lay in bed all night thinking about Petra, until the dim light of predawn filtered through my drawn curtains and threw being to the dark shapes around my dorm. Clothes strewn over the floor, books and papers scattered all over the desk. I didn’t want to get up, but I hauled my tired body out of bed anyway.

I threw all my clothes and books in a jumbled heap together into the open trunk by the door, and by the time I had finished, my curtains were struggling to hold back the bright morning sunlight filtering in. I pulled them to, and allowed my room to flood with the warm, golden rays of June.

I washed and dressed, and dragged my trunk down the stairs and out into the courtyard, where my lift to the train station awaited me.

On the train, I reached into my pocket and pulled out the postcard she had sent me. It was a grainy photograph of the seafront in summer, the beach dotted with folk too far away to see clearly. It was an image of happiness and hope.

On the back her charming, curly handwriting took up every inch of the card, written as neatly and small as possible. She did have quite a lot to say.

2nd June, 1928

Dearest Tom,

Things at Cambridge must be extortionately different from home. I do hope you do well, darling, and I do look forward to your return in the summer. Three years since I last saw you, and you barely write me, you naughty thing. I did know you wouldn’t though, so don’t feel too terrible about it all. Just come home and we shall catch up like the old days. I think Katie and Morgan shall be home too, and we can all get together and it will be like nothing has changed. I do know it has, though, dearest. I am not going to delude myself it hasn’t, and I can tell you it hurt quite a bit at first. But I am a big girl, now. I have some good news to tell you when you get home, and shan’t hint at it at all except to say William has been around quite a lot recently. He’s helped Mama tremendously and she says she doesn’t know what we would have done without him.

Lots of love,

Petra

I leant my head against the window as the landscape sailed past. The clouds were scarce, and the morning sky was a deep blue. The window was warm where my forehead rested on it, in direct sunlight. Summer had truly arrived. My stomach growled a little and I realised I hadn’t eaten since, well, the day before yesterday, when the card had come through.

Lemonade on the promenade.

How could I have written that? What was I expecting, that she would await me at home, ready to welcome me with open arms after I had spent three years gadding about Cambridge? I was expecting that. That would be the sort of thing the Petra I knew, or thought I knew, might have done. Perhaps I hadn’t known her at all, and all those years of friendship blossoming into romance had been taken for granted in my mind. I knew she adored me, and that made me brazen.

I hadn’t really taken the time to really know her. Had I?

September 13th, 1925

Dearest Petra, 

Have arrived safe and sound, so don’t you worry. Went in for registration yesterday, and met one of my professors. Mighty eccentric old fellow, but mightily clever to boot. You would thrill over the library here, my dear. Crammed with books, and many gardens for you to read in, although probably not as winter arrives in full force. You’re a seaside gal, though, aren’t you. I’ve made a few friends and they have come round for games a few nights. Mustn’t make too much of a habit of it, though, and remember what I’ve really come for. I want to make an honest man of myself for you, darling, and can’t believe it’s only been eight days since I left you by the wild sea. It feels like half a century. I will write more when more happens, but for now sleep well my dear, and write me lots about everybody and everything you do, for I am dying to know.

Yours truly, 

Tom

Puffing

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I used to puff.

I used to puff and puff and puff until I would retch. I would retch and yet still carry on puffing because puffing brought about a sense of elation and detachment from my perpetual rut, and it was a release of sorts.

Even though my hands smelt terrible afterwards and I could never quite get rid of the smell of ash and smoke from my clothes, nor the smell of tobacco leaves from my mouth.

I used to puff for the pure sense of having something to do. A purpose to stand outside and stare at the sky, the snow, the trees, the grass, the dead cigarette ends, without talking to anybody.

A reason to be alone, because I fear I was alone far too much.

I puffed for all the tears I couldn’t shed, all the remorse I couldn’t feel. I puffed to mask the panic that was rising inside me everytime I felt forced to meet him, see him, act upon that which I did not feel.

I puffed even though those who knew me by sight tutted and said that I was not the Lenora they thought I was. I puffed and watched myself puff from a few metres away, hating every fibre of my being because that wasn’t who I was. I puffed with the smirking knowledge that I could stop at any time, and was just puffing purely for the sake of depression, darkness.

I puffed because I thought I was being rebellious. When really I was sucumbing to that which I could not face.

I puffed, because to puff, was to be the ‘woman’ I thought I deserved to be.

I puffed, even though I was getting a strange cough and my voice did not sing as well as it used to. I puffed to mask the hate and fear and wretched detachment I felt towards him. I puffed because I thought it was love.

I puffed because I thought this was my life now and I had nothing else. I puffed because I thought I was vile and disgusting, and didn’t think I deserved salvation, help nor forgiveness. I puffed because I thought I wasn’t worthy of love.

I puffed when they interviewed me and asked me whether or not I thought e-cigarettes were worth using. Because I was one of those people now. A smoker, an addict, a tobacco perfume. I puffed as I smiled and told them, hell yes, I would. I puffed even as I thought to myself, what the hell even are you, Lenora.

I puffed as the tears rolled down my cheeks behind the college walls. I puffed over an abandoned prawn cocktail sandwich. I puffed where everybody else was puffing, avoiding eye contact yet feeling the puffing comradery on an icy, frosty morning. Puff breaths hanging in the atmosphere, tobacco and perfume swirling behind red lipstick and straightened hair. I puffed because an enigma once asked me for a light. I puffed in hopes it would lead to the freedom I craved; not that ‘freedom’ which I was resigned to, chained by, and loathed. I puffed because he puffed, and I hated him.

So I hated myself too, and puffed all my hatred to the skies.

Then one day, I shook free of my chains, of my false love and infatuation, and I stopped puffing.

I haven’t looked back once, nor have I missed puffing. Nor do I ever want to puff again.