A Murder of Crows

This is the story of a man who is asexual and falls in love. it is about how we define ourselves in the modern age, and what love means to those who have no physical avenue to explore. It is about the way we interact with our families, and how echoes of past lives filter through to us.

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2. A house of cards

I am an irrelevance. As I look up into the rapidly gloaming sky, I think how  glad I am about that. The grass is damp on my back, and the stars are urging me to sleep, to dream. Yet I don’t. Instead I ransack my memory, lay waste to my little grey cells, hoping to find the map of how I came to be lying by this tree. I smell her, a hint of her, and I tumble into my mind’s savannah, memories firing into my mind.

 

***

 

I think my father wanted to die a long time ago. I don’t think I am personally responsible for that feeling in him, I think he always had it. He carried it around in him like a small bird, a sparrow of sadness lodged in his blood. I would enter a room when I was young, and I would often find him either sat in a chair, staring into the middle distance, or at the window, looking at whatever was out there. It was always the same.  Brick walls, windows with cataract blinds and cars mourning their way to work.

 

He was a quiet man, but not in an austere way. Around him hung an unfortunate air of resignation that meant he rarely spoke. When he did, they were cotton wool words that barely rose above the timbre of life, and so he fell back in on himself. I think he was emotional, but I never saw anything of the sort from him. He would occasionally smile whilst watching television, or when listening to something on the radio, but they were always fleeting gestures, like shooting stars that you were lucky to witness.

 

This is not to say he was cold, I can remember his touch. The way as we would pass in our hallway, he would run his hand through my hair, look down at me and not say a word. There was a contentment there, hidden under the surface, a love that came from a by gone era, something I wouldn’t understand. I would see the way he would look at my mother, and stand by her as she cooked dinner, not interested in the clang of the saucepans, but in her, the way her dark hair was tied behind her ears, the soft curl of her neck. I am sure he loved unconditionally.  And yet something was missing in him, as perhaps there is in all of us.

 

These moments were like the cumulative result of time filling his lungs. With every breath he edged closer to the end, closer to the moment that seemed to preoccupy his waking thought. It would settle on him, and in his lungs, lowering his head, and curving his back under the weight.  And when finally death came for him, he would stand like an antique, ready for death’s cold embrace.

 

My mother was not that different from him. She had dreams of wanting to be a dancer when she was younger. What little girl doesn’t? However, she was equally apathetic. She lost her father and two brothers during the war, leaving her to care for her mother. At first, I am not sure if my mother truly loved my father, or merely saw it as an escape route from the years of servitude she had given to my Nan, but it evolved from them, this version of love that was theirs. It evolved from the void that seemed to be in their hearts. When I think of her, I think of her smell, a mixture of Avon products, and the grime of working class life. A sickly sweet smell that meant I was home and that I was safe. She was a strong woman, and through my father’s somewhat chequered medical history, she stood like a lighthouse, calling him to her, making sure he would survive.  And he did survive. I remember having the same morbid thought all through my life, if he went first, all would be ok, but if she went first, I could see my father, and my family, collapse like a poorly constructed scaffold, all disjointed and jarring. Like the proverbial house of cards.

 

I never saw either of my parents cry, not once. They came from a world where such emotions were cowardly and gauche. I had been told stories, on both sides, of the other cracking and pouring forth this stagnant sorrow from within, but I never saw it, like I never saw any of the satellites above us, but I knew they existed. It made sense, to me at least, why I was the way I was…the way I am. Turning to an internal world protects us from the external, and although we all live with the bubbles of our lives constantly crashing into one another, we can still ruthlessly defend the internal, private self.  I suppose in some way I am the product of that.

 

I have 2 elder brothers and when left alone, on one of the rare occasions that my parents went out for the night or the weekend, we fell into stereotypes of child order, and our interactions remained that way well into adult hood.  Hierarchy was instilled into us like it is in all but the most strange family units.

 

My household was not particularly backwards when it came to discussing sex, and both my brothers were allowed girlfriends to stay round. I think it was this comfort afforded by my parents that made me feel all the more awkward with the idea of sex. Having to listen to either F______ or C______ having sex is the last thing a confused 14 year old should have to deal with, but I suppose they weren’t to know. No one did. My parents argument was better that they were at home, than out in public or god knows where.

 

I wouldn’t say as a family we were particularly traditional, even though my parents both had an air of the 1950s about them, the only thing which was mandatory was the family meal. After the six o clock news finished, we would all gather around the dining table. It was a 1970s monstrosity, veneered with a faux tropical wood, and overlaid with a vinyl, wipe clean table cloth. Our glasses and warm plates would stick to this, puckering a kiss as they came away in our hands.  As we tucked into our meat and two veg, we would discuss our days at school, or at work. Sometimes it would be a raucous affair, where the whole family would get involved in a heated debate about a subject. Most times however, it was muted, each of us talking about a mundane item of their day. Something which could be glossed over, skirted round.  My father was always quiet during these discussions, sometimes visibly wincing at things we said, and sometimes I used to watch him drift away from the table, into a silent daydream where he would stay for the remainder of the evening. My mother would fuss, as is the want of mothers, and we would bicker like children.

 

And this was my family, dysfunctional like all the others, but loving too. I am sure in there, somewhere, is the key to why I am the way I am, but I don’t think it would be healthy for me to dwell or dig too deep.

 

I am unsure most of the time. Unsure in myself, and unsure of who I am. I suppose that is the result of not really fitting into a box. When it became apparent that I was not interested in girls, my parents assumed homosexuality. In this day and age, everything must be labelled. It makes life neater, and easier. Then it became quickly evident that I wasn’t interested in boys either. It was at this point I tried to tell them that I had feelings for nothing, but they wouldn’t listen. So my parents continued their quest to fix me. They assumed some childhood trauma had robbed me of this primeval sexual urge. They took me to see a GUM[1] specialist, who thought I might be a hermaphrodite and as such receiving conflicting hormonal instructions. X-rays showed that my sexual organs were male, and they were the only ones I had. Even as an asexual I was relieved at that. I didn’t want to think that 2 pairs of sexual organs were going to waste. They then sent me to a therapist. He kept referring back to Kinsey and Freud[2].  Kinsey said that I was a statistical anomaly, he called me “X” , the most generic of letters, the algebraic equivalent of anonymity, the cartographical pole.

 

My therapist queried my certainty, and tried all kinds of techniques to unlock the reason for my sexuality, or lack of, but it was all in vain. He was convinced that all have a sexuality, however latent, and that so did I.  We had many sessions, and at the end of most of them, he would look worried. His brow furrowed like a ploughed field, I saw the lustre of his demeanour fade, and finally he wrote an surprisingly emotional letter to my parents. He mentioned failure in diagnosis, and how this case had made him revaluate his career. Slowly however the reality of the situation distilled into a sadness which lodged itself firmly and immovably in my throat. Some people have a lot of difficulty comprehending the unknown and the unknowable. It is like Nietzsche said, about abyss and the seepage that naturally happens in our lives. Like some osmosis of life slurry, we absorb and fill with experiences and junk memories.

 

My parents gave up after that, allowing me to settle with this idea that I just was the human equivalent of a dressing table, functional but with no sexual appetite.  It came as a massive relief as all that introspection is not healthy for the teenage mind. It made conversations with my friends difficult, as I hid the entire process from them. I grew up to be an astute and talented liar, feeling most comfortable when I was spinning a web of defence around myself.  I remember most distinctly the major lies of my childhood.

 

My childhood was that of any boy. I would play sports with friends, I enjoyed the competitive element, and I had a fair number of friends. I was never the most popular kid at school, but then again not many people are. I got on with most of my peers, it was easy to be the person people wanted to talk to.  What does popularity mean anyway? I am pretty certain I hated the kid who was most popular at our school. It is all perception. It is all pack mentality, and someone having to lead. It makes life easier for the rest of us.

 

My lies began with the root cause of it, my embarrassment of not feeling anything sexual. It was such an out there idea, something so alien, that rather than enter a discourse with my friends, I just pretended I liked wholly unattainable girls. I chose the prettiest, or the coolest, the ones who would never look at someone so average as me, that it meant I would never be put in a position where I would be tested. At parties, girls would get drunk, try it on, but I always made excuses. The last thing I wanted to do is build up a false expectation in anyone, even though you could argue that is exactly what I was doing.  We would sit around, the school field, and it felt totally natural to reel off names, agree with my friends regarding the girls we knew. There is nothing more relaxing than a comfortable lie, I would embellish my holidays away, saying I pulled girls. Why would anyone suspect me?

 

I remember I told a friend about how I was, and they called me a liar. This was one of my oldest friends. I passed it off as a joke, and we regained some semblance of cordiality. But I vowed never to tell anyone again. You cannot explain something like that to people who could never understand it. This is a biological and social imperative that I am going against, some would even say blasphemous in its waste of life. I don’t see it as such, but I can understand others might.

 

I was taller than most of my friends, and so found it easy to buy pornography at a young age. I would sell the magazines by the page, and it was a nice, efficient way to supplement my meagre pocket money. It was also another way to cement myself in their sexual world. To allow them to think of me as one of them, I think the excitement I got from that could border on sexual, if I even knew what that meant or felt like. To be honest, whilst they would laugh, and obviously get excited by looking at them, I might as well have been looking at carpet swatches. Maybe at the beginning there was a curiosity, but that soon passed, and I was left with nothing but a dull pocket of nothing whenever I saw them.

 

I am myself when I am most alone. That intimate, infinitesimally small space between myself and nothingness. A space that may almost not exist.  I sometimes view myself as a jelly fish, or more specifically my heart as one. I think of it, swimming in my body, like some bioluminescent jelly feeling its way through the pupil black seas. I sometimes almost convince myself that I can feel it, when I seek it out with my mind. These tendrils spread out from it, filling my body with nematoblasts, and I fear for what they will come in contact with, but it is ok because I know they aren’t real.

 

People assume I have no emotions, like I am some unfeeling robot, full of iron shavings, solder and blinking diodes. I think of my heart, and its frosted transparency, and I feel all the light of the world pass through me, fill me, and then clean me. But then it is gone and all that is left is a ghost, an empty clear vase of a person. I think that is different from a robot, I think a robot is more than that. I sometimes feel like there has been some sort of time slip, that I am out of synch with the world around me. Like if I turn sideways, I disappear and there is nothing left.

 

My earliest memory is from around the age of two or three. We used to have a washing machine that had a gap between it and the fridge, a couple of feet wide. I would wedge myself between the two, curled up in a foetal ball, wrapped in a tea towel, and I would go to sleep. The warmth from the washing machine and the cold of the fridge was not the dichotomy that attracted me. I am sure there is something oedipal people could argue, but there was nothing womb like about the space. It was rigid and regular.  The bit I enjoyed the most was the fast vibration of the spin cycle versus the low, almost imperceptible hum of the fridge.  I would often be found there, but more worryingly left there.  The vibrations and sounds would form an aural white noise that let me retreat from everything, and fall into a sleep, or state of catatonia that I felt more comfortable in than anywhere else. I get a smaller, similar joy from the sound of a vacuum cleaner.

 

Once I had embraced my asexuality, around the age of 19, and my family had come to terms with it, I entered a life grey area. Where most people have lives that rollercoaster about, mine was like the Netherlands, all low lying fields and North Sea skies. I began to move in asexual circles, meetings at bookshops, huddled groups in municipal buildings. When I entered this world of pseudo intellectuals, I remember my mother one Sunday being explicit in her view of the future.

 

‘You realise, one day you will meet someone at these gatherings. You will meet them and fall in love.’ I remember saying that asexuals found that event really very rare, and highly unlikely to happen. I pointed out that I had never been interested in romance.  ‘Yes but no one wants to die alone A____’

 

I think this echoed around my hollow insides. Like guano, I think she may have even deposited the seed on my little Polynesian island.

 

I currently work in an office job, I can’t really say more than that. I administrate, co-ordinate, and do numerous other words and things that  fall into my chest and rattle around, looking for something to react with. They come across nothing. Air conditioners pump around germs, and I have a slightly weakened immune system as a result.  My skin is thin, and at my wrists you can see my blood vessels snaking up my arm. They are pale blue, as the de-oxygenated blood works it way to my heart. As I said, I am tall, and my ribs are visible when I turn my chest to either side. I wouldn’t say I am handsome, it is one of those extraterrestrial words to me. I wouldn’t even have the audacity to say I have classic features, I merely have a face, that has a average nose, grey eyes, and I occasionally wear a beard. My hair is wavy and light brown, and it sits in a smart crop at the top, in a side parting. I look more like my mother than my father, with her eyes, and her colour hair. When I was a baby I looked very much like my dad, but I am an adult now and my face has changed accordingly.

 

I only really have one hobby, and that is watching crows. I say hobby, specifically choosing a species of bird kind of cuts me off from the rest of the twitchers in the world. I remember reading an article that stated crows were as adept at using tools as the great apes, which made me think there was probably more in common between our species than first thought.  I didn’t want to learn about this from books, I wanted to observe it, experience it. So that is what I chose to do. Recently a roost of 300 settled in a tree in the park behind my house.  Their calls vary in intensity and length, and like the monochrome noise from my youth, they tap into something in me, something innate that I cannot quite put my finger on.

 

And that, as they say, is that.

 

A large roost of crows descended on the tree behind my house the other day, like a black lesion on both the sky and tree. They hovered and swooped like a swarm of bees, and I found myself mesmerised by their movement. Like the white noise of a television set, I watched for a secret message, a prophecy of what was to come.

 

How wrong to have been so negative, how wrong to have been so gloomy, how wrong to have run away from life, how wrong to have said no, again and again, instead of yes.[3]

 

 

 

[1] genito-urinary medicine

[2] Dr Alfred Kinsey and Dr Sigmund Freud

[3] The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen

 

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