the following days blur together into a lamentable pattern of exams, revision, and a severely unpleasant mix of emotional turmoil in between. when the weekend finally rolls around, i look forward to sleep; it is, i have found, the most effective method of not-feeling. (the next best solution, i suppose, would be not-living, which, though currently both tangible and admittedly slightly appealing, is a concept to which i cannot devote too much of my abundant free time for fear of going insane).
with nearly a month’s worth of gcses already behind me, my weekend unfolds in a now predictable way: revision (mixed with aforementioned emotional turmoil) . it occurs to me that school essentially draws all life out of the immediate future. i need not even remember what day of the week it is, as long as i understand the studying i must complete, the facts i must memorise, the textbooks i must read. there was a time when this realization would have affected me, when i would have even been angry about it. now i understand that there are much more pressing matters on which to devote my anger; but more importantly, that i have already drawn the life out of my future. being in a constant state of anguish means that i couldn’t care less what day of the week it is. it’s just another day in which i must get out of bed. life and time are two concepts that are inextricably linked; it’s a damn shame i have the ability to pull them apart.
it is a sunday afternoon. i sit at my desk, trying to prepare myself for another round of studying. my mind wanders to that afternoon at gavin’s shop, almost a week ago now. i think of my friends, laughing like they are brimming with naivety, with carelessness, with hope. i think of the music, how it protected me. i think of Mo.
suddenly i don’t want to think anymore.
i didn’t even open my curtains today. there’s a crack of sky between the folds, though, from when i tugged at them last night. it was two in the morning and i couldn’t sleep; i was alone and my head was too loud. the afternoon sky is a dusty blue, a british kind of pleasant. i wish it would rain. i like the sound of the rain. it helps me focus.
i want to sleep. my head is too loud. i haven’t spoken to Mo for almost a week. the sun moves from behind a cloud; it’s in my eyes now. i’m squinting but i don’t look away. my gaze is fixed on one scratch on the window, like when i’m tired and i stare at something for too long and i can’t stop. i am tired. i haven’t spoken to Mo for almost a week. i want sleep. i hope it rains. my head is too loud. Mo hasn’t spoken to me for almost a week.
i really don’t want to think anymore.
i am considering giving up and crawling into bed when i hear my mother call me from the living room. charlie? i can practically hear her strained smile. grimacing, i get up.
the scene that faces me in the living room is one that boasts such a level of normality it almost makes me laugh: my father, hidden behind his newspaper, and my mother, sitting opposite him, a book folded face down on the arm of the sofa. you wouldn’t look at this and think anything’s changed. you wouldn’t look at this and think of the suffocating silence at the dinner table, after my mother’s feeble attempts at conversation have been buried by weary glances from my father and i. you wouldn’t look at this and think of the lingering evenings that follow, frustrating inconveniences between busy afternoons and nights alone, times that my parents like to fill with meaningless arguments that come about when they think i’ve given up listening. no, now, standing in front of this dull tableau, this snapshot of ordinary dripping with pretense - i don’t even hear the silence. everything is just loud. loud like static, like white noise, like the whirling rush of reality that winds me after the demons have attacked. i spent so long waiting for the fire, and it finally started, but now all i can hear is the roar of the flames.
charlie, my mother says, jarring the all-encompassing bitterness i was creating in my head. i was thinking…
… i was thinking perhaps we’d go out this afternoon, all of us.
my mother must be insane. in this moment, as i try to erase the look of repulsion gradually forming on my face, that is my only thought. has she lost her mind?
poor woman. she’s embarrassing herself. she’s assigning herself to a destiny of awkwardness, of discomfort, of unnecessary annoyance – all by assigning me to such a cruel activity as an afternoon together with them. all of us? that phrase must taste like dust in her mouth.
words get stuck in my throat; thankfully i see my father is mirroring the alarmed expression that, no, i have not succeeded in erasing. i try and compose myself.
mum, i say, trying not to gag. i think – i need to stay in. do some more studying.
her face falls for a second, but a desperate smile pulls at the corner of her mouth and she turns her attention back to me again. that’s what i mean, charlie, she clarifies. i’m sure you need a break. you’ve been working so hard, and it might be nice for us to –
it is imperative that my mother revises her definition of nice.
my father steps in this time. i’m not sure that’s wise, he says, his eyes level with mine, not daring to face my mother. you’ve got more exams soon, charlie –
i was just suggesting it, my mother cuts in, the words struggling to escape through her gritted teeth. she sends me a pleading look. you need to give yourself a rest, she says, eyes wide and full of desperation that could possibly be conflated with love, if i let it. but this feels as if it is no longer about me. now it is about them: her, trying to prove herself to him, whose stubbornness keeps this going though it could have long since been put to rest… she who believes in fixing me, in fixing everything; he who believes we are all just too far gone. i want to fix me, but there is such a huge part of me that thinks just as my father thinks: if it were even possible, would it be worth it? the problem is that this has become something so utterly daunting that i cannot bear to solve it – simply because solving it would mean facing it, and i cannot bear to do that. i suppose, then, that the end begins with my beginning. i just wish i wasn’t the one who had to begin it.
i open my mouth to reply but fall short. my mother is not only pleading for my sake, but for her own. poor woman. at least she’s trying to convince herself that everything isn’t lost. my father and i? we’ve already accepted it.
and i wish we didn’t have to. i do. but dragging it on for so long with all these efforts at bringing everyone together again – i don’t want to deal with that. i can hear the roar of the flames, and i want to surrender to them. it’s easier in the end; it must be. isn’t it easier just to let go?
mum. i speak as gently as i can. i don’t think it’s a good idea.
her gaze drops to the floor; she looks hurt. something heavy seems to settle on my shoulders: guilt? whatever my mother chooses to make out of this situation – whether it be anger, or something worse, something more painful – i hope she doesn’t do it now.
i hold my breath. my father clears his throat; we un-pause. i nod apologetically at my mother and turn to leave, wondering if my relief is as evident as i feel it must be. i think of something Mo says to me whenever the demons invade: you survived. i guess even in situations like this it is worth reminding myself of that.
i am almost through my bedroom door when my mother speaks again.
i just thought it would be nice, patrick, she says.
i remember those weeks gone, when i wished for a fire… here it is again, ready to consume us. this time i don’t think i want a fire. i have experienced the static and i have experience the storm; i have seen the grey and the bright orange, the nothingness and the all-encapsulating: but now i desire something in between. i think i have learnt my lesson. this isn’t right, this noise, this discomfort, this raging tension, the eventual explosion. and it is because of me, getting in between them again. i wanted this, didn’t i? and now what? i’m seeing ragged lines of black and white, my head feels as if it will implode. damn. not now! i just can’t help thinking about me, and them, battling in the next room, it’s getting louder, and i need to make it stop, i wanted this, i wanted this, but it is the furthest from what i want.
i can hear them, they’re shouting. she’s saying his name, trying to make him listen, but he’s refusing. the words aren’t audible, exactly, but i can hear the sounds: her, high-pitched, losing control, and him, stubborn, a low droning stream – he’s trying to block her out. neither one of them stops; instead, they just keep getting louder in the hopes that someone will back down. no, it’s not clear, not entirely, but i can imagine it: her exasperated i just wanted to make things better, patrick matched with his well it’s a bit too late for that, you know. and she will come back with well at least i’m trying – utterly predictable, trying to make him do something other than argue - but he will ask bitterly what do you want me to do, then? because the list is too long to even attempt. and i stand with the thin walls between us, and i can see my reflection in my bedroom window, and my face is crumpled, and my eyes are burning, and i want to run out onto my balcony and look through my telescope and maybe if i look hard enough i’ll see myself up there, lost, drifting, but peaceful, peaceful, light years and galaxies away from the mess i am in now.
the mess i created.
my breath is ragged now. the voices are deafening, and not just those of my parents: the demons are shouting, too, but they are louder because they are inside my head. i can feel it coming but it is not like a wave because under water there is no sound, and when this hits me i can hear everything. i can feel it coming like an overwhelming ache, a throbbing anticipation, and i know it is within reach, i want to get it over with, but what a damn shame – i am taunted by my own anticipated self destruction. nausea undulates deep in my stomach. i scrunch my eyes shut to battle the pounding in my head but then i realise, and for a split second everything stops, because there is the rubiks cube. i lurch onto my bedroom floor, fumbling for it, grappling blindly among books and loose papers until finally, finally, i am holding it. my shaking hands try hopelessly to switch the tiny squares into something recognisable. but the demons… they’re not giving up; they don’t, until it’s over, that’s the way it’s always been.
knuckles white from futile attempts at composure, i drop the rubiks cube in defeat; a strangled cry escapes my lips. tears track steadily down my face as i try and make this awful pain go away, it has to go away, i have to make it stop panic it’s driving me insane panic i can’t do this panic they’re still fighting panic i can hear them panic i could hear them this whole time panic
breathe? the concept seems foreign. i exhale shakily, a breath echoing whispers, one which seems to have no affect at all. but i listen for outside noise, for signs of my parents, signs they are still fighting: i hear nothing. so i breathe again, and again, inhaling oxygen and pure silence; it is the silence that makes my lungs sing. no black and white ink behind my eyelids, no raging battles in my head, no tightness that makes my throat close up and my hands rattle and my heart jerk like the rusted rudder on a ruptured speedboat. silence. i let it fill me up and embrace me until everything stops spinning and i feel empty again. and i make sure to think: i survived.
you see, that’s the funny thing: a panic attack doesn’t do to me what i’ve heard it does to other people. it doesn’t drain me, doesn’t suck my tears dry or deflate my lungs or fold up my spine like i am something to be sealed up, enveloped, a lost cause. a panic attack makes me feel whole – too whole. i am aware of every movement inside my head and around me; every sound is amplified; i am painfully aware of everyone and everything… but the worst part? i become absolutely petrified that they are aware of me.
so i push myself up off the floor, step over the discarded rubiks cube. i am ashamed, somehow, that it did nothing this time around… but i know there will be a next time, and i have lost no faith in thinking that it will help then. i glance at my bedroom door and am eternally thankful that it is closed and has been since i came in. my parents heard nothing; if they did, they didn’t come in and try to help. that is the most important thing.
after pulling a hoodie across my shoulders i carefully tug at the door leading to my balcony. the old thing is rusty and reluctant but just far enough from broken; i step out into the night with only minimal trouble. the fresh air feels cool on my face, hot from the tears. i settle myself against the bars, sending no acknowledgement to the world below me, only to that which is above my head. i don’t use my telescope tonight; i want to see the whole sky. i crane my neck and gaze at all of it, from right to left, from the horizon to the part of the night that rests on the roof of this block of flats. i want to pull it down over me; i want to carefully dismantle the sky from where it rests on the hinges of the atmosphere, i want to thumb the silk of this midnight fabric, stretch my arms out and touch every inch of it. and then i want to climb the hatch into space. i want to find a new planet on which to reside; perhaps just for now, perhaps longer. i want to be born like a star; big, and beautiful, and destined for so many lives within one.