Tuesday, 17 April 2018

A deliberate destiny



A few years back, a small plane had crashed into a house not far from where they lived, killing the pilot and all the passengers and wrecking a house in fire and fume. It was an awful tradgedy, a freak accident that shook the city, left them all a little on edge. His little girl had started to have nightmares not long after about the same plane crashing through her room, her screams and cries waking him while his wife Lauren slept soundly, undisturbed beside him in bed. So in frustration, he’d stayed up with his daughter, making her cups of hot chocolate and tapping away at his phone in the hope she’d crave the sleep she’d disturbed and destroyed him from. One night, just to shut her up, he’d thrown back her curtains and held her up to the window, pointing upwards to the stars. ‘Daddy’s set up those stars in the skies so that all the aeroplanes stay safe up there in the sky. Like lights, they’ll guide them the right way. No more crashes, okay?’ For some reason this had inspired his little girl and she’d taken to staring out at the stars before bed. 

Something... big had happened. Pretty fucking huge. Something that would shatter his life around him in a sorry explosion of divorce, custody, cruelty, once the truth tore out. He'd been walking around with this aching agony of repulsed regret and disgusted disease and it made him feel sick to the stomach. Deep down though, he felt nothing but pure adrenalin alight with a fuelling thrill. The worst thing was, this terror he was living through, this absolute hell that was holding him hostage to his home life, his harmony, was making him a better person. An eye-opener, his suffering was on red alert to the fact that he'd been walking around like an arrogant asshole for the best part of his 32 years. 

He'd always felt pretty average; he wasn't amazingly good-looking, just okay-ish (short brown hair, spiked up. Blue eyes. Dressed casual with a stylish edge). He had a good job in the city and they lived in this nice house and every one assumed they were minted. Their house was nice, slick, just nothing spectacular.  He'd once been a professional footballer for Crystal Palace, then on his third premier league match had come the devastating injury that led to his downfall. Humiliating enough when your dream disappears down the gutter faster than a bottle of bleach swirling down the drains but worse still when the world is watching. His wife Lauren had been mortified, of course. She'd already spent most of the money he'd made and the thought of downsizing was hot humiliation in her eyes. They had an eight year old daughter together, Angelica. His daughter continued to love and care for him in an unconditional way that had recently started to break at his heart. He didn't deserve it. Love. Any of it. Shea had screamed those exact words at him, after all.

He'd been walking around like a zombie for weeks, now. Caught himself crying more times than he cared to think about. Last Sunday Lauren hadn't been suspicious about the disappearance he'd made after lunch nor had she batted an eyelid when he'd had rocked up in their bedroom back at 3am. Despite all the misplaced loyalty, the sickening confusion spinning his head to hell and the realisation that his love had leaked to nothing beyond a guilty gut-wrench, it hurt. How could she not realise that he smelt of sea air and reeked of rain? It was dry and bitter in Northolt; in Southend it had been misting and spitting and gradually after hours out by the darkened shore he'd surrendered to the soak. Crying tears that tasted like vinegar and felt like vitriol, he'd thrown his wedding ring out to the sea, watching as the crashing tides foamed it away. 

He'd felt some sort of release. He hadn't cried for months, years. The last time had probably been when he'd been injured, his football career stopping before it had even started. He'd started to care about people, when he'd never given a shit before. About their situations, their lives, mistakes, decisions. 

Now this furious rush had bled through his back like a gun blast and so, here he was, crashing his car through jammed mid-morning traffic. He had to see his little girl. To make sure she hadn't really seen what he'd feared she had seen. It was just a dream, hit him like harmony. That rush of relief, trickling trepidation draining away from his face. He'd had too much to drink, last night. As he made it through the gate, kids casting their eyes over the suspicious stranger. He hadn’t thought any of this through. He just knew what he had to do would culminate in Lauren taking his little girl away from him. Whatever the outcome he was screwed because no one would want to know him after the truth tore out. He managed to locate Angelica near the little fish pond amongst a few other of her friends. It only took his daughter a moment to spot him and when she did a wave of panic hit him like an agonising ache that almost threw him to the floor. He reached for her, managed to pull her away from the other little girls. Tried to say something but found his voice was strangled and to his horror he was now breaking down in front of the whole school. Tears choking at his words until he was crying into her hair, hugging her hard.

‘Why are you crying daddy? What’s wrong?’ But he couldn’t answer, just tried (and failed) to stop crying, to start talking. A crowd had gathered now, the majority kids, a few teachers frozen nearby as if he was about to unleash a gun and start branding it around, threatening to shoot everyone. He obviously looked unhinged, an emotional wreck. If only they knew the devastation he’d been going through. Coldplay cursed, blasting them in the car as he drove around. Wondering what was going to become of him once they all knew what he was. Even if he’d had the courage to call if off, he knew it was too horribly late for that. He held her, outright in his arms. ‘I just wanted to say I love you. You know that, don’t you? Even if I haven’t ever really said so.’ His voice was found in a throaty struggle of choked back tension.

‘Of course I do, daddy’, she said with that idolized innocence she’d always kept for him and him only. The news of him storming into the school and bursting into tears would no doubt spread like wildfire and Lauren would wonder what the hell was wrong with him. But he wouldn’t be there. He’d wanted to get to his daughter first, so terrified that once he sat down to tell his wife the truth, she would stop him seeing his little girl. And he wouldn’t have that, he’d fight from every corner, let her drain him of every last penny. He didn’t care any more, let her take him to the cleaners and back. Fine, whatever.

‘I’m not a good person. Not really,’ he said. ‘But I’m about to put one of my major mistakes right. I know that even though I’ve not really been a very good daddy to you, that I’ll make sure I’ll never take you for granted. Ever again. I’ve got to go away for a little while, then I’ll be back and we’re going to start this whole thing all over again. What do you say?’ And she looked at him, a bit frightened, a bit concerned. Then her face broke into a smile and she nodded. ‘Okay, daddy.' 

Angelica’s dad didn’t have a very good reputation at the school and from the surrounding circle that knew him. A bit of an arrogant asshole, the teacher had always thought. That one time he’d turned up at one of Angelica’s parents’ evenings she’d been horrified at the lack of interest he’d displayed. The Bartells never bothered coming to any Sports Days or Summer Fayres or Nativity Plays. Him and his wife always seemed to reckon themselves a cut above everyone else. But the teacher found herself feeling somewhat sorry for him, today. He wasn’t anything like the pompous prick he’d portrayed himself back at the parent’s evening. He was in a real state, pretty shook up. So she took him into the staff room and made him a strong black coffee. He sat there, shaking harder than she’d ever seen anyone shake before and seemed pitifully grateful for the drink and her brief, vague attempt at kindness. He looked dreadful, absolutely shocking. He was terrified of Lauren finding out about today so she promised she’d have a word with everyone, make sure no one said anything about what had just happened. He was very sorry about everything, apologising profusely and worrying away at his leather jacket which was - no doubt about it - designer. Then he pulled himself up and left in a furious panic. She tried to stop him but he was out of the staff room and back out of the school gates – a man on a mission. 

Hours later, a text bleeped through his phone, deep in his jean pocket. He was putting off the inevitable now, texting backwards and forth with someone he'd just driven four hours to see.

Smiling, despite himself, he decided enough with the bloody texting. His future was uncertain right now. Who knew what would happen next. One day he would sit down and tell his daughter about this moment, explain how his feelings had led him here and how denial and disillusion had drowned him in the need to make things right. Make a new start that he hoped would lead to a happy road. If he ever got married again, he hoped it might just be to this person sitting on a hospital rooftop, staring at the stars. His favourite song, Jeff Buckley's Hallelujah would blast out. Maybe that was fanatical, wishful thinking. But that poor girl that had lost her life last night would never see another second of this world and it had given him the sharp shock he needed. He wasn't going to waste another moment ever again.
The stairs seemed to spiral upwards in a never-ending tunnel. But then, finally, his eyes were colliding with the stars in the black sky. The figure staring up at them in wonder. And a moment that would form their future together magnetised. Loz walked a few short paces, lessening the distance between them. Leeds dazzled back at them both, the city skies a reminder of London. Nobody in either city could be having a moment like theirs. Their tonight was very different to the monotonous routine that gripped the nation, the normality, the mundane. The stars, the peace. And for once he felt happy instead of haunted. Maybe the future up ahead would hold more heartbreak, but hopefully happiness too. Like all his life had been leading up to this very important moment. Indeed, it had. 

'Hey. Told you I'd make it.'

Was it destiny or deliberate? A deliberate destiny. Either way, the stars were shining for them both. Maybe it was a cliche, but that's exactly how it felt on that cold December night. One day he'd make it right with his daughter and his wife. But right now, here on this hospital rooftop, a commitment had been promised. He didn't want to be ashamed or enduring any more agony. The stars he'd set up in the sky continued to stun. And the lyrics he couldn't quite shake off for his 32 years somehow made perfect sense. It would be "their" song now. For the rest of his life, the rest of his time on this earth would always focus back to this moment. And what a magnificent moment it was.

And it's not a cry that you hear at night
It's not somebody who's seen the light 
It's a cold and it's a broken hallelujah 

Maybe he was exiting hell just as she was entering heaven. Seeing her five year old daughter for the first time with the hospital horrified at the secret that had leaked. The father mourning for a baby he never knew existed. But on the roof, staring out at the stars, the two of them are oblivious.


Characters and storylines based on & adapted from my first novel. 

Lyrics: Hallelujah by Jeff Buckley 🎶

Thursday, 5 April 2018

Screw saying sorry (for living the life YOU want to live)

How many times have you felt the need to apologise for a lifestyle choice? 

Saying sorry profusely for being "boring" because a work colleague or a stranger or an acquaintance is judging you for not living up to a certain expectation? I know I've probably uttered about 12345678 vague apologies in the past just to cast off judgement, a certain expectation I've failed to live up to or a "how boring are you" type of label. In past office jobs I always felt fearful on a Friday as the inevitable "so, what are you doing this weekend?' burning question would be thrown at me. I used to worry, to desperately try and make my plans sound more interesting and exciting than the reality. I felt like a failure because often it sounded as though I wasn't doing much at all. In actual fact I was, but my plans never seemed to quite cut it. 

If Graham was working the weekend then I'd be at home writing my book, driving to Starbucks, reading in the garden and in all honesty? That was about it. This is what I still sometimes get up to on a quiet weekend. I'd feel humiliated, embarrassed and ashamed of my weekend plans, just because other people felt they weren't "cool" enough or "exciting" enough. The worst part? I really felt like a let-down. 

I've never been drunk, smoked a cigarette or done drugs in my 28 years. There is no particular reason for this, other than the fact that I've just never really wanted to do any of those things. End of. It doesn't make me superior or inferior to anybody who has done the aforementioned. But it does mean I shouldn't have to apologise or feel like a let-down for not having done so. I've always felt the need to make an excuse, an apology or conjure up some magical reason for being such a disappointment to society. Not very often does it crop up in conversation that I've never been drunk, but, when it has done, people have been shocked by the admission. Shocked in a way that I might as well have announced I'm Britain's biggest mass murderer, or am planning a global bank robbery or something just as ludicrous. Some people have even seemed upset, disapproving or disappointed. Which is ridiculous, right?

What does it matter what choose to do? Why does it affect them so much? And worse still, why the judgement and disapproval? 

Upon returning to work after a long bank holiday weekend once a colleague had asked me what I'd gotten up to. "Well, Graham and I went to Leeds Castle, to the cinema, that kind of thing." I'd said, quite happily. "Don't you ever do anything?!" She'd retorted in a critical tone. "Yes... we do! We go to the cinema, out and about...' I'd attempted a feeble reply but she'd looked unconvinced. "No, I mean don't you ever go "out? Properly?"" I'm guessing she thought I was some kind of failure for not getting smashed, partying the weekend away and doing whatever else she thought a twenty-something girl should do. I went off to lunch feeling a bit upset, a bit judged. Were we boring? Did we lead mundane lives? Why had her crappy comment affected me so much when five minutes earlier I'd felt more than happy with how we'd spent our weekend? Now I think I would've politely told her to f*ck right off. 

It's funny how you get to that age where you stop feeling like the pathetic person for being judged and start seeing that, in actual fact, the only pathetic person is the one aiming judgement at you

Now I'm nearing the end of my twenties, you start hearing horror stories about the other end of the spectrum. Not: do you? - do you drink? Do you go clubbing? - but: are you? Are you getting married? Having kids? - Fortunately I haven't come across to many people trying to pin point me into marriage and kids and mortgage. My mum made me laugh, though. "You are going to be 28 soon! Don't you want to get married?" Like 28 is some kind of curse and if you haven't tied the knot then all hell will hail. I explained to her, quite simply, that marriage shouldn't be about to happen just because someone is turning 28. It should happen because the time is right and two people decide the time is right for them. I've had it a little bit, the odd person asking personal things and honestly? It's really no one else's business what choice a couple makes. Please stop putting us on the spot, asking probing questions and generally being nosy. Live and let live and if someone isn't making a lifestyle choice that you approve of, then do everyone a favour and just keep quiet. Can we say it louder? LIVE AND LET LIVE!!!

In the past I've often felt the need to apologise for not drinking, partying, etc. 

I've always said things like..... 

"I know, I'm so boring!"
"I'm such an old woman!"
"I'm just really dull, sorry!"
"I'm a lightweight, sorry!"
"Pathetic, isn't it?!"

Yes, it is pathetic. It's pathetic than anybody should be made to feel guilty for living the life they want to lead. Doing or not doing things they want or don't want to do. It's time to say SCREW SAYING SORRY. Why the f*ck should we feel guilty for what we decide to do with our own lives, in our own personal time? Number 1: it's nobody's business. Number 2: we have nothing to feel guilty about! Period.

Why people judge (and why you need to ignore them)
  • NARROW MINDED if they can't accept other people's choices, well... pretty sad!
  • NOTHING BETTER TO DO why else do they care so much about your plans?
  • A BIT PATHETIC, REALLY why else would they pass judgement? (Get a life). 
  • JEALOUSY/INSECURITY a theme here, but why else would they be so bitter? 

Stick to your guns. Stay strong and feel no guilt for doing what you love/not doing what they want/whatever those dicks are making you feel judged about! 

Sometimes hard, but vital. Why the hell do you need to? 

You don't owe anyone an explanation. You don't need to feel guilty! 

Change the subject, make it clear you don't want to talk about the situation further, if they're starting to unsettle you and you feel it's possible, tell them they're making you feel uncomfortable.

If people are making you feel uncomfortable with their judgement, I think it's perfectly okay to call them out. Ask them why it matters what you get up to in your own time. Does it affect them? Explain that you're starting to feel uncomfortable. That you don't want to be criticised for your own choices. 

I hope this post helps anyone out there who needs it. I know I've been judged many a time for not living up to certain expectations but I have nothing to prove & neither do you. Screw saying sorry! Have you dealt with judgemental people?