Because I lose myself in the space between Facebook and reality – and it’s not a happy place in which to be lost. Browsing the airbrushed facades of my contemporaries who all appear to be living much happier lives than I takes me down, down, down… But I’m only just starting to understand this. So, as a self-styled social scientist, I am keen to see what happens when I withdraw (but in case this move is simply an exercise in displaced mental geography, I am only deactivating and may be back).
As a boy I starved. There wasn’t enough food, drink, presence. Nurturing was put aside in a desperate attempt to fill the void. But nothing fills the void, nothing holds sway in the void, and I, in all my chameleonic attempts, could not reach the sides with my hands or feet as I floated in its midst.
All I could do was shift things around while I forgot to breathe. Weakened, sick and spewing up everyone else’s emotion, I managed to heave myself onto the shore, the void lapping gently at my feet. It doesn’t suck you back, it doesn’t call to you – that’s not how it works. It’s the exposure you feel to the elements which makes you want to crawl back into its tidal pull. The breeze, although so much warmer than that viscous inkiness, feels a million times cooler. So, shivering, naked, I made for the line of trees up the beach. No map, no compass, only the footprints of a billion prior explorers trodden heavily into the mud. Criss-crossing and spinning around the four points of the compass – seemingly utter chaos – but from a high enough perch I could see they all headed circuitously in largely the same direction. The path was littered with corpses and lit at so many points by lantern bearers both moving and standing still, spruiking their paths with an almost frenzied energy.
I stopped at many lanterns. Not a tenth part of a tenth of a tenth of a tenth of all the bearers – most times I would merely nod on my way past – but I broke bread with so many. Sometimes I would stay for five minutes. A chat, a cheer, I would share the fare I had been given by others or earned through my labour. Sometimes I would stop for a day, or a decade. My own little lantern flickering cheerfully with it’s yellow-orange glow. Sometimes burning brighter than the sun so that as I passed them, other bearers, lulled by the glow, would fall into lockstep and smile at me as we trotted for a time side by side. Sometimes my lantern burned low and grew heavy. At these times I rested. Curled up under a tree or lying looking up at the stars, listening to the people singing softly to themselves as they slipped by in the night.
I would often see lantern bearers locked in struggles with one another. Sometimes people would grow violent and fights would break out. It was often over the shape or colour of one another’s lanterns. I did it too, for a long time inside the void looking out, I would holler obscenities at people. But once I was on my own feet and running, I would merely let my gaze linger sadly as lanterns were smashed and winked out.
The intricacy of some lantern casings – oh my! Gorgeous they were! Beautiful! But finally only served to dull the light inside. People who had grown over the port holes. Others were merely a loose casing which could barely seem to contain the flicker and shift of the light inside.
The sunlight caught the mottle in the boy’s hair, sandy brown with a fanlike spray from his crown like a whale’s blow, as he strolled into the middle of the room. He couldn’t have been more than seven. Skinny, he already showed the beginning of dark smudges below his eyes.
The room itself was cluttered around the walls with a carnival of jetsam placed in ill-considered clusters and stacks. No thought had been given to aesthetic or even efficiency as the room was filled.
The cupboard, filling the space next to the doorway, had its sliding door open. Inside, sloppy coats with fur collars and shoulder pads, baby blue suits with navy-trimmed lapels and superfluous pockets hung beside drapes of paisley fabric; all hastily stashed and promptly forgotten.
Faded midnight-blue and pea-green trunks, full – if one cared to inspect the contents – of the same stuff as the cupboard, were trailed like giant breadcrumbs along the back wall.
Under the window was a solid shaft of bored yellow light, the kind found in the middle of uneventful Saturdays in one’s youth – illumination without delight – reminiscent of too-many clocks ticking at once from surrounding rooms.
The final wall, opposite the trunks, pushed itself against sideboards and tables; the kind that will never come back into fashion, with thin tops, high-gloss finishes and pale wood of an obviously manufactured grain. One of the tables held some newspaper clippings. Women in old-fashioned bathing suits; an advertisement that was all words and no pictures; half an article about cricket.
The junk considered the boy with an air of haunted indifference. It had been abandoned so long ago and stored with so little compassion that it had long since given up any hope of returning to service. These days it simply sat, disappointed with the yellow sunlight at this time of year. Sighing pathetically with an exhaustion borne of uselessness rather than the strung out sense of fatigue one gets from tables, benches, coffee in 24-hour cafes and train stations.
The boy looked about him. Picked up the newspaper articles, shuffled through them, turning them upside down and over and back before replacing them on the table. He pushed the box of an old board game, its top inverted to hold the bottom so its insides were exposed, listening to the rattle of the few remaining plastic pieces. He sat on a trunk and ran his fingertips along its front, feeling the transition of texture from the rough outer skin to the smooth brass clasps that held the top down. He got up and moved over to the cupboard, burying his face in the fur of an old coat. Bending over, the boy put his head and shoulders under several dresses hung close together and stood up, feeling their weight on his young bones.
A woman’s voice called absent-mindedly from the house proper. “Son? Are you still in your room?”
The boy stepped back quickly, accidentally pulling a dress half off its hanger. He hurried out of the room and quietly up the stairs as the dress slipped down to form an orange island on the teal blue ocean of the cupboard carpet.
I rock the disconnect / the heady anxiety of looming paranoia / the delicious abandonment of utter exclusion / what shifted behind my eyes / to bring enlightenment / to acknowledge this loss / to answer this prayer / pound for pound.
Under the crushing gravity of all history’s sentiment my lungs collapse: my breath is stolen by Wilde’s words.
How can I relate when this feeling bears down and rips through me / in its wake I smell your sweet scent / flowers and fabric softener / you move like silk curtains / all grace and lightness / while your tidal moods wash away my confidence in the most satisfying way.