Caked mascara and buyer’s remorse

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I’ve always found that the longer it takes for me to get something, the less I want it.

When I was younger, if it took more than ten minutes to get ready I would end up exhausted and listless. I would sit in my finery, my mascara caking and perfume stinking in a house that seemed too quiet, too laden with expectation and assumption. My stomach leaden, the idea of going out seemed reckless, my destination perilous with its people and sound. Suddenly the silence of my shadow would close around me like an ice blanket, lulling me hypothermically into dazed contemplation of a spot on the wall.

I would shake myself out of it and either reluctantly trudge to my fate, or make an excuse and stay in – peeling off my “out” clothes like you’d disarm an enemy, carefully and in pieces. Pyjamas pulled me back into the world.

I would write this off as the reaction of an introvert were it not for other examples of Wait Fatigue.

From waiting for a visitor, to waiting for a package – I can’t hold the idea in my heart for long enough. It wilts and then scurries to hide. My regard can be cruel, but my indifference can be truly brutal.

I am buying a house and the process is becoming interminable. I am four months past the original excitement, and have visited the house three times.

I am trying to hold on to the feeling of hope and change that carried me through the initial decision, but I am becoming sludgy and still – eyeing the journey from here to there with suspicion and a little regret.

Last night I had a nightmare. Like one of those fixed camera night vision horror stories, my new house was full of demons and malevolence. It was rundown and squalid, and as I struggled to feel at home and make it mine, things started to move and turn toward me. The house itself advanced on me. It didn’t want me, and yet it needed me. I tried to explain to my family but they suggested paint and carpet. In the meantime I was trapped in a sinister house full of creaks and snaking cables.

In the dream, I ran screaming and rented the house out while I pursued a successful and thrilling career in marine planning. But that’s beside the point….

I’m trying not to taint my image of my new house with the fear I felt in the dream, but I can feel that sludgy malaise dripping into me.

I have to move – but will it be a hopeful, exciting step into a shining future? Or a reluctant trudge toward remorse and ice cold paralysis?

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Floating in the notes

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The day the music died was the day that I lost my father.

This was actually a day long before the phone call, the aneurysm, the shocking revelation that life was a staccato dance full of overlap and overtaking.

It happened when I was a little girl. I didn’t make a decision to walk away, it was like a reflex – an involuntary reaction which shot me through the years like a sneeze. By the time I had realised what I had done, it was too late. His flawed, vulnerable, dreaming hands were out of reach.

On the day he died, I felt a void open up somewhere else in the world. A gap in time that tugged at me. It wasn’t a man who had died, or a father: it was a concept that had previously tied me to the earth.

Now I was untethered and in full knowing of the secret truths that I had been protected from by my youth and luck. The truth that things pass.

My father loved music. He played the guitar and listened to a huge variety of bands and musicians. I have spent most of my adult life with musicians (poor choices for my bed for the most part) and entertained them as a kind of penance. I have never enjoyed listening to music, finding the sound mechanical and business-like. It made me good at providing a critical ear, but it never allowed me to access the joy that my father had heard. It just made me sad.

I hung around the notes in the hope that I would feel closer to him, but of course that kind of magical thinking just bends back into you like a broken promise.

I didn’t even realise all this until he died and I inherited his music collection.

I have dug into it with the zeal of a desert-broken thirst. The tunes and voices of my childhood that were previously separated from me by tall walls of dust and cotton fog were suddenly playing in front of my hands. My fingers shook as I touched these cobwebbed tunes and finally heard what my father had loved.

And I loved it too.

I haven’t kept everything – I chose what I liked. I revelled in being able to do that without interference or pushy opinion. No one could tell me what I should like to hear – it was a journey that was mine alone… mine and Dad’s. My iTunes collection is uniquely mine and transports me daily to a world where I am queen, warrior, loved, happy, sad, valued, free.

Music is no longer the trigger of painful memories, forced into jarring boredom by my desperate and shocked little girl’s mind.

Now each song is a safe space in which to travel. To the past or the future, or the infinite present. I can float in the notes, knowing the song will end. And another will begin.

Graceless in motion

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For a dog, the daily walk is about catching up on the news. Each sniff is a paragraph in the daily update: who’s in town, what they’re eating, who’s poorly, who’s feeling frisky.

How much Muttley gets to absorb is entirely dependent on my mood. Sometimes I let him browse an entire Sunday supplement when I stand patiently, looking up at the sunrise. Other times I give him the Metro tour – concise summaries outlining the main points.

Unfortunately there are also those times where I drag him along at a frog march, barely letting him sniff the headlines.

These times remind me of being a young and impatient mother. The times I would fast forward through a bedtime story because I was tired or cross or bored. When I hectored her through her tea because I had somewhere to be. When I didn’t have the patience to listen to an explanation, and instead lost my temper.

It occurs to me that I had very little grace during that time.

As I watch my daughter continue to blossom into a well-adjusted, patient and deeply caring adult, I am amazed and so grateful that she rose above her genes and her childhood.

I have mellowed over the years, it’s true. But Muttley knows all too well that my grace is fragile sometimes.

Like those times when I lose my impatient temper and put him in the kitchen while I go and cool down.

Well, time to cool down is only part of the reason.

Sometimes I just can’t bear to see my graceless self reflected in his sad and loving eyes.

Living with pastry and revolving doors

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Sometimes life feels like a long dressing-gown cord trailing out behind me, catching in all the sharp and pokey lost places. Each tug reminds me of a treacherous mistake and causes pin-prick tears to form in my horizon-blind eyes.

Other times, it’s a revolving door – pushing me forward, always at my back but never letting me out. Round and round until the tedium makes me nauseous and familiar territory fades into worn contempt.

And then there are the days when it bites and roars, chasing me into a future I barely have time to identify. I stumble into each challenge and then on to the next. I layer the stress in my life like a fine pastry and then gorge on it until my bed becomes the next hurdle, no longer a source of peace or rest.

Always, it is a separate thing. Insurmountable. Non-negotiable. Immovable.

I am flotsam on its wild waves.

Believing in Dad

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I am a brave explorer, holding fast to pencilled maps,

Made in faith when I was still glistening.

(Daddy told me I could do anything, because I was his.)

 

Now hopeless time falls from me in angry tides;

My body changes more with passing skills;

And dusty guilt is smeared upon mistaken hands.

He never told me it would hurt so much to get this far!

 

When the people in the letterbox called him home,

He lay there unafraid at last,

Cold and un-mysterious.

Radio 4 played in the background

As they broke his door and felt his stagnant pulse.

And he never got to tell me how all alone it ends.

 

Now the hurt feels bitter hard and salty shine,

And my maps are inconsolable and dark,

But my feet are dream-tipped still in his believing stars.

(Dad told me I could do anything, because I was his.)

A wonderful and terrible halfway note

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The wonderful and terrible thing about dissociation is the effect it has on your memory.

On any given day, I am in battle with unwelcome scenes from my past. Even the most innocuous memory can morph into something that lives next door to a monster in my mind. Everything is connected.

So, I consciously try to forget as much as possible, and my mind happily goes along with the plan.

Sometimes I’ll stumble across a gap, a whistling smooth-sided chasm that blows up my skirts and makes skittering noises. Come in, it says. Investigate that strange smell. Here, into the corner; into the shadow; under the eaves. That’s where the really interesting stuff lives.

I shudder and skip past. In my wake, I deploy cerebellum-pixies to reinforce the defenses and put up signs: NOTHING TO SEE HERE.

I wipe the faces of the people I meet from an internal Etch-a-Sketch before they have fully left my sight. If I store their images in memory, I have a tendency to focus on them later. Their faces are dredged like bloated remains from inky wet depths. Every negative thought I had during our conversation, every regret or mis-spoken word returns to me and I have a moon-like face floating in front of me to cringe from as I re—live each conversation over and over.

Music is particularly evocative. I’ve learnt to allow myself to skip across a song, like a stone across a pond. If lyrics start to unearth scaly reptilian thoughts from a chapter in my life where I was small, then I pull a switch in my head and focus on the tune. I remember the video that accompanied the track or I make my own video in my head out of favourite film scenes in my huge Hollywood store.

I choose. I change. I control.

Photographs are tricky. I haven’t yet been able to find a way to look at photos without remembering what it had been like to live that moment. It’s a poor memory, a snapshot out of context sometimes, but I can smell the sea salt and feel the scratchy jumper. I feel the hope and I feel the pain from knowing I’m not being the person I could be.

Some photos are ok. I’ve been able to rescue a couple and put them on display in my house. When I look at them my brain only gets as far as the glass. When it tries to dig past that barrier and get to the meat of the image, to burrow into it and taste the metallic bite of it? I have two legs and I use them. I turn away.

Today I woke with a hollow feeling.

I looked at my dog and felt empty. His hopeful tail wag couldn’t raise a smile. I felt like all hope had been syphoned from me in the night, and part of me was angry at the mutt – he’s supposed to be protecting me from all that goes bump.

Inside, I was an empty warehouse in an overgrown lot. Only echoes moved within me, and in the bushes were rats of opportunity and unforgiveness.

I am under-medicated at the moment because I’m having trouble coping with my pills at the dose I need. After all these years my body is starting to rebel.

Last night I started a new regime. I am hopeful, I guess. But first there are the side effects, and then there is the wait. It is forever until I will be on a dose that does the deed. And in that forever moment of waiting, will I be able to push past the grasping, shouting memories? Will I be able to chase them away from the deadlier black spaces inside me?

Anyway. Back to this morning. I had to walk the dog. Even if the world was going to end at 2pm this afternoon, I had to take him to do his business, sniff for signs of cats, catalogue all the dog poo and wet patches and pull, pull, pull because around the corner might be a juicy steak, a tennis ball, or a pal to play with. Usually his optimism is endearing and infectious. But this morning I couldn’t see past the storm that was dragging my insides across rough and broken ground.

As we trudged along I found a note in the pocket of my coat. It was clearly my handwriting, but I couldn’t remember when I had written it. I’m in the habit of making notes on scraps of paper and I hadn’t worn the coat in quite a while.

This is what it says:

“Am I trying to create my moment? Or gently nudge away from the in-crowd, the popular majority who can live the lives I read about in my Enid Blyton books when I was young?

No. It’s just that I’m trying to do something difficult.

As usual. (That’s a negative pattern of thought – stop it!)

Today was about showing the universe some willing. I am meeting it halfway. Not just waiting at home for a call. I got into the car and made a pilgrimage. Not to any of the places I visited really, but to a part of myself that has decided not to give up.”

I don’t need to remember when it was written in order to respect the hope and faith of the writer. So. I have decided not to give up. I am meeting the universe halfway yet again.

I took Muttley to the fields and we looked for rabbits in the blissful Land of Now.

Through the Looking-dog

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I’m seeing myself through my dog’s eyes. Sometimes it is just a revelation of the importance of kindness and the unimportance of aesthetics. Sometimes it is profound.

Over the past few weeks I have had a couple of dissociative swings, which leave me hunched and still, silent and inexpressive. My mouth does not break upward for even the cutest face or funniest film.

Mutt has found it hard – much harder than I thought he might. I had lofty ideas that he would nuzzle up to me, tenderly leading me back toward the world. Instead he turned away from me and acted like a spurned child. Miffed and a little accusatory.

While I was stuck behind my darkened glass, watching the world on the other side, I watched my little Mutt.

The sight of his woebegotten slouch in mimicry of my own shot a pang of guilt into me. I realised that he was a Looking-dog, mirroring my horrible illness.

Each time I returned to myself, Muttable sensed the change and shook himself from tail to ears. 

He does this regularly. If he is stressed or tense, overly excited or worried, he throws off the mood like it was so many droplets of water. His tail starts wagging and he trots off in search of the next loving hand or exciting adventure.

I wondered whether one of these days he would just give up on me.

So, I vowed to look at things a little differently.

I wondered whether I could shake my mood off – or whether I could get through the Looking-dog to the other side.

Some of it is beyond my control. My face looks stuck and cold because my heart is frozen in a paroxysm of fear – fear about the world, its leaders, its germs and geology, my family, the air, the plants and trees. It is endless and I wish in those times that I could press a button and disappear into the void.

But I can still move my arms and legs. It’s harder than usual – everything feels like varying densities of treacle pushing against me – but I’m not entirely without motion.

No matter how small the spark, I believe that we always have a pilot light of free will within us. Sometimes when the world is darkest, that’s when we feel it: warm and fluttering and asking to be asked. Like a bouncing loving dog, it wants to love us and to lead us toward ourselves again.

The last time I felt the heavy waves drop around me – my depression following like a tide lapping gently at my skin and bones – I grabbed dog and lead.

We went for a walk. Then we went for another one.

I began to calibrate my mood through my reflection in Muttley. If I saw him looking worried, I gave him a cuddle and a game of tug. If he withdrew from me, I took him for a walk or played fetch in the garden.

I may not have been smiling or talking, but I was connecting. He was my early warning system, and my lighthouse home. And soon – sooner than normal – my face came back, my voice came back, I came back.

I wish I had learned this years ago.

“Oo’s a loverly boy, then?”

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I’ve always prided myself on being the kind of person who could ruthlessly make the right decisions in a post apocalyptic wilderness. I would be the one who could cold-bloodedly pull the trigger, killing the weakest of our group so the rest could escape. I would make sure that the dead remain dead by calmly approaching (not too close) and putting another bullet/spear/butter knife in their brain.

So what has happened to me?

I’ve become enslaved to Muttley’s big brown eyes and waggly tail. (Actually as a point of interest I’ve become convinced that his bum is the wriggly article and his tail just hangs on for dear life.)

At bed time, for example, we’re standing in the kitchen as I prepare to sweep imperiously out of the room, close the door behind me and climb the stairs to my gloriously empty double bed.

I make the big mistake. Eye contact. He lowers his head submissively and his tail twitches pathetically. Hopefully. As I watch, his tail picks up speed – self-aware as tails are, it knows I’m watching it – and I feel my chest swell and a smile break over my face.

A blink later and I’m persuading my enormous monkey-dog to budge up, budge over, move yer paw, no not that paw!

I’m also engaged in baby talk (something that was literally verboten when my daughter was growing up). I stride off happily down alleyways and footpaths, yanking muttles after me saying “We’re gonna have to get that wittle tum tum feeling better aren’t we? Yes we are! Poor old tummy-kins!” Out of the corner of my eye I see curtains twitch and people hastily change direction to avoid the nutter.

This morning, once the wet pawsy-wawsies have been chased, caught and rubbed vigorously on a towel, I organised breakfast. His, not mine. The survival of Muttley is assured in any post-apocalyptic scenario. Me? Not so much.

Don’t think I’m a pushover though. I can make him stop and sit to within an inch of danger, and I am the Queen and Mistress Total of all food in the house (which is strictly withheld from Lord Licky unless it comes in kibble-form). The sofa is my territory, consistently defended from wet-nosed interlopers except when I issue an invitation for poochy-woochy to come and cuddle mummy.

Ew.

I feel emotionally torn between the huge responsibility of being a good person for him, and pangs of jealousy and pique as he pays attention to everyone but me when we are out.

He would run off with anyone else in an instant. Bum waggling madly, showing them all his tricks. I would be left gazing after him forlornly, dumped by a Cockadoodle-didn’t.

This envy drives some of my decisions. I want him to think I’m wonderful, so much better than anyone else.

I remember feeling the same way about my daughter when she was very small. I was jealous that she loved her deadbeat dad so much and would drop every emotion in her little body if he would only pay her some attention. I think I over-compensated, trying to be more understanding, more forgiving, more fun, more anything. It wasn’t a successful tactic. In fact the only thing that finally worked was time and age. Now she is an adult, I finally feel that I don’t need to compete with her dad.

Wow, Muttley. I should pay you by the hour. A furry counsellor with bad breath.

In addition to these emotional revelations and connections while we mooch down byways and across puddles, I feel waves of anger while on our walk. There are big signs at the recreation ground: “Keep dogs on lead”. Clearly the dog owners near me can’t read, because I’m always having to give Muttley a quick al fresco therapy session as he wonders why THEY can run free but he can’t. ‘Is it me?’ He gazes up at me, brown eyes quivering.

And a quick, totally arbitrary and un-rigorous assessment of the owners tells me it’s the rich ones that think they can just flout the rules. “I have total control over my Tarquinius at all times,” they bleat in my imagination.

And what about the signs reminding dog owners to pick up the poo? Is it so difficult to keep bags in your coat pocket? Is it such a hardship to walk an extra 20 yards to the bin? What do you think is going to happen as you leave your bag of poo by the roadside or – hold me back! – tie it to a tree branch?! Do you think some serf is going to follow on behind, cleaning up after you

Mutt-tastic is prone to picking up giardia, which is a parasite carried in dog poo. I have to run point at every green patch to identify offending lumps of kryptonite and steer him away, yanking his head collar while yelping “No! No! No!”. At the end, my dizzy pooch staggers gratefully onto the pavement.

How dare those offensive and offending owners be so self-absorbed? I’d like to take my lovely Mr-scruffly-poo round to their house and leave a little party bag in their garden.

Double-oh-muttley: License to maim

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It’s deceptive, isn’t it? That air of harmless cuteness my dog is vibing in the photo.

Last week, El Horror leaped. The lead was loosely in my left hand at the time. As it unspooled, the loop caught on my ring finger.

I’m now typing with nine fingers while sporting a funky purple plastic splint on my very own spiral fracture.

Muttley is unrepentant. Unconcerned. He nuzzles my throbbing finger as if to say: “Why doesn’t this work? It’s my favourite toy! Make it work!”

We are still unable to walk down the street without the idiot pulling me along. As long as we are both clear about who is in control of the pace, then we can remain friends. He is the good-natured super-dog who puts up with being attached to my annoying weight.

Somtimes I try to introduce a bit of leash discipline. I stop when he pulls and he calmly circles round to spend a fraction of a second in the sweet spot beside me before trotting ahead again and resuming The Big Pull.

At least he now knows to sit down when he sees another dog. Unfortunately this makes people come closer to comment on his good behaviour. Sigh. Not helping!

When some unsuspecting doglet comes close for a sniff, he can keep up the charming demeanour for a few seconds then POW! The idiot is back. Bouncy bouncy. BOUNCY BOUNCY! I pull him away on two legs, his neck craned round to gaze adoringly at his new best friend.

While my finger heals, my family is helping with my dog walking responsibilities. I’m a little worried that the ol’ Cuddle Monkey has noticed this shift in routine and is planning to overthrow the regime.

I would write more but my finger hurts. He’s staring at me. Time for stroking duty.