make-believe forever

IMG_4458.jpg

He says all the right things. I play all the right moves.

Soon enough we’re dancing in circles and promise we’ll only stop when somebody comes looking.

Nobody does.

Afterwards, I will say I didn't really mean any of it. It’s a lie and we both know it is. He won’t call me out because his arm feels nice around my waist, so, who’s keeping score anyway. A friend will loudly remark: ‘Oh, isn’t the beginning just so wonderful!’ —but that’s a lie, too. Which is it say, beginnings absolutely are, but that’s absolutely not what this is.

It’s the nostalgia of it, the pretense that under different circumstances we could almost keep the game going. The sobering reality of a loud crash somewhere near the kitchen, someone yelling out my name, his name lost in my mouth, my phone refusing to charge, glass breaking under our feet and that fucking song stuck in our heads.

The nonchalance with which we lie to ourselves.

It’s the fleeting moment at four in the morning on a Sunday in an overheated, overcrowded flat in Camden, almost letting myself believe that his fingers tracing my back could still mean what I so desperately wanted them to only half an hour ago. Or was it two hours. Or have we just been going through the motions this whole time.

Maybe it was the moment I spotted him leaning against the fridge and thought, I guess tonight is as good a time as any to make sure I never forget what he looks like with his hand on the back of my neck.

We only falter when we forget.

We only remember when the music stops, and oh god , isn’t that ironic.

so we could dance

 
716ACA40-51B4-4DFB-A062-2843D91C6E0D.jpg
 

This post was first published on Dear Damsels.

It’s my heart beating a little too fast, threatening to spill out of my ribcage.

My feet moving but always in circles, thoughts spinning in a blur of tentative ‘why’s and ‘how’s and ‘what is this trying to teach me’s but never able to give any answers.

If pressed, I’d admit it’s the fear I get on a January night when the light hits just so, eyes damp and the smell of vanilla burning from the window sill. It’s the fear that follows every other night, when the notes aren’t flowing and something has been stuck in my throat long before my lips touched the second cream cheese bagel I ate in a frenzy after 2AM because I just, couldn’t think.

Lately it’s been a hand on my shoulder. Soothing the hurt, keeping me sane.

You trace your lips on my knuckles and trail your fingers down my back. I promise in turn, I’ll keep this feeling as safe as I can.


It’s a fragile feeling, you see. It puts one foot in front of the other, but never seems to put them down quite right. It’s an anxious feeling. Its breath catches from time to time and it can never find the right words. It spent months warily wishing for a sign, then wanting to be heard, or felt, or just acknowledged long enough to make a home in a hidden corner of my heart while I wasn’t looking.

I remember where I was when it finally did.

I’d promised I would cook so I spent forty minutes on the phone to my mother while she explained how to make a risotto for the hundredth time, then downed two shots of vodka while waiting for the doorbell to ring because my hands were shaking and I couldn’t stop pacing. The risotto was edible. The feeling was there. Hours later I sat on a white pillow with my head in your lap and my legs dangling off the couch, and as Streets of Philadelphia played through the speakers I felt my resolve crumble faster than you could say ‘this is where I ask you to stay’.

So fragile. But it was there, right then, in the corner of my heart it claimed as its own while I was too busy laughing like a kid and snorting into my glass, so happy it hurt.

It’s months later now and it’s up to me to keep it safe. To protect it when someone takes a swing, keep it warm when the nights get cold. Guide it back when it wants to run free, which is often. Guide it home when it wants to destroy everything that’s good, which is not as often as it used to be because, look at that, progress.

This much I can promise.

A shaky rib cage and a fearful heart, willing to put in the work they need to for this whole thing not to crumble. A snorting laugh and the certainty that given a drink and the opportunity, I will inevitably spill it on the nearest white shirt. More dog pictures than you will know what to do with. Burnt toast, but really good coffee. The fact that I’ll wait too long to introduce you to my friends, but when I do, they will all love you. The knowledge that this fragile feeling grows a little stronger every time you rest your head on my shoulder or your hand on the small of my back. That I breathe a little easier every time I go to check and find it right where I left it, where I can protect it, where I want it to be.

It might not be everything, but I think it might be enough.

fingers in cheese, feet in water

Woman reading, Alexander Deineka

On the second Sunday of the month I wake up early to have breakfast in the garden. In the sweltering heat, on a flimsy burning chair, as I listen to the neighbors' kids play on the other side of the fence and laugh easily as they throw water from their makeshift pool directly onto my feet. 

I wear my best French-woman-going-to-the-market-to-buy-bread-and-olives-and-flowers outfit and make my way to my favorite spot in the city. I walk behind two dads pushing a pram and my heart does a little jump because London Pride was just yesterday and I will not apologize for being an Emotional Aquarius Baby. I get my usual order at the creperie stand and pick flowers to press and send to my grandmother in my next letter.

I dip my fingers in cheese and my feet in water, and tell myself it's okay if my breath still catches from time to time.

 

I have been good for a while now. Which is not to mean I haven't had bad days, but I have been doing good. Day after day, for more days than I could have hoped for less than a year ago.

 

With that in mind, I walk slowly, with no real purpose. I try so desperately to commit these moments to memory, as I've been doing ever since I realized things had shifted -I have rarely put as much energy into anything as I did trying to crystallize perfect solitary mornings spent on Santa Monica beach into souvenirs for my heart.

 

Timestamps of a tide turning burned to my eyelids, a resolution. 

 

Like my high school teacher once (really, actually) said, "Anna, if you put half the energy you dedicate to your own personal drama into studying, you'd be top of your class".

I mean, she was an asshole but she wasn't wrong.

 

Thing is, I believe there's power in paying attention to small victories and slow days and big moments because everything else just --goes so fast. I forget birthdays and cancel plans as weeks and months blur one into the other, I forget to water the plants and do laundry and come home at a reasonable hour and to remember to breathe. I answer too many emails and listen to too many podcasts on my way to and back from work, I take too many calls during lunch hour and never answer my texts or drink enough water and never ever go to the gym when I said I would, I spill sauce on white clothes and stay up late investigating conspiracy theories and I am terrible, terrible at taking care of myself.

 

But I want to. 

 

So when I stick to the only routine I know is good for me, when I cancel out the noise and the messy and the complicated and just focus on here, now, still and silent, I am taking care of myself.

 

When I press play on Storms by Fleetwood Mac for the sixth time in a row just to hear the last minute one more time, when I get my skirt wet by jumping into the pond a little too hastily, when I spend five minutes watching a ladybug walk from one of my rings to the other and back, I am doing exactly what my heart needs. 

 

I've been scared shitless of change and questions I want answers to but do not have the energy to start asking myself. I've been scared to write, ever since I turned my back on so much of what made up my identity. I've been slipping and slipping and wondering if this is how it starts or if I'll only notice when it's too late.

 

I’ve been restless and hard on myself and I’ve been wasting time waiting for something more, always something better. Always waiting for whatever comes next when the pieces align themselves and you’re not breathing underwater for the first time in years but still expecting something to drown you. 

 

So I walk slowly, commit, commit, commit.

I tell myself perfect moments are worth celebrating more than a perfect life ever might be, and I breathe out my fear with every shaky breath.

 

I crystallize every moment, just as it is. Timestamps of a tide turning burned to my eyelids, a resolution

fight for the rebuild

IMG_0463.jpg

"Fight for the rebuild", a friend told me a while ago. 

"You've got to fight for the life you want," she said. "It's worth every ounce of struggle."

 

Back then, I had no idea what that rebuild would look like. Six months ago today, I boarded a plane at LAX and landed in London tired to the bone but wide-eyed and weirdly excited about starting over, about building something back up from scratch. 

I didn’t know what the life I wanted looked like, which made the whole affair harder than it maybe needed to be, but.

 

I’d just discovered what I didn’t want it to look like, and that had to count for something, right?

 

It was raining because of course it was, and as the plane touched down the speaker system started playing Carolina and I laughed into my pillow because I really don't like Carolina one bit but it still means something, you know.

 

Six months on, I think I'm starting to realize what it meant.

 

On my last night in Milan, the night before I moved to London, I walked around the empty (and rainy! what an omen!) streets of the old city center listening to Sweet Disposition and wondering what the future would bring -wondering if I was making the right choice, how long it would take before I crashed and burned.

 

It meant a lot to me in 2013, that song.  I loved the promise of it, the sheer possibility of it.

 

I’m only half kidding when I say I moved to London for the way Sweet Disposition made me feel, walking up Primrose Hill one morning and thinking well, isn't this nice.  (Mom, do you like the Alanis reference?  I do.)

 

I might have crashed and burned, but I sure as hell haven’t forgotten that. 

 

Another friend said to me the other day, “Every day of your life since 2012 has been leading up to this moment.”

 

I’ve been thinking about that a lot, and she isn’t wrong. I have no way of knowing what else it’s leading up to, what else this rebuilt of mine might bring. But I know this: I have built something.

 

I’ve worked tirelessly at it, day and night at it, cried all my tears for it and waited patiently for it in a way that was so un-typically myself it shocked me with every moment passing.

 

Still I built it. 

 

It’s small and fragile and sometimes struggles to stay upright. It breathes funny and walks slowly and I get so scared it will not survive, I am terrified I will wake up one day and it will be gone, built from scratch and gone in a single night.

 

Runaway renegade, just like its architect.

 

I am scared it will do to me what I've always done to those of its kind, killed them off before they could grow legs good enough to stand a single chance. I'm scared to meet the person I'll have become next time I set foot in Los Angeles. I wonder if I'll recognize her, if I'll even like her.

 

I'm scared I'll go back on my words, I'm scared of long summer nights and faint promises and my friends getting tired of me pulling the same tricks, of the pictures losing their meaning and words I've marked in pencil on the books on my nightstand turning sour as I chew on them like I have any right to. 

 

Still, I built it. 

 

It’s small and fragile and sometimes struggles to stay upright.

It breathes funny and walks slowly and I get so scared it will not survive, but it's alive for now.

It's trying its best now.  

 

And the promise of it. Oh, the sheer possibility of it.

 

Happy six months back from LA to me. And happy birthday to Sign Of The Times, because some coincidences are too good to be overlooked. I think I'm starting to realize what that means, too.

Words born to speak

This piece was first published on Dear Damsels

This piece was first published on Dear Damsels

It comes in waves, bright and harsh and just out of reach. 

 

Every time a little closer but never quite enough. 

 

Here’s what you’re missing, it seems to say; here’s what you gave up, vanished westward into smoke but stayed closer than you realized,

I romanticize, 

push it aside 

but know it’s never the last time.

 

It feels good to linger until it doesn’t.

 

I trace the days and months and years backwards until I find it and press down like a thumb on a bruise, 

purple and swollen and mine mine mine

all mine to keep secret.

 

Words I was born to speak pressing at my teeth, pushing for release, saying you’re not fooling anyone and least of all yourself. Words I keep safe in their locket waiting for a better time, for a not-so-secret life. 

 

It comes in waves, on nights like these but sometimes when I least expect it.

 

It’s in the lies I tell strangers with practiced ease, in the shot to the heart when a friend says just the right thing. It’s an itch to scratch and sweet bliss come passing, heart ringing with remorse and hearing gone static. 

 

Moments I wish I could change,

but I was carried 

away.

This is how you start over, vol. II

IMG_4808.JPG

It feels fitting, to run into you and your beautiful new girlfriend today of all days.

Thinking back on how badly I wanted to start anew, even back then. Even when I was completely oblivious to everything else that was going to happen, as that summer unfolded in a haze of color and stardust -part of me probably already knew. 

 

It took the rest of me almost two years longer than I thought it would, but I got there in the end. 

 

It's still a little crazy to me. I still don't know how to talk about it. I don't think I'll ever be ready for your smile changing as I listen and take my punishment. Soft and pitying, your eyes zooming right into my face as I ramble and swing my hands around like it doesn't cut a hole in my chest to be saying any of this out loud -please don't make me hide in the bathroom again. Look away, make it easy, just this once.

 

Timing is a funny thing, and baby so is hindsight. 

 

I wasn't meant to stay in that flat, or the one after that one, just like I wasn't a lot of other places, metaphorical and not, that I ended up at. I wasn't meant to be brave, not with you, not that time. I wasn't meant to live the life I was living, but I wasn't to realize that until much later.

It's almost comical. But it's also real life, not some fantasy I made up at seventeen. And god, does the real thing feel better than the fantasy ever did. 

Not because it's perfect, not even remotely close -but because I've worked so fucking hard for it.

 

I had to learn how to be brave after finding every excuse not to. 

I couldn't have done that with you. 

But you see, I also think I couldn't have done that without you

 

You hold the door open with your foot as your girl looks on and our friends come calling. I've got two years on my mind and one evening at heart. It's over now and it was when it started but it lives on as it lived then. Another life, maybe.

 

(I would not make the same mistake twice)

 

This is how you start over, vol. I

Diamond Dust

CSC_0219.JPG

This piece was first published on Dear Damsels.

It was a split second, barely even noticeable. One moment I’m handing my card to the woman behind the counter and trying my hardest to tune out the song blasted through the speakers. Something about a bird, freedom, driving down a midnight road. Groundbreaking lyrical genius, undoubtedly. I’m bitter, and cold, and I can’t wait to get out of there. One moment I’m counting cheese, pesto, red peppers, batteries and liquid soap, and did I forget anything? why can I never just make a fucking list, why did mother never teach me that becoming the kind of person who makes lists will solve like, 70% of my problems, why can I not just pretend I’ve got this under control. The next, something cracks and hisses in the air, I feel my knees buckle and my hands lose their grip. It was a split second, barely even noticeable. Anyone could have missed it.

I wish I had. I really do.

The drive back to the house is short and silent. I don’t turn the radio on, you don’t ask me to. You leave the bags in the back and I lock the car, we walk to the door together, but not really. You leave the light off and the living room door open, but for the first time in a long time it feels more mocking than it does an invitation. I scrub the snow off my boots, watch slivers fall to the carpet like traces of diamond dust I wish I could bottle up, like fragile unspeakable secrets that grip my heart and shake my shoulders as I listen to you whispering into the phone on the other side of the wall. Little white dust for little white lies, I think, and I suddenly can’t stop shaking. I walk up to the bathroom and turn the tap on, wait until a thick fog has settled on every surface then step under the scorching hot water, alone. 

 

Winter brings a few surprises, old and new. A frosty wind runs through the house and my frozen bones, my insides grey like mold, weak and rotten like I’ve never felt before. The car keeps stopping and starting. When we get it checked at the place in town they say it’s only old and run its course, and I feel like crying although I’ve never even liked that stupid car. I start shopping at a new supermarket further down over the hills. Their vegetables are mostly brown and they never have my favorite brand of pickles but I can walk around the neon-lit aisles without looking over my shoulders, so I think that’s a plus. I start making lists. It doesn’t solve anything, but it’s a start. The neighbors’ dog runs away and we spend two days looking for him. We find him on the third day, curled into a ball by a log near the lake, quivering and terrified and small, so small. I hold him tight and stroke him softly, thinking I know how he feels. I start working late. The phone is always ringing. You take your phone calls in the bathroom with the water running, loud, and I shut my eyes and feel my body sinking into the bed, into the floor, into the foundations of the house, deep at the center of the Earth where I won’t hear whispers and I won’t make a sound. We eat melted cheese on stale bread sticks sitting on the armchair by the fireplace, flames cracking either side of us as I dream they’d rise higher and higher and engulf us, destroy us, forgive us.

To the ends of the earth

IMG_6639.JPG

I’d been eighteen for less than three days when I first said it out loud. I’d been thinking it for a long time, but eighteen is when it came to a head and I was forced to lay my cards out on the open. Saying this is it, this is why, can’t you see? This is why I’m leaving. Why I can’t stay.

 

I think it must have always been at the back of my mind, a voice I never managed to shut up completely -half for lack of trying and half because eighteen is when the voices get louder, not weaker. 

 

I couldn’t tell you when it started -maybe when a High School teacher suggested I pick up Chinese as it would have been ‘a terrific advantage to my introduction to the job market’, and I had to push my nails deep into my thighs to stop myself from screaming. Could have been earlier, when I sang louder and moved faster and laughed harder than all the other kids at my school recital because I’ve always wanted to make an impression. Maybe somewhere in between, when my name was on all the boys’ lips even though I wasn’t the prettiest or the smartest or even the one who’d let them win at class games but because I was loud, loud, loud, and they had no choice but to remember me. 

 

Somewhere along the line, recognition turned to validation and I wanted more, more, I wanted it all. I was powerful because I was the most, and I fed off it, I thrived off it, clutched to it like a lifeline and forgot how to live without it. Then I said it out loud. 

 

Three days into it, eighteen was bad until it got worse. Eighteen was slammed doors and skipped meals and loud headphones and heartache like I'd never known before. It was a single phrase, uttered between gritted teeth then repeated louder just to see my mother cry. “I’d rather die than be like you. Do you hear that? I’d rather die than be ordinary, live a wasted life”. In the words of Avril Lavigne, anything but ordinary please -and say what you want but if there’s one thing Avril Lavigne knows how to do, that’s teenage angst. 

 

Teenage angst, which is in great part what my outburst was about. But also: fear of being anonymous, being forgotten, being one of many. Interchangeable. If not her, a hundred others just like her. Fear of everything and nothing, of not leaving a mark, of empty days and drunken weekends and the monotony of tick tick tick, blink and you’ve missed it. My heart shrunk and twisted on itself, screaming not if I get a say in this. Not on my watch.

 

So I did. I left and I tried and I lived by that, anything but ordinary please. 

 

Then I had a change of heart. 

 

Last week, I read an essay by Zosia Mamet about success, in which she says: ‘We are so obsessed with "making it" these days we've lost sight of what it means to be successful on our own terms. Having a cup of coffee, reading the paper, and heading to work isn't enough—that's settling, that's giving in, that's letting them win. You have to wake up, have a cup of coffee, conquer France, bake a perfect cake, take a boxing class, and figure out how you are going to get that corner office or become district supervisor, while also looking damn sexy—but not too sexy, because cleavage is degrading—all before lunchtime.’

 

Safe to say it resonated. Deep, deep within, it struck a chord.

 

Then I went to Brighton, where rhythms are slower and smiles kinder, warm like the sun rays I soaked up sitting alone by the beach one afternoon. And I went to Italy, where rhythms are even slower and whatever had been worrying me in London suddenly seemed so insignificant, as small and artificial as all city life troubles do when examined from a solitary bench overlooking a lake in the north of Italy, swans and dogs making small noises in the water while German tourists take pictures of their gelatos. 

 

Suddenly I was hit with a thought: what happens if I get there and nothing’s the way I dreamed it up? What happens then, when I’ve used up all my cards and every trick up my sleeve, but the promised land just won’t turn to gold. When there’s no promised land at all. 

 

A change of heart, maybe in plans. Maybe.

 

Arms Wide Open

IMG_1151.jpg

This post was first published on Dear Damsels.
 

We wake up early on our last day, and fittingly, it’s a Monday. It’s also uncharacteristically grey and cloudy, which might be San Diego’s way of saying Don’t go. I like to think so.

While she’s in the kitchen, I sneak into her bedroom to leave a couple of boxes of tea on her nightstand, together with her favourite chocolate digestives – because having a friend who lives in London has got to have some perks – but then she goes back in to look for a necklace and my surprise is ruined. It’s the thought that counts, I tell myself.

We make a gallon of coffee and drink it in the car. We listen to a podcast I haven’t heard of, complain about traffic, stop to get petrol. My coffee’s cold by the time we pull into the station, so time must have passed even though it feels like we only woke up minutes ago. Maybe I’m still dreaming. 
 

She helps me get my luggage out of the trunk, and we walk to the platform in silence. It’s sunny now. Don’t go.
 

We hug but don’t speak. Touch but don’t move. Then:
 

‘Come back soon, yeah?’ she says.
 

Yes, I nod.
 

‘Thanks for the visit. Love you always,’ she adds.
 

Miss you already, I think. Or maybe I say it. I think sometimes with us, there’s not really a difference. And then I blink and she’s gone, so I stand on the platform with my eyes on the car park and my heart in my throat.
 

We’re lucky, I think while I gulp and try to hold back tears. We’re lucky to have this, something good, and we’re lucky we met because the way we did is so improbable that it could easily not have happened, and then we’d have been robbed of moments like these. Years like these. 

We’re lucky, I tell myself. I just fucking hate goodbyes.
 

‘There’s nothing quite like sisterhood, is there?’
 

I turn in the direction of the voice and find a woman’s eyes on me. She’s sitting on the bench by the vending machine, shielding from the sun, and looks like the kind of grandmother you’d love to have over for a drink, or two; a warm, kind smile on her face and a big red poncho covering her shoulders. 

‘You ladies have something special. It’s beautiful,’ she says.
 

I smile a big smile, full of teeth and teary eyes, and she smiles back like we’re sharing secrets. 

‘I’m going to see my daughter in LA, and from there flying to New York to visit my sister. We’re very close, me and her, very close.’ Her hands move with her mouth, her long silver strands are in her face, in front of her eyes, still she smiles big. Secrets. ‘Are you going to LA, too?’
 

‘Yeah,’ I nod. ‘Going back, actually, I was just visiting.’
 

‘So you live out there, uh?’ she asks.

‘No, I— I live in London.’ 
 

‘Did you have a good time?’
 

‘It was wonderful.’ 
 

‘What was your favourite part?’ She looks at me like she wants to know, like she’s actually interested, and I haven’t seen that in a while; not in London. 
 

I guess for all its faults and cars and false bravado, America’s still a place where people ask questions like they want to know the answers. Funny.
 

My favourite part?



When we hiked while listening to a 2010 playlist and laughed ’cause we still knew all the words to that one Owl City song. When her parents had us over for dinner and made pizza from scratch because, ‘It’s in your honour, Anna’. When we saw a movie under the stars, and I met her friends and ate a burrito so big it took me 45 minutes to finish it but by the time I did I was smiling so wide you wouldn’t even notice that I’d spilled sauce everywhere and got pieces of rice between my teeth. When we sat on her couch and watched The Office all afternoon, because real friends are the ones you can spend an afternoon doing nothing with, and still have the time of your lives.
 

‘We saw some seals. That was really cool,’ is what I settle on. Then, ‘But I think— I think just being here was my favourite part. She always comes to me, you know? This was different.’ 
 

‘It’s very different. I love it over here. I’ve lived out East, too, but I never . . . I guess it depends on what you like. What you need. It can be everything, you know. Do you know what I mean?’
 

I nod. I do. It is everything.

‘What’s your name, dear?’ she asks, eyes wide open. 
 

‘Anna.’
 

‘Oh, my grandmother’s name was Anna, too! She was so beautiful. Like you, you’re very beautiful.’
 

I smile another big smile. I knew it was coming. This is California, after all.
 

Welcome home.

This is how we slip away

IMG_3321.jpg

First, it’s a missed phone call. You’re distracted, on your way somewhere, it’s rush hour and raining and it’s only a missed phone call. But you stare at the screen until it stops ringing, and only then look away. You will call back. 

 

You forget. 

 

Nothing’s wrong, is the thing. You have a lot on your mind, it wasn’t intentional. Why would it be?

 

You’re busy. 

 

Next, you reschedule a coffee date because something came up, but the truth is you woke up in a foul mood and just want to stay in bed and cry a lot. It’s not her, it’s not, it’s just -life. 

 

Raincheck? you ask. Sure, she says. 

 

But you don’t set a date, and neither does she, and it doesn’t happen.

 

Nothing’s wrong. 

 

You leave town for a day, then for a week, and send a picture of a sunset because you think she’d like that. She replies with a smiley face, and it’s fine. It is.

 

You start saying things like, I think she went to some party last weekend, and, I guess she has a new boyfriend. You’ve deleted Instagram but check her profile on the web version every day, which is something you wish they’d have warned you you’d start doing because, wow. 

 

You wince when you see new pictures with new friends in new places laughing at new jokes but maybe that’s the whole point of Instagram, really, so you let it slide. It doesn’t mean anything anyway.

 

You get mean and jealous and stroppy, and it’s ugly. You hate the words coming out of your mouth but it’s too loud in your head to stay silent. You repeat it doesn’t hurt enough times that people start believing you.

 

You hear about her big promotion and wish you could text but it’s been so long you wouldn’t know what to say. You hear about her breakup and wish you could call but you still hang up after the first ring. 

 

Nothing’s wrong but everything’s on fire.

 

Someone asks you about her weeks later and you catch yourself in time, but it’s a close call. You smile a good smile and say she’s doing fine, and it’s believable, really, it is. If you didn’t know any better, you’d think you didn’t miss her at all. 

 

You find a note she wrote on a napkin months ago, tucked between the pages of a book you haven’t picked up in a while, and it falls out as soon as you open it but your breath doesn’t hitch, it doesn’t. You’re just surprised, that’s all.

 

You’re my best friend and I love you a lot, the note says.

 

Your breath doesn’t hitch. It doesn’t.

How It Should Have Ended

teh2ojjwfgq-aidan-meyer.jpg

On their last night before the party 

she locked herself in the changing room

ate four arancinis one after the other,

like an animal, 

heart racing and cheese dripping,

and her hands losing their grip,

her legs shaking with the force of it, 

and she cried.

 

She cried tears of desperation

for the months she’d spent pretending

for the weeks she’d tried to hide it;

hidden like oh my, 

look at this mess 

look they’ve made a spectacle

now.

 

Things would’ve been different, 

if she’d heard him come in.

 

Her dress was itching 

and she tried to make a joke,

when he put his hand on her leg

and the arancinis threatened to come up.

 

Things would have been different.

 

She ran out on the street but November’s a real bitch

and she almost froze to death trying to shove two fingers down her throat.

 

Not very glamorous, 

but that was their goodbye;

that was how it died

with a hiss and a clash,

in the clamour of the night

in the cold,

in silence.

 

 

 

November Love

IMG_6639.JPG

It started as a fantasy, like all the best stories do. It started with a promise, long nights conversations / summer breeze sweeping us up in temptation.

I had a dream we’d move away, before my chest started aching / before your song started fainting / and your hands lost their touch while you played and I laughed ‘cause I was young but I wasn’t stupid.

It ended when it came to be the realest thing I’ve ever felt, because I’ve moved two cities and lived five lives but I think loving you was still the bravest thing I’ve ever done. 

There was a red light blinking in the distance and there was me playing a different song, counting mistakes / but when the tide washed up you hadn’t changed much anyway. Much like I couldn’t tear my eyes away, while you were looking over, much like I dreamed of a different life. What’s a little pain, anyway, what’s ripping your soul out, anyway. 

I got in the tub filled with lukewarm water and thought back on bike rides and goodbyes, not forever, but for a night / how you held my hand under the table, and asked to be excused ‘cause we were being so obvious. 

You picked me up and I laughed like a kid, I laughed in their faces, ‘cause more than anything I wanted them to see. The way your fingers digged into my naked thighs, the way your brother cheered as we ran through the crowd, freezing and soaked and young and so in love we couldn’t breathe right.

You gave me your sweater because I was shaking, one you’d found in a forgotten drawer / and I say I’ve forgotten but still I hide in the bathroom, sit on the floor, and think about the fabric on my skin, your lips on my skin, that knock on the door when you were gonna ask me to stay / and I smile like the actress I told you I’d be, I grit my teeth and I think, the sun can’t touch me here.

//

I have a different name, now, one you haven’t heard of. I move to different rhythms, move to foreign cities, find myself pretending. Sometimes for a living, sometimes for the hell of it. 

There’s arms ‘round my shoulders and fingers in my hair. There’s eyes on me now, there’s an ache in my chest / persistent, like it wants me to listen. 

He takes my hand and drags me through the crowd, through the mass of bodies stuck together by sweat, and music, and the fact that we’re all out here looking for something, staying for nothing, crying for everything. 

It's hurried, and frenzied, and there’s nothing romantic / about it. But it’s real and it’s happening and it’s better than the three before him.  

I’ve changed my tune, too, you wouldn’t believe. 

I breathe in and out a couple of times, and I start shivering because my legs are cold and my face exposed. One, two, three buttons. Let’s make it all up, pretend we were out there all along, there in the lights where the magic happens. 

“Are you staying?” He beams, bright and hopeful.

“I’m going.” I say, before I can regret it.

“Let me walk you out. Strange city, wouldn’t want you to get lost.” 

I tell him, “You don’t sound like you’re from here yourself.”

“Seattle, moved a few years ago.” A pause. Then, “It’s the place to be, isn’t it?”

Four, five, six buttons. This is where the magic happens.

“I guess it is. Maybe next time I’ll see you on the big screen.”

Something flashes across his eyes, and I almost ask about it. Almost. 

“When was the last time you had an epiphany?”, you asked all those years ago.

I think I knew all along. Even though it hurt, even though I couldn’t see, even though she was staring right at me / while you kissed the side of my face and I prayed for closure when all I wanted was another day.

You felt like butterflies in my veins. And home, you felt like home.

Love Don't Wait In Line

DSC_0094 2.JPG

There’s a story I read all these years ago, about a traveler who roams and roams and can’t find somewhere to call home. A boy who’s lost his place and is looking for something, is looking for meaning, is reaching for sky.

 

He walks nameless streets and kisses muddy lips / he wonders if this all there is, he wishes for a better start or an arrow or a heart or the kind of love that makes the stars burn / like he wishes he could. 

 

He falls hard and fast and runs faster; he hopes maybe running gets easier once you start forgetting what you’re running from, and isn't that the whole point? Maybe it gets harder once people stop waiting for you to come home.

 

It wasn’t a happy story, no, but it was a special one. 

 

I sat in my pyjamas at the desk in my old childhood room, with the red chair turned towards the window and a flower on top, and I cried over a boy who’d lost his mind, because I am the runner I am the sinner I am the frail hopeful half / I am the boy.

 

It's funny how long we spent trying, how we walked every road and looked in every corner; but the answer is never that well hidden really / it's in front of your eyes really. 

 

But running is easy and roaming is too, once you find your footing, you start to recognize the signs; you can always tell once you’ve kissed the last pair of lips before it’s night again and you’re on a flight again and there’s weeping and breaking and people calling but you’re only looking, you’re only wishing. 

 

Wishing it’d get easier, maybe / wishing you could stay.

 

*

 

I don’t know where my boy is now, or how his story ended, but I hope he found what he was looking for. I hope his days don’t keep him up at night and that maybe one time there will be a right time.

 

I wish him the best, I do.

 

I still sing his song, I do.

 

I still carry him with me, in case he changes course, and I wait for the sign / that this world might be changing, but he’s already changed his mind.

 

I hope his fire burns just as bright and bold and beautiful, and that he isn’t as lonely as he seems from my side of the glass.

 

It’s a fragile glass, and I think the boy is itching to break free. It’s a glass he spent a long time building, and a longer time behind, so it’s hard to forgive and forget and let the pieces fall to the ground in a mess of color and noise and icy blue eyes reminding you to stay. But sometimes that’s all we can do. 

 

Sink or swim. 

 

Fight or fly, like my boy did. Like I wish I had / I wish I could / I wish I will.

This is how you start over

IMG_2196.JPG

The first thing you notice is how green his eyes are. The second is that you’ve seen him before, and you’ve had the same thought, and your heart skipped a beat last time, too. Old habits.

 

Then you’ll notice how you gravitate towards him, and that your lips tilt into a smile every time he looks in your direction. Which is often. You steal a glance and he returns it, you bump your hip and he takes your hand. It works.

 

Next comes a revelation: that maybe, maybe this is how it was meant to be all along. Maybe this is why it didn’t work out with that other guy, and the one before him. Are you crazy, lady, you only just met. But we didn’t, this was months in the making. Don’t you see?

It’s the blind leading the blind.

The fifth thing you notice is how you can’t stop looking, touching, laughing, wishing. How you feel like a teenager again, and for the first time in a long time, that feels like a good thing. Maybe it’s a new start. Smile for the cameras, here comes the good bit.

 

You can’t stop fixing your hair,  your ankle, your mascara. You angle your body the right way and look out into the crowd in what you hope is a wistful pose, a grainy black and white shot with a cigarette and rain and jazz playing in the background. It’s not.

 

Your hair is flat and there’s black smudges all around your eyes because your mascara is running out and has gone lumpy and your feet hurt and probably smell a bit, too. But you’re happy. So damn happy.

 

You go for the candle instead of the straw and you laugh, you laugh, you laugh.  He laughs with you.

 

Looks like your brain to mouth filter took an extended vacation, because none of what you’re saying makes any sense and all of it falls into the “things not to say to an attractive guy” category but hey, you only live once. His eyes sparkle. You’re doing good, kid.

 

The next thing you notice is how you never want this to end. 

 

You say goodbye and he says he’ll call. You almost get the wrong train, you almost forget where you are. Your legs are shaky and your head feels fuzzy, maybe you’ve had one too many drinks. Maybe you didn’t think this through.

 

Are you gonna wake up tomorrow and wish you’d never talked to him at all, wish you’d said you weren’t ready? Would you have meant it?

 

You go home to an empty house. You spend 25 minutes taking off your makeup because your hands are useless when you’re drunk so you sit on the floor while you do it, while you wait. Wait for what? Water, you need water.

 

You’re suddenly cold and maybe it’s the alcohol in your system or maybe you’ve been sitting on the floor for too long but it’s not a good sign and it’s not a good start and you panic. You’re terrified and shaking and this was a bad idea.

 

Maybe you’re not ready. Maybe you’ll sit on the floor a little longer.

 

Yesterday he asked what your type was and if anyone at the bar had caught your eye. You tripped on your words and mumbled something about bankers, and how this is not your kind of bar. “So, hipsters, then? You like them weird?” It took all of your willpower not to blurt out, I just like you. I don’t know what to do about it, but I like you.

 

What if you’ll never be ready?

Get up from the floor. Stop waiting for the perfect guy, the perfect night, or the perfect moment, and savour the taste and the touch and the feeling instead. Savour the moment. Kiss boys under streetlights, drink strawberry cocktails, get on the wrong train. Miss the train completely. Hide in the toilet, laugh 'til it hurts. Get yourself together, and then get yourself out there. Sparkle, sparkle, sparkle.

Summer drinks and fuzzy feelings

1482539980938.jpeg

 

He pokes my side and passes me another bottle. I turn away and smile into the basket where we keep the oranges, where I think he won't see (he will).

 

I think maybe this is a chance. I think of an Arctic Monkeys song. I think of the oranges. My friend gives me one look and laughs as she pours some more drinks.

 

“Anna, ma tu sempre così te li trovi!” Anna, you always fall for the same kind of guys.

 

She’s seen this scene before. Different set, different time, different clothes. Same me, same longing. It’s a strange kind of longing. Something more than just an itch but less than a real need. There’s no need, just want.

 

Like I wanted someone to break my heart in November. Like I wanted someone to remind me what butterflies feel like. Like I tried to ignore it, avoid it, and then deny it, until I went home one night and got in bed with my clothes on, and I couldn't breathe right, and I wanted to punch something, or run away. And it was over.

 

This is short-lived, and less painful. This is good. This is what it's supposed to feel like. 

 

A bar, a garden, oranges. 

I think of that song again.I can't keep the smile off my face. I walk back to the bar and the guy behind the counter gives me a look, are you okay? I don't know, sir. See, I'm in too deep. I'm not used to this anymore, I've forgotten what it does to me. And I want to remember.

 

I've got this stupid smile on my face and my heart aches for something more. I want to remember touches. Tender, light, almost a whisper. Just to prove I can.

 

He flirts with the girl in the leather jacket and it's suddenly November again, and Curly is sitting opposite me but there's another girl in his lap and I'm talking about greek philosophers, and why am I talking about greek philosophers? His hand on her leg, her fingers tracing his jaw.

It's November again and I'm desperate and lonely and I don't want to be there.  

 

I smell oranges.

 

I'm back. It's May and I'm light and I'm free, Curly's long gone. 

 

I bump into him on my way back. I touch his back just to see myself do it, because I want to know I can. It's carefree and fun and something I need. Just to feel something.

 

I'm never gonna see him again and somehow that soothes me, it makes me feel safe. It eliminates the possibility of running into him in Liverpool Street when I'm wearing leggings and no makeup, so at least that's different from last time. 

 

He calls me over and motions to the drink behind the bar.

"Look, I kept that for you."

"Thank you."

"It's a strong one."

A pause. I take a sip. It's a good one.

"Your name is Anna, isn't it?"

I nod. He already knew that.

My friend laughs again, yells "Sei impossible! Tutti così!" You're impossible, they're always like this! She makes another drink. I take another sip from mine. Then another.

Back in November I'd told her I could never be with Curly because he's the kind of guy who crushes your soul and spits you out before you've even had a chance to figure out what's going on.

It's been six months and that doesn't scare me anymore, it almost makes me laugh.

It's almost what I want.

 

We hug and say goodbye at the bus stop, and I watch him turn the corner and disappear from sight. I look up at the sky, and it's still bright blue. The sun is still out. 

It's late on a Saturday evening in May and the sun is still out. I am light and free and glorious, and November is just a distant memory, something I can't relate to anymore. Now I smell oranges and I feel butterflies, and I can't remember the last time I wanted someone to break my heart. I am anew.

I notice a group of teenagers staring, and then laughing. I instinctively think I must have something on my back. On my jeans. Maybe my shoelaces are untied. Oh god, did I have something on my face the whole time I was talking to him? One of them comes up to me and says, "Excuse me, I don't mean to be rude but... Why are you so happy?" His friends laugh. I look puzzled. "I don't mean it in a bad way, I just haven't seen anyone look that happy in a long time. You were walking around with this big smile, looking like you just won the lottery." A pause. "Did you win the lottery?

I laugh. You know what, kid? Maybe I did. 

Forget Saint-Saens

This is my fantasy, if I want it. If I take it for what it is, and look at the bigger picture instead of trying to get the details right, this can be it.

I tell myself I didn’t get what I wanted because my blue-eyed-guy isn’t here to play for me and I’m 5 pounds heavier than I was at seventeen and I’m a bit of a mess at being an adult, but I’m not. I haven’t fucked up as much as I think I have, and I refuse to be too scared to see that I got exactly what I’ve always wished for. I’m gonna call it what it is, which is happiness.

Read More

The one who runs away

IMG_1258.jpg

“Are you surprised, as if it were a novelty, that after such long travel and so many changes of scene you have not been able to shake off the gloom and heaviness of your mind?

You should change your soul, nor your sky. 

Do you ask why such flight does not help you? It is because you flee along with yourself. You must lay aside the burdens of the mind; until you do this, no place will satisfy you.” 

Seneca, Epistles 1-65

 

I did a lot of translating from Latin in high school, and although I’ve forgotten most of it, this one maxim is still burned at the forefront of my mind, as if I’d read it yesterday for the first time.

 

The actual first time I read it was in High School, and I remember how my friends all laughed because oh Anna, isn’t this funny, oh Anna, doesn’t this remind you of someone. 

 

Me, it reminds me of me. 

 

I’m the One Who Runs Away.

 

When things get tough my animal instinct has always been to run for the hills. To give in to the voices in my head when they get too loud -the ones that likes to think life will be so much easier once I’ll find another town where people won’t know my name and restart from scratch. 

When things go right, sometimes I get so scared that running for the hills is the only option.

 

There was the Australian stunt that went wrong in 2011 and the New York one that went off without a hitch in 2012. There’s my parents’ house in that small town by the lake where nobody knows my face and nothing ever happens, which has been my life saviour since 2009. 

 

There’s that time I packed my bags at 19 and moved to London to be a new person, if we want to get technical. That counts, too.

 

I run away because it’s what I do best, and because staying is difficult when you’ve gone your whole life wearing your heart on your sleeve and you suddenly decide you want it back. If everyone knows your colours, they’ll always hold a piece of you. If nobody does, well. You’re safe.

 

You settle in, get a new mirror, light a few candles, pick new routines. Make new friends, change your hair, and change your accent, too. You sing new songs and name your favourite spots in the city and there’s big clouds coming but you’re safe. 

 

There’s a restlessness in your bones and the routine got old. You dream of different lands and play with paper airplanes, the sun doesn’t feel as warm and words acquire a different taste. Small and quiet and almost whispering, you tell yourself you know this feeling, you’ve felt this feeling. There’s big clouds coming and you’re not safe anymore.

 

I’m not safe. I’ve not been safe for a while now, but I’m trying to change my ways, you see. I ran away in winter because I had to, but I came back. 

I didn’t have anything but five brown boxes to come back to, but I did because I’m trying this thing called being a grownup these days and I’m told that facing life is what grownups do. 

It’s spring now, and I still don’t know how I feel about it. 

 

My feet are itching and my colours are showing, bit by tiny bit like I always knew they would. I don’t know what to do with my hands and I don’t know how to stop them from booking that flight. There’s an impatience in my eyes and I’d like to think it’s new but it’s the same me I’ve always known. It’s the me from the pictures, the one who runs away. 

 

Sometimes I wonder if it’s a sign that better things are on their way, if maybe leaving a life behind is really all it takes to get better. If I could make it work.

But I remember my high school friends laughing at me and Seneca laughing right along with them, and I remember Australia and I know what I’m trying to do.

 

I still have those boxes in the back of my closet. “Ready when you are”, they seem to say, and I don’t want to hear it but I will have to listen at some point because the only other alternative is staying. And I know I said I’m trying to change but I remember how good it felt to leave.

 

I remember how I kissed my best friend goodbye at 1AM in front of the Duomo in my home town the night before I left, and how I felt so powerful because the Duomo was destined to stay but I was done and I was free and I was flying. 

I sat on the steps and played Sweet Disposition and cried bittersweet tears and got my movie ending. 

 

What’s it going to be this time? London, show your hand. Show me how to stay, and we’ll get our movie ending some other way. 

 

Pink skies and butterflies and a girl trying to find her footing while her feet tap away, as if they were ready to go.

 

As if they were gone already.