Pain isn’t something I am skilled at dealing with. Escaping pain, however, I am as good at as an Irish traveller is at fighting. Shrooms being my route of choice these days. It’s where the love lives. When life gets too ugly for me to be able to look at it, I discreetly slip away from the world and pay a visit to the realm of contentedness. These past few weeks I’ve been going there more regularly than I would usually need to. I am feeling emptier than I have in years. My spirit has been extinguished. An ache that won’t shift. A constant nausea. Too many shit things all taking place at the same time. A friend, one of life’s good humans, is lying in a hospital bed while her young kids and husband can only sit and put their faith in doctors and medical technology. Christmas. New Year. And not to mention the rejection dealt to me by a woman, – well, two rejections. Just one woman. But I was fool enough to climb back into her bed the moment she let me and then in the morning deja vu – who has, although not intentionally, absolutely crushed any confidence or feeling of self-worth that I had in myself before I met her. Destroyed. Man, I was in such a good place before that girl came into my life and turned it upside down. These things combined have knocked me on my arse. Not that anyone will know it. I am not a talker. Friends trying to engage me in conversation about what’s going on in my life just make me recoil. They meet a brick wall. It is not my way. Nor am I a social user of anything. I don’t like to have company when I’m feeling the benefits of whatever it is that my body has ingested. I fly solo. A bit of Me Time. I wait until I know I have the flat to myself for a night, and if that situation doesn’t arrive I take a bus out to my mum’s house in the sticks. No city, no cars, no street lights, no noise, and most importantly no people. A retreat. A place where I can get under the covers, drink tea, get as stoned as I want without being disturbed, and float away with the aid of some shrooms and some psytrance. It gives me perspective. Helps me to remember, even if only for a short while, that I have been prescribed an extreme dose of good fortune and managed to escape the poverty by being given the opportunity to work again, after a few years of sitting in a damp corner, occasionally having food gifted me by charities, shoplifting at times, and at other times just going without nutrition. Makes me realise that surely that was a far less desirable situation to be in than the current one of emotional trauma over a woman. Emotion is forgotten when you’re starving. These days I can eat when I’m hungry. I can drink when I’m thirsty. And I can smoke weed when I’m…….. awake. Basically. This time last year I couldn’t do any of those things. Well, as my dad used to say to me as a kid, “There’s plenty of water in the tap.” So I could drink. But you get the point. Things have been worse. Even if it doesn’t feel like it at the moment.
A week or so ago when I didn’t have any work the next day, I travelled out to my mum’s with everything I needed to be able to chill out. In the evening I laid down on the settee in the living room, ate some shrooms, wrapped myself in a blanket, got comfortable, pulled my hood up over my head, put my music in my ears and closed my eyes to block out the telly in the corner of the room that my mum was sat on the other settee watching. She knew to leave me in peace to enjoy my trip. And then the usual vivid memories started to come over me. The ones where I am actually back there, experiencing it again but at the same time detached, like Scrooge stood next to the ghost of Christmas past. If that makes sense. I went back to a night almost 20 years ago.
It is the 30th of June 1996. The night of the football European Championships final between Germany and Czech Republic. I’m 12. I’m in the living room of the house I grew up in, on the settee, watching the game, with the sound down low. My mum is sat on the armchair doing a crossword, waiting for Coronation Street to come on. We don’t talk much, and never about anything deep or personal, that is a no no, the only words uttered tend to form a dark joke or observation intended to make the other laugh, and then the silence resumes. Most evenings pass like this. My mum and I are nearly always together. But each trapped in our own personal prison cell, inside our minds. The air smells like sadness. As if somebody is dying. My mum has bi-polar but it won’t be diagnosed for a few years yet, so she isn’t receiving the correct treatment. The haunting silence and dead eyes are a regular. This is just how it is. She has periods of light, she has periods of darkness. My dad, an airport security guard, is working nights, so we rarely see him, only hearing him during the day as he bangs his fist hard on his bedroom floor or shouts swear words and threats to let us in the living room below know that we are making too much noise. We’re not making any. I’m a strange kid. Twisted sense of humour. Depressed. I can make people laugh though. I’m full of anger. For my school. For my teachers. For the fact that we’re hungry. That my dad is a bullying alcoholic. That my mum is constantly enveloped in a black cloud. That I am too. Apart from when I’m in the park playing football, that is. Then you won’t find a happier kid. There’s an unacknowledged understanding between me and my mum. We leave each other to it. We don’t attempt to reason with one another. We get it. After the football’s finished and the Germans are parading up and down on the screen showing off yet another trophy, my mum says, ‘There’s a few coins in my purse that your father doesn’t know about. Shall we get a bar of chocolate?’ I look in her purse and find 90p in shrapnel. My mum is smiling like a little kid, excited. Being able to afford a bit of chocolate is not something we are used to. It’s a rare treat. ‘Can you get me a Caramac, please? What are you gonna have?’ she asks. ‘A Twirl.’ And then I walk down the hill to the corner shop, in the twilight, inhaling the summer evening. I am happy to be outside. Happy to be on my own. When I get home I sit on the armchair she sits on the settee and we enjoy our chocolates without talking. The telly is on.
Back in the here and now, I disturbed my imagination by opening my eyes for a moment. Reality. Not pretty. The telly was on. The lights were off. The Christmas tree in the corner flashed red. I turned my neck to look at the other settee. There was my mum. Sitting there, enjoying some sweets that I had brought round for her. Playing Candy Crush. Entranced. Still in that prison. Still trying to escape it, in this case with her latest addiction. Candy Crush. Sad. And then the realisation hit me. Nothing has changed. We’ve been in the same room together for a couple of hours without saying a word to each other. Without moving. And I’m doing the same as her. I’m looking to escape myself, in this case with shrooms and weed. I look at my mum and try to imagine what it must feel like to lose a husband to suicide. But I can’t. Just like there are things that I’ve experienced that she would never be able to understand. Although she can understand perfectly well how it feels to have a parent kill themselves. Because it happened to her decades before it happened to me. There are reasons I was brought up never to talk. And have remained living by that standard ever since. I want to give my mum a hug, but I can’t. We don’t do hugs or kisses in my family. Ever. I’ve probably hugged my mum twice in my life. I never hugged my dad, although we did grab each other round the throat and pin the other to the wall a few times, who was doing the pinning depended on who happened to be bigger and stronger at the time. And the only time I’ve ever hugged one of my sisters was once after my dad’s death. The only time. I still often struggle to put an x at the end of text messages to them. The thought of giving my mum a hug makes me tense up in discomfort. I can’t hug people that I’m close to. Fucked up, eh?
As I lay there, having all these thoughts, feeling all these things, my mind played me a little montage of all the different times over the years that we had passed evenings in this way. In this almost exact setting. The same two people. In a room. On different pieces of furniture. In their own tragic worlds. Silent but reassuring company to one another. I took my hood off, pulled my earphones out of my ears and said, ‘Mum, how many times over the last three decades has it been just the two of us sitting in a room together like this, with the furniture positioned so we can’t even see each other, not speaking a word? Telly on in the background, an’all! How many times over the course of the last 30 years!’
She paused. And then she burst out laughing. ‘Yea!’ she said. And then I started laughing. We were both laughing together because we both got the joke. I was also laughing because of the shrooms in my system. And then she looked back down to Candy Crush, while I popped my earphones back in, put my hood back up and closed my eyes to go back to that happy place. And there I stayed, and there I understood, and there I received a warm hug from the earth. A nice trip.
A couple of days later I was lying in bed, stoned, listening to music and hugging a pillow. You have to laugh at the pathetic nature of that sentence! Even I am. I had to take the recycling out, though, and sent a message to a friend I was chatting with on my mobile saying that I had to go out into the cold when all I wanted to do was stay in the warmth with the pillow. And then the concept that is known as Pure Chance showed that it has a sense of humour. As I turned around from the recycling bin to walk home again, a girl that I did not know asked if I wanted a hug. You couldn’t make it up! There were two of them, a girl and a boy, or a woman and a man, whatever, wandering around the neighbourhood offering people free hugs. ‘Damn right I want a hug!’ and the girl hugged me. And I hugged her back. And it felt fucking good, man! That girl knew how to give a proper hug. And then I took a hug from the bloke, too. It wasn’t quite as pleasurable, but still it wasn’t a bad effort. And as I made my way back to my flat feeling energised, I couldn’t help but be struck by the absurdity of it all. I can’t hug my mum, I can’t hug my sisters, I can’t hug my friends, not properly anyway, and I can’t hug most girls that I get with, and yet put a stranger in front of me that I have no connection with whatsoever, someone I’ve never met, not even spoken to, and I’ll embrace the fuck out of them. It’s fucking ridiculous. Other families aren’t like this. Surely. I think you have to laugh.