The four of us sit around a small table, chatting with fervor. It has been too long, we say, over and over, so long that I don’t remember how it used to feel like. We have been given a rare chance, brought on by sheer luck, that has gathered us together in the same location, at the same time, without interruption. The ease in which we are able to meet stuns me. After weeks and months of careful planning, only to be destroyed by schedule conflict, we are able to come together by accident.

The first few waves of conversation send us into a frenzy. “You look so different!”, “What have you done with your hair?”, “Did you change your job?”, “What happened to you and that girl?”, and many others follow. There are too many questions to answer, too many things to share. We are urgent to realign ourselves together. We long to be a unit once more. Our voices rise, high and shrill, and the atmosphere in the cafe grows to a level of inappropriateness.

Only Christmas and 21st birthdays can bring us together like this. We always tell ourselves that our group is incomplete; as there is always someone who has other priorities. As we sit here drinking iced teas and chuckling at our past misdemeanors, we all know that reality won’t ever be as kind as our dreams. All the wishing in the world can’t keep us together. Perhaps it shouldn’t.

As I sit here and listen to the stories I would have heard firsthand if I had been there, I look at my chosen commitments. In the space of several years I have encased myself in a number of responsibilities, as we all do. And whether we realise or not, we have faded from the childhood photographs that reside in our minds. That smooth, full cheeked face is no longer familiar to me. I no longer feature in the adventures of my close friends either.

At the end of our short reunion, I ask for a photo. I usually dislike these sorts of things but I push past the temporary embarrassment. I need to remember this moment with a physical picture, something that I can grasp onto. It will be easier to delay the process of forgetting this way. I would do anything to slow down this process.


carry on

My boss is a kind, young man. I say young, despite the smoking, neglected diet, and developing belly bump. My coworkers and I all take turns to guess his age but he remains tight lipped. He says he feels like a grandfather already, but I see the youth inside him, every time he laughs without restraint.

He’s had a hard few months as leader, a position he’d happily step down from if he were not threatened with financial insecurity. Nothing new here. The job is shit, and everyone can attest to it. No one listens, and expectations rise without any allowances. Not a slave shift but degrading nonetheless. This is my first job, and so I don’t know what I should be expecting. But what rings alarm bells is that he seems to be under the impression that this is the norm. That work is torturous, money is the struggle of life, and there is no room for anything else.

There is no blame or judgement here. His life is unique, but the circumstances are similar to a great number of people in the world. His plight is not unheard, his fight not a solitary one. And no, it is not fair that some people have more than others. Some have more resources, favourable circumstances, or resilience to withstand the bullshit. Born with it, given it by others, or stolen from another. These are things that can never be shared by everyone.

But since I began working I have had the great opportunity to widen my horizons. It is easy to live in a bubble; to breathe, and eat, and think it for a lifetime. Again, no judgement. I’m learning that judgement has little room in a fruitful life. Some people can avoid change altogether.

I’ve had abuse thrown at me from the person on the other side of the display counter, but I don’t mind. Drunk off their heads probably, but another lesson in life for me.

My coworkers and I discovered that his birthday was coming up, and got together to plan a house party, with a hefty silver watch to end the night. I’d say the surprise went well. I’d say that I saw him feel something different, if only for a minute. He was silent with gratitude.

The next day we heard that the moment he got home he was notified of a family tragedy. Yes, life is unfair. But we will continue to try and care for those who mean something to us. I would choose nothing else.

first mornings

I wake at 5, and the world yawns with me

the hearth sits cold

we lie still, trembling

At the sill, the clutches of winter have sealed the glass

no one has yet to rein in the darkness.

glassy eyed strangers shuffle awake

flitting between the light of the street lamps

ghosts, in dark daylight

I merge into their line

layer upon layer, body against body

The wilderness has robbed us

left defenseless,

waiting for the rise of the day

first cut

The following passage contains themes of depression that may trigger some readers. 

Two years ago, I had a bad habit. And for a while, I was able to keep it to myself. It was quick and it worked, and that’s why I needed it. Life took a dive down somewhere dark, and I followed it, into my bedroom. That room became the centre of my world for a period of time.

I chose my mother’s pair of sewing scissors. I knew that she’d only ever used it for cutting threads, so the blades were still sharp. Usually you think of a knife, and I did consider it at first. On one of my days of skipping school I went to the kitchen and took out the knife we use to cut onions. It was a butcher’s knife. An image of a serial killer showed up in my head, and I dismissed the option. I didn’t want to hack off my arm. That was the stuff of horror movies, and it scares the shit out of me. I told myself that this was different. To this day, it still feels that way. So when people tell me it’s self-harm, a part of me thinks that they’re talking about something else.

I’d sit, knees together, behind my door. Crying of course, and in a state of despair. I didn’t get into this mess just for the hell of it. The start is always hard. The morals of my situation sat upon my shoulders. I could feel the two versions of me standing behind me; one meek, soft, and afraid, and the other roaring with pain. I heard their whispers and murmurs, not as words, but as waves of emotions. I felt emboldened, courageous, righteous, but felt my stomach lurching and my heart hammering and the fear clog my throat.

I was scared, of course. I wanted to do it, but it didn’t mean I wasn’t afraid of pain. To this day I fear pain, and it stops me from doing many things. But I know that in that moment, I was beyond my fears. Perhaps that was the worst part.

Cat Stevens was wrong, the first cut wasn’t the deepest. It was nothing, just a scratch. It stings, and it gives you nothing. But you get bolder with each stroke. I would see the scratch and long for a cut. And once I got the cut, I saw blood and grew ecstatic. It was like planting the seeds and waiting five seconds until your fully grown flower popped up out of the ground. I’d found a shortcut. I didn’t realise how gratifying it was until the deed was done.

So, I slashed away. I slid the blade across the groove in my skin, each time with more gusto. The blood would come up in tiny spots, on the places where the angle of the blade had broken the skin. I never managed to make a clean slice. I was too afraid. A bold cut would be too definitive, too obvious. I told myself that I wasn’t strong enough to cut so deep. I was doing something at the edge of my consciousness, at the very border of my limits. My mind was still protected from the full ramifications of my actions, and I knew that.

But with every attempt, I grew bolder and the desire evolved. I teetered along that line every time. I was afraid that if I made that great cut, I might lose my mind. I almost did.

Afterwards, I would get a wet tissue and wipe clean the pair of scissors. I spent quite a bit of time polishing it, making sure there was no traces of blood left for anyone else to find. I felt guilty for using my mother’s scissors for something that would surely break her heart. The process was calming, like washing away my sins. I imagined myself as the hunter, kneeling beside the game I had caught, wiping the sword clean on the grass. In some ways, it felt victorious. But, unlike the hunter, I knew I could not get up and walk away. I just couldn’t stop.

This is one of my experiences with mental illness, specifically with self-harm. In 2010, I was diagnosed with clinical depression, anxiety, and anorexic symptoms at the age of 16. Since then, I have at times struggled with my condition. I now feel that writing about this part of my life will nourish me, instead of ostracise me from society like I believed it would be. 

Please note, my intention for writing this passage is not to romanticise self-harm and depression in any way, but to express some of the thoughts I had during this time.

writing #2

Sometimes, I just don’t care. I want words to come out, I want them to be eloquent. Sentences to stop a gaze and make a mind consider. Something to stop the chatter, dull the buzz, pinch the skin, sound the call. Tell everyone you now have something worth reading, worth hearing. It’s not just ramble without a catch, not a confession, not a lie.

Good writing is subjective, but for the writer it is clear as anything what is worth absorbing and what is best ignored. Your own work, like a painting, will transcend from mediocrity to brilliance at a stroke of the brush. But quality oils and a burning idea don’t make a masterpiece. Good intentions are nothing but the first step. And the bridge cannot be crossed in one go.

Perfection rears its immaculate head.

writing #1

On writing: I write gems directly onto the page. I set them out on the table and ready my polish. But the glamour rubs onto my palms, and they are stones once more.

I pick up the pebbles from the discards. I whittle and chisel away, and they crack into pieces. It powders my hands.

And when I’ve thrown away my rag and kicked at the sand, my toe hits a rock and I fall back in pain. When I look up, I see a great, ugly slab. I can hear pounding inside, the throbbing of mismatched letters and spaces. Fragmented ideas and gestures. They shake and clatter, too weak to break the crust. Too young, unexperienced. So I take out a shovel and with a yell I smash it open. The pieces jump out. Now my work begins.

empty pages

There is something eerily disturbing about a blank page. I like forms, shapes, lines and rules: I know how to follow. I am the second-in-command who barks orders after the charming leader has delivered the inspirational speech. I write on lines and I place my letters upon them as if I were lining up a row of naughty children. When they escape the line I immediately sort them out.

But blank pages elude me. Art, squiggles, dots, strikes… limitless possibility. I had a compulsory art unit last year, in which I had to fill up an A4 blank journal with my artistic and investigative ventures. It was back to the early days of high school – I’d gotten my hands on an art scholarship and spent the next two years keeping my head down as others around me slaved over their unique clay sculptures. Some were evidently in an element of their own, while I was the impostor. I managed to pass the art unit (with a perfect 50) but not without a sense of disappointment at my fake art skills.

As I look upon my empty journal pages I feel something that some would describe as freedom. I describe it as boundless. I do not feel like soaring exactly; it is almost as if I could slip into the vast nothingness of the page and never return.

This is the fear I face every time I have a blank sheet of paper. My sister bought me a personal journal to record my thoughts, as I have done for years. It has been about a year and a half now. I wouldn’t call myself comfortable, but I’ve accepted it now.

One day, I will have the courage to tackle a blank canvass. But until then, I will continue to write in a disorderly fashion with my lines slanting to the right.