Ascendant Here On….
Ascendant Here On….
You can come back if you want to but no one ever does.
I told them I’m ready, it’s time to leave now.
How do you erase what was never there in the first place?
I realised today that I have not spoken a syllable to another human being (including myself) for a whole week, neither have I stepped outside of my front door. I spend hours watching nothing in particular from my window. The couple that live in the flat next door are arguing again, I never know what about, the language sounds Eastern European, but I imagine it is about money, it usually is. My money is running out. Maybe in the end it will be this that makes me give in. There’s not much more they can tell me now, I have no more questions, and no more reasons to stay. I wonder for the millionth time how long it will be before anyone misses me. And I know my sister is waiting.
I was woken up last night by the sound of the television coming from the next room. I sometimes fall asleep in front of my TV, but I surely wouldn’t have gone to bed without switching it off. I lay there for a while retracing my actions (brushed teeth, took sleeping pill, read..etc), but couldn’t figure it out at all, so I got up.
My 13 year old self was watching an old TV show from the sixties. “I haven’t seen this one” she said.
I sat down to watch it with her for a minute or two.
“It’s the episode called Murdersville, I’ve seen it.”
“Well of course you have, you’re seeing it now.”
“Right, I see what you mean…”
I get up and make some tea.
“What happened to our sister?” she asks me after a while
“I was going to ask you the same thing.”
She watches the rest of the episode.
“That was a good one, I like Mrs Peel best.”
“So what about our sister?”
“She’s waiting for us.”
“I’m tired, I want to go back to bed”.
“What are you waiting for?”
What am I waiting for?
“Maybe turn the volume down in case it upsets the neighbours”.
Then I went back to bed.
I am not the only island, there are a few others living here. Every Thursday I see the same man walk to the bus stop in a duffle coat and West Ham scarf, and return 2 hours later struggling with recycled grocery bags. Perhaps I am the only one that sees him, hiding in plain sight. It’s not really the same, because I know isolation is not his choice. He was only a person in relation to his wife, and now she is gone he no longer sees himself reflected in her eyes, the only tangible evidence he had of his own existence.
If I am defined by my reflection in the eyes of others then I should be nothing. But I see myself reflected in every window, every painting, every song, every book… what narcissism! There was a period in my late teens I would listen to The Smiths every day. The singer was the king of the narcissists, but sang such beautiful words, “This night has opened my eyes and I will never sleep again.” And then there was Ben Watt’s North Marine Drive, fragile bedroom things written by a maudlin teenage boy with his life to come, listened to by a self obsessed teenage girl with her life waiting to happen.
Where’s your sense of humour girl?
You and me J, only hearing the music, speaking to me again now through the tape hiss of time.
I have a box of photographs, mostly family pictures, or from my time at college when I was briefly someone’s muse. It’s been years since anyone took a photograph of me. I don’t give in to nostalgia easily, but I do sometimes take the box out and lay the photos out around me while I paint. The strangest thing…I have had the sense for a while that every time I do this there are photos in the box that were not there before, snapshots of moments I don’t remember being photographed at all. Until today I put it down to my bad memory, but tonight there is a photo that I know cannot be. It is of me and my sister, down at Grand Union, it’s twilight. I know that this photograph was never taken, it simply cannot exist. And yet here it is in my hand like a still from the movie of my life.
Four of them came tonight, it’s never been so many before, so I know it’s serious, they interrupt my dreaming.
I am making my way up through the burned out shell of a building, floor after floor, room after room of decay and ashes. The wind blows through the empty corridors and stairwells, the carrion call of memory. I am looking for something or someone. Ghosts of people who were once here.
“We are not lonely, because we chose to be alone.”
“We are not lost, because we chose to disappear.”
I look out at the awning of the stars across the sky. And the wreckage of the night.
Streets pretty deserted this morning, just me and the dog walkers. The detritus of the night before, and something else, I pick it up. A handwritten letter fluttering amongst the cans, bottles and fast food packaging. The ink has been washed away by the rain in places, and elsewhere parts have been crossed out. A love letter, possibly unrequited. Either it was never sent or the recipient simply threw it away.
“I love you but I’m lost…”
Hand cannot erase this love.
I barely know my brother. I know he has a wife and 2 children, but I have no idea if he’s happy or what is important to him, I never did, he never gave anything away. Maybe he learnt that from me. I met his family once, the last time I went home for Christmas, 4 years ago, the children were too young to understand who I was, and I’m sure my brother and his wife probably figured their Aunt was always going to be largely absent from their lives anyway, so no point letting them get close to me. But still every year I get a Christmas card from them and an invitation to visit, whether out of duty or genuine concern I couldn’t say. It arrived today and for some reason this time it made me cry. I realised there’s no point now.
I know you are reading this J.
“My Book of Regrets”
Here we go again.
It’s been so long since anyone called me on my phone I almost forgot I had one. That’s weird I thought, not even someone trying to sell me something. It was keeping me awake thinking about it so in the middle of the night I got dressed, went down to the pay phone next to the bus stop and dialled my number to make sure there was no problem getting through. It started to ring, so then I knew for sure that it was just that noone ever called me. Although when I thought about it I couldn’t remember ever giving the number to anyone, not even my brother, who prefers to email me anyway (can’t remember when he last did that either though, maybe on my last birthday). I was just about to hang up when the phone was answered. After a few moments of heavy silence I said “who are you and what are you doing in my flat?”. A woman’s voice responded “I’m waiting for you…. And anyway what do you mean by calling at this time of night? People are normally asleep at this time you know.” I could hear one of my sister’s old mix tapes playing in the background.
“That’s as may be, but it still doesn’t explain what you are doing in my flat. And anyway I literally left a minute ago so you can’t have been waiting long”.
“Yes I know that, I can see you from here. You passed me on the stairs now, didn’t you see me? By the way your milk is off, can you pick some up while you are out?”
“Yes I suppose so, will you still be there when I get back?”
“Yes of course, I told you I’m waiting for you. We have a lot of catching up to do. I always liked this tape”.
When I got back of course there was no one there. I put the new milk in the fridge, poured the old milk into the sink and went back to bed.
It was raining again.
Why do I still stay? It gets harder and harder to answer that question. I think the visitors ask me this, or maybe I just ask myself in my head, but sometimes over and over again like an anti-mantra. I dream of the disappeared. I dream of Sian Preston, Teresa Cavanagh, Jane Rimer. I dream of Lena Springer and Madeline Hearne.
Recently I’ve been haunting myself. A few days ago I woke up some time in the middle of the night, but didn’t open my eyes for a long time, just lay there listening to the rain on the window. When I did open my eyes I was standing at the end of the bed just watching. Then I leaned over and handed myself an envelope with the words “A List of Betrayals ” written on the front of it. It’s still on my bedside table, I haven’t had the courage to open it yet.
Are you still following me?
Someone is following me.
We are a crowd of millions separated by concrete walls.
Every day I watch the same people from the estate at the bus stop, and the same people on the bus on my way to and from work. They never talk to each other or interact in any way that I can see, but they are all part of this crowd. They are as familiar to me as anyone alive, but I have never spoken a word to any of them.
Tonight I was painting a self portrait, but occasionally I would look out of the window down to the bus stop and there was a kid waiting there, a girl of maybe 11 or 12. I watched her for a long time. Buses came and went but she didn’t get on to any of them. At some point mid evening I must have dozed off because I woke up several hours later in darkness.
Anyone will tell you that in the city there is no such thing as silence, there is always a soundtrack, whether it’s the hiss of a train in the distance, next door’s TV, or the hum of the central heating. But tonight I can hear nothing, just a heavy claustrophobic silence. I check the clock, 3.25am. I make my way to the bedroom, but as I do I pass the window and glance out. The girl is still there, alone now. Only now she seems to be gazing back at me, across the hundred yards or so from the bus stop to my window. The room is dark so there is no way she can see me, but still I know she is staring at me. Not around me, or vaguely in my direction, but directly through my eyes, deep into my turbulent soul.
I found this on-line today.
Lena Springer disappeared in 1876. Despite an intense search by police, she was never found. Her family always held out hope that the quiet but kindly girl would return. They waited years, eventually dying one-by-one still with the hope that their beloved Lena might come back.
Long after all her living relatives had died, Lena Springer returned in the most extraordinary fashion. She suddenly materialised in August 1954 in the middle of a busy street in downtown Vienna, 78 years after vanishing without a trace. Seconds after appearing in the midst of heavy traffic she was struck down and killed by a bus.
The bus driver who struck and killed the odd pedestrian testified that the woman seemed bewildered and confused. The driver swore the woman literally appeared with no warning right in front of him. Although the deceased dressed immaculately and her clothes looked new, the police investigation confirmed the mystery woman lying dead on the street wore clothing almost a century out of date. Police found coins long out of general circulation, some still retaining mint lustre, in the woman’s purse, along with banknotes dating from the 1870’s. Also about her person were letters on crisp paper and with handwriting unfaded by age. The letters were dated 1880 and addressed to Fräulein Lena Springer.
Officers went to the address on the letters and found an elderly man living there, who identified himself as Herr Elkan Springer. During a lengthy interview with Herr Springer, he told investigators that his aunt Lena has disappeared during her daily walk 78 years before. At the time he was only 3 years old. Reports were made by the family and an investigation was undertaken by authorities, but no trace of his missing aunt ever surfaced. The year was 1876. Lena Springer was 28.
Herr Springer was able to produce an old family photograph of his mother with his aunt Lena. It was the exact likeness of the woman killed on the busy Vienna street.
Lena Springer died 104 years after her birth, at the age of 28.
The visitors told me no one ever comes back, but what about Lena Springer I ask them?
Look for me and you will find me.
Tonight it’s 2-tone night at The Hope and Anchor and the trumpet refrain from Ghost Town drifts across the estate like a sombre fog. Even though I have to work tomorrow I find I can’t sleep, so I end up watching the club-goers staggering out paralytic in the early hours, the 40-something are-you-looking-at-me brigade, still picking fights, but these days without any real agenda.
I told the visitors to leave me alone for a while, I need to think.
The smell of burning leaves. I’ve barely spoken 20 words in the last month. It makes me even more uneasy when I don’t hear from the visitors for weeks on end.
Laika has disappeared. She hasn’t been home for a week, I threw out her cat food today.
That was another waste of time.
A list: ”Things that calm me”.
I thought it would be easy but after half an hour there were just two things on it:
1. My cat
While doing this I opened my second packet today. Cigarettes calm me. Well, just for a few minutes, but it’s a start.
Have they been back since? I can’t remember, but I see the lights in the sky. I don’t feel any better after they visit me.
Instead I think I should go to a doctor.
I swallow a couple of pills. Laika jumps on to my lap, curls up and goes to sleep.
The ticking of the kitchen clock…. nothing else. The city sleeps beyond my window. But the city never sleeps.
Looking out tonight I see lights in the sky. The lights become more, then less. Afterwards just the unholy glow of the city. Ticking. Silence. And a growing feeling of warmth inside me. I close my eyes. The warmth is wandering through my body, through my chest, into my mouth. My eyes are still closed and I’m not here anymore.
The night ends.
They left me a book called “Key of Skeleton”, I’ve been reading it, but it’s hard to follow, and I’m constantly distracted by the old episodes of a cookery based game show that seem to run all day long every day on TV. I’ve been watching it for weeks, and I don’t seem to have seen the same episode twice yet, so there must be hundreds. Sometimes they show old episodes of Antiques Roadshow instead.
They asked me to recall a time when I felt completely happy. First I thought about my sister, but then I remembered a time when I was taking a train journey with my mother, I must have been about 4 or 5 years old. We were going to the seaside in Wales. It was a long hot Summer and we were passing through miles and miles of sun bathed countryside with cows and sheep and horses. My mother was happy that day. There was no one else in the carriage, it felt unreal. I didn’t want it to end. For me the happiest moments have always been somewhere between departure and arrival, when there’s no set-up to the story, and it doesn’t go anywhere, or really have an ending.
Regret is a very human impulse. At least I don’t imagine Laika has any regrets. You have a million possibilities open to you, but in the end you need to make a commitment, or you stay in a holding pattern of indecision and nothingness forever. Perhaps I am too afraid of being haunted by the ghosts of those other paths.
They prowl my flat tonight. They won’t leave me in peace.
I watch Laika from the window stalking sparrows. Birds can be pretty stupid, I read that the cat moves its tail when it’s closing in on its prey, because the bird fixates on the part of the cat moving the most and thinks it still has a few more precious moments to feed before it needs to escape. If it takes to the air a split second too late it’s curtains for the bird. But these birds are smarter and always get their timing exactly right, so eventually Laika gives up and comes home, but then gives me a nasty scratch with her claws when I try to pick her up. Some kind of quota of suffering inflicted on another living creature has been achieved after all.
You know the internet makes it even easier to be invisible J.? You can pretend to be whoever you want to be, create whatever construct you want to pass off as your life and personality, and then erase it all with just a few clicks. I think you would hate it, but who knows? I would have said the same thing about me until I got sucked in, at least for a while. I started with a Facebook page, I don’t know why I agreed to it, but one of the girls at work set it up for me, so before I knew it I was checking for new messages and friend requests every day. For a few minutes at first, and then whole evenings would pass by finding pages dedicated to artists, musicians or films I liked (or the ones I wanted people to believe I liked anyway) and placing them in some kind of order on my page. Before you know it you are buying things you don’t want or need, telling personal details to total strangers, and arguing on a forum with a kid from Utah about why David Lynch is not a pretentious douchebag. After about 6 months I woke up one morning and just felt sick to my stomach with the whole thing and deleted my page – boy, that felt so good, to erase myself again. Me, the disappearer. Anyway, what I wanted to say was that it seems while I was in this phase I joined a site called Friends Reunited. I had totally forgotten about it, but I guess I was trying to find some trace of you. Today I had a message through the site from someone I went to school with. She lives in Philadelphia with her husband and son, and their dog, works for a big department store chain, buying shoes. She included some old photos of us on a school trip to Whitby in North Yorkshire, but it definitely wasn’t me in the photographs, and I don’t recognise her name, so I think she got the wrong person.
The streets are Marie-Celeste deserted, but the sky is more active than I have ever seen it before. The light from the city usually makes it impossible to see the stars, but on a warm night like this I can take the bus to a place where everything is dominoes and chiaroscuro. Still light that travels for years to reach here, but now there is also something else in the sky, much closer to home. I must be dreaming again.
After I finished painting tonight I couldn’t sleep, so I sat looking out the window. It was a cold but perfectly clear night. Sometimes I just gaze for hours at the cityscape stretching on forever in all directions, but tonight a couple arguing at the bus stop broke my reverie, so instead I watched some TV and had a drink, then managed to fall asleep for an hour or so. I woke up a few minutes ago. It’s beginning to get light outside.
I remembered what they asked me the night before, and I thought about the dog the Russians sent into space in the fifties, Laika. They found her living as a stray on the streets of Moscow and figured no one would miss her. She was always meant to die, there was no other possible outcome.
I’m going to call my cat Laika, I think she likes it, she was asleep on the sofa, but when I said it out loud she opened her eyes.
They visited today. Asked me strange questions, like “would you be missed, and if so, by who?”. I figured it would most likely be the energy company, it’s been a long time since I had much contact with anyone including my family, they seemed happy with that.
“Would you be missed, and if so, by whom?”
For as long as I can remember I have collected stories of the disappeared, women who simply vanished one day without any warning. My mother was always bemused when I would cut these articles out of the newspaper, but I felt some sense of responsibility to these women, to keep them close to me, just as most people simply stepped over them on their way to the football results. Sometimes there would be a follow up story, a missing person had been dragged from a lake or found in a ditch. But more often there would be no follow up at all, and the mystery would just hang there, at least it did for me. The reports I was most fascinated with always had some small detail that made me think perhaps these people disappeared by choice, an apparently insignificant item missing from their room, or something out of character they said to a friend just before they went missing. I was sure these were not victims, on the contrary they were people in control of their own destinies who simply no longer wanted to be where they were and who they were. Stories not about loss and tragedy, but about escape and rebirth. Isn’t it actually quite an appealing idea to leave everything behind and start again with a blank slate? Did someone offer them this chance?
I’ve been trying to think of a name for my cat (how to refer to her majesty), but nothing seems right yet.
I adopted a cat! Or I suppose with cats it’s always the other way around. 3 days ago I came home from my night shift in the early hours and there she was sitting outside my door, just looking like she was pissed at me for keeping her waiting. I was amazed how easy it was to make the decision to keep her. A week ago we were one, now we are two.
My sister used to say that to me. She has returned to my thoughts a lot recently, after years of barely thinking about her at all. It was a strange feeling when my parents adopted a child, but in a nice way, to have someone I could talk to and confide in. I think she’s the person I talked to the most in my whole life, even though we were only together for the 6 months leading up to Mum and Dad separating. At the time I wondered if they adopted her to try to bring them closer together, or just to distract me from what was happening between them. I never saw her again and I don’t really understand why I never tried that hard to find her, or why it seemed so easy to forget, but then I assume she never tried to find me either. Sometimes things that meant so much at the time mean nothing in the end. I never felt brave enough to tell her everything, but in time I definitely would have, especially as I suspected they visited her too. I think it was why we connected.
Against my better judgement I went to a party tonight, someone at work who I actually spoke to a few times, is leaving. It’s surprising (to no one more than me), but I’m actually pretty good at parties. While I’m making pleasant small talk you would never guess that in my head I’m simply biding my time before I can return to my solipsistic cocoon. Like going to church, a party is a ritual that once had a purpose, but not any more.
As an indulgence I took a cab home. Gazing out through a taxi window at the streets of London on a Saturday night is like watching reality TV with the sound off.
Where do you go if you don’t belong anywhere? If I wanted to run away then why come to the city? Because this is the place to hide. This is the place to be invisible. Anyone can be no one here, and I am someone that wants to be no one.
I move from somewhere to everywhere to nowhere. Do you see me?
One of my neighbours has been listening to the same song over and over since new year’s eve, “dance, dance, dance to the radio”. I remember this song.
I still have the mix tapes my sister made for me, but listening to them makes me too sad, so when I do feel like hearing music (less and less), I have the beat up Dansette record player that used to belong to my Dad, and some classical LPs I bought at the charity shop for 50p. My favourite to listen to in the dead of night (3am is perfect) is Quartet for the End of Time by Olivier Messiaen. In the cover notes it says he wrote it while he was in a German prisoner of war camp for the musicians in the camp to perform. A message on the back of the sleeve in faded ink: “Love you until the end of time, P xxxx”. I wonder if it was time or love that ended first for them.
Ok, so there was one person I got close to. My one and only serious romantic relationship started during my second year at college. He was a photographer, and of course he did all the pursuing, I wasn’t interested at first, but then I found I liked the idea of being both an artist and a photographic muse, I wanted to be Lee Miller to his Man Ray. And yes I liked him, we had fun. But in the end I felt the same way I always did when I tried to be normal (whatever that is), like I was playing a role in a dream of a life, but only by somehow sacrificing my real self.
Whenever we were together I was counting the seconds until I could be on my own again, and I knew that couldn’t be a good thing. Sometimes I couldn’t hide the fact and I hurt him deeply. So in the end I got what I wanted, and I was alone again.
The shocking thing is how easy it is to disappear if you really want to. The whole process of hiding in plain sight started again at college. Fulfil the minimum requirements, socialise just enough, be friendly but don’t make friends, have the occasional sexual dalliance but never give them anything they can fall in love with. Be in plain sight but don’t let anyone see you.
Despite my efforts to be completely invisible to other human beings, I found I couldn’t help but stand out when it came to drawing and painting, and no one was more surprised by this than I. Incredible to me and my family though it was, it turned out that I was a natural when it came to decoding the world I saw and representing it somehow on paper. I wasn’t really sure myself if what I was painting and drawing was real, or in my head. Everyone wanted to know where these strange ideas and images came from, but I knew instinctively that it was not something I should talk about. So I got used to being noticed for this one thing, and yes I suppose I did feel a little pride about it too. It also meant that when my parents would ask me what I was going to do when I left school I at least had some kind of answer that seemed to satisfy them.
When I was 13 I had a sister for 6 months.She arrived one February morning, pale and shellshocked, from past lives I could not imagine. She was 3 years older than me, but in no time we became friends.
We’d listen to her mix tapes; Dead Can Dance, Felt, This Mortal Coil…
She introduced me to her favourite books, gave me clothes, and my first cigarette.
Sometimes we would head down to Blackbirds moor to watch the barges on Grand Union in the twilight.
She said “The water has no memory”.
For a few months everything about our lives was perfect.
It was only us, we were inseparable.
Later that year my parents separated and my sister was rehoused with a family in Dollis Hill.
For a month I wanted to die and missed her every day.
But gradually she passed into another distant part of my memory.
Until I could no longer remember her face, her voice, even her name.
I managed to get through school without being noticed much. I was lucky that I was naturally bright enough to achieve acceptable grades with the minimum of effort. My parents showed mild curiosity when my school report arrived at the end of each year, but the teachers always said basically the same thing; I was quiet and conscientious but not fulfilling my potential (potential for what I wondered).
Neither of my parents really had any idea what made their daughter tick. I never once saw either of them read for pleasure, but I spent all my spare time devouring books and music. My father had a portable record player but only 2 records that I remember (a Sibelius symphony and a record of kitschy Christmas songs), so he let me have the player in my room, and over time I bought a few records, mostly when I just liked the cover or title. My favourite find was a record called Sunset Wading. I had no idea what it was, but I bought it because it was on sale, and I figured no one else would buy it if I didn’t. Plus I loved the cover of a man in silhouette paddling in the water at twilight. It looked like the kind of place I wanted to be. I drew and painted while listening to it over and over.
I do love my parents and my brother, but the only thing we really share is DNA.
No man is an island.
Was that meant to apply to women too? Because I feel like an island. From an early age I remember being alone, and quite liking it. When I had to mix with other children I found it hard to fit in, and I was easily bored. I suppose that’s pretty selfish, but I did try. The older you get the less you can be bothered trying to please others at your own expense, though of course a little give and take is always important. I was always like that. My mother is Italian by birth, she moved to England when she met my Father in her early twenties. I think Dad thought with an Italian wife he could forgo most of his responsibility for looking after kids and the household. But he underestimated her, and her deep curiosity about the world (which she invested in me). In fact she could never be much bothered with house work or running after me and my brother when we were kids, so from an early age I learned to cook my own meals and do my own washing. It was only when I did go to another kid’s house that I realised that wasn’t exactly normal. Now it seems strange to me that my mother had children at all, but I suppose for a young woman then there simply wasn’t a choice. Or at least there was, but it would never have occurred to anyone to have made it.
My father was a loner too. The picture I have in my memory is of him hunched over his desk, lost in circuit boards and diagrams, usually in the same scruffy clothes he’d worn for weeks. He would only get properly dressed if he was going out (hardly ever), or receiving a visitor (almost never). The closest he got to giving me fatherly advice was to remind me and my brother that I had the whole of my life to get things right and if things didn’t make sense now, then don’t worry, be patient; “It’s only the start”. My mother just said that if I was happy then she was happy. And I suppose I was, so they both left me to it.
Yesterday I found an old notebook of stories and poems I wrote when I was 9 or 10 years old. In the front of the notebook it said “In the event of me becoming famous this must not be published!”. I must have written that last part a few years later. So why didn’t I just throw it away then? (sentimental) One of the stories in the notebook is about a man who works in one of those giant construction cranes, and he doesn’t have a house so he lives there too, high in the sky above the city, but he’s really happy there, and he’s made the cabin into a nice home. Every night he looks down on the city and sees all the people and what they are doing, but he has no wish to join them. Then one day he’s looking down and he witnesses a murder in the street, and he knows that he should climb down from the crane and go to the police to tell them what he saw, but he just can’t bring himself to go back to the world below, so he keeps it to himself. I’ve seen some strange and violent things from my window gazing down on the city too. Last night when I looked out a man was on the ground being repeatedly kicked by 2 others at the bus stop. Afterwards he didn’t move for a long time, and no one else was around, so I was on the verge of going down to check on him. But then he finally got up and staggered off, looked ok, probably the alcohol numbed the pain. After that I had a drink myself.
30 years old today (Josef K was arrested on his 30th birthday).