2013: Woke up in Preston, not alone. Walked across the hills and the rivers with my boyfriend and his mother. Three weeks later, was called into an office and left half an hour later unemployed and with a face swollen from crying. Woke up late most days after that, learned how to type my qualifications and my best qualities with my eyes closed. Throat started seizing up from my housemate’s cigarette smoke; twelve sneezes in a row doesn’t equal an orgasm, no matter what you’re told. Shouted poetry in front of a crowded library, hugged Eve Ensler and reflected on how doing good transcends everything. Signed on for the first time and learned to hate orange, lime green, and the cheap paper of the Job Centre. Cried in front of my advisor, and that made him human. Celebrated a year with my boyfriend; we saw a violent movie, he only wanted three poppadoms; we arrived at my flat to find the living room trashed. Applied for this job, and that one, and that one, and that other one. Interviewed. Walked through the rain in cheap business suits. Wondered where the hell I was going. Bought a TARDIS hat. Wished my radiator would work. Sunk lower, and lower, and lower. Talked to an NHS stranger, cried in a cream-coloured room with no plaster on the walls. Discovered my flatmate was probably a criminal, ran away, ran away hard and didn’t sleep properly for two days. Found the house where I’m sitting now, lined up my books in perfect alphabetical order. Started feeling and thinking diagonally, bolstered by new kindess and coloured curtains. He was no longer my boyfriend. No more waking up in Preston. No more waking up in a double bed. Applied for this job, and that job, and the other job.
Then, got my job. Wore a smart jacket and settled in fast. Met people who cared, people who earned more and made tea, people who let me make mistakes and didn’t sell and barter and gamble. Stunned by kindness. Discovered coffee and became addicted for life. Eyes started wandering; how about this, how about that, how about standing up in front of a crowd and making jokes about sex, about the South, about myself. Laughter, applause, more of a cure for the blues than I’ve ever known. The learning curve. The crowd. The cheat sheet. The friends, one by one of them, coming through for me, understanding perfectly, taking me in as if I’d been there all along. Him, and him, and him. And him, the one I’ve never even kissed but who’s stuck like a bassline in my head. Sometimes I want to dance, sometimes I wish I could switch him off. The hot summer, the strange tanlines where my sandals were. Theatre in the park; watching a beautiful sunset and feeling as if I was on the edge of the world. Boredom and brilliance, too high, too low. Muscle pain and happy pills, a GP’s worried eyes. The experiment, the medication, the hazy delight. Knowing where I’m at and what I want to do. Mince pies and holly, my family together again. A dying year. An awful year. A spectacular year.
This year. This bloody year.