Covid-19 was the name of the virus. Just when I thought life couldn’t be any more tedious, in came a new period of lockdown rules which reduced life to something that was merely going to work and sitting at home watching Netflix shows. There were no clubs open; no pubs open; no restaurants open; no gyms open; no libraries open. There were skies without planes; roads without cars; shops without food. ‘Stay Home’ was the national slogan and you were only permitted to go outside for one walk or exercise session a day. I knew most people chose safety over actually living their life, but now there wasn’t even a choice in the matter. Existence was all that was allowed in the name of safety. The only thing to do was dwell, to linger, to wait for something – anything. Yes, the apocalypse had come and my god – it was the boring apocalypse one could have predicted. No zombies or nuclear bombs or asteroids – just a slow dying of the human spirit as we all sat inside staring at screens and twiddling our thumbs.
Locked in my flat, l didn’t really have much to entertain myself with. I didn’t own a television or games console – just my laptop which I used for my writing (which had now stopped). I could have just got drunk of course, but for some reason I decided to pack in the drinking and dedicate myself to living a zen-like sort of lifestyle. Aside from my one run a day and the occasional visit to the supermarket (the only thing still open), all I did was I spend the time sitting and staring into space. Life quickly became a mix of meditation and masturbation; of getting lost down internet rabbit holes for hours into the early morning. My landlord Martin was in the flat too of course, although we somehow managed to rarely see each other. It was just the usual occasional chitchat in the kitchen before returning alone to our rooms. One might have thought the situation would bring us together – two people confined with no one else in the world to see or speak to, but for some reason it only made us more distant than before. Our aloof relationship was just another example of human interaction in the modern age – of having people constantly close to you but choosing to be alone with people on the internet instead.
This solitary existence went on until sometime in the second week of lockdown when Martin told me I would have to move out after my next rent was up. I checked the calendar and realised this was in five days’ time. Typically, I wanted to question his reasoning behind this, but at that point I couldn’t be bothered to argue or even enquire about his seemingly spontaneous decision. Maybe the fearmongering media had already cast its spell upon him and he didn’t want a potential virus carrier living in his safe space? Maybe he just wanted the flat to himself now he was confined in it for twenty-three hours a day? Maybe I was more insufferable and annoying than I actually realised? Whatever his reason, I wasn’t going to argue about it and – when the time came – I packed my bags of the few things I owned, cleared out the junk from my room, and took one last look at it before leaving. There it went: another transient dwelling of mine now confined to memory; another mostly uneventful chapter of my life over as the dust settled on the tops of the shelves.
I headed back to my hometown of Coventry via the train. Fortunately they were still running, although you were only permitted to use them for ‘essential or emergency purposes’. I wasn’t sure that the UK government were going to go full-on totalitarian with the rules, but it appeared I was wrong as I got stopped by a police officer at the station who asked me my reason for travel. I told him I’d just been kicked out my place and was having to move back with my parents. He looked at me and my flimsy backpack with almost a sad and pitiful look. He then looked down at the floor and back up to my face. “On you go lad,” he finally said.
I got on the train and sat there alone in the totally empty carriage, enjoying the rare peace and quiet that was seldom found on public transport (it appeared this apocalypse thing actually had some benefits). I then stared out the window, looking out at the countryside, reflecting on the next chapter of my life that was to come. I hadn’t really acknowledged the situation at hand so far, but at the point of being on my way home it suddenly hit me: I was thirty years old and about to be back living with my parents. It was a situation that was almost enough to make a grown man weep – especially a man who was at odds with his parents as much as me, but I reminded myself that it wasn’t completely my fault and that such a tragic situation was acceptable given the unprecedented circumstances. Still, such mental gymnastics wasn’t going to spare me of the actual horror of the situation at hand. It had been six years since my last spell there; and my last memories of that period weren’t great to say the least. I recalled the frequent arguments with my parents, the constant annoyances, the desire to escape at the nearest opportunity. I recalled the horror of having to listen to my parents have sex through the paperthin walls; of listening to them argue about the most trivial and meaningless things. Could I really endure such a way of being once more? Every year of my life seemed to distance me further away from my parents, and any commonground that was once there was now gone. I almost even felt that I wasn’t welcome in their home anymore – like I was now a stranger in comparison to the boy who grew up there. In the place of that hopeful child, they now had a disenfranchised thirty-year-old man who saw the world through very different eyes than he once had. What was I but yet another adult that had been beaten and bent out of shape by the world that awaited you once you had grew up and left home.
When I got home, I dropped my bags and made a cup of coffee. As soon as I walked into the living room, my mum was stressing about the rug. “Watch your coffee! This is a brand new rug! Don’t you dare spill anything on it…” Once again it appeared they had purchased something that brought them much happiness to their lives. After a brief bit of small-talk about the virus, my dad moved the conversation onto the cost of living there. £50 a week – which wasn’t as bad as I expected. My parents were both working class and were constantly itching to remind me that there wasn’t anything such as a free lunch. “I had to go out and work for a living when I was 16….” “Nobody paid my way.” “If you want to stay with us, you’ll have to contribute…. you’re a grown man now.” It was all the usual stuff that showcased what absolute working class heroes they were. Anyway, I was prepared for their script and told them I’d even pay the first month up front – that got them off my back for a while.
I then sat there with them watching television shows for a couple of hours. These included game shows and television soaps where you sat watching fictional characters live their lives as yours passed by on a sofa. It seemed not much had changed since I had last lived here – the five hours of television each evening before bed was still the norm. I guess that was their way of killing time, each person did it differently. At one point I had seen enough and took myself upstairs to my childhood bedroom. There I sat there on the bed, staring out the window into the back garden. I then stared at the walls, and my old books, and then my reflection of the mirror on my wardrobe. I recalled the times I had stared at it as a child and teenager. Here I was again: my face older, my body with more creaks and scars, my hair now starting to grey. My youth had deserted me and I was now edging towards middle-age, back in the same spot like nothing had happened. And when I thought about it, it was true – nothing had really happened. Like many people of my generation, my twenties had passed me by in an uneventful blur of stumbling around physically and mentally. No relationships, no adventures, no real purpose or meaning – just a constant existence of confusion and dissastisfaction. It was enough to cause waves of sadness to wash over me. I was supposed to be concerned with what was happening out there in the world, but what was happening in my world seemed like the real crisis. My detached nature suddenly escaped me and I looked up at the stars wistfully. I looked at them shining in the night sky and longed for something more, for not simply being dejected and disillusioned with this wretched world that I was stuck in. I longed for meaning and purpose; for some kind of sustenance for my soul. And I thought of all the others like me out there, locked down in their homes or wherever the hell they were. I thought of them staring up at the same sky and feeling the same things – of feeling confused and dismayed with this world; tired of the human experience; bored with absolutely everything that this life offered. Truly this earth and existence was some kind of prison for a certain type of person – the ones who looked up above and thought a bit more about everything than you were supposed to. It was too much to take so I went and rejoined my parents to watch some more mindless programs and numb my brain to sleep.
All these brief loveless liaisons continued until one girl came along who managed to stick in my life longer than a one-night stand. Her name was Carola – an Italian who had recently moved to this country with her boyfriend. That relationship was now over after he had just walked out the door one day and she never heard from him again. Stranded in a foreign country on her own, she had also resorted to dating apps to find some sort of human companionship. Things weren’t going too well for her and I almost felt apologetic about the fact that I had now stumbled into her life. Our first few dates we didn’t really do anything other than stroll around the city centre, sit on park benches, drink coffee in cafes, and eat her home-cooked food by the river. Straight away I could tell she was someone like me – another confused drifter wandering around aimlessly looking for something to do to keep life interesting. In the last few years she had been a fire dancer in the Cook Islands, had built mud houses in Morocco, and was now training in martial arts and saving to go to China to study in a karate school. The desperation to wring some meaning into her life screamed out of her, and she was only one step away from becoming a life coach or climate change activist.
She didn’t have much money and I wasn’t doing particularly great on that front too after the shameful amount of dates I had been on. As a result, our meetings became more lowkey until we just spent all our time around each other’s places. We cooked food and watched movies; we drank wine and played games; we lay in beds for whole days sleeping and having sex. It wasn’t long until the whole thing developed into something a little more serious. Out of the blue, it appeared I had become another tangled in the web of something that resembled a relationship.
Neither of us wanted to call it that, but that’s what it was beginning to feel like with all the time we spent together. And with us now being something of an item, I soon got to see what was really under the surface. Typically this included her dark side – in particular, a violent temper that was the cause of many arguments. I’m not even sure how many of them started; one moment we’d be talking about our day and then the next verbal missiles would be launching towards me.
“You’re lost!” she shouts at me. “You’re thirty years old and you have no purpose. You just cycle around town, complaining about the world, and writing your shitty stories that no one reads. Why don’t you try to find some meaning to your life hey?”
“And what exactly is your purpose?” I asked. “To kick people in the head?”
“Oh yeah really hmm.. That’s all I do yeah. Fuck you. You’re so fucking ignorant. You know nothing about what I do. Get a life.”
“But that is what you do right? Kick people in the head?”
“You know, I meet people like you all the time. You think you’re cool because you’re not participating in anything. You look down on everyone else, thinking you’re enlightened or something for not doing the things that everyone else does. You only live for yourself and only think about yourself. Your life is a joke and do you really think anyone cares about you, or what’s going on inside your head?”
“Probably not. I guess we’ll see one day.”
“No we won’t. You won’t get your books published. You won’t do anything with your life because you’re a loser – a typical loser who is self-absorbed with no ambition. For god sake, you’re thirty-years-old and you don’t even know how to cook or drive. You have nothing to show for your life other than some words that nobody wants to read.”
I guess it was true that most people would get offended by such remarks, but I had to admit I kinda enjoyed it. Perhaps it was the masochist in me, but her fiery personality was a nice change compared to the coldness that I found in English girls. On top of this, her scornful words were thought-provoking to me. They were like the critical part of my consciousness I had suppressed, and I even found myself agreeing with her a lot of the time, although typically I never told her that.
“Okay,” I responded. “Maybe you will go to China and study martial arts and get really good at kicking people in the head, but I promise you that you’ll still feel empty inside. All you’ve done is wander around from one thing to the next, looking for something to make you happy. Face it: the problem isn’t the thing or the place – the problem is you. You’re always going to be unhappy and unfulfilled. Just like everyone else.”
“Oh yeah, because you’re so happy? Why should I listen to you about happiness? I’ve known you for two months now and I don’t think I’ve seen you smile more than once or twice.”
“I guess my natural expression is one of sadness.”
“Your face doesn’t lie. I see it in your eyes; you’re bored and lifeless.” “I definitely am right now.”
“Listen, you’re not young anymore. Get some fucking direction in your life. Honestly, go get a real job. Contribute something. Make someone’s life better. Then maybe you’ll have some joy and you won’t always look like you’re at a fucking funeral.”
“I accept I may have a resting bitch face,” I started. “But you – you are the most unhappy person I’ve ever met. The slightest thing sets you off into an argument. You’re emotionally unstable and violent. You have so much anger and hatred inside of you trying to get out at any opportunity. No wonder you like kicking people…. psycho.”
The sound of the word ‘psycho’ set her off. Her eyes filled up with a terrible rage and at that moment I realised I had gone too far. I instantly remembered receiving a piece of advice about never telling a psycho that they’re a psycho – especially if that psycho was trained in some form of martial arts. Well, it was too late now as she lunged forward and started attacking me. In came the merciless assault: a punch to the side of the head, a scratch on my neck, a kick to the legs – her verbal missiles had become physical ones as I got pounded from all angles. She then grabbed my T-shirt tight and pulled me towards her, tearing it at the seams on the shoulder. I barely owned many T-shirts as it was and that was another one now ruined. I thought about the increasingly tragic state of my wardrobe as I fought her off, restraining her, holding her arms up in the air as they vibrated violently like rockets ready to explode. She eventually relaxed and fell into my arms, crying from whatever it was that was really hurting her inside.
What a situation to end up in, I thought to myself. I was already getting fairly well beat up by life in general, but now I had someone literally attacking me too. In the face of such hostility, I began to understand the sudden disappearance of the ex-boyfriend. I considered myself someone who was perhaps at odds with the world, but Carola made me think perhaps my mental health was almost not as terrible as I imagined. Ultimately that was a terrifying thought – the idea that I was one of the more ‘okay’ people in this world. After all, perhaps it was true; working in customer service had already shown me just how messed up some people were. In particular, I recalled the self-harm scars on the forearms of many people I served at a bar. From the outside they all looked neat – nice clothes and makeup and wide smiles – but as they handed me the money I looked down and saw the knife lines etched into their skin. Those scars reminded me that most people looked smooth and polished on the surface, but under that was a world of pain that people never saw. In Carola’s case however, her pain was clear to see. If it wasn’t from the frequent outbursts, then it was from a forlorn look I could see in her eye. It was the look I saw in many people’s eyes, staring into space, wondering what the hell it was they were doing and if they would ever be happy on this earth. She was only twenty-three and reminded me of myself at that age – even more confused and dismayed with life than I was now. I was still those things, of course, but at least I was comfortable with my total indifference with everything around me. She was still discovering such animosity and I knew the two of us being together was about as unhealthy as a relationship could be. In all honesty, I shouldn’t have let things carry on, but the relationship (or whatever the hell it was) was giving me something that I had been missing. It was exciting, after all. There was a constant tension of unpredictability and I didn’t know whether she was going to fight or fuck me at times – and often it ended up being both. We’d go from shouting and her trying to hit me to screwing in bed as we let our anger out through sex. And I figured that perhaps this war we were in wasn’t too abnormal in the grand scheme of things. All human relationships resulted in frequent arguments; it was just another thing we did to try and make ourselves feel alive.
Like others before me, there came a time in my life where I knew I needed to find something. Whatever that something was, it seemed to be not available in my immediate surroundings. Unsatisfied with my external world, I realised my journey was to become an internal one. One day my quest began. Digging into the depths of myself, I struck that spade into the solid ground. With force and might I pulled away the dirt with a driven and determined energy. I knew in my bones that something in those depths, buried away in the darkness, waiting to be uncovered. I didn’t know what it was exactly, but I could feel its presence within, and soon everything else in my life centered around finding it. Naturally I knew there were those out there who would dismiss such an undertaking as foolish or crazy, but I knew that that something within me was something that would make me richer in most ways that people had experienced. So I kept digging away, breaking apart that earth, with blistered hands searching deeper and deeper within my own soul. And in that act of soul-searching, I felt assured that one day the time would come where I would stand with that great diamond in my hands; a man who broke through his walls, who stripped away his surface, who unearthed his treasure and let it finally glint in the morning light. A man no longer blind to what he possesses.
My first trip was when I was nineteen
I spent a summer in Ghana
working at a local newspaper
for an internship related to my studies
(that would at least please the parents)
But really, I just needed to get out
throw myself into some foreign field
and let my mind be blown to pieces
by things I had not seen before
and would not see again
That was granted
and one year later
I was on a plane to Australia
where I spent a year wandering around
working odd jobs
staring out at sunsets
drinking with strangers
writing poetry under the stars
And then one year after coming home
I was back on a plane
this time: South America
six months of total madness
a twenty-two-year-old high on life
and drugs and women
and anything else I could get my hands on
It was my youth, my time
and I was going to take it by the balls
and have my way with it.
I had thought about other things worth doing in life
but to me, it was all about the experience
and I wanted as much as it
as my blood and brain and liver
Seven years on nothing has really changed
I’m still planning that next trip
still running off into that sunset
still trying to find that magic something
I don’t suppose I’ll ever find it
at this stage I’m not sure I even want to
I just want to keep running
sprinting into that sunset
drinking with those strangers
staring up at those stars
another hopeless dreamer
lost in space and time
drifting in the cosmic ocean
and just falling in love
with this strange
And the people my age were not like me
And the people younger than me were not like me
And the people older than me were not like me
I am caught in nowhere
No place to be
Or job to work
Or woman to come home to
This is how it is:
Approaching the age of 30
Living in a small rented room
Losing my youth and mind
Alone in this shit show
It’s just me and the word
Same as its always been
Hoping that somehow this madness
Will save me from this world
The reality is that I’m just another self-obsessed writer
Who can’t write a good poem to save my life
All I can do is spit out this pain onto the page
To at least feel a little better
There’s not much more to it than that
And believe me, I wish there was
I wish my words were good enough
To be found by some hotshot editor
Who sought to turn me into something
Different from what I am.
But what I am is inescapable
And this I have to accept:
I am alone in this
No job to work
No place to be
Nothing to get out of bed for
Nothing interesting to even write about
“And one day I just let go of it all. Of the anger, of the resentment, of the pain. I threw it into the trash and felt a relief flow through my soul. I looked at the world again as a child; all that possibility and opportunity, my life was mine to do what I wanted with it. I didn’t need to let my past define me. I didn’t need to stay bitter and cling onto past issues. A new lease of life was upon me as I entered a new phase of being. I walked those streets with my head held high; I brushed off all the little stresses and inconveniences; I looked into mirrors and felt a great strength in my heart. Peace and happiness gently let itself be known to me. Like a butterfly sitting on my shoulder, it looked at me to tell me “see, I was here all along.” And then I looked up at the sky with my eyes wide open. A new adventure was coming; the story of my life still unfolding. It was time to move on. It was time to grow. It was time to move forward into something new and wonderful and magical.”