“And still I can’t help but let myself wonder about us. What our lives would have been like; what our mornings would have looked like as the sun came over that horizon once again. How we would have lay under those sheets and stared into each other’s eyes. How we would have walked through those parks knowing our lives were bound together on a shared path. It is true that lost love can bring any man to his knees; with a great weight in his heart, he staggers on alone knowing that it could have been so different. And just like so many people out there, the love-starved and the broken-hearted, his path leaves him haunted by many thoughts and questions. I am still not sure whether love is essential for life; indeed it is the great illusion that we all chase after, but I do know that most people have had it reciprocated in some way by the time their hairs start to grey and skin starts to wrinkle. Now I stare into that mirror, going into old age without ever having been the object of another’s affection. Indeed, maybe I wasn’t born for it. The world needs people like me, I guess. I am ‘the friend’. The ‘interesting one’. ‘The comedian’. I seem to cheer those around me up, and indeed people do enjoy my company, but it never goes beyond that. I see them stare into my eyes and dismiss me as a being not worthy of their affection. And in a way, I no longer dispute it. I understand why they see me as they do. There is something inside of me that will now allow me to be like everyone else. And now I know that love is not going to be given to me by others, I sit in silent rooms and know it is only with self-love that I can survive this life. Flames of romantic love flicker and fade out, but self-love is the eternal bonfire from which I warm my soul. I’m burning up in my own company; blazing up with my own words. And long may I be consumed in these flames.”
~ A Message to my Old Flatmate ~
I remember once living with a man. He was a thirty-five-year-old bus driver who had moved to the U.K from Hungary. We shared a flat together in the city of Brighton. One time I was in the kitchen and he was asking me about my life. “So Ryan, what is it that you do exactly?” I looked at him and thought of how to answer this age-old question once again.
“Well, I work for a bit at whatever job I can find, save up for an adventure and then go on it. I also do a bit of writing too.”
“Oh,” he said. “That’s cool. I wanted to do a bit of travelling when I was younger. I never got round to it though. I guess it’s too late now. You can do that stuff when you’re your age, but at my age it’s not so easy.”
“Why not?” I asked him. “You don’t have any responsibilities. And you’ve got savings. You can start travelling next week if you want to. Just book your flight and pack your bags.” It was at this point he looked at me as if I had just suggested to go out and murder a small child.
“Well, you know, I’m getting old now. I can’t just quit my job and run off into the wilderness. I need to find my own place. Need to settle down; need to get my shit together…”
“Is that what you really want to do?” I asked.
“It’s not what I want to do; it’s what I have to do. Otherwise I’ll end up single and living in a flatshare all my life. No offence…”
“You know, I really did want to do what you do. I wanted to go to South America and Asia and Australia. I wanted to experience other cultures and climb mountains. I still do want to do those things. Perhaps one day when I am retired, but now I need to focus on other things. It’s easy to do in your twenties like you, but at my age there are other things you have to worry about. You’ll understand.”
He went on and on making excuses while I just stared and listened. Looking at his circumstances, I did not see any real barriers in his life; at least not any that existed anywhere else other than his mind. But he was always this way since I had moved in a few months previous – panicking about his age and his situation; talking about how he needed to find his own place, fill it with furniture, find a girlfriend etc.. Never at peace and content with his life; never enjoying it because his mind was constantly stressing about the future. The strange thing was that listening to him I could hear he wasn’t even excited about those things; it was just something he felt he had to do because of social and cultural pressures. It made me sad. As cliche as it sounds, there is so much you can do in life, and usually it was just simply a matter of finding the strength to believe in your own voice. I wanted to tell him this, but in the end I didn’t say anything; I just finished making my lunch and retreated back to my room. But I carried on thinking about those mental barriers people erected to limit their life possibilities. I had met so many people like him with the same old excuses, the same old dogmas – the same old mental gymnastics to justify why they weren’t living the life they actually wanted to. For a moment it reminded me of the film the matrix; when you see people plugged into the social matrix, wanting to shake them out of the spell and wake them up to the reality of life. I wanted to do this to him, but I instead did what I always did and just typed out my thoughts on a computer instead. Here is what I wanted to say to him:
‘You do not have to do the things you think you are supposed to do. You do have to spend your one existence mindlessly adhering to social conventions. There are as many ways to live as there are as many people on the planet; recognise this simple fact and realise you can do whatever you want to do with your life. Yes, the peer pressure will come, the heavy hands of society will fall on your shoulder, your parents will try to usher you to one direction, but stop, look around. Be silent. Have a think to yourself. Is that what you really want? Is that going to make you happy? In this life often the only restrictions to doing things are physics and law enforcement. With an open mind the possibilities are almost endless. You can join the circus. You can build a boat and sail to Spain. You can live in a van and become a rock climber. You can move to China and teach English while writing a dystopian novel. You can do so much, yet the formula has been laid out by the establishment: go to school, get a degree or qualification, get a steady 9-5 job, find a partner, get married, have kids, get a mortgage, live in one place, go on package holidays, watch television after work, get drunk at the weekend. And so many people just blindly accept it, never realising that life is a wonderful opportunity to walk any path you can just about imagine.
Yes, of course there are some limitations. You will need money and to fit in with society to some degree. I’m not saying it’s easy to slip free from the shackles of this system we’ve created, but it can be done. I know this because I have seen it done. I have seen it done by a street performer playing his guitar with a sort of otherworldly passion. He was a man who quit his career job and lived in a van while street performing around Europe. He lived solely off the money he made from his performances. Then there was the American girl who worked half the year in hospitality and on a marijuana farm. She stacked that cash then booked a ticket to somewhere in Asia to roam around for another six months. Then there was the cycle tourist who roamed around Europe on his bike; the pole-dancer dancing her way around the world; the chef living in a cave in Thailand. God, there were so many people out there living life the way they wanted, overcoming those mental barriers that were erected through cultural conditioning. They were people who knew that as long as you have the basics covered for immediate survival, then everything else is just a simple rewiring of the mind. Yes, you will have to overcome not having stability and security (which are also mental illusions incidentally). You will also have to overcome people judging you for choosing to live differently to them. For finding the strength to overcome these things, I recommend the following: meditation, yoga, psychedelic drugs, walks in nature, and time spent experiencing other cultures. These will help your mind to sober up and show you that your mental reality is built so much by your surroundings, and that it’s all relative – that your mind is programmed by the cultural ideology of the place you were born. How you perceive life and what you think it to be about will be completely different if you were born in a different time or age.
When you start to realise this, then you can begin to look around and see through the illusions of your society. You can watch the people so clearly programmed by their media, their peers and parents, and their educational system. You can spot the people not speaking as individuals, but simply regurgitating the slogans of the culture they were born into. Illusions are what makes the system run, and some may argue that the system is important. Well, I think that system is not truly serving everyone and making them happy. Are you happy? Only you yourself can answer that, but I know many people that aren’t. So many people I know are on antidepressant meds and therapy. They are escaping through cocaine and alcohol and television. They are constantly stressing about the future. Society is sending people insane. And this is because their inner voices have been drowned out. The only answer I can say from my experience, is to turn to yourself. You’ve got to get back in touch with your soul and find what is real to you.
Also realise that no one really knows what the fuck they are really doing. 95% of people are following the herd, doing things because they want to fit in and be accepted among the crowd. These people have no right to judge you if you want to do something different. They have not found it in themselves to explore life beyond the cultural safe-farm, so forget about their limited perspective. You will have to overcome fear of being different; of walking your own path. But I can assure you this will fill your heart with a joy that cannot be bought in a goddamn furniture store.
I guess if I’m saying all of this then I should probably also say a little about myself. I am just a guy who one day realised that trying to fit in and do what was expected of me was slowly killing me. I went to university, thought I would get a career job after and become a normal civilised person like you think you should be. But I always knew in my heart that wasn’t my path; and the more I tried to follow it, the more depressed and empty I became. So one day I decided to start travelling the world, living for the experience, finding my own truth from beyond those fences of social normality. It is that following of which has led me to writing these words now. These words came to me by believing in my own voice; by kicking down those barriers in my mind and realising that an empowered individual, in touch with their own existential core, can live life whatever way they can imagine. And you can do the same too brother. You can do the same too. So come on: think about it. Think about taking control of your life. Think about doing something because your soul calls out for it, not because you’re ‘supposed’ to do it. I dare you. Take that trip to South America. Pursue your passion. Stop missing the beauty of life because you’re stressing over what you should be doing. One day you’re gonna be in that hospital deathbed, staring out the window as the light leaves your eyes. At that moment you will realise just how precious your one fleeting existence was, and maybe, as they say, your life will flash before your eyes. So make sure it’s worth watching…’
(yes, in hindsight I realise a lot of this was talking to myself)
~ You’re a Dreamer ~
“You’re a dreamer,” she said to me.
“Yeah, and what’s wrong with that?” I replied.
“Nothing I guess. It’s good to dream. But you need to be realistic too.”
“How do you mean?”
“Well,” she started. “You want to not be shaped by the system, to live your own life and do what you love – I understand that and commend you for it – but you gotta keep one foot in the game, you know? You need a reliable way to make money, and some basic security. I’ve seen people end up in serious trouble when they just march against the system not giving a fuck.”
“Really? Like who?” I said.
“There was this one guy I once knew who had a bit of a crisis and quit his insurance job to pursue his passion of film-making. He lived off his savings and devoted most of his time to directing short films, hoping to break into the industry. Within a year he was jaded and depressed and trying to get his old job back, but unable to. He couldn’t keep up his expenses and had to move back with his parents. The recession then hit and he figured out he didn’t actually have what it took to live on the breadline while chasing a dream. Most people need that safety net. Perhaps you should find a way to have a stable career and do your writing in your spare time.” I paused and thought about it.
“Well, I’m not like most people,” I said finally. “I’m willing to live on the edge to do what I love and chase my dream. And besides, I have no idea what else I can do anyway. If I end up in the gutter then so be it; at least I gave it a try.”
“You say that now when you’re young and full of angst, but seriously you may start to crave a bit more stability. Things about the system you thought were traps, you may start to look at them with desire. You’ll see the value of routine and being able to plan your weeks and months. You’ll want to not worry about where the rent money is going to come from. I’m not saying you should give up your dream to be a writer and do your backpacking trips – I hope you live a life doing what you love, as we all desire to deep down – but just be aware not to be too gung-ho and burn all your bridges. Think about finding the middle ground. I think that’s the best way.”
“Yeah, yeah…” I stalled. I was starting to feel a bit awkward and lectured. Still, it certainly was one of the more interesting conversations I had had on a first date. “I’ll think about it. But whatever happens, I’ll always be that wide-eyed dreamer running toward what I love. Maybe there is a balance, but you gotta make sure that chasing that balance didn’t mean you essentially traded your dreams for comfortable mediocrity. I see that a lot; people giving up on themselves and justifying it by calling in ‘growing up’ or something like that. Ultimately, the people who achieved something special were those who had the guts to go all the way on the pursuit of their passions. Yes, that pursuit can take us to the edge, but some of us are born to live on the edge. It’s that edge which sharpens our steel; which puts force behind our fingertips. It’s that edge where our greatest work is done.”
At this point I could feel the eyes of the surrounding people in the bar on me. She sat across the table and also stared at me, undoubtedly deciding there and then that things weren’t going to go any further than a first date. It didn’t need to be spoken at that point and I was okay with it; the thoughts she shared showed we weren’t compatible on that front. They were also thoughts similar to those of my sister. My sister was a bit like me – critical of the system and a bit ‘alternative’ in many people’s view, but even she had eventually decided to pursue a career and embrace a conventional lifestyle. She rolled her eyes and looked at me with a ‘come on’ look every time I started talking about how I was going to work odd jobs and do medical trials to fund my lifestyle. “You need to find the middle way,” she also said. Suggestions came of finding a trade, a stable job, or going back to school – all of those things that seemed to identify you as someone who had ‘their shit together’. The same suggestions came from peers, from parents and from teachers. I guess people were concerned by my irregular behaviour, and just sharing what I deemed the common sense of the average civilised person – the same common sense that caused them to stare at me like a deranged madman when I told them my life plans.
It’s that balance you need, as people kept saying to me. To me, seeing how far you were willing to go on the pursuit of your dream was like a test of courage and resolve; and indeed, it seemed to me that the greatest treasures were found by those who went all the way. I thought about the great artists who had lingered on the edge before creating their masterpieces. I imagined a teenage Bob Dylan packing his bags and hitch-hiking to New York to perform in small cafes. I imagined Jack Kerouac drifting around the United States with barely a dollar to his name. Bukowski starving in small rooms alone. Orwell working as a dishwasher in Paris. Of course, these were the ones you knew about because they had eventually achieved success after living on the edge. For every great success, there were countless failures you never heard of. Or, as another dreamer put it: “For every moment of triumph, for every instance of beauty, many souls must be trampled.” (Hunter S Thompson)
It did of course occur to me that I was most likely to be one of those trampled souls in the dirt, my dreams dying in a ditch as the sun set on my unsuccessful quest of being a writer. But still, the idea of that was still more appealing than passively drifting through life without any fire in your heart. Even if you failed, you would at least know what it was like and to live with a passion for life in your veins. When I walked the street and stared at the faces and listened to the conversations, I felt sure that there weren’t many out there who had that same passion within them. Yes, many of them had the stability and the security. They had the car on the forecourt and the rug on the living room floor. The fireplaces were all lit and the fridges all full; but just how full was the soul? How was the fire in their hearts? How many were truly excited about what they were doing with their life? Personally, I felt that many people out there lived in a state of silent desperation in which they grew old in lives that saw them staring at strangers in the mirror; and indeed there were maybe only a few souls out there who had that magic spark in their eye. That was the spark of the dreamer; the free-spirited warrior who didn’t compromise or filter down their heart’s desires for the sake of ‘fitting in’ or ‘getting real’ or ‘growing up’.
Maybe it’s just me being a romantic idealist, but I believe the world needs those dreamers. Those runaway spirits; those renegade souls; those rebel writers. In fact, I believe the world needs them now more than ever, and I was proud to be one of them – or to at least be considered one of them, as the girl on the date, as my sister did, and many others did. I think that some of them were even envious that they didn’t have it in them to hurl themselves towards what their souls desired deepest. For me, it was the following of that desire that took me first toward travelling – hopping on that one-way flight to South America after finishing university. Within that came the mountain climbing, the hiking, the long-distance cycling, and finally, the writing and general avoidance of anything that stifled my soul. All of these things were things my soul screamed out for, and answering that call fulfilled me in a way that nothing else could. Yes, I didn’t have much physically to show for it: but if I were to lay down my head and bid my life goodbye, I would not have left this world without too many regrets. And isn’t that what a good life was? To know you lived it completely and authentically and passionately? To know you made the most of your one fleeting existence here on this planet?
That girl on the date, we didn’t see each other again, but that way okay. Some people are not made for our paths, but she did make me think – I’ll give her that. I know that my mind is a little more manic than most. Perhaps the degree in which I live isn’t for anyone, but it is for me. If one day you find me face down in a ditch – my cold dead hands clutching the manuscript of my unpublished novel – know that my life was one in which I actually felt a fundamental joy and connection to what I was doing when I woke up in the morning. I was there in those moments, not someone merely existing like many out there dwelling in dusty offices of the mind and soul, but someone alive and awake to each and every moment. Someone discovering a joy that cannot be bought or sold or manufactured. A joy that comes from living from the core of your being. A joy that comes from answering your soul’s call. A joy that comes from running wide-eyed into life’s wilderness, pursuing your treasure and not allowing anyone else to shoot you down for daring to dream and chase that dream and live that dream.
~ Companions in the Darkness ~
At first, I didn’t really understand what it was about me that drew them all in. I was a person freefalling through my own insanity, and probably the last person in the world to give advice on life, yet they always found me. The messages arrived in my inbox one by one. Hurt people had read my blog online, and ended up in contact with me. This girl from the U.S, she poured out her pain; over two-thousand words of stream-of-consciousness, introspective confession. I didn’t know what to tell her. Her mind was a storm of noise like mine. Was I supposed to quell it? I wanted to help but I just didn’t know how. The thought hit me that perhaps she just needed someone to listen to and acknowledge her thoughts. I guess that’s what we all need from time to time. No doubt it was the reason I wrote away at the keyboard in the first place.
A few days later I was getting messages from a woman having a breakdown in Italy. She was on a bender and telling me she had just broken up with her boyfriend and that her life was in tatters. Usually she was the one giving me advice on life, but now here I was feeling like I should say something to support her. Her messages continued to trail off into drunken, incoherent statements of despair. I was in the middle of my own episode and tried to offer some condolences, but what else really could be done? Again, the basic acknowledgment of her pain from another seemed to help a little.
A week later came some messages from a fellow writer. He sent me his stuff and asked for some direction and guidance. “I want to write from the heart like you do, but I just can’t seem to find my voice.” There is no great secret to it, I told him. My fingertips strike these keys because they have to. There’s nothing else for me to do out there in this world. I’ve been through all that. I’m not compatible with anything else and so I just pour out my mind to get this shit out of my system. He thanked me for my reply before disappearing to continue on his path.
Again and again they seemed to find me. The hurt, the crazy, the lost, the lonely, the broken and the confused. The tortured souls lingered out there in great numbers, and the more of my own soul I shared with the world, the more they arrived at my doorstep. The reason for this eventually became clear to me. Deep down, we crave to connect with people whose hearts share the same pains, and when someone screams out a little with their own, the people who feel what you have felt will come to you like moths to a flame. Ultimately, it’s a cathartic experience to realise you aren’t alone with how you feel; something which alleviates your loneliness and reminds you that you aren’t totally crazy. They needed it from me, and I guess I needed them too. That’s why I devoted so much of my time to getting down my thought process on paper and sending it out into the world. As a great thinker had once realised: “No matter how isolated you are and how lonely you feel, if you do your work truly and conscientiously, unknown friends will come and seek you.”
And it wasn’t just online that I came into contact with them. Even out there in real life, they crossed my path. In the bars. In the streets. On the park benches. They wandered into my life as if we were all connected by some sort of frequency. This frequency peaked one time when I cycled down to the south coast of the country to collect my thoughts after the failure of a romance. It was there in a random bar that I met a collection of characters who were also being beaten by the fists of life. First was the sad-eyed man in the bar – a young guy whose best friend had recently killed himself. Then was the heartbroken girl who had just split up with the father of her two kids. Then later on we met an ex-soldier with PTSD who was constantly on the verge of fighting someone. Next it was a homeless man, followed by a man with terminally ill cancer who had six months to live. All of us had been strangers before the day began, yet there we all sat together smoking and drinking beer in a rare moment of belonging for us broken ones. The misery of everyone’s lives subsided for a short while as the music filled the air and the good times flowed.
I eventually concluded that there is some sort of universal force that bonds the damaged souls together. I look out on those streets and see the people who stroll through life easily come together. I watch them dine at classy bars and restaurants. I watch them congregate in crowds of sanity and stability. They are the ones who never know what it is to feel lost, isolated and hopeless. Meanwhile, those who do not know such a life must wander in the outside spaces to find the people who understand. Few things are more powerful than the human urge to be understood and to connect with others who know what you’ve felt, and this is why this universal force exists. It is a way to human connection; a way to remind you that no matter what pain you feel in your heart, there are others out there who feel it too, and if you offer yourself to this world, let the light of your truth shine bright, you will attract those who know and understand what you are feeling inside. Maybe their companionship will help you overcome your pain, or maybe it won’t, but god knows, we could all do with some company when we’re alone in the darkness.
~ Accepting the Rough ~
“God, I wasn’t made like they were. Their stable minds and smooth edges. The way they fitted so easily into the system. How orderly the words came out of their mouths. How neatly they wore their clothes and shoes. The way they walked and the way they talked. They were all well-made components of some machine. But me? I was crooked and bent-shaped – a jagged piece of the jigsaw. My thoughts were not those of sanity or sensibility. My heart longed for things that couldn’t be purchased in any store. My soul screamed out for something not in my surroundings. It was a strange way to be and for a long time I was sure I was destined for suicide or madness. I stared into that mirror and saw my demise unfolding before my eyes. Not knowing quite what to do, I went out into the world to try and see what I could discover about myself. I packed my bags and wandered in foreign lands. I drank with strangers, worked dead-end jobs. I climbed mountains and hitch-hiked on country roads. I stared out at sunsets and wrote poetry under the stars. Amid that tempestuous journey of self-discovery, I came to realise that there was nothing fundamentally wrong with me. Sure, I had flaws like most people, but I also had many strengths and, I believed, a good heart. And the more I wandered, the more I even came to discover that there were others out there like me. They had walked a similar path and had felt similar things in their hearts. Their eyes shared that same look – a wistful one which held a deep longing for some sort of home. I even spoke to them; became friends with them. Those people gave me a hope I had needed and told me that there is no inherent right or wrong way to be. I may not have been a smooth piece of the jigsaw, but I was myself and that is enough. And yes, I still know my life will be less straightforward than most, but I have found a sort of spirit inside of me that will keep me going on this solitary path. On that path I now stride as I wear my rough edges with pride and know the secret beauty of not fitting in.”
~ A Distant Daydream ~
“Girl, this cruel and crazy world was never meant for us. I always wanted to ask you to run away with me, so let’s plan our escape and leave in the middle of the night. Meet me there on the shores of destiny, where the ships of us set sail to a greater world. Meet me there out beyond the fences, where we slip the shackles of misery and despair. Meet me there over the hills, in the place where the empty-hearted do not dwell, where the skies are clear and the sun bears witness to our own peace and happiness. In those untamed spaces, we shall unite under the banner of freedom. We will walk proudly upon the land of our own contentment. We will find our way among the wilderness to live a life that fills our hearts with a feeling of raw joy. No longer will the clouds rain and the tyrants enslave. No longer will we know pain or fear or heartache. Girl, the time is now. Let’s leave tonight. Meet me there. Meet me there.
~ A Slow Depletion ~
“Alone in a rented room, just a desk and a single bed, and a laptop to write. But the laptop’s battery was broken and its charge slowly depleting down to zero. It was a symbolic situation I guess. For a long time now I had felt myself being drained of whatever life was inside of me. I knew the people beyond those walls didn’t understand or care. It was a sick society and people had their own problems to overcome. Depression. Anxiety. Past traumas. Redundancies. Divorces. Midlife crisis’. The horrors of everyday life were being raged upon many out there. Faces passing you on the street were masks hiding a mess of internal troubles. Life was a constant storm and it was only natural that your eyes looked up to the skies for some sort of help. Myself? I figured if there was a god, it was a trickster god. There was no way these sorts of scenes could come into place by some benevolent force. I looked out and saw a society where people emptied out over years of monotonous routine; where people went insane in small rooms alone; where people’s dreams were suppressed and their prayers remained unanswered. Meanwhile, I stared out the window and watched the birds in the trees. They didn’t have money or jobs or civilisation or dreams. But I saw more victory in their existence than I did in the one we had entered ourselves into it. I figured the reason behind it too. Life was incredibly simple at its core, yet we insisted on making it complicated. Our brains are over-saturated computers that buffer and crash and stall. Our senses have been overloaded by the noise of society. We are the computers that crash, the batteries that deplete. We are slowly running down to our destruction as we become more and more convoluted. For now, it’s trying to make sense of this crazy world while hitting the keys of this slowly-dying computer. Just another person trying to make their mark before the life leaves me completely.”
~ Exploding with Magic ~
“I know it’s hard sometimes to believe in your own voice. You’ve grown up in a world where it has been suppressed from a young age. You’ve felt the influences of the world – those heavy hands of authority fall on your shoulder and tell you what it is you have to do to be accepted. Those things you felt in your heart, you were made to believe they were incorrect or wrong. You were asked to abandon your dreams and passions in order to ‘get real’. You were told it was fitting in that was important rather than keeping your unique shape. It is like this in our world. The pliers of society will cause many out there to abandon their magic for the sake of social sanity and acceptance. It is insidious and happens often without us realising. Dreams die a cold death. Songs are silenced. Wings are clipped. That is why we stop and stare when we see someone who has not let their spirit tamed by society. Those free birds sing the sweetest songs because secretly we all crave to do the same; to be unashamedly ourselves and to live in line with what our hearts truly desire rather than what is blindly expected of us. A different way is possible and this is not something for you to just read about on a travel blog or in a poetry book. You too can break free and live a life of immense personal truth and authenticity. It’s all there waiting inside of you. Just spend some time alone and have a look at your life. Learn to listen to your inner voice once again. Know what it is you need to do then summon up the courage and belief to do it. I promise you, you’ll find yourself enriched with something that will make the world around you explode with magic.”
~ A Brush With Normality ~
It ended with a crash. The pieces finally fell down as I sat there reading her texts. “You need to sort your head out,” she told me. “I mean that in a caring way.” The previous couple of days had been a mess of emotions, arguments, excessive drinking and brushes with self-harm. Something had been brewing for a while, and it was the inevitable end to events we both knew was the fate of our short and sweet romance. With the realisation it was over, I left her dad’s flat covered in empty bottles of spirits and headed to the train station to retreat back home.
Alone once again, I reflected on a story that had started three months previously. It was a strange time to meet a girl, I guess. The world had just gone into lockdown due to the outbreak of the coronavirus. In most countries, people were restricted to leaving their homes except for food, medicine, exercise or essential work. Perhaps it was that surreal turn of events which led to a change in my character. I was never one to pay much mind to the settled life with a girl; in many ways, I had already resided myself to a life of solitude and isolation, but every now and again there was a moment of connection with another that caused me to imagine strange and foreign scenarios. Apparitions appeared in my mind: visions of a peaceful existence with a girl by my side, holding hands while walking in the park, lying in bed and caressing her cheek as the sunlight came through the window – that feeling of knowing that everything would be okay for that day just because I had her next to me. Like I said, it was something that I wasn’t really expecting for my life, but I was soon to find myself daydreaming about more and more.
At first, it was just a bit of virtual chit-chat via a dating app; just two people keeping themselves busy and wanting someone to talk to while undergoing lockdown of the virus. We chatted about movies and music. We chatted about poetry and philosophy. She told me about her pets and I told her about my backpacking adventures. It was nice. There wasn’t much to do in the world at that moment, so sitting around and chatting with a stranger kinda made sense. Plus, it was something I really needed at that time. It was soon to be the weirdest few months of my life, and she would be there to help lead me through it. With lockdown messing up my travel plans, I had to move back in with my parents and get a job at the local Amazon warehouse. My days there would be spent alongside a conveyor-belt while sorting packages for ten hours a day. It was a depressing reality, in all honesty, but having her to chat to allowed me to exist in an alternative world. It was a world of romantic escapism. A world of sharing your soul with a stranger. A world of exciting possibilities such as going camping together while the whole country was under quarantine.
After talking some more, we finally arranged to break lockdown measures and meet up. We were living in different cities and she drove fifty miles down the highway to come and meet me for a walk. Normally, I would be nervous meeting a girl for the first time, but due to the connection we had already formed over a month of chatting online, I was strangely calm. I met her in a pub car-park near the entrance to the park where we got walking and talking. Within ten minutes, I knew this wasn’t just another date. Speaking to her was a surreal experience; it was like meeting someone I had already known for many years, two long-lost companions reconvening from another life. With that connection fueling our conversation, we strolled idly through the countryside; we petted horses and sheep; we lay in the grass and talked about our lives.
It soon became clear we were two people who had walked very different paths in our twenties. She had led the settled existence in one place with a long-term partner, and I had been out travelling the world on my own. Yet, although we were different on the surface, it seemed we were surprisingly similar at our core. I already knew we shared similar interests in nature, fantasy films and philosophy as well as having the same personality type, but meeting her showed me just exactly how much of myself I saw residing in her troubled eyes. She even told me how she had always wanted to do the things I had done, but had left it as a sort of distant dream for another lifetime. I told her something similar as we shared our first kiss before heading back to her city where we got drunk, cuddled up in bed and watched a Lord of the Rings movie.
Our story continued to develop and I soon felt like I was somewhat in a fantasy movie of my own. The world continued to get stranger by the week as the crisis turned society into a dystopian state. Entire countries continued to lockdown, people lost jobs and businesses, strange new rules were implemented. There were skies without planes and shops without food. In the meanwhile, I went to work every day before coming home and spending the evening chatting to her on my bed. I continued to get lost in that world of romantic escapism until we met up again to go camping. It was a glorious spring day and we sat in a farmer’s field at sunset where everything melted into a perfect mixture of human connection. The wine, the weather, the music, the conversation. At one point she started telling me how much she missed her grandad and started crying. I think it was probably at that moment where I fell for her. Once the sun had fallen below the horizon, we retreated to the tent to eat pot noodles, make love and listen to music under the stars. Holding her in my arms, those grand visions appeared again in my mind: taking our campervan out together in the peak district; walking her dogs in the park; drinking wine together and making love in a drunken evening haze. I even imagined telling our grandchildren how we met during the great crisis of our generation. I wasn’t quite sure what was happening to me, but by the time we did our next camping trip and sat by the stream drinking wine again, I was convinced the gods had put some sort of temptation in front of me to change my lifestyle.
Before lockdown began, I was just as committed to the life of bohemian travel as I had ever been. In fact, I was right on the verge of flying one-way to Colombia. But the life of flinging myself relentlessly into foreign lands was on hold and suddenly my mind entertained new possibilities. Could I lead an adventurous life at home with a girl? Buying a campervan, going on weekend adventures, getting drunk and writing poetry together? Maybe I had it wrong all along; maybe the happy life was within grasp right here under my nose in my own backyard? It was a thought I couldn’t slip as those apparitions continued to grow clearer in my mind. Dreams of wandering alone in foreign lands quickly changed to living a more settled existence at home. I imagined our days and years together. The summer vacations. The lazy Sunday mornings lying in bed. The flowery dresses she would wear to our anniversary meals. By the time summer had arrived, I knew something had struck me deeply. I looked into the mirror and questioned the very essence of who I was. This is what a woman can do to a man. Every person thinks they know what is going on in their lives, but at the touch of love, we crumble and lose our minds. We go crazy, deluded, insane. We wander off into the woods and lose ourselves in places we didn’t know existed.
I continued losing myself in those places until the inevitable troubles arrived. It was gradually becoming clear that our story was not going to be a straightforward one. She had made me aware that things weren’t completely finished with her ex-boyfriend, and that the door was still open for them to return to their relationship once he had sorted some things out. We had flirted with the idea of being in a relationship, but it was becoming apparent that she would have to decide between pursuing this new connection with me or sticking by her ex. Someone was clearly about to get hurt. Her ex to me represented her past eight years of her life: comfort, security and familiarity. I was a strange new thing to her: a being of a different form and territory. Emotions were getting deeper and it was reaching a tipping point where she would have to choose. The inevitable crash came one morning. She messaged me saying it was messing her head up continuing things between us because of her ex. She now wanted us to be just friends. It came at a bad time. The night before, I had laid beside her in bed and decided for the first time in my life that I wanted to be in a relationship with someone. A foreign thought, quickly proven to be a foolish one.
Following the argument, I hit the bottle and delved into a darkness I hadn’t quite known before. Those apparitions that had almost become reachable faded back to mere visions in my mind. Ideas of sharing my path were revealed to be illusions. Our summer plans of adventure disappeared into smoke. Her flowery dresses disintegrated before my eyes. There was nothing I could do and I stared into the mirror and saw myself for the deluded dreamer I was. That delusion even continued as I kept hoping she would see a light and decide to start a new adventure with me rather than return to the past. But it became clear that wasn’t going to happen and what was left to do but to keep spiralling out of control in a drunken blur of despair and pitiful self-hatred.
Over the next few weeks, I collected myself and tried to make sense of what had happened. Clearly, I had felt something that was foreign to my heart and allowed myself to get lost in it. I simply hadn’t ever experienced a connection like that with another person. All my life, I had stared at the passing faces of lovers. I watched their hands connect and their lips touch. I watched their warm embraces. I observed the happiness and contentment in their eyes. It had taken me twenty-eight years to find a girl I had a real connection with and now it was gone in an instant. Back alone in my own world again, I looked into that mirror and saw myself for I really was. I could see it in my eyes. I was a gollum, a wretch, a creature belonging to a cave. I was banished to a barren wilderness while she would return to her ex and live a peaceful existence with her dogs and her kids. Outside the comfortable homes of lovers, my feet would tread that earth of solitude and isolation. The warm fireplaces would not warm my flesh. The pillows would not support my head. The dinner tables not know my company. I knew in my heart this was the way it was destined to be. Some of us are just destined to be lone wanderers til’ the end of our days. It is written in who we are and visions of sharing our path with another soul will always remain as mere apparitions and daydreams as we stumble on alone through life’s wilderness. It was the way it was and I knew the sooner I come to terms with it, the more straightforward my life would be.
One month later, I booked myself a ticket to a foreign country and prepared to hit the open road once again.
“Girl, I was always a bit of a solitary soul, but for a second there I saw this thing with you. To wake up on Sunday mornings with the light coming through the window. To caress the skin on your cheek as you smile with contentment. To know that I have another day by your side as my eyes open and for everything to be okay, if only for that day. I saw this thing with you. Some call it the normal life I guess. To stroll through parks hand in hand; to make love in an evening haze; to smell the scent on your neck and to not have to look anywhere else because all that I desire is there right in front of me. I saw this thing with you – this thing I now know is not gonna come. I have held you in my arms and because of that I have held happiness in my arms – that foreign thing, that strange concept. I would have given you everything of me. I would have thrown myself to your wolves, drowned myself in your sea, got lost in your forest. Yet we want different things; so it must be that we drift like ripples on the surface of water, and go separate ways. But you will always stay with me, like the other ghosts that linger inside me, those apparitions of happiness that haunt the hallways of my mind. Apparitions of something I can only see and not touch. Apparitions of another lover lost, another path not taken, another happiness not felt.”
~ A Crazy Little Idea ~
I have this idea in my head that some may call a little crazy. I believe that my time alive here is precious, and I am not ashamed to say that I do not want my life to be one with a predetermined path, a generic job and the sort of life that makes your parents’ heads nod with approval. In my heart, I know I will not find satisfaction with the things that are expected of me, and I guess I am choosing to sacrifice the comfort of normality for the thrill of living a life defined by my own rules. The truth is that I’ve always felt that I am a little at odds with this world; whether it has been in school or in jobs – in crowds or alone – I have felt that my spirit is from another realm than the one I find myself in. The life of blindly following established traditions fills me with dread, and it is with the burning passion inside of me that I must go out into the world and forge my own path. These feet of mine will not allow me to be bound to a place of silent heartache for the sake of social acceptance and security. Instead, they will know the movement of adventure, tread the ground of the unknown, and carry the weight of a man whose every step takes him further toward the shores of his own destiny. This is the way I am and the way I always will be. Another dreamer on the run, chasing my bliss and living every day of life as if it were a rebellion against death itself.