The 1st Date

Our first date went perfectly.

She was almost an hour late but I didn’t mind. She texted me to let me know what was happening and that was the main thing. The extra hour meant that Hope could stay with me and keep me calm. And it was a beautiful summer’s day which gave me an opportunity to sit in the sun and relax which is something I rarely do.

When we met we hit it off immediately. I found her attractive, bright and bubbly – just my opposite persona. I found myself laughing and smiling easily, and conversation wasn’t a problem at all.

She wanted to go drinking straight away – no coffee or anything like that – but it was cool. If that’s what she wanted, that’s what she wanted. I was prepared for anything in any event, so we went to a bar and had cocktails followed by food.

She sat close to me, and before I knew it I had an arm around her and she was resting against my chest. The few hours we had together passed at the speed of light and before I knew it, it was time to go home. I insisted on paying for her taxi.

As we stood in the late evening glow of the setting sun she asked if we were going to have a second date.

“If you would like to, I would like to as well.” I said smilingly. “Would you like to?”

“Yes.”

“Then that’s what we will do. We can agree on something. I will call you and we can decide together.”

“OK. I look forward to hearing from you then!”

And with that she was in the taxi and away.

I took the much slower option of taking the bus home. I wanted time to savour the moment. Finally! Finally! Finally something might work out. Finally I might get the break I was looking for.

For the rest of that night and the next morning I felt I was walking on air. The demons were gone. Hope laughed and made fun of me in the background. She was delighted that I was so happy and relaxed. I was too.

Then at around 3pm the next day I got a text.

“I want to see you tonight. Can’t I come to your place?”

My heart leapt although I felt that odd feeling deep down within me urging caution. And amidst the turmoil in my mind, I registered that Hope had stopped laughing and had gone strangely quiet.

I thought quickly.

One thing I could not understand was her constant urgency to come to my place. I could not understand why she could not slow things down a little. Things were moving just a little too fast for me. Maybe this was normal? I didn’t know, but something felt off.

“….Listen to yourself…..”

I tried to listen. But instead of hearing myself, all I could hear was my old companion. Fear.

“….If you keep saying no she is going to find you boring. And if you don’t act fast, you will lose her. Stop being such a coward and invite her round…..For once in your life act like a man…..”

I lifted the phone.

“OK. Come round.” I texted. I gave her the address.

I turned to look at Hope. She looked back at me. And I thought I detected a little hint of sadness in her gaze. I turned away again. I didn’t know what to say. And she remained silent.

The rest of that afternoon I couldn’t focus. I left work early. And instead of feeling excited I felt nervous but I put it to the back of my mind.

“It’s OK.” I told myself. “It will work out.”

“It will work out.”

With that I stopped thinking. I had a bigger problem to deal with. And that was having only 3 hours to get my apartment into shape. It hadn’t seen a visitor in months.

Remembering Life

I begin to think that this dating site is not what it advertises itself to be.

At first I was very selective about who I contacted. They needed to be roughly the same age as me. They needed to live in roughly the same area. They needed to have some of the same interests.

I messaged one or two women. No response. I tried another few. No response. I began to panic a little bit, and so I lowered my expectations. OK – they don’t have to live in the same area, and a few years under or over me didn’t really matter. I began to message more. And more. And more.

No response. After 40 messages.

Hope placed a reassuring hand on my shoulder.

“….don’t give up….”

The days passed slowly until eventually I received a message.

“Janice wants to get to know you.”

My heart leapt. Finally!!

I checked her profile. She looked like a nice woman, and sounded fun. She had a few kids, and worked in a shop. She also smoked, and that for me was a bonus.

We began to communicate and suddenly our fledgling relationship took off at the speed of light. We swapped email addresses the first day, and telephone numbers the second. On the third day she wanted to meet.

“OK,” I told her. “Let’s meet up next weekend! In town. We will have some fun! Maybe grab a coffee, take a walk around the shops?”

“No. I want to meet tonight. I want to come over to your place.” was her response.

I felt a brief touch of fear. It was a Wednesday night. I had an early start the next day. I needed to get a haircut and maybe pick up some new clothes. I wanted to make a first good impression. I wasn’t ready to move things so quickly. And besides, what kind of woman wants to meet a stranger in a strange place without ever having met him before? Something seemed wrong.

Suddenly Hope was beside me.

“……Listen to yourself……”

I listened. No. It was too big of a risk. I didn’t know this woman. I was not ready to share my personal space with her. I wanted to meet in a public place with people around so that I could assess her properly, and give her a chance to assess me. For once in my life, I didn’t want to do something stupid.

“No. I’m sorry.” I informed Janice. “Tonight won’t suit. Can’t we wait until the weekend to meet up properly?”

She began to plead, and then got angry but I refused to budge. We were going to do this properly or we weren’t going to do it. Those were the rules.

Eventually she conceded. OK. Weekend it is.

I felt elated. I was finally going to get to take a woman out on a proper date.

I researched meticulously. I googled the city centre and made notes of bars, coffee shops, cafes and restaurants. I noted their closing times and their walking distances. I was going to approach this in a light and easy way. We would meet up and then just do whatever felt natural. She could choose. And I would pay.

I got a haircut and some new clothes. I cleaned my apartment from top to bottom. I felt infused with a new energy – a drive that I had forgotten that I possessed. For the next few days I found myself talking more and being nicer to people. Little things stopped bothering me.

I had something to look forward to. And it felt great.

And as the weekend approached, the butterflies in my stomach began to multiply and multiply. I had just left my comfort zone but I didn’t care. I began to remember what life really felt like again.

For those with ears; listen

I remember when they told me my uncle had hung himself.

I don’t remember the time, date or place. But I remember my reaction.

I was speechless.

A guy I knew, who I admired, who I envied. A brave man. An ex-fire fighter. A husband. A dad.

An uncle.

I summoned all my memories of him.

What could I have done? How could I have saved him…….? Did he know I wanted to leave too? Could we have perhaps become proper friends? Could he have shared his thoughts? Could I have shared in return. Could I have persuaded him to stay?

The truth hurts even today.

But the sad answer is no. There is nothing I could have done.

His mind was made up years before; he was just summoning the courage to do it. And it did indeed take years.

And he did it. And he died.

I look inside myself. Am I callous for choosing to keep moving and not following?

No. I am not. I feel sorrow for this his passing like I regret the sorrow I felt when I threw that handful of dirt away whilst I knelt before the gates of Hell.

Too many good souls have been lost.”

Only the lucky remain. I am lucky. I mourn his passing, but I do not feel guilt. He checked out, and I send him a silent salute of respect for doing so. He answered a call he thought he heard. But I refuse check out. I tried to and I was denied the opportunity. I must keep going forward and leave the Fallen behind. And so be it.

Depression is a disease like no other. It is born from within and it consumes from the inside out. The most prominent feature is its silence. It kills softly and quietly – like a quilt made of thorns. It slowly descends upon us, wraps itself around us, and strangles us whilst we think we sleep in peace.

Its not like having dementia or a broken leg. It manifests few signs to the outward observer. Nobody knows anything is wrong – except the afflicted. And they become masters of disguise. They make and wear their own smiling and grinning masks day by day. Every day. They check it before they leave home. They check it before they return home. They check it at the breakfast table. And they even check it when sending a text.

But the struggle to maintain that visage……….the internal mental anguish is enormous.

I fought yesterday, I fight today, and I will fight tomorrow. Like I said, I am lucky. The demons’ blades never quite manage to clip me enough to prove fatal and never dig deep enough to poison my being. Someday I might get unlucky, but I always continue to accept the challenge.

For those of my internet friends who read this, I can say only one thing.

DO NOT give up just yet. Try to summon Hope and try believing in Her. She is managing to keep me going at least, and She is not doing too bad of a job of it, bless her.

x

An Ode to Hope (Again)

Once I was seven years old my momma told me
Go make yourself some friends or you’ll be lonely
Once I was seven years old

It was a big big world, but we thought we were bigger
Pushing each other to the limits, we were learning quicker
By eleven smoking herb and drinking burning liquor
Never rich so we were out to make that steady figure

Once I was eleven years old my daddy told me
Go get yourself a wife or you’ll be lonely
Once I was eleven years old

I always had that dream like my daddy before me
So I started writing songs, I started writing stories
Something about that glory just always seemed to bore me
‘Cause only those I really love will ever really know me

Once I was twenty years old, my story got told
Before the morning sun, when life was lonely
Once I was twenty years old

I only see my goals, I don’t believe in failure
‘Cause I know the smallest voices, they can make it major
I got my boys with me at least those in favor
And if we don’t meet before I leave, I hope I’ll see you later

Once I was twenty years old, my story got told
I was writing about everything, I saw before me
Once I was twenty years old

Soon we’ll be thirty years old, our songs have been sold
We’ve traveled around the world and we’re still roaming
Soon we’ll be thirty years old

I’m still learning about life
My woman brought children for me
So I can sing them all my songs
And I can tell them stories
Most of my boys are with me
Some are still out seeking glory
And some I had to leave behind
My brother I’m still sorry

Soon I’ll be sixty years old, my daddy got sixty-one
Remember life and then your life becomes a better one
I made a man so happy when I wrote a letter once
I hope my children come and visit, once or twice a month

Soon I’ll be sixty years old, will I think the world is cold
Or will I have a lot of children who can warm me
Soon I’ll be sixty years old

Once I was seven years old, momma told me
Go make yourself some friends or you’ll be lonely
Once I was seven years old

Once I was seven years old

(Lukas Graham – 7 Years)

Just do it

I waver before the computer screen, my vision blurring yet my mind still feeling sharp as a razor as always. Not even alcohol seems to blunt its edge. I stare blearily at a dating website.

Hope perches on the edge of the table beside me despite there being little room amongst the beer cans. I never question the physics of how she manages it – she just seems to fit in comfortably everywhere.

The website has just asked for a photo. And I am stumped.

A photo. Of me. A photo.

I let the thought go.

“.….upload a photo……“. Hope’s quiet optimism makes everything sound simple as usual.

As I begin my desperate search, I infuse my magic through my fingers and into the keyboard beyond. I don’t understand life. But I love computers. And they love me. I could take a PC and send it dancing and singing across the room should I choose to.

An image of me pops up. I can feel tears beginning to well despite the fact I havent managed to cry since I was 13.

I look so ugly. I cannot stand my reflection – as good a reason as any as to why I only have one mirror in my home and tend to avoid reflective surfaces. Including camera lenses.

…upload it…..” Hope gently urges.

I refuse to obey. I can’t. When my matches see me, they will laugh.

I hear a hiss behind me.

Hope’s demeanor suddenly changes. Her eyes crinkle with hate, and her laughing mouth assumes a thin fine line. She is looking over my shoulder; at exactly what I choose not to know.

In a blur she vanishes into the space behind me and I hear the gentle swing of a sword. And just as soon as she has vanished, she reappears.

Suddenly she laughs aloud and I listen to that beautiful sound being released into the air like twirling smoke and birthday wishes.

Now try that again….and this time just do it…… Mister Ugly…...” she teases.

Suddenly I laugh too.

“Who are you calling ugly?!”

And with that retort, my fully completed dating profile is born.

I hit the submit button. and for the first time in my life I become a real human.With a real name.

 

 

An Ode to My Fallen Friends

I was bruised and battered, I couldn’t tell what I felt

I was unrecognizable to myself.

Saw my reflection in a window and didn’t know my own face.

Oh brother are you gonna leave me wastin’ away

On the streets of Philadelphia.

 

I walked the avenue, ’til my legs felt like stone

I heard the voices of friends, vanished and gone,

At night I could hear the blood in my veins,

It was just as black and whispering as the rain,

On the streets of Philadelphia.

 

Ain’t no angel gonna greet me.

It’s just you and I my friend.

And my clothes don’t fit me no more,

I walked a thousand miles

Just to slip this skin.

 

Night has fallen, I’m lyin’ awake,

I can feel myself fading away,

So receive me brother with your faithless kiss,

Or will we leave each other alone like this

On the streets of Philadelphia.

 

(Bruce Springsteen – Streets of Philadelphia)

The Dogs of War

The cannons roar, and shells pound the ground around me; sending huge plumes of dirt into the air. Screams and shrieks fill the air. And I watch idly as the angels battle.

I stand on elevated ground, surveying the scene below without emotion. We are getting slaughtered. Any fool could see that.

I summon my inner peace and think calmly. Quickly, but calmly.

An aide appears at my side.

“…sir?….” The question hovers in the air.

I finish my thought, before turning to look at the young angel at my side. I stare him in the face. I see fear. Courage….but fear.

“……I have been where you are my brother……”

But I don’t send him the message. I keep the thought to myself.

I stretch my arm out to  clasp him on the shoulder, and flash him a reassuring look. His visage changes – the fear departs and he begins to smile hopefully. Questioningly, but hopefully. Hopefully. That is the main thing. Hope will see us through.

I don’t need to speak. I twist my gauntleted hand into a gesture of defiance, and make two short pumps into the scream laden air. Then I turn away to survey the battlefield again.

The young aide disappears to fulfill my orders, only to be replaced by a presence I know all too well.

“…….problems?!………”

Hope’s silvery chimes within my mind never cease to fill me with joy.

I nod shortly.

“Yes. Left flank. Dying.” The words deserve to be spoken aloud.

“Let’s go then!” replies Hope brightly.

I reward my greatest asset with a look of pure love.

“Let’s go, old friend.”

She beams at me.

I withdraw my sword for the millionth time. My sword. Another old friend.

I dig it point down into the dirt and stiffly kneel before it, before reaching out and grabbing  a handful of dirt. A habit I acquired eons ago. I briefly close my eyes and send up a prayer as I feel the old familiar sting of power flow through me.

My eyes snap open again. I am ready. I spring to my feet.

“Aide!” I shout.

“Sir!”

“Are we ready?”

“Yes Sir!”

I turn to survey my guard. Each angel sits proudly astride a white stallion. Their armour gleams; their heads remain erect. Ready to die. One thousand beautiful souls.

I send them a message of thanks.They nod in unison and a silent, respectful acknowledgement. They will follow me unto Hell.

My charger is brought before me and I mount. I take my sword and grasp it tightly. This is it. This…is…it….

My charger, sensing  my mood, rears in anger. I stroke her flank reassuringly before uttering my command.

“HAI!!!!!!!!!!!”

I never need to utter it. She knows. We have done this before. Countless, countless times. But I guess I do it out of habit.

She lets loose a surge of power and we are off. The air begins to rush and before I know it we are at full gallop. I turn my head slightly and the reassuring pounding sound of my guard galloping after me reaches my ears.

“HAI!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

The left flank of my army is about to wipe. I can’t help but suppress a feeling of utmost pride. They never fold. Only wipe. They fight to the last. They do not understand retreat.

I pick out the thickest of the enemy line and direct my charge there. My guard form a protective shell around me.

“HAI!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

They don’t see the charge until the last moment – such is our speed. The impact is quick and jarring. The demons that stand before me scream in horror upon seeing me. I feel an involuntary surge of satisfaction.

“FEAR ME!!!!!!!!!!”

The front line begins to fall back before the braver ones at the rear attempt to take us down. I become fluid in my being. Left. Left, left, right. Left. I hack and slash. I exercise no discrimination. All shall die. The brave as well as the weak and foolish.

All shall die.

Amid the screams and wails, I hear a low chuckle of joy flutter across the battlefield. I turn in the direction of the sound.

I behold Hope in all her glory; bedecked in her familiar blue, pulsing armour and sitting astride a steed the colour of which reminds me of the most glorious sunrise. She has cut a swathe through the enemy and it is at that moment I know – I KNOW!” – that we will carry this battle.

A bedraggled cheer arises from my dying left flank, and my troops regain the initiative. Instead of dropping back further, they begin to press again.

“HARDER!!!!!!!!” I bellow. “HARDER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

They obey. They acquire an aspect of invigoration and joy as they commence to slay everything in sight.

The enemy turns to flee. My troops begin to follow. I choose not to restrain them. I am not in merciful mood. Let them wipe this scourge from the face of the earth. They proceed to do so.

The enemy, up until now relying on its strong right flank to carry the battle, now realizes that all is lost. It begins to retreat.

Suddenly, I sense eyes on me. And I look in the direction from whence they came.

The most malevolent presence I have yet to encounter watches me in idle amusement from across the battlefield. Its armour oozes blood. And tears. It’s mount screams in agony but cannot escape the burden of horror being carried.

The presence looks upon me and I evenly return its gaze. Suddenly it raises a mailed fist in salute.

“……congratulations…..” it whispers, before breaking out into a bray of laughter.

I do not salute back.

“I will never salute a coward.” I think. Yet as soon as the thought comes into being, I change my mind.

My mouth has filled with the coppery taste I know to be blood. Something, somewhere managed to clip me. Not enough. But enough for what I am about to do now.

Without removing my eyes from the presence before me, I deliberately let lose a stream of warm blood upon the ground in its direction.

The thing stops chuckling and issues me a look of absolute hatred, before turning tail to vanish into the maelstrom beyond.

My troops give a cheer of joy. It is a joy I do not feel, although I am happy for them.

I climb off my mount and kneel again. And again I grab a handful of dirt. Today, this dirt has tasted the blood of too many good souls. I throw it away in disgust.

How many more battles. The enemy need only be lucky once, whereas I need to be lucky always.

Then I shrug.

So be it.