Posts Tagged ‘relationships’
Last New Year’s Eve, I had a bad case of the flu. I was miserable, lonely, broke and ill. I called my friends at 11am and told them I wouldn’t be joining them and put down the phone feeling gutted.
Any normal person would have chalked it up to a case of bad luck and germs, watched movies in bed, grabbed a pizza and an early night and woken up on New Year’s Day one step closer to feeling better.
What did I do? I went to the shop, bought a bottle of vodka and got drunk.
I’ve never drunk normally. I regarded people who enjoyed ‘just the one glass of wine with dinner’ as freaks — although I envied them totally. For me, it had one purpose: oblivion. It made everything go away, and once I had it inside me, there was no ‘off’ button until my money ran out or someone broke the front door down to stop me.
At 3am, a brick smashed through the bedroom window and landed on the bed. It wasn’t personal, most likely the antics of some drunken idiot trying to prove himself to his mates. Ironically I judged him.
I woke up, not knowing for a moment what had happened. Broken glass covered the duvet and I cut my hands to ribbons tearing back the bedsheets and trying to figure out where I was. Still pissed, and with a bitter wind now blowing through my bedroom, I went into the living room, downed half a bottle of Jack Daniels and knocked myself out till morning, comatose on the sofa in a bloodstained blanket.
So it should come as little surprise that as I sit here typing this, hangover-free on January 1st — having spent New Year’s Eve eating ice cream and watching movies with my boyfriend — that comparatively speaking, 2012 is already off to a rollickingly good start.
2011 began as it was to continue for the next six months. I started off the new year drunk, lonely, frightened, in debt and with a hole in my soul ten times the size of that in my bedroom window.
February saw me relapse again, nine bottles of vodka over four days. The police broke in. I can’t even remember being taken to hospital.
I managed to stay dry for three months till it happened again. I had tried so hard, but I was merely abstaining, not dealing; and it was scarily easy to give in and pour it down my neck again. As I opened the bottle I even felt a sliver of excitement. Another week lost from my life, another empty bank account and another bunch of cuts and bruises to add to my ever-growing collection of scars. All of which I have no recollection of getting.
I was losing my friends, the respect of my family, and clinging onto my job with bloodied fingernails. I couldn’t even tell you the last time I’d felt something close to self-respect.
All the while I was playing out a life in public that everything was okay. But then, I guess that’s what the disease of addiction turns you into: a liar.
I truly mean it when I say I wanted to get better — or the next time I wanted to die. That was the choice. I couldn’t live like this any longer. I stopped trying to do it on my own and I got some real help.
I found a way. The irony is, I can’t tell you how I did it. I won’t. I’m not going to stand here and advertise a method of getting and staying sober. What if it ends up not working for me and I have a public fall from the wagon? I could destroy someone’s faith in a solution that might otherwise have worked for them. But what I will say is this: for anyone who’s listening, you can’t do it alone. You’ve probably tried already and it’s failed.
A month after I got myself cleaned up good and proper, the handsomest man I’ve ever known turned to me and said “I’d love for you to be my boyfriend.” He had wanted it for a while, he just needed to know I was getting sober for myself rather than for him.
Two months later I left my job. At the time I was riddled with fear, but by this time I had managed to accrue some cash in the bank. I took four months off work and threw myself into getting better.
In October I sent my first invoice for my new business, Thesaurus Rex Copywriting, to one of the world’s biggest software companies.
But most importantly, I no longer see fear or apprehension in the eyes of the people I love. I don’t have to feel that disappointment emanating from my friends and family when I’m found, paralytic, wild-eyed, thin and covered in god-knows-what after going off the radar yet again.
Destructive behaviour comes in all forms and can go to different extremes. Not everyone with alcohol problems drinks the way I did. It can manifest itself in drugs, booze, risky sex, even work and fitness. The drink and drugs just make the noise go away. The sex is a temporary validation.
My world this January 1st is a million miles from where I was last year. I have a loving boyfriend whom I fully intend to marry, a roof over my head, money in the bank, a buzzing new business. I’ve just been ranked in the top 50 most influential LGBT people on Twitter (in fact, it’s for this very reason I’ve chosen to share my story). All this has come to me since I got sober and started participating in my life instead of being a victim to an illness.
The best thing I did in 2011 was for myself: I saved my life. I finally saw how little I valued ‘me’ and I did something about it. And I’m full of gratitude to the people who helped me.
Life has changed, and if you’ve read any of this and are thinking “This is me. This is how I feel” then I promise it can change for you, too.
You just have to ask for help, and it will be given.
Happy new year. x
“I told you I was trouble,” Amy Winehouse sang, “You know that I’m no good.”
For me, that’s the most poignant lyric she ever wrote. It sums up the mind of an addict. You see, it wasn’t a brag; it was a mixture of ‘keep away’ and ‘help me’.
How do I know? Because not so long ago, I was Amy Winehouse.
For most addicts, there’s a constant presence on your shoulder telling you you’re not good enough, that somehow, you’re ‘less’ than everyone out there. Your thoughts go round like a washing machine on high-speed. The noise in your head is constant, loud and harsh. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a rich and famous popstar, or Mary Taylor in Islington, homeless and sleeping rough in a shop doorway; it’s that same mindset. Alcohol and drugs are merely the medication.
Addiction isn’t fun. Addiction isn’t “Let’s go to the pub and get pissed and have a right laugh” or “Let’s get fucked on drugs and get up to mischief”. Addiction is lonely, terrifying and insidious. Oh, sure, you start out like everyone else, a few drinks here and there, a dabble or two in something a little harder. You don’t realise when it stops being fun, but it does. Suddenly you find yourself alone in a room, afraid to go out, because ‘outside’ is too damn scary.
So you take that hit, and for a short while, the noise stops. Peace through oblivion. Then you come around and the noise starts again, louder this time, and coupled with the anxiety, fear and terror that come with withdrawal. So you take another hit. Sweet, blessed relief. And somewhere in the back of your mind you hope you don’t wake up from this one. You’re nothing but trouble, you see. All you cause is pain and worry.
I read a fantastic blog by Russell Brand today, in which he said:
“When you love someone who suffers from the disease of addiction, you await the phonecall. There will be a phonecall. The sincere hope is that the call will be from the addict themselves, telling you they’ve had enough, that they’re ready to stop, ready to try something new. Of course though, you fear the other call, the sad nocturnal chime from a friend or relative telling you it’s too late, she’s gone. Frustratingly it’s not a call you can ever make — it must be received.”
The problem is, addiction is the only disease in existence that tells you that you haven’t got it. Lock an addict away and they’ll be looking for an escape, or biding their time and playing the ‘yes, I’m fine now’ role until they’re alone again. I’ve had people in the kitchen pouring drink away while I’ve been climbing out of the bedroom window on my way to buy more.
I’ve been a day out of hospital after being found in my flat, hours away from death, and already I’m figuring out where I can get hold of some gear. I believed the booze and drugs were giving me something. In fact, it was the opposite. They were hollowing me out, alienating my friends and family and slowly stripping me of all that was real and good.
Sadly, all the love and support in the world wasn’t going to help Amy get better. She was trotted out on stage at every opportunity to make money for her record company. She didn’t have the luxury I’ve had of anonymity, of being left alone so she could get better. Contracts had been signed and albums were due. Her star had to keep shining, and all the while the press were snapping at her heels, waiting for her to fall again.
I can’t imagine anything more frightening than the whole world waiting with bated breath for me to fuck up, then posting it on YouTube when I do.
Yesterday evening, people shut down Facebook and Twitter on their computers, still in shock and disbelief at this tragedy, before heading off down to the pubs and clubs for a well-deserved weekend blowout.
Mary in Islington sits down in her shop doorway, begging for a few coins to get a can of beer. Just a little something to help take the edge off. You might have seen her last night, she may have come up to ask you for some change, desperate and devoid of pride, but like a lot of people, you probably looked away, annoyed and uncomfortable.
Sunday morning rolls around, and half of London wakes up with a hangover. Some might even still be going. iTunes seizes the opportunity to promote Amy’s albums on its homepage to make some cash, and somewhere in Islington, an ambulance arrives to take away the body of a homeless woman found dead in a shop doorway.
And all over the world, recovering addicts wake up and pray to a God they’re not even sure exists for the strength to stay clean one more day.
The world carries on. Then somewhere, a phone rings.
You know those people who always seem to say the right thing? Those serene individuals, calmer than Buddha, who wait patiently while you witter on like a blithering idiot, then promptly sum up every feeling, every emotion, everything you’ve been trying so desperately to verbalise in one, simple answer?
Yeah, I’m not one of those people.
Ironic isn’t’ it? I mean, I’m a writer. Words are like, my thing, you know? But talking isn’t. Oh, sure, I can construct perfect paragraphs, sizzling sentences and compelling copy, but ask me to talk without a crib sheet and I fly off on a million different tangents, tripping over my words and getting so caught up in what I want to say, I never actually manage to make the point I originally intended to make.
It’s probably why I chose to make this my living. Ask me to write what’s in my head and I’ll give you an articulate, well-structured piece of copy. Come to me for advice and I’ll serve you up the verbal equivalent of a really fucking bad first draft.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a ‘closed’ person. I’ve done the I-am-an-island thing and I’ve worn my heart on my sleeve, and nowadays I like to think I’ve found a happy medium concerning what and with whom I share things.
But GOD, that talking thing. It’s like my thoughts trip over halfway between my brain and my mouth and what comes out is a tangled mass of arms, legs and the contents of the owners’ handbags. Ever seen a pile up in a cycling race? Yeah, that.
Take tonight for instance. I was on the phone with someone who’d had a bad day. A simple enough situation, but you see, he’s one of those people. The kind of person who can say in four seconds what you’ve been trying to say for half an hour. The kind of person who always says the right thing, and does so without having to try three different versions of it. Out loud. The kind of person I just wish I could be like.
Let’s just say he’s ‘special’ to me, and I wanted so badly to come up with some earth-shattering wisdom to solve all his problems and leave him comforted (and slightly in awe of my verbal dexterity), but all I managed were a few long pauses, punctuated by the razor-sharp “Uhm…yeah…well I don’t really know what to say. It’s like… yeah, cause uhm…”
You get the picture.
We began wrapping up the phonecall and saying goodnight. Inside I was feeling like I’d been utterly useless. Then, right before we bid our farewells, he said this:
“Thanks for listening to me moan. I really needed that.”
For this writer, sometimes I need to forget about words. Sometimes all I need to do is just listen.
Afterwards, I went into the living room where my flatmate and best friend of ten years was watching TV.
“Why is it that when I’m talking to him, I can never put into words what’s in my head? It just comes out all jumbled and I end up sounding like an idiot.”
“Because you’re emotionally invested,” she replied simply, “you’re not impartial so it’s harder.”
Yeah. She’s another one of those people.
‘The Room and the Briefcase’ is the concluding part of an extract from Kristian Johns’s forthcoming book ’11:47′, available next year. Parts 1&2 of the story will be available for download directly to Amazon Kindle devices soon. Read part 1 here.
Kyle’s ‘work’ phone had woken him from dozing on the sofa, but he never ignored a call. Not when there was money to be made.
There was no background noise on the line, which meant the caller was indoors, but then again, Kyle never got the kind of calls people made out in the street or on a train. The caller sounded like they had a chest infection or something.
“Hello?” Kyle repeated
“How much for you to visit?” The voice on the other end belonged to an older guy. Kyle could tell these things.
Sounds like the only visit you need is from a doctor.
“Three hundred. I’ll negotiate on overnights but I’m generally not an overnight kind of guy, y’know? You got a name?”
“We have a deal.”
“OK, dude, what are you looking fo—“
Kyle looked at the phone and arched his eyebrows. “Well, you’re rude,” he muttered while trying to tame his curly brown hair and wondering if he could get away without showering. A sniff of his t-shirt told him not.
His phone beeped with a text telling him the address, and instructions to arrive in an hour.
He texted his best friend Ian: Got a job. U gonna still be up in a couple of hours?
Almost immediately the reply came back: Sure. Come ova if u want. Have half a cold pizza n beer J
Fifteen minutes later, still damp from his shower, he took one last look in the mirror at the boyish face and slim body that drove so many older guys wild, and satisfied, grabbed his jacket and keys. It was Wednesday night, and midweekers were few and far between lately, so it was a good thing.
Might even go regular? He thought, swiping his wallet over the reader at Pimlico tube station and heading down to the cool, painted concrete of the tunnels below.
He arrived ten minutes early at the address in Kensington. A pretty fucking nice address at that. Kensington’s one of those places where you’re walking down a street lined with townhouses and you suddenly twig that none of them have been converted into flats yet. This was where money lived.
He’s loaded. Should have said five hundred. Dammit.
The door opened almost as soon as he pressed the bell, which startled him slightly — like the guy had been waiting there. The guy was a well-dressed man in his mid-fifties, wearing a double breasted grey suit with a blue shirt and tie. For some reason he was carrying a briefcase, and Kyle wondered if he’d only just arrived home. He offered his hand
“Hi, there. I’m Kyle, we spoke about an hour ago?”
— and you’re minted and ugly so I’m being polite and hoping this goes regular. Sad fuck.
The man looked momentarily down at Kyle’s hand, and then jerked his head in an ‘in-you-come’ gesture.
Minted, ugly, rude. But minted.
Kyle stepped inside and followed the silent, shuffling man down and immaculately tiled hallway and into a plush living room. They sat on the couch. The man kept hold of his briefcase.
“I usually get the money thing out the way first. Makes it less awkward at the end. That cool?”
The man nodded and produced an envelope from his blazer pocket. Kyle didn’t feel the need to check. The guy had a townhouse in Kensington for fuck’s sake.
For some reason, the guy gave Kyle the creeps, and not just because he didn’t talk. It wasn’t out of the ordinary for a first-timer to clam up. No, this guy was a different kind of creepy. To anyone else, he would have appeared nervous, sitting there, breathing like a phone pest, clutching his briefcase like it was welded to him. But not to Kyle, whose years of experience as an escort —
— had given him an uncanny ability to read people. Kyle always felt a sense of power when he was with clients, but this guy exuded a powerful aura of control. It made him feel…dislocated…vulnerable.
“So. What do you like to do?” Kyle asked, dismayed to hear an edge to his voice; a slight tremor that turned his vowels to ridges.
The man’s eyes fixed on Kyle’s and his face cracked into a humourless grin and Kyle’s skin prickled with unease as he realised he’d forgotten to text Ian the guy’s address like they always agreed.
“Uhm…you like coke? I have some on me. It’s good for relaxing. Makes you feel like the king of the world.” said Kyle, cursing inwardly as he fumbled his wallet and dropped it on the floor.
The man continued to smile at him, like he found Kyle amusing.
Have a line and focus. He isn’t the one in control here. You are. Always remember that.
“Is it OK to do it on the table? It looks —
— just chop the fucking line and stop babbling!
“—expensive. I wouldn’t want to—“
The man’s voice was husky, but still went through Kyle like a gunshot. He tried to hide his juddering hands as he knelt over the spotless glass table and shook out more coke than he should have. He chopped two fat lines, pulled out a well-rolled note and snorted. He handed the note to the man, feeling the burn and gagging slightly as the coke hit the back of his throat. The rush was almost immediate — he always bought top-drawer stuff.
The client barked a deep, phlegmy cough as he finished his own line and returned to the sofa, still holding the briefcase.
Fortified by the coke, Kyle knelt up behind the man and began kneading his shoulders. The man inhaled a deep, wheezy lungful as he slumped under Kyle’s expert fingers.
“That feel good, mister?”
The guy nodded.
Course it does, you limp-dicked old fart. You’ve probably come in your y-fronts already. Easy money.
Kyle reached for the hand holding the briefcase, “Why don’t you put that down so you can relax with me on the —?”
“NO!” shouted the man, jumping up, his suit jacket half-off his shoulders. His eyes flashed, and Kyle felt his fear crack open again.
“Okay! Okay!” Kyle held his hand out in an ‘easy there’ gesture but the man stepped back again, his eyes flashing.
“Don’t you dare touch it! Don’t you DARE touch this case!” He hugged it in a pose that might have looked absurd if it hadn’t been for his vicious expression. His face was turning a deep shade of purple and his eyes bulged. He tugged at his collar with his free hand.
“Dude, calm down, I wasn’t going to…are you O—“
The man thudded violently to the floor before Kyle could finish his sentence. Gooey blobs of phlegm splattered from his mouth as he fought desperately to catch a breath. The hand holding the briefcase let go and grabbed at his shoulder. The noise was awful, a rasping, desperate sound like nails down a blackboard
He’s having a heart attack. He’s having a goddamn motherfucking heart attack.
Kyle knew he should do something —
— you’re a rent boy who’s given him drugs.
— call an ambulance, anything, but he was glued to the spot, mesmerised by the horror of watching another human being dying, knowing he should do something, pick up the phone, call out, anything, but torn by the fear of the consequences.
— call a fucking ambulance. Flush the coke and call an ambulance
The man gaped at Kyle with eyes shot through with fear, confusion and blood. He pawed feebly at it the briefcase before his body was wracked with a final, violent spasm, and then he lay still.
Kyle stood rooted to the spot. A wild jumble of thoughts clattered round in his mind: I should check if he’s dead I should call an ambulance I should flush the coke and then call an ambulance I should try and give him the kiss of life I should grab my shit and get the fuck out of here I should see what’s in that briefcase.
The briefcase the man had been so ferocious about protecting.
I should see what’s in that briefcase.
He knelt over the man, heart pounding so hard he swore he could see his t-shirt rippling. He gingerly put his ear close to the man’s mouth. No breath. Not even a whisper.
He slid over to where the briefcase lay upside down on the smooth, varnished wooden floor and flipped it over. It was nothing special: just your bog standard department store job, black leather, with a cheap, gold combination lock on each side of the handle.
“What’s so important that you couldn’t let this out of your sight, eh?” Kyle asked the dead man, searching in his own bag for the screwdriver he always carried around with him on jobs. Police didn’t take kindly to knives. At least if he got stopped and searched he could say he was borrowing it.
A few well-placed jabs, a couple of turns of the wrist and the locks sprang open. It was then, Kyle understood.
He’d often wondered what a million pounds looked like. And now he reckoned he had a fair idea.
He pulled out his phone and dialled Ian.
**EXCERPT FROM TRANSCRIPT OF USB RECORDER FOUND ON THE BODY OF MATTHEW WRIGHT. DATE: June 26th 2011**
(Shuffling noises, metallic sound, probably from chains. Sound of a man crying)
(Male voice): He didn’t come today, or yesterday, or the day before that. But my today and yesterday might just be someone else’s today. I don’t know. I’ve tried to count the seconds and get some sense of time but I can’t concentrate. I don’t know if he’s coming back. I keep blacking out. I’m so hungry. So goddam FUCKING HUNGRY!
(Screams, shouting, chains rattling)
WHERE THE FUCK ARE YOU! COME BACK YOU FUCKING CUNT!
(Sound of crying lasting approximately two minutes.)
Every time I wake up it’s from the same nightmare. I hear the sound of the door in my dreams. It scares the shit out of me, but scarier still is the sick way in which I want to hear it. I just want to hear the door open again. I keep…
…I just keep waking up and seeing it open, but I know it’s not really open because he’s not there. I miss him. It sounds so fucking stupid but I miss him. He’s a monster. He’s a FUCKING FUCKED UP MONSTER
(Chains rattle on each word, as if speaker is pulling at them for emphasis)
…but he’s the only human being I think I’ll ever see again. Oh God, how long till I go? How fucking long till I just black out and don’t wake up. PLEASE. Oh, God, please.
(Crying for approximately thirty seconds. The next two minutes of the audio is also muffled and could not be understood)
…of my fucking life. Oh God, I’m so sorry, I’m so, so fucking sorry. Tell John I’m so sorry. And tell him I love him.
**END OF RECORDING**
BBC NEWS WEBSITE: DATE: 7TH JULY 2011: TIME: 11:47am
KENSINGTON ‘HOUSE OF HORRORS’ REVEALS MORE VICTIMS
It has today been confirmed that the remains of a further five victims have been excavated from the basement of the Kensington address where 53-year-old Geoffrey Hamilton was found dead from a heart attack last week. A postmortem on Hamilton’s body has since established the presence of cocaine in his body at time of death.
In a dramatic twist, the corpse of a young male chained to the floor in the basement of the property. Although official cause of death has not yet been made available, it is suspected that the victim, named as 27-year-old sales executive Matthew Wright, died from multiple fractures to the back of his skull. Speculation that Wright may have taken his own life by repeatedly striking his head against the floor has neither been confirmed nor denied.
In a statement issued by the Metropolitan Police today, Detective Chief Inspector Chris Reynolds said:
“We can confirm that we are still in the process of excavating the basement at 45, Barrington Gardens, SW7 and have so far recovered five bodies in addition to those of Geoffrey Hamilton and Matthew Wright. All are believed to be male and we are awaiting the results of DNA testing to determine their identities.”
The funeral of Matthew Wright is expected to take place next week, when the body is released by coroners.
‘The Room and the Briefcase’ is an extract from the forthcoming collection ’11:47′, available next year. Parts 1&2 of the story will be available for download directly to Amazon Kindle devices soon.
The room is about ten feet by six, and the ceiling is low — only about eight feet separate it from the floor. There are no windows, which gives the room a damp, humid smell, underpinned by another odour, like meat that’s been left in the fridge too long. I haven’t heard any sounds from the outside world, so I’m assuming the room is underground, but I don’t know how far.
The room was white once, but it hasn’t seen a decent coat of paint in years — possibly decades — and the walls and floor are concrete. There are dark, mottled patches everywhere, each roughly the size of a person. He’s had a go at painting over them, but you can see the stains coming back through the peeling paint like mould.
The room is empty apart from me, and I’m chained to the floor opposite the heavy steel door that serves as his entrance and exit. He’s positioned me so I have no choice but to look at him when he comes in. He likes that, you see. He’s always dressed smartly, like he’s just come from the office, and he’s always carrying a briefcase. He never talks.
There are two thick metal rings buried either side of me and I’m shackled to them, crucifix-style by heavy chains. There’s enough play in them for me to sit up, scratch my face and stuff like that, but the cuffs are inlaid with rows of sharp spikes which have pierced my skin and will rip my wrists to ribbons if I try to pull them out. I black out occasionally, and when I wake up, I always find there’s fresh blood seeping from the wounds — like I’ve been struggling in my sleep.
The cuts are infected now, and there’s a faint rotten smell coming from them. My contacts fell out long ago and my mouth feels hot and putrid. I smell sour with sweat. My clothes are hanging off me and when I wake up from my blackouts, the floor is hard against my now jutting bones. My face is a scratchy mass of beard and my hair is lank and greasy. The days of haircuts, perfectly trimmed stubble and hard effort at the gym just to fill out my t-shirts seem so far away now – and so pointless.
I don’t know how long I’ve been here. It must have been a while, because the faces of the people I love are becoming fuzzy in my mind. I try to recall John’s face, but as soon as I get a clear picture, it melts away. I try to remember if I told him I loved him that morning, or if I texted him something soppy and alcohol-fuelled later when I was out drinking after work, but I can’t check, because my phone’s been taken. I hope I told him I love him. I miss him. I wonder if he’s trying to find me.
Panic is supposed to subside over time, isn’t it? It’s not true. The fear is relentless. I’m full of adrenaline every waking second, waiting for the sound of the door. My whole life now revolves around waiting for the sound of that door come and to rip apart the constant silence. That’s probably why I keep blacking out. I guess your body is only designed to cope with so much stress before it shuts down. Unconsciousness is a relief to be honest. I mean, I have dreams, but they’re all about being in this room anyway. Sometimes I wake up and don’t realise I’m still dreaming, and sometimes when I’m awake, I question whether I’m conscious. I wonder if I’m going insane.
There’s a screeching sound from the door as he pulls back the heavy bolt on the other side, and despite the fact I’ve been waiting for it, a thunderbolt of fear slashes through me. My bones jump beneath my sagging skin, bile rises in my throat — although there’s nothing in my stomach to throw up — and my pulse hammers in my veins.
And then he’s there in the doorway — an unattractive guy of about fifty, with greying temples and a paunch. He’s wearing the grey suit today, with a cornflower blue shirt and a patterned tie. He’s got two suits — one grey and one navy — and about four ties. He sticks to white and blue shirts. And of course he’s got the briefcase. Always with that fucking briefcase.
He shuffles, slightly hunched over, into the middle of the room, sets the briefcase down and walks back out. He’s disappeared from view, but I hear a faint clanking, whizzing sound, like a rope against a pulley. I suspect he has some sort of dumbwaiter system, because he always returns with a tray.
He checks to make sure his briefcase is still there, and shuts the door. Although it’s already silent in here, the sound still feels like it’s been sucked out of the room; like the air’s tighter somehow. He walks towards me.
I often wondered what it would be like to stare into the eyes of a madman, and now I know. They say the eyes are the windows to the soul. If that’s true, this man has no soul. There’s nothing there behind his eyes. Absolutely nothing.
At first, when I still had the strength to get angry, I used to scream abuse at him. Brutal, primal things I never even imagined myself saying in my head, let alone out loud. I’d vow to get free and tear him limb from limb. I’d spit, kick and bite, scream at him like nothing human until my throat was in shreds, but he never reacted. He just stood there, observing me with this kind of… muted curiosity until I wore myself out.
Later on, I switched to begging with him, asking why I was there, what he wanted from me. I’d describe where I lived, what I did, the kind of person I was, hoping to connect with whatever last scrap of humanity he may have had. But he just watched silently as I slowly wore down and broke; until there was nothing more of the ‘me’ I used to be. Until I was just a whimpering slab of meat, sobbing and flinching whenever he came near me.
Now I stay silent the entire time he’s here. My trembling gives me away, but I’m damned if I ever let him see me cry again. I’m not in a position to make resolutions — I’m going to die here, I know that now — but I’ve promised myself one thing: I will never cry again in front of that monster.
He carries on now like he’s tending to a mannequin and not a human, pulling down my trousers so I can defecate into a bedpan. Once I’m done, he pulls them back up and begins spooning stone-cold porridge from the tray into my mouth. His breath stinks like cold chips, and every time he inhales, I hear a rattling, wheezing sound. The spoon clatters like a tuning fork against my teeth.
When he’s finished feeding me, he goes and sits on top of the briefcase and just watches, head tilted slightly to the side as if he’s pondering something. At first — back when I had a spirit — I tried to stare him out, but I never won. I refuse to look directly at him now, but I won’t turn my head away. Instead I fix on the spot on the wall just beyond his left ear, and wait till he’s done. Sometimes he’ll sit there for a few minutes, sometimes much longer. The only sounds are the thundering of my heart and his rattling breaths.
He gets up after a few minutes, and immediately I’m a mannequin again to him. I’m invisible as he picks up the briefcase and heads to the door.
I don’t know why, but for the first time in what must be weeks, I speak to him. My voice is alien, dry and unfamiliar, yet resolute, echoing off the bare walls.
“I’m not afraid of dying.”
He stops in the doorway and turns his head slowly to the left, but he doesn’t look at me. And for the first time ever, I hear him speak:
After the door shuts, after the bolt shrieks into place, and after counting to a thousand to make sure he’s gone. I break down.
I cry for me. I cry for the memory of sun on my face, the feel of a hot shower on my skin. I cry for the smell of John’s aftershave, for sex, eating chicken salad, and the loss of my dignity. I cry for the little things, like fresh sheets and the cold side of the pillow on Sunday mornings when John goes out for a run. I cry for my life and my meaningless achievements. I cry for an end to all this.
He was wrong. I’m not afraid of dying — I’m afraid it won’t come soon enough.
Another blackout. I’ve fallen onto my left wrist and the barbs inside the shackles have bitten deep. My forearm is hot, swollen and bloody. I stretch my good hand into my jeans pocket. After all this time, I still can’t believe he missed it when he took my stuff, but there it is, small and metallic in the palm of my hand:
A USB recorder.
I press the button and begin to speak…
It’s been a while since I got up on my political soapbox (well, last Thursday at least), But while I gaily chowed down on my low-fat grilled chicken caesar salad, Grindr chirping away happily in the background, the home-made fruit smoothie on my desk perfectly complimenting my purple Abercrombie and Fitch top, I couldn’t help but wonder: what should we really do with Melanie Phillips?
For those of you who have spent the day in a dark room with only mice for company, Melanie Phillips has joined the ranks of the odious Jan Moir to become the Daily Fail’s newest lady-in-hating. As if she hasn’t already got RSI from her constant pearl-clutching over anything remotely not right-wing, in today’s column, she swivels her Sauron’s eye and fixes it squarely on a brand new “Government-backed drive to promote the gay agenda.”
For those of you who don’t speak fluent bigot, she’s referring to the plans laid out today by the Training and Development Agency for Schools, to develop lesson plans in maths, geography and science that ‘celebrate the gay community’. The opt-in scheme will introduce non-sexual depictions of gay life into lessons, with some references to mummies and daddies occasionally being replaced by same-sex couples, and science lessons in which children will learn about other types of family setup, like those of seahorses and certain species of penguins, which rely on the male to care for the young.
Sound like a good plan? Not so, thinks Phillips, who roared that it was a “ruthless campaign by the gay rights lobby to destroy the very concept of normal sexual behaviour.”
Yes, that’s right, Melanie. Leftie homo penguins are coming for your children because militant poofs are holding the Government hostage and forcing them to do our bidding by threatening them with a good hard bumming if they don’t.
In fact, while we’re deporting all the queers to Alcatraz, let’s run those coloured people out as well. They’ve gotten into the White House you know — it’s only a matter of time before one will be in No. 10.
The funny thing is, I read the article (don’t worry, the link goes to the Pink Paper’s verbatim reprint) and to be honest, my jaw didn’t drop. I didn’t sit there incensed. I got to the end and the only thing I did was snort and say, “Whatever.”
In my opinion, all Phillips has achieved is showing herself up. It’s pathetic pieces of writing like this — masquerading under the banner of journalism — that keep gay rights at the forefront of public consciousness.
And do you know what? I welcome it.
Think about it. People like Phillips and Moir work for the Mail because it’s the only paper that would have them. They’re preaching to the converted. They’re talking to an audience they know will agree.
Even the Mail’s own token woofter, Andrew Pierce, has been programmed into spouting forth a load of homophobic nonsense on regular occasion. I’d love to have read the ad: “Wanted – gay journalist for right-wing Tory paper. Must be full of self-hatred and be prepared to lambast their own community in every column.”
Their supporters are few and far between, and now, just like our homosexual forefathers, they know they must keep their mouths shut for fear of reprisal. Times they are a-changing, and the boot, it seems, is now firmly on the other foot. It’s just been fierced up a little with a killer heel and some diamante studs.
Yes, the Mail probably sold out today, and yes, the visitors came to the website in their droves to read the article and probably netted the paper a pretty penny in advertising revenue, but so what? They’re going to need it for all those libel cases they’re constantly fighting.
Why do you think those people came? Was it to join forces with the ‘voice of reason’ Phillips believes herself to be? Or was it to read the article, then regard its author with a mixture of pity and slight revulsion, much the same way you would observe a starving, three-legged one-eyed dog at the roadside, sadly twitching away the last moments of its life?
Such is the shift in the last twenty years or so, that it’s people like Phillips and Moir with their articles on ‘the gays’ (a term as outdated and archaic as the women and paper that printed it) who are now regarded as aberrant. People regard them with a kind of fascination; a caricature of days gone by that nobody actually believes can still exist.
How many straight people do you know who have posted that article on Facebook and said, “I totally agree with this woman”?
So do not vilify Melanie Phillips, for she is a poor, stupid creature. And you shouldn’t kick a dumb animal when it does something wrong just because it lacks intelligence.
Instead, let’s all give her a great big gay old hug. Because as she bleats pathetically from her bigoted, dark little corner, she does so knowing she’s a dying breed.
And let’s face it, after the lambasting she’s going to get — she’s going to need one.
I can’t quite describe how it feels to be standing six feet from Annie Lennox, as you have your photo taken by one of the world’s top fashion and portrait photographers.
The fact that I was doing it for an amazing cause made the whole experience even more special.
This year, The Body Shop has teamed up with UNAIDS and photographer Rankin for a global World AIDS Day campaign called Be An Activist. It showcases activists of all ages and races, from all walks of life, from popstars and CEOs, to your average man on the street, like me.
In a world where treatments are improving and AIDS is becoming less of a killer, sadly, people are becoming more complacent. Ignorance is high. Lack of education is a constant problem, and as a result, infections continue to rise.
This is why I’m so honoured and passionate to be a part of a campaign which reinvigorates the message that HIV is always out there, and it doesn’t discriminate.
Arm yourselves with the knowledge to protect yourself and make safer decisions, and let’s end the stigma surrounding HIV — and hopefully one day, eradicate the virus itself.
Below is a transcript (and a shaky video!) of the keynote I delivered (along with my best mate Emma) at the campaign’s press launch on 29th November 2010.
World AIDS Day is on December 1st, and I urge you all to stand with me and wear your red ribbon with pride.
I am proud to be an activist. Join me, and be an activist too.
Every morning, I wake up, and the first thing I do after throwing the alarm clock across the room, is go to the bathroom, where I carefully place two bits of plastic onto my eyeballs so I can see properly.
Yes, I’m short sighted. Shocking, isn’t it? I mean, you wouldn’t know unless I told you. But yep, I genuinely can’t see my hand in front of my face without my lenses.
Being short sighted isn’t my fault; it’s just something that happened to me.
An hour later, before I leave the house for work, I tip four small tablets into my hand and knock them back with a glass of milk. To help my immune system cope with the effects of the HIV virus.
So there’s two things you wouldn’t guess from just looking at me. But only one of those things has the potential to change the way I’m perceived by other people.
We’ve been brought up to believe HIV is ‘unclean’ and that the people who carry the virus are somehow lesser beings, to be feared and ostracised. But I’m not, I’m innocent, I’m just like you.
I’m the person who gave you his seat on the tube. The guy who smiled at you when you bumped into him because you were walking along engrossed in your phone. I work with you, I cross the road with you. I’m not locked away in some dark corner of a hospital, gaunt, dying and covered in lesions. Every day, you come into contact with HIV+ people — you just don’t know it. And we’re not evil, we were just unlucky.
I hope one day, World AIDS Day is a day to reflect on the past and feel grateful that we live in a world free of stigma, a world where people can go about their lives without feeling they have to hide their status. I hope it becomes a time to remember those who lost their lives to the disease, and to thank those who developed treatments, and maybe one day even a cure.
Being an activist doesn’t mean you have to run a marathon. It doesn’t mean you have to march in a parade with a banner. You don’t have to stand behind a lectern at City Hall and deliver a speech. It can be something as simple as pinning a red ribbon to your jacket as you make your way to work. It’s an act of compassion towards a fellow human being. It says, “I’m with you on this’. Because after all, ten thousand voices whispering can be a whole lot louder than one person shouting.
I’m so proud to be a part of this campaign, to stand alongside such inspiring people and finally put a face to HIV. I hope that by sharing my story, I can empower people to take control of their health, get tested regularly and protect themselves from this virus.
I’m not ashamed of who I am, and I’m not afraid to be honest. And I will carry on holding my head up and fighting on behalf of those who live in fear so that we can finally end stigma once and for all.
My name is Kristian Johns, I’m HIV positive. And I refuse to hide, because I shouldn’t have to.
The exhibition at City Hall runs until December 7th 2010
It’s not often I admit I’m wrong, so hear me out.
You see, I’m an impulsive sort of guy; I always have been, so when a friend sent me a link to a video for a new campaign aimed at gay teenagers called, “It Gets Better”, it stirred something up in me, and I jumped head first into forming an opinion.
American author, Dan Savage and Terry, his partner of 16 years, speak about their difficult, religiously influenced childhoods, leaving behind their traumatic school years, before meeting each other and settling down into happy, gay, wedded bliss. The message being that if you’re growing up gay and facing the daily ignorance, abuse, and sometimes even violence — it does get better.
A fantastic sentiment — and I mean that sincerely — but part of me couldn’t help feeling like it was all a bit too saccharine for my tastes. I mean, are these two really representative of the wider gay community? And are they telling the truth? Does it ever really get better, or does the focus just shift?
For me, the homophobia subsided at school by the time I was 14 or 15 — I developed a smart mouth and I had a fiery temper, so I soon put my detractors in their place. But it’s actually been since I left school and entered the gay scene that I’ve encountered the most hostility.
You see, we call ourselves the gay ‘community’ — but I think we forget what that word truly means. We actively practice segregation — the dykes don’t talk to the gays, the muscle boys don’t talk to the chickens, the bears all stick together and the skins all go to Compton’s.
Most of us frantically pump iron at the gym in a bid to be accepted by a community that doesn’t even register you if you’re under 70kg and not popping out of an Abercrombie and Fitch t-shirt.
Yep, we’re all about making people feel like they don’t belong.
And why? Maybe we get a kick out of it. After so long feeling different, it’s nice to feel like we’re part of something, and fun to turn our noses up at the people who don’t fit in. And all the while hoping nobody notices that once upon a time, we too were the outsider.
Of course, there’s a difference between not being hot enough and getting the shit kicked out of you. But what’s worse? Being shunned by the idiot kids at school, or by the very community who should be welcoming you, arms open? And all because you simply don’t fit the bill.
If, like Dan and Terry, you manage to avoid all this and find the man of your dreams at a relatively young age, then you’re lucky. But does this rosy picture of a happily married gay couple, complete with adopted son, give kids something to aspire to, or is it setting them up for disappointment when they get out there and find it’s all about instant gratification, transient friendships, fast sex and very little commitment?
You may (possibly rightly) call me bitter, and given my recent experiences, who could blame me? But the truth is, I know (and admire) plenty of happily married gay couples.
My friends Noel and Steve have been in a loving, monogamous relationship for fifteen years and have an adopted son and daughter. My other pals Uwe and Quentin just celebrated eighteen years, and I’m very excited to be going in February to the wedding of Rob and Jamie, who are finally tying the knot after fourteen years together.
But the reality is that most of us are destined to still be on our own well into our 30s, 40s and even 50s and beyond. So do we tell our gay teenagers the cold, hard truth — or should we give them something positive to strive for?
The cynic who couldn’t identify with Dan and Terry’s cuddly, present-day lives was erring on the side of the former.
That was, until yesterday, when I read the story of Seth Walsh, the thirteen year old boy who died on life-support this week, nine days after hanging himself.
The reason? He was being bullied at school for being gay.
As I reflected on my initial reaction of ‘these men do not represent my community’, I realised that what every kid needs is a role model, whether it’s Spider-man, a parent, or the granddad who fought in two wars. Gay teens need something to hold onto during those awful years when others are discovering they’re different as quickly as they themselves are.
If dreaming of getting married and settling down with a white picket fence is what’s going to save the lives of kids like Seth Walsh, then who the fuck am I to pass judgement on a video that may or may not give them unrealistic expectations?
What would I have done if I’d had the chance to speak with Seth before he tried to take his own life? Would I have told him about the liars and the cheats? Would I have told him about the rampant body fascism that dictates we should spend half our waking lives in the gym to feel accepted? Would I have warned him about the dangers of men who just want to get laid and don’t care about passing on HIV?
Of course I wouldn’t. I’d have put my arm around his shoulder and simply said:
“It gets better.”
So rest in peace, buddy. There’s no hatred in heaven. I’m just sorry you didn’t get to see a better life.
“What’s wrong?” asked my colleague Claudia, as we exited Prêt a Manger and crossed the road back to the office. I’d suddenly stopped talking, which always unnerves people.
“Nothing,” I replied, “There’s just a really hot guy sitting on the wall and he just totally eyed me up!”
And it was true; he was sitting on the wall on the corner of Lambs Conduit Street in Holborn, talking on the phone when he clocked me.
He jerked his head in an upwards ‘hello’ nod and smiled.
So what did I do?
Well naturally, I looked at the floor and carried on past him.
“He’s really hot!” said Claudia, chasing after me, “why don’t you talk to him?”
“Nooo! Anyway he’s on the phone. I’d be standing there like a muppet.”
She looked back, “Well he’s not now, so go talk to him.”
I looked back too, and sure enough, there he was, looking back, phoneless and still smiling.
“Nooo! I can’t!” I cried, “I’m too nervous!” and I scurried inside our building.
“I can’t believe you didn’t go and talk to him,” said an exasperated Claudia as we got in the lift, “he was obviously interested; he was really smiling at you. And he was gorgeous!”
Fuck it, I thought. You only live once.
“You know what? I’m going to go and talk to him.” I said with a grin. So I caught the lift back down and ran outside.
He was gone.
Despite his inability to ready my clear-as-mud signals, this guy had the right idea. He acknowledged that he’d seen me. His smile wasn’t a drunken or drug-fucked leer. It was a ‘hey, I’m friendly, come talk to me’ kind of smile. It was me that screwed things up and made him think I wasn’t interested.
Why is it that so many guys (me included) look away when you eye them up? Is it embarrassment? Lack of confidence? Lack of Dutch courage? Is it just a case of ‘look, mate, you’re lovely, I’m just not in the mood — I’m late for work/tired/drunk/hungover/had a bad day’?
Who reading this, has ever had the following internal dialogue?
Hmm, he’s looking at me, but I only caught a glimpse of him, so I’m not sure whether I fancy him or not, but if I look and he’s looking back and we make eye contact, he might think I fancy him, in which case I’ll have to look away quickly and I won’t have caught a proper glance at him, which means I’ll have to look again to see if he’s fit or not. But what if I look again and he’s looking and he’s not fit? Then he’s going to think I’m interested! Best I just look at the floor…
…Oh, but what if he’s hot? What if….
And so it goes on.
Seriously, guys. What logic are we using that tells us the best way to let a guy know we’re interested is to look away when he makes eye contact and spend the rest of the night studiously ignoring him?
And who in God’s name made us believe that a scowl is far sexier than a smile? Is it supposed to be enigmatic? Do we think it makes us look moody and sexy? Newsflash: it doesn’t. It just makes you look like a miserable cow.
The only way is to bite the bullet and take a look. At least you won’t have to resort to tracking him down on Manhunt/Gaydar/Facebook three months later to let him know you thought he was hot.
Which brings me nicely to the heady world of online dating.
I recently joined Manhunt, and I’m sorry to say, I’m bored already. Yes, it’s sex at your fingertips (and I’ve made full use of it), but apart from the constant stream of monosyllabic messages saying ‘hi’ or ‘hey’, I’m shocked at the amount of people — really fit guys from my gym or the scene who I’ve previously considered out of my league — who have sent me messages saying “I’ve always thought you were hot.”
Then why haven’t you LOOKED AT or SPOKEN to me before now?!
Why is it that as soon as people get behind the safety of a computer screen, their confidence skyrockets? Why, in the offline world, do guys never have the bollocks to show interest unless they’ve got a belly full of beer or Ecstasy?
And if we apply Manhunt/Gaydar etiquette to the ‘real’ world — who on earth walks up to someone in a bar, flops their dick out onto the bar stool and says ‘hi’?
Don’t get me wrong, I know there are guys out there who can make you feel like a deer in the headlights with their incessant, rabid staring. These über-confident, oversexed guys need to be dealt with equally as confidently.
I had it in the gym the other day while getting changed — this guy was making no secret of the fact that he was checking me out while I towelled off.
I turned to face him, stark-bollock naked (luckily the shower had been warm) and said in a very loud voice “Had a good look, have you?”
Bingo. Instant power shift. Suffice to say he went rather red and went back to getting changed himself — rather quickly, I may add.
It seems we, as gay men are either at one end of the scale or the other. At one end there’s the no-shame, ultra-confident (or desperate) starers, while at the other, there’s the rest of us, who have absolutely no idea how to deal with — or show — attention.
How many missed opportunities go by every week, every day, because people don’t know how what to do when someone flicks an appreciative glance their way?
How many happy relationships have never even begun because both parties opted for ‘bored and disinterested’, when inside they were aching to say hello?
Try it next time you’re out. If you catch a guy looking at you, look back. And for God’s sake — crack a smile. You never know — he could be the man you end up marrying.
Oh, and if by way of fate, this post falls under the nose of sitting-on-the-wall-in-Holborn guy — I’m sorry. I’d love to have a drink sometime…