The Moon, Part I

30E20873-25D0-4371-8752-D1B70454FFB8

I remember you, moon. It was our last night camping in Algonquin Provincial Park. The trip had been a disaster. Who goes on a Canadian canoeing adventure in a hurricane? We do. British idiots. The last day had been beautiful, though. After three solid days of weathering torrential downpours, huddling under trees on clumps of “dry” land trying to not get struck by lightning and waiting for the storm to pass, it finally did. We were awarded one hot day and the damp clothes on our backs finally dried. We still had 20 kilometres of portaging ahead of us to get back the next day, but for now we were exhausted and drunk off the last of our dwindling whiskey supply, lazing in the sun as if the past three days had never happened.

That night, though, things got kind of spooky. It was the height of an August Sturgeon Moon and a mist had descended, passing dramatically across the moonscape at intervals. In the middle of a remote 7.6 thousand square kilometre park there is, of course, no light. Just darkness…and disconcerting animal sounds. That night we were working solely with the moon and our head torches.  I had bravely ventured to my tent to load up on more bug spray when my torch flipped to its red feature without me even touching it. Weird. Red light. Full moon. Remote location. Four drunk friends. Horror movie. No thanks.

I told you I was scared, but of course you laughed at me and honestly I would have laughed at myself at any other time but in this moment I felt something more than fear. Something gravitational. A shift. I didn’t like it. 

A few more swigs of whiskey and I went to bed. The moonlight was piercing through the gauze of my cheap Walmart tent. I woke up several times in the night to rustling in the trees and once to the distant howling of coyotes. Nature is beautiful. Nature is scary. Nature will eat you if it gets the chance. 

The next day the rain was back and we still needed to make the slog out the park. You don’t know your own strength until you have evacuated a lake amid a lightning storm and carried a heavy canoe 1.5 kilometres on your back over land. Honestly though, I love this shit, I really do.

Back to dry land, back to indoors and flushing toilets and running taps! Praise the lords of plumbing and sanitation! We four musketeers, we band of hurricane survivors, we ploughed face first into hot food and cold beers at a pub on the way home back to the city. Not satisfied by my plate of fish and chips, I had French onion soup and a second beer for desert. Of course I did. I’m not a huge one for a pudding and I LOVE French onion soup…and honestly in that moment it healed my cold aching bones. Things were better. I felt good. The inexplicable fear of the night before wasn’t even so much as a distant memory. 

Back in the car. I’m up in the front with you. You are driving, of course. Somewhere along the way I drained my phone battery. Ruth and Paul we’re asleep in the back and I wanted some entertainment. You were in one of those “eyes on the road, silently brooding” moods that I had come to know and leave alone. So I picked up your phone. What would have happened if I hadn’t?

We had been together a little over five and half years at this point. I trusted you. There was no reason not to. We were tight. Until we weren’t. 

After exhausting the usual news sites I went on Instagram to idly check how my latest post was going. It was your phone so I had to search for myself. But…wait? What.

A little millennial explanation here, but as you may have noticed, tech stores relevant data and when you click on search buttons it makes suggestions based on things, or people, you frequently look up. Expecting myself to be a regularly searched person on your social media, I found I was not. But who is idiouscarie?!! Um?! Oh, right, that girl from that band you hang out with sometimes? Weird you’re searching her a lot but like….okay. Curiosity…okay you’ve liked pictures she has posted of herself in her bra…right…really?!? Okay…messages. Is this an invasion when you are sitting right here? I hadn’t done this in five years. I hadn’t done this since I found you were sending muchos besos to a girl you had met in Colombia before you knew me. I put an end to it. But now? So many years later? Honestly at this point there really is no stopping yourself. So I didn’t stop myself. One finger press. That’s all it takes.

What I found I wouldn’t be able to call “cheating”…but I would call it “really fucking weird and borderline inappropriate when you have a long term girlfriend”…but hey, I’m sure that is a matter of perspective. I closed the app. I bit my tongue. I waited.

Drop our friends home, unpack the car, take the car back to rental shop. Tasks before talking. Always your mantra.

It was dark when we were walking back home. The moon was still full and you asked me what was wrong. I told you. You were quiet. We were both quiet for a while and then you began, under the light of the judgemental moon, to explain yourself…although there really isn’t any other explanation than it’s really weird and maybe you are actually a bit of a twat? “Bit of a twat” I could deal with though. “Bit of a twat” was recoverable. Wasn’t it? I thought so, but it was definitely weird and I definitely felt uneasy. 

And weirder and more uneasy it got. 

That night, I stood outside our apartment breathing in late summer air alone. Alone for the first time in days. Alone was a feeling that in that moment I craved…but then I had no idea how much alone was waiting for me ahead. I looked up at you, moon, for what felt like the first time. The first real time. Something silent but loaded passed between us. I understood something I hadn’t understood before. Or maybe even understood isn’t the right word for it..I suppose I felt connected.

I have counted the moons ever since that night. Right now 18 full moons have passed. We had five more left.  

The 18 Cigarettes of 2018

B4CCA6BE-E1B8-4D14-A370-4A4801D65F51

I’ve never been a smoker. Although that isn’t to say I’ve never smoked. A few puffs held tightly in my mouth then blerted out up the school field at 12 years old, shivering in the cold sharing a Lucky Strike between two at a teenage house party held in an affluent Cambridgeshire village, sucking in a few drags of Christina’s roll-ups outside Goldsmiths College Library age 21, my synapses alive with literary stress. WE. CAN. DO. THIS. We did.

All of these experiences, while not definitely anecdotes that accompany the highlights of my life, were all shared experiences with friends. They are something we look back and laugh at. Smoking a puff or two amid a girl gang became something we did. Reading Festivals weren’t the same if you didn’t have a drag by the fire at night and god help the 18 year old non-smoker in the nightclub when their entire friendship group trots outside. Bye then. The choice between toxin free warmth and sips of WKD blue versus braving the British winter to stand with your mates in a chilly square cage was a surprisingly easy one to make. I didn’t want to miss out. I think all of our best juvenile flirting came in those grim grey squares, with romantic views of the carpark and the obligatory lightweight vomiting up a brick wall. Those were the days.

Luckily as we got older, the majority of my friends stopped smoking. Nights stomping the sticky dance floor at DeNiro’s were swapped for wine bars and tapas and I didn’t hate it. I’ve always been a bit bougey, preferring to bake a Camembert than order a pizza. By my mid twenties smoking was part of those “oh how young and stupid we were” anecdotes. Only for me, it was around this time that I began smoking alone.

Don’t get me wrong, the amount of cigarettes I have inhaled in the past six years would equate to a slow day for some heavy smokers, but that’s not the point. One particularly stressful summer, my second out of Uni, a time I expected I would have my shit together but absolutely didn’t, I smoked two whole Marlborough lights while driving down the fast lane of the M25. Rings of tarmac, rings of smoke and endless rings of discontent.  What.Am.I.Doing.Here?!

Then came 2018.

It wasn’t until 2018 that I realised that smoking is a thing I do when I think I’ve hit rock bottom. It sounds strange to say, but when I am in a deep, deep mental hole, having a cigarette is the only thing I can do to stop myself from crying. It’s like the bitter taste of tobacco and tar are enough to remind me that actually life tastes worse than this moment.

In March 2018 I had been apart from my boyfriend of six years for a couple of months. He had a new girl,  I had started having an ill advised fling with a friend and had just moved in to my own furniture-free basement apartment. In the first few weeks, the adrenaline will get you through, after that, you’re own your own.

This crippling loneliness, the kind you can only feel during the dust settley aftermath of a big, terrifying transformation in your life, THIS is what lead me to lay down $18 bucks for a pack of 20 Ashfords in the late throws of the seemingly endless winter. These became my depression crutch of 2018.

The first one I smoked that same night as I walked home. As I breathed in the horrible, throat tearing plume, it joined a less distinguishable chamber of utter despair inside me, they mixed together and then I blew them out. Gone. Fuck, that felt better. To be able to pinpoint something so horrible and to simply breath it out became something I allowed myself to do only when I hit absolute lows. Writhing in my bed, tearing out my hair, huddling at the bottom of the shower. There was something I could do now to put and end to those nights. They weren’t every night by any means. Sometimes just the thought that I could do it would be enough to calm me down without having to suck in the dizzying vapour poison. Sometimes, it wasnt though and I would find myself sitting on my front step listening to Jeff Buckley’s Hallelujah, cigarette in hand, quietly ogling the moon and hoping for a better day. 

The better days came and the better days went. One night I stood in the soupy thick Orlando Heat, looking my physical best and feeling my physical worst, drowning a double vodka soda and burning out my smoke to its dying embers. What the fuck was I doing? 

It was around this point that I had a worrying diagnosis that put an end to it for a few months. How could I be sick and sitting outside on sporadic nights inhaling smoke? I’d have to be a royal twat. 

That good motivation kept me in kale smoothies and vitamin supplements for the most of the summer, but then Autumn came. There were six cigarettes left in my box and one night, when I couldn’t make sense of you, I was back at my step, Jeff Buckley warbling in my ear and my teary eyes firmly fixed at the stars. I wanted so much to be better and to do better, I just couldn’t. 

I think the real low was smoking an entire cigarette on a frosty grey day outside of work in early November. I never did it in daylight before. The winter was rearing its ugly head once again and I had no idea how I was going to do it all over. Please, not winter again. Please. Usually my lows would come at night when I was alone, but that day the only thing that allowed me to get up and get ready for work was telling myself I only had to keep it together until lunchtime, then I could cry in the toilets for 10 minutes and then go outside and burn my throat shut. My mouth shut, my heart shut. I could keep it all under lock and key until nighttime. 

I actually hated you for doing this to me. But of course, I hated myself more for allowing it. I don’t think it was actually really about you at all, just the hole left inside my chest and trying to find a way to fill it because I knew I couldn’t close it. Or I could, but it took so much more time than I was willing to bear. So I puffed my time away.  

There came a day in late November when I realised I wasn’t the only one struggling. There was hurt beyond mine in a friend too. I gave her one cigarette and told her my trick of feeling the worst you can, to stare rock bottom in the eye, in order to feel better. I don’t know if she ever smoked it, perhaps it was enough for it to just be there, like it had been for me some days.

Come December I was trying harder. I was doing better. Suddenly the end had a beginning in sight. 2019. I had three cigarettes left and I took them with me to New York, and to London and to my family home. Christmas can be a hard time, a lonely time, and I didn’t know if I would need them. I didn’t. 

Back with me to Toronto they came, and like me, they were a little battered from the transatlantic haul.

The problem with going away is that you have to come back. I returned to Toronto to realize that my problems were still there and now was the time to cut the strings tying me to them once and for all. You needed to go. You couldn’t be a part of my new narrative.

The evening of the 29th December was my last bad day. So bad it deserved two cigarettes. I threw up in the toilet bowl. 

December 31st came and I had been fully prepared to smoke my last disgusting stick before midnight; a cheers and farewell to a bad year I was so ready to put behind me. But in the end, the opportunity didn’t come.  I never smoked it. 

I found the tattered pack in my kitchen on New Years Morning as I was tidying alone with a lemoncello hangover. I stared at it…sad and bent and flaking. Not this year, mate. Not this year. 

Head pounding, lonely but determined, I crumbled it between my fingers and threw it in the bin. I washed my hands clean and I started again. 

Goodbye, old friend. I won’t miss you. 

30 Things I Know Now

 

30

I am tired but I am happy. I woke up at 5.30am and hugged my sister goodbye as she left for the airport. The goodbyes are always fucking awful, but they only happen because I am lucky enough to have hellos.  I know that now.

I am tired because I spent the weekend celebrating my birthday.  A big birthday. My 30th birthday.  14 of my friends, including my sister who made the transatlantic journey to be with me, came away to a snowy cottage in Ontario, Canada. It was beautiful. We ate, we hiked, we drank and we danced as we collectively welcomed in the next BECADE.  Yes. Becade. I’m running with that.

My life isn’t as I imagined it would be at 30 years old. Sure. But it is great. It is great and I have learned so much and feel happier and healthier than I ever did at 21. Every person’s journey is different… but here are 30 of the most valuable things I have learned from then to now.

30 – Ask for help when you need it.

29 – Very few people will argue with a smile. If they do, they probably aren’t worth the argument.

28 – You don’t really need more than four alcoholic drinks on a night out. Oh, and shots are ALWAYS a bad idea. For me, anyway.

27 –  Drink lots of water. I can’t stress how important this is. You will look better and feel better.

26 –  I used to think people were twats when they said things like “you are what you eat”, but it turns out it is true. What you eat can and will affect your mood. Don’t expect to function the same on a cheese burger as you would a balanced meal. For me, the best meal for non extravagant days is rice, vegetables and protein. (Obviously this all goes out the window when the food is free!)

25 – Walking for an hour or more each day will keep you physically and mentally fit.

24 – People are worth a second chance but rarely are they worth a third.

23 – Trust your instincts. The answers are right there if you accept what your gut is telling you.

22 – Judging others is only a reflection of your own insecurities.

21 – Creative projects are only worth perusing if you enjoy them. If you don’t love the process, you’ll never love the outcome.

20 – If you don’t like your job, you can and should change it.

19 – It is absolutely okay to start again. In fact, pressing reset might be the best thing you will ever do.

18 – Some people are the creators of their own misfortune. These people tend to be people with secrets and / or people who are dishonest with you. If you can’t trust them, they aren’t worth your time. They will be their own undoing.

17 – Be good to the people who are good to you.

16 – People who will tell it to you straight, even at the risk of hurting your pride, are very valuable.

15 – Get to bed before 11 and wake up an hour earlier than you intended. In this time you can read, mediate, take a long shower, make a better breakfast or even watch a show on Netflix. Trust me you will feel better for it.

14 – Turmeric is a gift from the Gods.

13 – If your flight is significantly delayed it is worth paying for the airport lounge. Trust me.

12 – Age isn’t a measure of success. Success is a measure of success. Success can come at any age.

11 – Travel is one of the best things you can do for your soul. Whatever your budget, I think you should travel…be it to the next city if you have never been, or across an ocean to a place that scares but excites you.

10 – Going solo to an event or travelling alone can actually be pretty great and present opportunities you wouldn’t spot if you were in your comfort zone.

9 – Moving far away from home will enrich your life but divide your heart.

8 – Inconsistent people are my least favourite people.  To that note, unpredictable people can be very dangerous.

7 – The people who matter will always be there no matter what.

6 – The kindness of strangers will surprise and delight you.

5 – You are capable of change at any age. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

4 – Life expectations are only guided fantasies. In reality you have little to no control over grand plans.

3 – Do not worship at the altar of fear. Fear will fuck you up harder than any bout of misfortune you may encounter.

2 – Surrendering the outcome to the universe will set you free.

1 –  Being happy is more important than being right.

Thank you to everyone who has helped me make it this far. I cannot wait to see what the next Becade has in store! I think I’ve got this.

5, 4, 3, 2, 1

IMG_5470

2018  is over. Thank fuck for that.

I can’t lie to you. Right now I am naked from the bottom down, wearing a huge yellow jumper, my hair is a mess, there are mascara slicks down my cheek and I’m turning the corner into a dirty lemoncello hangover. I feel sick, I am heartbroken and I am giving off a faint odour of onions. But I’m alive. 

I am alive and what was categorically the worst year of my adult life is over. It is behind me. It is done. I don’t have to write the number anymore. I don’t even have to look at it.

A new year has begun and I didn’t wake up alone. I woke up, party dress still on, next to two of my favourite humans. 

Last night I buried my face into Ruth’s gold sequin dress. I didn’t want to leave. This woman has held me up and given me form  when I have been sure I am made of water. How she has found the patience to deal with me throughout my most insufferable era, I don’t know. But she has. And I owe it to her, and to Caroline and to Phoebe, to be better this year. 2019.

Ruth stayed. She always does for me. Paul stayed too. He always does for her. I love him for that. Together we make a chain of people who love each other and won’t let one another fall to the floor in a puddle. Having each other isn’t a cliche, it is the only tonic that will cure you.

2018, you broke me in places I didn’t know I could break. I hope in 2019 I grow in places I didn’t know I could grow. I hope my head touches the ceiling then bursts out the chimney. I hope I wear my desk drawers as shoes. 

These are the ravings or a drunk woman amid a nauseating lemoncello haze. But it doesn’t matter. What matters is that it is over and you were here to see me through it.  The sun is shining outside my window. Thank you. Again. Thank you.  5,4,3,2,1. Let’s do this.