A story of how when all you are left with is broken glass, you can start to build again.
Tell me. Is it normal for a table to just explode, without prompt, without warning.
One moment it is there. The next it has shattered into one thousand glass shards, scattered across the floor.
How can you make sense of it? What was an ordinary, solid piece of household furniture is now a carpet of broken glass. Each piece has taken its own form, each went in its own direction, each broke a little differently.
Why does glass shatter that way? There is no logic. There is no path. It just explodes without rules or regulation.
Why did one piece just fall next to my feet? The other made it all the way to the bedroom door.
Why are some pieces so small that they’re invisible until they stab you in the toe, when others have made clear cut shapes and can be picked up with two hands?
There is no why. I assure you. It just did it.
There is no explanation.
The physicists out there may be able to provide me with a long list of reasons and whys. There was a laptop on the table, a laptop which overheats because someone’s dodgy brother broke the battery. Maybe this caused the explosion. Maybe there was an earthquake, too small to be recognised by the human mind, but just enough to send a slab of glass shattering into pieces.
As for the explosion, I am sure there is a scientific reason as to why things blow up in such a way.
According to science, it is not yet possible to travel through time. Not under the physical meaning of travel.
I visit the past. It is a concept described as ‘travelling back in time’. But I can assure you, it’s not a journey backwards. It’s more of a collection. I collect the broken pieces of glass and I admire them. The sparkling ones that shine in the light. The tiny ones I almost forgot about, until I stumble over them one day and they pierce my skin. I even admire the sharp and fatal ones, the ones which cut me and scarred me. They’re all part of the explosion, my universe.
If you can believe it, if you can believe that the scientists have got it all wrong, if you can believe that you can collect time and see it as clear as day, if you believe that a table can just explode, if you can believe that there is no why, then I can show you the how.
I can take you time collecting.
September 5th 2008
I was trying to boil water for a cup of coffee. We didn’t have a kettle so I was reverting back to caveman standards – boiling in a pan over a hot stove. Although it wasn’t a hot stove, more like an electric hot plate that was on the verge of breaking and took thirty minutes to heat up. I’ll never forget the smell of that kitchen, the stench of rotting life.
I shared the kitchen with middle-aged alcoholics and a few depressed emo teenagers who were playing their first game of independent life. It was around my fourth attempt, and I’d lived in some shit holes before, but this one topped them all. I’d just dried my clothes with a hairdryer.
We had a laundrette in the homeless shelter. But it was France, and the French liked to make things difficult, just for the sake of things. For the machines to work, you needed a jeton, a little blue token you had to buy from reception, which was only manned between 8 and 9 am. It was a shitty system, they were perfectly capable of accepting money, but I think they were worried about drunks breaking in to steal a Euro for a bottle of wine. Instead they just broke in and stole the jetons, which became the currency on our floor.
I left my laundry until it was absolutely vital. When I had worn every single item of clothing twice, which was around 9 days because I had very little to my name, I made sure I woke up early and frantically caught the hard-faced bitch of reception to sell me two jetons. One for the washing machine, one for the dryer. This was a rookie mistake. Never just buy two jetons.
It was around 10pm and I had washed my clothes fine. It was the dryer that ate my second jeton. It just consumed it, without drying anything. I tried kicking the machine a few times, but it attracted the attention of a Thai guy living on the first floor. He came out, looked at me and shook his head, as if to say ‘bloody French alcoholics’.
I frantically knocked on each door of the building, speaking the world’s worst French and trying to bribe pissed old farts with cigarettes into handing over their jetons. But I don’t think that’s what they thought I was offering. When I’d first moved in I’d left a note in the hall, trying to make friends. In English, ‘If you would like a friend, my door is always open, come visit me,’ is a perfectly normal sentence. But translated directly into French, you turn into a prostitute. On the bright side, I believe I interrupted one guy mid-suicide and I think the prospect of being able to now trade jetons for sex may have talked him out of it.
Even so, I’d spent an evening on my bedroom floor, drying my clothes with the hairdryer and ironing them with the straighteners. A bizarre humidity had formed in my cell. It was the size of a box and two hours blasting heat out of a hairdryer created the ambience of a wash-powder-flavoured gas chamber. I opened the window to let some fresh air in and looked out over the rural Breton landscape. It was truly beautiful, but I couldn’t help thinking to myself, what the fuck am I doing here?
September 5th, 2006
I was too young to get married, everybody said that, and those who didn’t say it, thought it. But they didn’t take a whole day painting their living room walls mint green, they didn’t circle all the second-hand refrigerators in the newspaper in red pen, they didn’t spend hours cutting up potatoes in the exact shape their fiancé liked, waiting for him to come home for his dinner.
They weren’t trapped in a world, trapped in fear, trapped in a home. The barriers weren’t physical, they weren’t erected by a person as such, but by my own mind. I had created an impossibility to step outside. The mint green walls were all I knew.
But like everything, which is something I still didn’t understand back then, the walls came crashing down. One day they exploded and I could no longer cut potatoes the right way. Somebody else could. A fifteen year old girl who worked in a fish factory. I discovered her on September 8th, a Friday night when I got home early from work. She had been sleeping in the bed that I made, strands of her hair were hidden in the covers that I chose, and I wanted to strangle her. I wanted to take her with my bare hands and squeeze every last bit of life out of her. But I resisted, she was just a fifteen year old girl. At eighteen, I may have been too young to get married or to understand the complex structure of the universe, but I understood that at fifteen, most things aren’t you fault.
So, instead, I just sat in the wreckage, for what seemed like an eternity. I didn’t want to leave my mint green living room, so I just sat. For over a day I didn’t eat or sleep. I drank a coffee and I vomited. My fiancé, the Mole, just pottered around the house. Making a cup of tea, doing the hovering and, for once, making his own fucking potatoes.
Some time in September, 2003.
I don’t know where I was in September 2003, in fact, I don’t think anybody really did. I can guarantee, if you ask my mother, she won’t be able to tell you. Oh, she would have liked to have known. ‘Where the fucking hell have you been?!’ But I was beyond the point of telling her, that was even if I knew the answer myself. Some mornings I would stare in the mirror and ask myself that same question. ‘Where the fucking hell have I been?’
Some days I just didn’t know. Pushed against a wall in some back alley somewhere, having sex with one guy or another. I went places. I saw people.
I saw a shrink, at school. We talked about hows and whys but never really had an honest conversation about either of them. I was perfectly honest about all the disgusting things I did. How I stole other girls’ lunch money to buy cider. How I gave my friend’s boyfriend a blow job on her kitchen floor while her parents were in Costa Del Sol. These stories slid off my tongue, so easily at my disposal. I loved seeing the shocked look on my shrink’s face.
But I never mentioned the unspeakable. Like how one day my mother started to wake up in a morning and say on a day to day basis at the breakfast table that she wanted to die. That one day they would all wake up and she wouldn’t be there anymore because she would have killed herself and that’s when they’d all realise what life would be like without her in it.
Like how that morning I had walked into the kitchen, my hair stuck static in the air on one side of my head. I had let my blue velvet dolphin blanket, which I’d had for as long as I could remember, traipse through the pile of dust on the lino. As I had peered through the masses of frizzy ginger hair, slotting the bread into the toaster, I’d realised it was one of those mornings. It was one of those mornings when my mum sobbed into her mug of tea, when she smelt a bit ‘off’ because she hadn’t been in the bath for a few days, when I planned ahead that I would stay ‘somewhere’. Either that, or there’d be a big row anyway, a row for which I couldn’t fathom an origin and would result in me stuffing my belongings into a carrier bag, my body shaking with distress and tears rolling down my cheeks, and heading absolutely nowhere. Once I’d been so desperate to get out, I hadn’t even bothered putting on shoes.
No, these were the unspoken. My shrink would find the blow job stories much more entertaining.
September 5th, 2009.
I was waiting, on the rainy steps of Frankfurt-Hahn airport in Germany. Now I don’t know if you have ever been to Frankfurt-Hahn airport, but it’s situated miles from the city of Frankfurt itself, somewhere out in no-man’s land, in the country, surrounded by nothing but fields. In my memory I can see nothing but grey grass and rain. Oh, and a hot-dog van, some steps, and one little cow-themed hotel a ten minute taxi ride away.
I sat there, in my little brain, and I said goodbye to life as I knew it. The gay karaoke bar where I got drunk on cheap Sekt and serenaded my friends with Lionel Ritchie every Tuesday. The sunny afternoons by the river drinking carton wine and listening to a man with one leg play the accordion. The daily emails I sent to the gay guy in our Berlin office, confessing all my dirtiest secrets. We’d never actually met, but I guess he knew more about my life than myself. Then just before I left, I realised in Berlin there was one mailbox. I guess he wasn’t the only one I was sharing my deepest and darkest with. There was also Marion, and old lady with grey hair who was on the verge of retiring, a creepy translator called Uwe and several other interns.
Of course, there was also a man involved, a major factor in life being so, well, perfect. Yet I must not kid myself into believing he was the only factor. It was a combination of the summer, friendship and a life that I had established for myself that was mine. I had built it for myself, like a carpenter carves his own piece of furniture and places it proudly in his living room. Now I was being asked to move, and I had to leave my masterpiece behind.
‘Don’t make me go back,’ I had posted as my status on facebook a few days earlier. But to whom was I pleading? No-one was forcing me to do anything. Just the universe. The universe decided that the summer would leave me, eventually so would the man, and my friends, well, some of them had already left. And then it was my time, goodbye to work and friends, and a few goodbyes said to a certain handsome man in a cow themed hotel just a ten minute drive away from Frankfurt-Hahn airport.
I had a five hour wait between the moment I was left alone and my flight back to the UK. I sat on the steps and smoked around twenty cigarettes, just watching the rain over the never ending landscape of fields. I questioned the universe. Why the fuck do you have to do this? Why, when we sometimes just get it right, can we just not keep it?
I knew that it had been stolen. All that I had been left with was a blank canvas. A black hole.
I made a deal with universe. I would go home, accept my defeat. I would put up with this shit for a year. I would complete my degree and just get on with life, and understand that I’d had my time of perfection, it was somebody else’s turn. I would leave Frankfurt and the people in it without a fuss . I would just disappear. I was doing the right thing, wasn’t I?
So the deal with the universe was that it would show me a sign. Any sort of sign, just to let me know that I was doing the right thing. I sat on the steps and waited for hours. A phone call? A text? Something falling from the sky? Nada. Nothing ever came, but I went ahead and got on the plane anyway.
Then, as agreed, just with a year’s delay, the universe sent me a sign. Life exploded before me. A glass table.
I sat in a pile of broken glass and I admired the wreckage.
It was my story.
A story of how when all you are left with is broken glass, you can start to build again.
This was my sign.
This was my collection of time.