This is how I start my day. Well this is how I start the enjoyable part of my day. My day actually started at 6AM when I was woken up by people who sounded mad with enthusiasm and happiness and wished me a happy birthday. Listening to them talk made me want to slowly disappear into my duvet and preferably die by becoming one with it. So I am now lying in bed in the pose made famous by murdered people with chalk outlines in a defiant protest against life and birthdays.
2. Fake Plastic Trees…and also Fade Out – Radiohead
High and Dry has done the trick. I feel a little pumped. The Bends is a great album and I go on to Fake Plastic Trees, which is soaring and enveloping despite its disconsolate content. But luckily I love extremely sad music. Sometimes I listen to the sound of tears streaming down people’s cheeks. Fade Out and we are moving into bleak – but beautiful – territory. Great birthday material – except, obviously, for all the beauty of the song. That’s the very opposite of what birthdays are made of and represent.
3. Crown of Love – Arcade Fire
Sad. Sad. Sad. But really grand sadness. I would like my sadness to be announced by orchestras and guitars. I imagine a camera overhead gently turning and slowly zooming down to my body. Corpse attitude indie shot. They will probably put that on a motivational poster for hipsters now.
4. Disco 2000 – Pulp
Because I recently saw a list it was on along with the Arcade Fire song above. I wonder what life means and why he couldn’t be with Deborah.
5. Blue Monday – New Order
80s electronic music is the best. I felt this was the logical move after Pulp.
6. Love Will Tear Us Apart – Joy Division
Joy Division. I love them. If you think that this song is heartbreakingly sad then you should not listen to any more Joy Division. This is actually medically verified. This song is a unicorn jumping through a rainbow while a child caresses a buttercup on the other side compared to the rest of their songs. I have reached an impasse now which will result in one of two ways – either I will survive the end of this playlist or I will end up killing myself. Do I listen to more Joy Division today? Do I risk the Russian roulette of the effects it will have, coupled with birthday blues? Or do I back down and listen to some Smiths and gently move on to Suede or something?
I put on some Lemonhead.
Oh, did you think this was going to be a playlist containing 25 songs? No. I wanted to selfishly pass on my disappointment to my readers. Now we are miserable together (say that in a drawn out-children speaking in unison voice)
The first time I saw him he was walking away from me. We were in a grassy park surrounded by dense pockets of trees. It was like a golf course, but wilder. I gazed at his back and traced its outline with my eyes; mapping where the dark burgundy of his shirt stopped and the blue of the sky started. He was a big man but he had a way of thrusting his neck forwards when he was being particularly passionate about something. I saw his arms rise and fall and draw confident arcs in the air. I thought he was one of those ignorant people who had no idea – or pretended to have none – that they behaved in outrageously self-aggrandising ways and I prepared myself to dislike him. My father heard me coming and turned around. He quickly turned around as well. My father smiled. “Charlie, this is Aksel.” He had the most extraordinary face; it seemed to shift from one emotion to another effortlessly like the motion of waves. It was so alive. I wanted to record every one of its movements with my hands like a blind woman. Only to see if it really would feel like the soft ripplings of water. Right then his face broke into a smile as he brought his hands up to make a sign. My father laughed. “He’s very happy to finally meet you and not very happy with me to have kept him waiting.” I smiled awkwardly. This warmth was unexpected and I didn’t quite know how to react to it yet. Also, I knew who he was now. I recognised him. He was the first deaf astronaut.
This is as widely known as can be. Becoming an astronaut is hard. I would have thought it was impossible for a deaf person. But he was there, in photographs, videos, floating against the pallor of the inside of the ISS with his hands constantly moving beside him. He was undeniably there. And I hated my father in that moment for having us meet. I had failed my training. I had not gone up. I had not become an astronaut. And he had. Despite my almost fanatic passion and exertion I had not passed the training. And he had. Therefore he was better than me, he was everything I was not, and he did all that I couldn’t do while deaf. His presence felt like a terrible pain, as if someone had carved a part of me away and had whittled me down to a stump; barely able to walk or talk. I tagged along behind them miserably for the rest of the evening. My father would occasionally translate some of his comments; usually funny ones. I would smile tightly. When it was time for us to go he turned to me and gestured.
I would like to see you again.
He was looking at me, no longer smiling, his face still and alert. I smiled and nodded.
“I’m not going to see him again. Why are you doing this?” I turned to my father angrily as we walked towards our respective cars. “It won’t do you any harm, Charlie. Talking to him might feel better.” “No, it felt worse. I don’t want to think about it, dad. That’s how I cope with things and it’s healthy for me. Don’t give me any psycho-bullshit about how I need to experience the pain. It’s just a rejection.” My father shrugged and patted my arm before walking off to his car.
I drove myself mad. I couldn’t stop thinking about him. I would forget what his face looked like and then suddenly remember it and examine it in my mind. Despite all my conversations with my father I thought, I hoped, that he would make me feel better. I thought this guiltily, as if the mere thought of it would chase away all possibility of it really happening. I hadn’t slept properly for weeks, and now night-time became even more chaotic and worrying. Everything is different at night, you become a different person. A neurotic, paranoid version of yourself. I tortured myself by alternately hoping, and then ridiculing myself for hoping, that he would change everything and change me. I found his letter outside my door on a crisp day. It was bright and clean outside and the green of the trees was fresh and dark in the clear silence. I imagined him lying curled on the grass lit up by the golden light of the sun. I imagined his body fluttering with small movements while the grass grew and withered, grew and withered; and diminish till it became part of the earth.
He asked me to meet him by the banks of a river. I recognised it. I used to go there often and it was a quiet place. We lay on the banks and stared at the sky. The water lay lifeless at our feet and the sky stretched lazily overhead. Everything was calm. Tame. He began to speak and I couldn’t understand him at first but that didn’t seem to matter. And then I slowly began to see, in flashes at first and then more and more; his hands moved confidently and surely. They drew pictures and bright movements, leaving traces of colours in the air behind them. I could smell the wet smell of the earth. He seemed to be telling me about everything. His hands were dancers in themselves and his face moved with them, letting out noises which became the howling of wind and the sounds of showers of meteors.
It began to get dark. He sat up and looked at the water and the night sky reflected in it. The water was silky and soft against my back and blacker than anything I had known. I moved in it, curving like a fish. It was so dark that the sky seemed to descend and curve itself around me and I was no longer separate from it. I looked into the black, bottomless waters and felt a sense of wonder. They hadn’t made him to speak. They had made him to see stars and speak to them. They had made him like the air and the sea and the galaxies. The water splashed and became alive as his hands rose and fell in it.
The grass began to sprout. The earth changed and a shape could be seen in it. It grew and fluctuated, filled out and soft hair sprang up. It changed colours like the sky and eyelashes brushed the cheeks.
He opened his eyes.
When I heard today that David Bowie had died I got out of bed and went into the kitchen. I boiled some water and looked at how peaceful it was outside and thought, like so many others before me, like any person who has experienced loss ever, why nothing had changed and how there could be no sign of him not being there anymore. I loved him. I loved whatever I knew of him. He was my friend who sang to me. He was my inspiration because he could be so many things. He was never boring, darting from one thing to another, a glittering, burning arc. I poured out the water and held the cup because it was warm and comforting. And I traced his name gently with the tip of my nail over and over again on the rim of the cup. Being a ‘fan’ – I think it’s such a disdainful term, isn’t it – is so hard. You have to mourn for people you never truly know. You never spoke to them, you never laughed with them. They are already phantoms.
You never knew them.
And it seems so strange, so unbelievable that a person you’re aware of almost all your life is unknown
Because you’re so close in your head
And then they are gone. Without knowing your name, without knowing that your heart beat and blood flowed through your body and whorls arranged themselves on your fingers while they stopped one day and left you.
It was a comfort just knowing that he was always there. Somewhere. And now he’s gone.
There are so many uncertainties. Are you supposed to feel so much, so deeply? Surely these feelings belong to people who really knew them, surely only they are the ones entitled to them.
How are you not here anymore? How do I find you after you’re gone, through all the pictures and articles and songs?
I thought we would meet one day.
It’s been a long time since I wrote anything. I’m sorry.
I thought he would live forever.