Sunday, December 18, 2016


I often contemplate the irony of how a sentimentalist could exist in a hostel, a place where you are expected to connect and let go each day. I've always struggled to effectively manage the memories of those I've lost, but now I live in the wake of hundreds of such losses. The memories of departing guests and colleagues attach themselves to the physicality of this place, these rooms where memories are being written over each other, again and again.

The sentimentalists of the hostel fantasise about old guests returning. It happened to a colleague a few weeks ago as he dragged me to the reception computer and pointed at the screen: "She's coming, she's actually coming!" You felt and knew that relief in his cry could only be the result of months of pining and daydreaming. It's a sentiment that I could closely identify with, but I have to remind myself that the guest that I Iong for will never return, as much as I yearn for it endlessly.

One such guest returned. Not for me, not for anyone, specifically. He lived with us last winter and his hostel lover was once my colleague. She has long since left. As I sat at reception, I watched him look at the details of the corridor, the doorframes and the window sills. His reminiscence was largely silent. "Les fantômes restent ici..." I remarked. He didn't appear to be pained by it at all. He headed out with the new staff, unperturbed, dancing and drinking and then staggering back home to tell me all about it.

Others have returned. You take them in a sweeping hug and you asked them about life on the outside. Those who remain in London describe dodgy landlords and a leaking roof, mould and damp and flat mates from hell. Those who stay for a few hours tend to get sad at the changes, the unfamiliar staff and the rearranged furniture. Those who return and actually stay get easily entrenched in the microdynamics of the group. There are crushes and hookups and tensions that exist and disintegrate and the rest of the world falls away somehow.

When they leave, some say they will visit. Some say they will be in touch but it is never like it is when you simply exist together, living and talking and loving and laughing for hours upon hours each day. I write down the quotes that make me cackle maniacally, almost developing a moment by moment sense of sentimentality. We squeal at each other when we enter the room, scooping each other up, dazzled by this sense of gratitude that we actually exist together in this space and time.

When I long for him to be here, I have to remind myself: "He could have been here if he'd wanted to be..." It's a sentence that really touches upon what it means to be present with a person, to sit and to live and breathe with them without guilt or distraction. You can lose a life, squandering your love and energy on somebody who decided to be present with someone else. The challenge is to solely devote yourself to those who choose to be with you now, to reconcile yourself with the risk that despite your love, one day, you might lose them too.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Locks II

I lived in constant fear of him finding my diaries. It was a fear that only ever increased with age. I started filling notebooks as an 8 year old and by the age of 25, I was running out of places to hide them. At first, I insisted on diaries fitted with a cheap tin lock, convinced that this would successfully deter his obsessive attempts to violate my work. Once he tampered with them with manicure scissors, I realised that it was preferable just to ask my dad to lock up my writings in the filing cabinet. Those notebooks remained inaccessible to me and they are locked up still, with pages unfilled.

I would later type up stories, encrypted with passwords on Microsoft Word and Creative Writer. I once failed to do so and it resulted in him going through my piece, changing all the nouns to HAM. It was a reference to the name he obsessively called me, much to the amusement of my mother. Despite my efforts, that familiar scene materialised all too frequently: his standing over me with book wide open in hand, reading out loud, only stopping to obnoxiously cackle in my face. The memory of it is more painful than any other aspect of his systematic routine of verbal and physical abuse. Now I have been free of it for six years, I never stop asking myself why I wasn't protected, but he was.

I have been reminded of that aspect of my past in recent times, when friends ask me why I publish such personal details in essays online. I start to feel emotional and defensive, in much the same way I did then. It makes me suspect that I must have been encouraged to stop writing as a child, if only to stop that destructive routine that had emerged with my brother. I can't articulate why I still wrote obsessively, but I am moved by the thought that I persisted in light of such fear. The irony now is that the external publication of such work is my only hope of redress. Instead of the routine humiliation that once came with exposure, I am now comforted by the readership. It is my only sign that there might be a willingness to acknowledge the extent of my pain. There might be some unspoken remorse.

Sunday, October 9, 2016


I had developed this plan to cut out online living, in the vain hope of productivity and creative glory. The goal was to disconnect and focus on writing a script about the lyrical themes that appeared in Freddie Mercury's earliest compositions. I took a stream of consciousness approach involving a Parker fountain pen, dark purple ink and a grey thatched square notebook from Bookbinders Design. Paragraphs were dense, clean and unrevised, reading more like an academic thesis than a script for radio.

I broke my commitment to the blackout constantly, simply because I wanted to see his name in bold in my inbox, I wanted to read another message. I'd give him reports of my progress: "I'm still in 1969." He jokingly remarked that he thought he was actually hearing more from me now since I'd made that declaration to refrain from contact. He mocked me gently for it, only to make the bittersweet remark: "There's something very painful knowing that you can't contact someone if you wanted to, even if you normally don't contact them all the time."

We shared this mutual sense of urgency, this heady sense that we not only had to share many millions of stories, songs and ideas, but we had to do it as quickly as possible. It's a dynamic that I've since felt at the hostel, this intense connection and desire to convey everything well before check out. Despite all that, I've always characterised myself as a person who has had difficulties in being present. I had always figured that joy comes with meaning and meaning comes with retrospect, away and alone, at a desk.

I had assumed that my in-house best friend had learned everything there was to know, but then it was revealed that he knew nothing about radio, nothing of the blog, nothing of the writing. I kept on thinking about how odd it was that he didn't know, that in spite of all our time together, that once central and obsessive feature of my personality was no longer apparent. I then remember being struck by the existential quality of that connection. I remarked upon it at the time, that I was filled by this sense that I would only ever truly appreciate that connection in that very moment: "I've never been able to feel so present..."

Ambition tends to fall away with people like that. Hopes, ideas and plans tend to get temporarily suspended in the shadow of such a connection and I don't think it's a bad thing, necessarily. I like to think that it is because we are already fulfilling a more innate ambition to connect. There are many reasons that we create, but there is an essential component of it that suggests that we create to be remembered. When you connect with people like that, you have this vague sense of hope that you might be remembered forever.

Sunday, September 25, 2016


I remember a time when I wrote and he replied. I wrote to him during his work hours, delivering news of triggers and associations as if he were still here: reports of the fridge door having fallen off its hinges and a photo of "breadcake", a piece of white bread with some candles impaled in it. He wouldn't reply as often as he used to, but he would claim that he sent messages that I never received. When I did receive a reply, he was polite but distant, half-heartedly entertaining my stupid stories about a life which could only really be described as Fawlty Towers meets The Young Ones. I knew that he hated it here and I knew he would never return after he left.

I mourned his physical and emotional absence. His replies lacked the kind of warmth and personal interest I had grown accustomed to. I dreamt up this metaphor of being partially submerged in a raging river. I would cling onto a rock to save myself from being carried away in the torrent. He was like that rock, inadvertently shaped like a handle, not purposefully doing anything to encourage me to hold on, but still providing a means for me to cling and hope. The river represented other hostel encounters and the existence of other possibilities that I purposefully avoided. I held my head above water, still feeling that pressure to accept his choice, to let go and move on.

I dwelled on that scene, describing it to Don, a short-term guest who had the tendency to veer our every conversation into the realms of intense romantic trauma. Don had the noble intention to keep our conversation light, but we were genuinely incapable of small talk and so he still found himself there with me at reception, extolling brutal therapy til the early hours of the morning. I'll never forget how he described what was happening to me, he said it was akin to a kind of haemorrhage: "You are used to having this daily exchange and now it's like you are losing your life force. You are bleeding everywhere. You are getting nothing back anymore..."

To anybody who had any kind of distance from the situation, the sudden and complete lack of responsiveness was to be expected. I could never really accept it, however, relying upon prior assurances that we would always have access to one another. He would always respond to me. In light of that, we had always discussed concepts like legacy and consequence, perhaps as a subconscious attempt to help me manage those future triggers and associations that would plague me. I'm now left to consider the veracity of all these grandiose assurances and I don't know how to reconcile any of it: "I won't be able to listen to music without thinking of you..."

Notebooks need to be filled. Essays, songs and unsent letters need to be written. It will eventually manifest in kindness, clarity and indifference. Most importantly, I have to continuously remind myself that although there might be silence, but the dialogue which I share with Missy Laur provides the kind of space and patience necessary to wring out any plague. It was surreal to have her sit across from me in receptipm, as so many others had done before. I described Don's vivid metaphor to her. I added that her insight had always managed to make me feel so alive, so together. I felt so gratified that she knew it too: "Of course! I am your dialysis machine."

Wednesday, July 27, 2016


It's a phrase that's haunted me for some time: "But you were the best friend that I ever had..." It was one of the more sincere moments in a teary goodbye, where the motives for his invariable return to her remained unclear. I felt for him in that moment, because I realised that in spite of all that he had won, he would suffer a significant loss too. Our discussions about Brazilian garage music, 1980s Garfield cartoons and parental hoarding were these static artefacts now, to be wiped with the passage of time. For that reason, I did my best to record what I could, in the hopes that despite the silence, I would honour and preserve a connection that, for historical purposes, never existed.

I have been contemplating what it means to lose a male best friend, since I have recently had to endure the departure of a long-term guest at the hostel. It was a departure that we both anticipated, but I could never adequately prepare myself for the loss of that connection. It lasted ten months and during that time, I felt desperately gratified when he arrived each Sunday night for another week. We were always thrilled to reconvene, as we were forever poised to share twangy songs over our respective pints of milk. We were looking up opalised inlays on guitar frets when I first acknowledged how hard it would be to lose him: "Who else would possibly do this with me?" In spite of all of the months of emotional preparation, I knew that I would grieve badly (and he probably wouldn't...).

In any loss of a male best friend, I mourn for the conversations we could have shared, but more than anything, I miss the musical analysis. I never lose their taste and my mind is calibrated to identify every song that would have resonated with them. Such associations bombard me and depending on the situation, I rarely share such recommendations, interring such ideas into an imaginary vault. I used to reach out with such recommendations and my greatest ever loss used to do the same, when he would send me a link to a new Smiths boxset or a photograph of handcrafted Totoro profiteroles. I refrained from reaching out to him after a great many years, finally realising that when he told me anything about his life, it made me hysterical with grief. I never came to terms with the idea that these were the lives we had committed to.

I now wait for text messages from my hostel best friend, forever reconciling his stories that most of his text messages never get through due to a network fault. The messages that do arrive are cold, sparse and undetailed. He is busy. He is always busy. These messages never acknowledge any of the plans we dreamt up, going to the Grant Museum or Crystal Palace. Yet I still believe receiving a text will fill me and I wait for it like a drug addict vying for their next hit. I am heartbroken when the drug is heavily diluted with undistilled water. I look for signs of memory, I look for signs of a regard, but like before, I instinctively know that I have been wiped.

I am less inclined to contemplate the loss of a female best friend. I recall the severity of the pain I felt, when my primary school best friend of seven years no longer wanted to have anything to do with me. I grieved when my high school best friend closed off from me, devoting the sum of her energy to her first boyfriend. I struggled when my university best friend wrote a list of all the things she hated about me on her LiveJournal, effectively starting a discussion group with various contributors who all felt the same way. The source of the grief comes from the suggestion that female friends are designed to outlast their male counterparts, by virtue of the fact that a romantic relationship is a contract where feelings must rescind upon expiration of the term.

I feel more disappointed in the loss of those female friends, but I feel less inclined to honour the dimensions of that grief. There is no complexity in their dishonour, there is never any confusion in the sense that a choice needs to be made. I just have been left to decode the distance, forever always convincing myself that the weary excuses to reschedule are merely coincidental matters. I am still sore about the most recent loss and I often recall being locked out, sitting and crying on my front doorstep in the early hours of the evening. My mobile glowed hot on the side of my face as she admitted that she had been deliberately distant. Her guilt manifested itself when she looked across her bedroom and saw all the gifts I had bought for her. She said it reminded her of how much I knew her and how much I loved her.

When I asked why she became distant, she said she resented the fact that I didn't move to London to pursue my dreams. It was a slash across my gut: all those hours you spoke freely, you were actually being judged. I have never managed to adequately express how much it broke my heart but I live with the disappointment and irony of it each day that I am here. She promised to love and restore the friendship, to cultivate it back to its former glory. It's just the same as it ever was, really. The vagueness and the silence, her oblique tweets that I don't understand. I never reach out, I never ask why. I will do nothing to fix this thing she destroyed.

I sit with my friends now in the warm shade of Russell Square. We take photos of each other and say absurd, misheard things that rarely make sense. I say: "You will think of me when we are no longer friends, when you see those big fuffed up pigeons aggressively pursuing those lady pigeons..." My new male best friend is incensed: "How can you say that? That's a horrible thing to say..." But it seems like no amount of love can ever make up for the inevitability of loss. It might happen in the silence, it might happen in their limp regard, but you will feel it in any case... and you will long for that time when they cared.