Lavender, tea tree and Himalayan salt

Autumn leaves coat the pavement
like careless gems,
their silent bodies slowly rotting.

Likewise, a finger glowers and sweats,
unhappily attached to a hand so busy surviving,
it hurts more than it helps.

Days later, betrayed by Mary, Jesus, God,
lavender, tea tree and Himalayan salt,
the body interferes

insisting on manufactured
ointments, pills and plasters
to cover and protect what it cannot heal.

by Rebecca L. Atherton

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Autumn leaves

A table laced with mind games spans the length of the room.
Beneath, a floor of broken glass.

The walls drip with silent tears
and the windows behind are shuttered against the light.

by Rebecca L. Atherton

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Unto us a child is born

imageAching, breaking, feeling fragile; the pain in my side no weaker than it was four day ago: I’m contemplating the ‘walk-in’ on Wardour Street. But I’m scared. Sick people remind me of my own mortality, and it’s not so sturdy of late. Things hurt. Others don’t work anymore. And I’ve no idea whether the hurting and the not working are permanent or temporary. Each time we move, each time I suffer a trauma or am challenged and pushed: I slide, and the slope is dark and dangerous.

Looking up, I can still see the sky: a weak hollow of blue light, diluted and empty. No clouds. No planes. No sun. Just a thin strip stretching from left to right. Some days it’s brighter, more intense, and on days like these I draw comfort from it. Some days it’s dull and dead and on these days I sink to my knees and pray, for I have no energy, no motivation, no drive, and things as simple as walking and talking tire me.

Recently, it’s been up and down, bouncing me like a yo yo on thread. Nausea creeps into my belly to sit and sip, drinking tea and stretching out, acting (for all intents) as if it owns the place – which it doesn’t but which I could be convinced to believe it does, because it is such a frequent visitor I can’t now remember when it last went away.

Sitting in church yesterday – listening to the sermon but drifting, not really there… images of past lives, past people, past things… passing through: rewinding me, reminding me; picking at threads, fingering snarls, thumbing pulls, travelling bobbles; contemplating each and every one as if it were the most intimate, infinite thing: precious, priceless… I have an epiphany. And whether it makes any difference overall, or any sense in a day or a week: the warmth and the strength are a gift. Raising limp hands, separating joined wrists, pulling reluctant arms from lazy legs, I wrap myself around that feeling as tightly and securely as I can, hoping against hope, against experience, against knowledge and thought, that it won’t ever go away.

Only it will, and the only question that holds any importance is when? For if the answer disappoints, I will be devastated.

Today I am tired and the colour of the sky unnerves me. Yesterday there was reason to celebrate, to try to feel positive and upbeat. And I guess there was a break too, from the normal way of things. But now it’s back: the pressure, the expectation, the need… and I’m struggling. Feeling useless, uninspired; doubting my ability: I look at everything I’ve done – now and then, lately and a long time ago – and it all seems so shallow and incomplete.

Doubt descends and I sink: deeper and deeper. And the slope down which I was slipping is no longer just a slope; it’s also part of the sea, and I am drowning too.

by Rebecca L. Atherton

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Deck the halls…

imageIt’s Christmas Eve and I ought to be excited. I ought, also, to be calm. But I’m not. I’m restless and agitated, on edge. If I were a dog, my heckles would be up. A person: I’m all spines and spit. Like Goldolocks: nothing is right – too hot, too cold, too thick, too lumpy… too light, too dark, too full, too empty; the usual suspects disappoint and the old favourites fail.

As I move from place to place – wandering up busy streets, traipsing down deserted alleyways, past places that are decorated and places that are dark, shivering and cold because there is a sharp wind and it’s raining out: I’m aware that I’m searching for something, although I’ve no idea what. The inner child is crying. The outer adult longs for tender words. Despite spending a relaxed morning with my dog, her first outing since arriving: I am fearful, wondering how to dispel the encroaching shadow before it joins forces with my own faint line.

Tomorrow is unprepared: full of desires but empty of plans. It’s a bit like my life, which tilts forwards and backwards.

At least there will be surprises tonight – like a Hoover, a lamp and several decorations: small things that, collected, make enough of a difference to lift the place. When you can’t bear to walk on the floor because of the dust, or spend a moment longer than you have to in a room because it’s dark and empty and that depresses you: it’s time to act.

We do what we can, using what tools we have. We reach for the sky. Sometimes we touch the clouds. Big things… little things… bright things… tired things… they all count. Given the resources and the lack of ready materials, I consider the improvements a miracle.

by Rebecca L. Atherton

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…and then remembered.

imageSo there has been a development: though sadly, not of the life-changing kind. That would be radical and masculine; brutal and sharp-edged: involving movement and action, loss; the vacation of a space, familiar, for another – dark and unknown. There would be terms, conditions, requirements attached, and something cherished, left.

This is more subtle: a gentle shift; emotional perspective slanting, slipping, sliding right; sidestepping slightly to make way for something nice. And even though expected, suggested, guided and deserved: it touched me, deeply, in my heart.

The unexpected is rare and I like random romantic acts. And thoughtful presents (my favourite: homemade) are enchanted, coated with things like sugar, icing and sprinkles of winged-creature dust.

Arriving home last night – late, after Christmas shopping recovery drinks; restored and rejuvenated, energised: I discovered a grotto had come to visit my house, transforming a space which was empty and hollow into one that was full and whole. Spinning, turning, casting my eyes around: I took in a tiny tree encircled with lights, a collection of painted baubles, a red plant, crackers and strings of bulbs sitting snug upon formerly naked ledges. And while by no means perfect; less advanced than former years where the effort was magnanimous and the output large, where cookies were baked and pom-poms made, decorations knitted: it was enough to quiet the voice that resides inside and the child (me, younger) who was yearning for the usual trappings that would normally accompany such an affair. I slept like a baby, my dreams uninterrupted, free from the usual emotional collection of agitation, dismay and fear.

This morning, I still feel strong; for even though circumstances have been difficult: the move postponed, plans shelved, dreams derailed – there is reason to celebrate. We have each other. We have our health. A cold that won’t go away and an ache in my bones, a body that is exhausted and a mind that is dismayed: small things compared to the ones that others are experiencing all over the world.

Motivated, inspired, I have looked into volunteering, applying to help the homeless in my local area. Although by no means the same, I feel that events have given me a window that could, perhaps, be valuable. I can relate and empathise. And even if all I can do is listen without myself stepping in, or help to make tea and dish or clear up a meal, it’s something that wasn’t previously present, a person who stopped and saw when to the rest of the world they were invisible.

by Rebecca L. Atherton

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The house that Santa Claus forgot…

Monday has lived up to its reputation and proved to be a difficult day. But what was I expecting… I knew there would be challenges at its outset and that hopes, deeply buried, would be dashed: my head told me, my heart warned me; my gut churned, upset. Maybe that’s the thorn in my side, the message I am supposed to take from my recent injury (which, as a result of an overly enthusiastic manhandling – my fault, not theirs – has resulted in a ribcage that cannot be touched)? I cannot even begin to describe the pain.

As I try to reframe the situation, pulling at the ground in search of roots that might be woken and coaxed, examining where I am and what I ought to do in order to navigate: I am surprised by the smile that has, against expectation, hijacked my mouth. From one-step removed, it’s funny. Hilarious, in fact, for I couldn’t make this stuff up. I couldn’t, even if I wanted, find it to read online. It’s far too tangled; knotted in strange places and personally attached. One thing? Possible. Several… perhaps. This many: no. Fiction would object.

I’ve read books about knitting spells into garments and tasting feelings cooked into food. I’ve watched movies about characters who have fought off monsters, survived natural disasters; faced cruel, menacing individuals and survived. But I haven’t come across a scenario where the protagonists have been attacked quite so thoroughly by all of the possible contingents that could come into play, especially not when they are trying so hard to make good things happen, taking action and leaping when previously they had been playing it safe. Gritty and grey: it wouldn’t sell.

Which begs the question: why am I attempting to document this, putting it all together into a PDF to later (hopefully) publicly print? I guess I’m hoping that my experiences will do several things; that, depending on the reader, they will advise, warn, entertain, enlighten, comfort and/or help. Worst case scenario, they will serve to remind me, holding everything that has happened and everything that will happen still, in place; remembering, in case I forget.

I woke to a mild day, released from the usual burden of layers, the need for hat and scarf. Walking into Soho, I was immediately aware of another pleasant shift: Brewer Street was empty, Dean Street was dead; cafés and restaurants, usually open, usually full, were shut. It’s been busy recently, which has made me anxious, pushing me down unfamiliar alleyways in search of peace and although my missions have been successful and my journeys enjoyable enough, I have missed walking without interruption and following a straight line: it’s the closest thing to normality and order that I have. No longer worried about bumping into and being bumped up against, I relax. Sadly, that’s where the gratitude stops: for along with public services being in short supply, businesses have also emptied out, resulting in important individuals being absent. The problem of the house – the what are we doing and where are we spending Christmas? – remains: open and empty; a stain.

Inside the agency, a battle ensues: sunk feet, strong words; sentences; explanations; lies… fists, fingers, knives. No budging. Adamant! With no authority, those in charge throw toys, preferring to take back everything (that which was wanted and that which was not, that which was promised and that which was planned, that which has been done and that which is to happen still) rather than give in completely or consider a compromise. We can’t even be escorted or get access to a key in order to inspect the work; yet we are expected to sign and be happy with that. No way… not after the last time. Once bitten: I am twice shy; sensibly fearful.

Four hours later, the dust has settled and what I suspected has indeed transpired. The mouse problem has not been addressed. The cleaning has been superficial. The light fixtures and blinds (worn, discoloured, dated) remain. Disappointed, upset, frustrated and angry; I am also glad. Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t…. even if that devil (a.k.a: the other one, the one you don’t) might actually be from warmer climes. A vibrating floor, a bed with a heartbeat, fire escapes and balconies that fill up with smokers, usually at 4 am; builders outside the window staring in, living inside black blinds, a leaking sink, a malfunctioning hob, limited furniture… all preferable to a colony of four-pawed, long-tailed creatures, lurking inside the walls.

by Rebecca L. Atherton

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A thorn in my side

imageI think I have done all of my Christmas shopping, or at least all that I can do for now: there will be more later, when I have time; when the crowds have dwindled to the last few stragglers, or, perhaps, after… once the sales start. Now, though, I am free, and I feel lighter. Shopping daunts me: I worry too much. It’s not just what to get: it’s where to get it and how much to spend and whether the recipient (he, she, them…) will like it. No matter how hard I try, how much I think or how long I spend on the task: I always get it wrong; it’s the story of my life. I do it with haircuts, nail colour, food in restaurants and clothes. I do it with books and movies and magazines. I even do it with wool and beads. And when it comes to my art: invariably, I mess that up too – overworking or miss-selecting, using colours that clash, adding too much texture or weight. I did it last night on my autumn quilt and now my heart is sad. Poor rabbit… poor carrots… poor ladybird, leaf and branch…

The thorn in my side today, however, is more tangible and I am struggling to function as a result. Moving is painful; I feel broken; something isn’t right. But what do you do about the things you can’t see: can you fix a problem located beyond the reach of eyes? Massaging my side, swallowing painkillers, moving gently and slowly, trying not to touch it or anything else: I attempt to navigate through the waves of discomfort, crossing fingers that don’t believe over hands that are cynical.

The past few weeks have been tough. The past few months have been challenging. My body has suffered while my mind has endured. Standing in the middle of the road; watching cars and buses, bikes and taxis: I deliberate over how much more I can take. We are still living in limbo. We are still sleeping on the floor – if what we are doing can be described as that. I have a cold that won’t disappear and I am cold most of the time. I am also exhausted. I know this because I long to lie down for days, long to lie down and never wake, craving horizontal more than I desire any other position I could pick were any others on offer. I cannot speak. I cannot navigate. I confuse my left and right. Sticking to the tried and tested, clinging to familiar friends: I manage by keeping it simple and small.

But what will become of me next week? And how will I find the strength to pack and move on Tuesday when we are supposed to be leaving our home-sweet-hell in favour of a new apartment? And what will I do if tomorrow we find out we aren’t moving yet and have to stay where we are instead, abandoning all hopes of having a relaxed Christmas; accepting, instead, a poor substitute lacking furniture, belongings, decorations and love? There are too many things in the pot and I am no longer managing. Like a snail, I need my house. And I don’t care if it’s a temporary house or a borrowed house or a house that actually belongs to me: I just need a place to call home that I can return to and relax in when I need to stop. Take away all of my creature comforts, suspend me in between here and there; poke me, prod me, push me, punch me, and I unravel. As the tail of thread lengthens and the length knots and snags, I start to wonder if, when I finally come to catch it, it can be untangled and rewound .

by Rebecca L. Atherton

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Star light, star bright, the first star I see tonight

It’s mild out and I’m sweating in my coat, softly cursing my heatgen underwear, wishing I had had the foresight to check the weather forecast before committing to clothes. I’m also wishing I had packed my umbrella, another reason for checking Thursday’s intentions in advance of entering into her orbit, but it’s too late now, so I unbutton my coat, shed my hat and gloves and thank God for his kindness. In December, 14 degrees is an unexpected gift: I’ll not be condemning the horse or speaking ill of the dead, even if it does mean juggling extra pieces. I wipe water from my nose with a tissue and close my handbag; it’s spitting slightly and threatening to rain and the sky looks positively angry. In truth, I’m slightly scared. Ominous and oppressive come to mind; vindictive, also. I walk fast, hoping to make it to the station unscathed.

I cross Leicester Square, dodging commuters and eager tourists. Continue on to Embankment, where I pull out my Oyster, tap the gate, scan the map, turn (as per instructed) and descend, stepping almost immediately onto a train. The doors close and for four stops I knit, the strip in my hands extending, bit by bit. Two weeks in, it has advanced from single brown square to autumn quilt, albeit a small one, housing a bunny rabbit, two carrots, a ladybird and a branch. Organic, in charge of me rather than me in charge of it, I have no idea what comes next: a flower, a moon, a person, a dog…? At the end, there will be a message; there always is. I am keen to read it. I used to check my horoscope and consult the cards, translating from a ‘how to’ book. I also analysed leaves, pulling shapes out of cups. But creativity is better: harder to decipher, perhaps, but more insightful and based in fact. My novels held messages about where I ought to go and where, as a result, I’ve travelled since. My poetry, too; warning and guiding, if only I had been open to seeing and obeying when it was relevant.

At Sloane Square, I finish my row and bag my needles. Then it’s up and off and through another barrier.

Outside it’s dry and quiet, a scattering of people queuing at a newsstand, several taxis speeding by, the odd bus… I take out my phone and check the time: if I’m quick, I can grab a coffee; I could use the pick-me-up as I’m feeling tired and the ‘no light’ does strange things to me. Fresh out of bed, I’m not yet sure what kind of a day today is, but if the last month and a half are anything to go by, it won’t be great; I don’t want to tempt fate by starting on a backfoot. It will also act as a shield against what’s to come if it turns into an ambush or becomes in any way uncomfortable: after Friday’s disaster, I’m on edge; I’m also nervous. In truth, I’d rather not be here but I made a commitment and a bad day or a bad day last week, isn’t enough of an excuse to deny myself a potential opportunity that, in the long run, I should appreciate. I’m dipping and dabbling, sampling and savouring, endeavouring to fix the broken and right the wrong. There will be mistakes. There will be disasters. There will be injuries and things that ache. But it is by being open and by doing, by absorbing and by experimenting, that we learn. Curl up small, attempt to shut it out, retreat and withdraw and reverse into relative silence: and it all stops: movement, action, improvement, progress, healing, happiness and health.

Coffee in hand slightly later than planned, I rush towards my destination; turning sharply onto a quiet street, slipping through a peeling gate, stumbling down mossy stairs. Nose running, coffee dripping from my coat, late: I’m flustered. Now I wish I’d carried on walking or bought camomile tea instead – it wouldn’t stain and there would be no frantic mopping up, later attempted washing, need to visit the dry cleaners… Cost aside: I’ve nothing else to wear in between. A dress and a cardigan; a skirt and a jumper, don’t quite suit. Even with gloves, a hat, a thick scarf, etc., I will be freezing.

But all of this is tissue paper and beside the point. What’s important is yesterday and how that made me feel and how I feel today, still, as a result: positive, alive, strong. Which, after everything I’ve endured, everything I’ve done, everything I’ve suffered and everything I’ve survived, is a miracle.

by Rebecca L. Atherton

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Bitter-sweet

imageLast night it rained and it’s damp out this morning but milder too, which is a relief: I take my pleasures wherever I can find them these days, giving thanks for things I ordinarily would have dismissed. It’s strange how the weather, usually my top concern, is so far down my list and it has not escaped me how ironic this is.

It’s not that dissimilar to our house being trashed when we were employing someone to look after it; or us having to move because, despite having payed over the odds to secure a brand new luxury apartment from a top end agency, we have inadvertently ended up living above a nightclub in an environment that defies sleep; or my partner coming here to set up and attend important meetings and work one-to-one with clients and having to improvise on the go, meeting them in cafés and falling back upon his phone; or his phone (iPhone; unreliable, useless), important to his livelihood, slowly breaking, missing calls, cutting out and failing to ring, refusing, without headphones, to transport his voice; or his having his card cloned and used in Cambodia and his bank accidentally cancelling the wrong card because the clerk was also based somewhere like Cambodia and didn’t understand English beyond the scope of his script; or that leaving us high and dry until a new card could be posted and not having an address to post anything to; or looking forward to Christmas and going overboard with the decorating, only to realise that by the time we move decorating will be irrelevant as it will most likely be January; or wanting light in the mornings and evenings but not being able to open the blinds because there are always people talking, smoking, working outside; or eagerly anticipating cooking again after a break of three years only to discover the kitchen has also taken a vacation from which it is yet to return, limiting, in the meantime, all culinary endeavours to cold, ready-to-serve bits; or missing people who, upon seeing, you remember you needed to dismiss; or selecting and provisionally committing to courses – in psychology, in expressive therapy, in writing and in art – and not, because of everything that has been going on, keeps going on (relentlessly, endlessly), being able to afford it.

It continues, on and on… the duration endless. But I think the point is that there is so much happening and so much that is different from the intended plan, the direction of desired action, that the smaller things – like the temperature and the weather, the state of my nails and hair, the cold that won’t budge no matter how much I shove it – become insignificant. They’re just there, like traffic and people and cafés and shops. If you care to notice them: they are willing to share. But if you don’t, they won’t beg you for change like the people sleeping in doorways and corners every- which-where.

So Bad Luck is following me like a black cloud, like a stupid suitcase, and Irony, it’s BFF, is trailing close behind. And these things: the black luck, the cosmic and situational irony… are things I am aware of and things I am, for the most part, managing to fend off. It’s the flat that’s getting to me, as well as how not having a place to rest affects my partner’s mood. I am not a fan of Mr Unapproachable And Sharp-Edged and that’s who I am living with; along with Mr Mad As Hell, Mr Drop Dead Exhausted, Mr Snore The House Down, and Mr Drink Until I Fall Over. As for me: I’m guessing I’m Ms Cry too Much, Ms Trip And Stumble, Ms Emotionally Unstable; Ms Can’t Sleep, Can’t Think, and Ms Come And Save Me: Anyone, Everyone… Or perhaps things aren’t so bad and I am just exaggerating? All I know is that I was so tired last night, I got lost again; which consequentially so overwhelmed me that I retreated into the first safe place I found, nursing a coffee until my partner (for once a different kind of Mr – Distracted instead of Dangerous) came to my aid. That’s not me. That’s not normal behaviour. That’s not how I want or intend to operate: not now, not anymore, not again.

Since we’ve been here, it’s been bittersweet: one step forwards, two steps back; to the extent that we are both emotionally and physically drained. We look a mess, sound a mess, inhabit a mess and, like a magnet, draw additional mess towards us: lots of it, in fact. If mess were a good thing to have and collecting it advisable: we would be doing great. As it is, we are running to keep up and gradually breaking in the process.

If there is a God; if there is a Universe; if Fate is real and Karma deserved… do we not deserve a break? We are good people. We are trying to be even better. We care and we help and we share and we give. Have we not suffered sufficiently, experienced enough, to know and remember what suffering and disaster and heartbreak and trauma are all about? I would like to think so but I am not in charge of the natural order or the current state of things. So I sit and I wait and I listen and I learn and I try, as best as I am able, to endure it all with grace.

by Rebecca L. Atherton

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Wrong-side down

imageI always think twice before I put pen to paper, but the thinking takes longer these days: my thoughts are scattered and scrambled; things that were there only moments earlier are want to up and disappear, scattering before I can catch them. If I am (as is often the case) interrupted, that’s the whole lot gone: so many ideas, so many sentences, so many paragraphs, poems and pieces of prose… If the rest of my life wasn’t already so tragic, so currently backwards and sideways, so wrong-side down, I might be upset. As it is, there is simply too much to think about to concern myself with the minutiae. Or perhaps it’s the minutiae that is distracting my concern from that which is important, draining vital elements from my essential self?

This morning, after a long weekend, after a difficult week, after a challenging Sunday, I felt determined to do something different and positive, setting my sights on the Barbican and the weekly craft group that meets there. It would fill the day, add some interaction to my morning, and hopefully recharge and inspire me. My batteries are so drained right now: even sitting is demanding; talking… now that’s an entirely different issue.

Monday’s air was crisp and cold but the sky was fair and the sun, although weak, was visible if you looked. I looked and I tried to also appreciate, in between blowing my nose, huddling inside my coat, and trying to work out how to juggle bags and a hot drink. Tea, I have discovered, is the quick-fix home remedy to freezing bones. Always chilly – sometimes solid, sometimes sludge – my bones and my body need all the help they can get. Come the end of the day, my cheeks are red, my nose is raw and my mouth is outside circumference chapped. I look (as you can imagine) delightful.

But I digress… Aesthetics are not the point.

I walked until I came to St. Paul’s and then, after consulting a map and checking my direction, walked some more, continuing until I came to the destination I had predetermined. Hidden, old, spread out: it took me by surprise. Without signposts, I doubt I ever would have found it. Such a strange location, such a disparate structure; so one bit here, one bit there… Quiet, too, almost ghostly; although I suspect it comes to life later on in the day.

Nosing around, I picked up leaflets and stepped in and out of buildings, exploring the cinema, the galleries, the theatres and the cafés… Then, curiosity satisfied, I made my way up to the library. Larger than expected, it curved around corners and snaked down stairs, ambling through archways, slip-sliding along walls. Split into sections: reference, research, fiction, non-fiction, science, history, geography, art, children, computers, reading and work… it was a bit like going backwards. Or maybe that’s just me being unused libraries, preferring to research on Google and download on Amazon? Libraries are of another generation: one that’s sepia-tinted and held behind glass.

Fascinated, I took in the piles of newspapers, stacks of magazines, books by their hundreds, seventies-style tables, school-style chairs, row of computers, people – sitting alone and in groups, “buggy park” and even the playroom. A bit like a maze, I had no idea where to look and what, in looking, I was looking for. Whatever it was, it was not keen to provide.

Ever practical, I decided to ask; was directed, sought and then found. Only… Well let’s just say that the walk wasn’t worth it and the reward was shy, although not in a benign way.

Another way of putting it would be to describe the woman that I met: the tightness of her tongue, the abruptness of her manner, the advance of her years, the few words she cast, the quality of her gaze, the lack of others in the environment and the neat row of knitted dolls that, filling two tables, kind of freaked me out. I fled, down to the ground floor where I hid on a seat at the back of the food hall, placating my wounded pride, my damaged delicate, my tender inner self, with treats. And even though it was cold and noisy, a bit dark, I stayed there for two hours, leaving only when visiting the conveniences required me to inconvenience my good self. That’s one thing I hate about London: you can’t abandon your seat without taking everything with you, which in rush hour which is every hour normally means returning to someone else in your chair or your drink having been cleared away. Mummy Bear does not like.

Another walk; another hour; another café; another day almost filled… because that’s the goal at the moment: using them up. Homeless; camping out in a temporary space with creature but without comfort: my main concern is getting through and surviving unscathed. I’m not sure how well I am doing on that front, but it is character building. Although if I get any stronger, I may become so impenetrable that the person I was will cease to exist entirely and never come back and the person I am temporarily will take over and become the person that I am from hereon in. Just now, I got lost down familiar streets – twisting and turning, stopping and stalling, turning tail and running away. My brain: tired, overwhelmed, pricked and pinched, cannot competently think.

by Rebecca L. Atherton

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