A girl with a secret - a good one, a warm one - glows. It’s usually love. You can notice it in her when she is walking down the street, when she is alone. She will smile at the pavement, or close her eyes for a second, just to herself, and when she re-opens them there will be something different in her face. Hardly noticeable, but it is there. A warm secret, bubbling like a clot, and without her even trying it emanates out through her – the small space in the eyes that holds the tear duct, the folds of her ears, through her teeth and the follicles of her hair and out her pores, her fingerprints, her nail beds; this radiance, this secret, this warmth.
I was walking out of the nursery I was volunteering in. It was my favourite time of the week, where I was let out of school to look after children – in the west end, amongst the old buildings and monuments of Glasgow, my favourite place. I would get the subway, and walk over the bridge of the river Kelvin, past the Glasgow Academy where I would see people that I knew and wave. When the weather started to get better, I anticipated that walk eagerly. Sometimes I would walk with the other volunteers, but most of the time I was late, and would walk by myself. I liked this better. I would tell Jonathan what I saw around me, the people I bumped into and how the day was going and the stories from the children – the way they would be so excited to see me, running towards me and clambering over my legs. Natalie was my little friend, so in awe of the older girl, wishing to replicate every part of me. She would sit on my lap and I would braid her hair. The purest of interactions. I would tell Jonathan about these few hours, but it was the one thing he would never understand.
Things were winding down at school; the prospect of university was emerging, inching closer and closer. People were already leaving, and it felt so final that sometimes it was unbearable. But these few hours, helping these children with their maths and spelling, was a safe haven. And as much as I loved him, it was a time without Jonathan. The only time that I didn’t feel obliged to speak to him, and he couldn’t say that I was ignoring him – although he never seemed to bother when I did. In these moments, I felt depth of clarity. I remembered there was a time without him at all. I wondered what the fuck I was doing. It was when I left that the charade would start again; and as I walked out of the school gates, we spoke again, and the walls came down. I was back to where I began: Jonathan, my all consuming everything.
I walked out of the nursery. Engrossed in the screen of my phone, headphones in, I walked through Glasgow back to Hill Street. It was cloudy, Jonathan had stayed at home rather than going to university, I was fighting the loosing battle of trying to get him to go back. He had me laughing, as he told me a story about him and his little sister, Amberley, and he was embarrassing her on the subway. I typed back as I walked, making up for the lost time of the nursery. I told him a story about a little boy who wasn’t well, and who was crying until I picked him up and he clung onto me like a life raft. When I spoke to him, it was like reading a book. I imagined the scenarios he told me, I was beside him as he sang to Amberley, as he held his baby brother. Imagined myself doing the things that were forbidden from me.
Coming to a cross road, I looked left and right, and saw nothing coming. I dropped my arm by my side, thinking to myself about how I could get him to come to Glasgow if he wasn’t going to university, what I was going to get him for his birthday, how I would send it off. I was looking straight ahead as I stepped out into the road, my mind in my own world. As my foot touched the tarmac I was savagely pulled out, yanked away from my thoughts by a force unknown to me. Puppet strings were pulling my hands and leaning them against the bumper of the moving maroon car I had walked straight in front of. There was a face in the window – two bulging eyes and an ‘O’ shaped mouth, twisted into a mask of horror that faced me through opaque and smudged glass. I watched tendrils of blonde hair puff out and draw their tips along the cars side, and then registered that they spun out from my very own head. It was an act of the ghost in the machine, except I was the ghost and my body the machine. I, trapped inside my body as it decided that enough was enough, and if my mind couldn’t see clearly enough to preserve my own life, then it would take matters into its own hands, literally.
My body had acted of its own accord to stop me from getting hit by a moving car. I contained myself as I ran across the road, away from the car before the driver could get out and ask me what the hell I was doing, but when I got around the corner I crumpled. Knees and hands everywhere, splayed on the pavement. In that moment, weeks of frustration eloped out of me, and the heavy weight of my secret started flowing out of me in ugly, thick sobs and gasps. I realized that to anyone who had watched me, I looked like I was trying to kill myself. Suicide wasn’t my thing, it was Jonathan’s. We were becoming one in all the wrong ways.
My secret wasn’t the same as other peoples. That was what my secret did to me; it didn’t have me glowing or smiling or radiating. It turned me white, like a ghost. It made me stop eating to be thinner, like him. It made me stop volunteering, stop working, stop thinking. It made me walk into cars, it made my eyes glazed, it made my hand unable to detach itself from my phone. I no longer saw people; I looked straight through them. I would kiss people and feel nothing, only getting emotional when I was drunk and it was dragged out of me. It came out in disgusting, lacerated breaths, and ugly noises, globules of salted water pouring from my eyes and splashing on a cold, hard, dimly lit surface. It wasn’t a release and it wasn’t an escape, it was a purgatory. I couldn’t read, I couldn’t write, I couldn’t speak to anyone because I was exhausted with the story. We were going to make a book of poems, and I couldn't even hold a pen.
I loved a ghost, unseen to anyone but me. Unreal to anyone but myself. I understood the symptoms of Jonathan’s illness better than he could have anticipated; it was feeling them myself. Insomnia, mania, panic, paranoia, exhaustion, sadness. No matter how much I laughed with him, or smiled at his stories, or felt his presence, at the end of the night I was alone, tired, sad. I had started out full of life and vitality, and at the end, I was drained. A carcass of myself. A ghost.
It was a miserable night, and the rain battered down on the windows of my room. I sat and stared blankly out the window for an hour before I asked him. ‘Have you met someone else?’ it was a feeling I had had. He said yes. I asked who, and he said just a friend. ‘If it was just a friend you would have said no when I asked if you had met someone.’ He said that they had been friends for while. He said that she understood him. The twist of the knife. She understood him. She understood him. She, who hadn’t sat up till the early hours of the morning arguing, talking, pleading. She, who had him wholly. She, who could reach out and find her hand coming into contact with a hard body, something warm and solid and indefinitely real. She, who hadn’t lay in her bed and wanted to feel him next to her so badly that she couldn’t speak. She, who understood him.
The end of my time with Jonathan is coming; next week it will be sitting in your laps, ready for you to devour like the previous chapters before it. But the thing is, Jonathan became more alive than he had ever been once he was gone. A treasure hunt left by the dead. A mystery. It took me a year and a half to unravel it, as fully as I can up till now. It’s only going to take you, my readers, a week. If only we all had that luxury.
Find what you love and let it kill you.
Let it drain you of your all. Let it cling
Onto your back and weigh you down
Into eventual nothingness.
Let it kill you and let it devour your
For all things will kill you, both slowly
And fastly, but it’s much better to be
Killed by a lover.