May 25Liked by Tanya Shadrick

Hello — this is my first submission. Many thanks to you Tanya for your unwavering encouragement!

I sat hunched and small, a fizzing bundle of self-hatred and yearning, a 22-year old woman in the front passenger seat of a small muddy Peugeot. Dusk spring skies darkened quickly. A sole blackbird chanted dutifully, highlighting the yawning silences between our words.

He spoke softly.

“But — do you not love me anymore?”

It had taken me months to get to this point. A slow process of noticing, feeling, knowing. Wishing otherwise.

It would be years before I would experience my own trust, my own heart, broken. But somehow I sensed it: that this was the worse side of the deal. That doing the breaking is worse.

My heartbeat was doing strange things. Speeding and slowing. My neck ached from cowed posture. I gazed up at the empty terrace in front of the car, felt my thumb rubbing against the fabric of the seat, searching for familiarity, reassurance.

I inhaled slowly, silently, and considered his question.

And considered what was beneath it. What was really being asked, by both of us, was not of love but: where do we go from here? Is this the end? Can we carry on, even if we want to?

I loved him, but that was beside the point, and I didn’t understand why. All I knew was the tight itch in the centre of my chest was whispering leave, go, stretch. This isn’t for you anymore.

So much about my life depended on what I said next. Oh, the vertiginous height of a binary decision. And right before I spoke I felt the weight of all that I knew I would eventually be brave enough to give up: the supportive family, the home to escape to, the friendship group. First love’s gentle adoration and sharp fierceness. Its history powerful, but not quite enough.

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Thank you, Tanya, for encouraging me to contribute, and for writing such a phenomenal book in The Cure for Sleep! This is my first submission.

That deepest unspoken fear of mine: a seizure during sleep, and being found in the morning, dead in bed, haunted me. I have been scared to think wild thoughts in case it tipped my mind into riotous colour. Seeing sounds, chewing lips. I’d known for years before I had a diagnosis that there was something unusual.

I asked my neurologist gingerly, unable to keep the wobble from my voice: ‘When it feels like I am dying, am I really dying?’

Voicing the question that had privately troubled me for 15 years.

He was young-ish, probably about my own age, and he looked at my notes instead of at me. He paused, put down his pen and swallowed awkwardly in that magnolia-coloured box of a room we were in together.

‘No,’ he said carefully. ‘You’re not dying. Your brain just thinks you are.’

I breathed out for the first time in years and nodded, unspeaking.

He might have been feeding me a comforting lie.

But it he was, it worked.

Anxiety, which had been grabbing me and twisting me into hunched forms, lessened.

I took my fears and began weaving them into the tapestry of my life. Fear lifted for a couple of days or so at first, but then for weeks, until I realised it had been months.

No longer stuffed into a tightly closed box, my epilepsy became something I could speak about.

I let my wild mind untangle and stretch itself out, to create new things.

Ideas, long stifled – if I gave them room to breathe, I worried they would drag me in and damage my brain – were freed.

It left room.

And I grew into that space.

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May 27Liked by Tanya Shadrick

The question was lost in the statement, and found later in the pleading explanation. “I want to die”. The missing conjunction: and will you let me? The parts of this unfinished sentence as broken as she was, as separate as we were. Forced apart by this illness, our communications, emotionally easy but physically impossible, had taken the form of long, intimate, soothing text messages. Today’s had simply said: “Can you speak?”



Well enough to speak, for the first time in two years, this was progress. My heart started going. I didn’t know then that it wouldn’t stop until hers did. I had no time to figure out this feeling. Here was her voice, finally.

“I want to die”

All of a sudden, here we were, so close and so far apart.

I gave her the response that no one else would give. The response her body refused, locked as they were in their daily conflict. The response that went against the instinct and responsibility of any parent or doctor. The response that kept me close to her. I couldn’t have her rally against me as she did with all those hell-bent on keeping her alive. I couldn’t lose her before I had no say in the matter.

In giving her the permission to go, I hoped she might grasp to life. Having her pain and knowing acknowledged might be an act of empowerment, propelling her toward life, instead of away from it. I knew it was a gamble and I had more to lose.

I wonder now if the unsaid question was “Do you know me?” or perhaps “Are you my friend?” On the day she died, I felt special. We’d colluded to this end.

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Hi all, hi Tanya

Thank you for the encouragement to revisit this moment. Tiny and momentous, it seemed to be the only real option to take. I still wonder what if though ....

It was a hot summer that year. 

From May to August Marie Peters and I walked the canal in Tommy K’s that chafed our ankles, sometimes in Scholls, soon abandoned after too many times of hurt insteps and cramped toes from clinging to their unforgiving support.  The pathways turned dusty and brown, the canal, lower than I’d ever seen it forged slowly onward.  Choked in weed at parts, host to predatory pike in the bends, and cheerfully inappropriate fishermen on the banks.

Marie and I, friends from junior school but separated by the 11+, somehow found each other during those weeks of limbo, all our previous routine displaced by O’Levels and CSEs, we met to journey together through free falling days. United by the AEB timetables, and a sense of something ending, something beginning.

We laughed about me being woken up by the Deputy Head and taken, in her powder blue jag to sit my Physical Geography exam, a journey that both humiliated and exhilarated me. About Marie’s hatred of the Games Teacher, talented runner that she was, and her pleasure in infuriating them by her refusal to perform to the school’s glory.

We circled, orbiting planets in a moment of conjunction, results day.

Failure of 6 O’Levels for me; I discounted the CSEs they were of no consequence; reasonable results for her, but our mutual disaffection with school, with education, was already set.

We would not return.  Marie had a job already as a telephonist receptionist, found for her by her father the caretaker at the local Catholic secondary school.  I had been beguiled by an advert for  GPO telephonist training,

I would have skill! My parents celebrated, unaware of my abject failure.

Our destinies set, we parted.

Complicit in small horizons and limited choices.

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Tell me what you’re afraid of.

How to push through the ache of fear that bridles my tongue? How to piece and police the tumble of raw emotions that shunt into my head at every, waking moment? How to know that if spoken, the darkness in my mouth won’t pool, thick like tar and engulf everything I love with the same sticky filth that lives in me now? How to believe that the words aren’t a spell of becoming? How do I say that I am sacrificing myself to save them from what I know and worse, what I don’t know but fear is true? How to trust that this person will know how to save me?

I don’t believe him. I don’t believe in him. He is just a ghost on the margins, while the things in my head are real, glossy and slick with fear, growing fat in the dark of my mouth. There is too much risk. Too much to lose.

My mouth is stitched shut. My teeth bite down on flesh. Blood wells.

I can’t say.

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May 26·edited May 26Liked by Tanya Shadrick

Rhododendron walks

Under the rhodies, sound and light dark-damped. Fusty soil and rot and chlorophyll and—in May—flowers (but those were on the outside of the tunnels and we were within). Do you remember the tunnels, Daddy? Do you remember the smells?

Duckboards wrapped with non-slip chicken-wire. Their song so familiar: ti-clunk ti-clunk ti-clunk. Wellington boots on twisted metal on wood on boggy ground. Do you remember the sound of them, Daddy?

Out. Blinking onto the swan-guarded bank. Lakeside swan-avoidance smells emanate from the glaucous spikes. Minty, but not mint… but… rushes! A smell all of their own. Do you remember the rush-crush, Daddy?

Sweet chestnut stands beyond for prickly lime-green Yule-tide forages. Do you remember those, Daddy?

Furthest point: best bit. Magic sand. Particles of finest silt and clay. Alum Bay colours though it would be years before I’d bring back a bottle from there. Grief-stricken and homesick. Do you remember the sand, Daddy? Do you remember the feel of it under a scribing stick?

Do you remember the old weeping willow watching our lake walks from the far bank, Daddy?

Do you remember the snow on Christmas Day, Daddy? The fern by your desk?

Do you remember Mummy was out, my brother asleep, and I felt poorly so you lifted me.

h into your arms, Daddy? I think this is the only time.



High h

Do you remember any of those moments, Daddy?

I remember them for us, Daddy. For you.

Kid xx

PS I can’t remember if you held my hand, Daddy? Did you?

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May 25Liked by Tanya Shadrick

Tanya, what a nice surprise to wake up to. As always, many, many thanks! xx Sheila

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‘Do you have children?’

Just like that. Anywhere and everywhere.

People will ask me this question even before they ask me my name. Without any warning and without giving me the chance to avoid the subject. I brace myself for it almost every day, although the grief is settling into that familiar feeling I know will become part of me and I will just have to learn to live with. But I can still feel my heart tightening, my body tensing up, the mask setting and my face contorting into disarming ugliness (I caught sight of myself in a mirror once and I was shocked) because I am still smiling. Most people do not seem to notice or, if they do, it’s too late, we will have to run through the awkward motions and see the conversation through. I have considered making up answers and making it easier for me and the other person, and I am becoming bolder so maybe I will: ‘yes, a little boy’, ‘yes, yes, I do – five-year-old twin girls’, ‘yes, three teenagers currently living with their father in Vietnam’. Instead, I wish I could tell them how not having children has heightened my fear of death for example. I do not want anyone’s pity or sympathy though, and I most certainly do not want my childness to define me. But I would prefer to continue to be honest and I do reserve myself the right to make it clear that, no, it has not been a choice I have been given the chance to make. Think twice before you ask the question next time, I always want to say. Give it time. Because the answer may very well be the same as mine:

‘No. Sadly not. And I find it heartbreaking to talk about it.’

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Amazingly, this is my second submission. Thank you, Tanya, for encouraging me to keep writing!

'Did I say goodbye to you?'

I don’t know, can’t remember. An unsaid moment, a memory unmade.

And yet something precious that I needed to cling to and reassure myself of afterwards. Both as a child and now, fully grown with a daughter the same age as I was. Or perhaps not fully grown…still rootlessly stuck in the past.

I can picture getting up and getting ready for school. Brushing my teeth in the icy bathroom, sharp light filtering through the translucent glass. Stroking our sleepy cat, hastily throwing books into my bag, slurping my breakfast of soggy cereal. All the other ordinary, routine things that morning I remember in detail. But I can’t recall the one thing that really mattered, still matters. It’s haunted me for years.

Friends and family tried to help. You’d have said it automatically, they say, you probably wouldn’t have remembered because it’s something people almost always say without thinking.

But somehow I needed to know that I said it. Such a small word, but with so much significance. I wish I’d given some thought to it just that once. Because it was the last time I would ever see you.

You were standing back to hold the front door open, letting the sunlight in, letting me out. Still in your nightie and dressing gown, tired and careworn because you’d been up all night again. Keeping him company, talking calmly because he couldn’t sleep and the pills still weren’t working. You’d have had to get dressed and head to work soon after I left, ironically leaving him deep asleep on the settee.

I remember reaching the end of the path, stopping and waving back to you. You were smiling at me. I’ve held on to that smile for years.

'Goodbye Mum.'

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