This month’s advance extract from The Cure For Sleep (W&N: 20 Jan 2022) is about choice: those rare moments in life when we are brought to a sudden need to decide on something that will alter the course of our days. After reading, do share a short true tale of your own - no more than 300 words – on this theme in the comments section.
Read the Season One stories contributed by readers over on The Cure For Sleep website: bedtime stories | memory games | bonding | choosing | promises | size & shape | time | desire | regret | faith | rebirth
The only thing missing for Nye and I now in our mid-twenties (or so we told ourselves) was a home of our own, and this we found soon after marriage on a single day of searching when we looked at just three terraced houses, the last of which had cupboards full of mouldering food left behind by its long-gone tenants.
Despite the stink, the disorder, we found ourselves checking every room, each feature, as if it were a newborn: See the old wood panelling under the stairs! The little lean-to beyond the living-room window – just like his Gran’s! The back door to it was locked, so we lifted the sash and climbed through to the porch.
That hot plastic smell of his childhood, mine!
We had to have it.
Whimsy. Fun. Instinct. Lightness. How some of the best – and worst – decisions of a life are made. Walking over a threshold and seeing a stranger, a set of rooms, and emptying one’s head, one’s pockets. Taking a hand, a key. Exchanging the milk cow for the magic beans. Thinking not of cost or profit. Refusing the call of future possibilities that will fall away when choosing this place, that person. The way it is done: from smell, sound, stomach; all the senses coming together to assay the moment.
Every spare hour we had found for the writing life, we gave over now to the removal of wallpaper, carpets and ceiling tiles, before eating soup cold from tins and reading by candlelight for the months it took to get the electrics made safe. Sleeping happy on a mattress on the floor surrounded by the strange confetti made by all the debris.
Work and home began to balance, and when either of us in a rare empty minute felt the lack of friends or our old literary ambition, we trusted to the future. We were young still; that time would come again.
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I was aware of the gamble of looking online but I had exhausted all other avenues. I was keen now that the time felt right, and I was hoping that I might get lucky.
His photo immediately caught my eye; such was the proud way that he held his head and looked directly into the camera. I felt he was looking right at me, but I guessed that I wasn’t the only one to feel the intensity of his look. His certain ‘Je ne sais quoi ‘ spoke volumes through the screen.
The next thing I knew, we were meeting! As the day arrived, I tried hard not to expect too much. I wanted to appear nonchalance, hoping it would disguise the bubbles of hope that bumped against each other in my tummy.
There he stood, looking every bit as imposing as his photo, with his intense stare and jaunty bandana, enough to make anyone look twice. He watched me as I walked towards him, and he certainly wasn’t playing it cool. His face lit up and softened as he continued to gaze at me. I was smiling hard and trying not to break into a grin. His eyes were the sort one reads about in romantic novels, deep luminous pools that you could get lost in. Eyes flecked with every shade of autumn and large glossy pupils that would pull you under if you dared to look for too long.
As I crouched and stroked him, I let the grin break free because I knew the choice that I was going to make.
This beautiful (deaf) dog, Boof, is still with us today. He was badly abused for the first year of his life and has been left with scars on his head, however he could not be more loving and gentle. Along with our other rescue dog, Lu, Boof is an absolute blessing.
Choosing a memoir
In the high school bushland across the road is a dead blue tree. Only dead trees are painted this shade of blue in ‘The Blue Tree Project’. The project mission is “to help spark difficult conversations and encourage people to speak up when battling mental health concerns, by spreading the paint and spreading the message ‘it's OK to not be OK’.”
The project founder lost a brother to suicide then painted a tree as a memoir. After awhile she encouraged the gesture, promoted the idea and grew the project. Blue trees scatter the landscape throughout my home state. This memoir choice began as her love song but ends as a lump in my throat. Nearly four decades ago I was grounded with loss from suicide and crawled through the undergrowth. I had learned to manage the difficult emotions that pierced my heart. Then just like that, it was painted. The day I saw the bright blue trunk over the road I felt flooding pain for the school community and my friend. I saw the tree throughout the day. Light reflected it to me in my kitchen, lounge and garden. I didn’t want this stabbing memory of decades old grief from far away. That’s why we have cemeteries and choose when to go. Months passed. The tree haunted me. I phoned the school with condolences and an enquiry about tree relocation within their grounds. The street is sparse and only I see the memorial. Except that it’s not. They said no one died. The tree was a gift. A suicide-tree gift. I let that sink in. Then I wrote to the school. I wrote to the project. I wrote to the paper. I wrote to the board of psychology. My not-OK-ness with their project wasn’t what they meant.