A vulture picking at a skeleton long wiped clean; grief still lingers, stuck in the crevices between my ribs, and the connective tissue between my knees and elbows.
A cemetery full of wandering souls, my chest is bursting with the memories of those I’ve lost. I used to write poems about the ghost that took up residence in my wrists, how she would leak out with every word that I wrote but I think perhaps, my heart is where she really lives, this is her home now.
Once, I knew a boy who was bright like a firework against the night sky. At one point, I had known him almost my entire life. Our first conversation was an argument between 4 year olds, your hair isn’t gold, it’s just yellow. Our last were words on a screen, Can’t wait to see you this weekend, girl with yellow hair.
Now, he’s caught in memories. Frozen in time, he’s captured in a time capsule of best bits never to be discovered.
Once, I was so fucking angry that he died. Now, I’m just sad. Sad, sad, sad.
I thought I needed to be up close and personal with death to tackle my grief. I took a job as a storyteller on a children’s cancer ward. Until I made a friend and he died too. For years, I would see his mother around Deptford and she would wince, before smiling and hugging me. Fais de beaux rêves, Jacque.
On my running route, there’s an abandoned department store with the corpses of three pigeons in the window. Over two years, I’ve watched them decay. I want to look away, I try not to look but everytime, I glance in, hoping someone has carefully picked them up and buried them. But they’re still there, even now, and I’m transfixed by those fragile skeletons, flayed flat with wings wide open.
I’ve spent eight years working on being a whole human being. Running from the version of myself who was painfully sad. Who was devastated and cracking, fragile like a teapot with a hairline fracture in the handle; when would I fall down and crash? No one knew. But now I hum softly and welcome her home with her broken pieces and luminous sadness. Like the Japanese practise of Kintsugi, I’ve spent eight years glueing my fractured pieces together to make something whole.
But still, I wonder, who would I be, without so many dances with death? Who would they be, if they got to live, who would each of them be at 21, 25, 30?
It took me a long time to choose life. It took me a while to decide to live. I’ve spent eight years recovering from the spiral of death. Grief used to suffocate me. I used to choke on the sadness and anger. I would stay up all night and hope the pain would be gone in the morning. Every time that I flung back the duvet and saw the sun rise with the pain still caught in my throat, I’d start running again.
Now it’s just a part of me, like an arm, or a lung. I don’t know who I am without grief but I get up every day, and I’m ready to face the world. I live for everyone I’ve lost now, I spent so many years calling Death and I’m worried that he might have got my messages and come to meet me. That I might have to say, no Death, not today, I need more time, I need more time to achieve everything that I’ve promised I would. I need more time, more laughter, more love, more kitchen dancing, more singing, more cuddles, more, more, more.
In six weeks, I’ll be 31. I never planned or expected to make it to this age, but here I am and I’m living. And sometimes that fills me with joy, and sometimes that fills me with guilt. And sometimes, I’m able to make peace with the decisions that I’ve made, the joy that I have, the people that I’ve lost and the people I’ve found.