Sunday 31 March 2013

A4: S1 - Love Lost

I've noticed that I put myself through phases.

Do you ever get that feeling, when you listen to a song you used to love, pick up a book you were once obsessed with, catch a whiff of someone's perfume or scent which you haven't smelt in ages, and it evokes such a strong reminiscing sensation, bringing back such a powerful set of memories, that you genuinely recoil in shock and horror at the force of that feeling?

That's just happened to me, just right now.

And the thing which cause such an avalanche of memory was simply one strum of the E minor chord of the ukulele. It's almost implausible to even imagine just how much life, how many stories and situations, conversations and troubles, memories, history and emotion can be held in just one note.

For as long as I can remember I've 'phased'.

It started when I was younger, when I was obsessed with dreams. I kept an online dream journal with my best friend, and I'd always ask people to tell me what their dreams had been. One day I'd read somewhere about this machine they were trying to build to control dreams. The machine worked on the association between certain smells, tastes, textures and sounds, and mental imagery.

So whilst the person was asleep, this machine would release the associated scents, sounds, and provide the associated tastes and textures required to make this person's unconscious mind dream of the associated image. I mean, I don't even know if this machine was real, but this idea stuck in my head solidly when I was a child.

In combination with this, another thing I've had since childhood, is a passionate fear of forgetting and being forgotten. Not like forgetting homework or being left at Tesco by my mum, but a deep set fear that I might forget things from my past, or dying and leaving nothing behind to be remembered by. I've always had an almost painful awareness of the fleetingness of life.

So along with keeping detailed diaries and notebooks, I started 'phasing' so I wouldn't forget things.

This meant that in periods of 3 to 4 months or so, I'd deliberately only listen to one album on repeat, only wear a certain perfume, do my hair and makeup in a certain way, eat and drink particular foods, and then in a few months change all that completely.

I guess a little bit like (I'm genuinely not trying to be melodramatic here) a phoenix that grows, dies and rebirths every few months. This way, if I ever wanted to have a reminiscing period or try and think of something from a time too far in the past, I could use these memory tools and everything would come flooding back. I'd never forget again.

Ironically I soon forgot that I consciously did this and it became habit.

Then, in random unexpected moments of my life, I'd quickly realise the downside to doing this.

Because I'd be in a bar, in a supermarket or at Uni, and I'd hear the distant wafting melody of a half-remembered song, I'd catch a wave of a once familiar scent as someone walks past, or see a copy of a tattered novel in the library, and it would be like I'd been struck by lightening.

As if my past was stored in my brain in little bubbles of memory, one of these bubbles would suddenly burst, and boundless memories and feelings would come flooding across my mind with such great force that it would honestly make me choke on my breath.

Sometimes when it happened alone, I'd physically break down in tears with my hands on the sides of my head with the force of the memories, and the realisation of just how far away that time now was, and just how much things had changed since then.

So, the E minor chord.

I played it without really thinking.

I hadn't picked up my ukulele in a long time as it was, but playing it hadn't really affected me at the beginning. My muscle memory kicked in and my fingers danced over the chords without me even having to think. Then, my fingers hit the E minor.

I actually dropped the instrument.

I felt my brow slowly begin to crease and my bottom lip tremble. I bought my hand up to my mouth slowly, as my eyes frantically darted back and forth as memory after memory flickered across my vision. Hot tears trickled down my cheeks without me even realising.

Oh, how I had forgotten.


I'd spent the majority of my tempestuous first year secretly pining and awfully crushing on a boy from the American Football team. I shall, for reasonable reasons because of reasons, name him Liam.

We barely spoke so my affections dwindled throughout the year, but they always remained, like the last quivering amber ashes of a campfire.

At the start of my second year, on the very first day, I saw him and my heart gave a little groan. After over a year, I still cared for him. It was a welcome-back social so all of our friendship group were out, and as soon as we locked eyes, I just felt weak. I wanted to say something, but I couldn't for the life of me figure out what to say. After my weird turn in first year, I'd recently been getting back into all my old music, music of tastes I knew we both shared, and the first thing I ended up saying to him was "Have you heard Mumford and Sons' new album yet?!"

That night we spent the entire time together.

We laughed and talked and danced and I felt new fresh sparks alight the embers of the dwindling fire.

We'd taken a breather and were stood outside getting some air, when suddenly he took me by the shoulders and twirled me against the wall, his face almost pressed to mine.

"I... I can't," He choked. I stared intently at him, my heart in my mouth. "It's you, it's always been you... This whole time... I've always cared... Always..." And although there was nothing I'd ever wanted more to here in my entire life, I could see the torment in his face. Because there was one simple fact about dear Liam. He was not mine to take.

What ensued was about a month and a half of agony.

But, the E minor isn't about Liam.

The E minor is about the person who saved me from Liam.

The situation became a plague. I'd just learnt to play the ukulele at this point, and the first song I ever wrote was for Liam. I still vouch that it's the best song I've ever written. Everyone kept telling me I needed to separate myself from it, and I knew it was true, as the more I stayed immersed in the situation, the more it really got to me. I knew nothing was going to change. In the end, my friends ended up physically dragging me out on adventures with them, which in retrospect, I thank them eternally for.

One of the boys in this group was Alex. Who was also Liam's best friend.

Alex had recently come out of a long term relationship and had a new lease on life. Like with the recent Sebastian, Alex and I first bonded over music. We'd been at a terrible house party one time, where Liam had shown up and left and it had been awakward and tedious. I was left alone by the speakers.

Alex came and stood next to me. He asked what kinds of music I liked and handed me his iPod which was plugged into the speakers. Just from looking through his music I knew we were going to be best friends.

Ironically what we bonded over most was Mumford and Sons' new album, Babel. At the time it was slightly amusing and a little bit cringey. I see now that it was part of the phase I was constructing around that situation. That album would come to be the main part of that phase.

Anyway, together with a few of my other closest friends we went on the most ridiculous adventures together.

We went to underground wine bars in London, ate in tiny secluded pizzerias where there were live pianists playing, partied in Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club in Soho together, found ourselves tumbling out of The Hippodrome Casino at dawn, we even once all woke up in a top city banker's penthouse flat in Islington, to much momentary confusion. We had a absolute blast.

The underground wine bar we first adventured to...

Me and Alex started hanging out on our own too. We saw each other every single day, and he became my best friend. For a while the awkward taboo of Liam hung over us, but once we finally got it out of the way and I told him the full truth, it just made us closer friends. I understood he was in a contrived position between Liam and I, but I respected that and tried to keep my feelings for Liam away from mine and Alex's friendship.

Alex would come round mine every day after uni, and we'd sit on my bed with the window open, feeling the still-warm thrum of the post-summer air swirl around us, and I'd play new songs I'd learnt on the ukulele and we'd sing together. I even wrote a song for him,

"A breeze came down around us from, the window above our head, and even though I really wanted to cry, it just made me smile instead..."

On Thursday mornings after a heavy nights at the Student club the night before, we had a weekly ritual of going to play tennis on campus completely smashed and crying with laughter, then go and get lunch together afterwards.

He was my best friend.

After some time, it became apparent that perhaps he'd developed a little crush. I was still so raw after Liam, and he knew that. But he didn't want a relationship. What was incredible was how openly we discussed it. There were no awkward silences, innuendo, double entendre or any of that shit which comes with relationships. We were just completely honest with one another, because we didn't have any reason not to be. For example we were sat on the train one day and I'd just finished telling him an elaborate story, and he'd smile at me and say,

"I'm almost totally in love with you, you're aware if that right?"

"Of course I am." I'd say and we'd both grin at each other in a half-laugh and turn to gaze out of the window. It was surreal, unique and it was just... It was the best.

Mumford and sons became a recurring motif, further building the foundations of the phase. Once, after another lukewarm house party, we all gathered in the living room and started playing a game where we had to come up with a song which best summed up each person. It provided many drunken laughs but soon the game petered out and a few people went to bed.

On the quiet, Alex turned to me and said "I didn't get to choose one for you." He smiled deviously, pressed play and Mumford and Sons - I Will Wait started playing to the oblivious group. I will wait, I will wait for you. I smiled with sincere warmth. He was so sweet, and I knew that I could care for him. Just not quite yet.

I will wait. 

I will wait for you.

To his delight, I learnt the song on the ukulele, and from then on it kinda became 'our thing'. The chords were C, F, G and E minor. That was the first time I'd ever learnt a song with the chord E minor in it, and I loved the sound of the note. I remember performing it for him one evening, with the candles and fairy lights lit in my room, just as the dusk settled like ink outside my bedroom window.

But all the while, the cold damp shadow of Liam clung on to us both. It was the only persistent awkwardness we shared mutually, the only barrier between us.

During this time, a girl of our friendship group named Sarah had made it clear to the world, that she was out for Alex. There was no way she wasn't getting what she wanted. Alex laughed about it to me and I guess I kind of pitied her. She desperately wanted Alex and he just didn't give a shit.

She was always on the periphery, adamant to claim her territory. It got to a point of beyond awkwardness seeing her blatant advances toward him. But all the time he brushed her off carelessly.

One night out however, stuff had started getting dramatic. There'd been a big drunken argument between Sarah and my housemate, forcing the boys to intervene. Then in front of everyone, my housemate screamed at her "You'll always just be a second class Katie, and everyone knows it!"

....On a scale on one to awkward, this was pretty up there.

I left early.

Early the next morning, I got a call from Alex.

"Err...Can I come over?"

"Now?" I said groggily.

"Uh yeah, I'll be at yours in ten."

"Wha-Okay..." He hung up. 

In true form, ten minutes later he was at the door, shamefacedly.

"So I woke up in Sarah's bed." He said in mock disgust, looking at the ground. How had that even happened?!

"Why have you left hers?" I laughed.

"Cause I told her I just wanted to come to yours and have you play me I Will Wait."

"You didn't!"

He gave me a wry smile. "Oopsy"

I felt even worse for Sarah. Even after what my housemate said, she'd still pursued him enough to manage to get him come back to hers, and then finally getting her way, she had to wake up to him saying that. Poor girl.

Alex stayed the whole day and all we did was go to the gym together, play ukulele and lounge around in bed. 

"I mean she's a nice girl and everything... I just don't want a relationship right now, y'know? There's so much more to experience. This is the most free I've felt in years." I smiled because he was so, so right. 

The next day, he gave me a gift. Since I started my second year I'd amassed quite the collection of exquisite-looking wine and liquor bottles and put candles in them, to light around my room. It was another thing I've done since I was quite young, stealing bottles from the recycling bin and sneaking them up to my room to plant candles in. 

"This was a pain to get, but, here." He said with a broad grin and handed me a bottle. It was a vodka bottle from the 1960's from the now deceased Woolworths. "I thought it was something you'd like." Knowing my passion for both candles and antiques, it was the most personal gift I think anyone has ever given to me. I thanked him profusely.

As time went on, Sarah became more and more prevalent. She was everywhere whenever we went out. And the times Alex went back to hers started to increase too. People began to raise their eyebrows but said nothing. It began to concern me, for reasons which I don't quite understand myself. I questioned him about it once and he snapped "So? What's it got to do with you? I can do what I want" and I was quite taken aback.

It started with him cancelling our lunch dates.

I realised that playing drunk tennis alone was not only less fun, but considerably tragic too.

I stopped playing ukulele.


I saw Alex in the campus cafe yesterday. As I walked in, he looked me straight in the eye for a split second, then looked away.

"...Hello?" I said tentatively.

"Oh hi, you alright?" He said rhetorically, with mock surprise as if he hadn't just seen me walk in. He turned to pay for his food, spending too long a pause at the counter which required me to walk away, and then he was gone. 

It's been about 7 months now since he and Sarah have been in a relationship.

It's been about 7 months now since I last had a conversation with Alex.

And I guess that's why I'm so disenchanted with love now. There's just so much you miss out on by being in a relationship. Like first and foremost, friendships.


The irony of the phasing is that I don't realise I'm doing it until I get the reminder. In fact, I know that I'm creating a phase right now, but I have no idea what it is comprised of. And I won't know, until about six months time when I'll have that thunderbolt of recognition.

And I guess I never really remembered all this, until I played that E minor of I Will Wait.