AUGUST ISSUE: Longing

Welcome to the sixth issue in Season Two of The Cure for Sleep: Stories From (& Beyond) the Book. This month’s theme over on Substack concerns longing: subscribers were invited to respond to the following prompt: Tell me about the longing in your life: what do you yearn for? Are you trying to attain it, or are you engaged instead in trying to move on, let go? And if you did get what you longed for: how was that for you?

Any stories received on this theme will be curated below. Click on each name to go direct to that reader’s contribution.


august extract

Bearing witness to all mother’s memories in my preschool years left me with an unbearable longing to be seen and heard in turn. I placed a mirror on the floor each day and sang into it until my throat went croaky, imagining it a portal to both God and my father, the two men I yearned for. They lived together, I believed, in a realm I might reach only by song.

Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. The Lord’s Prayer, found in another of my nursery books: learned by heart as the only form of words I could find for what I lacked and wanted.

Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses. Singing to Father so many months without ever an answering sign that I began to forget my love had ever been anchored to a real man. It became instead a dream state, the heavy water in which I was suspended – longing without end, so that I began clinging to objects for more reliable contact. And the fact of his absence, which had come before I had words to show Mother how it hurt? This lived from now on as an ache in my stomach that refused any foods I had once shared with him. In these and other obscure ways, all my unhappiness either sublimated or suppressed.

Shadrick, Tanya. The Cure for Sleep (pp. 40-41). Orion. Kindle Edition.

Reader responses

Not everyone would understand the feeling of longing.

For some it’s meaningless – ‘Why long and yearn? Just go and get it!’ Or, simply – ‘Come back to Earth – want what you can achieve.’

I envy that approach.

My birth had too much meaning for my family; it came out of need not love. I was: unplanned and thus unpaid work for Granny; the precious last hope of happiness for mama; a pension fund for papa (although he was sorry that I turned out to be a girl).

In return, I’ve inherited their own often nameless and rootless longing. Longing to belong, to be free and to feel safe.

My parents’ accidental and unwanted union caused too much rift in both families, and I was left in a care of my grandmother for my first seven years. All week I longed to see my parents at weekends; then I longed to return home to Granny.

I longed to play with other children but there were none around. Instead, I played by myself, helped with chores, and listened to adults’ conversations: ‘A child should be seen, not heard.’

I longed to be heard and I longed for my questions to be answered but the only answer I ever received was ‘When you grow up, you’ll understand.’ So, I longed to grow up.

At school I longed to be like other children, to make friends, and yet I also longed to be alone. Often, I longed to be back in Granny’s flat in a two-storey house surrounded by apple and cherry trees that were no more – demolished and bulldozed to give way to a sky-scraping, expanding capital.

And on and on it went until all I could long for was to be someone else, living in a different time and in a different place.

Elena

Sad brown eyes.

I had been told this more than once in my life.

I knew they were and I had often caught that sadness staring back at me in the mirror.

All my life I had been searching for the feeling of home – and probably even long before the fatal detonation that sent our family scattering into pieces in my fifteenth year when my dad died.

Searching for him always ever after, I knew he had gone but it was that feeling of not being able to find him again that became my longing for the rest of my adult life.

I looked in all sort of places for him wanting desperately something tangible to hold on to – a life raft of hope that I could pull myself up onto and feel better.

I put myself in danger to find this feeling. I tried to find it in people and places. I joined communities then ran away when the burden of connection became too much. I felt like I destroyed myself many times to fill the void.

*

None of it worked and so at forty-three I knew I had to find some way to let you go and I did.

I found a person and we talked about you.

I talked with you in my head in those times also. I wrote a poem to say I released you and you could release me too and that it was okay, that I’d be okay, because it was either you or me and you had died and I had to keep living

Monique kennedy

Like insects, black in golden amber, they are caught in the past.

Trapped by time, unable to move, unable to grow, they look at the world from the transparent matrix of their own captivity. I wish I could break their prism, invite them to step into the fresh air of now, to stand blinking in a new decade, a new century, and perhaps to acknowledge I am not the man I was.

They knew me then, they judged me then. Their verdict was cruel –and accurate. I accepted it and, in accepting it, I was helped to grow. They saw the base thing for what it was, yet it is many years since I crawled. I am not the man I was.

Our timelines are rarely straight. They braid and knot, they try to unravel, they always collect the rough debris of our existence; the pattern of one part is not the pattern of the whole.

I yearn for a time when they will examine my first twenty years, years when the weave was clear and clean: or these last twenty years when the weaver grew in her craft and gave me the intricacies of age and experience, subtle in colour, soft to the skin.

Oh I acknowledge there was a time (look here at the middle twenty years) when the weaver grew careworn, the pattern was lost, the loom grew restless in its impatience to be done. Can we not ignore this part? Knot a scarf to cover the misplaced stitches? Wear life under a winter coat so only the fine work shows?

My past cannot be unmade, but I am not the man I was

GEOFF COX

An octopus, one head barely distinct from the body, three hearts to pump blood blue with copper to survive the depths and eight arms with two rows of suction cups, arms reaching in all directions, arms in motion, arms with choices, arms full of neurons, far more even than in the brain, each arm almost a brain itself, able to bypass the brain and communicate with each other, arms ruled by senses. Each arm tasting what it touches.

I long for an arm built for creating joy and releasing false responsibilities, sweeping past unnecessary demands, an arm for embracing ease instead of effort, this arm that goes limp and cannot be willed to write a list of chores to check off, this arm of curiosity, refusing time, tossing clocks.

An arm for holding and pulling close, full of muscle and flex, an arm to protect, to unfurl and cast back into the ocean, this arm of neurons lighting up when others are ready to swim, this arm that knows when to let go and speed off before poisoned by its own ink, blinded by the ink of others ready to go.

An arm to grasp courage and fling off fear, an arm to pull back another arm when it gets tied down with tedium, this arm that will fill the porch with wildflowers, steep in autumn air, stay and stare at stars until their light reaches down and through, burrows into bones, light becoming marrow, holding the patience of lightyears.

An arm that holds my mouth open wide, suctions my fingers to pen and pen to paper until all that was needed to be said was let loose, even if these words are disregarded, tossed and scrambled back into random letters, words no longer floating through my blood, ricocheting through veins, pulsing through gut, now riding ocean tides.

An arm that reaches up, grabs a rope, a wave, the tail of a kite, a witch’s broom, pulled fearlessly forward, joined with a cloud on a far horizon, knowing if it lets go, gives up, that backward motion is deadly, this arm that grips tight to free reign, avoids the hard falls that come with restraint.

An arm to cast away like a spider’s fine filament, not knowing where it will land, across creeks and pastures, in woods from tree to tree, across oceans and rising tides, slant of sun holding the power of being seen or unseen but casting away anyway, an arm arching toward adventure.

An arm that meanders, finds its own path, pushing through dirt and rock, ocean silt and the shells that hold others captive, barricading and camouflaging when necessary as it strays from the expected, the known, crawls through deep water, cradled in currents ruled by a moon it cannot see.

An arm able to regrow when severed.

Sheila Knell

Two of my sharpest childhood memories are from the world of sleep.

Each bedtime I would fixate on the blank wooden wardrobe door and begin to hallucinate: geometric patterns would form, folding in on themselves in growing intricacy, eventually transforming into delicate willow-pattern scenes of swaying trees and curved clouds, of bridges stretching over slow woodcut rivers, of silhouetted figures talking and laughing and dancing in synchrony. An entire living world conjured effortlessly from nothing. The delicious feeling then of sinking into deeper sleep, inevitably guiding me towards the familiar dream sequence: willing myself gradually free of the earth, I would be running, fast and then faster still; I would break free of gravity, free of limits entirely, floating higher and higher, flying at will, the warm night air carrying me over the tiny town lights and into the hills of my imagination.

The same dream over and over, the same thrill of aliveness and impossible daring, the same state of pure being rushing through me. A wild creature unleashed.

The longing that came later was a sharp, painful hunger, an endless raw animal yearning of unmet needs. Years after the dreams died, my mother’s madness triggered horrific surreal nightmares in their place. Each lonely 3 a.m. the same longing for safety and love would ache in my soul. Just for someone to notice. After I was ejected from home at sixteen, the longing each Sunday for my Dad to visit, the pathetic window-watching from the corner of my eye, trying to conjure his appearance. The longing for him to like me. 

Now all that collapses back to a simpler longing: to be that small boy again, dreaming a world into life, existing in a state of pure being, and aliveness, and joy. To be me again.

Paul miller
%d bloggers like this: