Longing

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Welcome to the fifth issue in Season Two of The Cure for Sleep: Stories From (& Beyond) the Book which you can read in full over on my free Substack. This month’s theme 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.

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

‘If you keep staring at that box you will never amount to anything,’ said a six foot bib-and-brace man; a manual man, a callused man with an unforgiving hand with fingernails nightly cleaned; leaving the days labour floating in the pond of a sink.

I was careless with my time, neglectful of my allotted span. Three score years and ten was beginning to empty itself through the winged sand-glass. I was slipping peacefully through, feeling gravities pull; filling my personal void packed with space to fail. A dark spirit crept in, camped out in my sandscape and sculpted my form.

My shape was all wrong. I longed for a better fit, but I was anchored to my fate; but the fates were as mercurial as the sifting sands. My thread of freedom morphed into a limp acceptability that rabbits, mice and hamsters would fill that void. So, I clung to my furry comforters; dug in, did my time and watched my glass empty, but seeking succour in fur had a limited shelf life. I had a crushing need to flock with kindred kind.

I yearned for a clearness of vision; unblurred, unblinkered, by the embrace of familial approval. A crashing wave of inevitability was washing away any semblance of non-fictional me. I grasped on to fistfuls of feeling; stretched my imagination, stretched my skin over my emotions, bagged them up and hid them in a deep pocket.

One, ordinary day at school my saviour turned up dressed in tweed jacket, deer stalker and sucking on a droop of a pipe blazing with three nuns tobacco. He helped turn over my winged glass and taught me to become a careful chronicler of my time.

STEVE HARRISON

What if we get what we longed for?

What then? A new longing to take its place? As keen as the last? Disappointment? Satisfaction? Pure bliss? A longing is tinged with romance, desire and a depth of need not matched by wanting something. Wanting implies you could do without but longing, well, you need that to be realised so badly.

That’s how I feel about being immersed in water, be it a cool shower, a warm bath or the crashing waves of the sea. The smooth lanes of a swimming pool indoors and smelling of chlorine or those of my local Lido, open to the sky whatever its hue and wherever local is that year. A river swim would be even better, but you get the idea.

I have tried to understand this yearning, to compare myself to fellow swimmers, to read about them, to observe them. I’m still not entirely sure why it is so compelling to me, but I know it is a fact of me. I’m a daughter, a teacher, a nurse, I have a cat called Jeff and a dog called Olive, a grown-up son called Jake and I love water! I also love a good fire, but that’s another story.

When I am in water my body is eased, my senses awakened. I am soothed or energised, reminded I am alive, and I want to be. I am frequently reminded whilst swimming of a previous swim. I’m sometimes surprised by the one my mind presents that day. What has triggered this recall, is there a similarity between the two events? But it seems to be a special alchemy and a mysterious connection somewhere deep within me that is ignited. To remember the evening swim in my uncle’s pool in LA or the basement at the hospital where I first trained a nurse when I would imagine myself injured and alone as there were no lifeguards. To watch myself at eight months pregnant in my stretchy pink swimsuit, strong and proud of my body lightening as I floated along.

And then to return to today, here and now telling myself how lucky I am to have what I always long for, to be healthy and able enough to be in the water yet again. Pure bliss.

louise stead

I woke from another one of those dreams…

the one where he is clearly there and I am fairly certain that I can sense he wants me but I can’t quite reach him. As always I wake too soon and with that familiar lingering aftertaste of loss. Why was I still dreaming about him? We haven’t spoken in over 20 years.

We first caught one another’s eye when we were just 12 years old. A mutual friend had suggested a game of spin-the-bottle, and it was our turn to kiss. I was too shy and declined coyly, something I would often regret.

The next time our paths crossed we were 17 and studying at the same art college. He would come to watch me sing in the band I played with on a lunch time and write me poetry. We would lay naked in his candle lit bedroom for days at a time, listening to his music, often Pearl Jam or Led Zeppelin.

On the outside I smiled but really my life was in chaos. I had been thrown out of my family home and so we decided to get a flat together. But it wasn’t at all like the romantic imaginings we had talked about. I couldn’t cook and had a very unhealthy relationship with alcohol. Before he knew it, he was caught in the eye of my storm and within another year, I was homeless and he had in my eyes ‘rejected me’. I had no clarity or humility to see that the truth was in fact that my appalling behaviour had driven him away.

For years after I insanely continued to imagine that one day he would find me and embrace m; of course he never did.

At age 42, I started to work Step 8 of the 12 Step Programme: it suggests we make physical amends with any person/s whom we have harmed during our drinking career unless it would harm them in any way. He was right there of course at the top of my list. After some discussion with my wise and grounded sponsor, I took the decision to make living amends to him.

I wrote a letter which I would never actually send, apologising and declaring honestly that I would never behave in such a way when sober. I then showed it to my sponsor and finally I disposed of it. I agreed that it wasn’t a good idea to reach out to him physically to make my amends, partly because he now has a wife and child and so me showing up in his life could bring stress to various parties. But also because I think that deep, deep down there is a tiny and possibly sick part of me that still imagines that he will love me, the way I longed to be loved by him, someone, anyone all those years ago.

Charlotte Dawson

Back on the chain gang, I looked down at the fried egg sandwich, grease oozing out onto the white plate, and felt sick. He came back with two cups of tea, grinning, stumbling, drunk. The cafe was loud. Condensation ran down the windows. The lino was cracked. Eat, he said, and I did. Back at the flat, he fell onto the bed, which wasn’t a bed, just a mattress on the floor, and lay there with his hands behind his shaved head. Take my boots off, he said. Why, I said. I want to watch, he said, and so I did. It took some time: I was drunk, and he was wearing his 12-hole oxblood Doc Martens, but after a struggle with the laces I threw the boots across the room. He raised his hips, undid his zip and I dragged his jeans down. He was smiling. He was already hard. I crawled up his body and put him inside me. He never wore underwear. I took his face in my hands and kissed him. I opened my eyes so I could look at him. I wanted to trace the teardrop tattooed under his left eye, but I knew he wouldn’t like that. I wanted him to open his eyes, his beautiful brown eyes, but I knew that wouldn’t happen either. When I was kissing him I thought of Chrissie Hynde’s voice earlier in the club, the yearning. I remembered the song because he had got up to dance. I loved it when he danced, because he didn’t do it often. He liked to watch. And smoke. The yearning. The longing. The key changes, and the crack in her voice. The powers that be. Force us to live like we do… Eleven weeks later, I was sitting in the abortion clinic, with that song in my head. Forty years on, it’s still there.

Kerry Whitley

You cast your spell over me, all golden and seductive...

Those long childhood summers you came calling, peeking through the letterbox, peering through the windows. As we splashed in the summer shallows, cool water soaking the hem of my dress, you turned dull days into sparkling, carefree, precious times. When you left me, even for an instant, all was darkness and gloom. I followed you everywhere. On long bike rides you urged me onwards, laughing into my hair. I felt your warmth close behind me. We’d lie together on the beach, hand in hand, oystercatchers peeping in the distance. Mother didn’t always approve. On long balmy evenings I was always late to bed, playing outside with you until darkness fell.

September brought school. Trying to concentrate on handwriting and maths, I’d see you, dancing outside the classroom, at once coyly tiptoeing around the edges of my vision, then brash and fearless, beckoning me to join you. I ached to be outside. I was scolded for daydreaming, staring out at you, smitten. You’d call for me after school and we’d snatch a few urgent, precious hours, hating the lengthening nights.

Winter arrived and I missed you so much. You’d disappear once the weather turned cold. I dragged a weight around my shoulders like a lead cloak during those dismal, miserable days. But over the years I’ve noticed a change in you. Where you were so gentle, your sweet touch a delight, lulling me to sleep, there’s a ferocity to you lately. You come calling for me in winter now. I’ve caught you peeping through my curtains, even in January. You’re still frail in the cold, but stronger than you ever were. Has my gentle friend turned into a monster?

I fear for our future, sunshine.

cathy robinson
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