Today is the first time since 11th August 1999 that the UK will see a solar eclipse. It is also the day that Antonia’s brother, Joshua, is getting married. On one hand, this wedding has been a bit of a whirlwind – Josh and Penny only got engaged at Christmas – but on the other it’s been a long time coming, considering that they’ve lived together for the last twenty-one months with their three and a half children (Lucy and Russell from Penny’s first marriage; baby Sebastian; and the one on the way), and were once, many years ago, childhood sweethearts. Of course, there were a couple of disasters at the eleventh hour: Penny falling and twisting her ankle last week on Friday the 13th; and then yesterday the mother, father and youngest sister of the bridegroom almost didn’t make it home in time from Fuerteventura after their plane was redirected… By the time this post is let loose in cyberspace, I’ll hopefully be in the Sudbury town hall watching the lovers tie the knot. This is only the second (full) wedding I’ve ever been invited to. The first was Sophie and Tracy’s seven and a half years ago, although we weren’t allowed to call it a wedding back then. I was one of two ‘best women’. If I ever have a wedding I’d like it to be a vegan one. Antonia agrees. I suppose it’s easy saying that when you have a vegan partner. But then I’ve talked to other vegan couples and they’ve said that they wanted a vegan wedding too but their families objected. When I say vegan wedding, I do just mean the food. Obviously, if I was going to wear a kilt then I’d want it to be a non-wooly one with a sporran that was made from something other than dead animal, but I certainly wouldn’t insist that all my guests had to be wearing faux leather apparel (unless I was paying for the outfits) because that would be a wee bit intolerant. I also wouldn’t say to my omnivrous or vegetarian friends ‘oh sorry, you had a cheese toastie yesterday so that means you cannae come’. Anyway, I may never get wed. And not just because of the vegan thing. Because even though it’s legal for gay couples to marry now in the UK, I still have my reservations. Mostly, I worry about disappointing my parents: a) because I’m never going to be that a traditional bride in a meringue (or any) dress; and b) because my mother has made it abundantly clear over the years that she would prefer it if I were to marry a man. So, of course, I worry about inviting my parents to the wedding. And I worry about not inviting them. I don’t know what would be worse: if my mother were to decline an invite, or for her to appear with her face tripping her all day long. And if I didn’t invite her, how could I invite my dad and my sister? I suppose we could always elope. But then I’d miss the wedding waltz and a golden opportunity to buy a snazzy new suit. I may not be one for traditional customs but I do like formal-wear; and I’ve always fancied myself in a crisp white morning suit with a matching waistcoat and tie… Anyway, this is supposed to be about Josh and Penny… I hope they both have a really wonderful day. I’m sure they will… unless Penny goes into early labour in the middle of the ceremony… but that would make for quite a good story!
Ten years ago, I began seeing someone who had a small child from a previous relationship. It was unchartered ground for both of us because I had little experience with children, and she had none with lesbianism. We muddled along though, and it certainly was a learning curve – in fact, the person who taught me the most was Steffi, my ex’s little girl.
Anyway, when we broke up I was devastated. Not because she was the love of my life (looking back now, she was far from it) but because by having a child she represented a sort of normality for me, and a hope that society would see us as a sort of quirky (if not slightly dysfunctional) little step-family; and also because she was the only person I’d ever brought home that my mother had actually really liked.
I got through the break up the only way I knew how: I wrote about it. I wrote in long-hand in a stream-of-consciousness style, rarely stopping or crossing anything out; and I did this in a variety of cafes and bars around Glasgow, and occasionally in front of the TV whilst the KISS channel with it’s raunchy R’n’B sounds was pounding away in the background. My favourite songs from that period quickly became ‘Fuck It (I Don’t Want You Back’) and ‘F.U.R.B.’ (Fuck You Right Back’) and I think that speaks volumes for my maturity at that point in my life. At the end of three months, however, I had a lighter heart and a full notepad (not to mention a tentative new love interest); and when I typed up what I’d written (pretty much verbatim) I had a novella that was just shy of 40,000 words. (Now I have never been able to write so ferociously or fluidly since than, nor have I ever again been able to get a whole story out without multiple stops and starts. But neither am I suggesting that I have to be going through an emotional uproar to do so.)
‘Steffi Baby’ is a story about Debs, a young, single mother in her middle twenties who is struggling with an anxiety-related disorder which confines her indoors and often to her bed. It is narrated by her daughter, Steffi, a highly-sensitive and strong-spirited four-year-old, who is blissfully unaware that her mother’s new best friend, Alice, is actually her lover.
This novella is a far cry from autobiography, and although there are parts which were inspired by real life events I preferred to stretch my imagination and write about what could have happened rather than the things which actually took place. It was also never meant as a way of getting back at my ex – and I suppose in a way I am really paying homage to some of the good times we did share. I chose to tell it from Steffi’s point of view because it was too painful (and, frankly, too boring) to tell it from my own; and also because Steffi’s innocence and unrelenting optimism bring humour to what could otherwise have been a rather bleak tale.
Before Xmas, I began redrafting ‘Steffi Baby’ again – I’d previously attempted this back in March but found it was too difficult to finish at that time. This wasn’t because it threw up any unpleasant memories for me – on the contrary, it reminded me of quite a few episodes that made me laugh out loud. I simply struggled with the chronology and the picking apart of an already very tight story.
I’ll admit there have been times when I considered giving up on it completely: that old chestnut ‘no-one reads / publishes novellas anymore’ rattled around in my head; and only yesterday, I was so frustrated with one particularly problematic chapter that I printed out all twenty pages of it before physically cutting and pasting the sentences together; I was also slightly worried that I would be accused of trotting out yet another niche-interest piece of fiction that only lesbians of Scottish nationality would ever read.
I am pleased to report that I am now about ninety-eight percent of the way through the redraft. There was loose talk of me writing a sequel, but I’m not so sure. Antonia thinks I should. We’ll see.
The real Steffi was fourteen this month and I can’t believe where the years have gone. I suppose she will stay forever four years old in my mind. I doubt I will ever cross paths with her again, but wherever she is in this world I wish her and her mother all the very best, and hope that they are happy and well.
So recently, I had a dream that I asked Sophie aka the Bean-cruncher to marry me. I was at a huge house party in this dream and there were lots of other people there that I knew, including Antonia, my mother and the identical teenage twins from my karate club.
I was sitting at a table facing Sophie, and Antonia was to my left; and Sophie was talking about how she really, really loved weddings. I started to tell her that if I ever got married then the best part of the day for me would probably be the wedding waltz. Antonia harrumphed at this. (Which is probably what she’d do if this conversation manifested itself in real life, because I’ve asked her many times to be my partner at ballroom or salsa dancing classes but she refuses to indulge me.) Anyway, I then sent Sophie a proposal via text message. And she accepted.
In fact, I clearly remember her saying: ‘Lynsey, I’d like nothing better than to marry you.’
She looked very pleased with herself. And then she went round texting and telling everyone she knew.
Antonia was not amused. Understandably, I suppose. She hissed at me that she’d waited years for me to marry her, so what the hell did I think I was doing going off with someone else.
She then dragged me towards the toilets to give me a further earbashing in private, but my mother accosted us on our journey and gave a tearful speech about how she was so pleased for Sophie, and how Sophie was a wonderful who person who deserved happiness etc. She didn’t, of course, congratulate or even mention me.
Once mum had gone I explained to Antonia that I was only marrying Sophie for the wedding dance. It seemed like a perfectly logical thing to do during this dream. And I have to say, it did feel like Antonia was over-reacting. I told her we could carry on seeing each other as normal and that I was sure Sophie wouldn’t mind. Antonia didn’t think that was appropriate though, and she made me promise to tell Sophie that I couldn’t marry her. But I wasn’t allowed to tell her at the party. Because she said it would ruin everyone’s night.
There is a bit of a gap after that where I can’t quite remember what happened. Possibly we all just got very drunk. Because Sophie did seem to be reeling in a lot of free cocktails on the basis of the whole ‘I’ve just got engaged’ thing.
The next thing I remember is when the dream sequence jump cuts to a different day in a fuzzy coffee shop location with lots of arm chairs. I tell Sophie that I’m really really sorry but I can’t wed her after all. And she laughs in my face. And then says: ‘You didn’t honestly think I was going to marry you, did you?’
Apparently, dream Sophie had a bet with our friend, Fiona, over how long it would take for me to call the whole thing off. Sophie lost. But she said it was worth it to see me squirm under Antonia’s wrath. Plus she saved a fortune on alcohol.
When I told the real-life Antonia about my dream the next day, she was not impressed. Sophie thought it was hilarious though. And we ended up talking at about how we both love social dancing. She prefers the waltz. My favourite’s the tango.
Then I sent Sophie a text that said: ‘Will you marry me?’
And she replied: ‘YES!!!’
The conversation got sillier as we planned out what we would wear if and when we got married: a morning suit and a cravat for me.
Antonia harrumphed for real and pulled the duvet covers over to her side and told us that we weren’t funny in the slightest.
Eventually, I said to Sophie: ‘I think we’re going to have to call off our fake wedding.’
And none of us have mentioned it since.
I still think it was quite an exciting dream. It made a change from the ones I usually have where I’m pregnant or I have just given birth (to a large velvet teddy bear or something equally bizarre); I even had a dream one time that I went into labour and then delivered my own triplets… and then my ex-girlfriend ate one of them.
I can’t remember my dream from last night, but Antonia had a nightmare that I accidently committed suicide…
Recently, I’ve been toying with the idea of writing a second memoir.
I thought I might call it ‘Blank’ because as well as the obvious connotations it has with writer’s block, it also relates to gaps or ‘blanks’ in one’s memory, and to the ‘blank’ expressions I am often accused of wearing.
My first book, ‘Cracked: Recovering After Traumatic Brain Injury’ was launched in December 2002 by Jessica Kingsley Publishers, and in it’s two-hundred-and-twenty-four pages it documented the early years following my accident: from the initial struggle to receive a diagnosis, to my incarceration inside an adolescent psychiatric unit, and my eventual descension into bulimia and anorexia, as I failed to cope with school and exams and ordinary teenage nuances on top of memory loss and other cognitive impairments; before, finally, recounting the positive search for a new identity as I learnt to accept my limitations.
I was young when I wrote that book, and if I could go back and pen it all over again I’d definitely do it differently. I’d mention some things that I left out, and leave out a couple that wormed their way in. I’ve been told that it helped a lot of people (both brain injury survivors and their families, as well as doctors), and that pleases me because it was not originally written with publication in mind; because writing for me was simply a cathartic outlet, something I did to make myself feel calmer, and to understand myself and those around me a little better. However, I also noticed that ‘Cracked’ had received a one star review on Amazon last year by someone who said it was ‘a ridiculous waste of money’, and who claimed that it provided no insight for them into the condition at all. Well, whilst I’m inclined to be of the mindset that you simply can’t please everyone, I do concede that, perhaps, the book only described the tip of the iceberg when it comes to explaining what living with traumatic brain injury is like, and that a sequel is in fact long overdue.
I was not out as a lesbian at that time – in fact, I was only in the early stages of realising and understanding my sexuality – so I didn’t have to navigate my way around a countercultural gay world with it’s separate customs and fashions, as well as the usual mainstream one that was already highly confusing. Neither did I have to put up with others’ desexualisation of me or the assumption that my girlfriend was simply a carer.
I was also still living a rather sheltered life at home with parents, free of financial worries and responsibilities; and aside from a weekly paper round, a trial run as a silver service waitress, and an unpaid work placement via the brain injury rehabilitation centre I attended, I was completely ignorant of the world of employment and it’s complexities.
Being a person with a brain injury hugely affects the way I react to the world and in turn the way the world reacts to me: I spend a lot of time nodding and agreeding with people simply because it’s easier (and often less offensive) than saying, ‘I haven’t got a fucking scooby what you are talking about.’
It’s also a lot less tiresome than making the effort to tell people that a) I have had a brain injury, b) most people with brain injuries have trouble receiving and processing information (which basically means it takes longer than average for words to sink in) c) because it takes longer for words to sink in I’m still thinking about the first part you said so I’ve totally missed the second, and d) I don’t understand what you’re saying because of a), b) and c). Of course, usually when I have to explain that, I either forget what I’m saying half way through or said person gets bored and cuts me off midspiel by saying something completely dismissive like: ‘oh, that happens to me all the time’.
And believe me, having someone who has never had a brain injury tell you that they / their mother/ father / dog / most people they know have trouble understanding what folk are saying, is a bit like being vegan for seventeen years then having some clown who recently gave up red meat and dairy (‘except cheese’) tell you they are ‘basically vegan’ too.
When I first came out to my family more than a decade ago, my mother shrieked then promptly blamed the serious blow to the head that I’d received when I was just fourteen:
‘You’re confused!’ she’d cried. ‘And you’re vulnerable because of all the traumas you’ve had in your life. And it’s not doing you any favours hanging around with all those gay people.’
She swiftly followed this up by asking if I’d now slept with women as well as men, and when I didn’t answer (largely due to embarrassment, because sex was something we’d never talked about), she decided to take this as a no, and therefore proof that I was going through ‘a phase’.
Even now, at the age of thirty-six and a quarter, I find it difficult to discuss my romantic relationships with her, and as a result I’ve experienced a wall of barely concealed resentment gradually piling up between us. Of course, she was right about one thing: it’s quite normal to have emotional and social problems after a brain injury; and so it was no surprise that I found myself regarded with suspicion (and sometimes ridicule), by the wonderful and mysterious lesbian peers that I set out to know.
Frankly, I was desperate to find a girl and fall in love – I wanted moonlight-and-roses, candlelit dinners, fireworks, serenades, and one of those kiss-in-the-rain-endings that you see in old movies; I didn’t just want a romance, no, I wanted a full-blown courtship, but for some reason the girls I met found flowers on a first date inappropriate, and were expecting cunnilingus by at least the second. I wore the term ‘romantic’ like a shiny gold star badge; and in my head, sex was supposed to equal love, and love meant wooing and waiting until they told you that you were ‘the one’, before sweeping them off their feet and into bed. In saying that, a night spent nauseously in a gay bar, jaded with alcohol, and loneliness, and the frustration that I was somehow detached from everyone else and was looking for something that did not exist, was enough for me to temporarily throw chastity to the wind.
When I broke up with the partner I was with before I met Antonia, my whole romantic reverie fell apart spectacularly; and I spent nine months feeling like I wanted to rip my own stupid pulsating heart from my chest and hurl it full force into a spiral slipstream. Every ballad I heard, every dreamy handholding couple I glimpsed on the street, made my insides jerk and my eyes sting. Because even though it was me who had ended the relationship with my ex – I’ll call her Fanny Adams because sweet FA was precisely what I got out of that relationship, and because it softens the blow a little to give her a ridiculous name – I could not stop thinking about her.
I had finally realized that love – albeit it wonderful and warm and fuzzy, like a cotton blanket you want to stay wrapped up in forever – could also be a viper that squeezes and constricts and then turns on you with sharp plunging teeth.
If there had been an on-off switch for my emotions, then I would have jammed it permanently, so that I never again felt that tightening of my chest or the dryness in my throat, when I saw her grinning back at me from photographs we’d posed for, or heard a song on the radio that we had allocated as ‘ours’.
And it didn’t seem to matter how many times I poked and prodded at the corpse of our relationship, for I could not erase the lies she’d told or understand exactly how I’d gotten myself so entangled in her mind games in the first place.
Because the truth was I never in love with her. And right from the start I was suspicious of almost everything she said. But I was also blindly optimistic and I was clinging so badly to this stereotype of what I wanted love to be.
I fell in love with Antonia because she was everything Fanny Adams wasn’t: she moved to Scotland for me; she became vegan for me; and once, during a particularly stressful road trip, she told my mother a few belated hometruths for me.
It just goes to show how much your ideas regarding matters of the heart can change.
The other day I had an idea for a short story about a married lesbian power couple who are also superheroes: one is an angel from a upperclass heavenly family who likes wearing black, and the other is a water-pistol-toting phoenix with an intense fear of cats. Their names are Victory and Amber Rose and they have two children, Celeste ( four) and Jesse-James (six).
The angel, I’ve decided, is based on Antonia, although I might make her blonde. The phoenix is a very loose depiction of myself – with flaming red hair obviously, plus she’s a lot more kickass.
I suppose rewriting myself as a regenerating mythical firebird is quite fitting when you think of it – I mean I am a firesign after all, and I have had copper and gold highlights through my hair a few times; and there’s also that whole reborn-at-the-age-of-fourteen-and-cant-remember-my-past stuff. I’m rather excited by the prospect of creating a mighty me on the page, who is probably going to end up being just as ridiculous as the real me, but with better biceps and the ability to juggle poi.
I’ve already started to imagine several conversations between Victory and Amber and their brood. In fact, I think their dinner dialogue might go something along the lines of this:
JJ: Mums, can I get a mohawk?
Celeste: I would like a Tweetie Pie bird.
JJ: Mums, can I?
Amber: (Grinning at Victory) I think that would be incredibly cute.
Victory: (Horrified) Over my dead body.
Amber: Where were you buried again, sweetheart?
JJ: So… can I?
JJ: (Looks at Amber) But you said…
Amber: Your mother said no.
Celeste: What about my Tweetie Pie?
Victory: Both of you be quiet and eat your tofu nuggets.
JJ: (Under his breath) Tofu is gay.
Amber: What did you say, mister?
Jesse, go to your nest, right now.
JJ: Aww but…
Amber: And what is so funny, Madame?
Celeste: Jesse J is gay. (Finds this hysterical)
Victory: You can leave the table too, Celeste.
After the children are gone Amber and Celeste clear the table together and then sit hugging on the sofa.
Amber: Ugh, remind me again why we had kids?
Victory: (Smiles and ruffles her wife’s feathers) What for? You’ll only forget in the next incarnation.
Amber: (Sighs) One of us needs to have a word with our son about the use of the G-A-Y word.
Victory: Be my guest.
Amber: Aww but… can’t you…
Victory: Honey, I’ve got three guardian reports to write; Touched By An Angel is on in half an hour; and I want to stretch my wings at some point this evening…
Amber pouts. Fade to black.
I can’t decide where to set this story. I was thinking Edinbugh or Brighton perhaps. Antonia, between sips of tea and reading a fantasy novel, interjects to say that I should create a whole imaginary city.
I think she should be quiet and paint me a picture of two gorgeous winged ladies in a naked embrace… I think that would be a very inspiring visual image to work with… I tell her this. She ignores me and goes back to her book.