Hayley

The only woman I’ve ever really viscerally wanted to be is singer-songwriter, Paramore frontwoman and ‘hair dye tycoon’ Hayley Williams. And that’s not a thing borne out of fandom, especially, though I have come to appreciate her work in recent years. It’s because part of me resonates so keenly with her, in a way I can’t really explain. Part of me believes I could have been her – should have been – if only, if only I hadn’t failed at being, in all the necessary ways.

When I was younger I was downright jealous of her, and I masked it with disdain. But I was the one who was scared to sing. I was the one who was scared to be in community. I was the failure, and I knew I had no right to criticise her, so the disdain ate at me, and wouldn’t let me forget it.

As I grew older and wiser, I let myself admit that I even enjoyed Paramore a bit. But they remained a ‘guilty’ pleasure. I didn’t want anyone to know I listened to them, and any time I did, which wasn’t often, I felt oddly on display. Who can hear this and what must they think!? As if anyone would think anything at all.

Her solo material was what let me reconcile my complicated feelings about her. We have some important similarities. We’ve had some importantly similar experiences in our lives. We have similar faultlines. We’ve learned similar lessons. But through that and despite it, she was able to continue becoming the success that she is and deserves to be. And I…well I never even seemed to begin. I had been holding that against myself, and she, most than most, reminded me.

What were the differences between us that led to our divergent paths through life, even as we traversed similar terrain? How was she able to build and maintain a fulfilling career, while every avenue I even thought of pursuing collapsed around me in short order? Why could she sing and I couldn’t? Why could she integrate and I couldn’t? We were both in pain, so my pain wasn’t the reason. How could she do it, and do it so well, and I couldn’t do it at all?

Well, there are very good explanations, of course. But that’s another tale.

Child’s Pose

For a long time, there has been this small, tight, red hot ball of rage living inside me, that mostly I don’t go anywhere near. But, every so often, a person who knows exactly how to stoke it will come along with their stick and reduce me to an impotent, sweaty, seething puddle, helplessly burning for a reason I can’t quite pull free.

It’s primal. It’s about survival. It’s incredibly discriminating in its reactivity. It rears up only when, if I don’t rage, I fear I may die from the pain. Because, I’m fairly sure, that pain has nearly killed me before.

The other day, they came along with their stick, although this time they weren’t actually trying to prod me; it was accidental. And my son happened to be standing in front of me waving his hands, saying silly stuff, trying to get my attention, while my brain was frantically trying to process this accidental activation.

The moment my son broke through my stupor, I jumped up, shook my head and said “I’m sorry, I can’t…I can’t…I need a few minutes,” holding my hands up in despairing puzzlement and giving him a useless, apologetic look before walking away.

And as I walked away, gaining a safe distance, the rage ignited, and I stomped my feet as I raced to the bathroom, as far as I could get away from my son. And I closed the door and I banged my palms on the toilet seat a few times, and I collapsed into child’s pose on the cold tile floor.

My son followed not long after, and flung the door open laughing at me, and I said “stop!”, raising my hand as a pitiful stop sign and making firm yet pleading eye contact. And he stopped, mildly bemused.

After maybe ten seconds of my heavy breathing, in child’s pose, on the floor, he sensed the shift as much as I did, and deemed it time to enter. I apologised for my strange, abrupt behaviour, explaining I’d gotten a difficult message that I was struggling to figure out, and my brain had gotten overloaded by all the noise and waving. I was okay now though.

And then we got on with our day. And I can’t say I was at my best, but I’m pretty sure I was good enough.

In these moments, I’m inclined to feel like a failure, because surely I should be able to smile at that silly stick and wave it off. But maybe some barefoot stomping and accidental yoga in front of your 4 year old is what success looks like when you’re living with trauma.

Mitigation

I am attention grabbing by nature.

I’m tall and ‘attractive’, to kick things off. I like to wear bright colours, and items that would generally be considered statements. I have big eyes, and I use them extensively. My walk is more of a dance to the music, and I’m often grinning for no good reason. I might be singing. I’m very expressive, and I like to exhibit myself. I am inclined to obliviously defy hierarchy. I interrupt excitedly because I already know how the sentence ends and it’s given me an idea. I gesticulate profusely. Once I start talking, most people label me intelligent. My opinions are usually outlandish, complex and challenging.

Except, most of the time, if you actually see me, I’m not sure you’d notice me doing any of this stuff. Because, whilst I read that description and like this person already, I have invested a great deal into mitigating all of it in myself. Ashamedly shirking the attention my traits would have me grab. Mitigating my nature. Not because I don’t like me, and, looking back on it, not because other people don’t like me either. Just because I never knew how to handle the attention, or the effect I had on other people.

Quite a long time ago, I stopped wearing makeup. I stopped wearing colours. I stopped talking unless someone expressly asked me to. And, to this day, I’m almost constantly monitoring my own behaviour when out in public.

I’ve been working to undo a lot of my acts of self-diminishment, but they’re fucking engrained little fuckers. I’m not sure I’ll ever be complete.

I was walking to the shop earlier. I had my music loud and no-one was around. Life was good. And then, at some point, I spotted a guy headed my way. And I toned down my swagger, lest it be too noticeable to him. Lest it cause him to make comment. Lest I leave an impression.

Later, when I was walking down the high street, there were suddenly lots of people around, so I suppressed my joyful glee at being alive and moving, lest I cause someone to question it – be that outwardly or inwardly. Lest my defiant difference make somebody uncomfortable.

When I catch myself, I try to reverse it, because it’s stupid and unhelpful. But the effort is lacking. It’s like I’m faking the thing that I stifled that was so authentically me.

We must all do this; we must. It can’t just be me. But we mustn’t do this. We mustn’t. The world needs us to be more, not less.

Paid dues

I think I’ve made a decision.

It’s a decision I’ve made a bunch of times before, and then gone back on. But I think – finally – life has lovingly, firmly, backed me into a corner. There really is just no weaseling out of it now. If I don’t make this decision now, I’m categorically doing myself a disservice. Trapping myself in a life I don’t want. Denying myself a chance at what I do want.

And honestly, at this point, if I don’t make this decision, I don’t know what other decision I could possibly make in its place. So. Here we are.

The thing that has been holding me back most utterly is self-doubt. A lack of trust in my own ability to execute. A fear that all I’m good at these days is floating through the nebula. A fear that I’ve lost my agency. That my try is too atrophied to function. That, if someone won’t tell me what to do, I simply won’t do a thing.

Part of me is still succumbed to the track that broke me a few years ago, that I’ve been trying to undo the damage of ever since: That I’m doomed and defective. Doomed because of my defect. Undeserving of the life I desire but, what’s more, fundamentally incapable of it. It’s a track I had been playing in my head for all of my young life, until a personal cataclysm split the Universe in two and The Truth spilled out of the cavity. But before I could erase the last corrosive traces from my being, a man I loved and trusted whispered it back into me in my most vulnerable moments. My mistake to listen. My lesson to learn. I’ve been paying for it ever since.

How long will I keep paying for it?

When will I, instead, start paying myself?

Hospitable to gastropods

I’m pretty sure there is a slug living in my bedroom.

Slugs used to visit my bedroom through a crack in the skirting board. For a long time I didn’t realise because my dresser was there and hid their shiny trails, keeping their secret. But one day I rearranged my furniture, and their slimy nights of debauchery were exposed.

I plugged up the hole.

That was about a year ago. But sometimes I still find a trail that cannot be explained. At first I thought maybe I’m just disgusting enough to have not noticed and therefore not cleaned up the trail prior to the point of discovery. But that explanation became less and less likely as time wore on. I was suspicious, but I checked all the hiding places I could think of that a slug may be hunkered down in, and nothing. I also double checked my plugging handiwork, and searched for any similar points of entry. Nought to report. So I went about my life as usual.

But then, the other day, I put my glasses on, and my vision got blurrier. Because a fucking slug had smeared its mite-infested foot all over the fuckers.

The thing I most dislike about the recurring mystery trails is that they are localised around my bed. I’ve never found any trails on my bed, but they’re always near. And I never find them leading anywhere. So I’m sort of worried there is a slug living under my bed that, for whatever reason, keeps eluding me.

The thing I second most dislike about the recurring mystery trails is that they suggest a slug has been surviving in my bedroom for an extended period of time. Now there is an abundant supply of paper, but the lack of munch marks on the pile of books by my bed suggest the offender has an alternative source of food it finds more…palatable.

...’hospitable to gastropods’ is not the tagline I aspire to for my sleeping area.