Hello my lovely readers! For today’s blog post, I have collaborated with another amazing artist on a short story. For those of you unfamiliar with this project, I have been teaming up wit artists and photographers from all over the world. I write a story or poem inspired by their artistic style and body of work and they in turn create a piece inspired by that story. The idea is to inspire and be inspired in return and so far it has had some wonderful results. For this collaboration, I have teamed up with the lovely Tula Posy, a book illustrator and crafter from Poland. Tula creates the most beautiful and unique images, which she sells as prints in her shop, along with badass book marks (all my fellow book worms will understand the importance of a pretty book mark). If you love her quirky art as much as I do, you can check out her Instagram here and her Etsy store here. I hope you enjoy it, happy reading…
Magic is real. There are many books and stories which declare this already in existence, but I am now adding my voice to theirs in order to emphasise the fact: Magic IS real. On the most part, it is something you are born into, something you inherit like an old clock from that Great Aunt you hardly visited, or your Grandad’s rare coin collection. But, on the occasion, magic can be something you stumble upon blindly and without any warning. Magic can simply enter your life and cause chaos, before leaving just as abruptly and mysteriously. But before we get into all of that, let me introduce myself. My name is Eleanor.
Before this little incident, I was just your average teenager. I was anti-social, a little moody, or perhaps a lot moody, and I pretty much hated everything. My school was simply a red bricked prison for the illiterate hockey jocks that filled its corridors with incessant noise and inane chatter. My home was a veritable battle ground, with me versus my parents in a verbal smack down on an almost daily basis. They couldn’t understand why I was so irritable all the time, or why I wouldn’t try out for the cheerleading team. I couldn’t understand how spelling letters with your arms could be considered anything but a huge waste of time. It was, in a word, exhausting.
The truth was, I hadn’t withdrawn from everyone because I woke up one day and decided I disliked every other human being on the planet intently, it was because I had all of a sudden and without explanation become painfully aware of myself and my own body, and I was constantly terrified of embarrassing myself. I suddenly gave a crap what everyone else thought about me, and I hated that about myself. I hated ME. I decided, it was better to withdraw and surrender, than to battle forth and risk humiliation. So, I did just that. I withdrew and became invisible. I discovered that disappearing was a hidden talent of mine. I was an expert at blending into the background.
But on one stuffy, June day, that all changed forever. It was a day like any other to begin with. Wake up. Brush teeth. Change clothes. Catch bus to school. Avoid eye contact with the popular kids with their tanned skin and overly white, bleached smiles as I make my way to the back, well you get the idea. At lunch, there was to be a sale of sorts, to raise funds for new Basketball team uniforms, or for some extra footballs, or something along those lines, I really wasn’t paying attention. There would be baked goods of all varieties, made lovingly by the cheerleading team, or more accurately their house keepers. There was to be some kind of skit by said cheerleaders, to be avoided at all costs, the band were playing something and they were selling off everything from the vast and cobwebbed store room.
You know how every house has that one drawer filled with old batteries, foreign currency and Chinese takeout menus? Well, this was the High School equivalent. Everything and anything that was located within its walls, which had no designated place to go, was shoved in here to be forgotten. There were old instruments, damaged text books, chairs with missing limbs, and the lost property cupboard, filled with every discarded school jersey or dropped hair tie. I didn’t know what I expected to find, or if I expected to find anything at all, but I found myself excited by the prospect of this sale. It would be, in my view, an opportunity to see the school from a different vantage point. After all, what says more about the person than the garbage they throw away? It was a time capsule or fifty years’ worth of teenager’s junk, and I wanted to have a hoke and see what forgotten treasure I could find.
I regretted my decision to attend almost immediately. Everyone in the school had crammed themselves into the sports hall. It was too warm, claustrophobically crowded and smelled badly of BO. But, I was there, so I might as well do what I went there for. I passed the cake stand and paid one dollar for a cup cake with a large dollop of pink icing. It was sickly sweet and made my teeth hurt whilst I ate it, but it gave me the necessary sugar buzz to carry on with my mission. When the skit started (some God-awful footballer/cheerleader/basketball player love triangle which made me vomit a little bit of undigested cupcake back into my mouth), most of the school moved to the end of the hall with the makeshift stage, so I finally felt able to breathe.
When I made my way to the sad little lost property stand, marked by a banner reading ‘Crap for sale’, something immediately caught my eye. Just there, underneath a very faded school PE t-shirt with yellow stained arm pits, and a tattered copy of a Biology text book, I saw something green catch the light for a moment. A diamond in the rough, the very rough. It was a necklace, but one unlike anything I had ever seen before. It was a black chain, with a single green stone hanging from it. The stone was not polished or shaped but looked as it must have looked when it was dug from the earth, and a thin black snake coiled around the stone and became the loop at the top in which the chain threaded through. As it caught the light, it reflected a small green blur onto the table below. It wasn’t beautiful exactly, just unusual and a little rough around the edges. I immediately took a liking to it and paid the requested five dollars without argument.
Now, as you have guessed from my opening lines, this necklace was no ordinary trinket. I don’t know how it came to be in the lost property box, or where it came from. I don’t know how old it is, who it belonged to or why the owner never sought it out once it was lost. So, if you are looking for the answers to these questions then you will be sorely disappointed. What I can tell you, is what the necklace does.
The first time I wore it, I was home alone with my Dad, a man older in mind than in body, who shouted at sports on TV and insisted on wearing socks with his sandals no matter how many times he was told how unfashionable this was.
My Dad calls me Elly. It bugs the Hell out of me and is the cause of many a fight.
“Could you take the garbage out please?”
“No buts missy. If you want your allowance, you’ll take out the garbage. And don’t forget to sort the recyclables.”
This is a typical example of our exchanges. Blunt, brief and usually involving me doing something I don’t want to do. I walked, or should I say stomped, my way down the stairs and out into the garage to do the needful when he spoke again.
“I’ve gained at least twenty pounds.”
“Did you say something?”
“No, I didn’t. Don’t try and wriggle out of garbage duty Missy.”
He called me Missy when he was in a bad mood. This also irritated me greatly. I was halfway across the kitchen now, closing in on the door to the garage when…
“Twenty pounds at least. I can barely get my pants closed. I’ve tried everything, weight lifting, dieting, even running but nothing, nada. You’re old and fat Carl. Old and fat.”
I had never heard my Dad talk like this before. He mostly talked about work, or whatever team in whatever sport was playing at that time, but I had never heard him talk about himself or his appearance. He sounded sad. I decided he must be talking to himself, the way we all do when we feel a little low, so I snuck into the living room and hid behind the arm chair so I could listen.
“Keep going like this and Jen won’t look twice at you anymore. She’s so beautiful, she’s always been beautiful. She could have had any man, but she chose me and my fat ass.”
Jen is my mum, and she is indeed beautiful in that older woman kind of way. She has always eaten well, always drank plenty of water and worn sun screen, and so she aged gracefully. But no matter how pretty your mum might be, you don’t want to hear your Dad gushing about it. Parents fancying each other is gross. I was about to sneak off again, when I my breath caught in my chest and my heart skipped at least three beats, because suddenly I realised as my Father continued on about his appearance and his concerns about my Mum not fancying him anymore (eugh), I realised his mouth wasn’t moving. I checked and rechecked again and confirmed it. He was NOT speaking. No words were being shouted, spoken, whispered or otherwise uttered. But that’s impossible I hear you say, because I could hear him speaking as plainly as I speak to you now, but dear readers it was true. For what I was hearing was not my Dad talking to himself, but the very thoughts inside his head. In five minutes of hearing my Dad ‘s mind whirling, I learned more about him than I had done in sixteen years of living with the man. I learned that he had been privately going to the gym with a personal trainer, how he had traded his old musky aftershave for a new one he had seen advertised by a twenty something hipster on TV in an effort to appear younger, and how he was considering dying his hair to hide the ever-growing number of greys.
My Dad had always seemed happy enough in himself, but apparently, he worried about his appearance just as much as his self-conscious teenage daughter. This made me feel a connection with him for the first time since I had stopped wanting to play catch with him at six years old.
The truth was, my Dad looked great for his age, and much as I loathed to admit it, my mum was still pretty into him. I wanted him to know this, to feel better about himself. So after my garbage run, and mild freak out in my bedroom over my new found ability to read minds, I did just that.
“Have you lost weight Dad?”
“What? Have I?”
“Yeah, definitely. I would say at least ten pounds. You look good.”
“Ok, what do you want?”
“I don’t want anything, I just noticed that’s all.”
“Yes! That PT finally paid off!”
For the rest of the day, he walked with a distinct spring in his step, and I even saw him grab my Mum’s butt. Yes, it made me vomit in my own mouth, and yes I will be telling a therapist about it for years to come, but it was nice to see him feeling more confident in himself.
After my little episode with my Father, I couldn’t wait to try the necklace out at school. As someone on the outside, someone who was not privy to the thoughts and motivations of the inner echelon of High school popularity, it was an intriguing prospect to in a way know them, and perhaps understand them. I felt like Jane Goodall, readying myself to study the apes. But in truth, what met me was such a cacophony of noise, a mass of bodiless voices all yelling at once, it was basically white noise. As I ripped the jewel from my throat, I could understand why someone never claimed the charm. It seems the necklace has no filter. There was no remote, no way to point at the person you wanted to read and press click, it was simply an antenna, picking up every signal within a 100 metre radius. It was deafening.
Taking a different tact, I began to seek out opportunities to study my peers in isolation, or at least with as few of them around as possible. As you can imagine, that was more difficult that initially thought. We humans tend to be a social bunch, and the cliques within my school have long been established. It was as if even the most popular amongst us sought the security of a group or crowd. Even the loners and oddballs like me had our own little groups for support, misery after all does love company. But after a week of trying unsuccessfully, and weirding several students out, I finally managed it.
It was a warm and humid Wednesday, and whilst most of the school poured out into the yard and playing fields, I sought the quiet of the library. There were few people there, and I took the opportunity to put the necklace on, and walk amongst the stacks, studying the occupants of the room like the books on the shelves. Much of what I overheard was relatively unremarkable. The librarian, Mrs Cooper, a friendly faced elderly woman who smelled of soap and wore her gold rimmed glasses on a chain around her neck, was making a mental shopping list of what to purchase from the store after school. Apart from hearing she suffers from haemorrhoids, I learned nothing there. There was a boy called Ben, whose last name escapes me, from a year or two below me. He was working out the math problem before him with a level of intensity reserved for nuclear physicists on the brink of fission. There was Sarah Caplin, the mousey band girl who constantly ate her own hair, thinking about whether Joshua Elliot, the violinist to her double bass, fancied her as much as she fancied him (I made a mental note to try and find out) and finally Thomas Rodgers, a stoner and constant class disrupter, who seemed to be singing Nirvana in between debating whether he should ‘get the band back together.’ All in all, rather slim pickings and not the insights I had been hoping to discover.
Then he appeared. Matt Johnston, the school quarterback, boyfriend of the head cheerleader, most popular boy in school and all-round heart throb. He wasn’t really my type, all brawn and no brains, but I could see his appeal with his strong jaw and dark eyes. He reminds me of the members of those boybands, singing inane songs about falling in love and breaking up. I was surprised to find him in there, he didn’t strike me as the bookish type, and frankly the fact that he knew where the library actually was made him stand out from his thick-headed peers. He chose the farthest corner of the library, placing his books on the table in front of him and immediately clasped his head in his hands while he read, as if the written word instantly gave him a headache. I put the necklace on and shuffled over to the stack nearest to him. He didn’t even notice me, nothing new there then.
“Come on, concentrate. You can do this. It’s just Maths for God’s sake. Focus and keep your eye on the prize.”
Eugh, even his mind thought in motivational sports expressions. But then something changed, a noticeable shift. He became upset. The voice inside his own head changed, almost breaking, increasing in volume until it must have been bouncing and echoing around inside his own skull. Even outwardly, his body language shifted, from nonchalant coolness to awkward and sad.
“Why are you so stupid? Why can’t you do the simplest things? You fail this and you’re off the team. No football, no college, no escae from this crappy town. You’re worthless, worthless.”
I had always looked at that group with a sort of cool headed detachment. They were nothing like me. They had everything handed to them, no effort required. They were beautiful and popular and everyone loved them. I was awkward in my own body and no one noticed me. They were getting a free pass through life while the rest of us struggled on. It had never occurred to me, not even once, that they would worry about the same things I did, like failing a class or not getting to leave and explore the world. Well, what could I do? I went over to him (unthinkable I know) and asked if he needed a study buddy. I gave him some BS about struggling with that particular part of the curriculum (I actually rock at maths) and before you knew it we were chatting and laughing and getting along fine. Then he surprised me.
“Why are you helping me?”
“Because that’s what you’re supposed to do, help each other.”
“But I’ve never even spoken to you before, my friends and I, well we, we…”
“You run in different circles?”
“I was going to say we’re dicks.”
“Oh, well, yeah I suppose you can be.” I laughed at his honesty.
“Well, I’m sorry.”
“How have I never noticed this girl before? She’s so funny and smart and beautiful.”
Beautiful? I nearly died right in front of him. I never thought of myself that way and to hear someone who looked like he belonged in a Sports Illustrated say that about me, well think it at least, well I’m not ashamed to say it put one hell of a spring in my step. After that, we would meet twice a week for study in the library and when we passed in the halls he would say hello, stop and chat with me. I hate that it took someone else to make me feel a little more confident in myself, because truthfully nothing changed. I wore the same clothes, I had the same hair style, but I just stopped beating myself up as much. I was a little more at ease with myself, not just because someone said I was beautiful, but because I realised I wasn’t the only one putting myself down all the time and more importantly I realised how stupid this mental self-harm was. No one is a harsher critic about you than yourself. You are inherently biased. You only see the bad and ignore the good. I know now that we all do it. Even the most beautiful people I know hate something about themselves, despite me and everyone else thinking their perfect. Why do it? Why beat yourself up so much over things that don’t matter anyway? I know it’s easier said than done and I still find myself doing it sometimes but try to remember that happiness doesn’t come from a bottle of hair dye or a cosmetic store, it comes from within. Cheesy, but true.
Every section of the school, every student, from every walk of life, had something they hated about themselves, something they worried about and stressed over until they felt sick. There was the cheerleader I found crying in the bathroom, who genuinely believed all she had going for her was her looks, so instead of trying to expand or improve other areas like her intellect or skills, she focused entirely on retaining an impossible standard of beauty resulting in an eating disorder. She is now in our study group. There was the smartest kid in school, the one everyone just expected to go to Harvard and become some big shot lawyer, but whose parents put so much pressure on him to perform, he was driving himself into the ground. He had no fun, no life, no friends, just his books and his exams. We met for coffee last week and side note, I kind of like him, as in like like, but that’s another story.
I heard people fretting over their appearance, the fact that they couldn’t afford the latest clothes designated as cool by magazines and bloggers, the zits on their face or the weight they put on over the summer. I heard them panic about exams and job prospects, even though they were just sixteen. I heard them get upset about teachers who pushed them too hard and I heard the teachers worry about their car payments or letting their students down. I realised in just a few short months, that every one, no matter how old they were or where they came from, was dealing with their own crap, their own issues and I realised what a difference I could make in people’s lives with the smallest and simplest of gestures.
So, now I come to the moral of the tale, my reason for telling you this longwinded story, the message to take home with you. Be kind. That’s it, just two words, but what an impact those two words can have on a person. Everyone you see is fighting their own internal battle so, be kind to them. Everyone feels lonely sometimes, so befriend them, or just say hi and let them know they aren’t alone. Everyone falls down sometimes, so help them up. This isn’t rocket science, it isn’t some magic formula or spell to cast, or complicated process, it’s as simple as helping them carry their groceries or giving them an old coat or blanket. And when you are kind to people, you find they are kind in return and not just to you, but to others. They pay it forward because they want someone else to experience what they have. And the best part? It makes you feel better about yourself. You hold your heard up higher, you smile a little brighter, because you know that in some small way, you have made a difference in someone’s life. Confidence shouldn’t be entrenched in how thin you are, or whether a boy thinks you’re pretty, it should come from knowing you give a damn about others as much as you do yourself, in knowing that you are kind.
The necklace disappeared one day. I know I had set it on my dressing table in the exact same spot I always did, but when I went to retrieve it, it was gone. I never saw it again or worked out where or how it disappeared, but I had this feeling that it had done what it needed to do with me and had moved on to someone else. I’m ok with that because I know now that kindness is the most powerful magic of all.