Me, first

{Please note: I refer to the team of young people I worked with over the summer as ‘Reiss’, due to privacy and safeguarding I do not include their names}

* * *

Summer 2017 has been unforgettable, in the best and the worst ways. Memories of writing by the cobwebbed balcony of my flat, in time snatched between working and everything else. Here I feel closer to the sky. The last week of the summer programme ran painfully slow at times, and others so fast my inner world was gasping for breath. Reiss went on sponsored walks and catwalks and volunteered with STOLL (a charity that provide housing and support services for veterans as they transition back into mainstream society). On one day they designed a campaign to raise awareness for the charity and on another they danced with the veterans in Richmond park and brought crisps and quiche and juice. Reiss shared slang with the vets and by the end of the day they were saying words like ‘peng ting’ and ‘my G’. Their worlds collided on a canvas of new time and war time as they two stepped to Stormzy and Wham, enveloped in dewy green grass. There were wheelchairs and crutches, blue hair and no hair in a cinematic chakra wheel. We followed baby deer through mazes of trees and as we walked back to our picnic blanket the girls and I listed all the Disney tapes we had on VHS. Tapes. I think to myself. Cassette. Recording. Tarot. Reading. Damn.

I remember an Angel reading I had years ago at my favourite shop in Greenwich. Before it began the dark haired lady asked if I would like to record it, and I say ‘yes, of course.’ And later realise that I have no cassette player to listen to it on. To this day it waits for me in the drawer in the kitchen. We sing the birthday girl happy birthday, pack up and return to our host venue. Reiss go home and staff stay behind to speak logistics and plans for the next day. The sun is still burning and I walk to the station tired and hungry and fatigued, there are delays on my train and I am still feeling weak and I am far too tired to cook. But I am grateful because life, as tasty and bitter as it is, is keeping a fire in my belly and I find this so seductive.

Days after I am in the clouds with my brother on a complimentary trip to Albufeira, our first time outside of the UK together since we were torn apart by Spain. The next day I watch him swim in the sea as if he has fins, he is so natural in the water. We took the Liana boat (before we got on the boat my stomach was feeling funny) through the choppy Barlavento coast and watched waves silently on the upper deck. The mood changed on the boat and everybody gathered at the tip and around the edges. Dolphins. Big, beautiful, chirpy dolphins. I have never seen dolphins before. ‘Look Luca, dolphins,’ I say. I take out my phone and they slip back into the water. I snap their backs and my phone says ‘storage full’, I breeze through my camera roll trying to delete pictures, trying not to drop me or my phone in the ocean. They come back but my phone isn’t ready and then it is ready and then they are gone again and they carry on teasing me for some minutes more. Maybe not all moments are supposed to be frozen behind a lens, maybe if I am still enough they will move through me, hold me, change me. I go downstairs to get some water, lucky for me the boat had a toilet for me to be sick in.

We skittered onto a smaller boat with several other people on the tour and rode through the most beautiful caves I have ever seen. Caves the colour of lion eyes with openings that weep water and sand. We settle on the beach for lunch and it is only us here. I lay on my towel while the sun kisses my shoulders, the back of my thigh and every other place I like to be kissed. Children chase seagulls, a young man follows his woman into the darkest corner of the beach, and they fade to silhouette. I don’t know what goes on in their worlds, but I know right now is perfect. Right now there are sandcastles with petals and seashells and it is so beautiful to see happy. There is a rock in the sea just like the little mermaids, I go into the water to touch it except the waves do not dance around me under the warm glow of the sun, the waves throw me and the rock cuts me and I stagger back on to the shore giggling. The air is sweeter in Albufeira.

Later on in the apartment I play cheesy songs and say ‘dance, Luca.’ He looks sad most of the time, but when he dances, he is the rhythm and the rhythm is magic and magic is all that exists…when he dances. And I wish and wish for those moments instead of being fleeting, to be like a thread on a spindle and turns and turns and never ends.

The next day we visited the water park, I’m a punk when it comes to rides, I was so cold my jaw was shaking but I enjoyed it so much more than I imagined. On the last day we packed our bags and went to São Rafael beach. We ate lunch on a terrace framed inside a cinematic view of the glittery agate ocean. A dark skinned Portuguese man asked me what I would like to eat and I imagined him carrying me naked into the same sea under the moonlight. Too soon after we were on our transfer to the airport and I lean my head against the window and watch it all. We drove past an area that was painted all white and I wonder how it stays ivory, how does it weather storms without looking lived in? On the motorway I remember a huge road sign to Faro. I imagine how crazy stupid it would be to go on a road trip in a car filled to the brim with the people I love. Singing and laughing as we lose our voices.

Hours after I look in the mirror and admire my new complexion in the plane toilets, the sun has left me love bites. Tonight I am one of the stars flying through the black sky that I watch in yearning in my living room. London looks like a fairytale when we hover so high above it. When we return we watch Moana and it is as if I am in a new world. Her Grandmother sings to her and I imagine she is my mother singing to me;

The people you love will change you, the things you have learned will guide you, and nothing on earth can silence, the quiet voice still inside you, and when that voice starts to whisper, Nadège, you’ve come so far. Nadège listen, do you know who you are?

I relate so deeply with Moana. Her island mirrors the island my family are from; waterfalls, diamond seas, volcanoes. Te Fiti is like Jade mountain. The film is ending and work is calling, a bird flies through the sky. I see you, God. The thought of going back to work is painful and I have the deepest desire to ditch my safety net and just leap into something new. Security is one of the most paralysing fantasies to believe in.

* * *

September brings in new term provisions, a new schedule and a new student. I am enjoying relaxing into my fridays and on saturdays and sundays it feels foreign to be home. No more traipsing to West London every weekend to sleep twisted on a couch and wake up heavy eyed to work the morning shift. I know the world is in love with summer, but there is something so enchanting to me about Autumn. When leaves fall like golden charms from trees, the crunching sound they make when they are crisp and dry. The trees are gold and the air is glowing, Autumn feels like the promise of something better.

I have decided to cut meat out of my diet. For the life of me I can’t figure out why I have been getting so sick but something needs to shift, and here is where I can start.  Maybe it will last a month, maybe it will last a lifetime. Honestly, I don’t know the first thing about the science or academics behind it, I just know that when I eat meat I feel fatigued, sluggish, lethargic. When I eat veggies I feel energised, light, I look more vibrant and I don’t throw up. I have been making things like sweet potato mash, banana bread, chickpea curry, lentil soup. Everyday I boil ginger and bay leaves, I drink it with squeezed lemon and honey (this I have been doing for years) and lots and lots and lots of fruit: mango, grape, clementine, banana, fig, watermelon. I have wanted to be in control in this area for so long and I had buried myself behind the excuse of financial instability and the fear of remaining skinny. I have been consciously choosing what I eat for over a month now. I am feeling and looking better, I am putting me, first, I am seeing this through and for the first time in a long time I am so fucking proud of myself.

I have been insecure about my weight since I started school and learned that I was ‘skinny.’ I have had men so kindly approach me in the street and tell me to ‘eat some fucking food’ which has laced my insecurity with an added layer of shame (especially during times when I have little money). Cutting out meat has meant working harder to gain weight, there is no cheating this way. But right now my desire to be healthy is one hundred thousand times bigger than my insecurity and I am feeling so much more comfortable in my own skin. I am looking forward to experimenting with more dishes and to have my spirits lifted by more fruits. These days there is something about the messy me that I am falling in love with, the not so perfect outfits, my cousins oversized hoody that is too long for my arms, the tiny hole in my jumper, the mole on my chin and my head on fire with curls. I am warm and cosy and comfortable and me and it feels so so good. And when I think of it I realise that I have become so accustomed to falling, now it is time to fly.