Issue 1: The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter

For our first issue we chose to tell personal accounts of heart-break, bust-ups, and hook-ups, all matters pertaining to the heart with a loan of Carson McCullers's title, The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter. With writing from Maeve Higgins, Daniel Gray, Neil Watkins, Elske Rahill, Eithne Shortall, Niall ByrneBrian HerronRoisin Agnew, and Laurence Mackin. You can find a copy of Guts 1 at one of our Dublin / Hamberg / Amsterdam stockists or you can head over to our online store.

Roisin Agnew | Editor's Foreword

A podcast I listen to did a segment about organ donation. They talked to women in charge of getting people to become donors over the phone. As part of their job these women were trained to tell stories that would persuade people to become donors. 

There was the inspiring story of a woman who had succeeded in climbing Mount Kilimanjaro on a donated heart. Nil points. Mystified, the women kept relaying true stories in the hope of finding the perfect bait. They peppered the phone calls with words like ‘awesome’, ‘cool’, and ‘really neat’. And eventually they discovered that one of the stories that worked best was about freckles. A woman who had lost her sight could now see again thanks to an organ donation, and for the first time she could see that her son had freckles. 

‘Normal’ was what hit people’s empathy and interest spot most. Where there were stories of the private normality of people’s lives, intimate details, the people on the other end of the phone could insert themselves more easily into the narrative and relate to the predicament.

As misleading a name as Guts might be, we’re actually not looking for any organ donations. And that podcast was called ‘How To Bore Someone Into Donating An Organ’, so perhaps it wasn’t really the best analogy for me to draw on.

But we are interested in the art of telling a personal story - revealing enough so that you bite, withholding enough so that you keep wondering, perhaps persuading you that there is a value to our shared ‘normal’.

And it could only be print. Impractical and commercially unsound, its prophesied doom has released it into a realm of play that we are happy to inhabit. We vow to treat writing and illustration equally to create a little object that acts a tiny cornerstone to people’s experiences in Dublin now.

Carson McCullers’ cult classic The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter lends its title to our first issue, bringing you all that nine of us have to say about bust-ups, hook-ups and heartbreak. Here’s to a sappy virgin voyage.

R.


Mick Minogue | Issue 1 Illustrator

Mick Minogue is extraordinarily handsome. He also happens to be the craftsman who flexed his muscles for Issue 1. 

A sap at birth, Mick was our clear first choice for this theme, as his lovesickness gives the artwork that particular lonesome intensity we were hoping for.  

An illustrator and maker of things, you may recognize him as the chap behind the Lionel Richie wood-cut figure that ended up on RTE News, or his annual illustrated Paduary calendar, his Witch of Kilkenny mural, or his most recent exploits with One Strong Arm letterpress. Alternatively, if you Google his name you’ll find a post by his cousin called ‘7 good reasons to hate Mick Minogue’, which is worth a read. 

In the film Before Sunrise Ethan Hawke plays Jesse, an unbearably earnest American collegiate who, while on a trip in Europe, falls intensely in love with an accented French girl called Celine, played by Julie Delpy, who he meets on a train. Jesse convinces Celine to disembark the carriage in Vienna to spend time in the city overnight, where they walk and talk philosophically about life, love and relationships. They share an intense overnight walk together, which involves a smooch on a ferris wheel, a poem written for the couple by a bum on a canal, and a fumble in a park. The next morning, Hawke pretentiously quotes Dylan Thomas reading W.H. Auden in the soft post-coital dawn. Reality calls. Their liaison must end. Jesse and Celine must get back to their real lives. They make a pact to meet six months later in the same Viennese train station.

I first watched Richard Linklater’s film when I was 16 during a summer spent devouring the local Chartbusters’ surprisingly discerning collection of world cinema. To anyone over the age of 25 watching it for the first time, the film is filled with dialogue that would make you cringe, as the twosome fudge their way through articulating their grand ideas of life. For eternal optimists (or anyone under 25), the film is a romantic fantasy, an homage to thee naiveté of youth. It’s young love on a Euro-rail pass at its most panty-sopping. The film struck a chord with my 16 year-old self, who was prone to romantic aspirations which led me to have my own train journey involving a girl. 

This train went to Cork’s Kent Station. I was 14. I travelled there to visit Alison, who I’d talked to mostly online. It was the nineties. There were no social networks, avatars or one-line bios, there was only “a/s/l” (age / sex / location) typed out on clattery keyboards and sent via text-line chatrooms. Alison was from Midleton. In the chatroom we bonded over our love of Oasis. Online communication led to a real-world pen pal correspondence. Like the conversations between Jesse and Celine in Before Sunrise, we shared our hopes and aspirations for our lives to come. It was decided I would visit for an overnight stay in her family house in Cork. So one summer morning I made the journey. 

Our actual time together was awkward. We hung out and watched a movie with our respective friends in the house. The next day, we walked around Cork city before my departure. There may have been a peck on the cheek at some point, but a real romantic relationship was only a desire for both of us. 

That desire for romance led me to make some questionable moves growing up and my sense of courting didn’t always work in my favour. When I was 16 I was paired off with the best friend of the girl my mate wanted to shift. Rather than take the opportunity (or her) with both hands, I actually told the girl that “We should get to know each other first.” Her mouth was agape. She patiently asked me some rudimentary questions so we could get to the kissing. I was too idealistic - a romantic sap.

A few years prior to this, I rang the house of a girl I went to primary school with. I saw her in her secondary school uniform one day and I decided a romantic walk down by the river in the local park was the key to her heart. 

When I made the phone call her mother answered, but passed the phone pretty quickly, as if used to these adolescent advances. I had idealised and idolised the idea of asking her out for weeks. The question came out of my mouth and into the receiver (it was still the Nineties) and it was met with confusion.

“Who’s this?” she said. I said my name... Awkward silence. “We were in the same class in Scoil Mhuire...” More silence. Then hesitation. She did not remember who her suitor was. A crushing rejection

We met years later at a house party in Dublin. In my lucid late-night state, I reminded her of the phone call. She remembered, and said she thought it was sweet. I felt a long way from the kid who made that from that bathetic and pathetic phone call. 

Two years after the infatuation with the redhead, I had my first girlfriend. I’d moved from Dublin to Kildare. It was 45 minutes down the motorway but everything was different, including me. Local kids would ask me to say, “Go and shite,” so they could get a laugh out of my Dublin accent. The Commitments had just come out. In an act of utter coolness, I started to slick the sides of my hair with wet-look gel, and wear a regular t-shirt over a long sleeve one. It was 1994, I had seen Nirvana’s Lithium video and I thought I was cool as fuck. This grungy Dublin exoticness was obviously an attractive proposition to the girl next door, Lisa. 

Lisa and I had a summer romance that involved grand gestures like holding hands during Batman Returns in the local cinema and kissing in the long grass in the field behind the housing estate. Our family were staying temporarily in the house for the summer while we looked for our permanent house. We moved 15 minutes down the road at the end of the summer. Her family helped us move into the house, a former B&B that had a sauna installed in the bathroom. It was where we shared our last kiss. When I visited her house the following week, it was like it had all never happened. Lisa had a new boyfriend, a local boy who I was friends with. She didn’t want to see me anymore.I was devastated. My romantic summer ended abruptly. 

Some years later, aged 25, I went to The Hub. The place stank of shit and sewage which infiltrated the dance-floor via the pipes overhead. Sitting against a wall near the DJ booth, as far away from the smell as possible, I struck up a conversation with the girl beside me. Her name was Aoife. Her accent was distinctive: a combination of having grown up in Saudi Arabia, having gone to an American school, and having a family from Monaghan. She seemed familiar. We hit it off. We talked about avocados. I pretended to her friend I was a Belgian called Hans. As we talked, the familiarity hit me. I recognised her voice. She had a radio show on a local station interviewing indie bands and my friends’ band had been on-air with her only a few weeks before. She thought it was sweet that I recognised her. 

We walked home together since our respective houses were in the same general direction. On Camden Street, Aoife broke up a fight between two stumbling drunks in the middle of the road as taxi cabs beeped their horns and swerved to avoid the melee. She later confessed that she broke up the fight to impress me. It wasn’t a romantic gesture. Like my own romantic displays, it was a misguided (and definitely inebriated) idea that some form of late night bravado would endear me to her.

We kept in touch through a message conver-sation conducted through Myspace that included sharing references to kitsch Daniel O’Donnell souvenirs, shitty job interviews, and watching The Last Waltz for the first time. I have the transcripts of our digital conversations from Myspace. They are as cringey as anything in Before Sunrise. Like Linklater’s film, they are filled with small moments that strengthened the attraction growing between us. Gestures like surprise phone calls or stopping a scrap in the street weren’t needed. Eight years later, Aoife and I are still walking home together.

She had come to Port Douglas in search of a new start.

We had come in search of adventure, booze and women. It was a mix like Mentos and Coke. 

Briefly exciting but very messy. 

I met Shelly through a complicated and unlikely series of events that involved Matthew McConaughey’s stunt double, McConaughey himself, a dollar-a-day rental campervan, and the rightly-forgotten box-office flop, Fool’s Gold. The details of all of this, while interesting, are not germane to our story, but in a not unrelated aside, Shelly had the same height, hair and general build as Fool’s Gold’s co-star, Kate Hudson. 

Max and I were heroes for that summer. We belted up the Bruce Highway, hurtled along the baking road, eyes on the fuel gauge, praying for a servo, and listening to eucalyptus trees explode in the late summer heat. There was no wild-life, only roadkill.

There is a well-worn backpacker trail on the Australian coast - Brisbane, through Surfer’s, and up through the flat, oppressive stink of the sugar cane farms around Townsville, towards the dense warmth of Cairns, and then on further. 

We were older than the gap-year British college rats with whom we shared the hostels. But not by that much. But we were richer, having been financed by the substantial income from six butcher stores in Southern Germany of which Max was the sole proprietor. The trip had become a drunken, chaotic circus of romance and sunburn, fights and blow-jobs. 

I was probably still figuring some stuff out. I seemed to be capable of holding simultaneous contradictory thoughts in my mind and believing fully in all of them. It’s the kind of mental flexibility afforded to those with no responsibilities, and who nobody is really listening to anyway. Your mind in your twenties is racing a million miles a minute, and in a thousand different directions. 

And one of these directions was with Shelly. 

She was in her mid-thirties. At the time that seemed impossibly old. And she was beautiful in that way that only sun-kissed Australians can be - tanned limbs, healthy smile, easy manner, crinkled eyes and slightly damaged skin. She had just arrived in Port Douglas to begin again – in this alien space ship of a suburban holiday resort crash-landed on the outskirts of the gentrified Daintree rainforest. A new life for her and her son. 

It hadn’t been the easiest life for her. She had had a high-school sweetheart, the handsomest guy on the footie team. An inevitable teenage pregnancy followed, then the abrupt imposition of real life too early. The jock-hero gets a dead-end job to pay for nappies and the flaccid dick of dashed hopes is expressed as harsh words, and then heavy hands. 

Goaded by drink and buttressed by bad decisions, he robbed a store, cooked meth with bikies, and cut hot cars in a chop shop. After eight years of domestic disintegration Shelly picked up her son and ran. And who could blame her? She ran North to a town three thousand kilometres away. A hairdresser can always find work. 

Of course none of this was true. Or it might have been. She was definitely a hairdresser with a kid. For all I know she may have just moved to Port for the climate. But in my mind I was coming in to rescue this woman. I imagined myself, in a very real way, to be the kind of silent, good-hearted, but troubled man that Ryan Gosling would prove himself to be in Drive. I was ready to build a world with Shelly. 

I used to take the back way from our hostel through the trees and wide-bladed tropical grass, to the apartment complex where Shelly lived. A beautiful thin English girl had taught me to clap for snakes. When you walk through the undergrowth you should clap your hands loudly in front of you. The vibrations in the air would scare the snakes away, she said. I spent my time in Port Douglas clapping every time I set foot off concrete. While I lived in that town I saw parrots, geckos, a couple of big spiders, poisonous toads which people raced in the local bars, and a huge violent looking beetle that made a loud farting sound if you pressed its back. But I never saw a snake. Not even once. 

Sitting by the pool at Shelly’s apartment watching her with her kid in the water, I felt like I believed in something. It would be me and Shelly, her new life and her ten year old son. At 25 I would be a father. A young, responsible stepdad to this blonde kid who was clearly going to grow up to be handsome and Australian, in all the best ways. 

I would teach him things. How to fish, to carve wood, to build camp fires - probably other stuff too. That I didn’t know how to do these things was irrelevant. I would learn. There would be life lessons for everybody. I would work on a boat in the mornings, I would write novels in the afternoons, and in the evenings I’d swim and drink terrible Queensland larger. It seemed to me like an honest life. A true life. 

It seemed like it would make a good Wikipedia Biography description of a writer. But truth, like Wikipedia, is unreliable. While I fully believed that I would rescue Shelly, I also believed that I was in love with Alana the free-spirited Christian Kiwi who I had met at the hostel. I believed that I was also meant to be with Rachel, the sea-tousled Scottish surfer who shared room 12 with Alana.

And I believed that clapping would ward off snakes. 

Actually, while snakes do sense vibration, it’s generally through the ground. Slapping your hands against your thighs, might help because the vibration could travel through your legs - maybe. But clapping in the air? No. And anyway, there were no snakes around. I was taking an ineffectual action to ward off an imaginary threat. So I guess you could say in some ways it worked. 

While I wanted to rescue Shelly, I also knew that I hated her. Charitably you could say she was otherworldly and ethereal. If you wanted to be a little crueler, you could say that she was emotionally stunted and a little dumb. “You’re so sexy,” she would say to me, with all the emotional intensity of middle-aged air steward tugging at the inflation cord on a demonstration life jacket. Shelly had taken a lodger in her two bedroom duplex, mostly for company rather than money. And since the lodger was occupying one room, Shelly had taken her son to sleep with her in hers. A ten year-old boy on the cusp of puberty, jerked out of school, fired half way up the continent to have no one but his mother for company, and then to suffer the indignity of sharing a bed with her. At the time, I did not find this strange, I think. Or if I did, I didn’t find it as damaging as I do now looking back. 

Of course the fling with Shelly was short-lived. I was so in love with so many girls that it was impossible. And as Alana, the Christian Kiwi put it, “Why are you kissing that old woman?” So when I cowardly began ignoring Shelly’s calls, she began showing up at the hostel unannounced. She would flirt with with Max and our friend Luke, while glaring at me. And then say, “I can’t even make you jealous, can I?” (Although I always suspected that she would rather have been sleeping with Max rather than me from the outset). 

I branded her crazy - an easy case to make to all the 18 year-old kids we were hanging out with who were fucking one another stupid, drunk on box-wine and sun. I called her a psycho. And yeah, Shelly didn’t handle herself with dignity. But I did everything I could to spin the story so that I would come out of this looking like a Lothario, yet a soulful, conscientious one. I scoffed while regaling everyone with the story of when she cursed me and spat out, “I hope that you travel the world and never find anyone to love”. Which doesn’t seem quite so funny now. 

One night, before the curse and before her attempts at making me jealous, Shelly moved her sleeping son from her bed, and placed him on the couch downstairs, and we stayed in her room. It was the last night that we
spent together. 

We did not have sex because Shelly, though beautiful, tried to be sexy in the same way that a choir of deaf people might attempt Handel’s Messiah. Sure, they can get dressed up in the gear, stand in rows in a church and make some noise, but even the most generous spirited people would admit there’s something a bit off about it. 

In the morning she slept late and I got up early. Downstairs the kid was playing Tony Hawk on the Xbox. I joined him on the couch. We would bond here, I imagined. A man and a child. I can’t describe to you how terrible the kid was at this game. It was like watching an extremely fat person climbing stairs and wheezing. It’s funny until you realise that the stairs are actually a real challenge to them - and that that’s, like, their life. He’d had it for ages and he was awful at it. On my first go I out scored him by many, many points. Doing combos or whatever they were called. There’s no way that a 25 year old should be able to kill a ten year old at a video game. The kid was traumatised. His eyes were getting dribbly and his world-view had been punctured by a little honest competition. I’m not sure if that refers to the game, or the affections of his mother. Or both. I was horrified. Sure, sure, I wanted to picture myself as a father figure. But I couldn’t be a father to a kid who was incapable of beating me at Tony Hawk. The fantasy was broken. I could see Shelly as she was - a woman having to choose between what would make her happy, and what would be right for her son. And maybe getting both wrong. I judged her for being so cavalier with her son’s feelings. I judged her for her immaturity. And I judged her for allowing someone like me come into her life.

I stood up and said goodbye to the kid, handing him back the Xbox controller. And I slipped out of Shelly’s sliding doors, circled the apartment pool and set out back through the undergrowth towards the hostel. Clapping as I went, as if applauding myself.

The average body produces 1.5 litres of mucus everyday. It acts as a protective layer over the most delicate parts of the body. It stops the skin around the body’s openings from cracking, and traps harmful bacteria. When you cry, a tiny neurotransmitter called acetylcholine stimulates tear production in your limbic system. It’s the system in charge of emotions that is connected to our autonomic nervous system, the part we don’t have control over. When a tear forms, you blink, creating a film over your eyeball. The tear then disappears down your lacrimal drainage system, passing into your nose and out in the form of mucus. Or snot. When there are too many tears for the lacrimal drainage system to manage, the tears slip out over the eyelid and down your cheek, and you’re properly crying. 

I used to have a far greater appetite for it. I suffered permanently from a condition inspired by that John Berger quote my mother had taught me: ‘A woman is not a woman crying at her father’s funeral. A woman is a woman watching herself crying at her father’s funeral.’ Well actually that’s the way I remember the quote, but that’s in fact inaccurate. And a little heavy. But the quote always did that thing for me of suddenly shining a bright light on things that hovered in the shadowy corners of my mind, that I couldn’t ever quite pull to the front and understand. 

In part it was about a woman’s ability to be both spectator and spectacle, reduce herself to being the performer of some drama, watching herself in the various stagings of life. Obviously there were a lot of other issues going on in Jon Berger’s quote, but often when I applied it to myself it described a phase when I developed a taste for the dramatic. Prompted from an unchecked desire to observe myself from outside myself, my flair brought me to cast myself as a heroine in apocalyptic landscapes time and again. And the apocalyptic landscape soon took over most everything I did.  

There was the time when high on MDMA and covered in mud after being pushed to the ground, I found that my boyfriend, who had come to the festival in Lissard with me, had left me there as punishment for a fight from earlier that day. He was nowhere to be seen and wasn’t answering his phone. My friend Kate, equally altered, was chatting up the 70-something year-old bus driver who was in charge of getting people out of the festival. She didn’t seem to hear me bleating about where we were going. Eventually we ended up getting off the bus and getting into a car that took us up a road that led into a lane that led to a house resembling something out of Lost Highway. It was shaped like a boat, incredibly modern, and made more mysterious by the fact that I couldn’t remember why we were there. A friendly woman let us in and showed us our room. There was a cot in the room. Into this I climbed, and began to translate for Fink what I had been saying all night – stronzo allucinante – which directly translated as ‘hallucinatory hard piece of shit’, which was the term I’d been using to refer to my boyfriend in an absent-minded way all night. We kept repeating the word to each other sobbing laughing until we fell asleep. 

The next morning I put on my mud-covered clothes, hitch-hiked into town and tried to
get a lift back to Dublin. This proving unsuccessful, I swallowed humble pie and rang the hallucinatory-hard-piece-of-shit. Surprisingly, he was still in the area and gave us all a lift up, playing nice to my friends while I sat in sulky muddiness in the front seat of his vintage Mercedes. For the last part of the journey I could barely hold it together.

Episodes like these were commonplace. There were the times I didn’t show up to my own dinner-parties because I was too busy fighting him, the times I ended up living back with my aunt, the times I ended up being left on my own in a restaurant or at the side of the street, the hundreds of times I would call his number while he watched it ring out. One of my favourite episodes involved me ending up on a friend’s futon with her three Persian cats after yet another fight. The cats were so distressed by my alien presence that they would vomit on cue whenever they saw me in my dejected misery.

The heartbreak was consistent. And yet to a great degree I relished it. Apocalyptic storylines have a particular magnetism because there’s something stylish about hopelessness. You can turn a relationship into your own private apocalypse and turn yourself into the sinewy hero who battles on. So the more heartbreakingly awful the situation, the greater the hero I became. I imagine it’s similar to the adrenaline rush that someone like Bear Grylls gets, or people who are into survivalist outdoors stuff get - you discover that you can thrive on maggots and bark. The closer you are to peril, the more alive you feel.

I guess the other side of creating a private apocalypse is that it gives a momentousness and purpose to where your love is going. It lifts it from the every day and gives it a Hollywood hue – I’d be played by Jennifer Lawrence and he’d be played by Benedict Cumberbatch.
An ability to cry and snot freely is a requisite for the role. They’re supposed to indicate a shared humanity, a vulnerability, and even play a part in discouraging predators in the animal kingdom. Women cry 50 times a year, men only 10.

Half of what I did was driven by some perverse fantasy where I watched myself (ala John Berger) being the tragic heroine of a difficult relationship - disconnected, evaluating my worth and that of my apocalyptic playground. And only in the moments of real heartbreak and tears, where snot would be running down my nose and over my lips, would I feel it wasn’t a farce, that it was for real, and that maybe something was past salvaging. It was a sweet release, accepting defeat, realising that most heroines meet their end in either death or disaster. 

Snot was my form of sweet surrender – a liberation from my own gaze, the studied destruction around me, my anger, my front, and the insurmountable expectations that went with loving someone so much.

- “Stop focusing on who you’re not.  Pay attention to who are.”  -

Ursula is my therapist’s name.  She shares her moniker with the Sea Witch from the Little Mermaid.  “Keep Singing!” commands the Sea Witch. One night, off my box at home I listened to the Little Mermaid Soundtrack, and took it as a sign that I should start a band.

Sometimes I’ve prayed to wake up as a girl.  That way at least I could score a straight bloke and give him what he wants. Be part of his world. Damn it.  Damn not being the little mermaid and getting girl legs instead of a fish tale. Damn not being Veruka Salt. Damn not getting my own way.  But maybe that’s a good thing. What a monster I’d be. 

Healing with Ursula is profound. It’s meditative.  Desperation has opened me to all sorts of treatments I would have otherwise dismissed. Ursula is keeping me alive. I attempt to sit with the uncomfortable feelings.

“My wrists…this feeling in my wrists…like I want to cut myself.”  I never had it before.  Sorry. It’s melodramatic. I want to be good.  I want to get onto a good path again. Ursula puts her hands on my wrists. The dark has been calling me.  The dark has been telling me that I’m no good.

Robin Williams is dead.  And I’m devastated. I hear about his death on the first day, and I stop drinking and smoking. This is attempt number… who knows.

In oblivion I’m not so nasty.  True that I may look like a zombie when I’ve had too much of something. But the slow road to killing myself is subtly winding. And no one knows where my head goes but me.  And when it’s over, when everything is all gone, anything is too much to deal with.  It’s easy to get down beyond substances.

How jealous I am of those who bounce back.  Perhaps I’m only seeing their ‘best of show reel’?  But no, not everybody knows depression. They bounce into the day with glee.  I’m 37,  not 17. And now I know too much.

I lasted two months this Summer.  21st of April until 21st of June.  On the Summer Solstice at Body and Soul festival I caved.  Two nights of sleep deprivation and I didn’t succumb to even a whisper of whiskey.  I suppose it helped that many of my friends weren’t e-poppers and a lot of them were off the booze.  But all night car-park techno parties bring no sleep. 

Withdrawl is a bastard.  No sleep, and withdrawl is a cunt.  And on the third day I walked off the site of the festival ranting to the heavens.  Hungry. Angry. Lonely. Tired. The heavens. Like an over-zealous Ben Hur I was losing my shit.  At 6 in the morning the sun was up and tears rolled down my cheeks.  Tormented, I stomped into a farmer’s field and lay down in the muck. “ If you can hear me, Fuck you God.”  He wanted to see me break.

Tim and I would perform that eve as Buffalo Woman. Our band is getting there.  Took us a while - we were finding our voice. “Keep Singing.” I sing.  He does the music.  Despite my desire to crawl into a hole, I wouldn’t let Tim down.  I wouldn’t desert him. Bollox I just needed to not hear the incessant thud of electro for one hour.  A sensitive little lamb am I. I hate being this needy. Sobriety suits better than carnage.

My search for a quiet place within the music festival culminated in expense.  I took part in yoga and I had an hour long massage.  Lovely, of course. And the pals were all about smiling and shining and having a great time.  The gig loomed.

I can be weird before a show anyway. But exhaustion un-buried my corpse.  Tears flowed gently down the stream.  There was no stopping them.  I darted through woods keen to avoid hellos for a compassionate pal. Not a pair of dark glasses in sight to hide the terrible truth.

Backstage at Wanderlust my friend Kathy set me up with a healer called Mari.  She put her hands on me as I bawled.  I felt like a 4 year-old who’d been thrown to the lions. I remember feeling helpless. “You are in control,” said Mari. I didn’t believe her. How could I be? She said what I needed to hear and coaxed me onto a blanket and played a meditation podcast into my ears. Like magic I drifted into a deep relaxing doze.  Thank God.

I was wearing vintage Louis Copeland.  I’d like to say Louis Vuitton. Fuck it. I’m proud to be Irish and wear Irish, Copeland all the way!  It was lamé… gold lamé. Borrowed.  Fine.  Now feeling much better, I had to get back to the van for the pre show prep chat with Tim.  Every 5 metres another angel hugged me. I needed bolstering. At the van I was introduced to a new friend called Christian and the poetry was not lost on me.

A quick rehearsal done and Tim and I grooved on down to the Pagoda stage.  While he set up for sound I danced with whoever had gathered there. There was nothing to do except start feeling better.  And I did.  I felt like I had been broken open.  My mates were all gathering and then it was time for kick off.  And in the state of post-apocalyptic bliss, we relished our gig.  Everything was grand with no need to push. I’m not going to say all the pain was worth it. Ah fuck it. All the pain was worth it. We leapt off the stage at the end like giddy goats and resisted the temptation of one more tune. Mostly because I was exhausted.

5 more hours of wandering around exhausted led us back to the van and the campsite.  Our neighbours were brewing mushroom tea.  “Mushrooms are allowed.” And that was that.  I disappeared. And then a joint. And then another and another.  Ah look... I’ve been smoking everyday.  I know it’s not heroin. But it’s my heroin and keeps my soul stolen.

Here I go again into withdrawl. Easing myself. No weed allowed. A sip of wine. A cigarette here. Coffee. Yoga. And watching my mind. And its ability to send me barking.  Barking up the wrong tree. Clawing at the unobtainable.  I move with some strain from my ego into my heart.  And the death of the ego is painful.  But at the other side is spiritual awakening. And sexuality.  A sexuality that does not know the word “yearning”.  One that is based on trust and connectedness.  One that can happen consciously and in reality. Intimacy. But what do I know.  I’m just trying to change my thinking.  Cause that’s what the text book says. It feels better than being a psycho and resenting my straight mates for not marrying me.

 

A heart that beats and pulses. It leads you on and lets you down. Sometimes gently and with good grace. At other times brutal, without warning, like a coal that’s burned the hand.There are a thousand and one reasons to go to Inishturk, and a tangle of decisions to negotiate in-between. In my case, a few easy actions unfurled a slender chain of events that unlocked a heart or two.

My friends Fionn and Eoghan have a small home there. A clean, well-lighted place that sits snug on its hill overlooking the picture-postcard Portdoon harbour. Getting in and out of this little watery bolthole requires no little sleight of hand. Head straight for a wall of rock at a particular point on the coast, and when you’re just a few metres away, a raw chunk of a channel will suddenly appear, as if by magic. It’s little wonder Grace O’Malley used it as one of her many private ports.

We had gone to Inishturk for all the same reasons as anyone else tearing west of a Friday evening. To shake off the town and city and cough the grey out of our lungs. To feel hills and mountains unfurl around us, and let the wild places work their easy magic. We wanted wild wind in the hair, and the sounds of the sea softened by the peaty hills.  We wanted to hike and fish and give ourselves the delusion that if it came to it – damn it man! – we could survive here. We wanted to sink pints and sing songs and pretend to know the words in Irish. We would walk on desolate beaches and swim in arctic blue water. Midnight oil would burn and whiskey would be gently swilled. Lobster would be pulled from their watery homes: there’s nothing more callous than an empty stomach, especially when there are shellfish involved. That was the plan. But Inishturk and its heart concealed designs of their own. 

On our first afternoon, we climbed up to the remains of an 18th century signal tower, last used to scare off Napoleon and his ilk. We got rattled to our core by the wind, as a threatened tornado gathered shape off shore (she was all bluster that one, and stood us up in the end). Along the way, we stopped for a moment in a metal and glass installation with the best view of Connemara in the country, looking back at the mainland across a short Atlantic stretch. To get there we walked a twisting road that skirts the edge of the local GAA pitch, perhaps the most fearsome stretch of green a Gaelic sport ever called home. It looks as if it’s been blasted from the basalt and granite, the rock scooped out and bashed down before the grass was stretched smooth above it. Kick a ball hard and wide enough and it feels like it could slither into the Atlantic. (Though first you’ll have to elude the grazing sheep who patrol the midfield defensively).

We gawped and aaaahed, ummed and awwwed, and even kicked a ball between the posts. Before we left, I pointed and clicked, and sent a simple tweet. Off flew the pic, twittering its way around the world, wondering, “Is this the best GAA pitch in the world?” Bryan O’Brien, a photographer friend, saw it, liked it, and punted it on to his followers. A few more collected the pass, and worked it down the wings, the banter building all along. It’s Achill, they guessed. No, surely Inisoir. Does Valentia have a pitch? Is there GAA in Rathlin? Bog men abroad in downtown New York saw it, and got sudden pangs for the hard feel of an O’Neill’s ball, hand-passed around a pitch by hands blown raw by winter. An Arsenal footballer sent it off to his home crowd. (He’s well-used to pitches better mown than this, but hardly any more spectacular).  And others, more ordinary like myself, probably had a look and thought, that’s a side-line worth standing on some day. 

At the time, we hadn’t a clue. We were too busy climbing a mountain to taste a tornado, and looking for a pint to finish the day. By the time we came down from the hill, our little picture had migrated off the island to as far as the compass could throw it, and flitted its lonely way home again. In the warmth of the bar we asked for two pints. While waiting in the lee of the hiss of the tap, and as the Guinness settled its head, the barmaid asked us if we’d heard.

Some fella had taken a picture of the pitch. They were all talking about it online. Being wily enough, we immediately feared the worst. We were like two ageing boxers who, on the ring of the bell, have realised this fight is the one too many. “Is that right?” Deep sups, rounded clink of stout glasses filled to just beyond the brim. (Is there a more satisfying sound?) 

Most people would wonder what’s to be wary about. But this is an island, and they do things differently. You can take a picture, fine. Tell your friends, certainly. Not too many, though. We wouldn’t want the place overrun. This time, though, our fears were unfounded. Like any small community, Inishturk is struggling. Being a 40-minute trip from the mainland en route to nowhere, save perhaps the middle of the Atlantic, it doesn’t get much in the way of casual visitors. It doesn’t have the luxury of an air-strip, and fishing is no longer a lucrative trade. Anything that makes people curious enough to board a boat at Roonagh pier is perfectly fine as far as the locals (or at least some barmaids) are concerned. Our little picture had caused a little swell online – they were only delighted when the wave came ashore.

With the coast clear, we laid claim to the picture. Of course it’s ours! Ah not at all, only too happy. Any chance of a pint? No chance at all. Thanks in these parts come with big smiles and healthy handshakes. Free drinks would be taking liberties. And that should have been where we left it – a lovely little curiosity on a sublime weekend of adventure and antics. But a man called Joseph saw the picture, and his heart had its own ideas. (He swears blind that he was going anyway, and the GAA photo just helped make up his mind. But you’ve made it this far, so you know better.) 

So off went Joe to Turk. He carried with him a lonely heart, though he didn’t much talk about it. After all it had grown light enough, after years of getting used to it. Along the beach, and through the village he went, up to the fort, and off round Portdoon. And finally, when he saw the GAA pitch, he thought to himself rightly, that the picture did it little by way of justice.

Back down the stony road he went, and into the community centre for a pint. The same as me, but different. When he pulled up his stool, he met Brid the barmaid, and soon they fell to chatting. About Turk and Twitter and how he ended up there; about the island, its beauty and the rare things to find there; about the pitch and the pint, and the simple joy of a quiet conversation.

The heart is a lonely hunter and it hunts in lonely places. They were married in August.

You wake ravenous and a little too early, snorting and sucking the air as we lump you sleepily from Daddy to Mammy to breast. Twenty minutes light sleep while you latch firm and determined to my full and hardened boob, mewing and smacking until your thirst subsides a bit.    

While you drink from one, the milk rushes in and pisses full force across the room from the other breast in three strong white lines, and we laugh and sigh and stay it with a cloth and promise each other we’ll change the sheets after breakfast.

When you are full you’re ready to smile, nipple still in your mouth in case I try to take it back, a waste of white on your lips. You look me in the eye for the first time this morning and say something you think we understand. You laugh, suckle some more until you’re ready for a drunken, satisfied little puke, and we promise each other again about the sheets.

7 a.m. is your happiest and most demanding hour. Daddy makes a play of changing your nappy, as though he had no idea how much they have smelled every morning for the one hundred and twenty one days he has known you, and you chuckle as though you know why he’s making faces.

Back in bed we talk nonsense and laugh because we see why everything is so funny for you, and you rub Daddy’s beard until you get bored and we read to you, and I eat your toes and - holding your fat balls of hands - walk you up and down my tummy where you used to grow, folded into yourself like a secret only you and I knew, and we play airplanes and congratulate you loudly when you move the beads up the abacus and take it away before you get frustrated and I tell myself never to forget your baby scent.

Because parents must. Because if every person responsible for the life of another person felt this much love all the time self could not exist, nothing else could matter and the world couldn’t work the way it does.

I will forget this as I am forgetting falling in love.

By the time you woke for your feed, I had made you a book. The book told our story. It began when your father and I met. It chronicled our holidays together, the drunken karaoke, the kisses in the kitchenette while we waited for the coffee to splurt up through the funnel of that aluminium espresso pot your daddy had back then. That was before we knew that aluminium causes cancer. I had glued the photographs into a notebook urgently, and scrawled a narrative beside it in baby language.

I found the notebook this morning. In all the photos we are smiling. I have written you a story that is simple and not a lie. I say how in love we were, how happy, and the photographs seem to prove it. I do not say that you were planned, because that is implausible, as well as untrue. Nor do I tell you that we were stoned when you were conceived. I do not tell you that the morning after pill was too expensive. Anyway, that might have been a different time. I am no good on dates.

I write that your daddy was happy when I said 'We are going to have a little baby'. That is not exactly how I put it at the time, but close enough. I tell you we both laughed and were happy. I tell you that he kissed my tummy. I do not tell you that we made love then, kissing each others’ faces, eyelids, necks, looking at each other in the twilight under bed sheets.

There are pictures of Halloween, when we tied a silk orange scarf around the bump, and your daddy drew two eyes and a nose and a mouth to make you a pumpkin. 'Bump-kin', we called you all night. We went out and had dinner with a lot of people, some of them we didn't know. The girl opposite me had recently had an abortion, I thought I understood the smashed-apart look she had; eyes like cracked eggs, and the way she said 'I am free', when your Daddy asked her if she had children. He should have had more sense than to ask that, but he knew no better. He is no good at reading eyes.

She left half-way through the main course, and the host explained to your daddy afterwards. 'How stupid', he said, 'To have seated her opposite you pair. Silly Jules- I just didn't think...'. I don't tell you that part, or what I thought as we looked at each other, me in my witch costume and she dressed as cat woman, weak smiles wavering across the black tablecloth and 'ghoulish goulash'. I thought that we should have gone somewhere alone. I should have held her and she me, and we could both have cried. That didn't happen though, because I had no idea how to orchestrate such a scene, and because I don't think she liked me very much. I looked so happy.

Your daddy won a prize for his Dracula costume. I was dressed in black; the top had enough room for you at the front, and the back was bare except for some black ribbons webbed over my skin. He had stolen a great long white wig from the pound shop, which made me look glamorous and gothic. In the photograph we are beautiful and extravagant- grinning with our dark, painted mouths, my eyes frilled with fake lashes. There is an envelope stuck to the page opposite, with the orange scarf tucked into it.

At an opening night your daddy's friend said: 'Your fella said something so beautiful in rehearsals last week'. This friend is very beautiful herself. When I told your Daddy I thought so once, he shook his head, 'No, I don't think so. She's attractive in the way that Sharon is attractive'. He didn't realise that I knew about Sharon.

'Oh? What did he say?' I asked, watching her geisha lips part and touch and wondering what it was like to kiss them. 'He said watching you feed the baby makes him wish he had breasts'. I tried to giggle but a cackle came out. ‘Oh. boob-envy’, I said. The words sounded bitter. She thought me unworthy, inappropriate. I bought us both another drink.

I could say ‘We were in love. Now we are not. Shit happens.’ as though that were some sort of acceptable truth, something that would not rip value out from under your wobbly first steps. I could say ‘It didn’t work out’- a popular phrase, though it doesn't mean very much.

I don't think I should ever show you that notebook. It can't do anything for you now. I will have to make a new story for us, one that is not a lie, but not too crushing either.  Mothers should tell stories.

I think I made it for me, that book. To simplify things, to change things, to testify. I think I was trying not to forget the things that were beginning to crumble in my fist, simply because they were always going to. I wanted to have something to go on whenever I would begin to construct our story for you. I knew how he reduced history to a sentence, I knew he would forget. When he remembers our life together I will be an anonymous blank, the cut-out shape of a woman moving through the story of him and his late twenties and his son. Looking through it, turning the stiff pages, grubby from that night of pritt-stick thumb marks, I can't find the moment. I can't see when it all became performance. When it was all a chore: baking him meatloaf; dragging running jokes to death, flinching when he spoke to his mates on the phone, his voice changing into someone else’s, his laugh a spray of bullets— huh huh, huh huh, huh. Giving you suck, giving him head, cleaning the toilet.

They called in one day, the mates. They told him about the prostitutes they had been to in the Thailand ‘They like us Irish lads, cause we’re nice to them- the English guys abuse them an’ all. Terrible’. You were nestled in the crook of your Daddy’s elbow, sleeping. ‘Do they- yeah?’ he said, 'Fuck’s sake. Terrible’. Then they told him about one girl in particular, and it must have been a funny story, because he laughed that laugh, and you woke up. I wanted to take you out for a walk but he wanted to keep you and show you to his friends, so I went out alone. I had to leave you. Otherwise my milk would have tasted like metal, like boiled blood.

At the weekend I paint faces at children's parties. Today it's a posh-kids party. They are a boring bunch, demanding princesses and spider-men. None will be persuaded to be a goldfish, an alien, even a tiger; they are not taking advantage of the possibilities. I want to be home with you now, cooking you baby lunches, drawing pictures with you, or crawling around pretending to be a crocodile, but you spend the weekends with your daddy.

A girl with small, curled lips plonks down in front of me.

‘Do you get paid for this?’

‘Yes. What do you want to be?’

‘Em... A princess. With lots of sparkles, and can you do that thing you did on the other girl's eyes? The eyeliner and the sparkles? How much do you get paid?’

‘Enough to make me sit here and paint your face.’

‘When I grow up I'm going to get paid for everything I do. Sitting down, standing up, closing my eyes 'that'll be a hundred euro! '

She flips up her palm to demonstrate her anticipation of the hundred euros.

‘I see.’

She has the chic-girl way of folding her hands over, flicking them at the wrist. Some adult she knows, maybe her mother, must find it funny or charming or cute, because she is expecting a reaction to that effect. When she doesn't get it, she goes on.

‘I'm going to have a pink Barbie car, a convertible, and everyone is going to want to marry me and I'll say ' You, you- not you- you, not you...' and they will follow me wherever I go. And I'm going to get liposuction and a face lift to make me look like a model.’

‘You are very pretty the way you are.’

We both know this is a lie. She glares at me, and I think of that expression people say- ‘children know’. I don't want to paint her. Not the nostrils, not the eyes. It's all too intimate suddenly.

‘I dream about it,’ she says, ‘I close my eyes and I simply dreeam about it!’

This is a disco-birthday party. The professional entertainer is here, hosting a dance-off at the other side of the room. The song coming out of the sound system is the current chart hit. It is about having sex in the bathroom and the kitchen and the bedroom and on the beach. It's a band of teenage girls I have seen interviewed on M.T.V. They said no man is going to walk over them, they said 'Sistas- take control!' The music is very loud. The children cheer and gyrate on the designated patch of floor. 'Don't you wish you had this, and this, and this- aha', sing the band. The kids sing along, they know the lyrics- 'Don't cha? Don't cha?' Don't ya want me bending over, bendin back? Don'tcha want ma diddies and my ass so hot?'

The princess face turns out all wrong, though I didn’t mean it to. The eyelids are blue, and lined with black, but not elegantly cattish like the other princesses'- something about the way I have turned the edges makes her look more like the evil stepmother. The coloured lips, the pink cheeks, the painted-on tiara, all concentrate her features into the centre of her fleshy face. She doesn't even glance in the mirror though.

‘I love this song!!!!’

She jumps off the chair and prances to where the other dancers are, thrusting her pelvis back and forth in time with the music. A small, allergy-ridden boy sits down and asks to be batman. Better than another spider man.

While I'm sponging yellow all over his crusting face, in preparation for the black bat that will go over the cheeks and nose, I decide I should probably get rid of the TV. I do not want you listening to these kinds of songs. I worry, though worry is useless, about what your Daddy is watching in front of you, whether he has women over while you are staying, whether you have pulled out the magazines from under his bed. I am afraid you will come back one Sunday with a bullet laugh.

We took a holiday, the three of us, in Spain. Your Daddy booked it for the day after the exams. He wanted to go to Scotland, where the sisters lived with husbands who, like the brothers, were all different versions of the father. I wanted sun and just us though, and I was almost crazy with exam stress and having just had a baby, so I won. My aunt lent us her holiday house. What I remember is warm evenings, you chuckling in your buggy, eating out of doors, children running in and out of houses and restaurants, parched fields, white houses, bad drivers.

At night you slept on a double bed, couch cushions penning you in, and we sat by the pool  with candles lit and talked and drank wine and dangled our feet in the water, and made love on the cool tiles.

While your Daddy was putting you down one evening I stood by the water, in a new white dress. We had bought a bottle of bubbles that day to entertain you. I blew some up into the air; big, slow, wobbly ones at first, then streams of little ones that petered into dots. I couldn’t stop then, I blew more and more and more bubbles, dreading the bottle ending. I watched them turn slowly in the night air like glass planets, and they caught the light of our candles, vibrating with invisible colour, bouncing on the surface of the pool, trembling before they popped. I knew it was beautiful, I knew how beautiful. I knew all I should have known.

Your Daddy came out of the house. He had been watching me. ‘You looked so beautiful’, he said ‘In that white dress’. My chest hurt.  ‘I wanted to take a picture with the digital camera’, he said, ‘but the memory was full’.

How can I account to you?

How can I explain that I loved your daddy then but now I don’t. That that was true and so is this. But then again, how could I ever have accounted for anything? For staying in that room with the morning light, and the three of us, and the laughing? For clutching at his shoes, begging him not to go, crying 'I love you, I love you', as though I didn't know we were well past such terms? For keeping things that way, or leaving you, or leaving him, or making sensible choices.

When you ask me what a man is what will I tell you? What will he tell you? When you are sneaking out to discos at the age of twelve, water bottles filled with vodka in your bag, how can I tell you what sort of a man to be? How can I say ‘Only make love when you are in love’, 'Be kind to people', 'Be happy', ‘Be true to yourself’, 'Dance like no one is watching'- all of that? What can I offer you, baby, with my terrible voice, my un-blue eyes?

 

I have never had a boyfriend who did not own a bicycle. If they were not cyclists initially, well that was the first Christmas present sorted. And by the time the mushroom loves had puffed and burst, each romance had its own two-wheeled tale. For I have measured out my love life in banjaxed bicycles.

It began, as all great romance should, at sixteen. The vehicle was a stripped back, black hybrid and its rider was Andrew Smith. We met at a fairly tame Halloween party (the only scandal was a missing doily from the arm of Aisling Harte’s sofa). I was dressed as a dead punk. I don’t recall his costume, but I know that when we exited the Beaumont home en masse, he was freewheeling beside me. He took my number at the Shell garage crossroads where, as if by some moral design, the boys always turned off in one direction and the girls went home in the other. Unsure how to draw the exchange to a conclusion, I panicked, and for the following week of school was ridiculed for the ludicrous line that seemed to split as it bolted from my lips, half left hanging, the other part haunting me all the way home to Drumcondra: “Let’s do lunch”.

Of the ensuing textual exchange, I only remember exaggerating my knowledge of Led Zeppelin and panicking that I wouldn’t get to HMV before our date – my first date - the following Friday. We were going to the Santry Omniplex with an established couple, Brophy (my friend) and Dunny (his). I exploited the incestuous links of secondary school dating. A sighting of Smith putting his guitar aside in order to respond to my text made its way through the north Dublin grapevine and into my history class. These were the kernels that sustained us. 

What I wore to the cinema, an outfit to which I genuinely gave consideration, makes me want to give my 16-year-old self a great big hug. Jeans wide enough to smuggle children into the country were accompanied by a long-sleeved Che Guevara top (bought in Asha), a striped beanie and a choker fashioned out of thick, black elastic.

The film was ‘Mr Deeds’, atrocious but irrelevant. My attention was fully spent on the tentative positioning of hands. The credits had barely come up when Dunny and Brophy absconded, leaving us talking loudly enough to distract from the fact that our fingers had finally interlocked. 

I do not recall the first kiss - just that neither of us wanted to leave. We wandered in the opposite direction of home, him pushing his bicycle with one hand, my palm occupying the other. For fear of sweating/having to remove my personality-encapsulating beanie, I had left my bicycle in Drumcondra. Our ramblings brought us into Santry Close and past the home of Ciara Moloney, a new friend from school. As such, she was still a relatively abstract notion to my parents and served as a regular alibi. Both myself and Brophy had left home that evening purporting various plans with the faceless Ciara Moloney.

The rain started as it came time to head home, and Smith gave me a backer on the great downwards slope that connects Santry to Drumcondra. We sped by the Omniplex and the turn off for his home in Artane. We sailed past Plunkett’s field, where acquaintances were wrapping up an evening of knacker drinking. We had just cleared the retirement home when the bike wobbled, I yelled, he cursed and ‘bang’ we went into a pole. I see it now in slow motion, unable to testify to the accurateness, but with my shoe leaping from my foot and disappearing into the night sky, going up but never coming down.

We were unscathed, but my right runner was gone and Smith’s front wheel buckled. The disappearance still mystifies me. A grey plain of road and flanking pavement, there was nowhere for it to hide. Smith’s steed was wounded but he could still play the chivalrous knight. He slipped off his right runner and presented it to me, north Dublin’s own Cinderella. 

The rest of our six-month dalliance has been reduced to a few memories. A first outing in town, for which I bought a copy of Hot Press only to find him already at Central Back when my affectation and I arrived; making out in a friend’s sitting room every time she disappeared to make unwanted tea; cycling two abreast back past that Shell garage; failing to properly hang up on the Friday afternoon I telephoned him to break up – an accident that meant he heard the shamefully flippant account of our conversation I immediately gave to an eavesdropping friend. 

Yet, in my oversubscribed vault of nostalgia, there is a memory that has never been downsized. I am standing sheepishly at my front door, sopping wet and wearing one comically-sized shoe, my trousers providing a greater example of capillary action than we ever saw in biology class. Marginally behind me is a semi-shod boy (the very opposite of the mature, sensible, female Ciara Moloney) with an awkwardly angled bicycle. 

My father opened the door and did me the great service of taking this erroneous tableau in his stride. He went to work on the bicycle (I am descended from a line of committed cyclists) while I ran upstairs to find a replacement sock for Smith’s drenched foot. 

When he left, I went to my room. I wrote a poem in which the symbolism of ever-turning bicycle wheels was overwrought to the point of rust. I placed my redundant left shoe in a box under my bed, where it would later be joined by letters, a guitar plec and a silver bracelet shaped like a bicycle chain. This last one I do not make up. It was only meant as a loan but it outlasted all the other keepsakes – lasting at least as long as it took for the next suitor to ride into town.

She may be associated with having made one of the most panned films of all time and embody the excesses of the diva in American pop culture, but take a moment to consider this: Mariah Carey has more writing credits on Billboard number ones than any woman in history. Heartbreaker, released in 1999, did not earn her one of them, maligned at the time for its similarity to her former track, the game-changing Fantasy. Contemporaneous critical discourse beat her with a stick for self-plagiarisation, but the discussion failed to acknowledge the profound scenes of self-flagellation that defined its multi-million dollar promo video.

The setting is one rich with dramatic romantic possibilities: the Multiplex cinema. Actor-cum-walking-waxwork Jerry O’Connell plays the eponymous heartbreaker, Mariah’s ex-beau, out on a cinema date with his new girl, a dark-haired replicant of Mariah herself (hereafter, ‘Black Mariah’*). Mariah arrives with a crew of sassy pals to the same film (a superfluous extradiegetic sequence narrated by Jay-Z’s rather phoned-in guest verse), where they attempt to thwart Heartbreaker and Black Mariah’s coupling using an arsenal of popcorn missiles. 

During an interlude our heroine trails Black Mariah to the ladies’ room. As her antagonist adjusts her (disturbingly amplified) cleavage in a mirror, Mariah politely attempts to strike up a conversation. Black Mariah, miffed by the popcorn assault, turns on a spiked heel and hurls a clatter at Mariah. A fight ensues, all acrobatic kicks through bathroom stalls, slammed doors, and yelping chihuahua. Its denouement is not shown to the viewer, but the video culminates with Mariah taking her replica’s seat beside Heartbreaker and pouring a bucket-sized soft drink down his lap. This is no well-intentioned ice bucket challenge – the gesture says ‘I am so over you.’

It does not take too much of a stretch to identify the video’s Heartbreaker with Mariah’s real-world ex, former head of Sony Music, Tommy Mottola**. Married at the beginning of her career in 1993, Carey says she “longed for someone to come kidnap me back then.” The realisation of this fantasy was a long-term abusive relationship, professional and personal, whose toxicity Carey described as culminating in a ‘private hell’ that led to years of trauma after its eventual end in 1997.

We gain more insight into the relationship between Mariah and Heartbreaker in 2008’s ‘Side Effects’: 

I kept my tears inside cause I knew if I
Started I'd keep cryin' for the rest of my
Life with you
I finally built up the strength
To walk away/don't regret it
But I still live with the side effects

This meditation gives deeper insight into the scarring effects of abusive relationships and the internalisation of pain that comes with them. When Mariah countenances BM in the Heartbreaker video it is significantly through a mirror. Mariah sees herself as object, identifying herself as the cause of her broken relationship with Heartbreaker. Her mirror image is a contortion (in the vernacular of the video’s imagery a sluttier, more unpleasant, darker version of the ‘real’ Mariah) that has been shaped by Heartbreaker himself. 

Why do we so willingly wear the cilice of failed relationships? Rarely do amorous splits begin with the vilification of the broken-up-with; most often they launch with mea culpa. A period of self-examination is regular. Very often the diagnosis is damning: what could I have done differently? 

Heartbreak is a lonely business – we are separated from the other we perhaps feel adequately intimate enough with to help us transcend radical life changes. The confessional of relationships is replaced by the ritual of the girls/boys night out, an opportunity for friends to offer an external perspective and shift the focus back to the broken-up-with. As herein, they tell us “he’s a cheat” – see also “she doesn’t know what she’s missing”, “you’re better off without him”, “you’re way out of her league”.

This perspective shift is altogether more complicated after an abusive relationship terminates. Mistrust from within the relationship leaks as toxic spill to other friendships, rendering the input of others as platitudinous. 

The video’s apparent physical conflict, like that of Palahniuk’s Fight Club, is in fact played out in the psychic realm. Mariah’s engagement with this warped totem of herself casts it as aggressor, opening up the possibility of confrontation between subject and object. In a Hollywood culmination befitting of its mise-en-scene, she triumphs in this confrontation – in defeat of herself as object, in the dissipation of Black Mariah from the mirror, she has sublimated this distorted alter-ego to her own ‘true self’. This, and not the upturned Coke bucket, represents Mariah’s true victory. 

Yet the saccharine tone of the song and accompanying video, its setting in the theatre of illusions that is the cinema, makes the problem-catalyst-conflict-resolution difficult to swallow. We know that life is not a movie, nor a multi-million dollar music promo – too often we are left locked in the bathroom with our own Black Mariahs while Jerry O’Connell sits back and enjoys the show.
 

*Incidentally, the nickname given to Thomas Edison’s Kinetographic Theatre, America’s first film production studio.

** A true villain; the man carried around a Glock in his briefcase, vetoed the release of ‘Fantasy’ and, most frighteningly, inflicted Billy Joel on the world.

I started work when Cara was the size of a pea. Her Mom’s heart was like “hey little buddy!” when I started pumping away down in the mesoderm and there was a nice vibe between us, camaraderie. Like when you’re at the gym doing weights and then a bigger guy starts lifting heavier, right beside you, but he’s not a prick about it. He’s more like, “Hey at least you’re here.” She was like that. She gave me advice too, good advice. The funny thing is I used to murmur, and Cara’s Mom’s heart told me to even out, made me speak up and I did – right before Cara was born. I haven’t worked with another heart since then. Cara never got pregnant. That would’ve been interesting for me I guess, but whatever. Lady’s choice, right?

I get along with everybody but my closest colleagues are probably the lungs. They’re good girls, reliable. The brain on the other hand, gives me a lot of trouble. She’s meddlesome, you know? And that doesn’t work so well for me. My ideal conditions are calm, steady. But the brain jumps in, panicking, overreacting. More times than once she’s forced the adrenal gland to send me all this goddamn adrenaline and epinephrine and norepinephrine. That shit makes me go irregular, sometimes for absolutely no good reason. Ok, it’s not my place to judge, but seriously, making me miss a beat in second grade because Steven Tuturro smiled in our direction? Give me a break.

Look, I’m just a worker and in general, I mind my own business. I’m telling you this stuff now because there’s not a whole lot of time. The entire digestive system quit almost three weeks ago. No need to nourish the rest of us since we’re all on the way out. Makes sense I guess, but still. I feel bad for Cara, because that chick sure likes being alive.

I know that because when she saw those big old geese flying through the pink sky over Brooklyn that one time, and another time when she heard that Spanish song about the missing people, I felt like I was swelling, getting bigger. Not like in a cardiomegaly way, it was just a sensation. I’m not sentimental, but those sensations created a feeling of something bigger than being just a piece of machinery, you know?

Other times I felt like I was sinking, like right after Cara’s sister died. Man, that was tough. We’d all been busting our asses in the lead up – stress, no sleep, crappy food, too much caffeine. Then, when it happened, it was like Cara went into slow motion. I didn’t change per se, but I felt this new heaviness, like everything was harder. That feeling lifted over time. Not fully, but enough to get along. Lately the brain’s been acting up, talking about the sister, remembering when they were kids and they found thirty two ladybugs marching in a line on the porch. That kind of shit pulls on my chordae tendineae and fills Cara with this kind of sweet sadness. I don’t know how to explain those strings, they’re not straightforward like the veins coming in and the arteries going out. It seems like the older Cara gets, the looser those strings become.

Honestly, I’m glad I’m hers - it’s been a real trip. When she was younger the brain would make me send blood to her chest and cheeks almost constantly – a real blusher. She grew out of that though - and how! For a good twenty years it was all about pumping it down town as fast as I could. Man, those days were great. Cara knew the best ways - with guys, with girls, by herself - to get pretty much every system off. Then we would all just space out after.

Of course I didn’t. I couldn’t. Ribs got me solid in here. There was always work to do. Not for much longer I guess.  We’re all tired now. Between you and me, I wish I could keep going. It’s not up to me, I’m effectively a syncytium, a meshwork of cardiac muscle cells interconnected by contiguous cytoplasmic bridges that pass on the electrical stimulation. I guess a cool thing is that some of my cells are self-excitable, contracting without any signal from the nervous system - even if those little guys were taken out of me they’d still be twitching away. My muscle tissue has autorhythmicity, and that initiates my action potential at a fixed rate - spreading the impulse rapidly from cell to cell to trigger my entire contraction. So like I said, it’s not even up to me.

Whatever Cara needs to do, I’m there to back her. When she sleeps, when she realizes her nephew forgot to call her, when she smiles at a nurse who helps her with her sweater, I’m right there. Throughout her entire life whenever she would get lonely, be delighted, work too hard, swim in the Y, eat whitefish salad, whatever, I kept up my usual lub-dub, lub-dub, lub-dub. But I’ve got to stop soon. What bugs me is that even after I do, the brain gets to keep going. She’s got longer than me, by maybe ten minutes or so. I hope she doesn’t get crazy melodramatic. I hope she tells Cara that everything is right where it needs to be. Meanwhile lub-dub, lub-dub, lub-dub. And I’m out.