It won’t matter how far you pedal your pushbike along the riverbank. A big sky grazing your head along the way. You’ll never dodge being different. Unlike those shirtless lads with sunburnt shoulders, kicking a ball about on the field behind your yard. Where the line is rammed with washing, and lilac hugs the wall. Not the same as your brothers, who pulled on their soldier’s uniforms and left you behind. You’re you. You’re funny. You’re 16 years old. That restlessness that keeps you up all night, when the moon is as bright as a dinner plate licked clean, won’t last for ever. Because it’s more than the mess whirling around inside your head. It’s limbs getting longer, hair growing like grass, and an ache in your underpants that’s normal. Trust me. It’s all right. I’m there too.
And then there’s your sister, who knows everything you don’t. Girls are clever like that. She won’t mind when you lie on her bed, desiring handsome lads she’s torn from magazines and tacked to the wall. Shiny pins like a constellation from here to there. You will get there sooner than later. A place where the posters aren’t print any more, instead lively lads, with hasty hands and hooded eyes that can’t hide their sameness. Don’t be disappointed that Keanu Reeves won’t be one of them. Or that he gets even hotter. I know; some things will never be fair. Though you’ll love a lot. And for a long while the world will stretch out ahead, a road running towards all the reckless mistakes you’re meant to make. These lessons that come again and again, like wild weather busting in from the Wash, getting beneath your skin. Reminding you to laugh out loud. To grab all of it. Suck down every second.
Because it’s about to get rough. There’s no way around it. Big breath. Mum dies on a Thursday. Sudden as a thunderclap and just as bewildering. You’ll hate Thursdays, until you don’t. Sleep a lot. Drift through the stories collected in your head that wrap around you like the river, always taking you home. Keep writing them down. Though she’s gone, you’ll see her in purple flowers everywhere. And quiet skies at dawn. Grief makes you strong in a way lifting weights won’t. Younger you wouldn’t be ready for what’s
gathering on the horizon, but you’re braver now.
Dad’s dying. The doctor says he has cancer everywhere at once, like he’s forecasting the weather. He’ll take the truth quietly. Without wondering why. For a time you carry him with a surprising softness. And when his eyes forget their colour and he is more still than any stone you’ve ever held in the palm of your hand, suddenly you’ll see what it means to be a father. The feeling is fleeting. Write about it. Alongside all the other words you have gathered on your mobile phone. These stories will become the gravity that keeps you down. So grief doesn’t steal you away. The more you write, the less you hurt.
And when one day, standing like an idiot staring through the glass that’s covered in clouds galloping across the sky behind, you’ll get an idea. What if I could write a book? You can. Even better; you will. Your fractured thoughts will slide about like a plastic bottle rolling along the dirty aisle of the Citi 4
while riding to work. But you’ll not mind being on the bus. Instead, there’s a keenness about these words, the way they taste and smell and sound. You’re now a magician. Conjuring whales that whisper, and wash up on empty shores.