In which a man told me to beware of thirty three

I wasn’t sure if I should write this. Or if I should publish it at least. I wasn’t going to and then I was and wasn’t again a few times so it’s now prudent to explain that it is the second of August, and yesterday was my birthday, and I was 34.

I had Feelings about this. I wrote a piece a couple of years ago about the pressure people feel to have their lives together when they turn 30, and how sometimes people are so busy ticking a list they miss the really awesome stuff they did without thinking about it. I explained turning 30 didn’t bother me, because when I was 16 I I invented the Law of Jarvis, which states that it is OK to be a complete and utter mess, an absolute laughing stock, a thorn in your mother’s side until you are 33 because that’s the age that Jarvis Cocker’s twenty years of dicking about with Mellotrons and claiming to be in a band culminated in the glories that are so very rightly his. So I had a pass in that regard.

And I’m actually so weird that when I turned 33 I decided I was going to honour that law, and have something to show for it, and make this Like My Fucking Year Dudes. It didn’t happen. Anyone who knows me and a fair number of people who don’t will be aware that I am, frankly, mental. Always have been. Sabotaged my childhood. Stole my twenties. I’m still waiting for this mythical day when I will magically be cured and spend the rest of my life smugly giving talks about how much better I am than people who are still ill, who are obviously just not spending enough time imposing arbitrary deadlines based on Britpop era chart placings. It ain’t gonna happen.

I’ve had quite the smorgasbord of diagnoses and treatments and what have you, but when I turned 33 last year it was the anorexia that had got me. Or still, to some extent, is getting me. And let me tell you, anorexia is a young girl’s game. Never in one of those things-to-do-in-your-30s lists was it written that you should sit shivering in a day unit,picking at a Kit Kat while nineteen year old waifs in Disney onesies sob quietly, being absolutely fucking mortified to have got yourself into this situation. So it was that I’d fucked it again. Didn’t get life sorted by thirty. Came up with cunning excuse, then fucked that deadline as well. What a tragic, useless bitch I turned out to be.

Then a few months after my 33rd birthday, and his 30th, my ex boyfriend died, and it really went to shit.

Let me explain. We met in 2004, when we were basically kids, and we had one of those big epic dramatic Epiphany Summers where we were absolutely obsessed with each other, and we stayed together for four years, and played house, and argued about books, and got a rabbit for some reason, and moved back to his beloved home city where eventually my choking insanity and his youthful panic at dealing with it hit critical and we broke up.

It was then, twenty five, broken, homeless, reeling and suicidal that I made the decisions that made me who I am now, and brought me to the point of having a reasonably enjoyable adult life doing things I’d been afraid to. Over the last couple of years we’d become friends again, having conducted a brutally painful post mortem of some of the hardest times in out lives and realised that even under that, in some way, we loved each other.

And he was thirty when he died. Thirty years, three months and nineteen days to be exact. His birthday is the 3rd of August. He’s never going to get his Jarvis moment. And he was clever, and charming and funny and argumentative and stubborn and passionate and he did wonderful work that he was very well respected for. And he was loved, so much, in so many ways by so many people, even me. Especially me. Who owns the shyly cocky eighteen year old version of him in a Sonic Youth T shirt trying to quote Larkin and pass it off as a thought of his to get in my pants. Who was not, in the end and really ever, the love of his life, or anyone’s. And who was angry with him, for a long time, because he hurt me in a way no one ever has.

But then ten years later it didn’t matter because there we were arguing about tuition fees and rating the cast of Casualty in order of attractiveness and buying books we didn’t need just to hang around the bookshop. And I kind of think, if we had known when we were kids that his time to live and succeed and do amazing stuff would be so limited, we probably would have got so hung up on going for the IMMENSELY MEANINGFUL TEACHABLE BUCKET LIST INSPIRATION PORN moments that we would have missed all the glorious nothing that you clock up by the time you’re in your late twenties.

The thing is, I wasn’t in love with him, hadn’t been for a decade. That’s fine. That’s how it goes. But what it is: if I had never known him, if we hadn’t had that beautifully ill advised game of house, if we’d called time on it sooner and parted ways like adults: I wouldn’t be who I am now. I wouldn’t have made the decision to train for a job I love. I wouldn’t have moved back to my adopted home city, where every inch of it is both him and the woman I became after he was gone. I wouldn’t know the people I do. Wouldn’t have gone back to complete my aborted creative writing MA so I could go HA HA HA I DID IT NYEHHH, which I just did, and somewhere along the line picked up accidental journalism credits and wrote two actual fucking plays. It was a doomed relationship. It was a huge mistake. It was a bad idea.

But it’s in every wonderful thing that I have. It’s every time I know I’m not going to fall to pieces for good, that I will be ill and get better and maybe get ill again and survive and go on. And he had less time than me, and I’m chatting shit now, but what I want to say here is that his thirty measly little years where he didn’t get married or become Prime Minister: they were fucking enough. He was enough.

We’re all enough. Even me, even me. Even if we never write Common People or get elected or even spend that much time outside some form of hospital setting-those things aren’t the measure of a life. We’re not afraid, really, that we won’t live our best lives. We’re afraid that when we’re gone, we won’t have left any of ourselves with the people we leave behind.

I had an idea years ago that I would write a play charting a relationship using a playlist he made for me years ago. His music taste came off well in it. His boyfriend credentials, not so much.

When he died I made the playlist again, I added anything that had been dissected between us in the interim. It starts with Dashboard Confessional and it ends with Little Mix and that is weirdly as if he planned it. The play will probably never get made. It doesn’t matter. I may not be a Proper Writer, but I fucking wrote it. I wrote it because I felt it. I felt it because I knew him. Because I didn’t know he was going to up and fucking die on me midweek just before Christmas I never really had the big moment of telling him that. He’d probably have been insufferable if he did.

What I would like, I think, more than to write something that becomes as legendary as Common People (oh yeah we’re back on the Jarvis metaphor) is to know that I wrote or said or did or was something, at some point, that became a part of the best bit of someone else. I want to be what a classic song feels like. I want that more than I want a wedding or a book deal or a law degree. And I want it for you as well, when you think you’re shit. When I look at the people I know, the funny and fierce and brave and talented and loving people who make me want to do things better, and leave a trace of me in them, and I see how many of them behind the scenes are still feeling like they haven’t ticked off the bucket list, like they’re not enough, like they’re wasting time, I start to think maybe wasting time is kind of the point.

In about 1996 Jarvis did an interview about becoming an Amazing Success And Defying All The Odds in which he said something I’ve never forgotten. Admittedly in this interview he also justified shagging around on his long term girlfriend by saying “if your cock points in a certain direction you follow, because at least it’s an imperative.” (deduct three million feminism points, confiscate Mellotron for a week) but still, it’s worth knowing. He’s never let me down again since so here we go.

He said his plan for life was actually a bit unclear now that he was An Unlikely Success, Future National Treasure and Michael Jackson Antagonist, because life becomes boring if there isn’t always something else just out of your reach. He said, in a nutshell, that people who get whatever they want and achieve all their dreams tend to become boring, bored bastards.

He’s right, you know.

So there’s me, anyway. I’m 34, and I’m a lot less anorexic than I was a year ago. At the point now where it’s like an eroded tooth. All the drama and physical danger and frenzied obsession is gone and it’s exposed the godawful pain that made me do it in the first place. And that’s fine. I’ll live with that. I’ll live with myself til I like her at least a little bit. I’ll live with all of you, and you’ll all leave little traces of yourselves with me that make me better, and if I’m lucky I might do the same for you, I hope.

This has long been a lullaby of mine. It’s basically about how sometimes in all the ways that matter, being average is exactly what you most need to be. Remember that next time you fail or you’re ill or somehow make a tit of yourself. For as the Living God sings, aren’t you happy just to be alive?

Fuck it. Yes. Yes I am. You too, OK?

3 thoughts on “In which a man told me to beware of thirty three

  1. Wow emma that really has touched me. I feel like I knew your friend who passed I can feel him in your words. I also see you In this writing but not the woman I know in work I see the warrior queen in you. Thank you your. Words x

    Liked by 2 people

    • You know when you randomly stumble across something that is exactly what you needed to read? This is one of those things.

      You’re writing is fantastic. Thank you Emma


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