A/N So here is the start of my new story, which starts partway through the summer of 'I Hold A Force I Can't Contain' and will continue a little way into the future. It tells the story through the eyes of Katie Fucking Fitch and The Beautiful Bomb. I hope I can do them justice.
1. A Place To Rest
"Right then, Crazy Effy," said the boy called Cook. "Fancy a spliff?"
I felt my face breaking out into a genuine smile for the first time in months. He had obviously just been given the third degree by my mother about what not to do with me, now that she was releasing me into his care, and seemed deliberately intent on instantly flouting as much of it as possible. It was refreshing. Anthea loved me without question, but she was always over cautious, not that I can blame her. Cook was her polar opposite, reckless and never one to play by the rules. The kind of boy I would have fucked in a heartbeat when I was younger. Not because I wanted the bad boys, not because I wanted the danger, but because it was safer. Safer to let myself feel the rush, without falling, without ever really letting go. Bad things happen when I let go.
Bad things happen for Cook too. I can see straight past his cocky exterior to the self-loathing he has tried to drown with sex and booze and drugs. I can see it, because I know it, the use of hedonistic excess just to make things seem normal. He doesn't think he is worth anything. He doesn't think he is worth anything without her. But Cook is OK, because he has his anchor. A tall blonde blue-eyed anchor called Naomi, who picks him up and dusts him down and guides him back towards the light. Halfway between a sister and a mother, she sees the best in him and tolerates the worst in him, and you know she won't ever let him get lost again.
I don't have an anchor. Anthea tries her hardest. She tries to hold me steady, but sometimes the storm gets too strong for her and I am ripped away from her hands again.
We don't exactly have a stellar history of stability in our family. My brother Tony's brain was damaged when he got hit by a bus. He couldn't read or write or even go for a piss by himself, and for a while he seemed to forget who he was. Anthea became depressed and spent all her time sleeping or whacked out on meds she'd stolen from my brother. She got so low she fucked my Dad's boss and destroyed her marriage, just to make herself feel like a woman again. I hated her for that, for being weak, for being human. I needed her to be superhuman, cause I was hanging on by a fucking thread. I used to think she didn't care, that she didn't love me enough, but now I know the opposite was true. She loved me too much, but somehow she could sense what was coming and it scared the fuck out of her. Somehow she had always known. The distance she kept was because she was living a nightmare. She was scared of me. She was scared of her own daughter.
She was right to be. Never one to be outdone, I trumped both my mother and my brother with a full on psychotic breakdown when I was seventeen. Hallucinations, paranoid delusions, hearing voices, the whole fucking loony tunes repertoire. I ended up in hospital after trying to commit suicide, and I've been trying to find my way back ever since. Tony got better. He learnt everything again from scratch, went off to uni and got a first class degree, and now he has a good job, a great flat, and a flashy car. Anthea got better. She pulled it together, restarted the career she had abandoned to look after her children, directing experimental theatre and contemporary circus, and she's made a real name for herself. I didn't get better. Often I can seem fine, if a little strange, and I no longer want to kill myself every day, but it's an illusion. I'm stuck on medication and I'm still fucking lost. I have no anchor, and if the storm wants to take me, there's nothing I can do to stop it. I've been drifting in and out of life, trying to find some meaning, some reason for existing. I can't keep a job. I find it hard to make new friends. And I never know when my hands are going to slip from their tenuous grip on reality and leave me to the mercy of the storm again.
I've never felt like I belonged. When I was a child I used to read stories of the changelings brought by the fairies to replace the human children that they had stolen, and convinced myself I was one. That's what I would tell myself when I found my mother staring at me. She did it all the time. When I was playing, when I was sleeping, as if she was trying to fathom what I really was. It didn't get any easier, I thought I would find my place as I grew up, became independent, made my own friends and my own life, but it never happened. I still felt disconnected, and continually launched myself into new experiences, wondering if this was the one that would make me feel. I started smoking at ten, drinking when I was twelve, had my first pill at thirteen and my first fuck at fourteen. I would stay out all night, taking ridiculous risks, seeking thrills and taking any substance I could get my hands on to blot out the emptiness. Yet still I managed to keep up my front. Effy the super cool, Effy the mysterious. Effy the fucking dark princess. Everyone wanted a piece of me, but what they didn't realise was that there wasn't anything to take. I existed outside of their world. I could see fucking everything, but I couldn't touch anything. Everyone wanted what they thought was me, but nobody really wanted me. Nobody knew me. Nobody bothered to really look. There was nowhere to rest, nowhere that felt like home.
Until I came here. These people. This tent. The doctors always try to get you to make a safe space in your mind. Somewhere you can go to if things start to get hairy. But how are you supposed to do that when you've never felt safe, when you've been on the run the whole of your fucking life? At first I thought that this job was just going to be like any of the other projects that Anthea dragged me along to, whenever she thought I was too vulnerable to be left alone. I didn't resent her for our transient existence. Going to different rehearsal studios in different towns with different people was stimulating enough to keep me interested. Even though I never felt connected to them, I would never tire of watching people. When you look in from the outside, you see so much more. Their fears, their aspirations, the stupid little games they play with each other cause they're too scared to tell the truth. Each new group was like a fresh little plaything for me, as if delving into their secrets kept me occupied long enough to stop my own from overwhelming me.
But something about this group was different. Something was pulling me closer to them than to any other collection of individuals I had met since I went mental. At first they just thought I was a bit weird. People do. I hardly ever speak, unless I've got something important to say. I almost never get involved, barely show any emotion. But whereas I used to brash it out, make out that I was so fucking cool and fascinating, now it's all too easy for people to sense the fear. I'm constantly teetering on the edge of the abyss, wondering if the next moment will be the one in which I lose my balance. Anthea never tells people the truth about what's wrong with me unless she has to. She doesn't want people judging me. But then I had a major freak out in the middle of one of their rehearsals, just when they had started to accept me and the truth was thrown in their faces for all of them to see. Effy is not cool, or mysterious or glamorously distant. Effy is a fucking fruitcake.
Paradoxically, this information didn't seem to phase them in the slightest. In fact once they knew, they seemed to become more open, more accepting of the freaky stranger in their midst. But that's what fuels my fascination. They are all misfits in their own way, at odds with what society expects from them. A bunch of freaks. Making a circus. It's kind of adorable.
They all cluster round her of course. Naomi, the anchor. So forceful, so intelligent, so bright. She gathers the lost souls around her and gives them light and purpose, drives them on to be better than they could be without her. She is astonishing, although she doesn't seem to realise it, but her strength masks a terrible vulnerability that she tries to conceal with her professionalism. A fear she will have to face if she ever wants to find true happiness. Naomi can't be my anchor, she has her own storm coming. A beautiful tornado that it is going to take all of her resources to manage.
But at least she has thrown me a lifeline. I never expected them to let me stay after my episode that day, freaking out and seeing shit, and mumbling away to myself, unable to draw the distinction between their perceived reality and the fucked up garbage that resonates in my head. I mean who wants some crazy chick gibbering away in the corner when you're trying to work? But Naomi and her tribe refused to let Anthea send me home, and immediately launched on their collective mission to include me. For the first time in years, I didn't feel like I was a burden that only Anthea and Tony could bear. Pandora looked after me for the rest of that day, jabbering happily away to me as if seeing demons in your head of a Thursday afternoon was nothing out of the ordinary. Thomas continued to involve me in his work, and treated me as a respected colleague. All of them in fact, just accepted it and carried on, taking care to avoid anything that could upset me, but never once making me feel guilty for being different from them.
All except for one. My Nemesis, Katie Fitch. Katie was the one who triggered my attack that day. Katie is fucking terrifying. A nuclear reactor at critical mass, scorchingly dangerous and liable to explode at any second. She yelled at me and in that instant my brain had transformed her from a pissed off young woman into a messenger from the heavens. Whatever words she had been screaming in my face, were just a blur in my ears, but their inner counterparts were tearing through my body like daggers, causing me physical pain. She was glorious, surrounded by white fire as she gleefully delivered her message. I wasn't good enough, I didn't belong here. I was worthless, I was nothing. I should just fucking disappear before the rest of them found out. I couldn't stay here; the only place I belonged was hell. I spiralled away from her, feeling myself shrinking in stature as I went. She was like a giant and I was helpless in the force of her fury. I tried to protect myself, covered myself with my hands, told myself I wasn't listening, that I couldn't hear the terrible truth, but the noise in my head was deafening. I could feel myself falling away, the familiar pull of the storm threatening to batter me into submission. I was going down, and there was nothing anyone could do to stop me.
But something did stop me. Somehow I allowed Anthea to pull me back from the brink. I was scared and confused, but for some reason I had managed to hang on, and I've been trying ever since to work out why.
It all comes back to Katie Fitch. It always comes back to Katie Fucking Fitch. For the rest of that week she could barely look at me. Through the fog of my fear I thought it was because I repulsed her, that in her reality too she thought I didn't belong. But as I pulled myself back from the storm, I began to regain the perceptive skills that set me apart from my peers. I began to watch her relentlessly, safe in the knowledge that she wouldn't be watching back and what I saw was another truth entirely.
Katie is the one who doesn't think she belongs here. It wasn't her choice to come here; she was dragged here in the wake of her sister Emily's passion, much like me with Anthea. Behind her front and her fury boils a sea of insecurities. Katie has always arranged the world to her liking, the force of her has always been enough to control the lesser beings that flocked around her. In the land that has always been foreign to me, that strange land called normality, Katie was queen. But something hurt her there and she fled to a place where she is no longer in control. She feels threatened by Naomi's intelligence and Cook's strength. She feels intimidated by Pandora, JJ and Thomas whose otherness she doesn't understand. But worst of all, she is shocked to find herself somewhere where Emily outshines her, where Emily is queen, and she is struggling to deal with it. Katie has never experienced what I have felt my whole life, the sense of herself as other.
All of this I have come to learn since the incident, as I pulled myself back into the world in an uncharacteristic show of willpower. Back then all I saw was the force of her - primal, unstoppable, spitting fire. Even though she terrified me, I was mesmerised by the raw beauty of her. Like standing on the edge of an erupting volcano, knowing you should run, but too entranced by the deadly fires to move. To die like that, seeing beauty that no-one else could see. To die like that, burning in the fires of Katie Fitch would be a glorious way to die.
I now know why I came back that day. Why I didn't let myself slip away into the gloom. For her. Somewhere in the cacophony of voices, my own spirit spoke louder than them for the first time in years. I came back because I wanted to show her that the things they had told her were wrong. I was worth something. It was possible for me to belong. I wanted her to find out for herself that I could matter, that I was worthy of being loved.
Back on my feet, I am at a loss to explain why I would need to prove those things to Katie, when I haven't believed them myself for so long. Anthea loves me because she has to; I am hers in a way I cannot be with any other. But today I watched them fight for me when I asked Anthea to let me stay. All of them, Naomi's tribe. Here, in this space she has made into a refuge for them all. I love the tent. Its entire purpose is to defy normality. It is a temple to extraordinary things, and extraordinary people. Over the course of the three weeks we have been rehearsing here, I have sat, and watched and photographed the tribe. They work so hard, and they have so much belief, that before I knew it I found myself inextricably attached to them. I found my spot on the seating bank where I could watch without interruption, where I could see everything. I became a part of their furniture, part of the tent itself. And they accepted me as if I was always meant to be here. They weren't just being kind when they included my photographs; they actually wanted what I had to give. For the first time ever, I felt like I had something to give them. If I could nurture this feeling, maybe I would get strong enough to beat the storm. When Anthea brought up the prospect of us leaving, I found myself the subject of a sudden violent surge of emotion. I didn't want to go. This was my chance to become whole again, I couldn't let it go.
Anthea saw it too, and despite her fears for me, she did the bravest thing a mother can do for a child. She let me go. So when Cook offered me a spliff, even though it made me laugh, I knew I owed it to her not to take the easy path. Tonight was going to be hard, all of my new friends were headed for a party where they were finally going to be able to release all of the tension of the last six weeks in one massive blowout. I knew Emily's girlfriend had supplied us with a huge stash of every drug imaginable. I was going to have to be strong. I just hoped I could be strong enough.
Just at that moment I felt a small hand enclose my own, and a strong voice cut through the air.
"Don't be such a tit, Cook."
I was too stunned to resist as she led me away from temptation. Katie Fucking Fitch. Half an hour earlier I had heard her make a promise to keep me safe. It seems that she meant to stand by it. She dragged me back to my favourite place on the seating bank and sat me down. For the first time since the incident, she looked me squarely in the eye.
"I'm not going to let you go back there," she said.
And I believed her. For her I could be strong enough. If Katie had my back, then maybe it really was possible to find the things I had ached for for so long. Somewhere to belong. Somewhere I could call home. A place to rest.