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The Memory Box is my memoirs, currently being serialised on Facebook in the Group of the same name, where readers are free to share their thoughts, memories and photos.


This resource will allow those not using Facebook to read the text and will be updated periodically. 

  • Writer's pictureJoolz Denby

Episode 4

Updated: Nov 25, 2018

I wouldn't want anyone to imagine I was a poor, timid, weeping mouse. I wasn't one of those girls who withdrew into themselves after bad experiences and became too fearful to go out or have relationships. What happened to me terrified the living shit out of me, but instead of withdrawing, it made me full of rage and aggression, radiating energy and being, as someone once said, like a roaring bonfire you want to get near to for warmth - but not for long. I wasn't nice, or easy going, or jolly. Though I could be funny, alledgedly. I was extremely driven but at this point, had nothing to put that drive into. If I'd been a different person I might have channelled it into a career as a poet, done what was necessary to fit in with the intensely snobbish poetry establishment, been a successful 'woman poet' - because  women don't get to be the best poet, full stop. Only the best Woman Poet. That wasn't good enough for me. Fuck that.

But I didn't. I had no support from my family - many writers and artists don't though. It was more that throwing my lot in with the blessed noodle and the Slaves put me so far beyond the Pale it wasn't funny. Sure, poets like Thom Gunn could pose about in leathers and write carefully and beautifully about bikers and tattoos, but he was a very urbane, cultured Gay man so his bikerness had a different, playacting quality. It was acceptable, a bit naughty, amusing even. Mine was real. It was real, dirty, street, provincial and undeniable. I had no writing friends, was part of no poetry scene, wrote alone in the freezing flat for myself and god. I didn't easily get along with people and I certainly didn't enjoy the few readings I did where myself and the noodle were patronised the fuck out of and subjected to comments like, so amazing! I'd never of thought you people liked poetry. They couldn't dismiss my work, so they dismissed me. I was too young and raw to take it easily and bounce back. I put two fingers up and destroyed any chance of being the bloody Poet Laureate forever. Every dark cloud has a silver lining though, as they say. I will never be forced to suck up to the Queen.

The depression I suffered of course, as anyone who has it will know only too well alternated - and still does - with a kind of brutal exhaustion that made the idea of getting out of bed comparable to scaling Everest in fluffy slippers. I knew I suffered from depression, I'd been diagnosed at puberty, but I never got any help for it. At this time in my life I actually didn't know counsellors existed, and my brief brush with the NHS psychiatrist and the village doctor's response to me asking for help left me very wary indeed of medics.

So when I crawled back to the flat after X chucked me out, I found I was not only depressed, I had acquired one of my regular chest infections and to be honest I didn't care. I wanted to suffer. It took my mind off my mind. It wasn't a major infection, more to do with exhaustion than anything else, but as I lay alone, sweating with fever in the unheated bedroom wearing a flannel nightie, a jumper, hiking socks, a shawl and with two slightly leaky old hotwater bottles, I thought about X and what he'd done. Of course, at first I just thought fuck him, the fucking student. The fucking wanker. What a tosser and what a bitch. They deserve each other.

Occasionally I'd stagger to the kitchen and brew a pot of tea and eat a digestive biscuit. I'd called in sick to the local mini-mart where I stacked shelves in a headscarf to cover my offensive hair and tried to avoid the creepy manager's heavy handed innuendo. After a day sleeping, I felt a bit better. And I started to feel the anger building in my guts. I knew I loved X. I'd hated the awful, drowning expression on his face, the way his voice had no emotion in it, just anxiety. I looked back over my life. I'd seen all this before.  I'd had a mate, Chrissy. We weren't that close but we hung out when we'd been on the Foundation Course at the Art School in Harrogate. She was a very bright, hip, attractive but highly strung girl, hyper-critical, bitchy but funny, not above selling you out for a boy's attention. So I never quite fully trusted her. But still, I hung out with her. Eventually she started going with a straight biker boy, a strange choice for her with his bleached Prince Valiant hair cut and red beefy face. She started dressing differently - straighter. Prefacing every remark with Paul Says. She stopped going round with us because Paul Said we were slags. I began to loathe Paul. On the rare occasions I saw them together I saw how he constantly pecked away at her self esteem, made fake-banter belittling remarks. Got her under control.  Then one day in summer, after not seeing Chrissy for some weeks, I clocked her in town, by the college. She was dressed like a mum. I ran up and said hi. She coloured and looked very nervous. I can't talk to you, she said. I'm meeting Paul. He'll be furious if he sees me talking to someone like you. I have to go, I have to... And she went off at a clip leaving me standing there, puzzled. Her face, once so lively and expressive looked like X's.  Blanched and drowning. As if it was pressed under glass. Hopeless.

I wasn't going to let X drown. I could see his future mapped out like the Ordnance Survey. The life with Madge, always doing as she said for fear of the hideous bloody row he'd get if he didn't, the threats of abandonment, the non-stop guilt tripping about how she could have done better, how he was just not what she'd hoped.  The endless never being quite good enough. Their flat decorated how she liked, all faux-ethnic throws and bamboo blinds. Then the house and the first, unplanned, colicky child named for her gran. The New Age fling put down as youthful silliness: well, we've all been there, haven't we? But I do feel I'm a very spiritual person. Her doing very well in that hospital admin job she'd felt was a bit beneath her at first, but which she'd now got her teeth into - recounting every night how she showed her stupid manager just what was what and sorting him right out about that filing, her inevitable promotions.  X's job in social services - just as a stop gap, but which went on and on. The occasional outing to a dinner party with her friends, also in admin, social services or housing charities, who drank Chianti and talked condescendingly about their useless, stupid clients and smugly about their holidays in the Greek Islands or Spain - not at the coast, obviously, though, far too many ghastly tourists. I saw the endless snippy little comments from Madge, the expression of dissatisfaction at X's lack of ambition, his appearence - God, do you have to be quite so scruffy all the time? It's a wedding, not a camping trip! I saw X's face, no longer a forest spirit or a wild thing, the dark eyes dulled, the illuminating smile dimmed, nodding along not really listening, dreaming of Chefchaouen, or Kathmandu, of trails trimmed with wild flowers in the high hills out through the cedars, and a black beach with a salt green driftwood fire burning. Being chided for not paying attention to the pointless chit chat. Being low level, moderately miserable and guilty for the rest of his life.

I don't know if I've mentioned I was very arrogant and high handed. Well I was. Very. A proper little madam and bolshie with it, as my Nana used to say.  So I thought, no, I'm not having it. I'm going to save X from Madge Life, even if he never speaks to me again, which he undoubtedly won't because he'll think I'm raving bonkers. But I'm not, not, not going to let him bloody drown. I'm not. I can't.

So I wrote him a letter. It was very long. Pages long, written on both sides. On lined A4. Very detailed. It probably had bloody diagrams. I can't remember now what it said exactly but I can see it in my mind. It was probably very earnest and determined. I doubt anyone had ever talked to him like that before, in his studenty, liberal, everybody says nice things about everybody nice world. I assumed he'd just bin it. That it was a pointless exercise but that for the reasons only a mad, heartbroken girl could fathom, I had to try.  I staggered out to the Post Office wrapped up like a woolly mummy and posted it (First Class, why prolong the agony) and nursed the sore spot in my heart where I grieved for a loss that shouldn't have mattered but mattered more than anything I could imagine.

He didn't bin it. He must have read the whole lot, poor bugger. Eventually I heard back. Madge had departed, whether because he told her to, or more likely, because he was just a useful stepping stone and like so many people who simply can't see past their own noses and have zero interest in anyone's feelings but their own, she wandered off again. Possibly with New Age Rowan and his coterie of Very Spiritual acolytes which no doubt he was shagging in rotation. Anyway X wanted to see me again. He'd been hauled up from the deeps, alive.

As I was entirely contrary my first reaction was a resounding fuck off. I was satisfied he had been saved, most likely not by me at all - I was arrogant but not conceited - but by chance from Madge Life so was no longer in any immediate danger. So fuck him. The bastard. The idiot. I lay wheezing and snorting like a beached walrus. Fucking arse. Chucking me out. Saying I was just a random townie. But X has a way with him. Call it charm, if you like. It's subtle. It makes you want him to like you, to approve of you. To be his friend - if you could, if he thought you worthy enough. And that was catnip to a girl like me. And mad as I was with him, I couldn't imagine a life without him in it somehow.

So I decided to meet up with him again. Just the once. You know. Just to let him see what he'd thrown away. I determined to be very cool, sophisticated and gracious. Faintly condescending even - who was I kidding - I'd be that really icy chick guys dig, the still waters run deep kind - unobtainable but yet strangely entrancing. I spent far too long deciding what to wear, laid it all out on the bed, then wore what I always wore and looked exactly like I always did. I put too much make up on, then cleaned it all off because I looked like an incompetent drag queen. I still do all that. Some things never change.

So we met up. X was somewhat crestfallen and resembled a collie who just been ticked off, with the sad brown eyes and the oh sorry expression. It was just an expression though, as the actual words never left his mouth. As we sat talking and I suppressed my bronchial wheeze so as not to put him off by being ill - I'd never met a man who tolerated a sick chick - I realised he was miserable because Madge had left him and he'd been in love with her. Lots of stories then about how she used to call him darling pet names like 'monster' how they'd holidayed on a Greek island with his mate whom Madge had basically got off with. It was a theme I'd often seen with men. They fell hard for girls who treated them like dirt. I found it inexplicable. I knew what being treated like dirt felt like, it made me nauseous. It didn't inspire this kind of soppy lovelorn yearning in me. But there he sat, broken hearted. I never did meet Madge but I once saw her at a festival. He pointed her out. I couldn't see the vision of heavenly loveliness at first until he directed my gaze to a dumpy brunette asleep and snoring on the grass. Ah well. We all have feet of clay.

Ever the egomaniacal writer, I asked if he'd read my letter. He owned he had. I waited. He told me about what fun Madge and he had once hitching to Newcastle. All the time he talked, it was like there were two Xs. One was the ordinary, unkempt student moaning into his cheap whiskey - he never drank beer which was a plus as far as I was concerned - but underneath that was something dark and strange. Watchful. Careful. It floated underneath the mundane world he'd created for himself, where he was a really decent sort of chap you could depend on, self deprecating, a bit of a nice non-entity. It had a lot of teeth; sharp, bright ones. It never slept or rested. It moved in the tenebrous depths watchful, unsatisfied, and hungry.  I recognised it immediately and the one I carried saluted it's captain. The legion of ruined children. The ones who will succeed at any cost so they aren't invisible anymore. The shining stars of another firmament where light is dark, and dark, light. Where god speaks directly to her beloved makers in words made of dissonance and glory. Our creatures clasped hands while we sat like ordinary young people having an ordinary conversation in an ordinary pub. The sense of connection returned tenfold.

Then he ruined it all by telling me he was in a band and would I like to see them play that Saturday.

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