When I was about ten years old, I saved up all my pocket money for about three weeks for something that had caught my eye in our local knickknack shop, just round the corner from my house. It was a packet of glow in the dark star stickers that were sitting on some dusty shelf, right behind some cheap and nasty plastic toys that were obviously made in some sweat shop in China.
These stars pleased my ten year old eye immensely, and I had these had grand visions of where I would put them once I had saved up enough money to buy these wonderful things. So I pestered my dad for household chores that my ten year old self could actually do (washing up, polishing, that kind of stuff), and eventually saved up enough money to go with my mum to the little store and buy my stickers.
I was so excited that day, my head filled with that childish glee that only something stupid and tacky could provide. I walked in with my £2.50 burning a fiery hole in my pocket and walked straight up to the shelf where they were. Now, I don’t know why she did this, but my mum could see how excited I was about getting these, frankly, pretty crappy stickers, and just as I picked a packet for myself, she then grabbed another three and bought them for me as well.
How cool was that? I had a whole galaxy sitting in a brown paper bag.
So I rushed home and immediately ran up the stairs to my bedroom, spilling the contents of my freshly bought wares over my bed. Now this was going to take some planning. My aim was to cover the entire space of my bedroom ceiling with these amazing things and turn my room into the deepest, darkest, space imaginable.
So I carefully unwrapped the stickers and placed them into little piles that corresponded with what they were. I had moons, shooting stars, planets, and hundreds of tiny little stars that would fill out the surrounding areas.
I grabbed a chair and began to carefully stick them to my ceiling. I wasn’t putting them up haphazardly; there was real care and attention that went into this little endeavour. I made clusters of planets, around which orbited a moon each, and then I created bursts of stars around them as well. Constellations formed, amazing nebulas were birthed right before my eyes, and a whole universe was taking shape with each sticker that I placed with my excited hand.
After about three exhausting hours, I was finally done. My entire ceiling was covered with the stickers. And as the light began to fade, I switched on my bedroom light to charge them up so they would glow brightly during the night.
When it was eventually time for me to go to bed, my dad did his normal ritual of tucking me in during the night. He would gather me up on his back, piggyback style, and then run up the stairs to my room, always making a point to pretend to be falling backwards on the top step, something that my younger self used to delight in, that sensation of nothing behind me, and me holding on to my strong father for dear life so I wouldn’t fall, but he never let me. He carried me as always. I always used to love this moment, that one small snatch of time where it was just me and him. That’s how I always remember him the best, us laughing, me clinging on to his shoulders, half in terror, the other half joy.
God he was a good man.
My dad was also a bit of a workaholic unfortunately. He would spend long hours away from us working, so any time that I could spend with him was always a bonus to me, my nightly tuck in being one of them.
He had watched me spend the day placing my stickers on the ceiling (and I swear I heard him muttering darkly something about “Gonna take the paint off”, but I tried to ignore that) and he knew that I had been waiting for this moment all day.
Once he got me into my bed, he gave me a little kiss on the forehead like he always used to do, his stubble tickling me, which always made me squirm, and the scent of his aftershave filled my world in a way that always makes me think of him to this day if I smell it elsewhere, and then walked over to my light switch and paused.
“You ready?” he asked me.
He turned off the light.
It was beautiful.
The walls of my bedroom seemed to fall away as my room exploded in a sudden burst of light. In front of my eyes, a never ending swirl of universe glittered above me, shimmering and gleaming like real stars.
“Bloody hell!” my dad said, upon seeing the wonder I had created. “Are you sure you’re going to be able to sleep with this?”
“It’s brilliant!” I replied.
And I meant it.
As he left my room, I lay on my back and just stared straight ahead. My bedroom window was open slightly and a cool breeze blew in, which further enhanced the idea that I wasn’t in some suburban bedroom, but was in fact drifting through the cold and empty upper reaches of the stratosphere. I almost felt that I could reach out my arm and touch the universe I had created as it was that close.
That night I slept deeply amongst the stars.
For the first few weeks, my favourite time of day would be that brief pause, just before I turned my lights out, and I knew that my room was going to be instantly transformed and take me to another place. I used to daydream about that moment all day, as to my child's mind, it was the most perfect thing ever. And it was.
Every kid at one point wants to be an astronaut; I got to do it every night as I lay on my bed.
As the weeks rolled on, as time does, my love for my stars began to gradually change though. Whereas before it was something fun and exciting to me, now, as each night drew in, I began to like my universe less and less. Instead of making me feel as if I was floating in space, it began to make me feel incredibly small and insignificant, like I was nothing more than a speck of dust, drifting through an infinite darkness and lost forever.
As I closed my eyes, I could feel these stars pressing against my eyelids, the glow from them invading my head and preventing me from sleeping. I would toss and turn in my bed, burying my head under blankets and trying to find an angle where I could find some peace, where I would be allowed to finally drift off. But no matter what I did, the sensation of all these stars pressing against my tiny body always stopped me from doing so. The moment when I turned my lights out at night grew later and later, until finally one day, I had enough. I got a ruler from my school bag and began to scrape the stickers one by one from my ceiling, ruining the paintwork, just as my dad had so wisely guessed I would do.
Being ten years old, I couldn’t really articulate in my mind why I suddenly began to feel highly uncomfortable in my room at night, why the sensation of being something so small, tumbling though something so huge, gave me such a feeling of vertigo that it almost made my head spin.
It was about 8 years later, as I was leaving Romford hospital one cold December morning, the morning that I had just seen my mother pass away, that I thought about my ceiling full of stars for the first time in years and how miniscule they made me feel, and I think I began to finally understand why.
Having lost my father three years before, a whole maelstrom of emotions were raging through my head as I blindly walked through the hospital, with its aroma of disinfectant and the sounds of the patients in the wards, but the one thought that played out over and over in my mind was that the moment that I left this building, everything would become real. Right now, hearing my footsteps echo along the corridor, it all seemed dream like, flimsy and unsubstantial, but the moment the automatic doors closed behind me, then I would be facing up to a whole new world with all my safety nets removed.
I had my best friend with me at the time; he had spent the whole night sitting up in the hospital, making sure I was OK. He may have been holding my arm for support, I can’t really remember. The only thing I can really remember is thinking, leave this place and everything changes. That was the only thing that filled my mind. Not the fact that I was now alone. Not the fact that I was going to have to grow up faster than anyone should have a right too. But the simple fact that everything that had gone before, all my past, all my history, had now been ripped apart in the space between heartbeats.
As I stepped out into the weak winter sunlight, it felt as if I was just about to take a massive leap into the unknown, and for some strange reason, I was reminded of lying on my bed at night as a child, with the weight of all those stars pressed upon me, and how so small, helpless, and utterly alone they made me feel.
I don’t think I have ever been so scared in all of my life.
I don’t know why I have written about this to be honest. I guess I have found myself in a reflective mood of late. Maybe it’s because of the New Year? Or it could be totally unrelated, just something that has been plaguing me lately. What I do know is that in a few days, I will probably look at this and feel highly uncomfortable about writing something so personal and take it down. I hope I don’t. It was certainly a lot easier writing about it than speaking it. I guess it’s the separation between a blank page and looking somebody in the eye. I can’t really talk about it in real life, but the act of sometimes writing about it somehow makes it that little bit easier.
There is no real way to finish it as well. I can’t wrap it up with something trite and simple, stick a little bow on it and round off with the sound bite that normally ends some stupid teenage movie.
After that summer, nothing was the same again.
Well, after that winter, nothing was the same again for me, obviously. That 18 year old kid probably wouldn’t recognise the adult that he grew into. I’m a lot harder now, so many things in me are now closed off that shouldn’t be. I don’t like that. I never have. I spoke about change and regret in my last post. I suppose these are mine. I’m just often at a loss as how I am to tackle them.
Don’t worry. Normal service should be resumed next post. Probably poo based.