Home is where the Pink Hearts are

THE WRITER’S LIFE

pink-heart-hands

It’s all come flooding back this week; Everything’s come home to roost. My studio might as well have been the old squat on a couple of occasions: Not because it was untidy; I’m so house proud and OCD that I even kept the squat clean and tidy when I was living there.

The police were round, a bit like they used to visit the squat. Back then, when it was a gathering ground for teenagers, the police would occasionally pop in to see who was there. If anyone had gone AWOL from school, the police would go to the squat. On the occasions when one of the young adults was reported missing, the police would check at the squat and ask me to keep my ears open. There were no drugs or underage sex at the squat and we enjoyed a community spirit with the law. The nick was quite literally next door.

This time, one of the Pink Hearts – the family which formed in that squat, mostly teenagers to whom I owe my life – had got into a spot of bother and needed somewhere to stay the night. For whatever reason, I’m the person this young lady felt safe with, so she asked the police to bring her to my place. So at three o’clock on Thursday morning, I had a Battenberg cake drop off a passenger in the mill yard outside my studio. One of the other Pink Hearts had to crash the night when her lift home forgot her.

And what do I get up to when these teenage girls stay for the night? Sit with them, talk, smoke weed and binge on DVDs. I don’t see them like others might. I see suffragettes. I see friends. I see family. Those “kids” who used to congregate at the squat, saved my life. They made me realise that life’s worth living, even when you have fuck all. My role there became an advisory one and a few of those young adults came under my wing. We remain close and the ethos of the Pink Hearts family lives on always.

There’s another Pink Heart adult: The mum of one of the girls and now my right-hand. When you’re left-handed, it’s handy (sorry) to have a right-hand and a same-age sounding board as we deal with some of the younger ones in the family.

All the signs are that this week will be similar to last. But where once I resisted company, any company is improved if there’s a supply of weed. And so has my life been by cannabis, helping me to overcome the worst of my anxiety.

It should be no surprise that I smoke weed. After all, Bob Marley’s son is named Ziggy, after Ziggy Stardust. I’m a Bowie fan with my musical roots in the birthplace of Ska: Kingston, Jamaica. I like reggae. This is what I am, but I’m only now putting the whole puzzle together. Part of me simply refused to grow up.

I’ve been less than prolific on the writing front. I’ve fitted freelance work around everything else and my personal output is concentrated on pre-publication projects: The Perpetuity of Memory mainly, as it’s still due out next month. It’s difficult to work when there are two teenage girls around. Not because I might be expected to be distracted by such a presence; I’m not like that. No, because at least one of them talks a lot and they’re both pleasant company. Although there were times when I might once have screamed, now I just look at them and I have to smile. Because in those young people, I see myself at that age; Because those girls and their friends gave me a reason to live; and because when they’re around, I don’t want to stop the world and get off any more.

I spent a long time finding out what I wanted to do with my life. An autobiography-ette; Born 1970, not dead yet:

I “grew up”, got married, had kids. I was sales director for a group of companies. I earned £75k a year and I had a decent car. Then I ran my own company, banked about £10k a month and got drunk. Then my marriage failed and I lost my home and family. I got a flat in Bexley. I had a swimming pool. I’d got into poker when I was still married. There was a massive live poker scene around Bexley. Eventually, I was running the company in the morning, then going to The Empire on Leicester Square to play poker through the night. The whole thing was fuelled by Coke up my nose. Cocaine and drink took over. I gradually lost everything and had to hand over my poker bankroll (£6000) to save my legs.

The rest was a downward spiral into the gutter. And that’s where all those young adults met me.

And now I’m poor but I’m doing what I love: I’m a writer.

But just as I can’t forget how my life fell apart, neither can I forget those kids; the Pink Hearts: Never a gang, always family.

Those kids were born between AIDS and 9/11: That’s quite a thought to take on board. Many of them have had troubled lives and some have mental health issues: That’s the other tie which binds us as a family. Like me, some have made attempts to take their own lives. Now that I know them, I’m glad I failed. And hopefully, I might have played some small part in getting them through some issues.

There are times when I remember life on the streets quite fondly: I’m perhaps part-tramp. Because yes, I was a “tramp” once. But just as blacks and gays reclaimed words, so tramps can be proud. Call me a tramp as an insult and I’ll wish I could show you how it’s a term which makes me proud to be a part of a humanist crowd. Most wouldn’t make it through.

I’ve come to terms with my mental illness(es). And I wonder, which was it? Did the entire world change, or did I realise I had a psychological condition? This is my internal dialogue as I come to terms with things and try to finally relax in amongst everything that’s grown around me.

“I understood myself only after I destroyed myself. And only in the process of fixing myself, did I know who I really was.”

Sade Andria Zabala

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