top of page


‘Merry Christmas sweetheart.’ Peter’s soft voice is a silken thread pulling me oh so gently from sleep.

Looking into his eyes, blue and sparkling as an ocean, I whisper, ‘I love you.’

His blond shaggy hair brushes my cheeks, our lips touch, a brief but tender kiss; then he rolls from me, pulls back the duvet and gets out of bed. I smile, stretch my arms above my inevitably sleep-tousled hair and wiggle toasty-warm toes.

Peter opens the curtains. ‘Hey, Callie, it’s snowing.’

Within moments we are poking our heads through jumper necks, slipping our arms into sleeves and zipping up jeans. Downstairs we giggle as we wriggle into duffle coats, hobble and hop into wellies, then pull on brightly patterned woollen hats and gloves. As we slip and slide our way up the hill to the park, our jingle-bell laughter mists the wintery air as we wonder at a world hugged in white.

Hand in hand, we walk among skeletal trees with snow-burdened branches and bark glittering with frost.

‘It’s like a fairy-tale,’ I say excitedly turning to Peter.

He smiles, but…something is wrong, I can’t feel his hand in mine. ‘Peter?’

The fall of snowflakes fades then is gone.

I sit up, slowly, drowsily, tentatively run a hand over the snow-covered ground…no…a sheet. I don’t understand. Where is Peter? When my eyes find focus, I see a pallid room that offers no comfort in being familiar.

At the sound of creaking, I turn my head, watch the simple lever handle turn downwards. A moment later Peter walks into the room, then closes the pale, faux-wood door, the only hint of warmth in this frigid room. On seeing me, he smiles, but he looks strange, creased, crumpled…crushed. He is not my Peter. As he walks toward me, my heart begins beating its alarm; run, run, run…but there is nowhere to go, nowhere to hide. I pull swathes of sheet closer to me, shrink into my cotton cocoon. When the imposter sits on the edge of the bed, the sheet pulls taut in my tightened grip.

‘Heya sleepy head,’ he says.

I flinch as his fingertips reach up, then begin stroking strands of chestnut hair from my face. At his touch, I know him, see him. Don’t stop Peter, don’t stop.

‘Is it Christmas Day?’ I ask.

‘No, love, it’s the New Year.’

‘W-What happened to Christmas?’

He stops stroking my hair, cups his hands over mine still tightly clutching the sheet. A beat of breath then he says, ‘You’re not well again, Callie.’

‘Oh, right…okay. When are we going home?’

‘Not just yet, Doctor Riley says—’

‘Don’t touch me!’ As soon as I hear that name, a disconnect of images and words begin coalescing into a memory. Still gripping the sheet, I pull my hands free of Peter’s.

Peter lowers his head, pushes fingers deep into his wavy hair, sighs. Standing, he presses his palms down the thighs of his jeans. No. Don’t go. I’m so sorry, don’t go. He walks over to the window, rubs a finger between his eyes. After seconds, or minutes, I’m not sure, he comes back, sits at the end of the bed, stares at the grey floor. I want to reach out, hold him, breathe him in; but I remain unmoving, unfeeling, a stone.

Tick. Tick. I look up at the white clock. Tick. Tick. Tick, the black hand goes, when it will stop, nobody knows. Tick. Tick. Getting louder. TICK. TICK. Time sweeping little bits of me away with every deafening TICK. TICK. TICK. Why can’t it just ‘Shut the fuck up.’

I quickly look back to Peter, his gaze still fixed on the floor, and realise the words never left my mouth.

Tap…tap, tap. I turn my head. Bulbous raindrops are hurling themselves against glass, tumbling down the pane in meandering rivulets. I hear the door opening again, clanging, voices, then the odour of boiled cabbage infuses the room’s sterile air. A click. Silence. Reluctantly I look away from the rain splattered window.

‘How are we doing in here?’

Hell is an overly cheerful Doctor Riley.

Neither Peter nor I have anything to say.

Carrying a small cardboard kidney dish, a grey-suited Doctor Riley wheezes round the foot of the bed. After putting the dish on the bedside cabinet, he pulls up a metal-framed plastic chair. Holding a hand against his white shirt and navy tie, he lowers his considerable bulk into the seat which emits a weary groan.

As he leans closer, I smell aftershave and cigarette smoke. Looking at his shiny head, I think it would make a wonderful slide for raindrops.

‘Callie? Do you understand where you are and why?’ he says in a dull, matter of fact tone.

‘Yes,’ I say curtly before returning my gaze to the window.


‘Do you think all this sedation is helping?’ asks Peter.

An intake of breath through teeth. ‘Well now, most of the body’s healing occurs during sleep, so the more sleep Callie gets, the better. It will give the new medication a chance to get to work, but time will tell. To be honest, we’re running out of options.’

My head turns quickly as I laser a death-glare at Doctor Riley. Bastard.

‘Right Callie, I’m going to give you your injection now. You will start to feel drowsy in a few minutes.’

A small scratch, then moments later the syringe is put back in the dish and a small round plaster is being pushed onto my arm. Then his large hand briefly touches my shoulder. ‘Try to relax, it helps.’

Relax? Is he kidding me?

‘No, I can’t do this,’ I say feebly pushing the sheet away.

Peter puts his arms around me, holds me close. ‘It’s going to be okay, Callie, I promise.’

Tired of struggling, I lean back on the pillows, turn my head and watch the rain. Two laughing nurses sharing an umbrella, run past the window. The sound is a key turning in the lock of a door to a memory. I push it open. A party. Standing on the threshold of the past, I see myself, smiling, dancing.

It’s New Year’s Eve. I look so happy as I move my hips and feet in time to the music, hands in the air. A girl dancing beside me looks at me. I smile at her. ‘Freak,’ she shouts as she circles a finger round her temple. Then she cups a hand to another girl’s ear, and they start laughing. The joy on my face turns to confusion.

As I watch my past self, trying to understand, I remember wondering if thirty-five was too old for dancing at parties. Or whether it was my hair or my dress. Then came burning, shrivelling, shame. I’d been hot from dancing and had pushed the sleeves of my dress up. I yanked green velvet down over the bracelet of scars. How could I have been so stupid as to forget who I am? I just wanted to be happy. As I ran from the party, from their twisted faces with cherry lipstick smeared around gaping holes of laughter, my head began to hum, lights flashed behind my eyes, like…like...I quickly step back and close the door on the memory.

‘My head, the noise…lights,’ I hear myself saying.

I reach out. Fingers, a skull ring, I grasp Peter’s hand.

An old grainy movie of my life flickers behind my eyes. A little girl pushed over in a playground. A teenager. First love. A woman curled up on a giant, slowly spinning record, as Jerry Rafferty sings, ‘Another year and then you’ll be happy’, over and over. 'Hello, Callie, remember us?' They’re back, whispering, talking, louder, louder. Why isn’t this bloody injection working? I try to shake the voices out my head, one sneering this, another taunting that, so many voices, filling my head with all their non-stop talk, talk, talking.

‘Can you feel the poison a drip, drip, dripping in your brain?’ 'Thought you could get away from us, eh?' ‘Are you listening Callie...hello?’ 'We're the only ones you can trust dear, you do know that, don’t you?' 'Never learn, will she?' 'No, I don't suppose she will.' 'Oh, do stop that crying Callie, no one can hear you.' 'Hey! Over here. Don’t listen to them, listen to me, remember, Callie, remember…’

Yes, I remember...I’m running, from the party. Yellow streetlight glistens off damp, black pavements. Behind me I can hear Peter shouting my name. People are staring, backing away. I run through an open rusty metal door. An echoing bang behind me. The door won’t open. Walls everywhere, I can’t get out. I claw at wood, brick. Then I clutch at something, a bar, smooth, cold, then another. Rungs? Yes, a ladder. I start to climb. Up, Callie, up, you must keep moving.

A fierce wind bites my cheeks, roars in my ears. My hair whips angrily about my face. Car horns screeching, ‘There she is! There she is!’ I run into something, a chain-link fence. Exhausted I sit down, hug my knees, hide behind my eyes, wait until the onslaught of light and sound abates.

Slowly, I try standing. As car headlights sweep past, I catch sight of my dress hem, it’s ripped and sodden. Where are my shoes? Once on my feet, unsteady, bewildered, I start walking, anywhere, somewhere, nowhere.

Stars blink in a silent universe as the wind moans its woeful lullaby. Then I see them, my friends, the only ones who offer words of hope, of something better; tiny technicolour fairies dancing in the night.

‘You found me,' I whisper.

‘Callie, don’t move, love, just stay still.’ Peter’s voice?

As I turn blue flashing lights blind me, I lift a hand to shield my eyes.

Then I see him, standing a few feet away, holding out his hands. He looks older than his thirty-seven years; his face etched with worry, washed over with tiredness. No. I don’t want to see that. I turn back to the glittering night.

‘Please, Callie, take my hands, please.’ I have never heard Peter beg before.

From somewhere far below, a murmuring, ‘We’ll catch you…trust us…trust us…trust us…’

I look down to see the opaline moon quivering on the dark rushing river. I feel dizzy. As I move a foot to steady myself, cruel hands grab me, pull me back. A scream fills the air, fills me.

An ambulance, a wheelchair, Doctor Riley, a box of tissues, a torrent of pain.

So here I am, an emotional desert parched of tears. I’m tired…so very tired. Finally, finally, my mind is quiet, my arms and legs feel…heavy…no, relaxed.

‘Please get well, Callie. Come back to me,’ Peter says.

Something in his voice.

I search his face, look into his eyes. Where has his light gone? Then I see it. His torment. The words he desperately wants to say, needs to say, but never will. ‘Please Callie, stay on your meds, let them help you, I just can’t do this anymore.’

As I look at him, something stirs in me, a new fledgling feeling. Courage. And I realise it has come from my love for Peter. I have never found courage in self-love, because I can't find courage in something that isn't there. I think love of self is a more fragile and more complicated thing altogether. For now, my love for Peter will be my strength, my courage. And when I see that light in his eyes again, I’ll think, I did that. And maybe, that will be the moment I find strength in self-love too.

I look at Doctor Riley. ‘I'm...ready.’ It’s hard to talk.

Dr Riley nods. He understands. ‘Sleep now, Carrie, we have a lot of work to do,’ he says.

As Peter kisses my face, my eyes close, and as I walk into the hinterland of sleep, there waiting for me, are my friends.

It has taken three years. Three years of assessments and appointments; of tears and tissues, of one step forward, half a step back, yet always, always moving forward. There were times I thought being ill again would have been easier. But after a year, the appointments became less frequent, and the medication I am on has given me a life I never thought possible. I am no longer a passive onlooker, helpless to help myself, but an active participant in keeping myself well. I hardly recognise the person I used to be, yet know I am that same person, but now I have the tools to help me stay well, be happy.

Taking hold of Peter’s hand, I step down from the chair. ‘Is she straight now?’

He tilts his head slightly. ‘Yup.’

Holding each other, I rest my head on his shoulder as we look up at the colourful fairy on top of the twinkling Christmas tree. A beautiful, poignant reminder that even in my darkest despair, somewhere inside of me, there was hope.

bottom of page