When I’m Thinner…(The Mess Of Me)

The Mess Of Me was never meant to happen. It was never a plan, or a decision that I made. I was busy rewriting my novel The Boy With The Thorn In His Side; a book and a plot which had been with me for over twenty years. It was finally, blessedly getting its time. It was happening. I was writing again. I didn’t know who it would be aimed at, and I certainly did not see myself as a Young Adult writer. No, Lou Carling was not wanted, or invited, or planned. She just showed up one day, and the funny thing was, she had lots of things to say, which were sort of similar to things I wanted to say.

I know that if I look up and see his face, then I won’t be able to say any of the things I am thinking. Is that the way it is for everyone? Or are there some lucky people who are able to voice their exact thoughts and feelings in such a way, that everyone understands them instantly?’

She was hard to ignore, but I tried for a while, because I so needed to get The Boy With The Thorn In His Side done. It had been bugging me for years.  Like a lot of the characters that end up in my books, sixteen year old Lou wouldn’t go away, or shut up. She was a persistent voice in my head during dog walks and time alone. I started listening to her more and more, and God, she made me smile.

I could be so much more, but I can’t seem to be bothered. I want to do nothing. Be nothing. Have nothing to say….I am stuck I suppose. I am jammed. I am unable to move on. I am oddly incapable of development. But I am very good at shrinking.’ 

And so I gave in. The Mess Of Me was written very quickly, during a three month period of rest from The Boy. The Boy was with one of my beta readers, and so I had a window…

Lou didn’t even give me a plot to start with. She was extremely fond of swearing, and she had a cynical, narrow-eyed way of looking at the world she lived in. Her world was small, and reminded me of the one I grew up in. Council estate, identical houses, playparks and graffiti.

I think, look at this here, this is my entire life! This is it, right here. This park, and this field, and school, and the walk over the bridge to get there, and the town, and the bus ride in, and the Priory church and a terraced house, and noisy neighbours, and the parade of shops, and everyone knowing who you are, and where you live, and the working men’s club, and the car parks and the alley ways, and the Provident loan lady and the Avon calling, and the Christmas hampers that take all year to pay for.’

The more she talked and moaned and bitched, the more of her life I could see unfolding behind her. I could see her so clearly, and knew her so well by the time I started writing the book for her. And it was for her. It was to shut her up and get her out of my head, but it was more than that. I wanted to build a plot and a world and story around her character, and the way she masked self-loathing with scorn and contempt for just about everyone and everything.

The truth is, she reminded me a lot of me at that age. How I was convinced that everything would be better when I was thinner. I would be happier, more popular, things would go right, I would know who I was and what I was doing. All of that, and more. In short, life was on hold until I got thinner, and when I did get thinner, everything would be perfect and I would know what satisfaction felt like. I would know what it felt like to look in the mirror and smile and be proud. I truly and naively believed that being thinner would solve all of my problems.

I was all grown up with kids of my own when Lou started talking to me about her problems, but right away, she brought back so many memories I had forgotten. Like her, I can remember having a ‘never again’ moment with a doughnut.

I can still remember the day I snapped. I can still remember the jam doughnut that I crushed inside my fist, instead of inside my mouth. I guess it made me feel stronger somehow, more in control, more savage. Less of a fat loser.’ 

I was house sitting for my mum’s friend, and she had MTV, which was excellent, because we didn’t. This was back in the day when MTV was just the one channel that played music videos every day. I saw the video for the Aerosmith song ‘Cryin’, the one with Alicia Silverstone in it. I remember thinking how pretty and blonde and thin and perfect she was. I sat there on the sofa, eating doughnuts, and feeling the reality of my own squidgy flesh trapping me in a body I loathed and wanted rid of. I knew it was not going to happen by thinking about it, or moaning about it, or crying about it. I had to actually do something about it. And if I did something about it, one day I could be like the girl in the video. And everything would be better when I was as thin as her…

Lou was funny and sad. She was bitter and cynical and snarling in my head, and she sounded so much like me, and she thought a lot like me too, but she was braver. She was bolder, smarter and funnier than me. When I was her age I kept my mouth shut and my feelings to myself. Lou was less likely to do this, and it was such sweet relief to let her take over for a while, to let her loose. Like me, she also allowed the words she could not say or contain inside her head, to spill out across the walls of her teenage bedroom.

Life is fucked up in broken wellies…’

As she loses more weight, Lou discovers a power she never knew she owned. It starts innocently enough, with a calorie controlled diet, and a new found enthusiasm for jogging. But as the weight begins to fall off, Lou finds it then becomes harder and harder to eat. In fact, just thinking about food grips her with fear. She starts to avoid it. She skips meals and she lies. And as she gets thinner and thinner, she experiences an increase in attention from friends, family and boys.

Her best friend Joe and his older brother Travis start to show an interest in her. They even fight over her at a drunken party. Her best friend/enemy Marianne, encourages her to lose more weight and stick to her diet.

Over the course of the summer between school and college, life unravels fast for Lou, Joe and Marianne. The drama centres around Joe’s decision to help deliver drugs for his older brothers. Leon and Travis are paying him attention for the first time in his life, which makes him risk everything in order to help them. Lou is pulled into the drama and the madness, and all the time, quietly in the background, she continues to lose weight. At one point, she catches sight of her face in the mirror and for a brief moment does not recognise herself at all.

But then I realise that it is me, it is my face I am staring back at, and how very peculiar not to recognise myself? I do not know whether to feel glad or sad, and I suppose that I feel plenty of both.’

The book starts with her lying in bed and running her hands over the bumps of her hip-bones and ribs. She wonders if she will be happy when she is as thin as she wants to be. I can remember doing the same thing at the end of the day, when the hunger was at its angriest. I would feel the lumps and bumps of bones rather than fat, and I would feel calmed and affirmed.

Like Lou, I had been a chubby youngster. I surprised myself as much as anyone else the day I said ‘no’ to pudding. But once the word ‘no’ came out of my mouth, I realised that I could say it and mean it. It became easier and easier to say. No. Would you like a second helping? No thank you. Would you like ice cream? No thanks.

The ‘no’ was my friend, and on my side. Unlike everyone else, it wanted to help me reach my goals. The trouble was, the ‘no’ voice gets louder and more insistent. The ‘no’ starts to speak up more and more and more. So that you go to prepare a healthy breakfast, and the voice says ‘no, you don’t need that’. Or you tuck into your dinner, a smaller portion than normal, of course, and straight away, the voice pipes up; no, don’t do it. No. You can’t have that. It gets harder and harder to ignore that voice.

For fans of the book, I can confirm that a sequel has been started, but is on hold while I complete other projects. I do however, know exactly what happens and the entire book is plotted out. Titled The Mess Of Us, the book is set two years on from the first book. Are Lou and Joe together, or are they still just friends? How has Joe’s personality been effected by the ordeal he suffered towards the end of the first book? Does Lou still worry about her weight?

I stand sideways and run one hand over the bumps of my ribs, and for some reason this just makes me collapse in tears, because when I look at her, when I look back, I can still see fat where it shouldn’t be.’

It would be unrealistic to suggest that Lou’s eating problems have magically vanished. Readers of the book will know that she does manage to get herself together towards the end of the book, partly due to the intervention of her mother, and partly due to what happens to Joe making her realise other things are more important.’

Like Lou, I grew up and got to grips with things. Like Lou, I never totally succumbed to my inner demons; instead I fought them off and pushed the ‘no’ voice away. Not all people who experience eating disorders are able to do this. I was lucky enough to receive help which enabled me make sense of so many things, and made me realise what I wanted out of life. Funnily enough, even at that young age, the thing I wanted most of all was to be a mother, and I knew that my ridiculous eating habits were damaging my chances to be one. I had something to work for, something to hold onto. Motherhood is explored in The Mess Of Me, and in the sequel too, but in different ways and for different reasons…

I’ve always said having kids saved me. I became in awe of my body. I was proud of it. I didn’t hate it anymore, and even more importantly than that, once I had daughters I felt a responsibility not to pass my body issues on to them. In our house, we try to focus on health and happiness, not looks. But it is hard, in this society, which still values the thinness of women so much. You only have to look at the way the media portrays women; focusing on whether they have lost or gained weight, what dress they are wearing, what haircut they have, rather than on the job for which they are famous.

I’ve had four children, and my body is not what it was. Time and child bearing have taken their toll, and rightly so. I am not hung up on it anymore, but I would be lying if the ‘no’ voice had completely gone away. Just as it would be unrealistic to expect Lou to have completely recovered between the two books, it’s unrealistic to expect anyone who has experienced eating disorders to be over them forever. Like other forms of addiction and compulsive behaviour, these things become part of you, and to a certain extent, they are always there. There are days that go badly, days when you feel down, days when you look in the mirror and that gloating little voice pops up to whisper in your ear; ‘things would be so much better if you were thinner…’

The Mess Of Me happened because Lou Carling invaded my head space and bitched about everything that annoyed her. Parents. Friends. School. Having to grow up. Everything. Funnily enough, the book jumped the queue and ended up being published before The Boy… It was ready to go, and became my debut novel in 2013. At the time I still wasn’t sure who was meant to read it, or who it was aimed at. These days, I am extremely proud to call it a Young Adult coming-of-age novel, and although I do write books aimed at adults as well, they always seem to have young people in them too. Weird.

The Mess of Me by Chantelle Atkins

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He Is A Storm

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He Is A Storm

There is a storm in his head.

It is black and violent and consuming and becomes him.

It has been there for so long, ebbing and flowing, dimming and glowing. It burns from the inside of his brain, begging release. His heart is on fire. Pain explodes in his guts and suddenly he is not human anymore.

Because a fine line snaps.

Because it pulls taut, tighter than normal, tighter than anyone can stand, vibrating like guitar strings. And on this day, and in this moment, it snaps. The line snaps and it sets him free.

He is no longer tethered, or loosely, marginally restrained. He is no longer held back, warned off, given the look, or contained. There is nothing between them now. Nothing except the black storm inside his head and the ping of the line as it snaps inside of him, and sets him free, sets him reeling forwards.

He moves soundlessly in his head, yet somehow he knows his open mouth is bellowing years of pent up rage. He feels his bulk multiplying in size and force. He is like a building rising up before exploding and falling down. And he does fall down.

Set free, he gives himself totally to violence. It’s blind and raging and delicious and addictive. He falls down upon the smaller body, and they clash, bones jarring, muscles screaming, eyes popping. Game on. And sounds rise into the air around them and above them, as they entwine and entangle, as they smash and crash and dance into the wall.

His own soul bellowing while it dies.

The cries of shock and pain. They make primal sounds, the two of them, dancing. And the girl is in the background but she is insignificant to the fight. A fly in the air buzzing. A bug on his neck scratching. He swats her away like she is nothing.

And the more he punishes the body he has seized, the more free he becomes. An ugly wound stuffed tight now breaks open, and the foul gush runs free, rumbling and turning within the fire that burns. And the more he hates and the more he punishes, the better he feels, the best ever, and he wants to cling onto that feeling for longer. And so the rage screams from his lips, and the fists go in and out, in and out, until the blood smothers them, thick and warm like crimson gloves.

It spatters his face like paint. Droplets in his hair and eyes and mouth. He is eating him alive. Blood brothers. The bug is on his back again, fighting and clawing, her screams mixed with the bellow in his own brain, until he throws her aside and lands on top of her.

And now the storms starts to subside, starts to ease off, like a deep breath taken and held, and everything stops, and he sees his bloody fists and he feels the ache of his knuckles and he sees the terror in her face, and he sees the body lying still against the wall.

But he asked for it. He went too far. Wrong moment. Wrong time. Wrong person. Wrong place. Wrong life. He couldn’t stop. Because he didn’t want to stop. But now he has stopped. The storm betrays him and skies start to clear.

She stares back at him and suddenly there is someone else, coming towards them, shocked and crying out. And this breaks whatever is left of the spell, and the hold the storm had on him is gone, over, broken.

The line tries to find its way back, tries to reattach, but it can’t find its way. He gives up. He gives himself up to everything. He runs from their terror and from the blood on the wall and from the figure on the floor. Like a beast, like a creature, like a monster, he charges bull-like, monstrous, inhuman, thick and hard and powering through everything as he explodes from the inside, and he runs from them all.

Blood in his mouth.

Sweet and tangy.

He spits and retches and heaves and runs. He opens the car door and somehow he is driving. Tyres screech against tarmac. Panic thunders in his chest. He can’t breathe, or see, or think. He is not human, he knows only this. He turned his back on it and embraced insanity. He drives, not knowing where he is driving to.

He drives to her.

Something desperate and clawing, something raw and open and bleeding and weeping and begging and shaking. Something hammering at his blackened mind. Words and visions and blood soaked dreams. His mother washing his mouth out with soap. Picking up the frying pan and battering his step-dad over the head with it. Wanting to do so much more. Needing to.

The door is open. Unlocked. No cars. No one home? It is like the house is waiting for him, door open, enticing, inviting him in. He runs in, blood soaked and calling her name, twisting his hands inside his t-shirt, trying to wipe off his crime.

His mind is chattering. Cold now. Afraid.

Oh what have I done, what have I done, what have I done, what have I done…

            Powers up the stairs. His body is rigid, rock hard with adrenaline tightened muscles. He could run through walls. Sail through windows. Calling her name. Calling for her.

What have I done, what have I done? Oh what have you done? What have you done?

            He finds her lying there like a pale, limp starfish.

Arms and legs all stuck out to the side of her tiny body dressed in black. He finds her open eyes staring, but not seeing. He finds her sheets soaked in blood. He finds her wrists sliced open, undone, like him. Her line snapped too.

Oh what have you done? What have you done?

            He pulls off his t-shirt and wraps it around her wrists, winding the bloody material around and around, binding her hands together.

What have you done?

            He gathers her small body into his big, naked arms, and her head rolls back and he hears her gasp, feels the breath leave her mouth and smother his face, and he holds her and runs.

In the hospital he sits, covered in so much blood, yet none of it is his. They think it has all come from her, the girl he brought in, the life he saved. He sits there, on a hard plastic chair while they stitch her up, fix her, attach her line and shake their fingers.

You saved her life.

            She’ll be okay. What’s your name?

            Where are you going? Where are you going?

            Don’t you want to see her now? You can see her now.

            But he can’t see her now. He can’t see anyone. Least of all himself. He is a storm.

This short story is written from the POV of Leon, a character in my novel The Mess Of Me. If you would like to find out more about his story, you can download the novel here;http://www.amazon.co.uk/Mess-Me-Chantelle-Atkins-ebook/dp/B00CSVQ8EQ/ref=sr_1_3?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1438892427&sr=1-3

Book Review: The Mess of Me by Chantelle Atkins

Do you ever use askDavid.com to find yourself a new book to read?

The Mess of Me by Chantelle Atkins is now listed there, along with an in depth description of the book. This site guides you with the use of categories to find books that may interest you. The Mess of Me has been listed under:

  • Eating Disorders
  • Self Harming
  • Drugs
  • Families
  • First Love
  • Violence
  • Step Families
  • Growing Up

My first published novel, The Mess of Me is about being young, growing up, hating your body and your family. Its about wanting to escape, while at the same time not having a clue what or who you want to be. It is about the people in our lives who we really know nothing about. It is about friendship and first love.

The characters I create are always flawed in some way, which for me adds to their depth and intrigue. They are the people I would be drawn to in real life, the interesting people I would like to be friends with!

Head over to the Book Review now!

The Mess Of Me:Chapter 35

35

Coming Home

 

Dear World, I sleep and sleep, and for once they all just let me.  They all just leave me alone.  I sleep the rest of the day away, wake up mid-evening and stagger to the toilet, and then find myself back in bed, and sinking quickly back into yet more sleep.  I can sense my mother hovering anxiously on the sidelines, pausing in the doorway, sighing and catching her breath.  I know she must be worrying about meals, and what I have and have not eaten.  But she leaves me be.

When I finally wake up properly it is half way through the next day, and I arise from bed with a sense of panic drumming in my veins.  I get washed and dressed, and whip back the curtains to reveal the day outside.  Joe.  I am panicked about Joe.  What if something has happened?  What if something has changed, and I wasn’t there?  What if he is gone?  What if he left me and I missed it? Fuck! I hurry down the stairs, hoping my mum can give me a lift to the hospital, and wondering why the hell they didn’t wake me up sooner.

“It’s all right!” she tells me at once, as I fly into view.  She is drinking coffee at the table.  “There’s no change.  Joe is still the same.  I would have woken you if I needed to.  Don’t panic.”

I breathe out.  I wonder how scared I must have looked.  My mother smiles warmly at me. “I’ll take you as soon as you’ve had something to eat,” she reassures me. I sit down, nodding okay.  She gets up and starts to make me a sandwich.  I try to remember the last time I went for a run, and I can’t.  I start to feel a little creeping guilt crawling up from my belly.  I wonder if my waistband feels a little tighter.  A bizarre and twisted part of my mind tells me that when Joe wakes up, if he had wanted to kiss me before, he certainly wouldn’t now.  Travis must be wrong, I think.  Why would someone like Joe want to bother with someone as messed up as me?  He knows all about me, I remind myself rather viciously.  He knows what a mess I really am. I tell myself to shut the fuck up but I do not listen.  I play strange scenarios out in my mind.  Such as Joe opening his eyes dramatically, and finding me the only one there, me looking fresh faced and beautiful.  Ha! What the hell is wrong with me?  “Marianne is back home,” mum tells me, as she slides a plate with a ham sandwich on it under my nose.   I pick it up and take a bite.  She watches with her hands on her hips.  “Funny girl that one.  And I still can’t believe Leon was the one that saved her.”  She smiles at my widening eyes.  “Lorraine told me, of course.  News travels fast round here!  I think, to be honest, it’s made her feel better, that he did that.  She coming to terms with her son being some kind of monster, but now she can have some hope for him too.  I mean, if he did something like that?  Oh I don’t know.  I still can’t understand any of it.”

“Me neither.”

“The other thing is, he’s in custody now.”

I stare at her.  “What?  When?”

“Last night.  Apparently he just walked into the police station and handed himself in.”

I am speechless.  “What?”

“I know,” my mum nods in amazement.  “I can’t fathom it.  Just walked in.  Just gave himself up.”  She walks past me to get her shoes and bag.  “I don’t know what to make of any of it,” she adds brightly.

“Neither do I,” I tell her.

 

I walk with my mother into the hospital, which is now starting to feel like an old friend.  We know the way; we don’t have to ask for directions.  I walk along, listening to my mother complain about the smell of hospitals, but it is not the smell that I notice.  It is the heat.  You walk in and feel like peeling off a layer almost immediately, which I do, slipping off my cardigan and tying it around my waist.  My mum herds me along, one hand on my back.  “You know you were all born in here,” she tells me distractedly.  I do know.  She has told me this a hundred million times.  That is how she met Lorraine.  On the labour ward, with Sara and Leon.  Through fretting and chatting about new motherhood, they discovered they lived around from the corner from each other, and the rest, as they say, is history.

When we get to Intensive care, we have to buzz the button and wait to be let in.  “You’re quiet,” my mum says to me as I yawn.

“Am I?”

“Yes.”

It is Mick that lets us in.  He grabs my mum by the arm and pulls her through, and I immediately sense his urgency, and my heart hammers into action, and I break out into a horrible cold sweat.  “What is it?” my mum calls to him, as he starts to pull her down the corridor.

“Joe?” I cry out.

“Come on!” he yells at the two of us.  “Quickly!”

“Mum?”  I look at her for help.  I find her sleeve and cling onto it.  Mick rushes towards Joe’s door, just as Lorraine appears through it, blinking and shaking her head, and her face a picture of trailing tears and disbelief.

“Lorraine?” my mum seizes her.  Lorraine grips her arms.

“Go and see!” she says to me, before collapsing on my mum. I am so confused.  I cannot understand what is going on.  I am too afraid to move.  I look to Mick, and he nods at the door as he holds it open for me, and I force my feet to move, but they feel like concrete.  He gives me a gentle push, and I am in.  I am in the room.

Joe is still lying on the bed.  Joe is staring at me.

My body reacts violently to the shock and the relief.  I feel a massive shudder wringing through me, and my knees go weak.  I put out one hand and find the end of the bed and hold onto it.  He is staring back at me.  His hazel eyes are like slits through all the bruising and swelling, but I can still see them.  He does not have the mask or the tubes anymore.  He looks confused, and so pale, but he smiles at me really slowly.  “You motherfucking bastard!” I tell him, and burst into tears.

I hear them laughing outside the room.  I wonder if they have their faces pressed up to the glass.  I don’t care.  I fall into the plastic chair, I shove it forward and I snatch up his hand.  This time his fingers tighten on mine.  They feel weak and fragile, but they move, he moves them.  I squeeze them back and he winces.

“Ahh that hurts,” he says, and his voice is a hoarse whisper.

“You bastard,” I tell him again, shaking my head from side to side.

“Bitch,” he grins at me.

“How’s your head?”

“Numb.”

“Are you gonna’ be okay?  Are you brain damaged or anything?”

He snorts at me.  “You wish.”

“You were brain damaged to start with,” I say to him, as the relief floods through me, warm and tingling, making my limbs fizz with excitement and energy. I want to grab that feeling in my hand, snatch it up and shove it in a bottle somewhere to keep, because to me right then, that feeling is life.  Life. I hold his hand in mine, rubbing my thumb back and forth against his skin.  I just stare at him for a few moments.  I am smiling, and shaking, and I can’t take my eyes off his face, his eyes and his mouth.  “Where were you?” I say eventually.  “Do you remember anything?”

“Not really,” he croaks, moving his head a tiny bit.  “It’s all a blur.”

“I’ve been sat here talking to you for days.  Feels like years!”

“I’m sorry.”

“What are you sorry about retard?  Tosspot.  Dick brain!”

“Witch,” he grins at me, curling his fingers into mine.  “Fuckwit.  Reject.”

“You arsehole,” I tell him, laughing, wiping my eyes with the sleeve of my cardigan.  “I’ve never been so scared in my entire life.  Or so bored!”

“Sorry,” he says again, still smiling.  “So do I get a kiss or what?”

I frown at him.  I think I want to hit him.  I want to wrap my arms around him and check he is real.  Put my head against his heart and listen to it thumping.  “Kiss?  Are you insane?  Why would I want to kiss you?”

“Because you missed me, because I scared you, because it’s the last fucking chance I’m gonna get!” I laugh out loud.  I stand up and lean over him, as if threatening him.  Fuck, I think, I have missed him.  “You don’t deserve a kiss,” I tease him, coming closer.  His smile is huge in his swollen face.  “You look like the quasimodo or something,” I tell him.  “You look like you’re wearing a Halloween mask.”

“You can’t insult a man on his death bed, whore.”

“One kiss,” I tell him.  “And if your breath stinks, you’re for it!”

“Okay,” he grins, wriggling slightly under his blankets.  I laugh out loud again.  I feel like an idiot.  I feel so, so happy.  I wish again that I could grasp hold of this feeling that I have, I want to capture it and keep it, and be able to speak of it and explain it, because it is better and stronger than any other high there is.  It does not even have a name, I think.  Happy to be alive.  Happy to embrace life.  What the fuck? I don’t know!  I am sixteen remember, I don’t know anything! I stop thinking and I lean down and press my lips upon his.  I close my eyes.  My hair slips down and covers his face.  He kisses me back.  It feels like coming home.  It feels like a breath I have been waiting to take. I pull back and stare at him in triumph.

“About fucking time Carling,” he winks at me.  I sit back down, I feel kind of giddy and sick, but I can’t stop smiling.

“You didn’t have to go to all this trouble just to get me to kiss you,” I tell him, jokingly.

“But it helps though.”

I look over my shoulder.  I see Mum and Lorraine and Mick all at the window, eyes on us, all of them smiling sickly.  I sigh and look back at Joe.  “We’re so gonna’ regret this,” I tell him.

And I laugh.