For a long time, I avoided mirrors.

It started off when I was a kid—around four or five years old—when I first realised that I didn’t look the same as all the other kids in the playground and that a few of them had a real problem with that. I wasn’t used to it, didn’t expect it and considered myself just another person trying to get some time on the chalked out hopscotch squares, and searching for friends that also enjoyed Capri Sun and picture books. I hadn’t been taught to hate and figured that nobody else had either. And even though my parents tried to prepare us for what they suspected we would face when school changed from a sea of brown faces to white ones, there’s nothing like a pigtailed schoolgirl calling your skintone dirty to drive home the fact that you’re different.

This was the catalyst for my first breakup with the mirror.

If I couldn’t blend in then I didn’t want to look at myself. There was nothing I could do to change my hair texture, my skin, the shape of my lips and nose and so my appearance, like the jibes from peers and sometimes even teachers, became a reminder of everything that was “wrong” with me. I also became painfully shy and retreated into books and TV rather than doing what other children were doing like going on play dates and terrorising their parents; y’know, healthy behaviours.

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When I bought my house at 19, I did so on the advice of my very wise, prudent and financially stable parents who were there every step of the way to help me make the transition from university student living on campus, to university student owning a large house and being the live-in landlady to five friends.

It went pretty much as well as you’d think it would.

The learning curve was steep and I had to grow up really, very quickly, because my decision not to hire an agent to manage the property meant that I had to deal with things like boiler issues, renovation, the shower breaking at 3AM and having irate friends beating at my door demanding it be fixed at once. I had to grapple with building and contents insurance, builders, rent arrears, accounts, dishes that had not been washed since Adam was a bachelor because people are lazy as hell and expect me to have to deal with it.

There have been numerous tenants since then. And there have been ups (the tenant who was a gifted cook and made me cheese-stuffed meatballs for no reason), and there have been downs (the tenant whose boyfriend tried to sell drugs out of my house and who I had to physically eject from the premises) but I wouldn’t change owning this house or the lessons I have learned as a result of it; not for the world.

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We promised that when there was someone worth talking about, we’d talk.

And just because you’re no longer suffering from the thing we call personhood, doesn’t mean I get to renege on a promise.

Around 6pm on Valentine’s Day, I thought of you. I was coughing, and my back was jacked up; twanging painfully every time I moved. And my hair was half-done, and I was a general mess, a far cry from the legions of grateful and immaculate women receiving chocolate and floral gestures from their admirers. And I did that thing that up until now I haven’t managed to completely shake; the well shit, who the hell would want to love me thing that pissed you off and made you scowl and scold me like I was your kid, like it was your responsibility to cut that particular sentiment out of me like it was a slow-growing tumour. I coughed and he looked at me and he pressed his hand first to my forehead, then to my neck and he frowned and drew the blanket up.

“What are you doing?” I asked him when he got up.

“I don’t like your temperature,” he replied.

So he filled a hot water bottle—a hot water bottle he had purchased for the sole purpose that my back, fucked as it, can be helped by the application of heat—and he made me drink some soup and swallow down some lurid green gel cap, even though he knew it would knock me out for a while thus obliterating whatever plans we had. I thought of you because on the tail-end of your relationship with The Boy with Blonde Hair, when you were stamping around my bedroom, angry-crying and lowering your voice every time you cursed, you said all I fucking want is a boy who will bring me soup when I’m poorly and who isn’t a dick.”

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Shortly before 8AM yesterday morning, I reached down to pull on my boot before heading off to manage the lighting at my church (my church services are something of a production complete with an entire fleet of multimedia staff to manage the video, visuals, lighting, sound and wordmill) and my back spasmed so violently that I fell to the floor. Anybody that knows me well also knows that at this point, my body is a bag of flesh and a collection of thoroughly fed up bones, strung together with tape and spackle and kept together solely by the will of God. My knees are spent, my right ankle is more temperamental than a shopping trolley with a busted wheel, and my back tends to choose opportune moments to say “lol, oh girl, not today.”

So yesterday when my back flipped me the bird, I was hardly surprised—nay, I was resigned to it. This is the second time this year I’ve had to chug anti-inflammatories and strap heating pads to my flesh just to make it through the day; 2015 is giving me all the practice I need to stay functioning when my body just wants to nope on out until 2016. But as I lay there on my bedroom floor, my sassy black church dress acting as Club Med for all the accumulated dust I hadn’t vacuumed up (adulating is difficult, excuse the fuck out of me for not being on top of it 24/7), I knew without moving that this back pain was a different beast. I knew that I was dealing with the Usain Bolt of spine ailments; the overachiever of agony.

It hurt to move. It hurt to breathe. Blinking caused pain to ricochet from my lower back down my legs and back again. The dust bunnies swirled gleefully around my head and made for my afro. I made a sound not unlike something one might hear during a bovine birth. I located diclofenac in my first aid drawer, popped a couple and dragged down the capsaicin cream, which I proceeded to rub into my back. Lying there, tights half down, church dress ruined, massaging pain-relief ointment into my naked flesh (and feeling dignified as hell), I had to bite back to “what the shit?” that was barrelling down my tongue.

I found out last week that a very good friend of mine recently went through serious surgery to remove a tumour. I won’t go into details but he’s the kind of guy you look at and think “you’re too young for this shit.” He’s also the guy in your life that you think but how? He’s so healthy. I also found out that another friend of mine has a broken tibia which is fucking with all kinds of plans he had laid out; big significant plans that made me sit back and offer him all the props I had left. Plans that may not come off since walking is not so much a thing he is doing at the minute. Mama T is arriving in London tomorrow to attend the funeral of one of our best family friends. A friend I remember hugging not so long ago and promising I would of course answer any English degree questions her daughter had for me.

You’d think with the amount of sadness and tragedy in this world and with how I’m no stranger to shocking, messed up stuff in my own personal history that I wouldn’t even flinch when bad news hits in triplicate. But I’m not immune; no matter how badly I wish I was. I’m still guilty of making plans thinking they will pan out unmarred by illness or circumstance. I’m still cocky enough to think that terrible things happen to other people even though they’ve happened to me and mine enough times.

The lesson I am trying hard to put into practice these days, is perspective. Sure my back resembles the killing fields of Mordor but I can still walk and move and am, as far as I know, not in any greater danger. In a few days, I will start to heal and I’ll still be able to embark on the travels I have planned for this week. In the meantime, I’ll be worrying constantly about my friends, feeling ineffectual as I send out flowers and care packages, and worse, feeling grateful that all I have to contend with right now is painkillers, some cream and the loss of dignity as I hobble around the house in my pyjamas bent to a 90-degree angle.

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