“I Needed You” is a short piece of fiction written by Lucy Nichol. Lucy is a writer who is passionate about campaigning against addiction stigma as part of her voluntary work with the Road to Recovery Trust in Newcastle. While Lucy hasn’t herself experienced addiction, she works with many who have and is committed to using her creative writing to tackle stigma.
My cheek felt shredded against wet sandy grains. A web of washed up salty hair clung sorely to my forehead like jellyfish tentacles. And still you winked at me. But I wouldn’t lift my arm for you. Not this time.
When we first met there was so much promise. You glistened with anticipation and bleak prospects transformed into sparkling opportunities. You took a hold of my frightened hand, gently caressing my taut skin, and we ran.
A shining star. A weightless heart. A smile, a joke, a way to cope. I became life. My dormant engine revved once more, raring to go and grab this new, fearless world. I’ve made it! I’ve really made it! Thanks to you…
Your ways were unpredictable but I could always depend on you and your undeniable presence. I never doubted you, why would I? You handed me a warm blanket when I shivered in the cold. You made me laugh when my chest swung low and heavy in its precarious lead hammock. We danced at parties and giggled at our own merry mischief. You emptied the stones from my deep pockets.
You told me I was worth so much more. Why should I feel redundant in a dark corner? Why should I be faceless in a world of fierce competition? No! I will not sit down and be kicked. I will stand up and kick. I will show the world my spirit. My true, impassioned spirit. You released in me the woman I always wanted to be.
Maybe that’s why you began to call more often. And I’d always answer when you called. The immediacy of my yearning was palpable – our bond was so much stronger than any kind of love I’d felt before. Is this what true love really is?
If you winked, I smiled right back and succumbed to your charms in an instant. I flirted purposefully until it was I who was actively pursuing you. Like a sneaky cat on tip toes stalking a mouse. A panting dog breathlessly pursuing a rabbit. A weary rat ravishing the nearby rubbish. Who cares what it was, as long as it filled me up. You filled me up.
Together at parties. Together at work. Together at home. Together forever. You made life’s discomfort bearable. A constant companion. My protective chaperone. But soon your filter broke.
We’d sit by the fire, you and I. Your strong and cosy arms around me. You would never let it burn me. That, I knew.
But I could no longer hear the glorious crackle. I could no longer watch the flames dance. I could no longer feel its warmth.
In killing off the pain you were killing off me. We were entwined like cheap costume jewellery bunched up tight in a locked box. Battered and knotty, with no beginning and no end. Too big a problem to attempt separation. You were my destiny, after all.
But then you nagged and you nagged and you nagged. Day and night and day and morning and noon and still you nagged. I was tired, and there was only one way to shut you up.
But every time I embraced you my scabs bled harder and past trauma shrieked louder. You lapped up mouthfuls of my mind until all that was left was a fierce and terrifying yearning for you.
There was nobody else. Not anymore. Had I mis-judged you? No, you said. No. This is the way. Follow me. Keep going. It’s the only way.
And so I did. We continued to hang out day and night. Thick as thieves. Our mischief became dangerous. Our jokes became crass. Our assertion became a fight.
Broken bones. Broken glass. Broken hearts and minds. My broken mind.
But there was nobody left to compare you to. You were my reference point. And, with hands clamped tightly around my neck, you kept telling me I was doing fine.
We took walks underground. You were with me every step of the way. But I needed to keep you closer and closer. The numbness became darkness. But you promised me no more pain.
You’re a liar.
No, you’re not.
You’re a friend.
Such charisma, such power. You didn’t look pretty through the glass bottle anymore, though. You looked…I couldn’t bear to look. To smell. Or taste. I tried to turn my cheek as I consumed you. Every cell in my body desperate to reject you, every cell in my head desperate to soak you up.
I kept going down that dark tunnel. Because I trusted you. Because I loved you. In sickness and in health. And there are no chores to do anymore. No deadlines. No alarm clocks. No cleaning. No four walls. No family rows. No movies to catch or songs to sing to. Just down and down into sludgy, thick darkness. An airless cul-de-sac with ghoulish neighbours.
Shame bit so hard and deep into my flesh I became wholly devoured by it. Bit by bit, bone angling its way out of me, while an army of ants marched their way in, feasting on the morsels you left. And finally, all that was left was a faint creak and the powerful reek of you. The burning, retching reek of alcohol.
I had been so mortifyingly fooled by you. Shapeshifting from warm welcome glasses of fizz, to the nasal smarting fumes of your spirit. I turned my back on everything else for you. You were the only nutrient allowed – and yet you bled me dry of my last drop of wholesome nourishment. Without you, I shook.
But now the light had gone out. My faceless face was contorted and ghastly. I could no longer stand and kick. Only lie and be kicked. But not by the world. No. By you! You glorious, deceptive traitor. Lurching at me, kicking at me. Taunting me until I was no longer falling.
I had fallen.
My cheek shredded against wet sandy grains. A web of washed up salty hair clung to my sore forehead like jellyfish tentacles. And still you winked at me. But I wouldn’t lift my arm for you. Not this time.
You brought me here, to this rough, cold beach where I finally awoke. I don’t even remember why, or when, I wandered to the shore. But in reality, I think I’ve been here forever. Alone. With you beside me, I was as alone as I’d ever been.
But as much as the sand scratched my cheek. As much as my heavy, wet jeans burdened my clammy skin. As much as the sharp, cold wind pricked my eyes…at least now they cried. At least there wasn’t just me and you. I could cry again. I could feel my place in this cruel world. I could feel. And now I was here, I could only look up.
I slowly lifted my cheek, peeling the salty wet hair from my forehead. Everything hurt. But at least I could see again. I had a choice now.
No longer did you share a cheeky smile and wink with me. You sneered and you spat and you thrashed. I didn’t want your toxic vapour. But you were all I had.
I looked out at the grey and stormy sea. The waves churned up the sand and left limp seaweed dead and stranded. But this frightening environment was no longer inside my head. It was bigger than me. It swelled and heaved like clockwork. It had been there all along. And it changed and it grew.
My legs shaking and my body damp I slowly grew taller. Unsteady on my bare, bruised feet, I walked towards the sea. Do, or die.
The whooshing sound was all around me, no longer living within me. I could truly feel life without you, albeit a sharp, dangerous, wintry life. I walked into the ocean, cold and pained. I needed to stop the pain. I needed to keep going.
You were no longer with me, I knew that. You couldn’t hurt me right now. But this was the unknown. A map with no reference. A journey never travelled.
The water lapped around my thighs, rising slowly and slowly. Encircling my waist, my chest, taking me with it. Taking me from this place. Taking me from this hell.
My heart was pounding. Was I brave enough for this? For one more step? I closed my eyes. Breathed in. I let the water envelop me…
And slowly I swam.