I remember walking to the park with my dad on autumn Saturday afternoons. Ball in hand, looking forward to being able to play football. I remember my dad throwing the ball up at the horse chestnuts trying to knock them down. The streets covered in the golden leaves, cold but not yet too cold. Going to the sweet shop before he took me back to my mother.
I remember being at primary school. Pretending to be sick so that I could go to the nurse’s room and do the jigsaw puzzle. They always gave me the jigsaw puzzle. Putting the pieces together I would dream of all the places on the map. Wondering what these places were like, wondering if I would ever be able to go. All these exotic places seeming so far away.
I remember the summers playing football until ten in the evening. Sitting on the wall opposite the park when it was too dark to see the ball and talking rubbish with friends. Laughing and joking. No worries or fears. Talking like we knew the world, knew all there was to know not realising our own innocence.
I remember my English teacher. No matter what I wrote, no matter how much effort I put into something, there was always something wrong. Having your confidence ruined and not knowing what you were doing wrong. Still holding in the back of your mind that one day you were going to prove him wrong.
I remember the first time I drank. The feeling took away all the pain and fear. It was what I had been looking for all my life. Being able to talk to anyone, not being shy, having no fears. Never wanting the feeling to go away. The cotton wool feeling, nothing could hurt me anymore.
I remember walking to the shop in the morning shaking, sweating, knowing that it now controlled my life. There was no denial, only an acceptance that this was fate, it was how I was destined to live my life. A reality that was blurred, not knowing what was real and what was just paranoia or dreams.
I remember sitting with my best friend looking at a map. Swearing that we would go travelling together one day. Looking at all the countries in South East Asia and wondering what we would do in each one. Neither of us having any money, both of us devoid of the realities that were ahead. Drink and drug fueled dreams that would be even further away the next morning.
I remember being 23 and the doctor saying you only have a year to live. Still not having a grasp of the situation I had put myself into. Denying to myself the reality of how close death was. Thinking that even if I did go, I had lived my life happily that I had enjoyed it. The only thing I ever denied was that I was unhappy. How could I be unhappy?
I remember waking up not being able to move. Tubes everywhere, not remembering what had happened, not knowing where I was. Drug induced dreams of being in Bangkok while it was snowing. The nurses telling me to calm down, everything was okay. My mum explaining to me that it was okay, I had almost died but I was okay.
I remember sitting and staring at the bottle of vodka. Not wanting to open it but knowing I wouldn’t get through Christmas without it. Mentally broken, physically just existing. A month later sweating, shaking, throwing up. Hallucinating, seeing things that weren’t there, every minute seeming like an hour. It was the last time.
I remember after 14 months leaving rehab. The same person but not. Now having aspirations and belief that I could fulfill my dreams. Not knowing what those dreams were, but still knowing they could be created. For the first time in ten years being free, being able to chose my own path. It didn’t matter were the path led, as long as it was back.
I remember getting off the plane in Delhi. The sounds, the smells, the people. I remember standing in front of the Taj Mahal, one of those dreams becoming a reality. A piece of the jigsaw that I had spent hours with as a child finally being put in place. Seeing the snow capped Himalayas and staring in awe. Looking away and looking back again to make sure it was all real.
I remember crossing the border and arriving in Vietnam. Another one of those countries that seemed so far away, another piece of the jigsaw puzzle. Seeing the green mountains as the train slowly rolled through the countryside. The paddy fields that I’d only seen on the television. Knowing that this was true freedom. Knowing this was true happiness.
I remember having a conversation in Mandarin. Suddenly realising that I was speaking a foreign language. Knowing that all the hours I had put in had finally paid off. Knowing that the days of eating a bowl of rice a day because I had no money was worth it. Knowing that all the risks I had taken were worth it for this very brief feeling.
I remember sitting in an internet cafe in Cambodia and finding out the friend with whom I had made drink and drug fueled plans to travel to South East Asia had died. In Thailand. Our lives had taken different paths, not seeing him for years. I had broken free and he had continued, yet at the end we were so close. I was free and now it seemed he was too.
I remember coming back to London as a tourist. My home town. I’d been away for 6 years, seeing the world. Feeling the pride of everything I had achieved. Going back to the places that held so many memories. Thinking of the people that said he would never make it. Thinking of all the people that were no longer here, knowing that in part it was for them too.
I remember all these things. Nothing about them that I would change. I look back grateful for all the things I’ve seen and done. Grateful for the opportunity to have lived.