Graffiti On Walls, Messages in Your Art
Don’t forget to enjoy the taste of candy floss before it melts.
Nobody can hear a scream in the vacuum of space, or so they say. Here I was screaming; screaming and screaming, wanting someone to hear me. Maybe that’s the divine timing of it all, being in a place that you are literally begging for someone, anyone to reach into the delves of your thoughts and save you when its all too much. I felt the pain, the throbbing pain of the rusting blade in my skin. It felt real, it felt harsh. The slow seep of blood trickling down into the bath, making pools of rose-blush water, dancing as it dropped, heavy and yet weightless.
I composed myself after a short time, it wasn’t all bad, the blade. Screaming wasn’t going to change this, none of this would change anything in hindsight, hindsight – a fine thing.
It was in these moments that I felt the most alive, I knew that I was here, I wasn’t disconnected from it all, I wasn’t dissociative from the situation I was in, I was fully present in this time. I was fully present in myself.
Life is strange, it is so insignificant.
Watching my own lifeline spill out, it was satisfying for me to see. The minimum dark red tones of liquid life needed for subsistence seemed to be very low, almost miniscule as the bath became a deep hue of maroon.
I sat and bled and thought about how many other people in the 7.2 billion on this Earth may be doing the exact same thing right now, isn’t it funny how we can be so disconnected in one life but on another entity, we may find we are all more connected that the atoms that hold this existence together?
Life is insignificant but also so poignant. The moments we make through the choices we create and choose are the ones that make such an impact on the coming minutes, hours, days, months, years. Each small step in one direction leads you to another, slightly different one. Like sunflowers following the sun, we are just following the direction we think is most light, even if it is the darkest of them all.
I screamed because it released the torment, it made the pressure in my brain subside – the noise and the ache of my lungs pushing out every noise I possibly could. I was lucky I lived alone. I was lucky I lived away from the calm hum of society. I was able to do this alone, I was able to release myself alone.
I didn’t always used to do this, sometimes I was able to just scream on the mundane commute to work, sometimes sitting in the car at traffic lights, sometimes on the motorway, sometimes on the bridge half-way between the city and home.
I used to be quite cheerful really. I was always the person everyone would say “she is so bubbly, smiling and bouncing around!”. I used to get in trouble for being “too happy” at work, how apt that I now am battling to stop killing myself on a daily basis. Not too happy now hey. How people are so unaware of their words sinking into the depths of others consciousness, the excruciating pain of those simple two words is beyond my comprehension. Why do we strive to be stressed and sad, rather than happy and colourful?
Always look up, that’s what I was told. When the rain pours, when the sun shines – keep looking up. Let the weather hit your face; feel the environment around you, ground into the Earth’s atmosphere.
I had a wonderful childhood, I was loved and cared for and was able to learn and explore, climb trees, float in the sea, I was able to create and be, have muddy toes and a jam-covered mouth. Both me and my very best friend did everything together; we read books upon books, we sat and made dens, we drew hopscotch on the patio and ran riot around the fields. We baked together and drew, painted, and cycled for hours, we got lost in the country lanes and collapsed in meadows. We were happy. Together.
Then she died.
Just like that, it was everything I had known and loved, gone forever without even saying goodbye. She left me alone, with all the plans we had made, the notebooks of ideas, of places we were to cycle too, the recipes we hadn’t yet tried, the games we hadn’t yet played. The chessboard sat quietly in the corner of my room, still packaged, and waiting for a chance to be used. Nothing changed in one aspect and yet nothing would ever be the same either. Everyone else’s lives just carried on, it infuriated me. How could anyone just continue to exist following this harrowing torture every day brought. The colour in flowers and blues skies was dimmed, the sadness creeped in and the rainbows stopped arching. The birds stopped singing. Life stopped being.
I never got the chance to tell her how colourful she made the world. She was wonderfully kind-natured and such a diplomatic person. You know, the kind of people that are sunshine in human form. The ones that make every moment better when they exist – the kind that brighten up the bad moods of general day-to-day living.
That’s the exhausting thing about grievance, it hits you and you don’t even expect it. Its not as if someone gives you a warning light and a countdown of the day they are going to selfishly dip out of this existence and disappear completely from everything you thought life could be.
People you meet are like shades of a paint pallet, the base for every paint is the same, the DNA structure of human beings is normal a mix of chromosomes and voilà – here we are, born into this weird quiddity of consciousness in the same realm as others, all coexisting and making stress out of nothing. We then mix with others, we learn and explore these different avenues of life and that’s when our paint colour changes, it starts a bright colour – strong and sure of everything, when you are small and innocent. Choosing which coloured piece of paper to use for drawing was the hardest decision of the day. Then, as we get older, we get into the messier form of humankind – the paints of others start dulling your shine like a muddy-brown – how we find out some connections are disruptive, or abusive, the ones that get you into this pickle where you find that you no longer know your base-colour at all. Or on the contrary, you meet the human beings that are the rays of sunshine – mixing like yellow and blue making bright vibrant green, the encouragement they exude soaked up by your brushes, their support and guidance like an Art Teacher, showing you how to shade your path and make each step easier and more achievable, more realistic and like dreams are reality.
This is what Sienna was like, the paint that mixes with everyone and makes them more colourful. The Art Teacher of life, showing every canvas she touched how to be beautiful in their own individual way, tapping into their whole vital force and reminding them that their soul was like an art piece. Special, fragile, and only to be touched by the owner – themselves. Only to be changed by the owner, only to be modified and changed if they so wish. She reminded everyone that they were the artist of their own life, they could achieve anything – draw the basic outline and then work on the shading, work on the colours and the directions of the strokes and create. Just create and live, thrive in each day and drink up the joys the little moments bring.
Sienna, oh Sienna, how lovely she was. We met in the depths of my childhood – one warm fuzzy afternoon in May, I had moved into the house opposite the road to her, it was divine timing really, we went to the same primary school, we had the same classes, it was a friendship that naturally occurred from being in proximity with someone the same age. In the Summer holidays we would go down to the river, we’d paddle and splash and catch fish in our shoes, we would run down through the reeds on the bank, play hide and seek and jump over fences to get to the horses on the riverbank.
Her strawberry blonde hair caught the sunlight like jars of honey on shelves, gleaming, glorious shades of amber. We spent every waking second together; we were the truest kind of best friends. As we grew, we did more, but never did we do enough. Like most young girls we played Princesses, and Wedding Days – we made up ridiculous languages that only we knew, we pinkie-promised we would always be best friends and vowed to never leave each other.
As we bloomed into young women, we stayed close, we chased butterflies and then chased boys and then chased dreams and followed our hearts, we drifted apart and then drifted back, like ships in the night. Then, we were back together, like rafts tied so firmly. We’d both done this career-driven twenties, so sure of who we were and what we wanted to be, whilst simultaneously completely losing ourselves in the immersion of others, the parties, the drugs, the smoking, and the after-parties. The moments that seem so exciting and enthralling yet are so destructive at the same time. These were the best memories, everyone always says your younger years are the best – “High School were the best days”, I hear older generations always say, especially when Sienna and I moaned at the dinner tables of our parents houses about how hard 9am-3pm was and how they “didn’t understand”. How wrong we were. But I cease to agree with them – High School was hard, it was good, but it was hard. Whoever says it wasn’t was lucky or lying; it is emotionally the most lopsided time of your life. The hormones, the getting to know yourself, whilst getting to know everyone else, the first times, the last times, the friendships that are made, the ones that are broken. It makes you who you are, of course, it rounds you as a person so when you leave in your teens – messy and unprepared for this reality of Adult Life – you fall into something that has been given through the options High School offers up, whether it is work, life, training, experiences, travel, relationships.
Siena went off to study Art at a very profound university, she was such a creative, dynamic and captivating artist, she expressed her darkest thoughts in her work – the times she wasn’t happy were when she was with her paints. She projected such happiness in every other aspect of her life, yet her art was dark, mysterious and quietly screaming for help.
No-one realised. Not even me. She showed me her art regularly, when she started, half-way through, before she wrote some expletives on it like “F*ck this life” or “More done than you know”. We all thought it was just really poignant as she was so happy and charmed by life. Even her colourful paintings of flowers in vases and seaside scenes were graffitied with horrifying one-liners.
During the dark nights, she started to dip out, she hid in alley ways, under the bridges of the city, in dark clothing. Waiting for the quiet of the 2am light. She would shake cannisters, spray walls and stand back. She would look at the art she made, the graffiti that expressed how she was really feeling. Walking home in the brisk air she’d usually message me the location, “Waterloo Road – new ideas expressed”, or “Barney Way – look for the artist’s sunshine”. Sure enough, I would get up at 6:50am as normal, I would make coffee, text her back, and race round to the road or street in her message to see what she had created the night previous. It was exciting, it was like I was a VIP in the gallery of her life. I wondered sometimes who else she told, if anyone, about her graffiti and what she thought whilst doing it. Sometimes I used to ask her why she did it and not just buy a large canvas, but she always answered with the same concise phrase:
“Being truly alive is when you start stop following the path that is set by society”. I loved her for this, I loved her for so many things, but this phrase was one of the main reasons – she was so interconnected into society, her friendships, her family, her art, yet so disconnected in her personal affairs. She always was available for those around her, yet completely on her own wavelength.
I miss her. I miss her so much. I wished she could be here now, maybe not right now, whilst I am sitting in my bathroom, trying to curate the emotional pain into a physical feeling. To make it easier that she is gone, that her art is fading on the walls of the city I pass every day, that she is so missed yet so forgotten at the same time.
I tried to paint when I first found out she died, she had a “quick death” the medical team informed her parents, whatever that means – how does someone know if they had a quick death? How do they know when the last inch of her conscious self really disappeared? We all think death in this realm is when you stop having a heartbeat, but how is this really something to be sure of? The brain is so under-researched, it has so many sections and different nerve endings. Maybe her death was slow, maybe she was conscious for much longer, maybe she too felt the blood seep out of her head like I can feel it seeping out of my veins now.
She fells 60ft onto concrete. She didn’t mean too, at least the Forensic Team don’t think that was the case. Although sometimes I feel like maybe it was, towards the ending of her life her graffiti got very dark. Dark in colour was completely normal, the shading, the narrow avenue for life. But the scenes were real and loving and free at the start – moments of joy, like children with ice cream, or hot coffee and cafes, or ladies pushing prams, men drinking beer, the general moments that most of us do as something carefree and merry. The moments that she always said mattered. Towards the end they started becoming more poignant to potential suicide – silhouettes standing on cliff edges, car crashes and images of fuzzy-faced models drowning under the lash of stormy waves. It seemed now that people didn’t seem to know the length of her graffiti until she was on the floor, face down, broken skulled under one.
60ft up above her was a half-finished butterfly, one side complete and perfectly shaded. Butterflies symbolically are said to be the image of the soul, the Chinese see them as a symbol of eternal life, Greeks think of them as purity and immortality, on gravestones to show the soul leaving the body of the dead – fluttering off into the abyss. I felt like she only wanted to complete half of it on purpose, she wanted to make it seem like it was unfinished – that would have been the artistic flare; leaving the beholder open to create their own half, put their soul into the painting she had started – she did that with everyone that was lucky enough to cross her path, she gave them the base for their life to expand and for them to produce their own butterfly wings and flourish.
So here I was, with a blade in my arm and the locations of every piece of graffiti she ever made listed in my notebook. What happens now? I thought to myself, feeling dizzy and disconnected and aware that no-one I knew would ever live up to Sienna’s existence. No-one would ever replace the ray of sunshine she brought into my life, no-one would help me grow and bloom like she did.
Awaking in a bright, white room I was concerned about how little I recognised, looking round the room I saw curtains, pale blue and green, like a swamp. Beeping from a place I couldn’t fathom and an ache so prominent I could barely concentrate on what was in front of me. As the fuzziness appeared I saw a lady, kind-faced and beaming at me. She was in a white uniform, with a clipboard and it then clicked into place – I was in hospital. The local A&E, a place I had only ever been when I was small and fell over on the patio, knocking my teeth out and being rushed in by my mother, all wrapped up in worry.
Now, it seemed a lot calmer than my previous memory, the white was like a blank page – ready for a new day, a new start almost. The lady started talking but I couldn’t comprehend what she was saying, I just watched the shape of her lips as she spoke words incoherent to my consciousness.
I dipped in and out of sleep throughout my inpatient admission; I found out the lady’s name was Cynthia, she had been nursing for what seemed like eternity and loved every second of her job – good news really considering the NHS never paid any wage good enough for anyone that didn’t adore caring, helping and being underpaid, overworked, and underappreciated. I appreciated Cynthia though, she was wonderfully positive and always had time to chat, even though you could see she was stressed and short-staffed on a ward of people like me, suicidal and sad. She was the first person since Sienna that brought the ray of sunshine back, and, day by day it made me more aware of the want to live that I too started to try more, to smile more, to enjoy the little moments more.
I was discharged after 3 days – I had a session with the on-site Psychologist, I spoke about why I thought I tried to kill myself. I said I hadn’t meant to do it, I just wanted the pain to be much more than the mental chatter in my mind for a bit. I got given some self-help books, another session and was sent on my merry way to deal with my problems myself. It was only the help of Cynthia during my stay that gave me the motivation to stay alive. NHS Mental Health Teams are very poor, especially for those that need help quickly – saying “we can put you on a waiting list for Psychology sessions in 42 weeks” doesn’t scream hope does it.
Cynthia, however, was the pinnacle of why I don’t scream, I talked with her about Sienna on her rounds, we had cups of tea in the gardens, and she listened to me whilst I cried about how unfair life was and how it should have been someone else, me even. Not Sienna, not someone so brave, courageous, and bright. Cynthia reminded me that, if she had committed suicide, that she would have been all those things – it just meant she was no longer needed in this realm, that she had done everything she needed too and now was setting off to be a butterfly somewhere else, for someone else. As much as I argued with her, she was right, she had set precedence for all she had met to be kind, to do things that scared them, to take the risk and set off towards the dreams, to fly, to be a butterfly, to grow wings.
Cynthia was the one that suggested I created a map of Sienna’s graffiti and publish it – to share Sienna’s art and creativity with people she had not yet met, to surrender to thinking about her and put it into something positive.
I started when I was released home, it gave me purpose to get up every morning, it made me aware I needed to go outside, to check the exact locations again. I wrote down my interpretations of art, so subjective that I always left a question at the end of the paragraph for another onlooker to make their own thoughts the reality. I asked a friend to make the text look professional, I went to the local Library and worked with the Librarian to discover editing. It was pure heartache, seeing each one of her art pieces, the way they quite clearly got darker and more profound the more time went on, how strange I didn’t notice at the time – we are all too busy living to be present in the moment we are in.
I published the book exactly one year after Sienna’s death. It was the greatest achievement I had ever felt. I looked back over the last year, the turbulence I had caused, the pain I had given myself, but also my family and Sienna’s – the way I had been selfish and sad, not thinking of others. Even prior to Sienna’s death I had focused on everything I hadn’t done, the things I hadn’t achieved, the problems that were occurring. Instead of the joys life brought me, the morning coffees, the almond croissants on weekends, the sunsets on warm, dusky Thursdays.
I was very aware of the life I had been missing, the life I nearly did miss, the life Sienna was missing currently. But butterflies grow from dark cocoons and here I was, growing too. Sienna was prominently in my foremind, little things reminding me of her in my every day, butterflies flying past, dancing with their friends the way we used to dance together.
I miss her every day, but I also am now more aware of life than I ever had been. Isn’t it funny how it takes a life to be destroyed for others to appreciate theirs? Hopefully one day the societal impact will be more creative, more present, freer. I hope, for the sake of those people who think life is their job, for those that working the monotonous, unremarkable humdrum of dead-end jobs. For those that wake up in a routine they hate, not doing anything about it but moaning and being unapologetically miserable. I hope those people find Sienna’s map – I hope they walk down the streets she spent dark nights frantically painting her emotions on concrete. I hope they realise the beauty in life is not simply to exist but to create, to live, to feel, to share, to look at art, to enjoy the little moments and then when they are ready; to move on, in places, in people, in life. I hope everyone is present enough to see that life is short, so short and sweet. Sweet like candy floss – a spinning soft pink mess, then sort of “complete” on a stick, and then before you know it, melting into nothing – disappearing forever into atoms that don’t exist to the naked eye, but exist in another realm completely.
Don’t forget to enjoy the taste of candy floss before it melts. Don’t forget the screams are temporary and the space you show up in is unapologetically yours – fill it up and enjoy it, it’s a pleasure to be alive. You are the paint that creates your own canvas – you can change the colour at any time, you can be the first stroke of anything you want to be.