The year was fire – this much is clear now and each of you burned up in different clothes, the scent of previous incarnations. The guise was studenthood – an impossible cliché of martyrdom for the cause of intellectual religion. Hygiene, morals, factual bases were sacrificed for the sake of the ideal. The ideal that smouldered in bones, was forever talked about but hid.
To the outside you were variously scum, oddballs, misfits and mysogonists and while each could well be applied these were masks for the embarrassment that somewhere three people gave a shit beyond overtures to fair-trade and recycling runs and allowed authenticity to shine as deep as cess pits of empty wine bottles and showers left standing with nine months of scum accumulating, magazines for toilet roll of gravy streaked across the kitchen wall, testament to abuse and profundity that saw beyond the daily chore.
The chores took the form of cigarettes and conversation, reading and painting. Each young man taking his course to its natural conclusion. The year was fire and burning though the pages of their learning, new lives were emerging, old ones falling into ruins. The fire burned anyone that stepped through the door, hence the nicknames and accusations of pretentiousness. If only they knew how seriously all of this was took. Drug dealers, psychopaths, trails of women of more or less mental composition. Each was fascinated, most revulsed and a few stayed along for the ride until it became too sincere to carry on.
Herman was the live wire, the devil with a hot poker to stick the behinds of any. Rowan was passive, seeing life beautifully but dwelling in a pit. Stephen had taken a conservative route until then, captivated by alternative living he had found it to be a husk. He was – with girlfriend and degree coming to an end at a loss to the motivation in his life and there took his tentative steps towards religion. All three were mystics in fact, as Rowan would later observe. Life moved for them in patterns and was coloured by swirls. It was not the box sought to be ticked, nor was it satisfied by kowtowing to imagined futures. This realism and recognition of uncertainty was central to the psychosis, and while escapism seemed to be the symptom, it was realism that made each understand that the ground beneath their feet had nothing under it to stand on, and they let themselves be shook.
In doing so they lived in praise of a glorious future – the present being a daily-written hand note to advise their future selves, and placed in the freezer to be come across accidentally in months and years to come.
Rowan spent much time in bed, reading and listening to dour female indie artists from a small £15 portable hi-fi placed on the floor by his mattress in his box room. Curtains frequently closed the man in semi-somnolence. He would leave the house each day for around three hours, go to explore Leith and chat with old man in forgotten pubs. He knew he was a writer, a novelist and had a reading list of contemporary fiction that you weep for its depth and obscurity. Reading and lying, in sober grey silence, he spent a lot of time away, taking depression and literature on its natural course, the year was burning up his studenthood of writing, ready to begin him in a year on his first novel. Like the others, the education outside the classroom providing exactly what he needed.
Stephen was a quiet soul. A straight type with a steady girlfriend that mis-matched the explorations of the other two. He took a few of his courses semi-seriously and enjoyed getting blind drunk with Herman and discussing philosophy for hours. He had an interest in going nowhere. In each previous location he had done the same. He did enough to pass his degree, stayed sane but devoured his own ability to be strange. It was so obscured by the other two. The man tried and failed to match them but, like a fragrance, the fire left with him with more than enough food for future development. He was to write, also a year later, in smatterings of faltering poetry. For the year, though, he was the watcher and having gone in with a delight for novelty, sincerity and the intelligentsia, he left it with a yearning for God and merging with the divine. Of the three, his final personality would be the most changed in three years time – or at least he would observe.
Herman – the fire brand – was a whirl of chaos. A deep hearted man whose drinking inflicted his deeply-felt pain on his environment like breathing. He was a scolder, a tempter, a confessor, a priest. At the end, Stephen and Rowan could scarcely bear the sight of him but this did not stop his extraordinary seductive powers bringing them along on many misadventures. The three probably experienced some of the most joyful times of their lives together and some of the most hollow.
Sundays were the fine days. The chicken would begin cooking at 3pm and it was the linchpin of civilisation. Rushing round Lidl for the necessary poultry and vegetables provided the backbone of the week’s diet. Friends would always attend, though oddly they received only two invitations back. Wine and carving, cigarettes and philosophy. The occasion was often a stage for the three to parade their philosophy, brotherhood, tomfoolery and irritation before assembled guests.
Discussions were often heated but frequently convivial. The evenings would end with warm feelings in the pit of stomachs and hoarse tobacco burns at the back of mouths. These were the glowing fine times.
As the year wore on, each became more focused and frightened about his future. Stephen retreated into a curious New Age approach, reiki symbols haunted his dreams and the people around him less and less a pastiche of the life he would like. He carried on and burned it up to its end. On graduation taking to drugs and drink like there was no tomorrow – the way each of them preferred it.
Herman was drinking himself into oblivion and fading in and out of psychosis. One episode involved him slitting his wrists in front of female company claiming he was proving the separation of body and mind.
Rowan fled soon after this. Nether he nor Stephen knew how to deal with this suffering nor pain, close as it as to their own. This was becoming clear at the beginning of Summer and through it all jollity remained – just like the thread of the year – these months were made of many coloured ropes. To call it desperate was to dismiss the happy smiles and generous attitude of each toward each other. To call it convivial was to ignore the weariness the three had for each other’s company. To call it sad was to allow that each felt a despair for a life in mainstream society and was seeking strategies to cope.
You had a feeling, sitting on damp sofa cushions, gazing on the brown stained carpet, that this flat was on the edge of things. There was genius and desperation, sunlight came in through windows and wine bottles were thrown through them. The communist manifesto sat in the loo and lifeless clocks hung whimsically from lamp stands. The bread knife was used to chop kitchen roll in half to serve as loo roll and kitchen counters a more frequent home for dishes and sauce pans than the cupboards, whose doors hung off their hinges.
Every once in a while a flurry would ensure the house was clean and another two months could follow before anyone lifted a finger again. Each bill was two months over-due and wasn’t considered worth paying until headlined in red. Pencil-written comments, poetry and cartoons flashed on the walls, along with Herman’s paintings, a step ladder sat by the door (“For safety” said the landlord pursuing regulations with relentless obscurity), tripping them up if bin bags full of glass bottles didn’t (“for recycling” Stephen would promise through pursuit of ethics rather than motivation to follow it through) and a hammer (“for security” said Herman demonstrating how intruders could be serenaded with blows and not be allowed to make it past the kitchen. A paranoia demonstrated that was rarely ever escaped).
The blink at the end of the year saw them fade in different directions. Rowan went first, to China and optimism, a year of bed-laying coming to an end. He had an idea for a novel and skipped away with packages full into the back of his mother’s estate car. We felt good for him and he could not wait to see the back of us, Stephen recalled. Herman and Stephen invited Thomas in. Something of a magician, drug’s counsellor and music expert and so descended the summer for three of them into limitless dust and oblivion. Stephen lost one girlfriend and found three more ones, Herman descended and ascended as his glory would, wowing and confounding but all i his inescapable whirlwind of a life.He is Brahama and Shiva with Vishnu presently obscured. We still fear whether he’ll make it through. He left the apartment and slept on couches got fired from hotel jobs and left Edinburgh three months later to return in another year homeless and wearily making a life as successive doors would close. Stephen stayed on in Edina for two more years. Ringing parties and hippydom, the manifestations of a quiet untroubled life, left to his own anxieties that caught up with him in the end. He had two successive break downs 9 months apart and kept few close to him as his own train wreck righted itself. He was becoming a writer, a healer and philosopher of discontented wisdom and while the trail moved as slowly as his own desire for obsolescence would allow, he chased acceptance and poetry and let these come and go.
He fell for God more than anything and tracing those steps he found a guru and could no longer separate between break downs and openings, each sliding seamlessly into the other. He found peace in India and desired to spread it back home, which slowly, slowly he’s more and more able to do. Anxieties fade, wisdom dawns and the friendship of the other two his most treasured of possessions.
Brotherhood could not stand such times as these without coming out sober and clean and relaxed in knowing that whatever would come, they’d already been through and seen to the edge of glowing and to it’s sister edge despair.
Each of the three has yet to settle on a course.