I have had a hell of a day - the kind that when you arrive home from it, you want to cry with joy that it is nearly over. I tumbled through my door, on my last legs, my brain feeling like an oversized pea, my heart like a battered ocean, my only thought being how I could jump in the bath.
As I entered my hallway, I noticed a bright red puddle oozing under the door of my hall cupboard. Amazing in its brilliance, this red was the red of postboxes and London buses. It is also the colour of fresh blood. It had gathered into an alarming sized puddle on my hallway carpet.
I breathed in slowly and walked into the front room to collect my thoughts. Then I re-entered the hallway and approached the cupboard. An entire tin of vinyl matt emulsion had fallen off the top of my painting bag and landed face down on the floor. It was carnage.
I decided denial was the best strategy for now, since facing this devastating mess felt sure to send me over some proverbial edge. I checked my e mails. The phone rang. It was Jo. At the end of the conversation, she urged me to get an early night, look after myself, get some sleep. I agreed, "after I've cleaned up that bloody paint".
We hung up and I re-entered the terrible scene in the hallway. I'd decided that the best strategy for protecting myself during removal was to do it naked, and once I was, I set to work. Almost immediately though I stepped in a dribble that had separated from the greater puddle, and so, in order to prevent myself from treading it into the rest of the carpet, I began hopping about on one leg towards the direction of the bathroom.
Of course I stumbled, treading said paint into carpet and grasping at the wall with red painty fingers, leaving streaks all across it. I was scooping the paint into a tray, but it was going all up the walls. In the bathroom, red streaked the walls and towels, the inside of the sink. A futile hopeless affair. The hallway was looking like the scene of some terrible massacre, bloody hand prints up the walls, globules of red across the toilet seat. Grim.
You have to realise the state I have got myself into today. By seven o clock this evening, after an incredibly long day painting ceilings, filling holes, clearing up rubble, and vast long ruminations about my life, and my imminent, and now, slightly terrifying feeling trip to New York, my mind felt like it was capsizing.
So I gave up trying to clean up the paint, grabbed the spatula I was using to scoop it up, dug it into the fresh red, flipped it up and stroked it across the bare skin of my leg. Then I dived in another time with the spatula and did the same thing on my other leg. I didn't stop until my entire body and face was covered in red strokes, until my flesh had disappeared under a skin of bloody pigment.
I looked a fright. Like some kind of menstrual banshee. But the freedom felt compelling, and as I added each stroke, the day, and the hopeless circular workings of my ego left me, somewhere back at the traffic lights on London Road.
You know, sometimes counselling or a cup of tea just won't do. Sometimes I need to paint myself all over in bright red vinyl matt emulsion to get to how I feel. Now my flat really does look like the set from "Psycho", and the red puddle is still there, taunting me.
Afterwards, I sat in the bath. The paint had gone hard on my body, I looked less like some ancient warrior heading into battle, and more like some kind of voodoo doll. I peeled layers of the rubbery stuff off with my hands, red skin, revealing white skin, scrubbed and faintly stained pink. The water was turning ruddy, the water billowing gradually with colour. It looked like an image from a Sylvia Plath poem.
My Munch painting hung above me, on a red wall, painted with the same paint that had spilled so violently. This is not the kind of life my mother had cut out for me. And though it may have been some kind of necessary catharsis, some kind of shamanic re-enactment, at the end of it I sit, cold in the bath, exhausted, unrested and still full of a nameless raw fear about going away.
My ego is crying out "something must be wrong, you can't follow your dream like this!" My identity is shifting, and I am leaving important people in my life behind. And who will I be when I return? Will Clare as we know it even be coming back?
The answer is clear - I don't think so, I can feel it in my blood, I can see it in the stained hallway, this is what it is revealing : there is no taming my blood, no stopping the redness, I am taking my rightful place in aliveness, and the colour is too bright, I can barely look at it.