Last December

“So. Zombies or ghosts?” said Granddad.

“I like ghosts best,” I said. “They’re scarier.”

“How about The Haunting?” He flashed me a gummy grin.

“What’s it about? Is it scary?”

“Oh, it’s a classic. It’s about a group of guests investigating a haunted house. And it’ll scare your socks off!”

“But Granddad, I’m not wearing socks.” He chuckled at that.

“That’s for the best then. Here, go fish it out.” He gestured over to the corner where he kept his VHS collection and I bounded over to find the tape. Our attic was once a dark and dusty place full of heirlooms, stacks of my dad’s vinyl records, old toys and broken furniture. It had changed completely since my grandfather moved in. My brother Graham had worked tirelessly for two weeks and converted it from a family museum into a homey bedroom; complete with windows, a radiator and even a working sink.

Granddad could barely walk when he came to live with us and I’d asked how he would get up and down the newly built staircase to the attic. My mother told me he wouldn’t need to, that he would have everything he’d need to live out the rest of his days up there, cosy as you like. Twice a day a nurse came to care for him and he seemed quite happy to while away the hours in his little haven. It smelled funny up there sometimes before the nurse had come to empty his commode but I didn’t care. I’d always loved spending time with my Granddad. Besides, he never seemed to use his commode anymore.

New Year’s Eve was extra special because it was also the eve of Granddad’s birthday. And this was our tradition. Every year for the last three we would watch horror movies until well after midnight. I would wish him a Happy New Year and a Happy Birthday and then I would curl up and fall asleep on the couch next to him, safe from the ghosts or the monsters or the demons that danced in my imagination. I looked forward to it all year round, even more than Christmas or my birthday.

I fumbled the tape into the VCR and hit play. The old TV crackled to life and I bounced onto the couch. Granddad put his arm around my shoulder.

“Let’s just hope your mum and dad don’t get home while this is on. They’ll have my guts for garters for letting you watch it.”

“They’re never home for New Year’s.” My parents owned and operated three nursing homes and they were always working. Granddad had practically raised me. Nanna had died when I was just a toddler and I once heard my dad say that I filled the hole that she’d left behind. But eventually he grew too infirm to look after a five-year-old and my sister Grace was deemed old enough at seventeen to take on the task. A year later he’d fallen and broken his hip. My dad had refused to put him in a home and I was over the moon when I learned he’d be moving into our house.

“They work hard. Don’t think too badly of them. Besides you’ve always got me.”

“What about when you’re gone?”

“Don’t you be worrying about that now. That’s a long time off. Still plenty of life in the old dog yet.” Satisfied, I nestled into him and we watched The Haunting in silence. He squeezed me tight through the scary parts and I felt as safe as it was possible for an eight-year-old to feel.

“Granddad?” I said, as the film’s credits rolled. “Are ghosts real?”

“Some people think so.”

“Do you?” He smiled, but it was tinged with sadness.

“No. But that’s the beauty of life. There’s only so much of it. And once you’re gone, you’re a memory. So you better make sure you’re worth remembering.”

“But if ghosts were real, you could see nanna again.”

“I see her every day, son. In here.” He pointed to his temple. “Now look. It’s after midnight. We’ve gone and missed the countdown.”

“Happy New Year granddad. And Happy Birthday too.” He pulled me in for a hug and I felt his warmth envelop me.

“You’re my mate, you are,” he said into my ear. And I felt complete. It was a moment that I wished could last forever.

It was shattered when I heard footsteps marching up the stairs behind me. I broke the hug, twisting around to see my sister Grace appear in the landing.

“What are you doing up here?” she said, sounding cross.

“I was watching The Haunting.”

“You know you’re not allowed to go through Granddad’s stuff. Dad’ll go nuts.” I looked at Granddad. He was smiling at me but his eyes had filled with tears.

“But Granddad told me to put it on.”

“That’s not funny. Bed, now. It’s 1 o’clock in the morning.”

“But it’s New Years! Granddad always lets me stay up late.”

“Granddad is dead, Scott.”

“He’s not! He’s…” But I was alone on the couch. My eyes searched the room, but Granddad wasn’t there. He wasn’t anywhere. I suddenly remembered him dying. I remembered the ambulance men bringing him down the stairs and taking him away. I remembered seeing my dad cry for the first time at the funeral. But when I’d heard Granddad’s voice calling me up to the attic earlier that evening, I had forgotten all of it.

“He was here.”

“You can’t just say things like that, Scott. It’s not right. I’m telling dad.” With that she turned on her heel and marched down the stairs, leaving me alone in the glow of Granddad’s old TV.

“Granddad?” I said. But there was no answer.

Casualty of War

I pulled the trigger. The issuing discharge was so loud that it took my hearing and my ears buzzed with tinnitus. I was used to the sensation. The first tango–a foot soldier that had been patrolling the compound’s perimeter –went down in a heap. I’d hit him centre of mass, just like I’d been trained to. There was a brief moment of suspended calm as the other guards registered the shot. And then they scattered. I looked over my scope. They were like ants from this distance. But I had a marine-issue magnifying glass and I was under orders to burn them all.

I surveyed the kill zone in my crosshairs and watched as the men ran for cover, diving behind crates or into the three decaying structures that dotted the compound. I slowed my breath and waited. I knew my next shot would reveal my position. It had to count. I spotted a tango in the window of the largest structure. He poked his head over the sill and scanned the trees with a pair of battered binoculars. I had only moments until he made me but I allowed myself a few extra seconds to line up the perfect shot–a little to the left to account for the wind. I squeezed the trigger. The window shattered and the tango disappeared, leaving only a cloud of red mist where he used to be.

I heard shots and I ducked my head as a bullet zinged by me and mud erupted where it struck the hill four feet away. I put my eye back to the scope and saw that three tangos were firing blindly into the trees. They hadn’t made me yet but I knew it wouldn’t take them long to realise that this hill was the only viable vantage point in the area. I fired and hit one of them in the chest. He sprayed bullets into the air as he flew backwards. I cocked and fired again; hit another in the arm. The last man ran for cover and I followed him with my scope. The bullet tore through his hip. If he survived, he’d never walk again.

I saw a group of tangos–at least eight of them– dash out from the closest structure and make a run for the treeline. They disappeared under the canopy before I could line up a clear shot. I was on borrowed time. It would be a matter of minutes before they reached the hill and I had only basic training in close-quarters combat. I considered retreating to the LZ for extraction but I had a mission and I intended to see it through. Or die trying.

I watched the compound through my scope for what felt like hours but I knew must have been a couple of minutes at most. I heard angry voices calling to each other in the trees just down the hill. At any moment the guards would burst through the brush and open fire. I might take out one or two of them with my sidearm but I’d be dead before I could take a third. And then I saw him: Colonel Rusev, my primary target. He ran from the largest structure towards a 4×4 that was parked in the centre of the compound. I didn’t intend to let him get to it.

I heard heavy footfall ahead and I knew I had seconds to make the shot. I trained my crosshair on the back of Rusev’s head and followed him as he moved. I ignored my racing heart and steadied my breath. I felt the trigger beneath my finger, cold and certain. I exhaled. And then I started to squeeze…

“Tim. It’s time to come inside now.” I squinted up into the face of my father.

“But Dad! I’m playing snipers!” He reached down and wrenched the plastic rifle out of my arms, gesturing toward the house at the bottom of the hill.

“In. Dinner’s nearly ready.” I got up from my prone position and grabbed for my gun, but he pulled it out of my reach.

“I was just about to blow the Colonel’s head off!” He frowned at that.

“You know, I think you’ve been playing too many violent video games. Come on, I said in.” I sloped down the hill with my hands in my pockets, kicking at the grass as I went; just another casualty in the war on fun.

VLOG: Stuart W. Bedford’s Issues: Issue One – Anxiety

Join me in my first Vlog in which I candidly explore my own experiences with mental health; particularly anxiety, depression, psychosis and adult ADHD.

This week’s issue introduces myself, my own mental illnesses and explores anxiety; its causes, effects and how I vanquished my own.

Check it out and maybe if you suffer anxiety or depression it may just help you a little! And if it does, find me on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/swbissues/ 

Et Dolore Mangia Gloria: The Greatest Music You’ve Never Heard.

For many years, I’ve been obsessed with the Providence, Rhode Island based Prog-Rock band “The Dear Hunter”. This is a band, and in Casey Crescenzo a mastermind whose purpose is far greater than to simply make a hit rock record. Casey is enlightened. Just one of the millions of us out there whose sudden charge it is to awaken those around us to a higher state of consciousness founded on a base of compassion and Love for one’s fellows. So it’s quite fitting that Casey should hail from Providence; a place-name which by its very definition as a word in the English language is “the protective care of God or of Nature as a spiritual power.” Fitting also is its secondary definition: “timely preparation for future eventualities”. This actually brings to mind a quote from Albert Einstein; “Life is preparation for the future. And the best way to prepare for the future is to live as though it doesn’t exist”.

No, The Dear Hunter are no mere rock band. The Dear Hunter is a guidebook for Awakening to the great spirituality that exists in nature, in beauty and in Love. The Dear Hunter is a manifesto to enlightenment. The Dear Hunter is also an inception so great that it exists on three levels at once: the conscious, the sub-conscious and the spiritual. The Dear Hunter pulls its audience in, and casts them into an ocean of meaning, double-meaning and triple meaning. And one by one; piece by piece; bit by bit by bit by bit, it awakens them. And awakening, to the true meaning of life – Love itself, for the self and for the other – is a fucking beautiful thing. I wish you could all feel what I feel right now. Happiness. True, overwhelmingly beautiful happiness. And attaining it was so simple. It was only I who had over-complicated it. But The Dear Hunter… Casey guided me out of my cave and showed me the light. And he can for you too. If you let him.

I cannot fully explain what this all means. If you know, you know and what I just said will make perfect sense. If you don’t know yet, then the Dear Hunter is for you. Fall into it – as we, it’s leagues of devoted fans have – and go on the journey with Casey that we did. You’ll find frustration, sadness, fear, confusion, but then you will find the white light that exists at the beating heart of Casey’s art. You will awaken to his music, and you will cry tears of sheer joy as you do. And you will discover your own purpose, your own meaning. I promise you. You only have to open your heart and let Casey in.

I guess this is a review. Of The Dear Hunter as a whole and not just a single album. The Dear Hunter is not just a single album but a great whole, the albums merely sums of its parts. The Acts are five albums that span an overriding story of a simple boy and his journey through life, from “Act I: The Lake South, The River North” to “Act: V: Hymns with the Devil in Confessional”. It’s a story so rich that it’ll have you gripped. But it’s also not in any way what you think it is either. Just like the band itself, the acts are far greater than the sum of their parts. Every song is exactly what it says it is and also is the total opposite. Again, I can’t fully explain this, but listen long enough, deep enough, you’ll start to see it bit by bit what that means. Then you’ll listen to the entire discography again. As I mentioned, there are three layers of meaning in all of Casey’s work, warranting three separate digestions of the entire discography, at least. But once you get there, you’ll want to listen repeatedly anyway.

Next you have Migrant, which is a collection of songs outside of the story; another manual for enlightenment which charts Casey’s own journey from misery to joy. Then you have The Colour Spectrum, an album dedicated to the colours of the spectrum itself; an immersive, incredible musical collage which must be heard to be believed. I won’t go further into my interpretations of the albums here as I’m planning on dedicating entire posts to each one over the coming months, delving into their meanings and messages as well as their individual place as a part in the whole of Casey’s grand enlightenment tapestry.

Musically, The Dear Hunter is just a constant astonishment; a constant catching of the breath. Such complexity, such craftsmanship. Casey is nothing short of a genius. But I know that it comes easy for him. He is Enlightened, of course. I’m also recently Enlightened. But there’s a stigma that comes with this word enlightened, as though it’s in some way suggesting I am better, more intelligent, greater than you in some way. But that’s not it at all. We are just two human beings, and our worth is set in stone at one-hundred percent, no more, no less. I haven’t added anything to my being to make me worth more, I have actually removed from my consciousness. I have let go of my anxiety and as a result, I am lighter. I am en”light”ened. I am simply not bogged down by negative energy, by my ego any more. I am simply Stuart. And Casey is simply Casey. He’s called a genius constantly, but I bet he doesn’t really care. Sure, the compliments are nice, but they should be taken in the same way as the criticisms: with a pinch of salt.

Happiness. Casey knows how to attain it and he knows how to give it to others. Don’t you want it too? (*HINT* – The answer is yes.) Then listen to his words. Follow his teachings. Let him into your heart. I only hope I can deliver my message of Love so expertly.

So here it is; my salute to Casey Crescenzo and The Dear Hunter, one of the greatest musical projects in existence.

DISCLAIMER:

I recently had what has been described as a mental health breakdown and “suffered” Stage One Psychosis which I was hospitalised with. I use the quotation marks because suffering couldn’t be further from the truth. I’m at peace, for the first time in my life. I’ve figured out how to be happy. And Casey helped me get there. So if that’s madness, then madness take me. However, I must tell you that interpreting music as divine in some way is part of a delusional way of thinking. Maybe I am delusion. But how will you know, unless you listen?

Namaste. And remember: “et dolore mangia Gloria”.

 

Finding the Rose

I guess I’m feeling a little sentimental tonight so prepare yourself for a potentially sickening post; alternatively, keep scrollin’ bub.

Here goes:

Christmas 2015 was easily the worst Christmas of my life. Suddenly single, after the breakdown of a very long term relationship, I was about to go into the new year – and into my thirties – alone, and suddenly residing back in my Parents’ house; in a tiny box bedroom not even really fit for a child. And here I was, my entire life fitting inside it. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so truly low. I felt pathetic. I felt like an abject failure.

All around me, friends and family were getting into the Christmas spirit, but all I wanted to do was retreat and hide away; or drink myself into a state of comfortable apathy. “Happy fucking Christmas”, I thought to myself. “What a crock of shit”. I hadn’t grown as a person in many years. If anything, I’d devolved. And as December bled into January, I descended into a form of madness; gripped by anxiety and depression, I struggled to get out of bed most days.

I don’t blame anyone for how that year began, least of all the ex that left. Far from it. Everything occurred as it should have. She made the right decision for both of us. But even still, my existence had become an endless shade of grey, and the days and months merged together in a flurry of self-destruction and a growing addiction to Tinder.

Lower and lower I fell, to the point that I thought I’d never see light above me again. But then something amazing happened. Swiping away one casual Sunday after a heavy night out, I saw Laura Tomkińsberglovskivich… My breath caught in my throat. “There’s something about this girl” I thought to myself. I couldn’t put my finger on it exactly, but in an endless blur of faces, hers immediately snapped into sharp focus. I didn’t swipe right; I swiped up. Superlike.

My breath caught again. For instantly, it was a match.

The conversation evolved quickly. This girl was on another level. She engaged me straight away, and I’m ADHD as hell, meaning extremely difficult to engage for anything over fifteen seconds. But Laura…I talked to her for hours on end, neglecting all else. I found her impossible to tear myself away from. And I still do.

I didn’t expect to find what I found on something as shallow and crass as an online dating app. But sometimes, in a field of dead flowers, it’s possible to find a rose. Yesterday, Laura and I had our first Christmas together, and I can’t even believe the contrast from last year.

Laura brought the colour back into my life, brighter than I ever remember it being before, and although there’s been conflict, we’ve come through it. I can feel myself growing again, changing, quite possibly into the man I always thought I should be.

Full disclosure, some of these changes have emerged through the treatment I’ve been receiving for a Generalised Anxiety Disorder I was recently diagnosed with, but I don’t think I’d have even pursued that diagnosis if she hadn’t imbued me with the strength to. The fear that’s gripped me throughout my adult life is falling away from me, and suddenly, with her, I feel like I can face anything.

Things can change in the blink of an eye. Life is good. No, life is fucking great. “Happy Christmas,” I’m thinking. “You’re god damn right it is.”

Love you Princess. From the bottom of my black heart.

Stuart