Sunday Reading: Moments for us


words: Ráchel Smekalova
photo: Daniela Malá

Curing the restless mind with self-navigated breathing is one of the things I do when my mind all of a sudden starts screaming in waves of uncategorised thoughts about nothing and everything. It is late at night and even distant street lights look dark through generic Swedish curtains. My boyfriend's heavy breath and sweaty naked back leans against my pale Slavic shapes. I think about my friends with whom I've lost contact. About how much of a hypochondriac my grandmother can be. Will I be the same? Maybe I should have asked about how to do taxes before I'd signed that job contract last year? What do I potentially owe now to the Czech government, one year later? Also, why has my Christmas gift never arrived? Did it get lost? Who wears my classy dioptre glasses, if it's not me? And do those people even need glasses to see? I wonder about the Syrian kids and their drowned siblings. Will Tom Ford dress Mélania Trump? I hope not, honestly. But what do I care. I start thinking about all the women that inspired me in the past and how hard they must have worked to be where they are. It is a true spiral of nonsensical thoughts.

Breathe! Take it slow, calm your mind. I can feel the oxygen going from my frozen toes up to shivering thighs and arriving to my soft belly. It seems much easier going from the bottom upwards. The mind is a powerful tool. One, two, three. Four hundred. I am slowly drifting away from the chaos to a synchronised sleep. It's almost like a night performance, an underwater dance aquabelles would do. I am now breathing heavily with him next to me and living in a new reality under the umbrella of my dreams.

When I wake up, it's Saturday and we're going on a road trip. Mind is clear as the blue sky. I can see through the train window. We have three hours to just sit back and relax. I am only hoping my mind doesn't get so out of control like yesterday night. I could read, but I always feel sick after a while.

Letters start jumping on a paper and it gives me a headache. Boyfriend sleeps again, dropping saliva on his linen shirt as if the world around didn't exist. He allows me to be alone with my thoughts. But this time, I'm in control.

We're back in Berlin, having an early beer and the best kebab in town. The night is still waiting for us. Dominika wears a yellow fluffy jumper and tells me about her unfinished dissertation, boy troubles, future prospects and amazing bands she's seen live. We're going to see one tonight. We're standing in a crowded venue, and colourful sparkles fall on our dancing bodies. Somebody spilled a beer on my suede jacket, but I didn't care. And as the night ends, we give each other a promise of endless friendship.

How did we get so far from each other? I am now living thousands of kilometres away and we barely talk. Is her bachelor thesis finished now and what happened to the guy she really wanted to date? I am suddenly just feeling empty and distant. My thoughts are taking over again. I will try to read a bit. Not the book, it's too Russian and too heavy. I grab a magazine I'd bought, funnily, for the first time with Dominika back in Berlin. Suddenly every story reminds me of our once so vibrant and true friendship. So I make notes throughout every page I see. Connecting my life back to hers, gluing my new memories to the ones we've made together. It starts making sense. This is the best letter and gift I can send her. So I draw, write, laugh silently and feel very much as if we were the only people on the train. Having another adventurous day filled with stories and promises. When she reads this, she feels the warmth of my words and hears the sound of my voice as if distance and time never existed.

Dominika sits back in her childhood room, facing an inspirational teenage wall with rainbow stickers, a photo of young Kate Moss torn out from an old issue of French Vogue, favourite handwritten quotes from Letters to a Young Poet, naked new born baby sister polaroid pic from 1996 and a couple of letters I've sent her since the day I went to the countryside. She reads the newest one. I am telling her I got a new job. It's an editorial job in the magazine that brought us back together. Her still dry lips suddenly shape into the form of a long U and a silent sigh comes out. She is always going to be a part of my story and I will be part of hers.

Ráchel is a freelance journalist and editor, seeking out new adventures in London. She loves the feeling of time slowing down, tastes of undiscovered places and the weight of print magazines in her hands. She keeps Instagram as her everyday visual diary and shares memories of the past on her website

 Issue 35 of Oh Comely explores strength in all its forms. Pick up a copy here



Sisterhood: lifelong friends

After a brush with death came our life-affirming friendship.
words: Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett
Photo: Antonine Henault.

Photo: Antonine Henault.

I met Holly in one of the worst periods of my life. Two weeks after moving into a house with friends in north London, a man tried to strangle me to death. Traumatised, I couldn't continue to live in the area, so moved in with my grandmother and set about looking for somewhere new. Holly, a friend of a friend, offered to cover my rent in the old house. 

At the time, probably because of trauma, I felt disconnected from everyone. I would float zombie-like into lectures, lost in my head. Two of my closest female friends had stopped speaking to me _ one has said that I was boring, the other simply drifted away. I was sad and was drinking too much. I probably was boring. All I knew is that I needed them and they weren't there. 

The house hunt was long and dispiriting, as house hunting in London often is. Holly was also looking, having gazumped for my room in the old house. Eventually, I found a decrepit flat above a pub that had two rooms going. It had orange carpets, a bathroom shared with the pub landlord, and subsidence. Our flatmate was a permanently high actor in his fifties who had written a bestselling novel about crack addiction in the projects. 

Thus began some of the strangest, drunkest, funniest days I have ever experienced. We laughed, we drank, we drank some more. We talked intimately about our lives and ate lots of camembert. Once Holly realised that you're not supposed to remove its box before baking it, with spectacular consequences. One night, our landlords banned us for having any more parties, though the only guests had been us, singing loudly to the music of our youth. As a bonus, our flatmate provided excellent marijuana, and offered to give any man who came round a "taste of New York justice". 

New York justice is definitely what Holly's then-boyfriend deserved. I was there when he hit her in the face on her birthday. We went home, ordered alcohol and cried, then laughed, then danced it out. I helped her through the break up, and she helped me through the anguish of having felt so close to death that surviving it left me feeling only half alive. 

Before Holly, some of my female friendships were tinged with judgement. I was made to feel that I wasn't cool enough, that I was boring, or stupid; my opinions not worthwhile. With Holly, I could say anything. She was fun, with a deadpan sense of humour. And she was honest. If she was pissed off at me, she would tell me. We only lived in that crappy flat for three months, but I knew our friendship was for life. 

That was six years ago. Since then we have written a blog, and then a book, together. We have kind, decent boyfriends who don't cheat on or hit us. We drink less. Our carpets are no longer orange. The once grotty pub has gone gastro. Nest year, I am getting married, and Holly will be my so-called 'maid of honour'. But as far as I am concerned, she's my best woman. Not just for the day, but always. 

Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett and Holy Baxter are co-authors of and The Vagenda: A Zero Tolerance Guide to the Media, published by Square Peg. 

Find more stories of female friendship in our Sisters Issue. 

issue 30 / sisters
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