Comfortable Strangers



Featuring the art of Milan Hrnjazovic


Suggested Audio ♫

Porcupine Tree “Arriving Somewhere But Not Here”



I have always taken the greatest comfort from strangers. When the walls are closing in and others rush to their nearest and dearest for condolence, I’m the one heading in the opposite direction to someone who I know not from Adam to pour my heart out. This can lead to the people I am closest to feeling the most distant and is often taken as a rejection when it’s actually nothing of the sort. Once you confide enough in someone who you care about, they become involved on a far more intimate level, and it is then that much harder for them to offer an impartial response for all their very best efforts. Once personal feelings are thrown into the mix, the dynamic changes, and it becomes almost impossible for them to react without some form of bias attached. Of course, it all depends on the topic being discussed and I’m not suggesting that it’s always the case. But in the darkest times of my life, it has been the outsiders from whom I have gleaned the most light.


Around ten years ago now my father died and, like any boy having his personal hero snatched away with minimal prior warning, the effect was monumental. Around me were three older sisters and my heartbroken mother, all of whom were similarly comatose and attempting to make sense of something that seemed utterly bereft of rhyme or reason. Naturally they drew on one another for strength throughout the initial grieving process and would likely not have made it through the next seven days without the love and support of others afflicted by the same bitter pain. The thing is that, while I could both understand the logic and appreciate the sentiment, this wasn’t to be my way. I had recently joined a dating site for the very first time in my life and become acquainted with a woman who I couldn’t have been more worlds apart from with regards to common ground. Yet it was she who comforted me most, her words that cut through the agony, and her shoulder that I cried on. In that moment she was central to my entire universe, yet I knew precious little of her, and what I did know suggested we would never ultimately fit. I think we both knew it deep down but still the comfort kept coming.


Recently the darkness returned and last Thursday I reached the very pit of my abyss. I was withdrawn from everyone in my life at that point, even those living under the same roof, and burrowed away as I tend to do while attempting to overcome my oldest adversary. Could I have reached out to those closest for help? Perhaps but it wasn’t about to happen as it’s never been my way. When the enemy exists in your mind, there comes a time when you must face it head-on, and with all the facts at your sole disposal. Others can empathize and may even break up the fight temporarily; but it will play out at a later date only now the opponent will bide its time until it knows that you’re alone. My mind has a canny knack of undermining me, knows all of the buttons to press, and in which sequence also. It also happens to be rather persuasive and far less than social. The bottom line is that it wants me alone, on its own terms, with no spectators or interfering outside parties. Just an intimate dinner date between too old flames who know each other well.


I’ve always attempted to be accommodating, polite, and respectful as this was the way that I was raised. If my mind has something that it wishes to share and it states its case so eloquently, then the least I can do is roll out the red carpet right? Perhaps if I’m feeling frivolous, I’ll throw on a shrimp platter, and offer to shine its shoes. But I will certainly listen to whatever it has to say and provide it the platform it requires to do so without fear of judgement. After all, it can’t have anything nefarious in mind can it? Whatever it suggests is with the team’s best interests in mind surely. Actually no, having suffered this sermon on too many occasions to tally, I can categorically state that it doesn’t give two hoots and a brass monkey about my wellbeing. Indeed, I’m starting to suspect that it wants me dead you know. Heaven knows what kind of foul penance it will dream up for me sharing this intelligence now but I’ve taken the worst it could muster over the past week and I’m still in the upright position, albeit a little slouched. You see, there’s one factor that the chimp part of my mind overlooks, and that is my ability for learning. If it insists on smashing crockery every time I invite it over for muffins and green tea then it stands to reason that I’ll eventually cease breaking out my best china ware.


The more you know of your chimp, the easier it becomes to control it, or limit its damage at the very least. I’ve needed to engage in so much alone time with my inner simian as sussing out the little fella has been critical to overcoming him and, while he still speaks for both of us whenever he bloody well feels like it, I’ve finally grasped how to decline his suggestion. Let’s not pickle the pretzel, I haven’t quite reached the point where I can actually say no to him, but it’s coming dagnabbit and deep down he knows that his days are numbered. Of course, being such a durable gibbon, he’ll knuckle down and work extra hard to topple his master. But I can see the panic in his eyes and no longer can he boast the controlling share in my thought processing. The reason for this is that I have identified solace and, would you believe, it involves a group of complete strangers who are about to know more about me than I’ve ever enabled myself to fathom. This particular leg of my journey I shall keep vague as it’s more of a members only affair and I’ve no intention of lining myself up in domino form as has been customary in the past.


What is important is that I’ve found that crumb of comfort and it couldn’t have come at a better time as my health is in critical condition and I do mean critical. There are two paths I discern before me currently and one looks a darned sight more attractive than the other. On one side, it entails a single step into a place where light cannot hope to flourish. On the other, it’s stepping-stones all the way, and will require both fleetness of foot and considerable balance on my part to navigate. That said, this crazy paving stretches on for as far as the eye can see, and only deals in illumination. It hasn’t taken a great deal of pensive chin stroking to ascertain that this crossroads pretty much represents living and dying and, for all of the chimp’s incessant meddling, I’ve already purchased my ticket. Quick reality check, I’m not there yet and could still wind up consumed by the black cloaks long before those tulips have been tiptoed through. But I implore the chimp to do his worst, attempt every low-down dirty trick in the book and a fair few unlisted ones, and make this skirmish epic. Should he go down easy, then I’ll know full well it’s a ruse, and he’ll be back the very moment I recline with additional firepower no doubt. Thus we may as well just get this over with right monkey?


Fuck it, neither of us can say it hasn’t been coming. And there will always be a place for you here as I’m reasonably assured I’ll be needing the limbic gland to not forget how to peel a banana. However, I’ve long since grown weary of your methodology, and will therefore be resuming control from hereon in, if that’s alright with you. If it’s not then please, not the face, and I’d like to remind you that hair pulling and eye gouging will not be tolerated. Other than that, give me hell chimp, and I’ll endeavor to raise that with some brimstone of my own. You may notice a few faces in my corner that aren’t instantly recognizable and I like to refer to these healing hands as secret weapons of mine. Don’t ask me their names as I really couldn’t tell you but their presence will be significant and their shoulder massages really are to die for. As for those who care, those who are invested in me, who I’m invested into, I love you the most and don’t you ever forget it. But the best I could get you was ringside seats I’m afraid. You lot can be my Adrians.


That is just the nature of this particular beast and this leg of my pilgrimage looks set to be the one that ultimately either makes or breaks me. The chimp has already placed his bets on black and presently fancies his chances. My odds of victory may be longer but the role of underdog has always suited me more snugly and I stand to bag myself a windfall if I manage to upset the apple cart. Thus I even have myself an opening taunt – you may appear juicy red apples, succulent and flavorsome, and at the very prime of your harvest but, after several chews, you’re as bland as dated bubblegum and reminiscent of a mouthful of week-old dog feces. You know the type, white, brittle, less inclined to spread. Fuck you apples and fuck bananas too as they’re food for my chimp’s thought and therefore cannot be trusted. Actually, fuck vegetables on the whole, I’m sure they all betted on black behind my back, scheming little produce that they are. Red meat won’t let me down and I believe I still have sufficient space in my colon for a few more prime ribs to semi-digest. By the way, had I mentioned that every last stranger comes with their own George Foreman Grill?


Anyhoots, I’m feeling rather comfortable at this present moment and, to anyone reading this who is not an outsider, I apologize if it ever feels the direct opposite. But here’s the thing, I wouldn’t be here right now if it weren’t for you and, if I come through this current clash in tact, then I’ll be back nuzzling your ankles before you can prepare my litter tray. Those I hold dear are a constant motivation to overcome whatever demons are at my door and you inform every rearguard action in your own little way as I carry you wherever I travel. Occasionally I fade to grey and I’ve now accepted this part of the process as it is in these moments that perfect strangers have my back covered and they help me to find my way back to those I cherish most. So you see, if it feels like I am becoming a stranger to you, then ironically the precise opposite is actually true and how’s that for a headfuck? I trust you can take some comfort from that and please don’t be a stranger. I’ve got enough names not to remember as it is.


Click here to read Comfortably Numb






  1. Thank you Molly-Louise, Milan is an extraordinary artist and his work speaks so clearly. And thank you for the interest you have been showing in my posts, I’m so glad that they resonate. It is deeply appreciated.

    Warmest Regards

  2. Anyone who really knows you and cares about you will want you to do what you need to do to get yourself out of the darkness you’re in and won’t take it personally if you’re a bit withdrawn from them while you’re healing. If strangers are able to give you the help you need then that’s fantastic and I’m glad they’re helping you. 😊

    1. And this I why I cherish our friendship so dearly. Thank you truly for being precisely who you are and never deviating for a second. You’re one in ten million.

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