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imagine you are seventeen and your hands are shaking for the first time without reason. you say to your friends in the english literature classroom “I think I have anxiety” but they laugh because they think you are joking. you are always joking. 

 

imagine you are eighteen and moving into university housing. you cry while you unpack your bags because you know that soon your mum will have to leave and then what will you do? this isn’t home and these people are strangers. but when the time comes, you give her a hug and say “I’ll visit in two weeks” and then you paste a big smile on your face and walk into the common room as though you belong there. and new strangers laugh with you — or is at you? — because you are always joking. the weeks pass slowly and you always feel sick. you call your mum every day and she tells you to pull yourself together, that crying all the time won’t help, but what will help?

 

you see her in one week instead of two. she tells you to just get through this week, then the next, then the next, and now you are always just trying to get through this week, this day, this second, andthenextandthenextandthenext.

 

you are nineteen and you’re home again. you commute to a different university now. you think it might be better until it’s not.

 

imagine you are twenty-one and you are graduating. you don’t want to go because getting up at six a.m. makes your anxiety worse and you never really made any friends to celebrate with and you have to walk across the stage in shoes that blister. but you put on a pretty pink dress and you bite your nails in the car and you say hello to teachers you barely saw, teachers who know you only as an empty seat in the lecture hall. but they don’t know. they think you are always joking. you walk across the stage and shake a stranger’s hand and everything you have done for the past two decades of your life is here in this little roll of paper and it doesn’t mean anything. it wasn’t worth the pain. but you got it and you made your mum proud and at least you took some nice pictures for instagram. at least you were the first in your family to wear a cap and gown. later you go home and swap your dress for pyjamas and it’s just another day again. nothing has changed. 

 

imagine you’re twenty-five and you rarely see your friends. you were supposed to go to prague last year but you couldn’t make it past the door. not the one leading outside / just the one in your head. you get a book deal and it fills a bit of the emptiness, but when your friends come around to celebrate, you spend the whole day trying not to cry and you don’t know why. you should be happy but you never are. you have accomplished all you’ve dreamed from your couch and your life is easy but it feels so hard. it feels so endless. it feels so pointless and empty. and all you can think is I should have gone to prague but you would have only felt the same there. so maybe it’s time to give up. maybe it’s time to let it win. 

 

now imagine you are thirty-seven and you stayed even when you didn’t want to, and maybe you are glad. maybe you meet up with your friends for coffee and talk about weddings and children and careers. maybe you got out of that council house and found a place with a nice view. maybe you have plans to travel all summer. maybe you have a villa by the sea and a dog who wags his tail when he sees you. 

 

or maybe it is all worse. maybe coffees are not possible anymore and you live in the same pyjamas you wore at twenty-one, rotting in the house you once swore you’d leave. maybe everyone has given up on you and you have run out of things to write because being stuck in these four walls is uninspiring and love no longer even feels like a fantasy worth entertaining. maybe you watch sunsets every night and those moments between amber and blue are the only ones where you feel like you. 

 

or maybe you are gone. maybe you finally became brave enough to end it. but now there are no coffees or pyjamas or sunsets, and people only buy your books because you are dead and they think it is tragic

 

that now there is no you.

 

maybemaybemaybe 

 

Rachel Bowdler grew up and still lives just outside of Manchester, on the edge of West Yorkshire. After graduating from the University of Salford with a degree in English and Creative Writing, she delved briefly into the world of photography before becoming a freelance romance author, focusing on her passion of representing diverse characters and relationships in her stories, particularly with queer, curvy, and working-class protagonists. Her dream has always been to smell the pages of her own book, and she accomplished this after self-publishing her first novella, Paint Me Yours, in 2021. Her only wish now is that her words make readers feel warm and fuzzy inside – and maybe to see her book on a shelf one day.

 

When she isn’t assaulting her computer keyboard or daydreaming about fictional people in her pyjamas, you can find her cuddling and walking her talkative dog, Enzo, enjoying and photographing the rural scenery of the local Pennines, wishing it was time to put up her Christmas tree, and painting with watercolours (but not very well!).

 

Her festive debut novel, Honeymoon for One, was brought to readers in 2022.

 

https://linktr.ee/rachbowdler

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