Perfect Life

By: alexanderlewin

Nov 17 2016

Tags: ,

Category: memory, Photography


My old friend Jim recently presented me with one of his CD compilations and I gave it a perfunctory play on the kitchen CD player when I came home from our walk together. I heard enough to pick up on the autumnal vibe, noticed some old favourites by Tim Buckley and King Crimson, and generally enjoyed the whole mix, intending to give it a proper listen as soon as I got the chance. Jim had mentioned when he handed me the CD that he had included some tracks by Stephen Wilson, whom I might know better for his work with Porcupine Tree, a band I had come to enjoy thanks to their inclusion on previous Jim-CDs. He had also expressed some doubts as to the harmonious quality of the last quarter of the mix as he had rushed through production to get it ready for our meeting. So I concentrated on the end of the CD to see if it worked, and when I heard Perfect Life by Steven Wilson, I was struck by that rare sensation, falling in love with a piece of music at first listen. But it was still only a superficial audition, so to speak, and I couldn’t hear what was said by the narrator in the first half of the song. All I knew was that the first chance I got to give this CD mix my undivided attention, I would be listening to this song, the very last song, first.

I came home from the first half of my shift today
(I am working a split duty for a few weeks) and set up the track and pressed play and sat down with a mug of coffee to listen. I programmed the CD player to play just this track, Perfect Life, repeatedly. I had to get up and put my ear close to the speaker to catch every word of the narrator and her poignant and disturbing story. While I was left wondering what had separated these two ‘sisters’, the wave of emotion that is Steven Wilson’s refrain “We have got, we have got the perfect life” washed over me. This chorus is simultaneously an ironic counterpoint to the tragic sense of bereavement that the girl feels in losing utterly her connection with the very best of friends, and an affirmation of the mystical union that in sharing once, they came to share forever. For me, this is a perfect song, one of those rare creations that capture the complexity of the human heart and present it fresh and raw and alive and quivering to the listener.

As I was listening to this beautiful song and being carried away with the ebb and flow of emotional energy, I remembered an episode from my own childhood. Sitting with my coffee and having the song as a soundtrack I recalled the events and realised just why this particular song was affecting me so strongly that I was trying to cry and not to cry at the same time. About 40 years ago, when I was about 10 years old, my step-father’s 13-year old daughter Debbie arrived unexpectedly (for me, at least) at our home and began to share my bedroom. Until this point, I had been an only child; now I had a sister, and as far as I can remember, I enjoyed her presence in my previously solitary life. She brought a difference with her into my room and my life. Little things like her perfume and her handwriting were intriguing to me.
I recall how she would draw a heart over a folded sheet of paper and open the fold to reveal a heart torn in two with the words “You’ve broken my heart” written beneath in her girly bubble script. There was a seaside holiday in Tenby, West Wales, which I can only truly remember because of some Super-8 cine-film that we watched occasionally at family gatherings over the years; often eliciting embarrassingly overlooked queries from those who wondered who she was.

I don’t know exactly how long this state of affairs lasted, but I do know that my grandmother, Nana, wasn’t happy about Debbie living with us.
My grandparents lived upstairs and Nana ruled the roost. I have only one memory left from this time.
My mother is driving us to the solicitor’s to sort out something to do with Debbie and her future.  Nana is sitting in the passenger seat up front. Debbie is in the back with me and she is crying quietly. She is crying because Nana is saying stuff about her and her dad and it isn’t nice. She didn’t mince words, Nana.
I am sitting with my favourite book at that time, Teach Yourself Cricket, trying to ignore this whole excruciatingly uncomfortable scene. I had a key-ring shaped like a pistol, with a hollow space for different screw-bits that you could fit into the barrel. I had the awl fitted and  I managed to drill a hole right into the heart of the book. I don’t think I ever saw Debbie again after that day, but my mother mentioned her some years later, saying that she had just had an abortion and was rather blasé about it.

Hearing Perfect Life today brought all of that memory-story back in all its intensity. I am still trying to cry and not to cry. I am so sorry that I didn’t say anything to Debbie that day in the back of the car, sorry that I didn’t even look at her and show her that I cared.

I miss my Nana more than words can say; she was my rock, my confidante, my spiritual advisor, and barely a day goes by when I don’t wish I could hear her wise advice. She always had the best interests of her close family at heart and would do anything to protect us, but the way she spoke to Debby in the car that day was the cruellest thing I ever saw her do and I wish it could have happened in a kinder way.


When I searched YouTube to find a version of the song to link in with this piece I was struck by how the accompanying film is very different from the way I imagined the story as I was listening to it, even before I was carried off with my own reveries. I saw it in black-and-white and in a very British 1980’s setting. But this film is beautiful in its own way too.


7 comments on “Perfect Life”

  1. Debbie did remember and did care for you. She moved to London and was happy. She always asked after you. A painful time for you not something a child should ever have to experience. xxx

    • Hearing that makes a pleasing postscript to this tale. Thank you for that. You cannot protect children from the harsh realities of life, especially when you are caught up in the throes of them yourself.
      I feel so much better for having been able to express myself in this form; the wound has been lanced and much of the poison drained. And it has got us talking about a difficult period in our lives, which is also positive. It was the song by Steven Wilson which opened me up, connecting me directly with that memory and its emotional charge. Music can be such a powerful tool for accessing buried emotions.

  2. During that time I was so ignorant how to protect you, but believed that I was shielding you! Oh, how I wish I had possessed the skills I later acquired of understanding about communication and relationships,the importance of supporting growing children/young people. I shudder when I think what I put you through.Having said that you have developed into a caring, thoughtful adult with great generosity of spirit. It is really positive to open the conversations which have been buried so deep for so long, but paradoxically so close to the surface! Music can be a great healer.

  3. Deep stuff, tenderly expressed. Funny how the same tiny moment that for one person soon passed and may barely have registered as an event can be pivotal for others. Food and smells can be equally evocative; anything that by-passes word-thinking. And lovely to have a postscript!

    • Thanks Ed!
      Rare for me to be so direct in my writing; the song just drew the memory and its attendant emotion from me with such force that I felt compelled to express it as clearly and promptly as possible. Now I shall return to the relative security of my crypto-poetic mystical musings if you don’t mind!

  4. its refreshing to know others are making and listening to CD mixes! I enjoy making them and giving them to friends and family welcome you to check out the ones I post on my blog!

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