Three singers. Three versions. One song: Hallelujah. One life: mine. I am Tom, and this is my life in Hallelujahs.
Hallelujah One: The Fourth, the Fifth.
It was 2002 and I was fifteen when it started. I was an awkward kid; clever enough to succeed but lazy enough not to try, funny enough to get along with most everyone, shy enough to not get very close to anyone. If you asked me now how I looked then I’d be far kinder than if you’d have asked me at the time. That’s a battle I’ve since won; as the infamous warbler Gloria Gaynor once wrote, I am who I am.
The summer was unremarkable in reality, but I remember it being long and hot, a shimmering heat haze hanging over the days and nights of my school holidays. Year 10 was over, in September I would be in Year 11. The shit was going to get real: my GCSEs would be upon me, the culmination of those long years in schooling. What would I receive in GCSE Food Technology? This question and more bubbled in my febrile adolescent mind. Oh, and I was pretty sure I was gay.
I mean, I had resolved already that I must be bi. Boys were rather too attractive for me to pretend to myself that I was straight. A couple of childhood crushes on girls I’d known were the last bastion of what I thought would be a normal life, and I clung to them. The memories of the crushes that is, I didn’t cling to the girls — not least of all for legal reasons.
One morning during that summer, that last bastion was overwhelmed and swept away for ever. There was a boy in one of my classes, one of my friends, and I had a dream about him. I don’t even remember what the dream was — nothing sexy — but when I woke up on that humid summer’s morning I knew two things clearly. Firstly, I was gay. It was just that simple. The clarity was uplifting. The second was, I was in love with my friend. My straight friend. Ah, shit.
Rufus Wainwright’s Hallelujah was the soundtrack to my teenaged angst. And as the years passed, and I lost contact with the boy I had loved, it came to signify that pain that nobody forgets, ever — their first lost love.
She tied you to a kitchen chair
She broke your throne, and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah
Hallelujah Two: The Minor Fall
I drifted. I dropped out of sixth form college, graduating with such impressive grades as an E in AS level psychology. I was unemployed for a long time, then I got a job I hated. And I was so, so unhappy.
I was a failure. That kid in those school photos, when did he die and what was this shell he’d left behind? Nothing mattered to me. I went to sleep at 7am and woke up at 4pm, I spent my time floating around on the internet in a state of perpetual angry boredom. I stopped seeing my friends, didn’t care about myself.
I resented everything I was missing out on, blamed myself for the lack of experiences and fed that back into even more introverted sadness and alienation. As my life went from bad to worse so any solution seemed to slide further beyond my grasp.
I felt bad, still feel bad, for the people I worked with. I wish I hadn’t been such an unpleasant person to be with back then. I was missing not just my love, but love itself. Was this what life was? I briefly tried a course of anti-depressants but they achieved nothing so I never got the prescription refilled. My life was broken and I hated not just living it but myself too, with a passion I’ve rarely felt for anything else since.
I’ve seen your flag on the marble arch
Love is not a victory march
It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah
Hallelujah Three: The Major Lift
I had to escape from the jaws of the steel trap which held me fast. I left my job, took better care of myself. It was… easy. Why did it take that long? I got back into my writing, found new ways to express myself, new things to do and see.
I’m not fixed. I never will be: I have bipolar disorder, I’ll always be prone to depression. And love, love is still my eternal tormentor. I don’t know that I’ve ever felt it truly. Was it real love, that tearing, soaring, terrible, beautiful thing I felt when I was young? Probably not, I’d say now, probably some adolescent approximation of an emotion which I feel continues to elude me. But that’s ok.
See, I haven’t overcome all my neuroses. I’ve just accepted them, accepted myself. I’m far from perfect, but really, what’s it to ya?
And even though it all went wrong
I’ll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah