An inventory of my boyfriend’s jacket pockets (rifled while he has gone back in for another drink):
Approximately £4.73 in loose change, mostly silver
A fiver that is probably torn too badly to be legal tender
House key, no key ring
Shitty key fob the landlord gave him the key on, which has become separate
Equally shitty lighter, which I am requisitioning to relight the dead tea light the pub have added to the outside tables in a misguided attempt at ambience.
I mean, for fuck’s sake.
I can see him from here. He has been waylaid by Christian Rachel and inevitably has missed his turn at the bar. That girl, I swear down. I will literally set up my own church if she can explain to me how sucking off drummers for guestlist furthers the cause of Christ’s mission on Earth. She thinks nobody remembers anything.
If there’s a whole crowd of dickheads in there and I’m going to be obliged to join them I’m just going home. I didn’t want to come out anyway. It’s just one of those nights you get in August where it stays so nice out people just start getting this itchy feeling they should be in a beer garden. Name me three things that brought unquestionable benefit to humankind dreamt up in beer gardens.
One thing I’ve always had to give Christian Rachel, she’s got really nice hair. I mean it’ll spend the dying days of her youth wrapped in someone’s fist, but she works it so good on her for that. Before she got God she used to get the ends dyed properly. It’s just that nice kind of blonde that takes colour. I remember when I met her and I used to wonder how she could even stand to be in a room with normal people, she was so far beyond pretty. She was one of those people who seemed too perfect to ever even consider them having any kind of sexuality. You could never imagine her losing a condom or using Advantage Card points to pay for tampons. Like a doll. And this was back when she was a goer.
Well, we all did things we’re not proud of. Just because she was better at it than me.
I am singeing the hairs on my forearm with the lighter just at the thought of having to sit here for the duration of another Bulmers talking to Christian Rachel and whoever the fuck else has come out because “it’s a gooooooorgeous evening this, defo one for a cheeky bevvy with THE GIRLS/LADS/PEOPLE CIRCUMSTANCE FORCES ME TO INTERACT WITH MORE REGULARLY THAN I WOULD LIKE.” When he comes back he should take an arty shot of the empty glasses and lash that up on Facebook with about ten hashtags even though hashtags aren’t for fucking Facebook.
The difference between me and normal people is I’d rather set light to myself than spend a whimsical summer evening taking refreshment with friends and loved ones.
Oh, he’s back out. Slip that lighter down my bra. I might find a use for that.
There’s something about the way he walks, my boy, something about it that I find almost unbearably adorable, even when I’m pissed off because he makes such consistent unreasonable demands for things like conversation and social interaction and interest in his life. He has this way of walking that’s like this casual lollop leaning slightly to the right. I’ve examined it from various angles and he always just lists over to the right, it’s fucking uncanny. He’s caned a fair bit of his beer on the way back out as well.
-Rachel and Adam are inside, he says, necking another third of the bottle and notably not asking why I’ve got hold of his jacket.
-Thought I saw her.
Dipping the tips of your finger in melty wax and then peeling it off again never, ever gets old. Trust me, I’m conducting a longitudinal study.
-They’re going to some sit off some lad’s having in the old field, apparently they’re going into town after. Said do you want to come. Matty’s down, haven’t seen him since Christmas have we?
No eye contact while he speaks. Eyeballing the bottom of his bottle. Because he knows, the poor love. There’s a script for this now. We’ve got these terrible little scripts for everything and we’re forced to act them out like fucking guinea pigs in costume just rehashing this shit daily.
Guinea pigs in jumpers now. Fucking hell. No wonder I’ve got no mates left.
I think that’s probably going to be sufficient. Bang on. Sucks out the last of his ale and bangs the bottle down on the table. This would be the moment where someone else would suck it up and go and sit with people who are supposed to be your friends, who you actually haven’t seen for six months and who you have no desire to avoid but no fortitude to deal with, just for a fucking hour so this poor lad can pretend he’s got a proper normal girlfriend.
I’m me, though, so I do this “sorry love” eyebrow wiggle thing and give him his jacket.
-Shall I tell them anything when they ask? he says like the question won’t be fucking hell, lad, why didn’t you get rid months ago? and the answer isn’t because it’d be like punching a Big Issue seller in the face, that’s why
-Tell them I’ve got stuff that needs doing for tomorrow. Tell Matty I’ll ring him this weekend.
-Right. Are you going straight home?
-Might go to ASDA on the way. Probably go to sleep when I get in.
He knows the drill but he’s so fucked off his eyelid’s twitching. Wonder if he can feel it. Then it’s like he remembers I’m not a cunt on purpose or at least I didn’t used to be and he gets his key out his pocket and passes his jacket back to me.
-Here y’are. Warm enough without it. I won’t be late
-Don’t worry about it. Have a good night, yeah?
For a minute something lifts, then he kisses me without looking at me and does an I’m-going-in-there gesture. Gone when I look up. I can see Christian Rachel looking over.
You just fucking remember fresher’s week, girl. We’ve all got our fucking crosses.
Inventory of things I put in a basket at ASDA before abandoning the thing completely:
2 pints of that weird milk with the orange top
Batteries for the Sky remote, because I think we took the Sky remote batteries out for something else and put shitty half dead ones in instead
Two 2 for £7 novels that don’t look much good but are two books for £7
Some eye make up wipes that are on offer
I leave the basket in the fruit and veg bit, get twenty menthol B&H and a can of Coke from the kiosk and chain smoke five of the tabs while walking the long way home so I can have a good nihilistic stew in my own toxic juices.
I don’t actually feel that bad about blowing off a friend I shared a house with for two of the happier years of my life who I haven’t seen for months, or leaving him to make up some excuse as to why. They’ll all be used to that by this point. I do feel bad that I really think we’re coming to the point where people (he) can’t make excuses for the fact that this is now more or less completely standard, and I don’t want to think too much about how it’s probably preferable that I’m not doing things with people any more, because it lets them off making any kind of effort either.
I remember it didn’t used to be that much of a thing. It was like: oh, right, she’s fucked up. But that was OK because everyone was busy being fucked up. Before Rachel got God and stopped noshing off anyone who stood still long enough (sometimes, and I’m not lying, in crowded public spaces. Oh how fucking cosmopolitan and daring, right? Right) she was a recreational vomiter first and foremost, though she could never keep straight whether it was supposed to be because she had food issues or because she was always drunk because she just didn’t fucking care, and that whole firm used to kind of worship me as the most Legitimately Fucked Up Person with Actual Proper Mad and taking Tablets And Everything which was of course the holy grail because we were all humanities undergraduates and nothing says “intellect” quite like a healing slashmark to the forearm that you don’t cover up but you don’t want to talk about, although it would be quite good if people determined from its presence that you are terribly deep and interesting and likely too beautiful for this world.
There’s nothing particularly shameful in having your painfully sincere phase, I suppose. But that’s not really what I’m ashamed of. We were kids. Kids play games. It’s what they do.
The problem is that four or five years ago being one of Those Girls, all anguished and we-have-to-do-something-to-help-her and I’m-just-so-worried between all my friends: well, everyone was doing it in one way or the other. But then they got degrees and mortgages and high interest savings accounts and years volunteering in Thailand and I got 200mg of sertraline and a red exclamation mark coming up on the screen at the doctors when I go for a fucking smear.
It’s tempting, very tempting, to go looking for poetry in the fucking waste of your life.
Slap a Mishima quote on your teenage drama and pretend you’re The Holy fucking Bible.
I remember not long after I met him when we were at someone’s house party and I saw him propping Cara up on the stairs, and she was telling him something that was vitally important the way things are when you’re fucked off your face, and he was nodding at her, answering at the points when she stopped but he was looking at me. And he was looking at me like I was rare, with this intensity and this awe about it. Anyway after someone dragged her off somewhere he came back over and just kissed me like I was edible, like he could actually consume me and we still wouldn’t be close enough together. And that was the first time I slept with him, that night. And we were pretty much nailed on after that.
Then a few days later Cara pulls me up and she’s going -Mate, I’m so sorry, I feel like such a twat and please don’t hate me but I was out of my skull and I told him about you repeating a year. About the hospital. I didn’t realise he didn’t know and I just said you were looking so much better at your proper weight and-I shouldn’t have, it wasn’t my thing to tell him.
And I’m like, don’t worry about it. Because I think I believed maybe that was what made him want to taste me. To see if he could stand the bite of it, to see if he’d choke, to see if it gave him that same dizzy flush of this is what the human fuckin’ condition is really about that I’d have to admit it gave me in my first year, throwing tea down the sink because of the fat in the milk and looking up from pinning my lecture notes to the bedroom walls, shaking with cold and emptiness that tasted like ice and stale tabs.
I think really my fatal mistake was to believe my own propaganda.
Inventory of things in my bag that I shoved through the letterbox while looking for my key:
An Oyster card from about three years ago probably in minus credit
A pen I got free at work
A CD-R of I can’t remember what, probably scratched to fuck anyway
A load of assorted letters with and without envelopes
The fifteen menthol burns I haven’t smoked yet
A cheap shitty necklace which snapped (I just let this drop onto the step)
A paracetamol box that’s just full of empty blister strips
A load of clumpy glittery dust that’s all over everything else and now my hands
Several tablets of what look like 20mgs of fluoxetine, which is at least three prescriptions ago now so I really need to gut my bag more often.
Looking into the bag before I dump it on the hall floor it appears I’ve lost my good lipgloss. I’m living in a shit disappointing reconstruction of my favourite Pulp album. In more ways than fucking one.
Ah, it’s my “girl in the song” theory of why I’m fucked rearing it’s ugly head again.
I came up with this trying to cry silently in the bath one night. I decided in many ways the problem started with my name.
My dad is a lovely sort of dreamy, spaced if fairly useless and distracted guy, and when I was born he was all of those things plus younger than I am right now but let’s not, and as such fathers are wont to do he picked my name from a song.
Not one everyone would know, but enough to anticipate people going “oh, like the song” when I tell them what I’m called. Obviously when I was little I just assumed as kids do that the very purpose of the song was to give the world my name, because when I was little I was strapped into the world. I knew I was supposed to be there. I felt like I was for something.
I suppose my dad felt I was worth writing a song for when I was born, but he can’t write for shit so he borrowed the girl in someone else’s song, which is kind of like attaching a list of qualities to your kid that you wish for them, or that come from yourself, or whatever.
The trouble with having kids is that basically from the minute they exist you really, really wish stuff for them. But the kind of stuff you can’t actually ever give them, so you just sort of have to proceed on the basis that they already have or will be those things and hope you don’t fuck it up too badly.
But writing a song about someone, or attaching someone else’s song to a person in your head, is kind of like drawing a bit of them they don’t know, because nobody can see themselves the way other people do, not really.
And at some point it’s going to be really difficult when you see the chasm between those two mirrors.
I got older and I knew I wasn’t the kind of girl in the song
I wasn’t the kind of girl my parents wished for me when they gave me a name
There was only ever one person who would put me in a song, and because of that he’s afraid he can’t leave without erasing me completely.
I consider this, really stand and consider what’s been happening here and examine myfuckingself for a minute, and it is such godawful fucking ugly fury and pain that out of nowhere I am sick into the sink, onto several glasses and a toast plate.
Really should have stayed in tonight.
Inventory of things my mother has suggested might make me less depressed:
Eating red meat
Finishing my degree
Cleaning the house more often
Moving back home (“obviously not into the actual house”)
Paying some sly nonce to pretend to hypnotise me
Having my contraceptive implant taken out (fuck, no. It involves pleasingly little effort. It stays)
There was a time I used to repeat these suggestions to him either furious with her or hoping he’d laugh and we’d be complicit against such shit, because clearly having given birth to someone it’s ridiculous that you’d be prepared to clutch at any straws anyone was offering in order for them to be a half way functional human being. I don’t, now, not so much because I’ve grown out of it but because I’ve started to dread the day I throw one of those out there and I see it in his face that he’d seriously consider it because anything has to be better than living like this.
I am considering this, sitting smoking on the back step, when I hear him come back in. It’s not late. It’s not even properly dark yet. Hopefully this is because he has remembered he’s got work at eleven and not because he was gripped with the need to run home lest I be trying to drown myself in the sink.
-Out here, love
He comes through finishing off a thing of McDonald’s chips. -Shit night, that
-Who was out?
-Load of those fucking sex cases Adam and Christian Rachel bring to things. Matty found Manchester Rachel and they’re fucking in a cupboard somewhere. Gave it three quarters of an hour then fucked off. You coming in?
He holds his hand out to pull me off the step, his thumb rubbing back and forth across the scar the way it does when he touches that arm. I wonder if he knows he does that.
I’m pretty sure that’s bullshit about it being a shit night as well. If he’s come home because of me again-
-Were you with your other girlfriend til now then? Took her for a fucking Maccies and everything. Like that now is it?
And I swear I can see something give behind his eyes because I am up and joking and interested and not curled up on my side in bed looking out the window while he has to bang around getting ready for bed and we both pretend I’m asleep. And it makes me want to punch myself in the face
-Bus got terminated because some little sixth form mong whitey’d on it and he wouldn’t drive the rest of the way with the smell of sick. Walked back through town. Want my last chip? He flicks it at me. I laugh louder than it’s worth.
-Fucking Matty, the cheeky twat, he goes, sliding his finger down the waist of my shorts-sit in a field with a shower of gobshites to see him and he fires into someone the first fucking chance he gets.
-Why was Manchester Rachel out? Thought the Rachels hated each other now
-They always fucking hated each other. Didn’t they bump into each other going for an abortion once and that was why?
-Ha! I forgot about that. Christian Rachel was fucking gutted. That’s what it was, she didn’t want anyone to find out. She told about six people herself, like, but that was her story anyway.
(Ah yes, back in the day, eh Rach? Don’t think she ever said whose it was either. I suspected the whole thing of being bullshit, to be fair. Then they had a massive bitchfight in Cara’s and Lauren Who Hates Me tried to get off with him while I was refereeing. I’d have chinned her but I obviously had to be careful not to get slut all over my hand.)
-I think she told me about it. Only went round for a smoke as well. Heavy.
That was not long after the night we were Officially Going Out With Sex And Everything and Cara told him I’d been in the nut house for a few months and I couldn’t swear to it, but I think he thought that was A Proper Life Experience that you needed real depth to have had,and it sold me to him, almost, because it made him think he understood the kind of person I was in a way that having involved arguments about the best albums of the post-Britpop end of the nineties didn’t quite get to.
I don’t think he thought he’d find himself five years later having to pull me out of bed and sit in on doctor’s appointments in case I’m leaving bits out. I don’t think he envisioned kicking the door in because I was sobbing in the bath and couldn’t get my breath to answer him when he shouted through to ask if I was OK. Let’s be honest, nobody wants to get between that girl’s thighs.
That’s what he said, that same night when I told him it was true, that’s where I’d been and I was still taking the tablets. He put his fingers over the scar like he’d end up doing thousands of times.
-Fuck. That’s heavy.
And me, little fucking stupid arrogant me, I just rolled my eyes and laughed.
Not that it wasn’t shite at the time, of course it was, but I didn’t feel doomed then the way I do now.I remember thinking that in ten years when it was something that happened to me when I was nineteen, I’d be able to explain how it happened and how I kept it from happening again. And it would just be one of those stories, like how I thought my cat was dead then one night she just came barrelling back into the house and had kittens on my school coat.
And now? Now I’ve never done anything else,
and it looks as though I never will?
Now I can see him in a few more years
when I’m gone, or still here in this fucking kitchen
and he’s grown up
and busy and productive
and useful and happy
and living with some bitch with shiny hair and a pointless Chinese tattoo on her back who cooks fucking moussaka and shit, and I can see his face, his lovely face, being backlit with this really intense focus he gets and she’s telling him about this friend she’s got who she’s really worried about, and he’s saying he gets it completely because when he was younger he went out with this girl and she-
How did this happen?
It was supposed to go away, my love, it was supposed to get better and be stuff that happened once
I wish I could tell you, so you could understand it
My beautiful, beautiful boy, this isn’t me, and it isn’t you, and I’m scared
I’m scared and I’m so, so sorry
It creeps through me, this poison, I imagine it-I don’t know if I’ve told you this-but I see these swirls of black liquid wriggling under glass and that’s how it is in me, it turns on itself and it crawls all the way through me and I didn’t want to be this person.
I didn’t want to ruin your life or even mine, I tried
I really did, but it’s just too much sometimes to even lift my head up
and I can’t tell you I am basically made of poison but I think you know
I’m so fucking sorry
I didn’t choose this
My mum, in one of her attempts to relate to me, gave me far too much information about her friend Maria, the Unluckiest Woman In The World. Maria is actually just some fucking weird liar who took a shine to the mother, who never believed me when I said I hadn’t had a bevvy but falls for all the shit this wench comes out with, and anyway. Maria’s sister had The Cancer. From my mum’s vague hand gesturing we were to divine that this was The Cancer of the Female Organs.
Apparently she was married to this guy and she basically told him that because she couldn’t have sex with him she wasn’t a real wife, and so if he wanted to he could start going to whores. They’d still be married, but while she was off being rent with toxic chemicals, he’d be getting a sneaky nosh off some daft little tart who does blog posts about her trade.
It occurs to me that I could probably hire someone to do like the reverse of that. Like say to him: OK, she’s going to sit and talk to you and look after the house and money and be sociable and wash her hair every day, all the functions of a proper girlfriend bar one, then of a night you come in here to me
This much, I can still do.
It’s not like with everything else where I’m just sleepwalking through it. I’m here for this and my nerve endings scream with it, with the four or five seconds between him coming and him pulling out where I can feel myself holding on to him, trying to keep him inside me as long as possible, like I’m doing now.
He knows this. He waits, now, every time, and pushes his hips right against mine, so the bones press into each other, and he lets me lift my head to listen to his heart hammering away and he leaves me in the quiet with that for as long as I can hold him in. And I do, even with the fastener of my bra jamming into my back because he undid it but didn’t take it off. Until it’s not possible.
He was my first. I wasn’t his.
He isn’t the only. We split up for about six months, after a year, when I got ambulance drunk and he couldn’t find me for a day because I was in Manchester Rachel’s bed vomiting into a box of Lush stuff she got for her birthday and he flipped and said he couldn’t deal with the rest of his life while he was always worrying he’d one day find me collapsed behind a door.
I’m pretty sure he has no recollection of ever having said that. I’ve thought about it every day since.
He’s out of me now, tracing the profile of my nose with his little finger
That little lopsided smile. I used to worry that we would split up because how many people only sleep with one person for their whole life? Thought the odds had to be against us there.
While I’m watching him I pull the bra off and lash it somewhere in the vague vicinity of the pile of washing on the floor. If you look very closely you can see a little hatch of scars across the top of my left breast. He says he can’t see them at all. They bother me, much more than anything. Of all the shit I’ve pulled, those marks apparently only I can see are the bit that sticks.
(the boy I was fucking to mark the passage of the time he wasn’t there said -what the FUCK is THAT?! I didn’t fuck him again)
Inventory of times I have thought I would love him all my life:
The first time I fucked him, when he realised I’d never done it before and he watched me with this look of utter concentration and I knew he was trying to make it worth remembering.
The day we moved in here when he put the bookshelves up stoned and came up with a theory that there’s a defined canon of literature that academic virgins with artistic pretensions HAVE to read or they don’t get their Sincerity Pass, and listed it with reference to half the books I own, shouting the titles out as he shelved them
When my grandad died and he answered the call from my brother on the landline, then walked right across the town centre in the pissing down rain to come to work so someone would tell me in person
The time he had to get me a pregnancy test and came back with two and a chicken sandwich that was on the yellow sticker table
Just now, with his hand behind my neck, fingers climbing up the bottom of my hairline, his breath thick with the taste of me on my cheek.
This is how I say: I know you didn’t ask for this.
This is how I plead with him: but I didn’t ask for this either
This is how I tell myself: this is who you really are, remember?
This is how I beg him: you remember? you know I’m still here?
It takes a good half an hour, usually, before I stop curling my toes like a cat rolling round on itself and counting dust motes in my head and the black liquid starts writing under the glass again and my skin prickles and I start counting the things that are wrong.
Mercifully by the time the wraith has listed my worst qualities and is calculating the sum total of my physical flaws, he is asleep.
Inventory of all the ways I have tried to get rid of the writhing black under the glass:
starve it to death
blame it on an incident where someone called me a bitch at school
cut it out
laugh it off
numb it into submission with various interestingly named pills
sleep through it
use it as justification for writing some fucking awful stories
let my family persuade me I just need to refocus
on one particularly unfortunate occasion, batter fuck out of it with everything the bathroom cupboard had to offer
which led me to conclude it cannot be vomited up either
drink til I can’t remember it
spend an hour a week with some maths teacher wench drawing flow charts about it
pretend it’s not there
wear it like eyeliner
and the newest one:
accept that it fucking well owns me
There are hedgehogs fucking in the garden.
The garden opens up at the back into a field and the fence is broken in loads of places so we get wild rabbits and foxes in sometimes sniffing round the bins. Sometimes he leaves bits of raw bacon out for the foxes despite me telling him the landlord will lose his shit if he finds out. Every so often round Christmas we get a field mouse or two that somehow gets into the house and I make him trap them in a box and put them back outside.
And tonight, while I am sitting on the back step with only the security light on perfecting the art of crying and smoking simultaneously in silence, there is just this sex fiend hedgehog smashing the arse off his indifferent looking hedgehog tart. They’re going at this with a stoicism that really casts some cold light on the dreamy little post coital haze I was dragged out of. I’m sorry he’s not here to see it.
I’ve thrown his dirty T shirt on so as not to freeze my tits off or corrupt any insomniac neighbours, and as I’m idly burning a loose thread off the hem the ash drops onto my bare leg
and for a second, there’s the dirty rush of knowing I could. I have more fags. I have the lighter. We have knives, not razors because they’re upstairs in the bathroom and I don’t want to wake him up and have him find me like that
and there’s the hissing wraith of all those things I’ve tried to cheat this, all the things I hid it behind and all the vices I’m not allowed any more.
The thing is, being an anorexic/self harming mess/chronic piss artist/dole mole/therapy head/angsty poser is, those are all things you are. They require some conscious effort. All the effort, in fact, that I have been forcing out of myself since I was seven-fucking-teen to outrun this fucking thing that eats at me. Playing chicken with the death’s head gives you some kind of identity at least, when secretly you know, you fucking know, that you used to be a real person. Then for some reason, this sticky black poison writhed in your chest and slid down your veins and crackled on your tongue and stained your boyfriend’s hands and the world has carried on
while you’ve been down your hole punching your reflection, the people you know are becoming adults/spouses/parents/homeowners/professionals/artists/lovers//professors/wise/brave/happy
and the boy you found with the crooked smile and the darkest, darkest eyes and the rare as fuck Bikini Kill Tshirt is not on this list, because he is shackled to you and your white noise and your ugly and your trapped, and all they can say when you ask them why the fuck this has to be the inside of your head all they can say is: because you’re depressed
They should make a bigger word for it.
There should be no word in any language that describes it.
The hedgehogs have gone their separate ways. The littler one is sitting under the security light. Fucking hell, girl, did you lend him money for a taxi as well?
The laugh fizzes out of me before I have time to think about it
The red mark from the ash has faded
My leg stretches out, smooth and pale and naked
My fingers twitch around the lighter switch
Upstairs, the bed creaks without me in it
His T shirt smells like sex and fabric softener and sweat and menthols and something that’s just him
There are twenty/thirty/forty years in front of us, and we can’t stop them from coming
I’d best put the fucking kettle on, then.