We sat over in the allotments that circled the playing fields; you got to them by climbing through a hole in the mental fence. Frequent visitors, break times, lunch breaks, any time the idea of another geography lesson sent one into a tailspin of adolescent gloom. Today, we had bought a bottle of cheap, foul tasting cider, because being a part-time alcoholic at fourteen is aspirational when you have not much else to look forward to, and I’d grabbed ten cigarettes and a box of matches. They would have to last me all week, one a day, deciding which stressor during the next seven days of hell on earth warranted a cigarette, and which I would have to battle through unaided.
Rachel sat next to me, winding a blade of grass around her wedding finger, holding it up every now and again to marvel at the image.
“You seem the type though.” This is Rachel’s voice, she spoke in monotone most of the time, sometimes I thought Geography would be a better deal.
“What type? There is no type Rachel,” I stared straight ahead, took a gulp of the sweet cider.
“I’ve seen your moods H,” Rachel tapped my arm and showed me her makeshift ring.
“It’s a piece of grass.” I snapped.
“It will suit me one day.”
“What? A piece of fuckin grass?” I had another drink.
“No, stupid.” Rachel laughed, her thoroughly entertaining monotone laugh. “A wedding ring.”
Why are girls obsessed with weddings? Do they even care who they marry or just want to be the centre of attention for a day, a precious interval in their extraordinary miserable life.
“Come on, you must want to get married.”
Rachel stood up, pretended she was wearing a meringue type monstrosity, walked up and down the grass singing going to the chapel.
“No, I am not groom-obsessed like you.”
I’d never thought about it to be honest. Always hoped I would be dead in the ground by twenty, so wouldn’t have to contemplate the merits of sharing one’s life with another fallible, annoying as fuck human being.
“I would have married Wilde I suppose, but the fact he is gay might have caused some issues.” I said, somewhat dreamily.
Only Wilde brought out that aspect of my personality. The long dead have that effect.
“He would have understood though. The depression. Suicide.” Rachel started making another ring for her chubby finger.
“He didn’t kill himself Rachel; he died in the Hotel d’alsace in Paris in 1889 of meningitis, technically.”
“Yes, but he would have understood. I worry that’s all, one day you will.”
“Stop being melodramatic. We all get fed up, I ain’t going anywhere.”
I took another gulp of cider, while she showed me her second ring, again.
I lay on the bed, staring at up at the ceiling. I could hear noises, somewhere, far away. Someone coughing loudly as if they had something stuck in their throat, someone else talking, maybe more than one person talking, maybe a conversation between a few. I could hear footsteps back and forth, a television, and music even. It sounded so far away, muffled, as if in a dream.
My head began to spin. What seemed like a room at that point began to spin too. I wanted to get attention from an overworked nurse, but I didn’t. To cry out would be to acquiesce, to give in to the unrealistic demands that filled my mother’s head when I lay in the womb, the same demands that now wanted me to accept another eighty years of this eternal shitty existence.
Life, we are all taught to value it, by family, by religion, by society, but we didn’t get to choose whether we wanted to participate in the first place.
They should have given me a questionnaire while still in utero, I could have put a big red tick in the do not bring to consciousness box and thus never seen the light of day.
“Hi Henrietta, how are you feeling?” a male nurse, short with spiky yellow hair stood by the end of bed.
I didn’t want to talk. I had left, mouthed my silent goodbyes, speaking, acknowledging anyone would be to renew a contract with life. Let me be a non-entity. Let me be a nothing. A girl without a face. Leave me I thought like a dramatic Greta Garbo. I want to be alone. Let me be like the Catholics idea of a suicidal sinner, I will happily mope around in purgatory, Faust has nothing on where I’ve been. I shall be up there having a party, purgatory will be a holiday, a respite, away from this, whatever this is.
He is still here, has moved round to the side of my bed now.
“Come on now, no need to snap at me. I am just checking in on you.”
There it is, the vague sense of curiosity masquerading as a life’s calling.
“I am fine. Can you go away?”
He doesn’t like this, stares at me incredulously. His hair stands up even straighter.
“I won’t go away. I am here to see how you are feeling. The psychiatrist will be here soon by the way.”
He liked that word, the invisible line being drawn between the mad and his oh so sane self.
“We can’t have you on this ward, you got very distressed last night, and it frightened the other patients.”
“Oh well, from what I can see, some entertainment would be good for them. That bloke needs a piss by the way.”
I rolled away, on to my side to get away from spiky’s intense stair.
“Leave the patients to me thank you.” He snapped, obviously thinking his words would intimidate.
Where do they get these people?
“Okay then, it is obvious you don’t want to talk to me—you aren’t going to get better unless you start talking though are you Henrietta and this attitude you have, well it ain’t helping is it hun?”
As he wanted me to validate what he had just said to the back of my head, I didn’t bother rolling over. If he can’t understand, I sure haven’t got time to teach him I thought to myself as he walked off noisily. Squeaky shoes on rubber floors. Great sound!
The psychiatrist came less than thirty minutes later, a tall, heavyset bloke with curly brown hair and a downcast look. He asked if I wanted to come to a private room where we could talk. I declined, so he sat on the bottom of the bed and talked to my right cheek. The typical conversation after one decides to remove themselves from the next round of the survival of the fittest. It turned out that unless I pretended to have had a divine intervention during the night, somehow lost my apathy and derision for life, sectioning would be the next stop. This sounded, at least to me, like the thing you do when you want to deplete the population’s numbers, not a way to try to foster some whimsical new enchantment with life within a person who has lost all hope. I wasn’t going, so I told him a load of nonsense.
Psychiatrists generally believe anything you tell them when they don’t know you, sometimes they believe anything when they do know you, which is more concerning.
I think a lot of them are disappointed novelists, the sort that never write anything aside from umpteen prescriptions for Diazepam and Prozac, but constantly imagine themselves winning the Man Booker prize for the greatest literary fiction of the year. This makes them love a good yarn, they have a symbiotic relationship with their patients edited, and unedited stories, it’s the only thing that makes getting out of bed in the morning an attractive option.
Eventually, he decided he had rambled on enough and told me I could leave once discharged by the nurse. I grunted, and then sat up to watch him trundle off up the ward. I didn’t want to stay here, but I didn’t want to be at home either. I didn’t want to be conscious, couldn’t I just check out for a while longer, take a break until I felt like returning. There should be an off button on one’s brain, some animals hibernate, why couldn’t we bunker down too for a few months in a cave until we felt reinvigorated enough to chase the remnants of sleep away and dive back out into the wilderness.
Spiky discharged me, without making eye contact, and I left. The old man still hadn’t had a pee I noticed as I opened the door and looked back. Outside the sky was slate grey, large raindrops splattered the pavement. Puddles formed here and there, the rainwater creating rivulets that followed a previously unknown path.
Ever notice it always rains when your life is shit as if the universe creates a canvas to echo back your angst.
Someone said that to me once, the canvas part, one of those weirdos who used energy in a stupid way and believed in the laws of attraction. Apparently, my energy makes me sick, if I could just clear my chakras, get on down with my third eye and think positively I would become ecstatically happy with life and be inundated with gifts from the universe.
Hailing a cab, I sat back in the seat and watched the never-ending dullness of the hospital pass by the window. Once home, I would have no choice but to get on with life, the question would be, could I? Twenty-three, only twenty-three and yet, done with life and all it had to offer. Even contemplating another five years felt like torture.
“Hi, are you feeling better?”
“No, but I am going to have a bath and try to read,” I replied.
“Do you remember what Rachel said?”
“That I was the type?” I asked.
“Yeah, do you think she was right?”
“It’s not a big leap to imagine someone who you already know suffers from depression could, situation permitting, try and take their life.” I said.
“I know. Please don’t try again.”
“I can’t promise that.”
“It will get better H.”
“Maybe.” I said, looking down at John Clare’s poem.
I am—yet what I am none cares or knows;
My friends forsake me like a memory lost:
I am the self-consumer of my woes—
They rise and vanish in oblivious host,
Like shadows in love’s frenzied stifled throes
And yet I am, and live—like vapours tossed
Into the nothingness of scorn and noise,
Into the living sea of waking dreams,
Where there is neither sense of life or joys,
But the vast shipwreck of my life’s esteems;
Even the dearest that I loved the best
Are strange—nay, rather, stranger than the rest.
I long for scenes where man hath never trod
A place where woman never smiled or wept
There to abide with my Creator, God,
And sleep as I in childhood sweetly slept,
Untroubling and untroubled where I lie
The grass below—above the vaulted sky.
It will get better. She said it would get better.
I guess it did.
I AM 37 this year.
Photo: ©Julie Anderson All Rights Reserved