A Story You Think You’ve Heard Before.

Just because a story is difficult to tell, does not mean it should not be heard. Unfortunately, this story is neither unique nor rare. The odds of you having heard it before are high, perhaps you’ve even heard this one. But I want to tell it because I want everyone to know how proud I am of the girl in this tale. Because she did beat the odds. She did eventually “win”. And her side of the story deserves to be heard. 

*****

The room is silent. Eight strangers sit in a circle, each staring at the floor with varying levels of intensity. There is a boy dressed all in black with matching Converse. He rubs his sneakers nervously, the tips of his laces hanging dangerously close to the ground. A girl clings desperately to her elbows; arms crossed tightly, as though to physically restrain her pounding lungs. An ear is scratched. A bracelet shudders. The minutes tick by, the quiet unrelenting. The air feels heavy, repressive. They visibly sink beneath it.

*****************

I am standing in the kitchen. I am alone. I slide the blade of glass gently over my right hand. I am not intending to hurt myself — I don’t really believe I am able to do such a thing. The glass slips and I cut. There’s a sharp realization that I can, and I dare myself further. I stab and scratch away, enjoying the release until the sight of blood overcomes me. It is red — so rich and pure — and I start to panic. Survival kicks in and I rush to the sink. My cuts are angry; my frustration is there for all to see. I cover the wound with a thick bandage, hiding the truth. Again.

*****************

Someone takes a breath, and the others look up expectantly. He introduces himself as Mike. He feels uncomfortable and shifts accordingly, rocking his chair slightly as he steadies his nerves, himself. There is a noticeable double blink in his left eye, almost a double stutter within his eyelashes when he starts talking. His intensity is palpable. He uses an analogy of spinning plates and balancing people, trying to organise relationships and priorities…and she thinks him weak. Why is he here with this? What a crap problem. As if a dam has broken, the cogs start whirring and suddenly others are chiming in. They also struggle. Are people fake? The worry of making friends at University. Their boyfriend doesn’t live here. Pathetic. Don’t they realize she has bigger problems than this?

*****************

I am standing in the shower. I don’t even feel frustrated. It’s a dare. I run the razor over my hip, lightly at first. The skin becomes sore and grazed, I press harder. The feel of the cut is sharp; it takes my breath away. But this time, I don’t feel my frustrations run away with the water. I feel worse. I blast myself clean, unsure of how I got here. I was not supposed to be this person. I am pathetic.

*****************

A girl takes the stage. She is worried about her family being so much louder than she is. She doesn’t feel like she fits in. She struggles with trust. Someone else is struggling with a parental divorce. She smiles politely, trying to empathise. The boy dressed in black says nothing. Mike is still chattering away. He thinks he needs new medication. The other boy announces he is gay and wants a relationship. He talks about coming out to his father. There is an uncomfortable silence, distaste you can touch with your tongue, this worry that they are about to delve into deeper problems. They might actually be getting somewhere. This is trust.

*****************

I remember the first time you terrified me. You were high, desperate for another fix. You stormed into the living room, brandishing your laptop as a weapon, ready to strike me. I remember forgetting how to breathe. How in that moment, I realized I’d lost you somehow. I remember worrying more about your laptop than my face, knowing how much you valued that stupid Mac. I can still see that frenzied look on your face, the desperation in your eyes, knowing that I could do nothing. I was powerless. I couldn’t fix you that time.

*****************

The counselors use soft voices. The room is warm; the air has a certain taste to it. It takes weeks for them to recognize this as hope. The softness of tone makes them feel like invalids; the frustration for society not to treat them as children is striking. But is that the real frustration? They are asked time and again to reconnect with their true feelings, to appreciate what is really wrong. To accept. Why this is so difficult is confusing. The need for justification is etched across everyone’s faces and beneath everyone’s stories. The need to explain why they have acted as they have, why they believe what they believe…it’s a universal concern. And why? The human mind is not logical. How we feel is not logical. It is simply how we feel. Why is that so difficult to accept?

*****************

You were drunk. You were stupid. I have seen you like that. I know how you act and how you think. I have seen you shaking. I have seen you cut. I have seen you hurt. I have seen you mad. And I have solved it. Waking me at 4am to call me pathetic is not solving it. Trying to batter my door down is not solving it. Leaving me notes describing my pointless existence is not solving it. You were my safety net. You used to solve it.

*****************

Mike is still rambling. He’s had an awful week. His friend rang him to tell him she had cut her wrists and wanted to say goodbye. He rushed over and saved her. He wanted to have her committed. He feels responsible. Someone else has a similar problem. Their friend overseas often calls or leaves long emails about why she wishes to end her life. She wants to scream. This is more like it. These are real problems. What would she do if it were him? How would she cope if he overdosed now? Would she still be able to describe that wonderful friend, that wonderful boy, despite all odds? She feels better. At least she is not in that position. Her boys are not so bad. At least they aren’t dying on her.

*****************

You sit there and rant about how much you hate me. You insist on sitting where I am, booting me out of the way even though there are plenty of free seats. Your mouth is twisted into a spiteful curve as you spit insults across the room. Your words are harsh, your tone disgusted, and I sit there. I do not move. I do not run. I sit there at your feet and I take it. I listen as you describe what a bitch I am. I notice you have no real points, nothing concrete to pin upon me. You compare living with me to living with chlamydia, claiming you would prefer the latter. In that moment, I wish you had the latter and I don’t feel horrid for thinking that. In that moment, you deserve it. You go outside to smoke a joint, feeling clever and sophisticated. I watch you go. I still say nothing.

*****************

They tell her she has Stockholm Syndrome. That he is awful, that she is bullied, that she needs to escape. She can’t explain why she is tied. She can’t tell them the awful truth. They tell her he is toxic, that he will drag her down with him. She bursts into tears. How awful is she to rant and burden them with this, when she knows she will never leave? They tell her it will never get better. She reputes this with earnest. Of course it will get better. He will come back, they’ll see. She is blind, and she knows it. She laughs, trying to diffuse the sincerity of the aid they are attempting to give her. She is not ready yet.

*****************

I came home from that weekend away to find you looking at me like that again. You were quiet, and unobtrusive. You didn’t complain when I acknowledged the choice of television programme. You didn’t change the channel to stop me enjoying the show. You sat on my feet to keep them warm. You didn’t flinch when we were forced to share the sofa. You didn’t run away either. You supported me, I could feel it. The right vibes were flowing again. I don’t think I have ever hated you more. I felt myself shake, and noticed you doing it too. You took your shirt off, for whatever pointless reason. I was so mad at you. How dare you remind me of what I’d lost. How dare you make me miss you. I kept quiet, knowing full well this period of calm would not last. And I was not mistaken. But for those few precious hours, I was relaxed. I was safe. I was furious.

*****************

A girl talks about her parents’ divorce. Her dad is remarrying a week on Friday and she is refusing to go to the wedding. She hasn’t met the new woman and hopes she never will. The boy who announced he was gay is debating the legitimacy of relationships. Should they last forever? The boy dressed all in black is still yet to speak a word. She admires his silence. She fears she rambles, and about all the wrong things. This toxic friendship that seems to plague her, that’s not the real struggle. And yet, she avoids that. She is pathetic. Mike will later congratulate her on her honesty and her own skills in counseling/empathy. She will think he is being insincere and brush away his compliments. She only hears what she fears worst. She is not the daughter she was meant to be. She is not the girlfriend she was expected to be. She is not the girl anyone expects. She isn’t sure she’s happy about that.

*****************

When you hit me, it did not hurt. I winced, for you pack a punch – I have always told you that you don’t appreciate your own strength – but it did not hurt because I did not believe it had happened. I watched as you repeatedly pummeled my shin, pushing you backwards, yet never truly reacting.
We were drunk. I was dreaming.
You were never meant to hurt me. The pain in my knee at 5am the following morning, when it refused to stretch straight, struck my heart more than my leg. That pain had come straight from you. The ugly bruises dalmationed across my lower leg were symbols of your hatred, your pain, my failure. I hid them behind the thickest black tights, my darkest jeans, my most unflattering sweatpants. I cried. Once. I still believe you underestimate your strength because a small part of me broke that night. I lost something more than you. I lost a part of me, too.

*****************

The silence in the room before each session is now a comfort. It is the one thing that can be relied upon. That, and the boy in black refusing to speak a word. It is a chance to relax, to unwind, to stop. From being the worst few minutes of her week, they have become the ones she appreciates most. They are the calm before the storm, the moment to catch her breath. In those few precious minutes, nothing matters. Not really. She is not the girl who does not cope well with boundaries. She is not the girl whose housemates have been known to bully, terrorize and beat her. She is not the girl who did not live up to expectations. There are no expectations in those few, fleeting minutes. Her breathing will finally slow and everything will fall into place and she will…
And then someone else has lost their best friend. They want to know when it gets easier. She tells them it doesn’t. The boy who is gay reflects on his last intense relationship. That is still sore, too. A question is posed: when do you finally give up on someone? She answers that you don’t, not really. You move on, you fix your make up, you meet new people, but you never truly give up. A small part of you is always waiting, always hoping. Because a friendship is a two-way street, and just because they have severed their half does not mean yours is not still intact. It does not mean you would still not long to run across a cheesy movie meadow into their arms, laughing as an equally cheesy soundtrack runs overhead. It does not mean you are not still waiting for that picture-perfect happy ending when they suddenly realize why you are so awesome and come begging for forgiveness. Or even the moment you will walk into the living room and they will not see you and instantly leave. Intense relationships are fleeting; they burn in a flash and they hurt. Like hell. They are a puff of smoke, a flash of lightening, a bright comet crashing into earth. They are a bush fire, a hurricane, a sleepless night, a duvet with matching John Lewis pillows, an imprint, a bruise, a mark. They change everything and they change nothing. They arrive without warning and leave in the same way. They are consuming and dangerous and fun. They are exciting and safe and warm and relentless. They are passionate. They are missed.

*****************

I look at my new scar. It is approximately a centimetre in length now, shrinking slowly. Your bruises faded, but this isn’t. If twisted in a certain light, you can see a smaller scar beneath the main one, running almost parallel but not quite. I like to think it is us. We were almost on the same page. I’m sorry I lied. For I did lie. How could you believe me? I thought I was protecting us. I thought I was saving us. I was scared. I thought you’d leave me. I thought this was what you wanted.

*****************

The session comes to a close and the eight are allowed to escape the closed room. They run back to their everyday lives; their muddling relationships and their spinning plates. They try to fathom the staircase, the unrelenting steps that lead them back to the ground, back to reality. They are away from the safety of the quiet room with the heavy breathing. They go together. In that room of strangers, friendships have been formed which weren’t there before. Trust was found and held. The silence has weaved its spell. It binds them in a mix of hope and sadness. It is misty, hazy, undefined. But they are one. They understand. And sometimes, that’s all that matters.

One response to “A Story You Think You’ve Heard Before.

  1. Pingback: Monday Miscellany » Ashley Miller·

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