Sunday, 26 August 2012

27. Vodka doubles for two pounds

Amanda and I are both hungover. Last night, we went to see our friend Freddy's punk band and the bar was selling vodka doubles for two pounds. This seemed like a very good deal at the time, but this morning I find it to be less attractive.

It's 11am. Amanda stayed over on the sofa. We are eating bacon sandwiches, drinking tea and watching Halloween.

I am wearing pyjamas with brown polka dots. Amanda is wearing a gold and black Adidas tracksuit and last night's makeup.

On the screen Jamie Lee Curtis is slumped against a wall, exhausted. In the room behind her Michael Myers slowly starts to sit up.

One of the things I love about horror films is the way you can see the sum of primeval human fears in them.

There's this faceless...thing. With supernatural strength. And it lives in the dark, and it always knows where you are, and it's faster than you. And no matter how many times you think you've beaten it, it just never fucking dies.

And all it wants is you.

Makes me think about a forgotten tribe of slow, weak, hairless monkeys, huddled together somewhere in the dark endless African rainforest a million years ago. Listening to lions roar in the distance. 

I think this is the point of horror. To show us what we're scared of and show us that it's controllable, that there are rules. That we can escape.

Rammstein has made himself into a fat round cushion on the sofa between us. He's on edge because Amanda's dog Buffy is here. Rammstein and Buffy have had regular encounters since their childhoods. Their relationship is cordial, but distant.

Whenever Buffy has left Rammstein insists on going round every room in the flat and rubbing his chin on all the furniture to renew his territory markings. It always reminds me of someone with OCD wiping down everything the visitors touched to get rid of their germs.

Buffy is currently asleep on the special tartan blanket I keep for her. Rammstein loathes this blanket, and occasionally wees on it.

Halloween finishes. We stock up on tea and biscuits. It's Amanda's turn to choose a film, and she decides to indulge her crush on Cillian Murphy by putting on 28 Days Later.

Chimps jump around cages in a lab.

"I love this film," I say. "But I don't understand it. I don't think any virus could replicate quickly enough to have this strong an effect within seconds of infection."

"Yeah, and I would have thought any illness which makes you projectile vomit this amount of blood is going to kill you within a few days," Amanda says. "Let's see if it's actually possible."

She starts playing with her phone but gives up when all we get is fan fiction and Youtube videos.

"I think Cillian Murphy would fancy me," she says.

"I think you're right," I say.

"Maybe I should start stalking him. I could find out where he lives and hang around outside all the time."

"I think that's going to work. He'll go for that. Especially when you send him your own severed fingers to show how much you love him."

Amanda nods.

"He looks like the kind of guy who would appreciate severed fingers," she says. "That's one of the things I like about him."

We drink our tea, eat Party Rings, and watch the world ending in torrents of blood on the screen.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

26. Much more expensive than anything I would have chosen

I'm at my desk going through a 100 page report. It's one of the most boring and badly written things I have ever read. I'm trying to take in the sense of it, but my eyes keep sliding off the words.

One of the biggest problems I face in life is my own short attention span. It's frustrating both at work - like now, when I have to reread paragraphs three times because it's boring and I forget to keep reading in the middle - and in my personal life. I regularly zone out when someone else has been talking for a long time, and it's hugely embarrassing, especially when I know it's something important to them. With my close friends, because they know me well, I'm more relaxed about it. But when it happens with people I don't know well it's very difficult to deal with.

In this case I forgive myself, because the report is brain-numbing. It's so difficult to read it is beginning to make me angry. I deal with the person who wrote this regularly and he sends me funny, sparky, readable emails so I know he can write. I don't understand what happens to people when they hear the word "report". It's like they somehow think they haven't done it properly unless it has lots of long words and convoluted sentences and words like "whilst" and "hence".

What I have in front of me is making an important and interesting subject inaccessible and also ruining my day on several levels, so when an email pings into my mailbox it's a welcome distraction. Then I see who it is from.

From: Haywood, Derek
Sent: 16 August 2012 10:16
To: Chambers, Alice
Subject: meeting today

Hello Alice
Our meeting today is scheduled from 1pm until 2pm. I'm wall to wall with                           meetings today and I won't get a chance to have lunch - how about we go out of the office? My treat, naturally.

I sit back and think. I do not want to go out of the office for lunch with Derek. I find one on one meetings problematic enough. He has insisted on a meeting - to "catch up" - once a fortnight. This is excessive. There's rarely enough to catch up to justify a meeting once a fortnight.
After some thought, I email him back.

From: Chambers, Alice
Sent: 16 August 2012 10:22
To: Haywood, Derek
Subject: RE: meeting today

Hello Derek
I have a heavy workload, and it sounds as if you are busy - there's not much to catch up on. Let's reschedule.

I return to the report. Now it's even harder to concentrate, because I know he will reply. He does so seven minutes later.

I'd rather have the meeting. I need to brief you on several urgent issues.

I don't feel I have any choice, so I email back and accept, and he says he will walk down to my office to collect me at ten to.

I'm cross with myself. It reminds me of something Gin said to me once after a particularly bad episode with a guy I was seeing at the time. "If you were a prime minister, you'd be Neville Chamberlain. You meet an aggressor, and instead of standing up to him you adopt appeasement. You try and survive by ceding parts of your personality to be occupied and hope they'll eventually get satisfied and leave you alone, which didn't work on Hitler and doesn't work on your boyfriends either." (It is probably useful to point out at this time that Gin has a master's degree in modern history, which she describes as "utterly useless" in her current career as an HR advisor with a local law firm.)

She's right. Although I do feel that, like me, Neville Chamberlain was doing the best he could to avoid outright war through negotiation. It might even have worked, if he had been dealing with reasonable people.

Derek takes me to a restaurant which is much more expensive than anything I would have chosen for myself. He insists he is paying for everything. I hate this. It feels like I'm in debt to him.

"How about a glass of wine?" he says.

"I can't," I say. "I have a lot to do this afternoon."

"Oh, it won't hurt you," he says, and asks for a bottle of red wine. I don't like to drink red wine in the middle of the day, but he hasn't asked me what I like to drink.

I'm worried that he hasn't listened to me, but at the same time I'm feeling very unhappy and I can't deny that a drink would be welcome. Drinking, in fact, might be the way to get through this. I remember Amanda saying if you can't change a situation, get drunk and then you won't care about it. I remember Gin laughing at her. I remember Sally made sushi for me. I remind myself that this man in front of me doesn't know any of the essential things I know, he doesn't know my life, he doesn't know me, and I feel slightly stronger.

The wine arrives. He pours. He takes a sip and looks at me over the rim of the glass. His round werewolf's eyes are amused, assessing me.

"How was your weekend, Alice? Did you do anything nice? Go out?"

"Not really. It was quiet. I saw some friends, but we didn't really do much." I have no intention of going into detail.

"Go out with your boyfriend?"

"I don't have a boyfriend," I say. I would rather have lied, but I suspect he will know I have lied and then he will know I'm afraid of him.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

25. The colour fades slowly

I am standing in the changing room of a lingerie boutique. The wallpaper is pearl grey and finely striped, with the sheen of satin. The floorboards are stripped, polished wood, covered with a red silk rug. There's a small window with four panes of glass and in the corner under it is a chaise-longue upholstered in gold and red. It is so clean, so well thought out, so rich the way the grey and the red and gold and the brown of the wood speak to each other. My uncared-for feet are red and purple and white on the beautiful carpet. I shouldn't be here.

But I can't help relaxing, feeling the softness of the silk strands against my ugly toes.

I look at myself in the mirror. I don't go with the room.

It's pretty hard to see yourself as a whole. I meet other people and see them as whole people, but when I look in the mirror I see my nose, my lips. My breasts, my eyes. But not how they go together, not me, the me that other people see. Every time I come close to seeing my body as a whole, the image fractures and splits into fragments.

What do I see when I look in the mirror? My own brown eyes. For years, I spent a considerable amount of energy blotting my memory of Matthew out of existence, to the extent where I did not consciously remember him at all. But one cannot live indefinitely in a state of denial. Just holding back Matthew was exhausting. It was so hard to repress him that I had no energy to do anything else. Eventually, as was inevitable, he got out.

I remember when I was 27, and first starting to sidle around the edges of acknowledging a memory I couldn't bear, there was a day when I couldn't meet my own eyes in the mirror. When I looked in the mirror they terrified me. They were the luminous, pitiless eyes of a wolf.

Three days later I remembered. Or rather, I allowed myself to consciously accept the reality of Matthew and everything that went with him.

I have had considerably better days.

When I was 30 I had the words Left 4 Dead tattooed on my left upper arm. I had it done in a graffiti font, one of the wildstyle fonts, so it looks good but is hard to read unless you concentrate. The outline is black and the letters are filled in blood red at the top. The colour fades slowly, disappearing completely halfway down the words.

(The tattooist was delicately tiny, her long bubblegum-pink hair tied back. Her eyes were full of concentration as the needle bit in, stinging hotly. Her arms were covered with ink, dragons made of flowers and women melting into flame. Her lip was pierced with a silver ring)

What else do I see when I look in the mirror? I see my plump rolls of  fat, the spider veins on my thighs. The grey hair at my temples. I see the white lines of scars on my right forearm, the marks of a self-harmer. That's one habit I have under control, at least. I haven't cut myself for years.

I see the glint of the steel ring through my right nipple. I see the fluff of hair at my crotch, which I carefully shave into a square once a week although I'm not sure why or who for. I see my fingernails painted cobalt blue. But I can't see myself.

What else do I see when I look in the mirror? I see that this pretty, frivolous pistachio-green bra, with its cream polkadots and its foamy lace, doesn't suit me. It looks grotesque next to my tattoo, my scars, my scared angry eyes. It's meant for someone else.

I take it off and thread it carefully back on to its wood hanger. I dress. I run my hands through my hair. I think how strange it is that we wrap ourselves in all these pieces of cloth and assume that somehow means we aren't essentially naked.

Sunday, 5 August 2012

24. An extremely long and painful Saturday

The first day of my period is always a bad time for me. I'm lucky that my periods only last three days, but unlucky that the reason for this is because I spend the first day haemorraging so hard it makes me light-headed. This is coupled with nausea, diarrhoea, and cramps so bad that if I don't take pain-killers I can't begin to function. Even with the pain-killers there are always two to three hours where I feel as if someone is slowly winding my intestines out of my body with a fork.

It has been an extremely long and painful Saturday. It is 5pm. My system now contains two paracetamol, two ibuprofen, half a bottle of red wine and half a spliff and I can feel my body relaxing as the cramps finally start to recede. It's only when you have spent some time in considerable pain that you realise how wonderful it is - how good it feels - to be pain-free.

The combination of the various drugs I have taken and the sudden cessation of the cramps which have kept me awake since 6am are making me sleepy.

I was supposed to be going to a party tonight. A guy I've met at a few gigs invited me. It'll be a big party. There's a lot of people I know going. It'll be fun, but I don't want to go. I want to lie here on my sofa and drink the rest of the wine and watch An American Werewolf in London.

I sleepily think that it's strange how most literary and cinematic werewolves are men. Surely, as myths go, that one – with its central change in the body, uncontrollable and primal, dictated by the full moon - was made for women.

I don't have anything to wear, anyway. And tonight a room full of shouty strangers doesn't appeal.

My phone pings. It's a text from Amanda.

- r u going to Sams tonight

I answer:

- not feeling too good, I'm staying in.


- dont be a fucking lame asshole

I mutter under my breath and switch on the TV. My phone pings. I'm not looking at it. I'm looking at it.

- get ur ass off ur fucking sofa and help me drink all this tequila

I text, furiously.

- I've got my period and I feel like shit leave me alone bitch

Five hours later I am lying on a beanbag at Sam's house, talking to a guy with dollar signs shaved into the sides of his hair who is just finishing off his degree in computer science. We have been talking for some time about music. He's a nice guy, but not my type. I don't like men with beards. I am debating how to make a graceful exit when he looks at me sideways.

"It's a shame my girlfriend couldn't make it tonight, she's not well. She loves Sam," he says, a little too casually.

Oh God. Awkward. I suddenly want to laugh at the idea of both of us sitting there thinking "I'm enjoying this conversation but how do I let her/him down?"

(There are many people who think a straight man and a straight woman can't be friends. I strongly disagree. And I also think this is a ridiculous and boringly limiting generalisation which doesn't allow for the almost infinite variation possible in human personalities. But I do think two people who could mesh sexually and are trying to maintain a platonic friendship face a number of possible pitfalls. This incident, while actually pretty amusing, is a good example of the kind of misunderstanding I'm talking about)

I'm now faced with a choice of possible responses:

1) I wasn't trying to come on to you anyway.

No. That sounds like I was. And also like I'm psychotic.

2) Ha! I thought you were trying to pull ME! Hilarious!

Really, Alice? That's even a suggestion? No.

3) Look, I don't know why I gave you the wrong impression, but really I don't even ever have sex with people because I have too much baggage left over from my childhood and intimacy terrifies me. However, if I was going to pick someone to take home and be unable to have sex with because it freaks me out, it wouldn't be you.

Oh Christ. I'm too stoned to cope with this kind of social minefield right now.

Finally I come up with 4.

"She's not well? That's a shame - I hope she feels better soon. How do you two know Sam?"