What do people do when they have a kind of existential crisis? It could be considered that Jack Kerouac sat for three weeks in April 1951 and in a most-probable haze of coffee and alcohol, came out with the classic, ‘On the Road.’ I am going to try and keep track of a journey a little similarly, but day by day (and perhaps with less coffee and alcohol). It is this month’s project, as part of the time to change campaign that I am going to attempt to write a novella which shows a version of the reality of mental health. I hope to tackle some myths – the romanticising of depression, the belief that mental illness has a specific cause. And I hope I can reach out. Every day I will post a ‘fragment’ on my blog and at the end of the month perhaps you can decide whether or not we have a picture.
Perhaps that was what love felt like. The knotting of the insides as if shunted along like a cold belt of artillery across the skin, a bizarre sensation in which I was both victim and surveyor of violence. It was a tangle of limbs and hair. But woke in the similar way, the chilled flush of absence as if something has been torn away prematurely.
I opened my eyes and thought how strange it was that I could be opening my eyes onto another body in a shared bed and it would sit under the title of ‘domestic bliss’ or ‘matrimony’. Instead, there were the toys of my childhood with their exaggerated expressions. Under the eyes of an old bear I hooked a bitten fingernail beneath one of the scabs under my hair and prised it away. Imagined the release of tension, the crisp of skin coming away from half-formed flesh, was multiplied by ten. Counted slowly to the same number… 1, 2, 3, 4…
“I’m in the bathroom.”
Simultaneous to this announcement was the sound of my brother descending the stairs, unaware of the small freedom he had just announced. He had posited his place in the future. Then the bathroom light was turned with its confirmatory click. Thus began the routine of the weekday; the revolving of several interrelated lives linked to several million in the country, countless many worldwide.
And many more unconnected. My eyes were still weighted with the embryonic tears left over from dreams, now a pale yellow crust haunting the cornea. Sleep. ‘Get that sleep out of your eyes’ - as my mother used to say. It was one of the first physical affirmations of am indescribable experience. I remember at four eyes old looking at the flaky deposit on my thumb and wondering if that was the think which sunk me into unconsciousness every evening. Then it was perhaps this hot, weighty body, the stench of salt and old blood, which was the physical confirmation of that other hard-to-pinpoint sensation – love.
Something like guilt fluttered just above my chest. That is what the illicit do in their childhood beds, isn’t it – make love. It’s the often captured narrative in those teenage fictions which I poured over in the summer holidays of a few years ago, always thinking that the words never seemed quite right.
But I was fuelled with an energy back then, a kind of crass impulsiveness to love and be loved. There had been a certain directions then I guess, now a haze of memories, such as placing one foot in front of another as I walked with the young man round the museum and at each crack in the ancient Greek vases he would always exclaim how the beauty of the object was intensified by its imperfections. My feet ghosted my movements around the museum, making a resounding – shhhh, shhh against the bed sheets. I still lay on my side in the semi-darkness, watching the light from the bathroom permeate the edges of my doorframe like a confirmation that other lives continued, winking at me. My feet stopped. I rubbed them experimentally against each other and felt the complication of hardened skin and scars dragging together. The sores on my feet I regarded with a kind of twisted amusement. Over the course of the winter I had watched my feet flicker from peach flesh to raw red to a kind of mottled purple like how a young child marvels at traffic lights; not sensing their full importance. The sole of each foot was now covered in cracks, the sort which a mother would smooth cream into – after which the child would acknowledge their own bravery as the defining feature of the day. I used to. I used do a lot of things.
I heard the shower stutter to a start and a stop in what sounded like gasps in a series of breaths, but in reality were many minutes apart. Then the sound of my brother presumably leaving the bathroom.
I drifted back into thought again. Many people must wake on a Monday morning after making love, accept the inevitability, someone in their turn must ease or tease or nudge the other out of bed into the familiar routine of – water, food, air. I relayed the sequence – water, food , air. Let three digits fall against my stomach – water, food, air. Imagined it was someone else’s hand. Felt sick. Shuffled out of bed.
The room wavered, as if composed of pixels or struggling under a layer of particularly dark crepe paper. I wished I could take the scissors from my bedside table and cut a hole straight through it – a hole in a cat-shape or heart-shape, something deliciously infant – and take in massive sharp gasps of clean air. Only I didn’t. I manoeuvred the joined metal blades into my ear with an impassivity, scratching out a mixture of clotted wax and blood. Felt the semi-solidity between my fingers. My eyes momentarily entertained themselves over the bottles and powders stacked in the corner which I could use to make my face into something else.
Make my face into something else. I thought that too as I stood in the shower, quite absurd I saw myself , like broken spectacles in a glass case. What use was my cleanliness to another, a layer of fragrance over the fractures? I read the ingredients of the shower gel – COCAMIDOPROPYL. It was almost funny, how the letters blurred to a rhythm – like that of when the whole body is propelled by a shiver, or an object falls down a flight of stairs. There is a sense of injury, only not quite there. I looked at my brother’s razor. I could have shaved my head right then. Or shaved half of it and left the other side in a series of patches. It wouldn’t have much mattered either way – there would have been family outrage and tears and under it all the same kind of senseless wonder. I type I get when I look in the mirror or down into the sink and see vague outlines and usually a spatter of pink – a cornea, or pinched cheeks or blood in the toothpaste.
There was blood in the toothpaste again this morning.
Strange really, how life seems like waiting for a series of bloods. The first when you are not even born and hey are screening your mother to make sure all is ‘progressing as normal’. Whatever that phrase means. Then the birth itself, a riot of fluid. Then childhood, with teeth piercing their way through withered gums. The first fall, the first cut. The first period, sex. Perhaps I was pregnant – my body bubbling and holding back bloods the mind wanted to satisfy itself with. Perhaps this was the punishment for girls who fit clichés like fetters – off-the-rails and no-hope – and make love in the beds of their childhood. I started to laugh but it spilled up my nose and I coughed a string of bile down the plughole. Turning the fluted taps, I noticed how metal was suddenly beautiful, how it captured the lights from the ceiling and threw them up to my eyes.
My youngest sister was hovering outside the bathroom as I opened the door, mimicking throwing an object to me which she clutched in an extended hand.
‘It’s your advent calendar you never got to have at university. You can have it as we start January instead.’
Odd how she said ‘we’, the collective, like an adult. She was wearing make-up. I guess there are only a few years between us and even that doesn’t hold much significance as I have been spinning for as long as I can remember. I wiped my mouth on the towel next to the sink, still only half-dressed from the shower. She must have been waiting there for a while, and the air in the bathroom hung heavy, suggesting my shower had not been a short one.
I took the calendar from her. It felt like it weighed little more than a piece of paper. Across the top was emblazoned ‘Mars and friends’ which I thought was touching, in a sentimental kind of way. It was deemed important that even chocolate had friends.
“Open it then.”
My sisters eagerness seemed tinted with a type of consternation. I attempted not to notice, unhooking the door which read ‘1’ like I had unhooked the scab on my forehead. There was a chocolate, warped a little as if from heat exposure, in the shape of hat I presumed was a smiling face. I could feel my bottom lip wobbling, my fingers seeming to flicker against the flimsiness of the calendar. It all seemed so innocent and colourful and awful.
The chocolate found its way to my mouth where it collapsed to a sort of chalky paste, almost bitter.
“Thank you.” I said, I smiled.
It was another task completed. Another step.
Eve smiled back and went down the stairs. It was if she was being propelled by some opening door, descending smoothly downwards and I, only looking after, and feeling the futility of staring at distance. A scent lingered over where the impression of her feet still stirred in the carpet in the little whorls of material; a light, overtly-sweet fragrance built under pressure. I thought of those cans of aerosol emblazoned with hearts and pursed lips and the lingering reminders of those hot bursts of adolescent emotion. Thinking blurred.
When my thinking blurs I find a book and read until the horizontal lines seem to ease things out, so to speak. The narrative does too, in its own strange way; feeding from the deliberate structuring of another life has a certain kind of comfort to it; The kind of comfort which keeps the child attached to the soiled blanket. Infectious.
I have read of people infected e with cholera, and typhoid and flu. Infected with feeling, even. Infected with other people’s bloody narratives. Can you be infected with life? That is what I need perhaps – for the flesh to be completely riddled with a kind of energy, easing the tension into fluid movement. I wonder what it would be to be completely crawling with life. Perhaps that is what pregnancy is. Perhaps that is what is going to happen. Some people seem to find purpose in that.
After all, it is a day of firsts.