Second-Person Stories

Ruth Isabel Field

Second-Person Stories © Ruth Isabel Field 2013 contact me at:

for Shelly Sinclair

Behaviour Analysis .................................................................................................................................. 1 Wilted Lettuce......................................................................................................................................... 3 Wishes/Wants/Saints/Sinners ................................................................................................................ 4 Fraud ....................................................................................................................................................... 5 I’ll Gogh Crazy Getting this Art Out of Me if it’s the Last Thing I Do ....................................................... 6 Blood Oath .............................................................................................................................................. 8 The Mating Ritual of an Awkward Bird: Olympian Blue and Exotic Plume ........................................... 10 Hallow: to honor as holy; consider sacred; venerate. .......................................................................... 12 Tasteless Chicken Soup for the Goddamn Heartbroken ....................................................................... 14 How to Behave in Second Hand Stores................................................................................................. 16


Behaviour Analysis During your degree you take a paper in Behaviour Analysis, because you want to find out why it is you’re always acting this way. You like the sound of Behaviour Analysis: Psychology concerned with outward observable behaviours and not the unobservable events hidden inside heads. “According to behaviourism,” your lecturer dictates as you scribble down desperately, “virtually all behaviour can be explained as the product of learning, and all learning consists of conditioning.” Consider: Being a middle child made me anxious for attention. Want to write: It is definitely my parents’ fault I am this fucked up. Wonder: What kind of conditioning did a childhood of choking Catholicism cause? (Decide: Compulsive. Conflicted. Guilty. Filthy.) Glance up at the professor and realise that you wouldn’t mind having him fuck you. From behind. Bent over his oak desk as he tells you you’re a good girl. Touch the table you’re sitting at three times and blink furiously. Apologise to someone. Count the syllables inside your head. Sit in the university library and pretend to do work. Periodically take walks through the aisles, reading the spines of the books. Crack yourself open and dog-ear some forgotten desire. Sit back down and try to read your prescribed text. Decide: What you really want is to be a poet. Laugh out loud. Apologise to the studious students surrounding you. Count the syllables of pretentious words. Wait until dusk before leaving the library; it appears more productive that way. You have spent all afternoon reading each sentence three times without taking anything in, which shouldn’t feel successful but somehow does, because you did it whilst sitting in the University Library, as if you can absorb academia via osmosis. On the walk home from campus, plug your headphones into your mobile. The screen flicks on and blinks once, reminding you: “To lower the risk of damage, do not listen at high volumes for long periods.” Note that the device doesn’t actually tell you what constitutes high volume or what makes a period long. Realise that this is exactly what is wrong with the world. Everyone gives halfarsed advice. Fragmentary. Hey there, human. We’ll provide you with an instruction but we won’t elaborate. Roll your eyes and say “Bloody typical” under your breath. Smile sheepishly at the pedestrian who thought you were talking to them. Realise that this is exactly what is wrong with the world: People think you’re talking to them when you’re not. Later, call up the boy you are interested in and have him make reinforcing noises down the phone line, the occasional grunt or murmur to make it sound like he is listening. You can still hear the fear of being alone in his voice, but it has started to become muffled by the crackling realisation that there must be a better option than you. Try harder. Make him listen at high volumes for too long. When he says he has to go, hang up the phone and conclude that this is exactly what is wrong with the world: People think you’re talking to them when you’re not, and they never listen when you are.


In Behaviour Analysis you are training rats. You feel conflicted about this. Y ou don’t know if you believe in using animals for research. Believe in using them, like believing in an omnipotent, omnipresent, all-loving God. Perhaps because they are rodents it is okay. This is what you tell yourself when you accidentally look into hopeless little rodent eyes and see humanity reflected back at you, unblinking. No, you don’t think you believe in all this, but you go along with it anyway. Remind yourself: This course is costing me thousands of dollars and will teach me some very important things. Accidentally laugh out loud, startling your studious classmates, the ones who have stupidly named your rat Happy, because of the ‘smile’ he gave when they first lifted him out of his cage. Sneak into the rat-lab after five and feed Happy the crumbs from your packed lunch, the tiny pieces of cheese you saved from your crackers. Rename him Misery. Sit him on your lap and pat him, whispering about the boy who hardly ever calls. Teach Misery to press a lever x amount of times in order to receive a reward. He is smart, quickly learning how this arrangement works, pressing the lever, licking up the condensed milk reward when it comes, and then curling up in the corner of his cage when he has received enough. Learn from the lecturer that if Misery was only given his reward sporadically, he would press the lever endlessly, his behaviour reinforced by the few occasions when he got what he was after. The boy drunk calls. Put your best underwear on and meet him in a club where the music is too loud. He grinds against you on the dim dance floor, slipping a hand up your skirt. Spin away flirtatiously and somehow manage to fuck him off with your behaviour. Apologise. Count the syllables in the lyrics of the song, a monotonous drone squeezing at your skull. He will disappear to get another drink, leaving you dancing alone. When he comes back, be cagy for all of two seconds before levering yourself onto him. Later, he won’t hold your hand as you walk back to your flat, but he will fuck you hard on the kitchen floor and grip you tight when he comes, then kiss you as he goes, sometime before dawn, and this is what you have learned about love, and this is all you know. Tell yourself it is better this way, avoiding high volumes for long periods. It is lowering the risk of damage.


Wilted Lettuce

When you were a kid you used to worry that an unattended shopping trolley in a supermarket might be stolen by another customer. It just didn’t occur to you that people never want the same things. He is annoyed again. He asked you to pick up a litre of milk on the way home and you forgot. Your relationship is fast becoming a mouthful of dry cereal. He has taken to eating toast. You pour Kahlua over your coco-pops. After several days of souring stubbornness, you go to Countdown. You watch as he has trouble pulling one trolley free from another; they are well and truly jammed together. Wonder, is this love? Getting stuck? “I hate the trolleys with wilted lettuce leaves in the bottom,” you declare. “They make me sad.” “What?” he stops for a second and looks over his shoulder at you. He thought you’d said something important. Your relationship is fast becoming wilted lettuce. “What the hell are you talking about?” The trolley comes free with a clang. You shrug. He never understands. Nonetheless, down the cereal aisle you inanely continue, “What about when you get the one shopping cart with the wonky wheels and you just can’t control it, trying to turn the corners and skidding into the display stands, sending all the canned tomatoes flying?” You have a feeling that might be love. “Yeah,” he says. “But I just swap it for one that runs smoothly.” Become quiet. Pluck a packet of coco-pops off the shelf and put them in the trolley. “Jesus. How old are you again?” he says, scowling at the indulgent offence. You grew up in a house where the cereal was bland and flavourless, sugar-free. You are sick of sensible. Shrug at him indifferently. You have a feeling love might be sitting amongst canned tomatoes, crying.



You are fast becoming a sceptic. He uses personal pronouns as possessive nouns – my dear, my darling, my little Catholic girl. You choke. He chain smokes lovers. You both know you are not his at all. Say, “Well, Catholic girls are very practiced at getting on their knees”. He stands 1200 miles away, says, Goddamn. He wishes he could see you. You’re too old for wishes. Trying to be too wise for prayers. Everything falls on deaf ears. You’ve heard words like restraint get gagged by want. And The Hold Steady sung, “If I cross myself when I cum would you maybe receive me?” But you desperately want to not want to want to be received. And anyway, rock ‘n’ roll isn’t about restraint. It’s a kind of hymn – you want to get drunk on holy water, baptise yourself into a life of sin. Use up all your wishes praying that you won’t always be waiting, on your knees, for boys like him. Ask someone for intercession. Patron saint of writers, authors, the City of London – Old St Paul. Is it true we spend Our Whole Lives building ourselves up for the fall? And from 1200 miles away, the boy says, “Once you’re damned for one thing you m ight as well be damned for them all.”



You have a habit of feeling like a fraud. Your parents named you after someone in the Bible. You think this set you up to be a sinner. Every Sunday you sit in church and think about sex, trying not to scream swear words into the solemn silence. You handclap and hallelujah to cover your dirty thoughts and clear disgrace. You wonder whether God – omnipresent, omnipotent God – was watching when you masturbated last night. A boy sends you a text during one of your Feminist Psychology classes. You open the message under the desk. It reads, “I want to hold you by the neck while I’m fucking you.” You blush. Blood rushes. Things expand. Everything is sexier with a little constriction. Think, nothing inflates desire like distance. That fucking restriction. You know you shouldn’t let these boys just come and go. But you like the way he doesn’t set boundaries. Keeps you guessing like a game of Cluedo. You’re somewhere in a bedroom with some rope. And then he’s off the board with someone else and you’re suspicious. He never shows his hand, and it’s the not knowing that gets you going. You’ve been spending your student loan on lingerie and clothes. You need a part-time job. Apply everywhere. Apply at the Subway down the road from your home. They’ve advertis ed the position as “Sandwich Artist.” At the interview, say, “I have always been passionate about making sandwiches.” A year later, say, “I still love you.” Five years later, say, “I am happy.” Throughout life, say, “I’m an artist.”


I’ll Gogh Crazy Getting this Art Out of Me if it’s the Last Thing I Do

You’ve been replacing your morning coffee with Kahlua and speaking exclusively in personal pronouns. You’ve been walking in the rain and listening to Nirvana. You are trying to convince your abnormal psychology class that there’s a link between depression and creativity. Title your Powerpoint: I’ll Gogh Crazy Getting this Art Out of Me if it’s the Last Thing I Do. They read the heading without comprehending. They are scientists. They turn their noses up a little. They look at you like you are about to present something as unappealing as a severed earlobe. They’ve been plotting graphs for their research. They’ve been loitering in labs. They’ve been training rats. Clear your throat. Start by quoting The Hold Steady: “You’re pretty good with words, but words won’t save your life”. They look confused. Not a single one of them understands. Run through some of the symptoms of depression. Talk about suicide. Mention self-harm. Someone raises a hand and asks if tattoos and piercings are considered self-harm. Someone else asks if self-harmers get some sort of sexual pleasure from the sight of blood. Glance at the tattoo on your wrist, the one that reads WORDS, the one inked over the faint silver of old scars, and almost laugh. Wonder how they can know so little about being human. Come to the conclusion that they’ve been spending too much time watching their rats and bleaching their lab coats. Say, “It can’t be a coincidence that F. Scott Fitzgerald was a sad alcoholic. Hemingway and Picasso were clinically depressed. Van Gogh suffered crippling periods of depression followed by manic periods due to Bipolar Disorder. Edvard Munch was a depressed, obsessed alcoholic who had hallucinations. Michelangelo was OCD. John Berryman jumped into the Mississippi. Kurt Cobain was depressed and addicted to drugs. Virginia Woolf filled her coat pockets with stones and walked into a river, Anne Sexton sat in her garage in a fur coat with a glass of vodka and started her car, Sylvia Plath stuck her head in an oven.” The class is unsuccessfully sleeping discreetly or texting under the table. Say, “Even J.K. Rowling has revealed that she suffers from OCD and Depression.” This fact is your personal saviour; your little sliver of hope for yourself. Say, “Even in healthy individuals, research reports that people have an increased attention to detail on rainy days when sad music is playing.” Not even one raised eyebrow. How can they not find the implications of this fascinating! Try again. Say, “Poets have a greater risk of suicide than all other artists combined.” You thought someone in the back had a question


but she was just tucking her hair behind her very whole ear. Say, “Studies have found that Sylvia Plath and Kurt Cobain increased the use of “I” in their poetry and journals the closer they got to committing suicide.” The scientists scurry back to their labs to slice up rodent cerebellums as soon as they can. You roll your eyes and sigh. Sometimes, being a person is too personal. There is so much about being you that you have to do alone. And lately you’ve been feeling a little too lowercase to be a proper noun. You’re dying to be a bit more concrete. You thought it was psychology that would help you understand. But science won’t save your life.


Blood Oath

Your little sister will say, “Me and Jack are thinking about buying a house.” She is 21. Stare stupidly. Several stupid seconds will pass. Say stupidly, “Where?” When she names your hometown, try desperately to understand. “But you’ve been overseas! Why the fuck would you want to stay here?” “Travelling made me realise how good this city is,” she will tell you, calmly and sensibly. Mutter moodily, “Travelling made me never want to return.” Add jokingly, “I don’t think we’re related.” Laugh, insanely. * Expect your mother to scoff at your sister’s sudden desire to own a home. Expect her to side with you on this one – you have party-poppers ready to celebrate this rare instance of agreement. Instead, your mother will surprise you, pouring over copies of the weekly property guide. She will think you should be more like your sister. She will almost ask why you haven’t gotten your life together yet. She will probably make a comment about you needing to settle down soon, too. Stare stupidly. Several stupid seconds will pass. Slowly and stupidly, declare: “I am not even going to live in this country, let alone this city.” Your mother will look at you with a face like a surprise party. She will look at you like you are a neighbour she’s only really talked to a few times and you’ve just jumped out from behind a couch in her house with a party hat on. Wonder how she can know so little about you. Clarify: “I am leaving for London as soon as I have the money.” She will scoff. You can see it in her eyes: she doesn’t think you have the drive. * One day the girl who does your brazilians will spontaneously announce, “You seem like a London girl.” Wonder what on earth has prompted her to say this. Lift your head a little and look at her as she applies warm wax between your legs, face framed by your thighs. “Really?” you exclaim, and then, “Ow,” and then, “God, thank you.” Wonder how someone who has known you for four sessions of 30 minutes can identify more about who you want to be than your own mother. *


Start to keep your dreams a secret. When your mother tells you, “ You won’t usually get what you want in life,” don’t you dare say, “It doesn’t have to be that way.” Don’t you dare desire something more than nine-to-five. Never, ever announce: “I want to be a writer.” Your parents will look at you like you are three and have just publicised that you want to be a fairy princess when you grow up. Pitifully. * You are arguing with them again. Your mother says, “Jobs are not for enjoying.” This comment simultaneously breaks your heart and boils your blood, like fault lines and volcanoes. * Grab a letter opener and slice your skin. Make a blood oath with your future self: I will never be like her. Swear you won’t settle just because it’s sensible. Write these promises in melodramatic, romantic flourishes; seal the pact with wax and send it by increasingly impractical snail mail. Post everything to an address you’re yet to discover, but will never stop searching for. Somewhere in London.


The Mating Ritual of an Awkward Bird: Olympian Blue and Exotic Plume

You are buying lingerie. Only two types of people buy lingerie: The lonely or the in love. Recall an evolutionary psychology lecture that examined the mating behaviour of birds. The ways they try to attract each other: feathers and songs and frantic flapping. Sex is something you’ve only done slowly and simply in the confines of “us”. You feel too young to have had such lacklustre loving. Coming to believe that sex is a bore. Or not coming at all. Boys who thought doing you was a chore. Now that you are free you think it might be nice to try a frantic affair. Fuck and then flee. Fly. Live in sin. Recall learning about the Swift – “The Devil’s Bird”. Mating at an altitude of 2000 feet whilst soaring at the speed of a small aircraft. Hey, the Mile High Club sounds fun. Spontaneous encounters, crashing chemistry. But you’re not good at not getting attached. You’re not good at knowing how to attract. You feel too old to be so awkward about this. In the lingerie store you flit between opposites: sweet and sexy. On the one hand you want frills, girlish bows, virginal white, full panties in cream lace and styles like “gentle lift”. On the other hand you are desperate to own something saucy, siren red, skimpy black, sleek and indecent, strings and satin, styles like “plunging”. “How are you today?” A shop assistant sneaks up behind you while you are fingering the smooth fabric of a scarlet corset. You jump, cheeks rosy, caught red-handed. You want to say, “I’m alone and I’m worried I’ll never experience sex worth writing about home about.” Settle for “Good thanks.” “Let me know if you need any help,” the sales assistant smiles. “How do you find someone you want to fuck forever?” you are always asking. Move quietly between the racks of bras, briefs, G-strings, suspender belts. Less like a lion prowling a savannah and more like a fish out of water, gasping, trying to understand these foreign feelings you’ve been having. You just want to fuck someone. Anyone? The lingerie labels include words like Pleasure, the tags dangling from the items with silky cord or ribbon, to be disconnected with a snip. What is this word, unattached to anything else, separate from love, free from guilt? The sales assistant convinces you to buy two sets and some skimpy underwear.


At home you try everything on again. It is depressing. You hate it all. What were you thinking? The set called “Olympian Blue” almost made you feel like Aphrodite in the tricklighting of the changing room, but in the bright light of your bedroom makes you feel more like a chubby cherub. The other set is an Elle Macpherson Intimates number, which whispered sweet nothings from the sale rack. You reasoned that anything endorsed by Elle must be sexy. She’s named this particular design “Exotic Plume”. Think of peacocks trying to attract a mate. Aspire to imitate the South American VioletCapped Woodnymph’s namesake. Look at your body and feel like the boring brown down of a female duck. More awkward waddle than confident strut. As you slip into the Brazilian briefs you have just bought, briefly consider moving to Brazil: The women in Brazil are so sexy they have a style of underwear named after them. All those festivals and parades with the colourful feathers. Study your reflection and realise you could never relocate to South America. There are too many beautiful people there and you are too New Zealandish, an awkward word stumbling off a swollen tongue. Your national symbol is a rotund, flightless bird. Have an idea: Lingerie models always seem to be wearing heels. Put on your highest pair. They drastically improve the image in the mirror. Almost smile, and then realise there is no reasonable way you could find yourself wearing nothing but heels and underwear. How does that even work? – he undresses you passionately, pauses to wait while you put your shoes back on, and then you carry on kissing? Expectations are so impractical. You are lonely and in love with the idea of something you’ll never have the courage to do. Someone you’ll never have the chance to do. Not enough luck. Even less pluck. You want to fuck him (him, him – there’s always a him, hovering) so bad it sits in the base of your brain like a biological imperative, an evolutionary urge, a furious flapping of wings in your ribcage. There are four types of people in the world: the lonely, the in love, the lonely-in-love capable of fucking away their feelings, and the lonely-in-love with lots of nice lingerie that never gets seen.


Hallow: to honor as holy; consider sacred; venerate. At age twelve you were still playing let’s pretend. Harry Potter was your favourite game to enact, dressing up in dressing gowns, brandishing sticks as wands, attaching letters to your cat and calling her Hedwig. Hedwig would only cooperate if you bribed her with cat biscuits. Bribery, you later came to learn, is the only effective tool in life. You lay awake at night and physically ached with the knowledge that you’d never get to go to Hogwarts; instead, you were forced to bicycle through windswept streets to the bleak Catholic School two suburbs over. And on Monday mornings before the first bell rung, you’d sit to the side of the classroom, sweaty and slightly out of breath from cycling, eavesdropping as the other kids talked about their weekends, words like booze and shag; potions and magic. Playing make believe soon made you believe there was something wrong with you. Suddenly, confusingly, you came to understand that these games weren’t something you should be doing anymore. Games like Never Have I Ever, Spin The Bottle and Seven Minutes in Heaven were, apparently, more age-appropriate. Boyfriends replaced imaginary friends. (Imaginary boyfriends were unacceptable.) Adolescence approached like a natural disaster: no time to run or take cover. Your entire existence got swept up in that relentless desire to be liked. One day you awoke to find that the world had been shaken by an earthquake, flattened by a tsunami. There were personal belongings balanced in trees, houses uprooted, great gaping cracks in what had once been solid ground beneath your feet, and sex on your mind. Your imagination no longer felt like a safe place to hide. This, unfortunately, is how it will feel for the rest of your life. The final Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows, was published in 2007. It was the year of sevens: You were seventeen, it was the seventh book, you were in seventh form. That biblical number. The seventh year in the Hebrew calendar was the Sabbath Year, a year of rest and reaping. And after seven Sabbath years had passed - seven times seven – all existing debts would be erased so one could start again, afresh. And that’s what 2007 was. It was graduation from High School. It was atonement. It was the raw understanding that nothing lasts forever, forced upon you even though you didn’t quite feel ready. It was the anticipated-yet-somehow-still-startling dunk of a baptism, coming up spluttering. It was contractions on edge of adulthood, intensifying until you slithered out of the safe womb of youth, filling your lungs for the first time, if only to scream. Even though you felt too old to be so excited, you pre-ordered Deathly Hallows and picked it up the instant the shop doors opened. At night you held it close to your chest like a secret, tucked in under the covers with it. You kept it on your bedside table like a Holy Book. You took your time with it, savouring each sentence the way you tried to saviour lovers later in life, an impossible feat in both instances: the best literature and men are too slippery. They have a habit of saying one thing whilst meaning something entirely different. They both have a habit of leaving you eviscerated, nostalgic, yearning.


And for too long the novel sat on your nightstand, unfinished. You couldn’t bring yourself to read the last page. Instead, you dangled from the end of open sentences, held onto on to the last cliff-hanger, dug your nails in. This is how you will always let go: leaving claw marks. This is how you learnt to survive: by hanging on. Mourning for the closing chapters in your life, even the ones you didn’t particularly like. The next year at university – a new city, a fresh start, free from the debts of an awkward adolescence – a lecturer asked the class who their favourite authors were. Bearded boys wearing novelty jumpers and girls with floral dresses stroked their facial hair or adjusted their thick-rimmed glasses and looked at their notes and said, “Hemingway” or “Faulkner”. They nodded at each other and stated, “Chaucer” or “Joyce” or “Proust”. They turned to look at you expectantly and you declared, proudly, “J.K. Rowling”, and thus became the class clown. But unlike them, you’d learnt long ago when not to play pretend.


Tasteless Chicken Soup for the Goddamn Heartbroken You will ration out prescription painkillers for the days you think you might miss him more (rainy days, cloudy days, sunny days; Sundays, Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays – soon every day needs to be a sedate blur to be survivable). “Time heals all wounds,” you will tell your disbelieving girlish reflection in the medicine cabinet mirror. Once or twice you will run outside in the middle of the night and stare up at the wintery soup of the sky, wondering why. You will cup your hands around your existence and slurp at the edges of the universe, trying unsuccessfully to feel warmed inside. You will crave something corny. Go to the library and look for Chicken Soup for the Heartbroken Soul. The catalogue informs you that no such book exists. The only Chicken Soup book that hasn’t been checked out is Chicken Soup for the Soul in Menopause. You will take it home and read it with one ear pressed to your abdomen, listening to the steady tick of your body clock. You are only in your twenties but you are suddenly struck with the organ-stopping terror that you might never find someone to settle down with. You are fussy. You have high standards and low self-esteem. Starting a new relationship sounds unbearably exhausting. A friend who is getting married in November will ask you to write something for her wedding. You consider starting it with the statement “I don’t believe in love,” and concluding it with the ways in which the bride and groom’s relationship has managed to make you a believer. Fail to get further than the first line. You will take up talking to yourself. “Sweetheart,” you will murmur as you chop an onion and add it to the vegetable soup you are eating in summer, eyes blinking against the burn. Anything that hurts (the nick of a kitchen knife, stubbed toes, hangovers, bumped funny bones) will remind you of the absent sting of his kiss. Sweetheart is what he used to call you, a soft-centred word falling from his lips with a smirk. His name will still have an annoying habit of slipping out whenever you come, breathy and desperate. This is why you only have sex with yourself. Because of him, it has become impossible to get close to anyone else. And after, lying in your empty bed, think of all the things you should have said, eyes blinking against the burn. You will lose patience with your recovery. During the now-constant conversations with yourself, start using the worst profanities you know. “Jesus Christ,” you will swear harshly as you sit in the bottom of the shower, water sliding down your back, hair wet and mattered to your head. The Catholic in you will wince, a crown of thorns forced onto an old friend. “Stop


being so pathetic,” you mumble, a little softer. And then, when the water has run cold and you still haven’t moved, “Jesus-titty-fucking-Chirst.” Discover that you have become classically conditioned to the ringtone on your phone. And even though you know it’s not him calling, it’s never him calling anymore, your heart will jump a little at the sound, salivating for his voice. Every attempt to have fun will need to be documented. You will take photos of you and your friends partying and post them on your Facebook page, so that he will see what a good time you are having without him. Later, you will cry in a nightclub and lie to everyone. “I’ve just had too much to drink,” you will say. “I’m okay.” Take your heels off and hold them in your hand as you stumble home, a picture of desolation, a snapshot of a hopeless generation. “Time is a concept invented by mankind,” you tell the ghost girl’s reflection, staring out at you from the empty medicine cabinet mirror.


How to Behave in Second Hand Stores When you are seven you will pen a chapter book about two talking horses named Thunder and Lightning, complete with illustrations. You are not very good at rendering perspective, so each horse will look like it has only two legs. The book is not much of a success and your brother will tell you that your illustrations are rubbish, but this here, pulled right from your own imagination, your first foray into creative writing! At high school, you will fall quickly and alarmingly into a very dark place. You will experience a terrible unrequited love, about which you write desperate poetry. You are not very good at math, so you will spend those classes scrawling gritty sentences on graph paper. You will write one of your best poems during a particularly painful trigonometry lesson. It is called ‘The Broken Hearts of the Dying Youth’. It has blood and scars and self -harm and you write it in red ink. The boy you are in love with didn’t acknowledge you at all today. Apart from math, you are pretty good at school. You are a perfectionist. You are also late to everything and spend much too long in the shower. This makes your parents very angry, especially when the power bill arrives each month. You will not be able to explain that you just can’t get clean enough. At night you will not get into bed until you have made sure that there is absolutely no crack in your curtains, until you have checked your alarm several times, placed your grimy library books outside your bedroom door and straightened everything into neat piles. After this you will always go to the kitchen to get a glass of water, even though you are never actually thirsty. Fill the glass to the top, empty it, fill it again, drink one quarter, fill it to the top, drink half, fill it to the top again and drink another quarter. Fill it one last time, right to the brim. Walk very carefully back to your room, so as not to spill it, but do not even think about taking a single sip or else you will have to start over. This is the way water must be drunk. Check your alarm a few more times. Only then will you be able to get into bed and lie awake and worry about every little issue in the entire world. When you are sixteen you will sheepishly make an appointment to see the school counsellor. You will tell her you think you have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. You Googled it on the family computer after you saw bits of yourself reflected in an OCD character on Shortland Street. All the best self-discoveries are made through soap operas. The counsellor has frizzy hair. She looks a little bit out of her depth. Usually she gives angsty teens crayons and tells them to scribble their emotions on big sheets of blank paper. That’s not really going to work for you. She asks you to list all your obsessions and compulsions. You won’t tell her about the one where you think you can kill people or cause rape or give someone cancer just by looking at them. It might be a bit much. For the rest of the day you will keep thinking of things to add to the list. Examining your life in this manner will cause a horrible, massive void of realisation: almost everything you do,


you do because of this disorder. You have been living a lie for as long as you can remember. When you take away all the obsessions and compulsions, what is left? You are OCD with just a faint echo of someone else. You try to write a poem about it but you cannot find the words. Cry, and then don’t cry. Scrawl fuck fuck fucking fuck all the way over graph paper and feel like the biggest idiot failure in the whole world. Then just feel empty and alone and quite scared. A few weeks later you have an appointment at the local hospital, in the Child, Adolescent & Family Mental Health unit. You are mentally ill! You will be assessed by a psychiatrist and a psychologist and your parents will be there. You have to answer a lot of serious questions about how fucked up you are. Curl up in your chair and want very badly to die. There will be a diagnosis. You were right, you have OCD. They say you might be depressed (like they don’t give this one away as easily), and that there might be some social anxiety in there too. Words like ‘co-morbid’ are used. You are mentally ill and morbid! You want them to give you pills that will fix you. They won’t. Instead, there will be two years of once -a-week therapy. On Mondays after school your mother will drop you at the hospital for your appointments. Other than this there will never be any reference to your fuckedupness. Sometimes it sits between you like fifty-thousand elephants in a broom closet. It will take you a while to warm to the psychologist. You are moody and guarded. But she is very persistent, and also very committed. During one of your sessions, she will take you to the Salvation Army Store. Old stuff really freaks you out. Second hand stuff is the worst. She wants you to touch some of the things in the store and then lick your hand. You will not do it. You will never do it. This is death. You already want to spend an hour in the shower and all you’ve done is walk through the shop doors. But your psychologist b argains. She tells you that if you lightly touch the sleeve of one of the shirts and then lick your finger, she will grab a pair of old-man underpants and then lick her entire hand. And she does. When you are eighteen, you have to start thinking about what you want to do with The Rest of Your Life. The careers advisor is actually just the math teacher. When she asks you the dreaded question, say that perhaps you want to write. This is something she cannot comprehend. She is the sharp practicality of quadrangles. Try to elaborate. Say, I want to be an author. It will come out like a question. The careers advisor will look at you from behind her desk with all the math implements on it and say that there is nothing that you can study to become an author. Try to think of something else you might like to do. People sometimes say you’re empathetic. It’s because you’re so fucked up. You can empathise with all the other fucked up people. Come to the conclusion that you would be fantastic at helping fucked up people. Think about your psychologist and the way she has impacted your life. You know it’s just her


job but it feels like something more. You want to change people’s lives the way she has changed yours. Decide to become a clinical psychologist. Two years into your degree, decide that you no longer want to be a clinical psychologist. The people in the psychology department are pompous and it will take seven years anyway. Finish off your Bachelor’s degree and graduate and then realise that you have the most useless qualification in the entire world, a double major of Classical Studies and Psychology. You are completely unemployable and have a massive Student Loan. Wallow around for several months. You will bump into people in the supermarket and they will ask what you are up to these days. Tell them that you are in the middle of a quarter-life-crisis. They will laugh. You are not joking. You are a map without street names, you are a street without landmarks, you are a landmark with no significance. Take off overseas in an attempt to Find Yourself. Run out of money. Reluctantly return to New Zealand, still completely lost. Decide to do some creative writing papers at the university in your hometown. Tell yourself that if you don’t do this now, you never will. You just need to get writing out of your system and then you will settle down. Enrol in one poetry course and one fiction course. The intelligent people at the university have scheduled the two courses at the same time. Apparently they did not think that someone who might be taking a poetry course might also be taking a fiction course. You have to make a choice. Thanks to your psychology degree, you know that poets have the highest rate of mental disturbance among all professional groups. You know that one study found that poets committed more suicide than prose writers, composers and artists combined. Decide to drop the poetry. Short stories have always been more your thing, anyway. Your fiction lecturer is American. He is often late. Wonder if this is a writer’s thi ng. If it is, you are on the right track already. Near the end of the semester, approach the American lecturer and ask if he thinks you could maybe have a future in creative writing. He says he does not believe in talent, just hard work. Then he will hand back one of your stories with the worst grade you have ever received scrawled on the last page. You had to take a statistics paper in first year and you even got a better grade in that. This proves that you are not meant to pursue writing as a career. What would you do with a writing degree, anyway? When the next year rolls around and you still cannot find a job, decide to study postgraduate psychology. It might be useful. You hate postgraduate psychology. Postgraduate psychology sees the return of those deep dark moods that you just can’t shake. You are lost and confused and sleepy and unable to concentrate and everything is scratching at you. Feel so very alone. Your grades will slip. You probably aren’t even passing anymore. You spend a lot of time in bed denying the existence


of essays and assignments and presentations and people and pretty much the world in general. The Science Faculty will contact you because you have been neglecting your studies. They will want you to see someone at Student Counselling because you don’t seem to be coping. The counsellor has long hair and a red sweater. He looks a bit like a hippie. Be slightly concerned. He has a glint in his eye like he might pull out some crayons and ask you to scribble your emotions on blank sheets of paper. Tell him about your motivation problems, concentration problems, sleep problems. Tell him that you pretty much can’t do anything effectively. Tell him that every time you sit down to do some work you end up writing lousy poetry or fiction. He will say, “That’s lovely!” Lovely will be the actual word he uses. You can’t think how failing at everything because your brain won’t behave is in any way lovely. But he reckons that your subconscious is bringing up your burning desires, that it’s telling you that you need to be a writer. A writer! You are sitting in a counsellor’s office and you have come full circle. Such is life. Start a blog. Blogging is a strange thing. But every time even one person finds some kind of comfort in your words it is like injecting opium straight into reward circuits. There is no better high than this. Perhaps this is your way to help fucked up people. Write fucked up second-person stories about your fucked up brain in the hope that some other poor soul who is feeling all fucked up will read it and then not be so alone in this big, sharp, often unbearable but also achingly awesome world. This is why I write. This is why I write.