Tumbleweeds, an imitation of life, everything recedes, fits and starts and flitting shadows and distant murmurs and this world does not seem real anymore and your mind turns in on itself and you are a Sebastiao Salgado pixel of shadow, indistinguishable from any other, and all the bad things keep coming back, night’s black agents caress you on the brightest of days with cruel cloaks of roughly hewn and battered cloth, on every day, and you are walking to work, your head down, every step a slow-motion trudge through molasses, there’s barely anything but body memory to keep you moving, and you think to yourself, “This is not normal behaviour”.
If you are always looking at the ground, how can you see where it is you are supposed to be going?
They’re kicking your chair again from behind. Over and over. Every day, something.
Twenty minutes of it, if you had a gun, you’d turn around in your chair and shoot them both point blank in the face, thinking of nothing, no consequence other than “it would be quiet”.
You stand up and leave the room.
Yes, there is the teacher. You don’t care. You need to go and you do, and she begins, “What … ?”, but you’re out before she can finish.
Your refuge is the school library. You run. It’s quiet there.
Last time you picked out a book, Welcome to the Monkeyhouse by Kurt Vonnegut Jr., an author you’d not read or even heard of before. You liked the title. It seemed apt.
This time, you pick out Advertisements for Myself by Norman Mailer, another thing that is new to you, and you lose yourself.
You will be in this place for another three years. One thousand and ninety five days.
You do not want to be in this place.
You want to die.
It would be quiet then.
They dangled you over a second storey school balcony once, about three of them, holding you by the wrists.
You looked down. That fear of heights thing you’ve had all these years, you think?
Afterward, you wished they had let you go.
There would be the fall. Yes.
But then there would be the peace.
Wandering through a bookshop, shelf upon shelf of “self-help” books, “Conquer This”, “Unlock Something”, “Embrace this Blah!”, they make you grimace, these stinking, stupid things.
“Because it’s all about you now, isn’t it?”, you think, “We are all, each and every one of us, the centre of the universe now, that is how we are encouraged to regard ourselves in this brave new world where we are all potential reality television stars. Me, me, me. Mine, mine, mine. I, I, I.”
Just. Fuck. Off.
Anything but that. That it be about you.
You are not here anymore.
You have not been here for years. That thing in the mirror is not you. Your eyes dart around the edge of your reflection, not long enough to see who or what it is you have become, just long enough to shave, to maintain the appearance of a person living in the world, to carry on with the charade.
You turn your back on the mirror to brush your teeth.
“This is not normal behaviour”, you think.
But that is all you have.
Thirteen or fourteen years ago, in another galaxy far, far away, a young woman walks into my office and begins to tell me things.
She tells me about the way they speak to her. She tells me about the snide remarks, the comments, the subtle and not-so-subtle putdowns and slights. She tells me about the abuse, every day, something. The way she looks, the way she dresses, her life, her boyfriend, her taste in this thing and in that, it’s constant, it never lets up, and as she speaks, her face flushes and her lips tremble and her eyes dart about frantically, and then there is a sound, a hacking inhalation of a sob, and then it comes.
She crumples to the floor in a crouching position, tears pouring from her eyes, she holds herself and she cries out, “BUT I DON’T KNOW WHAT I’VE DONE! WHAT HAVE I DONE?!”, and I sit, stunned into silence, not moving, not knowing what to do, clueless for what seems long, long minutes, but is surely only seconds.
She’s done nothing. I know that.
Another young woman passes the office. She’s had this too. She comes in, puts her arm around the shoulder of the girl and says, “I know. I know. Shhh … Shhhhhhh … Come on, now”, and they both leave the office together, they leave the building, they go outside. Where there is quiet.
This other young woman, she has recently made the grievous misjudgment of telling one of her so-called “workmates” that she had been raped by her cousin some years back, a thing you would hope to tell a person in confidence, a thing that, were you to tell a person, you would think that they would listen and that they would care.
They just laughed at her. Sniggers and whispers.
“I’ve really got to get out of this fucking place”, I think.
I do. Eventually. I had to wait about 18 months. I wanted the long service payout.
It wasn’t worth it. Let me tell you something …
These are not my words. I have paraphrased those of another man …
“HATE. LET ME TELL YOU HOW MUCH I HAVE COME TO HATE YOU SINCE I BEGAN TO LIVE. THERE ARE APPROXIMATELY ONE HUNDRED TRILLION CELLS THAT COMPRISE MY BODY. IF THE WORD HATE WAS ENGRAVED ON EACH SINGLE NUCLEUS OF THOSE HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS OF CELLS IT WOULD NOT EQUAL ONE ONE-BILLIONTH OF THE HATE I FEEL AT THIS MICRO-INSTANT FOR YOU.”
Was that what you wanted?
That’s all you get.
This is for you.
You are an emotionally underdeveloped, intellectually lightweight lump of barely human filth who should’ve been scraped, bagged and flushed into the toilet the moment the sperm met the egg in the womb of whatever five buck whore spat you out and dragged you up.
May your first born never draw a breath.
I no more want to understand why you are the person you are or how you became that person than I would want to know why a child pornographer does what it does.
I want nothing from you.
But to see you dead in a
Was that what you wanted?
That’s all you get.
Slowly, almost imperceptibly, the toxicity of the environment you found yourself in begins to seep into your psyche, gradually tearing strips of self-worth and regard, and your sense of self begins to shatter like a burst water balloon in slow-motion. “What the fuck have I done?”, you ask yourself and there is no answer to that. This is how it works here.
“Can’t you see what this job is doing to you?”, a friend asks you one night as, yet again, you’ve managed to fly into another incoherent, half-drunk rant about some thing or another, and you just sit on the floor staring at nothing and saying nothing because yes, you know what it’s doing, you know full well, but it’s not long away now, just another short year before you can grab what money is owed to you and run.
They keep dishing it out and you begin dishing it back, every word a bullet, lashing out at everything and everyone in such a manner that you shock yourself with the ferocity of your own bile and how base you can become when pushed to it, but to no end as they appear to enjoy this, that you have finally buckled under and begun to play this game, this stupid, stupid game and you begin to loathe yourself for it.
“I am not this person”, you think. “This is not me.”
You begin to push all the people away from you, everyone is a threat now, friend and foe alike, you need to push them all out, and you do.
Until there is nobody left.
It took years. The persistent, constant stream of verbal abuse, intimidation, veiled threats and derogatory slights, all of it designed to break you down and tear you apart and keep you in a place from which you would never be allowed to escape. You recall how, when you finally got your ten years and you told them to shove their miserable job and their miserable selves and their miserable industry up their collective miserable arses, you were finished with it all, that the General Manager wandered into your office half-tanked after a liquid lunch and plopped himself into the chair opposite yours and said to you, “So you think you’re fucking leaving do you? I’ll tell you one thing, you bald-headed cunt, if you go through with this, you’ll never work again, I’ll make fucking sure of that mate, I’ll make fucking sure life will be difficult for you, mark my fucking words”, and you flew off the deep end, the top of your voice, using language that would melt the head of a sailor.
The hundreds and hundreds of hours of unpaid overtime over all those years, the work you took on that was never supposed to be your work in the first place that one person who knew about such things told you would’ve been worth about one hundred and twenty thousand dollars and for which you were barely even acknowledged, and after all this and all this time, the best you get is a threat to fuck up the rest of your working life, and when you do get out, it’s with a long service payout and a one hundred and fifty dollar gift voucher.
You bought yourself a new clothes iron and a portable CD player.
One thing begins to crowd in upon another, all of this and more, that thing you wanted so badly that slipped away, and that other thing you wanted so badly for so long and wound up getting, and then it all fell apart, and then you fell apart and then you simply stopped caring.
You lose yourself in drugs and alcohol.
And then the drugs and alcohol lose you.
And time passes.
You see your reflection in a mirror and it puzzles you, because this is not a person you recognise.
You’ve finally disappeared.
You’re coughing, hacking and dry-retching into a towel on your lap because you drank yourself into a coma again and forgot to eat third night in a row. Sweat streams down your face, tears, you shake and sputter and sink back into the couch exhausted, bent so far out of shape you can barely lift a glass of water.
An hour passes. Two.
“This is not normal behaviour,” you think.
You just sit, your mind a blank, struggling to find a thought to hang onto, and time just slips away.
You go to the bathroom to rinse your mouth and catch yourself in the mirror and think, “You worthless sack of shit”, and you turn around and go back to the living room and another hour passes and you realise that all this must now come to an end.
You pick up your phone, select a number and press “call”.
“****** Medical Centre”, is the reply.
“Yes. My name is Ross Sharp. I need to sort some things. I need to make an appointment.”