She was back.
She paused at the door to her form room, blue and white checked skirt neat just above her knees (not yet rolled up). Crisp white polo, bag over one shoulder, all with her latest accesories: sweaty hands, dry mouth, heart beating up in her throat. She is 14.
Pause. Open. Smile. (Uncertainly).
The first person she sees is her ex best friend. Years of dance, sleepovers, petulant fights and secrets is discarded in her quick up-down, a glimpse of surprise quickly masked by “Oh, look, Grace is in our form room”. She says this with overly sarcastic joy, and no eye contact, loudly enough so everyone turns and stares at her.
She had to ‘re-adjust’. Every adult said this to her. She had to find her feet again (where did she leave them?). She had to settle back in (as if she had been settled before). These contradictions stayed unspoken, mostly, and she nodded, smiled and hid into herself, wishing.
Grace’s wish list: I want to go back to England to live, for good this time, not just a year. I want to be ‘the kiwi’, the foreigner in a friendly country, and stand out in a good way, as the shiny interesting person, not as the weirdo who left for a year and was now back, with a slightly different accent and stories that no one cared about. I want to be with my old friends, my wacky, loud friends with their total disregard for personal space. I want to talk about snogging, and Muse, and wear flares, and fantasise about Josh Hartnett.
These wishes started to pile up, and she was surprised at the weight of them. She fed and added to them by writing long letters to these friends, in different coloured markers, folded into intricate squares that only they knew how to open. In moments of solitude (and she found there were quite a lot, now) she would paw through the mementos her friends gave her, the ankle bracelets, the goth necklace with huge spikes, the tie-dye tshirt and rings and earrings, enjoying the feel of the different textures on her fingers as she gently remembered.
Slowly at first and then with a rush, this wishing and remembering starting hurting. It was an ache, right beneath where her ribs joined, and it was too much, it hurt too much and she would cry, in her single bed each night, arms wrapped around her middle and hunched right over, hurting and rocking and aching and crying. And wishing.
Grace’s wish list: I want to stop feeling. I want to stop experiencing my life. I want it all to go away.
These new wishes overtook the old ones. They filled her mind, every lonely, plodding day through school, through the dusty bus ride home where she would shrink and hope not to be picked on, through the cycle back to her house along the flat, gravel road, through the absent conversations and zombie chores and half hearted homework attempts. They would fill her mind until she’d be alone in her single bed again.
One night she found herself digging her nails into the skin on the inside of her wrist, tears wet on her cheeks, and unable to look away or stop herself as she slowly dragged one nail down towards her elbow. Only a centimetre or so. But it was enough for the skin to scrape back, the pricks of red blood to turn into drops and the pain the radiate up her arm, through her chest and down into that hole of hurt.
And she felt so calm.
This continued, not every night, but most. Her days would be exercises in invisibility and survival until she could retreat to her cocoon and hurt herself. After a while her fingernails weren’t enough and she searched around for something sharper, fingers landing on the goth necklace her English school-girl crush had given her, black and silver beads interspersed with centimetre long silver spikes. That night she pushed the tip of the spike into her skin, wiggling it around until the pain became too much and she sank into a dreamless, numb, sleep.
Tess saved her life. (She said this to her, once, sharing her double bed and whispering to each other: “You saved my life”. She laughed it off like she always did, but under the sheets, reached down and gave her hand a light, brief squeeze). Continue reading