echoes of memories of being young swim into my vision, as if in a searchlight, here an arm illuminated, a smudged cheek, just enough in view to register what it is i'm making myself think about. i'm looking right at myself, the scenes play as if i'm watching myself on tv and i try and shrug off each one reminding myself i was young. i've spent a long time since then trying to teach myself how to be sturdy, how to be stable, with the same anxiety as being pulled over by a police officer and having to walk a straight line, the fear, even though you know you're sober. the spotlight lands on the night i dressed as miss scarlet for a party, and i was stood there in a flaming red dress, re-adjusting the hem, pulling the top up, feeling self-conscious, thinking that the red alone must scream confidence and i could use it, a shield, a weapon, but then realising that actually i just felt invisible and knee-deep in a game of pretend, and pretty ridiculous.
so i go outside and i sit in the grass and i can feel the ground is wet and it seeps through the dress, and i pull at the top again, sit on my hands for a moment, change my mind and pull them out from beneath me, covered in mud. i know the dress is ruined but it didn't cost me very much and i already know i'm not going to wear it again. it's raining hard, and i know i'm being melodramatic sitting outside, letting it drip down my bare arms, waterlogging my curls, i can feel a stream down the middle of my back, and i wail, sorry for myself, invisible, messed up, broken down, angry, resigned to always being in a shadow, or being the plus one. bland, muted, concluding that i must only show my colours when i'm out here and my shoes are caked in dirt and there's mud splatters up my legs and i'm tugging at the grass. because inside i'm just part of a crowd because my voice doesn't go that loud and my hips take up too much space and i'm not trying to sell myself because i don't know how to sell myself and i'm not even sure i want to.
i clomp up to the house, brush off the earth from my elbows, put in the key and let the door bang behind me. i start a bath running, trying to pull my hand through my hair without looking at the mirror. i give in and give my reflection a good stare. i'm surprised that i feel pride, stood there with my fringe stuck to my face, my eyes bloodshot, i pause for a moment, the steam from the bath rising up the mirror, yes, it's pride, a sense of achievement, or an overwhelming sense that hurting is being human, a (mis)conception that hangs around me like a bad smell, always the perfect justification for being such a mess, don't they know how bad i feel, don't they know how affected i am, don't they know that life has picked me up by its ruddy fingers and squeezed until i've popped, like a child with an insect and a curious mind, don't they know art is suffering, and change comes from suffering, and uprising, and determination. i think about all the people at the party, just going through their days, going through the motions of lectures and studying and nights out and nights in and how they will graduate and get a job and dread nine o'clock and plead for five and unbutton their collar and breathe in rush hour and they will spend the next forty years equating the taste of transport fumes to freedom, and i will at least be the one wide awake while they sleep through life, head lolling into their tv dinner troughs, setting their alarm clocks, dreaming about their pantomime dilemmas of trivial matters, like picking which weed killer will work best, or who's turn it is to take the car in for a service, or simmering over the next valentines day, or the next vacation marked so hard on the calendar that the ink seeps through into the next month, leaving a bitter reminder when you get back of the three hundred and whatever days until the next breakaway. i won't be that naive, i won't be that blinkered, i won't be fooled by that ready-made life, the thoughtless routine, noxious & grey. i will be clued in, i will see it coming, i will be ready, i will sidestep that existence, shine a light on the reality tv shows, scoff when people complain that their style is always out of fashion, that their boyfriend doesn't love them enough, that they're a constant disappointment to their parents. and then i will not feel so bad that one day, at a party when i was nineteen, no one wanted to talk to me.
the memory abruptly ends as i feel movement all around me, i come to, to reality, and i glance up at the clock. it's 16:59, so i adjust my top, turn off my monitor, slide my phone off the desk into my handbag, leave the office, take a deep breath and cringe at the sensation of freedom rushing into my lungs.