Dad had his eye operation last Wednesday. I was restless in the afternoon; so was Mum. I vacuumed, she mopped. The house felt unsettled. When he came back with his alien eye patch, clear and plastic so he could see through it, he looked a little shaken. It felt strange to see him that way; he has always seemed invincible.
The next morning I woke up and felt like I’d lost two months. It was unseasonably sunny and warm, a fluke day—a reminder that summer was approaching. Had I done enough to ensure that when the warm weather really did emerge I would cope with it better than last year, or would I hide? Would I once again wake up every day and feel the fear drop onto my chest and stay there till nightfall? It was like the sunshine illuminated the corners where things like to hide, perhaps including the realisation that I have moved on from the person I was last time the sun was so bright and the air so warm.
I took Dad to the library and for a walk. He had my brother’s funny sunglasses on to protect his sensitive eye, which made a strange contrast with his fleece. We linked arms as we walked, and I imagine we made a funny-looking pair, but I struggle to care what anyone thinks when it comes to my parents. Of course they cause me the typical teenage embarrassment on occasion, but usually I think the problem lies with anyone who judges them. By now my parents and I know each other very well—maybe unnaturally so. They have been my only constant companions over every bump on my so-far-quite-bumpy road.
We walked over to the high school I’m applying to. We passed students cluttering the pavements on their lunch break, and suddenly I felt uncomfortable. I could feel their eyes on me. All at once I wished we were on a quiet, dark road instead of this sun-soaked one.
I am pretty sure of how I want to be seen, and how I presume I am seen. When I walk the streets alone I could be anyone from anywhere. When I leave the house I try to hide everything that I have experienced; when I am out in the world I can pretend none of it has happened. It can be a shock if I bump into anyone I know, if I have to open my mouth. When my mouth is closed I can be aloof; I can hide behind my exterior, my winter coats and shoes. When my hair is just right and I am feeling calm, I can walk with a confidence that I don’t think I have yet, deep down. When I’m out I just feel panic that peaks and falls. At home, it’s different. At home my anxiety can fester, and self-doubt prevails. I hoped a new school could be a fresh new page.
When we got home I changed out of my sweaty clothes (I hadn’t realised how warm it really would be) and sat for a while in the cool, in my underwear, feeling my armor slip away. I don’t wish for people to judge me on how I’ve lived my life so far. How years have been swallowed by avoidance, anxiety, low self-worth, periods of crippling sadness, tiredness, and all kinds of coping methods (that don’t work). Even people I have known most of my life struggle to understand any of this. So I don’t tell them about it.
I realised then that I am out of touch. I live in a sheltered world. I can pretend I do not, but I do. I have not lived life on a normal level for a long time. This makes me feel immediately ostracised from other people my age. I suppose I thought that reading books was education enough. And it has been enough, but not anymore.
When I enter into this new phase, I want to make a splash, to be a success on some level, but I have absolutely no idea how it will work out. My real-world experience is close to nil.
I spent a lot of Wednesday night lying in bed, wondering why I don’t just drink myself into oblivion, spend nights with strangers, never come home? Why isn’t that my life? Why did I get this instead? Arguably that could be as damaging, and I don’t think I would want it, but would I feel so embarrassed and ashamed if that was what threw me off course? Would I have actual “life experience”? If there is such a huge variety of human experience in the world, what keeps me bound to this one? Why do I have to feel so trapped? How can I break free? Sometimes I want to run wild and not have a passing worry. I wish intensely to be free from limitations.
Lying there, I understood that I can’t predict how going back to school, being the New Girl, submerging myself in that environment again, will pan out. Or, for that matter, adult life in general. Perhaps, I thought, I will feel just as lonely as I did before.
But then I looked at my walls, covered in pictures of my heroes, and my piles of books, and realised I’ll always have this. These are things that give me confidence. But were they really enough? Was the self-assurance they gave me an illusion all along? ♦