115. Soulsisters

Photo by Tim Foster on Unsplash

His car had that smell. Old tobacco, men, dogs, vinyl, spilt food. Dina depressed the button to open her window a little, and he immediately pressed the master button to wind it back up.

“My car, my rules,” he said.

“I get a bit car sick when the heating’s on,” Dina said.

He wound down her window just a crack, and turned the heating knob from 24 to 21. “Take off your jacket and your shoes and socks if you feel hot. You’ll get used to it. I like it warm,” he said.

There wasn’t a day that went by where she didn’t regret marrying him. She imagined how her life would be if she’d kept her shoes on, got out of the car at the traffic lights and just ran. No matter how much she repented, it never got any easier. She convinced herself he was the lesser of two evils. He had wooed her with the promise of a life as his wife, which was supposed to save her from the boredom of looking after her parents. They told him she was a wild cat that needed routine and discipline to tame her. She realised she had made a mistake just a few days into the honeymoon.

He put an app on her phone so he knew where she was every moment of the day, and wrote a shopping list of places to go to and in which order. Drive the car to town. Doctor. Pharmacy. Library. Back to the pharmacy to collect her prescription. £10 to treat herself in the charity shop, but only if he thought she deserved it. Supermarket. Home. At first, he would ring her every 20 minutes, but then, over time, the frequency of calls dropped, until he trusted her enough to do this monthly visit on her own.

The bruises were in places that didn’t show, and he was careful that she was always clean for the Doctor. Not that she was allowed to wear clothes that showed off her shape in any event. He knew what was best. She’d made a vow that her body was his so other men weren’t even allowed to look. He slashed a dentist’s tyres because he put his fingers inside her mouth, so she never went again. Those three hours of freedom every month were the best and worst, but woe betide if the supermarket didn’t have the food he wanted, or she bought something he considered to be slutty from the thrift store.

An unsuitable book fell of the shelf and as she put it back, she noticed the ‘#Ask for Angela’ poster on the library wall. The next thing Dina remembered was that she was sitting on a wooden chair, with the feeling of someone stroking her hair, even though there was no-one else there. She looked at her watch. 11.11am. She still had time. A hushed conversation with the librarian who then rang her friend in the charity shop. Within ten minutes, Dina had a free bag of clothes as a running away kit, and a lift to the train station. On the way there, she threw her phone out of the car window.

In road rage vs truck, the car always loses. Dina read about it in the paper, but she didn’t dare believe it until the police came knocking. She thought they were there to arrest her. Even though she was twenty miles away on a train when he died, Dina knew this was her fault because he’d gone out looking for her.

It took over a year before she was able to sleep again. They say that if you live long enough, you see the same eyes in different people over and over again, but she can’t take that chance. Her only ambition left in this world is to be defiant enough to hold someone’s gaze. Like she used to do.

Photo by Reinhart Julian on Unsplash

72. Serenity Now

This post is about the consequences of adult bullying.

I may as well not even be there. I sit between them in the open-plan office and they ignore me. They talk animatedly to each other, about TV, music, food, football, the weather, their families, office politics, weddings, sport, films, holidays, diets, alcohol, clothes, celebrities. If I try to join in, I am frozen out. I sense a prickle in the air as the atmosphere changes. Like I’d opened the window on a winter’s day. Once I asked them if they could talk about a new film another time because I hadn’t yet seen it, so didn’t want any spoiler alerts. Their incredulous looks sent pangs of ice through my heart.

My opinion is of no consequence at all. It does not matter. I am irrelevant. Old. Pointless. Unwanted. Snobby. Up my own arse. Too political. Not cool. Weird. The volume of their voices drowns out everything in my headphones. So there I am, invisible, listening to their chit-chat and jokes all day, but excluded from contributing anything. I am in a glass bubble. Mute. Silenced.

Their repeated, anticipated reaction means I am learning to be afraid to speak. There is a tacit agreement that I am forbidden from joining in. If I do, then the conversation will abruptly end, or they will pretend they have not heard me. If someone does reply to me, our conversation will run parallel to the original one.

My heart booms in my own ears and stomach, my throat constricts with a dry, nervous cough. Swallowing is impossible now. I press my tongue to the roof of my mouth, trying to blink back tears, but cannot stop one from falling down my cheek. I rise, head down and slip out of the room, unnoticed. I want to run. I try to remember my mindfulness training and breathe through the impending panic, then lock myself in the ladies room. I figure that this is the best place for me right now. Silent screams. I blow my nose and wash my face. I could be in here all day. No-one will come looking for me.

They think I’m depressed, anxious, bipolar, have aspergers, hormonal, borderline, got ADHD or every other amateur diagnosis they’ve heard of or read about online. I’m high maintenance. Overemotional. Hypersensitive. Can’t take a joke. Too full on. Annoying. Jekyll and Hyde. That I’ve got pain issues so I’ll snap at them for no reason. A crazy bitch. I talk to much. A nutter. That I never shut up ranting. I don’t fit in so they cannot accomodate me. I agree I was a bit much for a few weeks. It was well over a year ago, I was completely upfront about it at the time, and my new medication stabilised me very quickly. I’ve been a model employee for nearly a year, but as we all know, old habits die hard. No-one likes to be proved wrong. I haven’t said more than 20 words a week to them in the last six months. I’ve worked really hard to change. Have they? When will they consider I have been punished enough? Then, I remember that I’ll be gone soon, so what does it matter? I feel better for a moment. This time next year it will be as if I never existed.

Being treated like this makes me seethe. So much so, that I’ve gone back to my boxercise class to try to rid myself of this constant bubbling anger, and to yoga to try to regain some peace. I’m wearing a teeth guard at night because I grind them so much.

They’ve been counting points and having naughty, cheat days, and between them they haven’t even lost half of what I have. If you really want to know how to lose weight, try being bullied for over a year. A side-effect of the stress.

Every morning I wish for some kind of minor illness so I won’t have to go to work, but I have to, because an employer will look at my sick record. Applying for every new vacancy takes so much effort, and takes up most of my weekends, but I keep going because every day that passes is a day closer to leaving and starting afresh. I can’t even take a day off, because I’m saving up all of my holiday to use in my notice period.

I know the circle never ends. Bystanders don’t intervene. They don’t want to take sides. It’s nothing to do with them. They’re staying out of it and not rocking the boat. Why should they be the one to stick their head above the parapet? They don’t consider being complicit as bullying. People would rather be loyal to group, even though they know it is wrong, for fear of themselves being ostracised. I might think they’re my friend if they’re nice to me or turn on them, mistaking their kindness for pity. Best not to get involved at all.

I wonder if they would want someone to stand up and support the victim if it was one of their family that was living through this day after day?

I’ve seen them walking towards me in the street. I felt like I was going to pass out. I had a few seconds to prepare my reaction and all I could do was wave a hand in a hi gesture whilst willing myself not to cry. NO EYE CONTACT.  DO NOT PANIC.

I breathe in for four, hold my breath for five, then breathe out for six. Repeat until calmer.

Then, one day, I take my house key out of the keyhole, and push open the front door. A large, fat letter on the door mat is preventing the door from opening as smoothly as usual. I notice the envelope has the logo of the company I interviewed with a fortnight ago and in that split-second, I know that everything will be ok.

26. The Law of Diminishing Returns

*Special Valentine’s Day post for everyone who has ever been in love.*

We didn’t talk about it at the time and I don’t want to talk about it now. It’s much too late but also far too soon. Little steps. We’ve only just begun to make eye contact and greet each other. It will be a long time, if ever, before I trust you. I don’t actually want to trust you again. I still cry sometimes. This is the relationship you wanted, remember? Not me. If all we ever say to each other every day forever is “hi” and “bye”, then that’s still two more words than I’d want. And now you want a different future.

For a long time, I couldn’t think of a single thing I ever wanted to say to you that wouldn’t set us back even further. To get to a state of apathy and indifference with dignity and grace; to lose the hate and jealousy. To grieve and heal. To know nothing about you after us, ever again. Yet here you are, like a bad penny; unlikely to leave any time soon. So, we are stuck with each other.

Don’t think you know me, because you don’t. You did know me back then but we are not the same people anymore. That doesn’t mean I have forgotten or that I care. It means that what happened doesn’t define me, and that part of my life is in a bubble of a memory. I don’t want to stain it but I’m not going to do the same things as I did last time and expect a different ending. If the result of giving everything to one person is how I feel now, then I can’t go through that again.

Yes, it is awkward. No, I don’t hate you. I don’t even know who you are and I don’t want to. Why waste the energy? And yes, everything in my life now is “none of your business”. No, I’m not ignoring you “on purpose” and it’s not “all water under the bridge”. You burned that bridge. No, I’m not interested in what you’re doing this weekend, what you watched on TV last night, or what you are having for your tea. I just want to say, “why are you telling me this?” but I don’t want to even say that. It’s your choice to be here, but no you don’t have to “walk on eggshells” around me, and yes, you could “easily fuck it all up again.” Yes, I wish you weren’t here. and yes, I never want to see you again. So yes, I will always be “too busy” to “catch up”. Your opinions are irrelevant to me and I don’t find your jokes funny. I don’t want anything to do with you any more than I have to. The space you once took up in my life has been replaced with other things. I have no room for you, and do not wish to make any. I’ve already written a letter to HR and my Union Rep in case you decide to do anything stupid.

There’s no need to do that puffed-out chest, bravado thing for my benefit because it didn’t work last time. I don’t really care what people say they are going to do, I notice what they actually do. Other people around us won’t even realise that we used to know each other and they don’t need to know our history. They certainly won’t hear it from me. But I will set rumours straight, so don’t go around making up stuff. You knew exactly what you were doing when you did it, and you knew the effect it would have on me. Pretending things happened differently means you still are a liar. The least you could do now is own your own shit. If it bothers you being around me that much, why don’t you just fuck off? Go and work somewhere else. I don’t know how much clearer I can make this. I’m going nowhere. I’ve already moved once to get away from you.

I’m actually a little bit frightened of you and what you might do. I mean, I’m not leaving in case you follow me again. Maybe I should leave softly. A secondment or travelling. Sometimes I can’t sleep. Is this going to end badly? Am I going to be a photograph on the news?