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Coming of Age Drama Sad

“We’re selling.”

Okay… no big deal. I had to find a new place to live. Maybe. Nothing was for sure, but it was fine.

Oh, no, it was not fine! Not at all. I felt sick to my stomach the entire night. I wanted to curl up and scream. I wanted to put my hands over my ears and scream and shout and bawl and cry. I wanted to carve up my face and be truly miserable. I wanted to throw myself from the battlements, hurl myself from on high… I looked at the tiny packet of pills on the side. One more left. One more, and Rosie had told me that I’d know when I had to use the last one. I’d imagined some crazy breakdown, not the news that my apartment was being sold. But, emotional trauma is a strange thing, and so there I was. I picked up my phone and dialled a number.

“Don’t pick up… don’t pick up…” The answering machine of my therapist picked up. I sagged with relief at the beep. “Hi, Rosie, it… it’s me… I’m gonna take the last pill. I know you said not to, but I have to. I think it’s time… I’ll record everything, and I’ll bring it to you next week… but I really need to face this one. I’m ready. Anyway… sorry – bye.” I pulled up an app on my phone and accessed it with the codes Rosie had given me for emergencies. An app that would record my brain activity from a tiny sensor in an airpod-type earbud. Beta tech.

I pulled the pill from the packet, fearing I’d vomit before it took effect. A tiny pill, a little nugget of trial drug that had helped me face some of the most horrific shit I ever thought I’d have to face. I put it on my tongue and closed my eyes. Tasteless, and it came with anti-nausea… so even if I was desperately panicking and vomiting, it would stay down. I swallowed.

And there. She. Was.

Small me. Crying silently in the corner. Her face was bloody from the spots she’d picked so badly. Her arms were scratched raw… and her little chest heaved with the agony of not being able to let those screams out. It broke my heart, seeing her like that… but seeing her like that explained why I wanted to do everything like that to myself.

“Hey, bug.”

“G-go away.”

“Absolutely not.” I sat on the sofa in her eyeline, but she wouldn’t look at me. Only that little side-eye that was so fearful. “Come on. Tell me why you’re so upset.”

“I’m n-not upset.”

“Want to try and hide it from me? I’m you, kiddo. And you’re upset.”

“I’M NOT UPSET!” she roared, kicking out at me even though there was six feet between us. “I’M NOT UPSET! I’M FINE! JUST GO AWAY AND LEAVE ME ALONE!”

“Anything else?”

“YOU’RE SO STUPID! YOU’RE SO AWFUL! EVERYONE WANTS TO LEAVE ME!” her little chest heaved more, and she stuck her fingers into her mouth, trembling, trying to silence herself. It only made her throw up. I clutched my own stomach. I stood up and fetched her a damp towel, a dry towel, a glass of water, and a blanket.

“Come on, bug.” I held my arms out to her. She stood, crying fully, now. Those sobs needed to come out. “Come on. There we go. Come on, let’s get that top off you.” She lifted her arms up and let me take her shirt off. It was sticky with sweat and tears, and a little bit of sick. She stood there miserably, her little soft rolls of fat jiggling a little with each sob. Rolls I’d learned to hate. Rolls I’d unlearned to hate. I made her drink some of the water, and then made her take her equally-gross jeans off, wrapping the blanket around her. With the warm towel, I wiped her face, clearing off the snot and the tears, the crusty bits of salt, and took care of the blood too. She winced, but didn’t move away. It felt good. It felt nice. When she was clean, I dried her off with the soft, dry towel, smiling warmly at her.

Putting her in one of my shirts (which absolutely swamped her, despite only being a medium), I sat her on the sofa and gave her my favourite stuffed bear, a huge thing I’d knitted called Ragnar. She cuddled it, sniffing as she sat on the sofa, again not making eye contact. I knew I only had a short amount of time before the pill wore off. Three hours, usually. But there, in the deepest recesses of my mind, time moved at a quarter of the speed. So, I had a full twelve hours of ‘reality’ to handle Small Me and work her out.

Enough time, then, to order us both a huge feast. Big Macs from McDonalds, with chicken nuggets, and endless barbecue sauce packets. A huge Domino’s pizza, Mighty Meaty, with chicken strippers and endless sweet chilli dip packets. A jacket potato with cheese and beans and fries, for her, with cheesy garlic bread pizza. Litres of Dr Pepper. All the good stuff. As I laid it all out for us, she watched me. There was once a time when she’d demanded that we eat a cheese salad because she needed to lose weight, but those thoughts didn’t even occur to her now. That demon had been slain, and she didn’t try to physically cut the fat from herself anymore.

I handed her a plate, and a knife and fork, and a little piece of kitchen roll, watching as her beautiful blue eyes roamed over the feast in front of her. She selected a piece of pizza, chicken strippers, and a few nuggets. I did the same, remembering fondly my favourite Chinese takeout dish – sweet and sour Cantonese-style chicken balls with rice and chips. And… a knock at the door, a sweet old Chinese man was stood there with our food in a bag, and a bag of free prawn crackers.

“Oh! You got sweet and sour chicken too?!” Her eyes lit up.

“Course I did! It’s our favourite, isn’t it?”

“Yay!” she clapped her pudgy little hands and grinned.

We ate. Oh, how we ate. We ate until we were so full, we couldn’t move. And then we carried on eating. And then… halfway through the pizza, she started crying again.

“What’s wrong, bug? Tell me.”

“I’m FINE!” she stormed, putting the pizza down. “I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Is it because we might have to move?”

The tantrum that followed made the Tsar Bomba’s fallout look like a birthday cake candle. But I let her have it, eating more pizza that just didn’t seem to run out. She kicked, she screamed, she cried. When she was good, she looked at me, and curled away. I put my hand on her back.

“So it is because we might have to move.” A little nod. I almost missed it. “And that makes you feel angry?”

“I don’t want to move!” she cried, turning back. As soon as she saw that I wasn’t about to attack her for her feelings, she let them flow. “I don’t want to move! I don’t want to leave my room! Or throw my things away! Or have a new baby brother! Or – or go to a new school! I’m scared! I want to stay here, where it’s safe, and where I know it! And I don’t want to leave Robin! Or Desmond!” She spoke about my old schoolfriend, whose parents had split and his dad had been given the house up the street from me. Desmond had been my old elderly neighbour, too. A sweet man with endless patience for me… I felt my heart melt. I understood where she was stuck. Why she was stuck.

I understood what she needed.

“Bug… you’re afraid. You’re scared. It’s all so new! And you have no-one. Dad’s left and chose that other family, and mum’s got this new man who’s here to stay even though we don’t like him because he shouts and he’s mean… and then there’s the baby… it’s all new and scary, isn’t it?” She turned to me fully, nodding. “And there’s no-one asking if you’re okay. No-one asking what you want.” A head-shake. “Well… moving is scary. It’s new, and it’s… well, it’s strange, at first. You get a new room, and a new garden, and maybe the neighbours might not be like Desmond or Bill… but maybe they might be as nice?” I wiped her tears away with my thumb and made her blow her nose on the kitchen roll she obviously hadn’t used. “But do you know what’s new about this time around?”

“What?” she asked. Her voice was a tiny croak. It broke my heart.

“This time… this time, it’s not scary. It’s exciting! We’ll get a nice, shiny new apartment somewhere really pretty, and maybe there’ll be two bedrooms! And a nice bathtub? And all the room to move and dance and sing!” I grinned at her. “And this time, we have so many friends helping us, too. You know Maria and Vanessa? And then Kat, Emilia, Hedwig, Judith? And Cynthia and Lia? Fred?” she nodded again. “This time we have the choice to go somewhere really, really nice. I want to move, love. But we’re okay. We’re safe. And we are absolutely not alone.” I kissed her forehead.

“But what if the new place has noisy bad neighbours?!”

“Well… then maybe I’ll make friends with them instead of being angry about it. Maybe we can have an agreement. Maybe they won’t be noisy! But we can’t tell the future, can we?” She shook her head. “See? So, it can either be super, super scary… or it can be super, super exciting! But this time, we are in control of it.” I took her small hand. “Together. Okay?”

“Promise?”

“I promise. We’re going to be completely fine, bug. Completely fine. And if we’re not… well, we’ve got enough people to help us be not okay for a while.” She nodded again. I wiped her face again, smiling. “Now, come and eat your pizza, and we’ll watch The Chamber of Secrets, alright?”

“Can we pause the bits with Draco in them?!”

“We can rewind them if you want. Watch them over and over?”

“YES!”

I watched her, but she didn’t disappear. She was supposed to disappear. I watched her avidly… and the tiny shake of her hand as she ate her pizza gave it away. There was still more. I should have known this last one would need more than a single session on a single pill. The Chamber of Secrets played on TV, and I put my arm around her. She stiffened.

“You don’t want a cuddle, bug?” she looked up at me warily, unsure. I smiled warmly. “Come here.” She nestled down after a second. “What else is eating you?”

“I’m still scared,” she said quietly. “What if we end up on the streets?”

“We won’t, sweetheart.”

“But what happens if we can’t find a place to live? In time?”

“Well… I’ve this amazing friend called Wallis who has three bedrooms in her house. I’ll find a storage space for my stuff and I’ll live with her for a bit.”

“And… and what if we don’t have enough money?”

“We will. There are loads of places that are the same price as this place.” She looked at her pizza thoughtfully.

“What if it is haunted?”

“Then we get to have a fun ghost friend, don’t we?” I chuckled.

“What if… what if we’re not happy?”

There it was.

That little, softly-asked question hit me like a solid punch in the gut. It made my breath catch in my throat. I coughed. A scared little girl trying to find her way and be happy. A scared little bug just wanting happiness… A scared little girl so lost and confused and afraid that this would never end.

“Bug. Can I tell you something?” She nodded. I sat facing her, taking her tiny, pudgy little hands in mine. A few scars from old picked spots were raised… a contrast to the pale white they’d turned on my own skin. “We are so happy! We get to be the happiest people on the planet!” I kept my voice a whisper, as though I was telling her the best secret. “It is difficult, sometimes. And people will be mean to us… and there will be a point when you don’t think it’ll ever get better. But it does. Oh, how it does!

“We move to university, and the world opens up a little. We have freedom, and we succeed. We get a job, we get to be on a really cool sports team, and we make friends – Katy, Georgia, Jackie, Christie… they’ll adore you, even though you’ll struggle with yourself. Kate will hurt you so deeply, but you’ll eventually see your own worth. You’ll be a great rower, and you make the front of the boat – the stroke seat! And you love it. But you won’t see how amazing your body is. And people will get angry with you for it, but you won’t be ready to learn that lesson yet.

“We move out to Belgium. Belgium! A beautiful country, in a beautiful city, with beautiful culture and language… and we start to heal, love. We start to grow. We come out of our shell. We join a knitting group, and we start running. Kate is still there, but because other people treat us so nicely, we start to realise how mean other people are… and we stop listening to them.”

“To bullies?”

“Yep. We listen to nice people. To Annette, and Ellen, and Aviva. We start to listen to those people. We spend so much time with Maria and Vanessa, who become our mamas away from home – and they adore us. So much! There will be one more group who will test us, and we’ll be so deeply hurt by them, too… but then, we start therapy. And we start healing. And your pain, darling, your pain will be eased. Your pain will be better. Your coping mechanisms won’t be needed anymore, and you’ll be able to let go and be happy.” I stroked the tears that fell from her cheeks. She nodded, smiling at me. “But it gets better than that. We get faster at running. We get stronger, fitter, leaner. We get a personal trainer who has so much faith in us to go the distance – he’s called Wayne, and he’s amazing. And then, we learn how to write movies!”

“MOVIES?!” her little eyes lit up.

“Mhm! Movies! And it’s amazing! We meet Ahmed! And we meet Wallis properly. We start boxing. And we get a whole new friend group – Kat, and Emilia, and Hedwig and Judith. And they’re the nicest, sweetest people you could ever hope to meet! They don’t guilt trip us for our panic attacks, they don’t hate us for our goals… they’re loving and supportive and there no matter what. We start boxing, too. You remember those kickboxing lessons?” A little nod, excitement radiating from her. “We get to do that three times per week if we want to!”

“Wow…”

“And… and we get to love. We get to love and love and love. So sure, we might have to leave this home… but we are not alone, sweetheart. We’re surrounded by beautiful people who adore us. Because we’re worthy of that.” I kissed her forehead. “But now, sweetheart, you can let go. You can let go and be free.”

“I… are you sure?” she asked. But this time, she’d aged. She was teenage me. I nodded.

“You can let go and be free.”

“I… I’m…”

“I promise you. We’re so happy. I’m so happy. Everything you did was worth it… because I’m happy.”

“I’m happy…” she repeated. And there I was. Me. Smiling back at me. Smiling at me, glowing, radiant… a mirror.

I blinked a few times, and I was slumped against the wall. My face was wet, but I was grinning like an idiot. And I felt like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders, from my chest. From me. Sure, things would get harder. Things would be uncomfortable. But I’d been in far worse situations with far fewer people, and I’d almost died because of it… everything was different now.

My phone rang, and I jumped. Rosie’s number.

“Hello?”

“You’re out of it already?”

“Yeah…”

“Good. Because I think you’ve just crossed the finish line. Well done. How was it?”

“Difficult… the hardest one so far… but… but I’m okay. I’m good.”

And this time… this time, I really meant it. 

March 16, 2023 12:54

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