A perfect day

Today was A Perfect Day. A day made for the scenes they role during a film’s credits, after the happy ending unfolds just as we enthusiastically anticipated it would. In my memory this day will be the poster board for summer 2017. A day so crammed full of friends and Fun Activities I had no time to worry about the thousands of things that are hurtling towards me from the future, Huge and Frightening. Today was only a day of perfect things.

We went swimming in the river overlooked by Warwick castle. Puppies came to join us and children laughed as these crazy pale girls edging themselves slowly into filthy, freezing water. We lay in the sun and our skin tingled with the relief of the warmth, while we discussed everything that made us happy, and some things which made us sad. Then came the ice-cream which we ate under huge trees providing much-longed-for shade. Reluctantly we then had to wander home.

For our barbecue later that day we built a fort of multi-coloured scarfs in the garden, peppering the cave with mango-flavoured candles and heart-shaped fairy lights. We drank pimms and ate burgers and more ice-cream inside our kaleidoscope kingdom, sweating thighs against thighs. The boys took charge of the barbecue and, when the sausages wouldn’t brown, they sighed disgustedly when I suggested using the oven instead. We didn’t take each other seriously at all, softly laughing and mocking accents and traits. The mutual affection glimmered in the quiet evening sunlight.  We played games that made us even more idiotic, dancing under the washing line and mimicking celebrities. Eventually we started to pack up without anyone saying we ought to, the evening simply coming to a close with the last dregs of Pimms and a final round of yawning.

I have written this day down now, weaving it into a secure web of words that I can return to when I am far away from these wonderful, wonderful people. My Perfect Day can come along as I trek across the world to Santiago, and start a different life for a year.

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Heat

The British people can’t hack this weather. We’re wandering around dripping sweat but sitting blindly in the unfiltered sunshine because we thing we ought to. Burn lines crop up in unusual formations and we’re looking at each other’s red faces in grim shock. When we stand up our thighs have to consciously unstick themselves from plastic seats and any handshakes or hugs are undertaken at risk of remaining glued to another’s clammy skin. Sweat streaks pattern the girls’ foundation-armoured faces whilst the men have their swollen bellies on proud display. We really look shocking.

I fell asleep with my door wide open so what little breeze there is could find its way to cool my sunburn and added sprinkling of freckles. It’s 6.30am and already 29 degrees. Pieces of the outside filter into in my room and I listen to the world as neighbours argue and put out their recycling (which today solely consists of ice lolly wrappers). We’re all slightly disappointed that, once again, we have to ‘make the most of the beautiful weather’ and are secretly peering into the overly-blue horizons in search of the more characteristic rain clouds. We’re not made for this. We’re tea-drinkers with a ridiculously large stock of hot water bottles and wellies. And so, as ever, the British people complain about the weather.

This one’s important

Things were bad for a while. I had no real reason for things to feel bad. Complaining about being sad seems silly when my postcard-perfect family always have my back, and I’m just finishing my 16th year of education.

But who I am to judge myself? I felt bad, and that’s okay.

I would describe it as my mind becoming infected; a fever of negative thoughts that I couldn’t shake. Nothing was going wrong, but everything about me seemed wrong. I have never been so consumed with self-judgement and self-consciousness as I was this term. Going anywhere – the bus, the library, anywhere – became a chore as everyone around me would be a model on whom to compare my inadequacy. Every girl was prettier and every boy too good for me. Everyone was getting better grades and seemed generally to be coping with life much better that I.

It became this terribly twisted, introspective battle and wherever I looked, I just wasn’t good enough.

A couple of weeks ago I took a step away from myself. Like stepping out of an overcrowded, suffocating box and observing from the outside for a change. The air is much cleaner from out here.

I listening to a lot of Ted Talks and started an inward chant of (oh boy) ‘you’re doing okay’. I started to be kinder to myself, something I feel like we, as a species, are awful at. The thing about self-worth is you think you only deserve it when you’ve reached the level of goodness you want to be at. So, we keep fighting ourselves and criticising ourselves, but it’s terrible difficult to reach your goal with someone shouting ‘lazy’ and ‘fat’ and ‘unkind’ right into the depths of your mind.

Just like playing music through headphones into our ears, our thoughts consume our minds and block out all other noise. They become our world and it tends to be the terrible songs that get stuck and we unwittingly play them on repeat until the sickly and unwanted lyrics have carved themselves onto our brain’s nerve endings.

Don’t stay plugged into these thoughts. They are not you’re world, only a minimalised version of it which has been so cut up and mis-shaped that they don’t resemble who you are, and how other people actually regard you.

Humans tend to love dangerously quickly; our friends, family, significant others, any dog that we might see in the park. We override the terrible qualities of others, make excuses for them, and highlight why we love them, rather than why we shouldn’t. And yet, almost baffling, we do the exact opposite to ourselves.

Every since I turned on myself and demanded more self-respect, things have got better.

 

 

 

 

 

Colouring in

Life is becoming hazy; a whirlwind through which I can barely catch my breath,  let alone pass exams and maintain a semi-acceptable social life. Swirls of to dos list and social expectations are suffocating, twisting me into a hurricane of so many colours I am blinded and cannot keep tabs of even one.

And so I retreat to a safer comfort zone of grey and white, an area I have sketched out and imprisoned myself within. My friends seem to have risen beyond this chaos of colour; the different aspects of their lives have been arranged neatly into boxes so that the neon green doesn’t mix disastrously with the pastel pink, or the psychedelic yellow with the festive red.

I call my mother when things get too much. I call her only to cry and wonder why I feel so dimmed against the dazzling lights of my friends and their rainbow array of accomplishments.

“You’re only 20, love.” Comes her reassurance. “You’ve only just started colouring yourself in.”

My mother; the most multicoloured of anyone. She’s pressed the pencil so hard against her skin that each tone stands out intense and shimmering. A blend of every shade, all disobediently treading outside the lines of conformity and refusing to be shaped by a terrible world.

I examine my half-hearted sprinkle of violet, and bold orange. The pink and maroon sketched along the borders. The green which crawls across my canvas in a vain attempt to be the primary tone. My colours emerge slowly, seeking reassurance before they do so, terribly afraid of clashing against those of others.

Let them clash.

 

Happy happy happy

I am the one of the most outwardly happy people I know. I beam at the man behind the grocery counter and laugh when I trip myself up on the stairs. Sometimes I can’t sleep simply from the sheer excitement of getting up for the next day.

I know, it’s sickening, isn’t it?

This is how people describe me: Happy. It is how they talk about, how they identify me, how they know me. This, however, worries me. I question that my entire personality has been reduced to an emotion. I am without depth, and so I push my self-doubt deeper.

It concerns me that my over-the-top joy could be a slap in the face for those whose minds are weighed down by mental illness. An insult to the lives that are destroyed by famine, and racism, and wars, and all the other terrible things that seem to categorise our world today. My too-wide smile and overly-loud laugh a disgusting display of my privilege and good fortune.  I should be more solemn, in respectful mourning for other people’s sadness.

Yesterday, my friend – recently diagnosed with depression – sent me a message to ask that we study together in the library. His explanation was simple: “You’re a really bubbly, happy person – I need that.”

I never considered that my being happy could positively affect the people I love. My joy isn’t a selfish excess all for my own, but rather an abundance that can be stripped off and handed around.

My friend smiles when he sees me, and I beam back twice as bright. For all the moments he spends sad and feeling alone, I will make sure to suffocate him with optimism, until he is left over-dosed and nauseated from enthusiasm.

 

Welcome to Term 3

The pressure mounts. Buses are full by 8am and we pile off in hoards, heading straight to the library where we will compete for a seat (preferably with a socket) and breath in the stale, repetitive air of stress and tension.

We rush in through the automatic doors (no one thinks to use the manual one – what the fuck is a handle, anyway?) and strategically sum up whether it would be quicker to take the lift or rush (in a non-obvious and elegant way, of course) up the stairs.

I am a stairs person, committing myself solidly to the extra 2 years of life I’ve been promised by some scientist whose first theory idea probably failed. I ignore the café (the queue is far too long to even consider tackling before my backpack has safely been placed onto a desk) and head on my way.

The first floor is quite clearly for first years to trawl through the foreign newspapers and pretend they’re working. It is full of the sweet, but nauseating, babble of The Fresh who still dream of getting a first. I ignore this parallel universe and head to floor 2.

Floor 2 is the Loud Floor. Here, when people see each other, they act as though they’ve been reunited for the first time in years. The same dull conversation circulates every group of friends:

“So, how’s revision going?”

“Oh, you know, really shit.” They both laugh hysterically and continue to not revise.

There’s always that one girl on floor 2 (I call her the Loud Bitch) who doesn’t come to study. In fact, the library is where she obtains more rungs for her social ladder. She saunters around the floor, making her hourly rounds, and we are all forced to listen to the latest accounts of her thrilling life.

I move onto floor 3. This is where shit gets real. It’s quiet here and library monitors stroll ominously between the bookshelves, clipboard in hand and their expressions a confused mixture of power, futility and boredom.

This floor is full, mainly thanks to those immoral beings who ask friends to save a seat for them. They rock up three hours later, fresh-faced and beaming because they didn’t have to wake up at 7 like the rest of us. These people are my worst.

Consequently, I know the time has come to take my search more seriously – this means heading straight to Floor 5.

Floor 5 is where the lawyers and economists live. Occasionally one might find a Humanities student there, but he or she will look lost and a little bit frightened. Students set up camp on Floor 5; they come earlier than any of us, weighed down with enough food to get them through the day, and leave when the rest of us are most likely in bed. The silence is oppressive here, I even take off my bangles because I’m scared of the noise they make. I know I will never dare to open my packet of crips on this floor.

Nonetheless, at least I find a seat. It glows invitingly and I head straight towards it without bothering to find a nicer seat, maybe by a window – you can’t be fussy in Term 3. I heave my backpack onto the desk and sigh a loud, long sigh of triumph. The Floor 5 gremlins glare at me, emphasising the magenta circles under their hollow, lifeless eyes.

And thus the general atmosphere or Term 3 has begun.

Pieces of a life

The wall above my bed is so covered with photographs there is not an inch of the original cream to be seen. I have photos from when I was 3 up until now; 20 years old and still rocking a baby face.

When I go abroad next year, these photos will come with me. I will pack them into that gift bag, which has split dramatically down one side, and they will take up far too much space in my suitcase. I will pin them onto the wall of some tiny bedroom wall on the outskirts of Santiago, and consult this wall when I feel lonely and friendless.

Sometimes, in moments of exasperation and exhaustion, I flop onto my bed and look gloomily at the dozens of smiling faces which grin at me, all of them stuck in an eternally perfect moment.

In the right-hand corner there are photos from that week spent in Barcelona, the time I was reunited with my school friends after a year of being apart. The lingering affection for an old roommate is evident as I encompass her into a too-familiar hug and we eat ice-cream whilst wondering how university made us fat. These progress into my uni friends; nights out and days wasted away in the kitchen eating pretty-much-anything. The people who I grew to love and learnt to express it through drunken words at 3am in the kebab shop. I can visibly track my face’s evolution as it gains too many piercings and I die my hair too-dark; a vain attempt to rid myself of the innocent chubby cheeks and ginger locks. That little girl is there too, staring wide-eyed and crossly between the larger figures of her brother and sister. They probably pinched me and now I am about to cry. They’ve grown up as well; graduation celebrations erupt on one side of the wall and it’s hard to distinguish my skinny ten-year-old brother dressed in a pirate disguise from the tall, confident man who dons a graduation cape and towers above his mother. The gigantic grin which has always taken up half his face gives the game away.

I have carefully created a line of my Favourite People, placed strategically just above my bed so they can be as close to me as possible. My Best Friend is perpetually laughing, reminding me that I take everything too seriously. My sister is suffocating me in an overprotective hug, shielding me – like always – from everything I hate about myself. My parents, younger then, smile at me too. As ever, they look magically content in each other’s company. There are more friends there, and cousins, and me too. Moments that are frozen in a picture, the people we once were stuck in places we once belonged to.

When I take the photos down the Blue tack which I was specifically instructed not to use will leave pale stains to remind the next resident that I existed here. As I leave another home, my lifetime collection of fragments of people and pieces of identity will follow diligently behind.

Whole

There was a moment when I was single. It was a happy single. A complain-about-being-single-with-my-other-single-friends single. A I-can-kiss-whoever-I-want single. A boys-suck-and-who-really-needs-them single. We were all in it together.

It happened suddenly. As though an epidemic of mutual attraction and PDA swept through my friends, striking every one of them except an (un?)lucky few. They dropped like flies, and over Easter I lost a multitude of single friends and gained a hefty status as the Third Wheel.

Suddenly I’m eyeing boys up left, right and centre. Where is my one? Surely there’s some left? As though they are a crate of oranges, but the only one left are either covered in other people’s fingerprints, or simply a little bit rotten.

I try and bat my eyelashes appealing and speak more slowly and seductively, rather than my usual non-sensical rambling and wide-eyed, innocent gaze. Eyelashes get stuck in my eyes and my slow speech inevitably becomes high-pitched and over-excited.

And so perhaps this shall remain my status: Single. A capital ‘S’, if you please. I’ll wear it on my chest like the Scarlett Letter, and allow everyone to gaze at me in pity and mild displeasure. They will try and set me up on blind dates when they grow weary of my Third Wheel presence, turning their handsome bike into the less appealing (but always amusing) tricycle. They’ll go on double dates from which I will be omitted because I lack the necessary accessory.

I joke about this, but it makes me anxious. I ask terrible questions: “What’s wrong with me?” “Are my ears really that bad?” “Do I smell?”

And then it hits me, the reality of my situation: I can’t have a boyfriend. I don’t want one. My life is too full, it’s too whole. I have so many aspects to focus on, but not enough attention to concentrate on just one person. I have goals – enormous one – and I know that, being me, I would get too caught up with a boy. I am over-emotional, over-expressive, over-excited, over-loving. I come in excess, or not at all.

Right now – at 20 – I cannot love my friends as much as I do, and be as excited and passionate abut everything as I am, and rightly expect a boy to fit in. He would have to squeeze, crammed into the cracks of my mind, or take over, and occupy far too much space in an already over-crowded heart.

I eagerly get my friends to recount stories of first dates and special moments. They delight in my audience.

They still need me, everything is fine.

 

 

My social media self

I am not always happy. I often spend time alone in my room; avoiding other people has become a skill. I look terrible when I wake up. When I sit down my belly bulges over the top of my jeans, in perfect unison with my thighs spreading splendidly across the seat. I do not always enjoy parties; smiles can disguise anything. I spend many Friday evenings watching TV.

Of course, none of this comes across on my Instagram, or Facebook. My filtered life exhibits itself neatly via pretty photos and witty comments. 100 likes from 94 people I barely talk to. Why does Mark from Spanish speaking like my profile picture when he ignores me in real life? More baffelingly, why did I like Mark’s profile picture when I ignore him in real life?

And so my social media self conquers in its quest for popularity and prettiness, while I lie curled up in bed with a book at 9pm, already wearing my retainer.

However, as much as I know that my own online prescense is a lie – big and fat and wonderfully believable – I continue to be seduced and degraded by that of everyone else. How the hell does Jemima look so skinny? How can Stephen be at a social event again? Why is everyone else’s life so golden and gleaming and glorious?

We’ve created virtual versions of ourselves; constructed from moments when our hair was perfect and our worries were few. The highlights are stitched together; a quilt to blanket all the sad days, the stress, the cellulite. Imperfection is a beauty social media has failed to display.

 

 

 

 

Little girls dream big

I was waiting for the bus with my music jammed into my ears, ready to be antisocial and bored like all over public transport voyagers.

“Are you going on holiday?” The lady waiting beside me asked, interestedly.

I tugged my headphones out of my ears, startled.

“Oh, erm, yes! I’m going home.”

“How lovely! And where do you live?”

And so we chatted as we waited, Foo Fighters still blaring inside my pocket, furious at being ignored for Human Interaction.

The lady introduced me to her mother who stood next to her. She had a thick Italian accent and I discovered had moved here with her husband and kids many years ago. I asked them about Italy and their eyes glazed over nostalgically as they told me about the wonderful food and the fabulous family life and the warmth.

They asked me what I wanted to do after I’d finished studying. I mumbled something about journalism and something about not being sure.

“These girls, always with their big dreams.” The mother said, as she shook her head and looked crossly out at the world, as if blaming it for what she was going to say next; words which almost winded me.

“They never reach them.”

It took me a moment to recover but eventually I managed a little laugh in response. It turns out her granddaughter had got unexpectedly pregnant and had had to put her life on hold. Nonetheless, you never expect someone to be so brutal about your future. She basically stripped me down to the very essence of what I am: an idealistic student, with too big dreams and too big a capacity to waste time on Instagram.

This terrible comment, so viciously sharp and tragically true, may have had more effect on me than any word of encouragement or blank recital of “You can do whatever you set your mind to.” These words are so often repeated, you begin to take them for granted and they stop meaning anything.

However, get an old lady on the side of the road tell you that you’ll never achieve what you hope to achieve, that triggers a spark of indignation that is difficult to extinguish.

I think they liked me. As we approached the station they made me double-check I had my passport and ticket and the old lady eventually beamed at me, delighted in my hopelessness of not knowing where to get off for the station.

And, as much as I liked them too, I will work tirelessly to prove them wrong.