I am still here, in this town that I’ve spent so long trying to leave. I love this city, the city is good to me, but I always thought I’d leave this town as soon as I had the chance.
There was always a reason why I couldn’t leave: I needed to stay close to my dad, I rely on people around here to look after me and help me out if I’m skint or in trouble, I can’t leave this borough otherwise I’ll lose my mental health team and my GP and will have to wait months or years to get some form of care elsewhere.
But my dad’s gone, what’s left of my mental health team here is absolutely useless and I can look after myfuckingself, I don’t need your money, thank you very much. And yet here I am.
I live across the road from my secondary school, known locally as “Whores on the Hill”, known to alumni as “The Worst Thing That Ever Happened To Me”, known personally as “The 10th Circle of Hell.” It was certainly an education, but the wrong kind.
It’s strange now when I’m having a smoke out of the window and I hear the klaxon from the school, the air raid siren telling girls they’ve got 5 minutes to get to class, that lunch is starting, that another day of hell is over.
Living near the school means that I see my old teachers all the time. And when I see my old teachers, I hide. I see them at the cafe up the road, in the pub on a Friday afternoon, having a smoke in the alleyway, walking down to the station, buying a sandwich in Tesco. I hide because I am ashamed. I tell myself I’m ashamed because I made so many of them cry. But really I’m ashamed because I don’t want any of them to discover what has become me.
The version of me that they all know is the girl who is too intelligent, too beautiful, too popular to fail; the girl who was destined to achieve great things; the girl who succeeded despite so many unfortunate circumstances; the girl who was sure to lead a remarkable life. No. They had such high hopes for me, they had so much faith in me. I can’t possibly let them see me now.
Which is why I’m hiding now in this off licence that’s across the road from my old school, a few doors down from my flat. I’m crouching down behind a freezer in the back of the shop, in the far corner where customers rarely venture, next to the tower of dusty toilet paper and tins of dog food that are probably older than me.
It’s about 2 o’clock in the afternoon and I didn’t want to go outside today but I’ve run out of fags. I can see my old Geography teachers buying iced coffee, fruit and yoghurt, stocking up with snacks ahead of tonight’s parent-teacher evening.
I’m wearing pyjamas shorts, the ROGUE George Best t-shirt that I wear when I dye my hair which (out of context) makes it seem like I’ve rolled around on a slaughterhouse floor, army boots with the laces undone, no bra, the gruesome remains of last night’s make-up smudged under my eyes, spots on my chin, a bruised cheek, a cut on my forehead, I’ve lost three of my false nails, haven’t washed my hair for 2 weeks, and my usual hand tremors have been exacerbated by not having had a smoke since 6am, being severely hungover and being terrified about going outside.
Plus, I don’t think I’ve got enough money for the 4 cans of K cider, bag of Doritos, scratchcard and packet of cigs I need, which is always embarrassing but it’s okay because the guy working on the till today always lets me off if I’m a bit shy of the total because he’s been serving me cigs in here for over a decade since I started coming into this shop way back when I started out at the school across the road. I always settle up eventually. He knows these Doritos are essential to my well-being.
So I’m just fucking crouching in the corner because I don’t want my teachers to see me like this and I don’t want to have to explain.
I don’t want to tell them that I don’t live in Paris or New York, that I still live in this godforsaken town
and I don’t want to tell them that my dad is dead, because they will ask about him for sure and I don’t want to tell them that I’m still on a shitload of medication but that I’ve got a diagnosis now which explains all my mad behaviour when I was their pupil and that no, I’m not getting help, not really and I don’t want to tell them that I have nobody left now, that I’ve pushed every single good friend I’ve ever had away from me, so far away from me that I can’t get them back, that I have no real friends anymore, only pub friends, and pub friends aren’t real friends and I don’t want to tell them no, I didn’t have a kid, I just put on weight and I don’t want to tell them that I did miraculously get to have my dream job in book publishing but am now too ill to work with human beings anymore and I don’t want to tell them that I fucked up my fucking degree because of one stupid fucking man who broke my heart so I didn’t get the 1st that I deserved, I got a fucking 2:1 because he destroyed me right before my fucking finals and I was weak, and I was stupid, and I fell apart and fell at the final fucking hurdle of my academic career and I don’t want to tell them that I’m no longer engaged and I live alone with my books and my cacti and my vodka
I don’t want to tell them that I am a failure.