In a Different State

Photographer: Chanel Irvine

CW: mental illness, sexual assault, body image

I sit down on the couch with Sophie. She pours me a glass of wine. I tell her I am worried I fucked things up. She tells me not to worry – he was a first-rate dickhead anyway. Urgh.

“So are you going to see that Andy guy again?”

“Oh, just hoping he’ll fade into the distance, you know. Haven’t actually spoken to him in a couple of days!”

“He’ll come over and you’ll let him in. Probably offer him tea, no doubt about it.” Mentally, I agree; she knows me all too well.

I shift the focus away from myself and ask her about the band she said she was seeing on the weekend. (That’s what my psychologist told me to do. Be less self-absorbed. Come out of your own experience a little.)

I try really hard to pay attention – she’s saying something about the music being too loud – but feel my interest waning, sliding out of reach. If I’m honest with myself (that’s another thing I’m meant to be doing now, being honest with myself), I really just want to be at home ensconced in my $300 doona. I hug a pillow close to me and visualise my bed, toasty and warm: a good place to anguish. I think about going home even though I have just arrived.

Some time passes. When friends ask me how I’ve been I gloss over the facts: “Oh great! Working, studying really hard. It’s great.” Eventually I push my way through the apartment. But just as I am saying goodbye I get a text from another friend asking if I want to go out tonight. There’s a warehouse party out in Philip. I know she wants me to go, partly for the company and partly because I said I’d introduce her to Farnoush, who she’s had her eye on for the past couple of weeks.

Okay. Sure. I agree reluctantly. I think I may as well be of use to somebody tonight (I’m no use to myself, see) so I text her back saying I’ll see her there. The drums, the bass – maybe they’ll soothe me.

It is four hours later and I am alone. Sitting in bed, I’m keenly aware of 4D space. I pass my hand through this space, cupping air. I am very conscious of the distance between my curtains and the edge of my bed, the space in between. Mentally, I pour myself into it. I scoop up more air. My face is tingling. I lean back against my bedhead, engulfed by waves of synthetic joy. It is like running high on anxiety but really I am standing back and watching from afar – it feels fucking awesome.

The room I am looking at seems like a different room altogether now, belonging to another person. My doctor is right – I know she is – and somewhere at the back of my mind I hear her: “Don’t drink alcohol, it’s like drinking sadness! Don’t take any drugs either! Be kind to yourself! Radical acceptance!” But I want to self-destruct so I do it anyway.

I see my phone ping. The message reads, “Where u now? I’m keen to come over.” I text him back, “Come and hang. But probs no sex sorry.” I go downstairs and make myself some toast. He arrives 20 minutes later. I open the door: “Oh hey! Do you want some tea?”

After sex, after he has fallen asleep, I go downstairs, crying into my nightgown. I open the fridge, get two eggs out and start cooking them, fried. Staring down into the pan, they look perfect, the orange bit right at the centre. I feel weirdly satisfied. Then I think about how oh how I’m going to get to work tomorrow, not having slept at all. My whole face feels numb. My eyes are beady. I catch them in the oven door beside the stove and give myself a fright.

Just eat your way to happiness! Take yourself out to dinner!

I’m eating more regularly now.  It got to a point a couple of weeks ago where my skin looked sort of greyish, sallow. Cheeks, sunken. Well, not anymore! I’m back on track. I keep telling myself that. “It’s love for me that’s made you thin” – Ovid’s lines. I think about them. I grab a tissue box and stuff a couple of sheets up against my face, trying to muffle the sound (of my crying). Ten, maybe 15 minutes pass. I’m beginning to feel more rested.

It is morning. His arms are around me. He’s warm, like a grizzly bear. Although he’s hairier than I would like, it’s attractive in a weird way. Kissing me, he says he can’t remember anything because he drank too much last night. I really wish I couldn’t remember anything either. It would be good to not remember anything that has happened in the past year and a half.

I had thought that this part of my youth was over – the casual, no-strings attached kind of sex – but I’m clearly wrong. Here I am at 24, loveless fucking.

An hour later we are both dressed. As he pulls on his left shoe, he asks if I want to get coffee. Okay, cool! My voice is shrill because I have no idea why he wants to get coffee. I agree anyway – he’s better at conversation than he is at sex.

We sit at the window, perched on stools. Picking at my croissant, I look at his face: blonde, brown and red hairs growing along his jaw, lines around his eyes, a soft but kind of pointy nose. A not unattractive face. He reminds me of Sleepy from Snow White – only younger. I offer him half of my croissant. He gobbles it down, then goes inside and gets one for himself because it’s that good. He tears off half of his and puts it on my plate.

Suddenly he is telling me how rape must be pleasurable for women somehow: “Like, there are nerves down there, right?” I am confused by the sudden change of topic. My smile slides off my face, like that time in English class when a guy said Tess in Tess of the d’Urbervilles asked for it. A picture of my fellow classmates floats into view; their faces are shocked but also kind of bemused. My female classmates exchanging knowing looks. Oh dear, should we say something? Haha. This is so uncomfortable. Laugh the laughter of the deranged. I look around, wondering if others too have heard what he’s just said. Obviously no one is fussed – they haven’t heard him – but I’m worried they’ll judge me poorly. “Umm, no, sorry, that’s not how it works,” I say. The words fall flatly with a thud.

We part ways soon after.

Back home, I stare at myself in the mirror. My ‘conversation’ with Andy now has no substance in the stillness of my room. I stretch out, pulling my body in opposite directions from what I think is my centre. My hips are slightly uneven, one leg is slightly shorter than the other. My hair is wavy, kind of messy. My makeup looks perfect, but my cheeks are still sunken. I feel a weird hollowness looking at them. Overall, a scoliotic posture. Sometimes I have this image of grabbing my spine and snapping it out like a whip, just floating in my mind; the spine comes out straight but flexible, cracking into place. Despite this thought, I like my body.

Sighing, I slide my wardrobe mirror door aside (that’s enough vanity for today) so now all I see is my clothes, hanging like corpses from their hangers. I put my green coat on and a pair of woollen gloves and head out. It’s autumn outside. The cold feels fresh against my skin. I feel relaxed (but know this is temporary).

I walk up and down the street and round the block a couple of times. I feel light when I’m doing this. I feel like I’m gliding – frictionless – through the air.