I was led up a wooden spiral staircase. As I climbed the steps, my mother’s shoes kept slipping off the back of my heels. I could hardly walk straight. I was annoyed; it was the perfect outfit that was formal yet still reflective of my personality, and I couldn’t walk in the shoes. I couldn’t walk in the feet that defined my being. The woman ahead of me was friendly as she chattered in her ascent, yet, as she was well aware, there was no net big enough to catch those butterflies that swarmed in their thousands in the pit of my stomach.
‘Could you sign here for me please?’ Shaking fingers grasped a pen and signed the top of the bold line. Slowly. Each curl around a ‘J’ and a ‘p’ counted a second that was in true thought. The final full stop. “I believe that everything else is in order… if you could come down this way, please, Mr. Pullar, and the Doctor will be ready to see you shortly.”
White shoes squeaking down a white corridor. On either side, white locked doors. Occasional thumps, moans, laughter, elude from behind them. But they remain shut, and we are led on through, down to the bottom of the corridor, where one door lies ajar.
At the top of the spiral staircase, in a folded alcove, was a heavy oak door encased in stone arms. A tiny arched window was beside it, the diamond panes looking out onto a small quad of grass, an icy walkway and an ancient looking building. The woman led me into a cosy, simple looking room, and sat me down at an oak table in the middle. There was another man with long hair tied back in dreadlocks standing by the door, and as I passed him, we maintained eye contact for a short moment. The same look passed between us; one of competitiveness, yet encouragement. We were on the same life-boat, but one of us had to jump off, and neither of us were willing. At the table was a piece of paper, a paragraph. ‘You have 10 minutes, and I’ll come back in for you when they’re ready.’
He pushed open the door, and the bodyguards that had flanked his either side had dispersed. A white room, with one window, firmly shut over. There was a white bed at the far side, pushed back against the wall. Behind the headboard was a small box on a table, and a nurse stood beside it.
‘Alright, Jonathan, you know the procedure. If you could just take off all metallic items and pass them to the nurse, we can get started. There’s no need to look like that, Son, it’ll be over in less than 10 minutes. That’s a boy.’
The fateful knock. ‘They’re ready to see you Carla. Ok to go?’ I walked forward, clutching onto the heavily annotated sheet in sweaty hands. One foot in front of the other. Heels slipping out. ‘You have just as much right as everyone else to be here. They chose you, and you’re just as smart as everyone else that’s been in this room before you. We’re all at the same level until now.’
A metal bit; chewing the cud, a horse in a race.
Climbing up onto the crackling white sheet. The temples clipped in.
Sounds of electricity lines, a pylon, police cars heading down a road at breakneck pace.
What was it Plath called it?
What was it he was here for? What was his name? Why was he unhappy again?
The hook loops and doesn’t latch, the lights grow stronger, the crackling lulling him to sleep.
Slumber amidst an ocean, upon a wave.
He cannot fish. It does not latch.
15 minutes. 5 questions.
Red lace trousers. Blonde sprayed hair. Hollowed eyes in sunken cheeks.
Woolf. It was Woolf.
Suicide. Stones in pocket.
Clarification of answer. Can’t understand the accent. Slow down.
The shoes slip off as I stand up to leave.
A handshake – unexpected, but necessary; one should always treat their assessors with respect.
The oak door falls loudly behind me; a downward spiral staircase I descend alone.
He is woken.
Off the bed.
Like a drug: peace, in a mind shrouded in white.
He has become the walls around him.
He leaves the corridor.
He picks up his belongings.
He opens the text.
‘It went ok.’
A reply. ‘I’m so proud of you. You’ll have done brilliant.’
I’m sitting on a train. It’s not the usual Scotrail number either, with the junkies and the itchy seats and the plugs that don’t work (if you’re lucky, that is.) No. This number is a plush number: real china cups, metal cutlery, little soft lights above all the windows that made the carriage glow as it fired through city after city. As I sat on the softly muted capsule on the way back from Oxford, clutching Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, I basked in what were to be my last few hours of my first experience of true freedom and independence. I had just ventured down South myself – an excited 5’3 bag of nerves; I braved two missed connection trains, my first rush hour London travel experience, and an interview that would determine the fate of my future. I was exhausted and excited and nervous all in one.
Looking back, I relish in the details of the memory of that train journey. The cutlery. The carpets. The soft lights, the silver teapots, the wise old man. Details that were lost on me in the moment.
I think what I loved so much about the soft lighting was the fact that I spent the whole journey in floods of tears, and the lights hid that better than my hair. I used the free wifi to define the term ‘ECT’; something I had never heard of before. If you haven’t either, you can read what I did on that train journey:
“Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), formerly known as electroshock, is a standard psychiatric treatment in which seizures are electrically induced in patients to provide relief from psychiatric illnesses. ECT is usually used as a last line of intervention for major depressive disorder, schizophrenia, mania and catatonia. A usual course of ECT involves multiple administrations, typically given two or three times per week until the patient is no longer depressed.”
This was the weekend that Jonathan, unbeknownst to me, had received – for his 8th time – Electroconvulsive therapy.
I bet you didn’t bargain on that, did you? No. Neither did I. I’ll skip forward to three weeks after my birthday, with those two necklaces fighting around my neck.
What do you do when you know that someone is lying to you, but you know that you’d rather hear anything other than the truth? When God send those Ten Commandments, I bet he didn’t anticipate this dilemma. Sometimes lies are much, much better than the reality they spring from.
The cracks were beginning to show, and we both knew it. In order to cement them up, Jonathan and I filled them with his mental health issues, the stickiest type of grout. The pictures, that I so painstakingly revisited tonight (the reason for the lateness of this post) tell the story of a whole new kettle of fish (pardon the pun) I see edges of cliffs. Waves. Bloody tissues and basins full of red water. Are you not following? I wish I hadn’t either. I wish someone could have offered me the clarification you all, my readers, will be receiving…in next week’s post.