Smile Like You Mean It

Some monsters don’t lurk under your bed; they lay right beside you in it.

I’ll be honest with you, I wasn’t the coolest kid growing up. I’ve never had a ‘squad’ and I’ve always been more geek life than thug life. While everyone wore their Take That and Party t-shirts I was writing to my East 17 K9 pen pal #RestUponMyChest.

When it came to the age of sexual maturity I was left behind in the wilderness as my friends coupled off.

I’d been called so many names during school I figured if I could at least get laid, that would be one less insult. I was eternally the last kid picked for rounders and the same applied to my forays into the world of dating. I was convinced in the great factory of humanity I was botched somewhere along the conveyer belt, like those miss-shaped biscuits you can buy in bulk much cheaper than the ‘perfect’ ones.

I reasoned if I could acquire someone’s love, then it would prove to the world I was whole; it never occurred to me that likewise, someone had to earn my heart.

I spent so long believing the worst of myself, carrying around the weight of my misconceptions, all I managed to attract was someone who would confirm them.

There was no warning sign that he was a wrong ’un, as they say. More a subtle shift in behaviours after we moved in together. An unspoken understanding not to question.

When I look back, it isn’t with anger, it’s shame mostly, at myself. I don’t see him anymore, but I feel him, my body remembers. Even now after so many years, my body time travels, stealing itself at the memory of its first violation, unseen hands clawing at my skin.

At the time I put my face on and went to work. I had bills to pay and smiles to fake. Inside I felt myself shrinking away from the world, little by little I could feel pieces of myself disappearing until all that would remain was the tired carcass I struggled to carry.

I stopped measuring time in the same way as I had previously, it made me nauseous to think too far forward. Birthdays and special occasions blurred into insignificance, a form filling attendance exercise so as not to raise alarm.

Jack Nicholson is right, some people just can’t handle the truth. At the time I couldn’t. I endured and hid my hurt, weighted it with metaphysical stones and prayed it would never surface.

I developed nocturnal habits in my struggle to sleep. Often at long past the midnight hour I’d sit with a generous serving of Bacardi and just gaze at the stars, willing them to take me away. For the purposes of the Electoral Roll I was recorded as living but for so long I felt bereft, grieving for the ‘me’ that I’d lost. I was a husk, a relic.

I’d been stock piling Ibuprofen behind the bath panel for some time, a silent partner in my escape. I shampooed my hair and laid back for a few minutes to let the conditioner soak in. I remember the little silk stocking cobweb in the corner of the window and the condensation against the glass. Whispers of steam gently caressed my face, then I closed my eyes and cried. My hurt had finally found me. It was as though I were waking from a deep slumber, my heart had been hibernating.

I missed living. I missed seeing the world in colour and I realised something, that if I could endure what I had, then I could take the undoing of it. Could witness its erosion from my life.

I’ve always been a panic packer. Even with food shopping, I begin grouping the frozen together and the tins etc., but then get flustered and it all goes to hell in a handbasket. Well you have never seen the grand total of a human being’s worth so casually dismissed into bin liners as I ransacked that house on the day I left.

Motorways have never struck me as emotionally stimulating, but that night, those miles of smooth tarmac in front of me were like outstretched arms welcoming me back into the world.

Whilst I’ve happily sub-let my womb on a 9 month lease a few times, my body is just that, mine. I’m the freeholder. I retain the deeds.

Control is an illusion crafted through careful manipulation and hurt. No one can truly own your body, your mind, your heart. Only you can gift those things and whilst we might handover keys, a lover is merely a caretaker, and if they aren’t taking care, it’s time to take off.