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Painkillers

Created on April 22, 2013, 10:10 p.m.

I swear I rescued her sandal from the pond. She would never admit it. She said I was too drunk to remember.

The morning after I'd had one of my first, and worst, hangovers. I remember sitting under the bus shelter in the blistering heat. I was sat surrounded by camping bags, deep in the valley. I had volunteered to watch the bags alone while the others sat in the bus station. My belief at the time was one of karma - that eventually this selfless act would be rewarded by the universe in some twist of events. I should have wished for my hangover to go away.

We were sixteen and on a camping trip by the beach. Some other kids had left us their crate of wine. A couple of us had drunk most of it in that sand dune crater, bits of charcoal and glass littering the sand. We got pretty drunk, splashing the wine on the sand.

She was pretty drunk too - we kissed. She was sitting on my lap and swinging her feet over the pond. I tried to kiss her again but she didn't want to. She told me to stop, shifted her weight, and swept her feet across the surface. I saw her sandal roll off over her long thin feet and into the water. As it was falling I reached in and pulled it out from under the water. I slipped it back onto her foot. She didn't notice a thing. Or so I remembered. Shortly after that we were separated. She was upset that I had tried to kiss her, that I had kissed her.

Not just my hangover was painful that next morning. The group had tightened support around her. The cold shoulder received was a refreshing contrast to my dry mouth and the penetrating sunshine. No one wanted to hear how I'd rescued her sandle. Sitting amongst the bags I was acutely aware of all my other flaws. I was sweaty, awkward, and I wasn't popular. I had to get it together. I had to work - for what I had done wrong.

Formally I blamed the wine. It was in the dark evening sky, the cold vast sea, the pond that sandal dropped into. I remember peeking into that thick black liquid, fishing around for the sandal. I couldn't see it, I could only feel it. Everything had been a reflective inky black, moving in slow motion.

Before that it was so different. Standing on the cliffs at the coast. It was windy and cold. The sun was going down. I watched the tufts of grass and the small flowers rocking in the wind. My thoughts were toward the future. What grown man would I be in five years? Would I stand on these cliffs again? Who would I be in love with? I thought I knew the person's character, but I wasn't clear on the specifics.

 

Surprisingly I wasn't too far off. Fast forward I was standing on a different set of cliffs near Newcastle. But I was with the same girl, and the same sandals. By some chance she had ended up going to the same University as me. We'd lost contact during sixth form, and had been in separate halls in the first year, but became close friends in the second year. We dated for a while. I didn't have much experience in that. We went mainly on dinner dates. I don't think we had a lot to talk about, but we certainly had a lot to say to each other.

For some reason she had mentioned her diary. It had stuck in my head. I had kept a diary too, until a similar time. When I asked her how she felt about it she laughed in embarrassment. She was glad of what she had become now. She said she could barely relate to the person in her diary. She had changed since then.

My diary I had destroyed. Not because I was ashamed of it. One thing was true. The person who wrote my diary was a gossip - petty, emotional and reactive. But I had never thought of that person as the real me. That person had fulfilled a outlet, but was not the whole person, least of all the most honest expression. I don't know if I had changed. I felt I had just drifted forward.

When I had first started my diary I had had juvenile dreams of it (once I became famous) being stumbled upon. Read by others for interest in what experiences had shaped my early life. In reality the content was pretty boring. I was proud. Too proud to be remembered for that. I wanted to be remembered for the good things.

 

She told me about the time she had overdosed. I tried to imagine what it would taste like. Painkillers crumbling on the tongue; a synthetic white dust. It must be a sticky, bitter taste. Rolling around a paracetamol tablet in the mouth, slimy powder, anxious and knotted. A familiar hint of worry and suffering. Like the nervousness before an exam - knotted stomach, nauseous illness.

I imagined her lying in her bedroom vomiting and fainting. Her sandals slip off her feet and onto the cheap, brown student carpet. Like a silent movie. I imagined one of her flatmates knocking on the door, finding her choking on the floor, and calling the emergency services. I imagined the quiet panic and the sense of danger and loss.

She told me something explicitly. That the cheating ex boyfriend hadn't come to visit her in hospital. This was something she could not believe. "How could he not come and see me?" She had said. I had cringed. I knew I would not have visited her. On that rocking warm bus by the sea I had closed my doors to that currency. Shame. The taste of that white power she had so readily consumed. She had had so much to spend and no one to pay. Not even me.

Worse. He was happier now. Had a super hot girlfriend and a good job, had graduated first class.

Back on that bus how I had wished for painkillers. How I would have longed for that taste. For all future hangovers. Painkillers readily available by the bedside and a cold glass of water. I was as bad as him. A dog. I would not learn. I would be stoned in public. I would walk out the next day and try to smile.

I remembered she had spoken something to me that day, as I had asked around for paracetamol.

"Painkillers are bad for you." She had said. "Taking them builds up a resistance, a dependency. Suffering is always a better approach. If you can do without the painkillers you should."

I still liked her even when she was being spiteful. And I think she really had cared for me. But I gave no reassurance to her dark kernel. To her I was still the young boy who had never accepted his shame. She believed punishment was required for reward - and would hurt herself to get what she wanted. She would never admit I had rescued her sandle from the pond because I hadn't deserved to. When a person hates the good that happens to bad people, they question themselves when bad happens to them.

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