A few years ago I did an online Year of the Novel course. The intent was that we received advice and instruction on a regular basis – sharing stuff with other participants and our tutor – until (hopefully) at the end of the year, our novel was finished.
I mostly enjoyed the course although the tutor went AWOL about 8 months into the course and all twenty-odd participants slowly dropped the ball. My young adult novel made it to 30,000 words before being shelved.
Obviously having been anorexic (then bulimic and then a binge-eater) I decided to ‘write what I know’. The main character however, isn’t based on me and nor are her family based on mine, but I have drawn on old feelings and specific events. This particular excerpt below is taken from the novel and adapted so it is kinda stand-alone(ish) as I entered it unsuccessfully in a recent short story writing comp.
I’m closing comments again cos I know I’ll be paranoid that any compliments (about the writing) are just platitudes and I’ll be equally fearful of criticism. Plus… with a bit going on at the moment it means I can stress less about comment numbers!
It is late afternoon when I wake. I hear voices and wonder briefly if my father is home; but as it’s still light out, I decide it’s probably the television.
I’m almost at the bottom of the stairs when I hear Judith’s voice. The thought of my much-older sister exhausts me. I catch words and phrases and know my mother is telling Miss I-Can-Do-No-Wrong about what happened earlier in the school principal’s office. I briefly consider returning to my room but am conscious they would have already heard my footsteps.
“Hi,” I fake perkiness as I join my mother and Judith in the kitchen.
“How are you feeling?” my mother puts her hand on my forehead. A smile loiters on my lips. The gesture is something only mothers can do; and one which can mean so much more than just a temperature check. I am suddenly touched by her maternal devotion.
“Mum, thanks. I feel better.” I am already trying to work out how to sell today’s events. I know that mum, and Judith in particular, will think that fainting in the principal’s office is dieting-related. I don’t want them to start going on about my weight. Again.
“You know, I think there is something going around and that’s probably what it is.”
Judith scoffs without even trying to hide it.
“Why are you here? Shouldn’t you be at work?”
“Well, some of us like to make an effort when members of our family are in trouble.”
“Judith, your father had some meetings he couldn’t get out of which is the only reason he isn’t here.” My mother’s voice carries a warning.
“Why would he be here and why are YOU here?” I am feeling frustrated. I am tired of being the topic of discussion.
Judith is obviously just as pissed off. She leaps off the stool, “Because our mother rang me in tears. Because your teachers are worried you are about to pass out any minute and because the school is worried that you will fucking die on the school grounds.”
“What? That’s ridiculous. I’m unwell and have been light-headed. It’s just something that’s going around.”
“That’s a load of shit and you know it. You just won’t admit it. But now you’ve gone and done it – got thrown out of school.”
Panic sets in, “I have not. I just have to stay home for a couple of days until I’m better. That’s all. Isn’t it mum?”
My mother sighs, “Honey, I don’t know. The principal wants a medical certificate. He wants to make certain you are okay.”
“Of course I am. It’s all ridiculous.” And before I can stop myself the fear turns to rage and I can feel it escaping. “It’s fucking ridiculous.”
I know it is coming but there is nothing I can do. I pick up the dish in front of me and throw it across the kitchen.
“It’s not fucking fair. This is my life. All of you want to control it, control me. You only care about how this affects you. About how it affects your lives. You don’t care about me, or what I think. You don’t care about how I feel.”
I want to throw myself on the floor. My mind is on fire. I am babbling and I can’t stop. But I need this to stop.
I smash my forehead against the kitchen wall. Again and again. Until I can feel pain. I want to feel something. Or perhaps nothing.
My mother is shrieking and Judith just stares. I punch the wall and the plaster cracks.
“Erica, stop it. STOP IT!” my mother grabs me.
“Leave me alone. Leave me alone!”
I run up the stairs to my room leaving the stunned silence behind me.
Back under my covers, I feel embarrassed. I was out of control and I know it. “I’m 16 not 6,” I chide myself.
I can imagine the conversation downstairs and I know I should apologise. But I cannot stop crying. I am a mess.
My door opens and my mother’s face appears. She comes over to my bed and sits down.
I want to ignore her. I want to hate her. I even want to hurt her. But I can’t; at least, not on purpose.
“I’m sorry,” I sob. “I’m sorry. About what I said… and about the wall.”
She shakes her head, “It’s okay.” She’s crying too. This makes it worse.
She reaches down and gently puts her lips to my forehead. “Does it hurt?”
“No. Though my hand does. A bit.” I pull it out from under the cover to show her. It isn’t bleeding but a bruise is already appearing and my knuckles are swollen.
“I’ll get some ice,” she says.
“Wait,” I take a deep breath. “Is Judith still here?”
“Yes. But I told her not to come up. Do you want to see her?”
“No. But, umm.., can you tell her I’m sorry. For, well you know…”
“Of course. I’ll just be a minute.”
When she reappears with the icepack I have to ask, “What did she say?”
“What do you mean?”
“Judith. Is she angry with me?”
Tears again. “No darling, of course not. None of us are angry with you. We are just worried.”
“I know. I’m not doing it on purpose.”
“I know that sweetie. I know that. Here, scoot over.”
I move over to let her lie beside me. She puts her arm around me and I rest my head on her shoulder. I feel calmer now. Better.
Blah blah blah. Normal posts to resume shortly. I promise.