A Stranger One

After the session with Dr Hall, Eve found herself remembering some forgotten details about her time there. She began thinking about her very first week in Galway as a fully-fledged student, and amazingly when she concentrated really hard, she could even remember smaller details of her very first day as a student.

The first day of University had started off as first days tend to; uncertain. Eve checked her bag too many times for her wallet that was in the same place each time, and her keys were beside it. She had gotten into the habit of checking her keys, wallet and phone about every two minutes or so until she got distracted. That was the problem with being a waking dreamer, she could never fully account for her accountability, and so she had to keep checking on herself.

            Walking up the bronze autumn avenue of the University, Eve inhaled the sharp morning air and felt genuinely excited as a new adventure lay itself down like a rich carpet just for her! There were students everywhere and she couldn’t wait to get stuck into her first official lecture. She had been there a few times the previous week, before most of the others on her course, just so she could get the lie of the land and reduce her odds of getting lost and looking silly.  

            As Eve walked up the flight of stairs of the New Building, as it was called, with twenty minutes to go before her first lecture, she checked for her wallet vigorously once again, so distracted in her search, that suddenly she tripped over something on the floor. Looking down, she saw a girl with blonde hair, hunched over and vomiting loudly into a wicker bin.

            Eve dropped her bag and bent down to the girl. They were both full of apologies for one another.

            “Are you alright,?” Eve placed a hand on the girl’s back and jumped a little when she felt her flinch.

            “Sorry, yes, yes I’m fine. Just suddenly didn’t feel well and I don’t know where the stupid loo’s are in this maze. You can go now. Really I’m fine.” The girl laughed loudly,  clearly mortified.

            “Can I get you anything? Do you want some water? Here!” Eve reached into her bag and handed the girl the unopened bottle.

            “Oh God, thank you! So sorry!” The blonde girl took it off her gently and opened it shakily. She was very pale, thin and had a sad little shadow stuck on her face despite her efforts to laugh off the embarrassing little pickle she was in.

            “Okay, well, I’ll leave you alone then. Hope you feel better soon!” Eve picked up her bag and walked reluctantly away. When she turned back briefly, she saw the little blonde girl put her head in her hands and then rush to her feet, scoop up the bin and run back towards the entrance. Eve wondered how she was going to get rid of a wicker basket full of vomit without destroying everything in her wake and making a laughing stock of herself! But it wasn’t funny. She silently berated herself for being so mean about the poor wee girl right up until the Lecturer stormed the room and her college adventure took off.

 

It must have been the next morning, as far as Eve could remember, it was definitely some time in that first week -. It was her first History class. Yes! That was it. It was the next day. She held the memory in her mind’s eye as carefully as possible without letting it evaporate…

Gradually people filed into the room. They all seemed to be well settled into their individual cliques as far as Eve could make out. She wasn’t sure how they had managed to find each other after only one day. Some people just had a gift for grouping. Eve knew she could easily slip herself into any of the segregations if she wanted to, all she had to do was copy the others, but she opted to give herself a few days of observation time first. From what she could gather, everyone was exactly the same anyway. Just like at school. The lecture began and the room evenly settled.

            Ten minutes or so in, there was a faint knock on the enormous door of the hall and it went unanswered for a good five minutes. Not everyone in the hall seemed to hear anything at all, until the door eventually opened, stopping the flow of the class.

            “I’m sorry I’m late…” Eve realized it was the tiny little blonde girl from the wicker bin incident the day before. She had obviously found somewhere to dump it! Eve was glad to see her and felt deeply uncomfortable as she watched the girl scurry clumsily towards the tiered masses of judging eyes directly in front of her. Poor thing! Eve waved and gestured for the girl to take the seat next to her own and was glad when she did. The blonde girl smiled and settled herself into the proceedings.

            “Are you okay, after yesterday…? Eve asked with trepidation once the class had finished and the room had emptied a little.

            ‘Oh! Yes, You’re the girl who gave me the water! Thanks. I’m fine, really. I just did something silly!” The blonde girl trailed off and Eve was hooked.

            “What do you mean… were you hungover yesterday? She laughed, trying not to sound judgmental.

            “Oh! No! I just… I had a Turkish Delight for breakfast. So fucking stupid!” The blonde girl looked like she had just admitted to murder.

            “Oh, well, that’s not the end of the world… at least you had breakfast! My name is Eve. Nice to meet you…”

            “Hi Eve, I’m Meg. Thanks” They shook hands.

            “Well, at least you’re okay. Lesson learned! Do you want to get a cup of coffee or something?” Eve checked her wallet was in her bag as she asked the question.

            “Sure! Why not?! Ha! I bet you thought I was pregnant or something like that!” Meg laughed with that embarrassed look on her face still lingering from the day before.

            “Oh God, no! Not one bit, don’t be silly!” Eve laughed out loud and placed her hand on her stomach as she slid out from behind the desk. She kind of felt like she was still pregnant sometimes but that was silly. It had been two months since the abortion. They said she might feel a little weird for a while. It was only natural.

            “Eve, do you fancy a pint instead?” Meg grinned.

            “Yes, I do indeed!” They gathered their bags and left the hall laughing at their newfound freedom.

Eve walked slowly, lost in conversation as she learned all about her new friend from “the middle of fucking nowhere” they chattered effortlessly all the way out to Salthill, and when she checked for her wallet, even after an hour’s thoughtless neglect, it was still safely in her bag right beside her keys and her phone.

Friendly Ghosts

“That thing is pretty old, isn’t it, Dr Hall?” Eve gestured towards his tatty leather-bound folder with the lightest little smirk on her face that he did not notice. “If that thing could talk, eh?” After a moment she wondered if she had actually cracked that joke out loud because he made no response. And that’s probably why she was sitting in the psychiatrist’s office in the first place, she decided. Because she was fucking crazy.

Eve had been sitting opposite Dr Hall for ten silent minutes while he scribbled furiously in his once-upon-a-time-fancy folder. The man and his folder were so connected, had such shared history together, that they were as good as married.

“Eve, I’d like to talk a little bit about your time in university if you don’t mind… We didn’t really get to discuss it as much as I would have liked in your last session, but you have mentioned some of the anxious episodes you experienced at that time, and I feel that we ought to explore them a little more here today. Would that be okay? You studied… Sociology.”

“Psychology…”, Eve corrected him sheepishly. She was mortified having to admit that subject choice to her psychiatrist but she wasn’t entirely sure why. She was perpetually sorry about everything, especially around Dr Hall. She regretted him having to go to the bother of scribbling on his tidy notes just to edit her pathetic little story.

“Oh I beg your pardon, Psychology, yes, very good. So, you had some concentration difficulties back then, and you mentioned that you used quite a bit of marijuana, isn’t that correct…?” He placed his index finger to his lips waiting for…something.

“Yes, that’s right. I found it helped me sleep so I used it daily, but after a while I felt like I couldn’t sleep without it and then I would start to feel anxious and then of course I couldn’t sleep so it was like a vicious cycle really. I don’t smoke it anymore. I haven’t for years.” Because I’m fucking great, give me a gold star, Dr Hall, Please! She thought sadly.

“Yes, I understand that, but I am painting the history, you see. Your history…of addiction and substance dependence. Do you follow me,?”

He hadn’t stopped writing since she had mentioned the word Anxious. It must be like a buzz word to this guy, she mused, like the steadfast rules in a drinking game, write like a maniac when someone says the word Anxious. Maybe he was still stuck in some kind of hypnotic trance from his university days… Eve tried to bring her attention back to the session but she just didn’t feel much warmth in the room today.

“Oh yes, I see. Well, yes I did experience many anxiety attacks while I was studying. I don’t know why, really, well, there was the weed, but I just felt scared all the time…. I was scared I would fail. I had a lot of terrible nightmares back then”

“Well, you know Eve, a fear of failure is a very common….”

Eve had stopped listening to Dr Hall completely. She was away dreaming again. She spoke when prompted and gave him whatever it was he wanted to hear so he could tick his boxes and send her back home to herself.

Eve wished she was talking to Mary instead of Dr Hall, but Mary was dead. Such a wonderful woman, Mary. She was her friend’s mother, a trained psychologist who never acted like one, and just had a gift of drawing pain from people as if she was merely pulling errant hairs from their coat. She made Eve laugh and cry at herself many times, and even though she must have known she was talking to a totally disturbed soul, she never looked worried about her, she had better sense. When doctors or nurses or anyone in healthcare look worried, people get scared and shut down. Mary must have known that.

Eve still talked to Mary all the time on her walks and in the car and she always felt more hopeful talking to her friendly ghost than any other mental health professional. She was glad to have her in her life, even if she had been dead for ten years.

“Well, yes, I did drink a lot in college, but we all did! Oh… I’m doing it again, aren’t I? I know, I know! I have to stop trying to justify my actions and I have to take responsibility for myself and my choices. Sorry.” Eve knew he had asked about alcohol use and assumed it was to continue to paint her as a failure in an effort to understand her better and earn his crust. He gave a lengthy reply, reiterating what she had just said undoubtedly, but as usual she was only scanning the exchange and responded when given her triggers and cues. She nodded obediently.

Eve learned to converse with people while simultaneously dreaming of the past, hanging around her happiest memories for long periods of time without anyone being any the wiser. She was rarely present with anyone having learned how to carry out exchanges in auto-pilot. She rarely remembered conversations but the buzz words could still upset her during sleepless nights, interrupting her safe, habitual dreams.

“Yes, I had a few brief romantic relationships at that time but nothing serious,” Eve heard herself lie to Dr Hall. The truth of the matter was she spent her college years dreaming of her first boyfriend from home, dreaming of their baby that didn’t make it to birth, and dreaming that somehow, she could get back to that time before she fucked herself up. Dreaming and having sex with too many strangers.

“Yes, I was dating a little here and there. I once had a short romance with a trainee doctor, you know.” Here I go again seeking his approval, Mary. Why the fuck do I play these stupid games?

Daddy Issues! – Eve and Mary concluded at the exact same time. It was very funny to everyone in the room, except Dr Hall… evidently.

“Right, Great. I think we will leave it there for today, Eve and I will see you on Thursday. Thank you. Take care, now” He pretended to pat her shoulder but never touched her as he breezed past in the direction of his surgery door opening it wide. She thanked him for absolutely nothing and scrunched herself up before gliding into the dark and rainy Dublin streets.

Retreat

No Turning Back beyond this Point, the angry red security sign bellowed.

“No fucking kidding, Mr Sign” Eve thought. She hadn’t been very well on the flight; not well at all. She was wired, agitated and nauseous. Eve had made that journey a dozen or so times before, but Mr Sign’s emphasis on the word NO was panic inducing on this particular visit, like she was being robbed of her free will with every step forward. Where was that damn sign hiding two years ago when the pain started and the drugs flowed from every drugstore with no questions asked? She wondered, broken.

Before she got out of the car at Dublin Airport, her mother squeezed her right hand and told her it was going to be absolutely fine this time, but if for any reason it didn’t feel fine, she was to come home immediately. Eve didn’t even entertain the notion that it would come to that. It was just one of those things people say when they can’t hold your hand and do the hard part for you. She was a grown woman. She wasn’t going to run home to Mammy.

Eve couldn’t deny that she really really didn’t feel fine though. It was so hot in the airport with the manic crowds and their tired sweat.  She stopped dead in her tracks and pulled off her jumper like it was on fire, causing the man behind her to trip over her wheeled case, and his toddler to run head first into her bum. When her head was free from the fire pit, she looked behind and saw a spate of other minor casualties she was entirely responsible for. All because she felt like her jumper was on fire, yet another classic example of how her “selfish actions had directly, or indirectly hurt others”.

“I’m so sorry”, Eve whimpered to herself, burying her sweaty face into her jumper. Feeling the crowds close in, she couldn’t bear to look back at her victims again. Angry voices rumbled around her ears until it occurred to her that if she simply started walking that would make them all go away. She put out her right foot and started off slowly, then it seemed like everything and everyone she was running from got her scent and gave relentless chase. Eve pounded up the escalator, panting hard, flying away from the carnage below, and finally some distance was born between herself and her latest mistake. She spotted the Ladies’ Bathroom and slipped inside.

Eve pushed on the nearest stall door and toppled into the glistening cubicle. She sank to her knees and opened the lid with a bang, certain she would vomit but nothing happened. She rested her cheek on her flattened knuckles, took a series of the deepest possible breaths and hummed along with the white noise of the hand-dryers. She didn’t care that the bathroom was chaotic and she didn’t care that she couldn’t get sick. She didn’t care about anything as the soothing hum kept her together in that increasingly tolerable then and there. Taking yet another deep breath, Eve decided she needed to find her way to the Departures Hall to steer herself back home…to Mammy.

“Not today, U.S.A.. I’m not quite ready for you,” Eve softly whispered out the window of another crowded plane hours later, as she headed for familiar airspace; an exquisite, white flagged retreat.