“Trying to define yourself is like trying to bite your own teeth.”
– Alan Watts
Perhaps it is not possible to transcend the anxiety that blooms out of a life half-lived.
“Everything is hard for you,” he says. Isn’t it?
What she wants to say is that she doesn’t understand how anyone can live without fear, or reservation, or consequence. She is openly disdainful towards people who choose to identify as daredevils, or thrill-seekers. She can no longer relate to carelessness in any form: an easy, one-shouldered shrug, a lazy, loose-hipped walk, a laugh with the head tilted back, throat exposed. She winds her scarf further around her neck, around the tender flesh, knowing that she will lie in bed later that evening, alone and therefore safe, and feel with her fingers, searching for the place where the skin becomes thin and vulnerable as it stretches over bone. Sometimes there are bruises in the morning. People have started to notice them – the ones that are blooming along her jawline, her collarbone – and she wonders if they think that her life is tragic and broken. She supposes that it is, but not in the way that they assume.
Everything is hard for her, isn’t it? His voice is flat, and she is reminded of her father. She is not interesting enough for him to muster up contempt or any vague pretence of emotion that could be mistaken for it. He prefers them young, she thinks, much younger than her, and damaged but malleable. How did she grow into this life? When she was younger, she never believed that she would live long enough to learn how to stop hurting herself. She is still not sure that she has achieved this. Her body is a testament to all the ways in which a person can be harmed or can cause harm. Her body is a wreckage that has never felt like home. She looks at the man, his face her father's face, and is disappointed that he does not seem to have acknowledged the severity of her situation. It is so heavy, she wants to say. I am so heavy. Here. Won’t someone carry this weight?
She leaves the appointment with a generic prescription for some type of drug that she cannot pronounce the name of. The man would have liked her when she was younger, she thinks. She was softer then, and often experienced a strange, sickening guilt about inconsequential events, such as pronouncing a word wrong or selecting one item over another at the local market. I’m sorry, she would think, as she ran her hands over each object. Oh god, I’m so sorry. Her favourite stall at the market sold silk scarves that reminded her of liquid gold. Once, she bought one and tied it up in her hair – “Like a bag lady!” her mother would later exclaim – and when she walked past the department store with floor-to-ceiling windows, she caught her reflection and failed to recognise herself. The level of dissociation that she experienced, as she acknowledged both the person she saw and the person she really was, both terrified and thrilled her. She liked to believe that she was a practical woman, someone who favoured logic and facts over half-imagined dreams. It seemed more admirable, somehow. However, looking at her reflection that day, she couldn’t help but feel that, in a past life, she had been beautiful. Maybe she had even been great. She ran her fingers over the smooth silk of the scarf, watching her hands flutter in the mirror. They did not look like her hands.