You know when you kill a spider, or a fly or a wasp, you get that little sinking feeling in your stomach. Like it falls a little bit. Even though that’s what you wanted, you know, a quick and easy escape from that annoying buzzing around your head, or the 8-legged monster barricading you out of your own bedroom, but you still feel like, ‘oh.’ That ‘oh’ feeling you know. Doesn’t stay around long, but long enough for your mind to sometimes — not always, I’m not some fucking crazy hippy animal-worshipping vegan — for your mind to just think.
You know like, who was that spider? He was probably just heading out for the day around the house to bring home the flies, said bye to the wife and kids all tucked up in their webs, and that was it. And the kids would never know that Dad got squished by a Harry Potter book because he was stood harmlessly in the middle of the wrong side of the Human House because the spider kids don’t have BBC news alerts on their non-existent iPhones, which wouldn’t work anyway because how would you remember which leg you used for your fingerprint ID? They only give you 3 attempts until they lock your phone for an hour so you’d have to get it right before half your legs had even been tested out.
And then I’m like, this spider Dad, in his spider life he’s got his spider kids and his spider wife and spider web home, but what about before that? What if he was a human first, and came back as a spider? What if he was someone famous you know? Like Michael Jackson? Or Prince? Or an actual prince? Or someone I knew? Like my Grandma? And she tried to shout at me like ‘stop, stop, it’s me! It’s Granny!’ But she’s so far away and she’s so small, and probably doesn’t even have vocal chords so I wouldn’t have heard her anyway, but then I’ve just killed my Grandma. All because I wouldn’t pick her up and put her out the window because it was easier to just squish her under the Order of the Phoenix.
And what if, when I die, which obviously one day I will, I come back as a spider? And I’m off out for the day, minding my own business, and I get a bit lost, end up a bit out of my way — I don’t have Google Maps do I, the ‘SpiPhone’ is still not a thing — and one of the residences of the big Human House doesn’t listen to me shouting for them to stop either. And they don’t put down the book, and I feel each leg crush into the wooden floors before all of my insides come out of my mouth from the sheer force that went into that book slam. And the next. And the final really hard push, just to be sure I’m well and truly dead.
And what if it was my granddaughter who did it to me? And she couldn’t hear me either? And afterwards, she sits there, with that sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach, wondering who my spider self was and whether I was her grandma, too.
It’s been five hours. Well, nearly five. Four hours 48 minutes. I’ve had my reply drafted in the ‘Notes’ section on my phone, but I’m still not totally sure it’s the right reply, you know. It’s got to be funny, but it can’t be misinterpreted as sarcastic. And it’s got to be keen, but not so keen that he’ll be like ‘woaaaah psycho’, but also not too uninterested that he gives up and finds someone who has actually managed to get that balance right.
I’ve gone with this — so he said: ‘How’s it going 一 question mark’’
So I’m thinking that I’ll be like: ‘Hey — exclamation mark, waving girl emoji — yeah all good, just chilling — dot dot dot — you — question mark, kiss’
So that’s got the casualness of the emoji girl, I’d send that to anyone, with the suggestiveness of the ‘dot dot dot’, like that could mean anything. You know. But if he doesn’t get that, he’ll just read it as a really boring, friend-zoning reply. Which is not what I want, but he’s a guy and his cyber-brain is even more difficult to get through to than his physical brain. Maybe I should use like a pet name or something?
‘Hey love’ — too Nan-like. ‘Hey lovely’ — cringe. What about just like, hey you. ‘Hey you’. That’s it. ‘Hey you — exclamation mark, waving girl emoji — yeah all good, just chilling — dot dot dot — you — question mark, kiss.’ Okay, that’s good, I’m sending it.
(She sends the text. Looks around, checks nails, yawns… She checks her phone)
I know it hasn’t been that long, but I’m just going to see if he’s online, or typing a reply, you know. Sometimes it’s fun to be online when they’re typing, just to put the pressure on a bit. Like, I can see how long it’s taking you to craft your response, I can literally see the effort that you’re putting into me.
(She checks her messages)
He’s read it. And hasn’t replied. And now he’s gone offline.
Why would you even do that? If you couldn’t reply to a text when you got it, why would you open it? Just so I could see that you had read it, and didn’t think it was that important that you should have replied when you saw it, because you had way more important things to be doing, like seeing another girl, or texting another girl, or swiping through tinder for another girl to text who doesn’t respond with the emotional intelligence of a fucking spoon, someone that he could actually take home to his mum and be proud of because she was able to coherently form a text response, and then he’ll take her home, and his mum will be like ‘oh, he’s never bought anyone home like you before, such a lovely girl, so pretty and so clever and so good at writing text messages,’ and then his mum will take him to the side and be like, ‘I think she might be the one, don’t lose her, she’s an absolute keeper’, and then he’ll propose, and then they’ll be married with three kids and a cute little dog, and by then their relationship is all legally bound, and I’ll try and text him to worm my way back into his life, but he’ll leave me on read with those fucking blue ticks ONCE AGAIN, only this time it’s beyond the point of return, and I’m alone forever with my six fucking cats, drinking out of the same saucer of milk as them, seeing out my days the only way I know how, ALONE, and probably poor, cold, hungry, covered in cat fur and smelling of cat pi— (she receives a text message)
(reading from her phone) ‘Not much, just at the gym — muscley arm emoji’
A likely story. Twat.
I’ll Start Tomorrow
(She sits eating a doughnut. She continues to eat the doughnut throughout the monologue)
Everyone knows that you can’t start a diet on a Sunday. And calories don’t count the day before a diet starts. And it’s your last chance to eat sugary, carby junk food for the foreseeable future, so you have to eat as much of it as physically possible. Then, when you feel on the brink of explosion, give it an hour and you’ll have room again.
This is my fourth. I don’t even like doughnuts. But because it’s a Sunday, Sainsbury’s closed at 4 o’clock, and I had a tummy gap. And you can’t not fill tummy gap on a Sunday before starting a diet on a Monday.
Today, I had two bowls of Special K for breakfast, which doesn’t really count because that’s healthy. Then my housemate cooked us all a fry up. Sausages, bacon, eggs, toast, hash browns... The absolute works. Then I went to the salon to get my roots done, so that was a solid hour of sitting to allow my stomach to process my breakfast. So by 2 o’clock, I had loads of room again. I popped into Costa and got a bacon and cheese toastie with a double chocolate chip muffin and a latte — skinny milk. Oh, then I had a couple of Haribo that I found stuck to the bottom of my handbag on the way back from town. Bit warm and fuzzy, but you can’t not on a Sunday, can you? Then for tea my boyfriend, Rob, wanted pizza, so who am I to tell him no? We ordered a Family sized Texas BBQ with stuffed crust, four portions of chips and two sides of BBQ chicken wings... and Rob had a small Margherita. But that was like, two hours ago. I was practically ravenous before I found the doughnuts.
So on this new diet, I get one ‘cheat meal’ a week. Which means I get to eat whatever I want. Apparently, it’s supposed to trick your metabolism by going from being really hungry and miserable all week to really happy and full, and it makes you lose shit loads of weight. That’s what I read from it anyway. God knows how I’m going to make it till next Sunday. I’m already planning in my head what I’ll have for my cheat meal. I’m thinking a Roast with all the trimmings. And a Chinese. And I didn’t have any chocolate today so will be dying for it by then. Apart from the muffin.
This diet says I can lose 7lbs in the first week. (she reaches for another doughnut) How good is that?!
It was all going really well. Two dates in — which is enough to know that you’re both relatively attractive, funny, and at least want to sleep with each other, if you haven’t already — and we’re still texting like, every day.
And then he added me on Facebook. The ‘add’ was fine, that’s great, you know, it shows that we were progressing with our relationship. Accepting someone on Facebook is not like an Instagram follow, it’s way more of a commitment, and shows promise and longevity. But accepting someone on Facebook is when you basically open up your last eight years of life to be freely and unknowingly stalked by anyone who has been granted access. Which is exactly what I did, obviously. I scrolled my way through his entire Facebook history. I got to about 2012, and it was all great. No apparent crazy exes, a few snaps with girls here and there but with enough physical distance between them that they could have been friends or cousins. A solid 64 likes on his profile picture, nearing on a thousand friends, no mirror selfies in sight. All great.
And then I saw his birthday posts. 87 friends wrote on his wall on the 11th of May 2012. He’s a fucking Taurus. (Reaches into her pocket for her phone, she reads:)
‘As an Earth sign, stubborn Taurus is not a good match for the Aquarius woman. Unconventional and free-spirited Aquarius has little in common with traditional Taurus, who craves commitment and security. This opposites-attract scenario makes things interesting at first, — true — but the excitement quickly fades when the relationship becomes too much work. Taurus and Aquarius are also incompatible socially, the former — him, the fucking Taurus — being highly selective in their friendships and the latter — me — being Miss Popularity. [she smirks] Love matches between this unlikely duo are not impossible, but require a great deal of compromise.’
(She puts her phone away)
So, in essence, I’ve wasted two evenings of my life, not to mention countless hours of crafting perfectly witty texts, and now have to subtly unfriend him off Facebook, delete his number and hope that he isn’t counting on date number 3.
You know, it should be a formality of dating that you declare your star sign in the first 10 minutes of meeting, just so neither of you ends up wasting each other’s time. And if he hadn’t added me on Facebook, because God knows I wouldn’t have, I’d still be living blissfully unaware of our destined incompatibility, mentally preparing for the next step in our relationship. Imagine if we’d gone Facebook official?!
If he’d been a Sagittarius I might have just chanced it, but a fucking Taurus.
(She measures her waist, pulling her stomach in as tight as she can and reading the measurement. She remeasures it pushing her stomach out. She measures again somewhere in the middle. She writes down the measurements. She does the same with her hips. She speaks as she measures herself)
Today I went so over. I started off really strong, went for an hour-long walk before breakfast, so that was around 6,000 steps before I’d eaten a thing. Then I had my first meal replacement; 200 calories. So I was on minus calories before lunch. And I literally wasn’t even hungry.
But then I went for lunch with the girls. I checked the menu before I went and found this 268 calorie salad option, so I ordered that. It tasted like absolute cack. The girls all had these massive pizzas and they looked so good, and I ended up having a slice of each of theirs. So five slices. I basically had a pizza to myself. I don’t even want to guess how many calories…
I didn’t need it. I’ve been so good, and that’s just gone to show me that I’m still just so weak. I deserve to be fat. It’s just food, it’s supposed to be a fuel, not a hobby, and I just can’t beat it.
I don’t remember a day when I haven’t been ruled by the way that my body looks and feels. I only have to open Instagram to see all of these super skinny girls who’ve all got their shit together, running over white sandy beaches without a dimple of cellulite, and I want that so bad. My life is great, it really is, but if I looked like that, like them, that would just make everything so much better. There’s so much that I don’t do because of how my body looks. I’m not even excited by the thought of going on a cruise next summer. A Mediterranean cruise. Because all it means is two weeks of swimsuit exposure and comparing myself to every other girl from behind my sunglasses, girls my age, and even older women, who look so much better than me in their two pieces. Which I know will lead on to my unbearable mood swings, that my family don’t understand because they’ve never hated their bodies the way I do, they’ve never felt the immense pressure to look perfect at every given moment, to the point where they’ve literally starved themselves just to feel normal.
I try not to go over 600 calories a day. I know it’s not good for me and that it’s hardly anything, but even if I hit 600 I feel bad. I feel like I should have been stronger and stayed at 400. It’s a vicious cycle of self-destruction, and I’m fully aware that I’m fuelling it. But I can’t stop.
She sits holding a hot water bottle against her lower stomach, surrounded by ‘period comforts’: chocolate, magazines…
My housemate came home and used the end of the milk for a bowl of Weetabix. My milk. The only milk left in the fridge, admittedly, but still, the milk that I had purchased with the debit card in my purse, in my bag, with my money, that I earned. The milk that I was planning on using for a warming, reassuring cup of tea at some point during this evening. Do you really need a bowl of fucking Weetabix at 7.30 pm on a Tuesday evening, Kelly?
Today I cried watching Jeremy Kyle. Jenna received her DNA test results to say that Stuart really was her biological father, and I just couldn’t keep it together. (Tearing up) She had waited for 25 years to find out who her real dad was, and Stuart had always wanted a daughter. They looked literally nothing alike; she was about four times bigger in height and width than him, and she had a solidly defined cupid’s bow compared to his little liney lips. And he had this absolute corker of a nose compared to hers, so I’m sat there totally convinced it’s not going to be a match. And then, there we have it. (Smiling through tears) ‘Stuart is your biological dad, Jenna.’
(Recomposing) The size of my lower stomach compared to two days ago is really something. None of my jeans fit. To quote Mean Girls, ‘sweatpants is all that fits me right now’. Bloating is the real evil at play here. You know, I can hide the cramps, and I’ve got tablets to take for the headache, but nothing is hiding that perfectly round bubble of gas protruding out of the bottom of my hoodie. Not even sweatpants.
(Angrily) Do I really need a monthly confirmation from my ovaries in the form of a free-flowing blood bath to clarify that there isn’t a mini human growing inside of me? Preceded by two to three days of what feels like agonising knife blows into the walls of my uterus as the result of my womanly parts swelling to triple their usual size? Yes, TRIPLE. Like, surely there is a much simpler method to clarify that I don’t currently have an unwanted inhabitant in the depths of my stomach? Like, why can’t I just get a little receipt printed from down there instead, just saying: ‘ALL CLEAR HUNNY.’ How much nicer would that be for everyone involved?
I just want a chocolate-covered chocolate bar served with a side of melted chocolate and a hot chocolate for pudding. With cream. And marshmallows. And chocolate sprinkles. Is that too much to ask?
I can’t even have a fucking cup of tea. I bet Jenna and Stuart are having a cup of tea together right now. Bet they’ve got loads of leftover milk too. (Cries)
(She is sat on a chair with her leg elevated on another chair with pillows) This happened before the club. I’d had maybe two or three vodka cokes; just getting started. Didn’t even have my heels on. We were just leaving the kitchen, heading for the front door, I was on CityMapper looking for the quickest route to get us to the club, I didn’t look where I was going, and the next thing I know, I’m gliding down a whole flight of stairs with my legs in an extended jazz split that they haven’t attempted since my Stagecoach days. The look of sheer terror on my housemate's face just read: ‘For fuck sake. We’re not going to the club, are we?’
Little did he realise that I’m an absolute legend and wasn’t going to let a little bit of shin damage stop me from busting some shapes on the dancefloor. I whacked my heels on, had a shot, and headed out.
I woke up like this this morning, with a pack of frozen vegetables on my leg, elevated by several pillows and that painful feeling of ‘For fuck sake. What happened last night?’ My duvet smelled of an unfamiliar aftershave, so... ‘to be confirmed’.
I hobbled into the bathroom, following a wavy trail of bloody footsteps, and found the showerhead in the bath, submerged in a mixture of manky water, dirt and blood. Standard. I put my head in my hands when I was on the loo, and then I saw it. My other foot, the one that survived the stair slide incident, was covered in thick, hard, crusty, blood. And the bottom of my feet: totally black. So, piecing this information together, I’d clearly thought it would be a great idea to take my heels off at some point during the night, and in return gained a nice little souvenir in the form of several shards of glass protruding out of the tip of my toes.
It wasn’t until I scrambled back into bed that I got ‘the fear’. Where’s my phone? Where are my keys? Where is my ID? My bank card? What have I unknowingly publicised on social media? Who have I drunk texted? How much money do I now not have? Which part of my life ambitions and goals list do I need to forget about pursuing after last night’s antics? ‘The fear’ summarises anything that you can’t fully remember happening the night before, that you won’t know for sure whether it happened or not until you engage in a soul-destroying conversation with someone else who managed to remain relatively sober compared to your horrendously drunken state.
‘The fear’ can be increased through a significant intake of shots, which I discovered last night after buying a round of Coffee Tequila big enough for the entire length of the bar. My memory of the night disappears somewhere around screaming out Gloria Gaynor’s ‘I Will Survive’ complete with full dance routine, raking in as many innocent bystanders into the performance as I could.
She gets a text message.
My housemate’s just informed me that I fell through the part of the worktop that separates the kitchen from the ordering desk at the chip shop at 4.30am. I lent on it and fell through it, just like Del Boy did in that really famous bar scene in Only Fools and Horses, you know the one. That would explain the elbow bruise. This is no longer ‘the fear’. This is ‘the reality’.
I don’t even like Coffee Tequila.
Let Me Live (With You)
Hey! Your house is sooo beautiful, and you all look like a really lovely bunch, smiley face.
My name’s Charlotte, I’m 23, and I’m currently living in an absolute shithole with the worst excuse of a flatmate imaginable. (Reconsiders) I’m currently living in temporary accommodation, my flatmates moving on to other things, and I’m now looking for my forever home!
I’ve just graduated from Drama School, so I take any creative job that I can get my hands on, which usually involves a combination of really poor pay, unsociable hours and a lot of wine to ease me back into reality. (Reconsiders) I’m actually a writer/actress/director/freelance creative, so my working hours are... varied.
I see that the house has great transport links, which would be so handy with my line of work on those rare days that I actually manage to leave the sofa. (Reconsiders) ...on those frequent days that I venture into the city.
I’m usually knackered, as my brain often decides to be at its most creative during the middle of the night, so I might leave my wet towel on the floor occasionally or struggle to get round to washing up my pesto pasta-stained bowls for a few days. (Reconsiders) I’m tidy, respectful and a real joy to live with.
I’m not going to lie, but your house seems really fucking expensive for the zone 3 location and general lack of floor space. (Reconsiders) Just wondering, are bills included in the rent price?
I’m an absolute liability after a skinful of jägerbombs and have been known to end the night in the A&E department. I love nothing more than a light-up dancefloor and a playlist filled with Sean Paul and Pitbull to see me through until the club lights come up. (Reconsiders) I enjoy the occasional bar trip, but I’m more than happy to discuss our days over a glass of Pinot around the fireplace.
I’m looking to move in as soon as possible, like tomorrow would be great, because if I have to bear the presence of Lily the Lunatic for one more evening I think I’ll actually just move back in with my parents instead. (Reconsiders) When were you looking for someone to fill the room? I’m very flexible on moving-in dates, depending on when is most suitable for you all.
Don’t be a dick and ignore my message, it’s a room in a house that none of you own at the end of the day, so even if it’s out of sheer pity, please just let me live with you. (Reconsiders) Hope to hear from you all soon! Smiley face. Charlotte, kiss.
(Scrolling, panicked, through her iPhone)
So I have approximately half an hour to live. I’ve had this runny nose for like, 72 hours now, so I Googled my symptoms. Never Google your symptoms.
So Google was like, ‘have you also had a headache?’ and I was like, ‘yes, actually, come to think of it, I have had a little niggly headache for a few days now.’
Then it was like, ‘have you also got a sore throat?’, then I’m like ‘ooh, you know what, my throat’s definitely felt better.’ Wasn’t aware of it before, but now I’m like, yeah, that’s a sore throat. Definitely sore. Tick.
So then it tells me that the sore throat is the thing that I should really be worried about, which makes sense, you know because that’s where the air goes in and out. So then it says, ‘you should call your GP if you’re worried about your sore throat.’ Well, I wasn’t worried about my sore throat five minutes ago, I was worried about my runny nose. But now, yes, I am worried about my increasingly sore throat.
So before I bother some super busy GP with what’s probably just a bad cold, let’s be real (laughs nervously), I keep reading down to see, you know, how much worse it can get. It asks me, ‘do you feel hot and/or shivery?’. I kid you not, I was literally shivering twenty minutes ago. I put on a hoodie, and now I’m really, really hot. Not ‘I put on a hoodie, now I’m cosy, warm-hot’ temperature, but really hot. So yeah, I do. I am. Another tick.
Then it directs me to the big, red, scary box at the bottom of the web page, that says, ‘RING 999 IF dot dot dot.’
‘Ring 999 if you’re having difficulty swallowing or breathing.’ Well yeah, I am, my throat hurts, so breathing and swallowing are significantly harder than they usually are on a normal day-to-day basis.
‘Ring 999 if you’ve been drooling.’ And literally an hour ago I drooled toothpaste down my top. I have the stain to prove it.
‘Ring 999 if your symptoms are getting worse quickly.’ YES, THEY ARE, I CAME TO GOOGLE WITH A RUNNY NOSE, AND NOW I’M COMING DOWN WITH LARYNGITIS, STREP THROAT OR I’M JUST BALANCING ON THE CUSP OF DEATH ITSELF.
I called the GP. She told me to take a paracetamol and to stay off the search engines.
I might ring my mum, just to make sure.
Blondes Have More Fun
(She sits with a towel wrapped around her head)
You know those days where you’re just like, ‘it’s time for a change’. A full image overhaul. And no matter how hard you try and forget about it, all you can think of is how much hotter you would look with a full head of bleach blonde, wavy hair. I’m talking Platinum. Bordering on that silvery colour that only the absolute edgiest of girls manage to pull off.
That’s where I was heading. I was going to be one of those edgy girls. My plan was foolproof, I bought the most expensive bottle of bleach and toner that Boots had to offer, I Googled everything step-by-step, and I even asked Carrie’s mum who does some hairdressing on the side for her industry-standard tips. Foolproof.
(She takes off the towel to reveal ginger hair)
It’s fucking ginger. Not even subtle caramel tones, or a strawberry blonde hue, I’m just a full-blown carrot top.
I called up Carrie’s mum and she said I must have missed a step, but I know for a fact that I followed her instructions word for word. So I looked online, and it turns out that if your hair is as dark as mine was, and you’re trying to go platinum, it really isn’t as straightforward as Carrie’s mum made it out to be. You’re supposed to go red first, then blonde, then platinum. Not straight to platinum, Carrie’s mum, for your information, for your future reference, Carrie’s mum.
I’ve gone from Mila Kunis to fucking Annie. I’m supposed to be rocking the Margot Robbie vibes right now, does this look like Margot Robbie hair to you? It’s more Lindsay Lohan, pre-prison days. I could be Ed Sheeran’s long lost twin right now, minus the songwriting ability and Black Nando’s card.
Maybe I’ll just cut it all off. Pixie chop. Buzzcut. Bald, even. Why not. Fuck it.
I guess Prince Harry is pretty topical this year. And the Weasley’s were always my favourite fictional family. And that Disney film, the one with the Scottish girl with massive ginger frizzy hair, that wasn’t bad either.
No, fuck this. I’m ginger, and I’m going to embrace it. I am one of them now. I’ve unintentionally joined this little society of innocently discriminated firecrackers, and I’m going to wave the flag high and proud.
Surely ginger’s one step closer to platinum than brunette was, anyway.
His first words to me were, ‘hey Amy, it’s Nick. I know, I don’t look a lot like my pictures.’
Who in their right mind thinks that that… is a winning opening line for the first in-person meeting with someone from an online dating platform?
I’d been talking to Nick for about a week. And he ticked every one of my boxes.
Hot bod: tick.
Cute face: ...Tick, ish. You don’t want them too cute.
Good job: Real estate agent, which explains the cockiness. Charmingly cocky, though, you know.
Own apartment: Tick.
Aspirations of getting his own dog: Tick.
Cute accent: Welsh.
Future dad material: Tick. Tick, tick, tick, tick.
So, fairly soon into our online conversation, he’s saying that it would be cool to meet up and have a drink. TICK.
I’ve done a few online dates in my time, but, admittedly, it had been a solid year or so, so I was a bit, you know, out of it. Rule of thumb, I like to have at least one form of social media to stalk them on prior to a meetup, mainly to confirm that they are the legitimate human being that they say they are, and not 64-year-old pub-owner Brian hiding behind his young, strapping, painfully fake online profile unbeknown to his adoring wife and three teenage children.
I could not find Nick online anywhere. I even raked in one of my housemates to Mi5 it up for me. She couldn’t find any trace of him either. So I made a joke to Nick, pre-meeting, about his elusive online presence. He replies with, ‘haha, I’m not really into social media.’
ALARM BELLS. No self-respecting twenty-something, who’s clearly tech-savvy enough to have installed and frequently use a dating app on his smartphone, doesn’t then follow that up with a narcissistic approach to social media platforms. ALARM BELLS.
So I try and be chill about it, but the niggling, logical part of my brain is telling me that something is up. If he’s got nothing to hide, then why is he hiding himself online?
Date-Day arrives, and I’d say I spent around six hours from start to finish getting ready for the evening. I’m talking hair, contour, lashes, nails, outfit, the whole works. I look fire.
I arrive at the bar — taxi escorted, thank you very much — and I can’t see him anywhere. So I text him and tell him that I’ll wait outside.
Then, all of a sudden, someone says, ‘hey Amy, it’s Nick.’
My face must have looked like something out of a fucking horror film. I genuinely had no idea who this man was. He was not the cocky, dapper, charming, cute-but-not-too-cute, animal-loving, future father to my future children that I thought he was going to be. He was a completely different person. The disappointment was clearly washed all over my face, as he proceeded to confirm, ‘I know I look nothing like my pictures.’
Instead of humiliating him any further — I could feel him sensing that I didn’t have a clue who he was — I quickly altered our plans of a swanky cocktail soirée to a ‘one round in Wetherspoons’ and ‘get my best friend to call with an emergency escape plan’ kind of night.
He took it well. He clearly knew that my best friend hadn’t really just broken up with her boyfriend so I’d had to go and get on the next available train to Nottingham to be there for her. He knew. Nick knew that he’d fucked up.
Next time I can’t find a guy’s Instagram after four days of searching, I’m getting Nev and Max on the case. Maybe he’ll rethink his online profile now, though. I guess I did him a favour. And did his future matches a favour, too. I took one for the team. You’re welcome, ladies, you’re welcome.
6.59. Booking opens at 7. And you’ve got to be there, waiting, on the dot, ready to go, refreshing the web page literally every second, because as soon as that clock hits 7.01, all of those 120 spaces for tomorrow’s appointments have gone. And then you’ve got another 24 hours of agonising waiting to find out if your body is currently nurturing a life-threatening, confidence-debilitating, libido-destroying sexually-transmitted infection.
So 24 hours passes. 6.59. Booking opens at 7. I’m there, waiting, on the dot, ready to go, refreshing the web page literally every second. 7 o’clock hits, and I’ve made it. 112 empty appointment slots glaring lovingly back at me through my laptop screen. ‘Pick me, Leo, pick me!’ They say. ‘Have a lie in, come in when you’re ready, take your pick!’ I go for a leisurely 11.20am slot, thinking that the roads will have considerably less people on them around then, not quite ready for their lunchtime adventures around the streets of Soho.
And then I’m like, why did I think that? Why did I not want a lunchtime slot when the streets would be busier? Or an after-work appointment, when city workers would be heading their way back towards the Underground?
11.10, and I’m walking down the road of the clinic. I’m on my phone, not really doing anything, opening and refreshing Instagram, even checking the BBC News app to make myself look as if I’m doing something other than heading to get my vagina swabbed.
I get to the clinic door. It’s discreet enough that if you’d never been down this road before, you wouldn't know what it was. There’s no obnoxiously large signpost saying ‘ENTER HERE IF YOU DIDN’T USE A CONDOM THE LAST TIME YOU HAD SEX’, but I can feel the café workers, the builders, the taxi drivers, ‘the locals’, all watching me as I grab the door handle.
I go inside. I tell the receptionist my name and my appointment time. He directs me down the stairs and tells me to sit where I like and wait to be called. I look around at the others in the waiting room. Mainly men, surprisingly. I don’t know why I’m surprised by that, but I am. I can’t help but look at what everyone else is wearing. I find myself judging those in their casual gear -- trainers and trackies, the low-maintenance looks -- and feeling intimidated by the men in their suits. As if they’ve got nothing to be worried about, probably clean, by the looks of them. Then I start considering what impressions my look is giving off. More on the casual end of the scale, admittedly. Maybe I should have worn heels?
I’m called into a practice room. I sit down, my palms are uncharacteristically wet.
Can you tell me why you have come to see us today? -- I want to know if I have a sexually transmitted infection.
Can you describe your last sexual experience? -- Average, I’ve had better.
The type of sex, please. Oral, vaginal, anal? -- Oh. I see. Umm, not anal.
Was contraception was used? -- No.
I’m tested, and I go. Feeling a little interrogated, I now have a mere six-hour wait until my results are discreetly sent to me by text. Six hours is a long old time when you’re waiting to see if you’re going to live out your days with Super Gonorrhea.
(Her phone vibrates) “Your results are fine.”
Brief. To the point. But finally, that sense of relief I’ve been waiting for.
(She continues reading) “Anything you contracted within the last two weeks may not have been detected.”
Thank you for teaching me what the wrong kind of attention is. I used to believe that having you want me, whatever that meant, was what I wanted.
Thank you for showing me what the wrong kind of affection is. I learned that you telling me how much you loved that dress I was wearing, or how much you loved that I was always up for a good time, was not the same as you telling me how much you loved me.
Thank you for making me realise that I didn’t need you. I used to wait when I wouldn’t hear from you for weeks on end, hoping that every time my phone went it might be from you. I’d tell myself I didn’t care, and I wasn’t going to let anyone treat me like that, and that I’d forget about you, but I would always be there when you finally wanted me again. I would rather have those few, rare moments with you, feeling like I was all that you wanted, than to never feel wanted by you again.
Thank you for telling me that I wasn’t allowed to wear clothes from New Look. You used to tell me that I should be proud of the fact that my parents had a lot of money, and should wear clothes made by brands to reflect that privilege. You also used to tell me not to bother if ‘said brand’ wasn’t clearly displayed on the front of the garment, screaming out to anyone who saw it that, yes, I had bought this £59 Ralph Lauren polo shirt against my will, though I’d much rather be in a two-for-£5 unlabelled strappy vest like the rest of the general female population.
Thank you for lying to me. I believed you when you said that you were around your friend’s watching the football that night. It was nice of her to tell me otherwise.
Thank you for taking my firsts from me. My first holiday with someone other than my parents, my first Christmas spending weeks choosing a present that I thought you’d love, my first giddy-feeling when I knew I was going to see you that day. Those were experiences that I’ll never be able to feel or share for the first time again, and I’ll always question if the next time I feel those feelings will also be deceivingly untrue, dishonest, and fake.
Thank you for dividing me from my best friends. After years of not being able to see them when I wanted, go on holidays with them, even take pictures with them, we’ve come out stronger than ever.
Most of all, thank you for leaving me. Despite everything you put me through, I still didn’t want you to go. Knowing that I’d given you everything I could, and it still wasn’t enough to make you stay, really broke me. But it taught me — like everything else that you gave, or didn’t give, to me — what I never needed in my life again.
I find it really hard to be strong. Even saying that out loud, I feel like if I were to say it to someone else, they would think that I was being petty. Attention-seeking. Girly.
But I’m not. We’re not. As women, girls, females, we have become accustomed to a treatment in society that I don’t think we’re even always aware of.
There’s this complex narrative of fighting against the typical female stereotypes to be considered a ‘strong’ woman. What I mean is, it is difficult to be shy, or timid, or quiet, and to still be considered strong. I’m confident in speaking my mind, I’m not easily intimidated. But that doesn’t mean that I’m always like that. It doesn’t mean that I’m always strong. Sometimes I wonder if I am trying to be this powerful, sassy, confident woman just because I feel like I can’t be anything else.
There are times when I have felt like I can’t. The other day, I walked passed a group of people waiting at a bus stop. Men and women. As I passed them, one of the men called out.
It was two in the afternoon. A mum was walking near me, taking her child out in a pushchair. She wasn’t angry at the man who shouted out at me. She wasn’t angry at the women that he was with who didn’t say anything. She was angry at me. She was angry that I had attracted that attention to myself. In her eyes, I had encouraged him in some way. She was angry that her daughter might have heard him curse. And so was I.
In that moment, I wasn’t my powerful, sassy, confident self. I wasn’t strong. I didn’t defend myself. I didn’t tell him that his words weren’t welcome. I didn’t call out the women for not saying anything, or the men, or the mother for taking his side. I kept walking, feeling responsible for instigating that situation.
We have been taught that it is our fault for attracting unwanted attention. How many times have you heard ‘that skirt’s a bit short, that top’s a bit low, you’re getting your boobs and legs out? What kind of impression are you trying to give?’
I’m guilty of falling into that, ‘does this outfit say “I’m asking for it”’ mentality. We’ve started a change in narrative. But it’s not enough. The strength that I’m searching for, the one that we need, will only come from a consciousness that we have not yet fully achieved. Speak up for that girl who your mate just catcalled. Don’t tell your friend her dress is too revealing. Put yourself in their shoes, and do what you would want someone to do for you.
That’s being strong.
It’s funny. Touching.
We shake each other’s hands to say hello. We touch fingers when we hand over money to bus drivers, shopkeepers, waitresses. We high-five to say well done, good work. Or give a pat on the back. We hug to say goodbye, or I like you. Or we do that weird back grab thing where guys kind of pretend to hug, but in a macho way.
We hold hands when we’re scared. Or in love. We tickle to make each other laugh. We punch to hurt each other. We hold each other’s waists to dance. We link arms. We wrap our arms around each other's shoulders. We sit on each other's shoulders.
We let hairdressers massage our heads, and beauticians to massage our hands, feet and backs. We let people kiss us. And touch us in ways that the bus driver and shopkeepers never would.
But I never said that he could touch me.
The difference between him and the waitress, the beautician, the hairdresser, is that they were all allowed to touch me. In me being there, in their cafe, or their salon, they knew when they were allowed to touch me, and how, and where. We didn’t have to discuss it, because we all knew the boundaries.
He didn’t know his boundaries.
I hope that he learns to listen. I hope that he learns that when someone says, ‘no’, that it’s not a question. Or to be discussed, or argued with, or ignored. I hope that he never puts someone in that situation again, where they feel like their only option is to give in.
It’s really a funny thing. Touching.
Copyright: Zoe Mace 2020