At the Beach

September 14, 2017

Written on 30 July 2017 & completed 28 August 2017

 

One night, alone, I drunkenly walked along a cracked wall which led into the sea. It was lined by large rocks, giving my path the appearance of a decorated platform, a naturally formed stage. I didn’t go out too far, but enough that the waves both crashed and lapped up and over the edges of the concrete, varying in intensity with each small step. My face was soaked with tears, marked with smudged eye-liner and deep frowns, and my grimaces materialised the muttering between my thoughts. Some of these internal arguments were coherent sentences, but most were half-thoughts completed by intense waves of emotion, usually anger masked as frenzied sadness.

 I had company earlier in the evening. A fire built with cider and the laughs shared around it, though I’m sure I only accepted the former. While I liked to believe that I didn’t make people uncomfortable, in hindsight I know I was not totally invisible at the beach, at least not at the start of the night. My body language and silence was more obvious than I was aware, yet I was continuously oblivious to this and instead felt paranoid that I was missing out on some big secret or joke. They were keeping something from me.

 I don’t think I was initially invited on this over-night trip. It was three or four sets of couples, plus a few male friends going solo. My boyfriend had been invited along, and I got the feeling he was compelled to ask me to join them, or at least requested the others do so. Why else would everyone else’s girlfriend be invited, but not me? I probably made things awkward, but I was used to that and even didn’t care because I was intent on being included.

I had shared the long bus ride with the girls up to the holiday house.They chatted and joked the whole journey, but of course, they had been best friends years before I joined this social group, and would be for much longer after my departure. At this stage, I was probably the only one feeling awkward, but this wasn’t necessarily anything to do with their behaviour. I was unknowingly deeply depressed and in the third or fourth year of un-diagnosed PTSD. I wasn’t exactly a barrel of laughs, nor did I find it easy to relate to those who seemed socially gifted compared to me. On the journey, I listened to music and cried quietly, interacting with my companions minimally - I still didn’t know what they made of me. My mood brightened once we arrived and I was able to see my boyfriend, as well as the other guys. I always did find male company less intimidating.

And so, the day-drinking began, with some weed on the side and sunshine blazing down on us. The group would mingle and disperse over and over into smaller gatherings between the beach, the house and the water. While I wasn’t completely mentally gone, the day was shrouded in unease and discontent. This was usually exacerbated by the alcohol, but on this occasion also wasn’t helped by my boyfriend deflecting my attempts at one-to-one interaction with him and his not-so-subtle disapproval of my own avoidant behaviour. The more he tried to shake me in order to spend time with the others (while coldly encouraging me to do the same), the more I clung to him. I felt paralysed by my inability to just “make small talk and have fun” when I was struggling with the clouding in my head, and so the most I could do was hang back from him, walking alone and picking my lips until they bled. I counted the unpredictable minutes until I thought he’d be okay talking to me again. It was hard on both of us, I understand that. One should never put all their hopes of happiness on the back of another. It was too much, and I think I knew it at the time on some level, but I didn’t know any other way to be. The cycle continued like this. We sat by each other at the camp-fire, and while I wished he would play the songs he knew I loved, they just weren’t appropriate for a group of fun-lovers in their late teens looking to relax and be entertained. Nobody wants to hear the saddest Bright Eyes songs for a laugh.

 In place of unattainable solace, I drank. They sang, I drank more. They laughed, I downed my cup and poured another. Occasionally, I managed to fake a laugh to try and trick myself into cheering up, which was obviously never successful. I would become filled with silent anger before any hysterical breakdown, that was how it worked. I knew this by now, and so to delay the inevitable, I would try and displace my deep heartache into complete disdain of others’ happiness. I wasn’t quite aware of just how hateful I was in these moments, but the giggles of the girls would literally pain me, tiny needles slowly inserting through my ear canal and vibrating with every fresh outburst of joy. Especially aggravating was when they started singing, joining in with the upbeat tones of Jason Mraz, or Bob Marley. I had neither the confidence or the talent to do this, but these qualities seemed to radiate from each and every one of them. I put them on a pedestal, and glared furiously upwards.

 To top off the brewing storm, the group announced the intention to skinny dip. I’m not sure if everyone went to the water or if a few stayed behind, but in my memory I was alone by the fire as their voices grew distant and their splashes echoed through the embers. This is the time of night where my fingers start skimming the surface of the sand, searching for something sharp. I examined discarded beer bottles, contemplating how I could break them, but even with the temptation of the sound of shattering glass, I didn’t want to be that person who left broken, dangerous debris on a public beach. I thought myself to be an elusive self-harmer, but conveniently I disregarded from my mind the times I had smashed bottles in parks and on pavements with urgency and determination. Instead, I settled for tearing cider cans apart with my hands, letting the thin membrane of aluminium quietly slice my fingertips.

Here, I would feel the weight of my insignificance crushing against my own self-importance. I thought I was funny, interesting and kind, in theory, socialising should be a breeze. I suppose I forgot that other people needed to actually see real evidence of these perceived facts in order to actually believe them. A frowning face avoiding eye contact and a one headphone nestled through my hair is not exactly the poster child of an approachable and endearing person. I was a walking contradiction, craving inclusion and invitation while simultaneously vilifying friends of friends, incompetent or unwilling to socialise under terms which felt forced and disquieting. It always felt uncomfortable, but I was told I should make more of an effort even though I didn’t really know what that meant or if it was even an achievable goal. So I put myself in the centre of crowded rooms and smoking sections, sweating, sighing, waiting, for my miraculous metamorphosis to take place and turn me into a sociable, relaxed and normal teen.

The others came back from the shore, all glistening with smiles and wet hair, and I both envied and hated their power to stand in their underwear without shame or fear, in front of everyone. I couldn't read their minds, but I’m pretty sure that amongst play-fighting, bra-strap snapping, and trying not to drop their dry clothes in the sand, they were not plagued with the thoughts of public humiliation, abuse, or rape. Enjoying the tipsy frivolity of a night half-naked at the beach would surely be interrupted if they felt the same dread I felt at that moment. I was fully-clothed, over-dressed, yet I still felt the internal terror that at any time I might be stripped and goaded into joining their line-up, an ugly question mark tacked onto the end of an otherwise perfect sentence. Because that’s what I was, an unwelcome eroteme that had no answer and could not be addressed without risk of emotional collapse.

None of the people at the beach that night would ever come close to doing anything so cruel to me, but this was just the early days of psychological corruption by my mental illness and so I could not trust anyone. I couldn’t understand body language, unspoken rules and even had trouble with verbal communication due to the commonality of ‘joking around’ at that age. People would tease and be sarcastic in a light and harmless way, and frequently did so but I could only believe someone’s word when they explained specifically that it was not malicious. I understood sarcasm when I did it myself, because I know the truth and the untruth, but when someone else did this, it was mostly undetectable. People saying one thing and meaning another was lying as far as I was concerned. I came across as very gullible for a long time because I couldn’t tell if someone was joking with me, or lying to my face. Given a few minutes I might slowly understand the intention, but for the majority of times I had to just sit and stew in confusion over what someone had just said to me, what they meant, and why they said it. While it was common for me to lie to myself, I didn’t enjoy doing it to others. I also wasn’t good at it. My sarcasm would either be painfully obvious or incredibly short-lived as I couldn’t stand the few seconds of deception before they figured me out, so I would reveal myself early.

The discomfort with lying contributed to my social awkwardness. I would consider any words spoken under social stress or duress to be a form of deception. Instead, I would almost fold in on myself when questioned on my disinterest in joining in with the group. It wasn’t actually disinterest though, because more than anything I wanted to be Normal, one of the best-friends-girl-gang, easy going and good company but the one thing holding me back was myself. I only knew the emotion of that self-restriction at the time and not the thought process. I didn’t know what to tell them. I should have been normal, but I wasn’t, and I made sure I remembered that both myself and the others were to blame, when really it was neither of our faults.

The fire began to die down, and one of the boys proposed we all continue our drinking back at the summer house. Everyone agreed. Sadly, I didn’t consider myself to be part of ‘everyone’, I was just a tag-along, a ghost, waiting for the next party to haunt. The procession of giddy teenagers began staggering their way across the sand and onto the tarmac, beginning the short walk up a narrow path to the house. I wandered onto the end of the parade, walking so slowly that even those directly in front of me began to grow distant in the poorly lit street. My footsteps dwindled to a standstill. I watched them go on their merry way with their lazily held beer bottles illuminated in the orange street-lights. As they dissipated into hazy flame-like beacons in the distance, I realised that not one of them had turned around or noticed I was gone. They had forgotten all about me. I turned around and headed back to the beach, and this is where my story began - a solitary figure on a narrow aisle overlooking my personal stage. It is here I battled inside my mind while the waves battered the ground beneath my feet. The stars looked down on me and I looked up at them, pleadingly, but even a shooting star means very little when reflected in such pensive eyes. I found myself turning my attention to the water, and in the unsteady gait of a reckless conductor, I closed my eyes and gestured wildly at the waves, cursing and daring them to take me. I challenged each ripple to claim me and if that was the fate of tonight, I would topple over into their royal depths, unquestioning and humble. My body would be tossed around like a witch’s poppet, beaten and brandished with all the fury the waves and rocks could conjure. The warm blood from my head wounds would coalesce with the cold of the deep, vanishing into darkness in the most resplendent descent. It would no longer stain my clothes or tarnish the roadsides with tired droplets. The east coast of Scotland would wash over my exhausted body, cleansing it of the pain, or of life, for they were the same thing in the end. No doubt it would take several hours for anyone to even notice I was absent, and by then, I would be with the Water-babies, or maybe swimming the great expanse of the Super-Sargasso Sea, where all lost things end up, eventually.

After some time, I opened my eyes and the waves merely blinked back at me, as if asking, “So what now?” They hadn’t taken me, not even close. They called my bluff and dared me right back, to carry on with life. I can’t say I was inspired or enthused by their decision, but I respected their right to do so. And with that, I sighed. Rotating on my sea-drenched boots, I made my way back to the party. The door opened with little surprise crossing the face of those stood in the hall. I braced myself as I went through the doorway, and prepared for the next storm.

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