Tea Break Read
A serialised short story
By Allan Hunter
It’s been a bit of a blur this week and I see I haven’t written anything for a while. I had the flu or something. The same thing everyone’s got except mine was a stomach bug as well, which was not fun, let me tell you. I don’t know why I wrote that, since this is my journal for me, so who am I saying that to, that “let me tell you?” bit? Yeah, I know the answer already, but it’s this inner dialogue thing that I do. I think it separates out two parts of me – the part I show the world and the part that’s always hanging back, commenting on the world, and writing this. But then there must be another part, right? Because I write this and then I come along later and read it and perhaps I see it a different way. I seem to have a lot of versions of me in this skin. Which is why I get it, now, that first exercise. That one where we wrote down our names and our signatures and Malcolm said, look at how you sign your name differently. See, it’s different, perhaps not by much, but perhaps it’s a lot different – depending on if it’s a signature for a job, on a letter, on a credit card slip, on a card you give your sweetie. It’s different because we’re different versions of us in different circumstances. And when I have the flu I’m a different version of me. Everyone is. Carla (down the hall, not the other one) becomes a baby when she’s sick. Really, she curls up and cries and talks in a little voice like a three year old. Me, I get grumpy because I can’t believe those microbes are doing this to me again. Anyhow you get the picture.
So I’m feeling a bit better and I go off to Malcolm’s class because now I’m into it and I wouldn’t miss it. It’s much more exciting than – did I say exciting? No, it’s not exciting, it’s like when you watch a TV show and you just don’t want to stop watching because you want to know what’s going to come next.
And this was worth the time.
So he does his usual thing of asking us about our papers we’re about to turn in, and if we have any thoughts to share, and some people say a few words, but I’m guessing they have all their real words down on the papers and they don’t want anyone to hear them, at least not yet. So then he reads us this nonsense poem. He tells us it’s nonsense. I look it up later and it really is a bit weird, it’s called The Jabberwock and it’s famous, it turns out. It’s about a boy being sent into the woods to kill a monster “with eyes of flame” but there are all sorts of words in it you have to use your imagination on, like “brillig” and “slithy” and so on. So we read it aloud, talk about it, and then he says, “draw me this creature”.
Well, you can hear the groans. Drawing. We’re all afraid of drawing, because we’re all bad at it. No one here’s a Visual Arts major. But he says do it anyway and write words when you need to if it doesn’t look like you thought it would.
So we all get to work. And actually I think everyone’s having a pretty good time. I look up and I see that almost everyone’s actually doing it (Mike is texting. Typical) and they’re concentrating, too. Then Malcolm asks us if anyone needs more time and I see I’m the last one drawing, so I stop.
Turns out we’ve been drawing for 20 minutes. I could hardly believe it. I rather like what I’ve done. It’s a sort of a dinosaur thing, a dragon in some ways, and it’s coming out of a cave to scowl down on a village, which it might decide to attack, perhaps. I’ve put in a lot of detail, too. It has long claws but it also has bad eyes, and is a bit thick, really. It looks misunderstood and lonely, which is why it’s so destructive and angry. It’s about 40 feet tall, and I’m thinking it’s not so much an it as a male monster. I kind of like it. It’s not a wimp, that’s for sure.
So – there I go again with the so – Malcolm asks to see what we came up with and he asks a few questions and they’re all really really different, these monsters. And I don’t mean just the drawing. I mean the execution of the drawings.
And he tells us that for some people the challenge is being asked to draw. Because when we’re three or four we just draw, happily, and we don’t care what it looks like. But somewhere along the way we get self-conscious and that’s because we run into judgment. And for some of us that’s a huge blow. The thing we used to do, drawing or scribbling, is now better than or worse than someone else. And that can hurt us. And that can come out in this exercise, he says, because some people are really angry at being asked to draw, and that often means they’re afraid. But drawing’s as natural as breathing. Why would anyone criticize you for breathing?
And that, says Malcolm, is what this is all about, because if this exercise works (and he leans forwards here and we all get a bit quiet) it might just be a version of your own private monster. The thing you’re afraid of that stops you getting where you really want to.
I’m not sure how that applies to mine. Luckily he keeps talking so I don’t have to ask a dumb question.
And he says that if your monster is looking at you then it’s a current problem. If it’s looking away then it’s a sort of background problem. And if it’s up close, looking at you then it might be an urgent problem. And I look at Mike’s and his monster is a huge wide mouth, full of sharp teeth, and it fills the whole page. I think I’m beginning to get this thing, now.
Then Malcolm goes round and looks at everyone’s and he looks at mine and he says it looks kind of distant and angry, and you say it’s male so I’d have to say that you might well have a distant male figure in your life who you’re afraid might show his anger at some point, even though you say he’s lonely. But people can be angry because they’re lonely. And then he looks as me and says: “Is this making any sense to you? I don’t know anything about your life, so I’m guessing a bit here, but sometimes that’s what one has to do.”
And I mumble something.
But for fuck’s sake, he’s right.
It’s my Dad. Of course it fucking is. And I’m so angry. At him! And annoyed. I’m always afraid, always, he’s just going to want to come back into my life and that it’ll upset everything my Mom’s worked for so hard, and he’ll want to know me. And since he left when I was about two I can honestly say I really don’t want to know him. I mean, where was he when I really could have used him? Nowhere. Nowhere at all. Him and his addictions. And if he’s lonely then he’s done that to himself and he’s welcome to it. And he’s more than that, because now I’m thinking and I think he’s also a bit like my ex who keeps wanting to come back into my life again so he can keep on treating me like shit. I’m not having that happen again.
So I ask Malcolm if it could be two people.
And then it starts to spill out of me. What I said – except it took me forever to say it. And Malcolm listens, and passes me the Kleenex. And he says that, yes, it can be two people especially when they’re so similar. And I’m blown away by what just happened and so I grab another Kleenex to hide behind.
And then Jessica starts to speak and she says; my Dad’s like that too. So the Kleenex goes to her. And I never realized that Jessica, Jessica for Christ’s sakes, had the same things going on as me. Except I think it was worse for her. Because she’s speaking and I get the overwhelming sense, like smoke entering the room, that he got sexual with her, and I feel like I’m choking.
I’ve no idea how we make it to the end of class.
On the way out I gave Jessica a huge hugs and then before I can do anything I start crying again. Why? It’s not me I’m crying for. I think it’s her. But I’m doing the crying.
I don’t understand what’s happening, but later I say to myself that I’m relieved it is happening. Jessica texts me a bit later and I text back, and we’re kind of gentle with each other, and it feels supportive. Jessica is so different from me. She’s so squeaky clean American girl, with her blonde ponytail and her perfect skin. I mean, she’s beautiful in a wholesome sort of way. But I can see she chews her nails. I wonder if we can be friends. Then I know, we already are friends. We know who we each are. And so I go over to her dorm and all I can think of is to say thank you. And she opens her door and she’s the one who says thank you, and have a hug. Then I tell her, I say, we’re so different but we’re also so similar, you and me. And she says yeah. And I’m really, deeply, profoundly happy about that, and sad too. I’m going to stop writing about this now as I keep getting all teared up.