I can’t remember the conversation I had with the child. I can’t even remember whether the child was a boy or a girl. But I know the child’s mother came back from wherever she had been – probably the toilet – and called the child away.
I was weird.
I had just thrown a whole trifle, dream topping and all, into the bin.
We were in McDonalds.
I had been in McDonalds for well over an hour, maybe even two or three. I was supposed to be having Christmas dinner with the friends who had promised to never leave me. Supposed to be eating student versions of turkey and roast potatoes and peas and gravy and trifle.
The trifle was from a packet, made the day before. I’d been to Morrisons and picked out the pudding that I had promised to provide. Come home and made it, layer by layer, hoping – stupidly – that this trifle would be the thing needed to glue the broken bonds. I’d crumbled a flake, placed silver balls and glacé cherries on top. This would be the proof that I still cared; still loved.
But it was my fault that the house had been already rented out for next year by somebody else. I had made them wait too long. I had got it all wrong. I said that I did want to live there, and then I said that I didn’t. I promised that I would still pay my share of the rent. That they could live there as a three and that I wouldn’t visit or claim the room as my own. I had forgotten how else to say PLEASE LIKE ME: I’M STILL IN HERE.
That day, they made me promise to speak to the housing advisor on campus because it was my fault that they had nowhere to live. She smiled, slightly confusedly, when she told me to come back in April if we were still struggling to find accommodation. I wanted to shout at her that I was fine: I didn’t need anywhere to live, but I didn’t know another way to keep my friends. I wondered if she gave advice about that, too.
It was obvious that I was no longer invited to the Christmas dinner. They were upset, they said, walking together as only people who share worry can. They didn’t think it would be OK for me to join them. I wanted them to have the trifle. They didn’t want the trifle.
I sat in front of the computer, pretending to write my assignment. I never cried, never, but I cried now. I felt so stupid, carrying the insulated picnic bag full of trifle that nobody wanted.
I couldn’t go home. At home, they thought that I had friends. They thought that I had chosen to isolate myself. They thought that the friends had made a tearful phonecall to my sister, asking if I was OK. In reality, I later found out, my sister had made a tearful phonecall to my friends. They didn’t want to get involved with my family drama they told me. That was my fault, too.
It was that day that I learnt that the hopeless go to McDonalds. If you look past the families and groups of friends lining their stomachs for nights out, or flexing their newfound teenage freedom with fries and a McFlurry, you will find the hopeless and the desperate. The place where people with nowhere else to go and no-one to celebrate with sit, hour after hour. The place where pain is numbed by icy soft drinks and hard-backed chairs.
And there I sat. Five o’clock became six o’clock. Six became seven. The time dragged. I scraped the trifle into the bin. I didn’t cry. I read my book. My phone echoed with the desperation for the text that said ‘we didn’t mean it: we’ve kept you a plate – come now’.
I wanted my bed. I wanted second year. I wanted, quite honestly, to die.
But, eventually, seven o’clock became seven thirty became eight fifteen.
I swapped the hard-backed chair for the bus, and then the bus for home. I smiled and said it had been wonderful and I shared the jokes I imagined might have been told. I didn’t mean to lie – I didn’t want to deceive anybody – but I also didn’t want to disappoint. I didn’t want to explain that there had been no tearful phonecall, that I had been humiliated by talking to a housing officer when I had somewhere to stay already. I didn’t want to relive the pain throbbing inside me, when I could watch rubbish on TV and go to bed.
I honestly couldn’t remember ever feeling so utterly miserable.
I went to bed.
I am not sure how this story finishes, because it hasn’t yet. Although that day felt like the end of everything, the apotheosis of misery, it wasn’t. I have slept and worked and written and talked and cried and laughed my way through five years since. It was shit, and it was very shit for a long time, but it got better. It was the worst day of my life, and then there were other contenders and other days and the pain dulled.
When I say ‘keep going’, this is what I mean. It’s a glib phrase. On its surface, it cushions none of your suffering; doesn’t listen to your story; understands none of the severity of your emotions. It sounds like I haven’t got a clue about what is going through your head, the reality of your everyday.
When I say ‘keep going’, I know that the pain is real and the days drag and everything is dark. I know that the very substructure of your soul is aching.
But the days keeping happening. And other things happen. You meet new people and have new experiences and you smile again and you laugh again and eventually it doesn’t seem that bad. Not the experiences – the pain of those might never dull or fade, I know for me that writing about the trifle experience still gives me a lump to swallow away – but the now. The now doesn’t smart so much.