She signs her name on the dotted line to indicate it’s her who’s collecting the prescription. When I say, ‘She signs her name,’ it’s my name. Ruth Hendricks is my name but it’s not who I am. Who she is. There are levels of who you are and supposedly, for most people, they collapse together to form an individual. I’m not sure I buy that, and if I don’t buy it then all the mes all the way to Ruth Hendricks, signing her name, means she doesn’t buy it either.
She, me, I, is handed a taped-over paper bag. It’s small, secure, only my business. The girl in the chemists can’t know what the anti-depressants are for. Depression, of course, but the ways to be depressed are myriad; the thoughts that come; the feelings that stick. I tuck the little paper bag into my handbag and it’s very much me doing it. It’s a simple action, a basic physical action, it doesn’t need watching.
She, the me that is I, turn and walk towards the exit. There are strips of metal panelling running down each small section of shelving. There are bottles of shampoo and conditioner on the shelves. On another a display of condoms and lube, on the stand next to it containers of vitamins, and next to that hairbrushes, hair-ties. I see the woman I am blur past on the dividing metal panelling as I walk past, as that woman walks past, hand resting atop the small medication box sticking out of my purse.
She doesn’t know when she’ll take the first pill, so in a way I don’t know when I’ll take it. Should she dedicate some ritual to it, looking into a mirror to watch whatever appears, changed or not, noticing difference or not? Should she take it before bed so any upset comes during sleep when it won’t be remembered? Should she dig out a tablet in that moment, right there in the shop, as though something urgent?
She walks through the beige tinged amniotic light of a half-deserted shopping centre, from the pharmacy, to a café that’s mostly empty. Most of her feels small, and so wins out at the counter, and orders a large Americano; partially in defiance; partially as wishing-charm. I have to find her way to a boxy brown leather chair at a precarious formica table away from here, away, together with my-selves. She has already decided in half of her being, the other half simply has to catch up. Stirring the coffee with the spoon she unfolds herself into herself watching herself. Constantly watching. You must make a decision. So she does and I do, and I push a pill through the blister. It’s a red and white gel cap. Can this unite me?
Her/my dose goes up. A new sheet of tablets, double the strength, to take every day. The doctor said it’ll take a few weeks to have an effect. I’ve noticed an effect already. Every thick swallow of a pill is fully and solely my own. It’s a one-me taking it. A me that’s not hesitating at the edge of another me. It makes me feel dizzy but the dizziness isn’t disturbing. When I first noticed it I leant into the feeling, embracing the free-form liquid-rolling of my thoughts my mind-feeling floated on, or maybe I floated in. I was surrounded. My face beyond itself like a cheap plastic clown. In that moment things seem to change for me, a momentary reassertion of the self all my friends tell me I’m so far from. It’s a me I’m not familiar with. I don’t think any part of me is familiar with it.
I look at my friends in the café. I wonder how can they be the same people when I’m not even one person. Evidence proves them wrong. I’m wrong.
She, her, I, me takes in the table filled with teapots and cafetières, cups and cake: the only truth because it can’t lie about who it is. She sees her friends all split and different sitting around solid and whole.
I, me, she, her wonders if the one person I should be could be a better friend to these women chatting about their holiday, with families, to seaside cottages. The holiday, three weeks ago, I skipped out on. I didn’t even pay the deposit.
“I went to the doctor,” one of me says. Part of the doctor’s questioning was about the watching of yourself, the one of me feeling disconnected. I knew his inquiry to be about dissociation. I told him I felt in control of the many mes partitioned as me. I’m not removed just various; a variety; varifaceted.
Jess hushes the rest. She places her hand on my arm. She gazes as though looking behind my eyes and I remember, more become aware, I just told them I went to the doctor. “Good,” she says. Her comment is too much but not enough.
“Finally,” Susan says, then she catches herself. I, the we that is only me, feels one shard of me laughing, not out loud but some form of smile reflecting the world beyond us. “I mean, it took courage to speak with him, about, well, it all, you know. You did well, I’m happy for you.”
“What did he say?” Stacy asks.
“I don’t really remember,” I say, not pushing myself to recall a conversation I know to be of little significance. They all nod.
“Did he have suggestions?” Stacy asks.
“A prescription,” I say, but the words are small on my tongue on my lips. I feel like I can see them stalled above the café table somehow still in my mouth. I didn’t know I felt shame. I tell myself it’s relief.
“Good,” Jess says again. “It helped me.”
“When?” Susan asks. “I don’t remember this.”
“In college,” she says.
I breathe deeply, withdrawing the words hanging in the room back into my soul. I own my mouth again. Susan and Jess are recounting their college years and I walk one of my selves outside the café entrance to dream of a smoke, while I stay at the table, forcing bright eyes at my friends’ tales of our college years, remembering when I really was depressed.
I’m not finished my smoke by the time Susan stands. “I’ll get the bill,” she says.
Stacy puts her money, already in her hand, in the middle of the table. My hand is holding nothing and so fully itself in all its wrongs. Just as much it’s bent backwards, knuckles reversed, stroking with gnarled fingers an opposite palm wanting to tighten its grasp.
“I’ve got you,” Jess says to me. She collects Stacy’s note from the table handing a twenty Euro note to Susan.
Unformed words whose effect I predict scrawl through my throat, gurgling, scraping.
“I’ve got it,” Jess says to me.
The smoking me returns from outside to the inside me with my six extra Euros I didn’t expect to have. What will the me that didn’t have such riches do differently to the me that’s spent them? A precocious me calculates the cost of a pack of menthols and what I could forego for the rest of the cost of a twenty box.
Everyone has already stood and is putting on coats at the café doorway. I want to smile at them but there’s no-one with me to smile to. No part within me that can force a smile. I try to recall the thickness of swallowing a pill that morning.
I spent three and a half hours wondering if the monitor screen could turn into a mirror. Would the webcam built into the casing be enough? To turn it on, a little window in the corner of the files, apps, and word document, and see me confirmed as being right here.
The second hand on the clock on the wall ticks backwards, then forwards, then keeps advancing. A thought occurs to me as being always present: it’s a trick of the mind I tell me. You expected the movement and so you’re already anticipating it, seeing it. Proof reality is a facade.
People need to find out about our introductory talk, ‘Blogging for a Local Community,’ and it’s fifteen minutes until my day is over. All it would take are fingers engaged with keys. The words would be plain, the sentiment basic, yet there’s no demand other than a punch-in/punch-out requirement I do it right now and send out the notice.
I look up at the clock again, knowing what I could expect and doubt filling that expectation. Its movement is slow, as though its mechanism has decided I’ve not given enough with my day. I stand.
“Finished that email?” Claire asks.
“Yes,” I lie, but I want to scream. “I’ll send it out tomorrow.” The voice is quiet among the many mes screaming. One scream is loudest.
“It’s a few minutes early to leave,” she says. “But it’s fine.” The room echoes away her protestation that meant nothing. I look at the clock again. It glares back at me and I smile despite myself. It’s a wide grin of a smile, teeth bared, a predator’s smile. I’m preying on myself. Tomorrow will be worse, but today is just fine, so I leave. The wind makes a sail of my coat as I step outside the front door. I’m blown, taken, forced.
The one of me walking walks to a gallery, serving food, at the heart of the city. It’s just about lunchtime and the restaurant is full but I have so much time its menu can wait. She and me step into the high-ceilinged, wide with wide windows, painted white room that hosts the current exhibition. All-we look at the photos, the collages, the paintings. All-we can’t imagine what the show could be. Standing before each framed piece I see my impossible shadow: an impossible shadow. Spots shine down from above, illuminating the work and I can’t figure out how I see my body-self blocking off the light that should cast clarity on each artwork.
I move closer. The shadow grows larger.
My stomach growls with hunger and I turn from my impossible impression. There are photographs on the other side of the room. They are distant. I can’t see them. I can’t see me. I feel the many-ones-of-us separated, separating fleeing this room, fleeing to the far side of the gallery, the street, the city, even navigating the oceans and continents across the world. I have become a small candle, now snuffed out, remembering when I shone. The light of mine so candescent now gone. I’m not disappeared but disparate. Did I forget my medication today? Did I forget it yesterday? The day before? It’s been a month and I’m not sure there’s a difference. I don’t remember waking but part of me did. I don’t remember work other than the clock ticking backwards, which was just a trick, but part of me must remember if I can envision it.
I see a woman, maybe a teen, sitting on a plain rectangular box-bench. She’s not looking at me but looking past me. She’s looking perpendicular to me, beyond me to something fixed and focused. An art pad is on her crossed legs and pencils are laid out at her side. She’s studying a grand painting; almost ten feet across, six feet high.
“Could you draw me?” I ask, voice piercing the steady static hum of the high hanging lights. She doesn’t notice my interruption. I dig into my bag. I have thirty Euros; my treat-to-myself money; all extra in determining the me that has worth.
I walk to her.
“Could you draw me?” I ask. I hold my money up. “I can pay.” I drop the twenty and clutch onto the ten. She bends from her seated position to take the note off the floor; body stretching and at ease with its movement.
“I could,” she says. “But it won’t be—“
“The best you can manage,” I say. “Please.” My pleading slides out of mouth. She turns over a new leaf of paper as I sit next to her, knowing, acknowledging. I turn to her, face her. I face what she might see.
“OK, let me, just…” she says. And I force a look from deep within that says it cares about itself.
Her hand sweeps one line of pencil across the page. I feel a part of myself being drawn away leaving a more real self in its place. Another line is swept onto the page, making a curved peak I imagine is the height of my pose. I feel myself breathe. I feel myself ease. I am realised.
Three frames and their intended portraits are laid out before the candles on the coffee table, between them a bottle of wine. There are candles on the mantelpiece, the window ledge, in the fireplace. I could watch each of them flickering its life into the air but instead I bathe in the massing night held back by their warm orange glow.
I try to hold myself still, knowing I’ll always be breathing, so no matter how still I am all the world dances around me; maybe in a small way because of me.
In a stack are the paintings and drawings I’ve had done of myself. Is this what your night out was cancelled for? I could ask myself, instead I know my night-in is far more important. I have no money for dinner, and drinks, but money isn’t everything: the realisations of myself are close to hand. I leaf through my portraits.
I stand and walk to the sloping bookshelf, too precarious to hold many books, and take down the little craft box filled with tacks, tape, pencils, craft knife and folded over paper bags with the sleeping-pill prescriptions I picked up and hoarded over the years: always planning, always predicting a time when enough would come to be enough.
Enough is enough now.
It was three months ago I bought acid-free tape to hang my first portrait on the wall. I decided against it. I couldn’t risk damaging it securing it to brittle paint. Part of me told me I couldn’t risk damaging the wall because of my deposit, not just aesthetics, then the whole of me laughed considering damp ceiling corners with plaster flakes hanging.
I take a sip of the glass of wine and consider a benzo. Childish foolishness but what else do I have? My drawings don’t seem to be all. I’ve been seen, and I know there’s no depth to them, just a refraction, a slice and a cut. It’s barely enough to hint at more than a surface. I quieten this benzo demanding husk of me.
I didn’t know how far it would go, not after that day in the gallery. Finding art students and hobbyists to throw a few quid just to know which of me they could possibly see. I was afraid of collecting the fragments of horror—my horror—that others potentially found. It’s a truth I’m no longer afraid of. The drugs on the table are part of me, never taken. My anti-depressants in the bathroom another me, stopped being taken. The wine a part of me, reinforcing me.
I take some of my pictures, and saying, “Fuck you wall!” while meaning, “Fuck you, me!” hang them in the patches of light where they can be seen. They are all around the room. They look down at me, these not mes. They are ideas of me.
I sit and pour another glass while part of me wishes all my-selves were really possible and one of mes could be out dancing, not-caring, at the party. The only mes there’s space for are all around this room, some dying, some thriving, and me in between but there’s no multiple mes only multiple intentions and feelings, laughter and tears, all balancing out to the one impression I have to make if I am ever to.
I take another sip of wine then pick up a frame, then pick up the portrait I want in it. I smooth it out on the plastic glass.
My phone beeps, it’s a picture of the girls on their night out. They look solid, true to life, while posing with ridiculous gin bowls. I doubt they could ever know how fractured it’s possible to be. I smile for them. I return to my task.
After three framed portraits, slowly, precisely set, I can feel the relaxation of the wine and I feel the drunk me fighting with the wary me. It’s fine. It’s what I want. If there’s only two of me that’s infinitely less than the potential mes there could be. Two of me might come to cohesion and find a finality in my decision, if fought over.
My phone beeps. I see the time. It’s getting late. —Do you want chips?
I can’t know. How can anything be known and I look at the benzos again and wonder what miasma I could fall under? What grander vision of life could come to me as a one-thing, draining faster, tumbling deeper, not answering the door.
It beeps again. —It doesn’t matter, we’re bringing chips.
Part of me knew this.
Eventually there’s a knock and when I open up in tumble all of my friends; Jess, Susan and Stacy.
They know their way to my living room and I follow them in.
“Very pretty,” Stacy says.
“Are all these you?” Jess asks.
“And these are you, or at least one of you,” I say, and I point to their portraits in the frames on the table.
Susan takes a hesitant step but Stacy and Jess have swarmed the table. Stacy shrieks, “These are us!” She picks up the portrait of her on the table. “And these are all of you!” she says as she waves at the portraits I’ve taped up around us.
“Some of me,” I say. “As seen by others,” but before I can explain I’m trapped in a hug and the drunk me loses, or possibly wins, and tells hesitant me to listen. So I do. And as I listen I hear them debate their likenesses and hear some of the truth I had found. “It’s good, but it misses your—” and I’m far away but present. And I’m watching myself watching my friends. But not all of me is listening. Part of me is wondering why the small ways of being found can’t be enough for every me. And I talk, and I wonder, and I watch, and I watch. And I’m among myself in a room full of mes with my friends who will never see what I see, never know what I know.