Last night I was reading from Robert Bly’s A Little Book on the Human Shadow. Bly describes the shadow as ‘the long black bag we drag behind us’ – the place where we stuff all the parts of ourselves that we learn are not acceptable when we are growing up. It’s pretty devastating.
Then I dreamt about this event from my teenage years, and I am writing it down to honour my younger self, to acknowledge her wounds, and to console her.
I’m standing on the gravel drive at the front of a stately home that my friends and I have hired for the night, to have our sixth form leavers’ ball. I have spent a lot of time helping organise the event.
I’m laughing, and covered in goosepimples. The MDMA I took an hour ago is perfusing my body, and the gravel feels divine through the soles of my new silver shoes. Swish, swish, swish – I twist my feet from side to side like Dorothy, tingling all over, feeling the stars above bursting inside me. Space inside me. I am wild and mysterious. Everyone else here is drunk but I have discovered nirvana, or psychedelic amphetamine.
I haven’t eaten today. This morning I weighed forty three kilograms. I was worried about cellulite after I started taking the contraceptive pill, and Oliver told me I was getting fat. In the end, he didn’t like my legs as much as his old girlfriend’s, and he went back to her.
Now, I am lithe. I eat only branflakes. Also, I have waist length red hair pinned up in an elegant chignon: my dad paid for me to have hair extensions at Kensington Market. My dress is a tight little black number, brand new from Next in Milton Keynes, sequins glinting in the light from the open doors behind me.
Where is Oliver? Ollie from Putney, whose dad is a monk, whose black hair flops seductively, who has an irresistible tiny gap between his front teeth, who skates and smokes weed and has sex with 32-year-old ski instructors. He came to the ball as my date – we’re just friends now, of course! – and I’m pretty pleased with the way things have turned out. It hasn’t been easy for me.
When I first saw him walking along the beach in Crete I actually thought he was an Olympian deity. I begged him to take my virginity. I didn’t want it anymore. Please save me from doing it with the boys at home. At first he wasn’t too comfortable with the prospect of deflowering me – he had a girlfriend back in London, after all – but after a few cheap drinks in Hersonissos, he became much more enthusiastic. We lay down on the sand behind a pile of sunloungers and it was all done pretty quickly. It didn’t really hurt. I flew home with my family the next day.
I had to go to the clinic as soon as I got back, to take the morning after pill. I got a prescription for contraceptives while I was at it, just in case. Told my mum it was for my complexion. To my delight, Oliver wanted to see me again. I met his friends, and once, we had an amazing bubble bath together. The girls at school thought he was incredible. They were all very impressed by my story. Jo went and lost her virginity the week after I told her. Charlene was much more worldly, though, and didn’t say much. She lost it ages ago. She had a good chat with Ollie in the pub the weekend he came to stay, though.
As it turned out, I wasn’t very good at sex. I was bewildered by erections. Pretty soon Oliver lost interest and moved on. I was devastated. I decided to become more exciting. I got into flirting with the boys at school. I truanted regularly, and skipped class with the rebels, to go and smoke by the narrow gauge railway. My grades fell and my teachers shook their heads. After months of pining and playing it cool, I asked Oliver if he would like to come to the ball (as my friend), and when he said yes, I was overjoyed.
Secretly I pray he will fall in love with me.
I have starved myself for many weeks, in case.
And now here I am. Heart fluttering. On the edge of the party, distant laughter and dance music at my back. Orange glow from the M1 bleeds up into the black sky. Trees stand around the grounds like giant night watchmen. Love me, Ollie. Come and find me here.
Suddenly the headlights of one of the parked cars flick on, and I am caught in their beam. On, and then off. On again. Off. The car is moving slightly. It’s rocking. It’s Charlene’s car. I walk over. Swish, swish, swish. Heart in my mouth. Charlene is inside, naked on the front seat, beneath Oliver.