One of the moments that really stuck with me from last year’s Taylor Swift concert was her performance of the song, “All Too Well” (which is, I reckon, the most emotional song on her Red album). Not just the song itself, but also the part before it where Taylor started talking to the crowd about how she used singing and song-writing as an outlet; a coping mechanism for all the things that have happened in her life. It’s probably why so many of her songs are about her breakups and failed relationships - those kinds of things are full of some pretty heavy feels.
Something about her talk really stuck with me because I’ve had my own share of coping mechanisms in the past for when things turn a bit emotionally pear-shaped: one incident spurred my digital and space art phase, another got me playing guitar, but every one of them got me writing. Sometimes I’d write about exactly what happened, sometimes I’d write a story about it happening to someone else, sometimes I’d invent similar scenarios happening to fictitious characters to see how it would play out in the world in my head.
It was just how I dealt with things, and it wasn’t until the concert that I started retroactively calling those moments, “the Taylor Swift method of dealing with things”.
Some of the writings make it to the internet in the guise of blog posts or short stories, but most occupy a folder on my computer and a notebook on my Evernote, littering these areas with the angst of my years.
I started looking through all of these things again - surprised at how many memories were tied-up in those electronic words and surprised that I could recall the exact incidents that motivated me to write those things (strong emotions make for the best-remembered memories after all). When I was done strolling through memory lane, I pulled up a new note, and started writing another entry.
Before she started the song, Taylor then wondered, but never really answered, if what she was doing - writing these songs about other people without their knowledge, singing about them semi-anonymously and also hoping that the person being sung about never hears her song or, if they do, never realize it’s about them - was a cowardly way of dealing with things. Of course, everyone in the audience thought her very brave - we are her fans after all and we totally have her back - but I wonder if she ever found an answer to that question because it’s something I ask myself now.
Am I not really facing things by writing about them instead? Is sharing these written moments brave? Does it become less cowardly when it’s shared with the person in question? The internet? The world?
And so here’s me copy-and-pasting a story I just wrote, the story in the photo above, without any real idea if what I am doing is cowardly, brave, plain stupid, or D) all of the above.
Oh God Elizabeth, what part of your heart did you give up this time… I think, over-dramatically, referring to myself in the third person as I wake-up this morning. The first thing to cross my mind on a new day, and it was to immediately wonder what I did the day before in my haze of regret and self-loathing. This is not a good way to be.
I reach for my phone and re-read the text messages I sent yesterday; the conversational aftermath between myself and a friend I started falling for and finally worked-up the courage to ask out, only to have him say no, which in turn led to the state I find myself in now: unable to get out of bed as I wallow in the outcome of my actions, and my plummeting self-worth.
I can’t believe I said that… I think as I look back on the messages. ‘Conversation’ is too generous a word for what I’m scrolling through on my screen. ‘An awkward back-and-forth with multi-hour pauses’ is a better description of what I see now. I can recall the brave face I try to put on with each of my own messages, trying my best to say “I’m fine”, or that “I’m working through it”, when in reality I’m not fine and my definition of working through things is to lie here in bed and wear my self-pity as a blanket.
“I’m distracting myself with work” I said in one text as a reply to his message of concern. Total lie. I was here, at home, using one of my precious sick days and losing it to my thoughts. I remember that day: I’d start doing something like making my breakfast, only to find myself with my head against the wall half an hour later with no memory of what happened in between.
That’s how it is for me when I despair: my mind wanders, unable to focus. I don’t faint or collapse or anything like that, but my mind blacks out and I suddenly find myself sitting/standing/lying-down in random places and a good fraction of the day has flown-by without me. It’s like a really broken version of time travel - taking me out of the present and depositing me in the future where I still feel terrible.
*knock knock knock*
What the hell? I never get people knocking on my door unless they’re with the building managers or they’re the census people. I don’t feel like dealing with either right now. Hell, I can’t even deal with myself.
“Liz! Are you in there!?” says a voice from outside the apartment.
Was that Daniel? I wonder. I look at the alarm clock on my bedside table: 10am. It’s still a weekday as far as I can tell, unless my broken time machine has decided to start skipping whole days as well as hours. Daniel should be at work by now, so it can’t be him.
My phone starts ringing in my hands, and Daniel’s photo appears on the screen. Crap, it is him. I answer the call.
“Liz, are you at home?” he asks, before I even get the chance to say ‘hello’, not that I would have right now.
“Yeah.” I reply, my voice hoarse from not being used for over a day. “Is that you at the door?”
“Yes, now open up unless you want me to use your spare key.”
I hang-up, putting the phone on top of my alarm clock. Then I hop out of bed, surprised to see that I have my pyjamas on. I don’t even remember putting them on to go to sleep last night, or maybe I never got changed out of them from yesterday. I must look disgusting, which is an apt reflection of my current emotional state.
“You look like shit.” says Daniel as I open the apartment door.
“You sure are skipping all the greetings today.” I say to him as I turn around and walk back towards my fortress of solitude, aka: my bedroom, leaving the door open for Daniel to come in.
I hear him close the door behind us just as I collapse face-first into a pillow on my bed.
“What’s going on? Daniel asks, standing in the doorway of my room. “You weren’t at work yesterday; I had one of your workmates text me - your work never texts me - asking where you were. You obviously aren’t at work now, nor does it look like you’re getting ready to go anywhere.”
Note to self: my workmates are bloody tattle-tails. Also, I guess I didn’t imagine the whole ‘using up a sick day’ thing.
I condense those thoughts into a single, “Mmmm”, that gets muffled through my pillow.
“Oh no…” Daniel says, as he starts to think things through. “You had dinner with him didn’t you?”
I couldn’t tell if Daniel put the emphasis on ‘him’, or if my brain did because ‘he’ has been occupying a pretty large chunk of my thought process recently.
“And you finally asked him out, didn’t you?”
“I take it you didn’t get the reply you were hoping for.” he says matter-of-factly, rather than as a question.
“Mmmhmmm.” I answer anyway.
“Ah shit. Liz…” he starts, with a little bit of concern now entering his voice. “Come on, you can’t stay here and feel bad about it all day.”
I roll to my side a little so I can speak.
“Yes I bloody well can! What else am I going to do? Go to work and feel bad about it there instead?”
“Maybe? At least you’ll be out of here and doing something other than feeling sorry for yourself!”
“What if I want to feel sorry for myself?” I say as I take the effort to move my head a bit more to see Daniel leaning in the doorway. “I don’t know what to do Daniel - you know I don’t do this kind of thing very often - hell, ever!”
I see him open his mouth to say something, but I’m not done, so I continue.
“Sure I’ve been denied, felt the sting of rejection before, but I really thought there was something there this time. So I take the chance and now, for some reason, this particular one is hurting a helluva lot more than anything else I can remember, and I don’t know why.”
I bury my head back in my pillow. I probably would have cried if there were tears, but none come. None ever come nowadays; maybe I’m too grown-up to shed tears for this sort of thing.
I can’t trust myself to gauge how much time passes, but eventually Daniel comes over and places a hand on my shoulder.
“Why are you even here?” I ask. “It’s not like we’ve been good to each other lately.”
Which is true. We had a fight a couple of months ago - as friends go, we’re probably too damn close, which results in us having some kind of fight every 2.5 years and the last one was long overdue. Since then we’ve played much lesser roles in each others’ lives. I don’t even know what he’s doing now, whether he and his long-time girlfriend are finally getting married, or if he’s still at that job he semi-hates.
“I don’t know Elizabeth. It just felt like a good thing to do.”
I turn my head to look at his hand on my shoulder, and let out a little laugh. “It must look pretty bad for you to use my full name like that.”
“Some moments are just full-name moments.” he replies.
Daniel then walks to the hall and looks back at me. “Come on, let’s get you out of here.”
He closes my bedroom door and waits outside for me to pull myself together. I start to stare at my ceiling, but only for a moment. I know if I stare too long I’ll lose track of time again and Daniel will likely stay out in the hall, drawing upon his well of infinite patience to give him the strength to wait. I roll off the bed and quickly get changed into something that I assume will meet work standards.
I try to figure out why I think I can go to work now when yesterday I couldn’t even leave the apartment. Daniel didn’t exactly do anything. All I did was vent, yet maybe that’s all that needed to happen. He was the one I used to vent to and unload all these sorts of things, but now he’s temporarily lost to me behind that wall of awkward texts and the rejection to my embarrassing question of a possible future together. I’m kind of short on options for people with whom I can rant at and who are willing to listen.
And I don’t really know what to do about that.