Stories for Lent: #8 Kiss and Make Up

CW: Profanity and medical stuff

“You need to get along with people.”
– Every adult, ever
“Fuck playing nice.”
– Everyone else

*

As I’m writing this, it’s 8.30 in the morning, and I am dressed and made up in my purple gothic finest – complete with a lipstick called, completely unironically, “Rebel”. No, I’m not heading off to a Nightwish concert. I’m gearing up to call my doctor’s office to make an appointment.

Here’s something you need to understand – I’ve seen more doctors, GPs and specialists than I care to remember in my life. From a very young age, I’ve been spending time in places where modesty is a luxury you cannot afford, and privacy is a non-existing concept.

I received more injections and IVs before I went to primary school than any kid I knew.

I’ve been told to take off my bottoms and put my feet up in stirrups in an emergency room full of doctors, male and female, and I did it without protest.

The most memorable moment of my high school years was going for an echocardiography with my Dad in attendance, and both the technician and his assistant were men. I did hesitate when told to lift my shirt, and when I did, dude just looked down at me and said: “Well, it don’t get more awkward than that.”

I’ve stood on top of an examination table in my underwear while a “specialist” told my mother she should have taken me to him decades ago and that I would have been healed by now.

I’ve sat in an emergency room, choking back sobs because my leg hurt so much, and somehow managed to tell the nurse in attendance exactly what was wrong without breaking down crying.

I thought that I was beyond shame, as far as medics were concerned. I was wrong.

*

“So what seems to be the problem?”

I’m fully clothed, sitting in my new GPs office, and all I just want to get a referral to a psychologist. You’d think it’s a cake walk. Instead, my face is burning up and I’m mumbling around my words.

“Yes?” He’s looking at me, and then he gestures towards the computer screen. “You’re a new patient, you need to tell me what’s wrong.”

Janey Maloney, I think, this guy made me wait for 30 minutes, and now he’s acting like I’m wasting his time? Really? I force myself to be clear. “I need a referral to a mental health service. I’m doing a Ph.D. and I’m struggling—”

“What? Speak up!”

“I need a referral to a psychologist. I’m depressed.” And I’m this close to hyperventilating, but I don’t say that.

“Are you suicidal?” he asks, or rather, shouts. He’s deafer than I am.

“No.”

“I just need to ask, okay?”
I haven’t been suicidal for 3 years, and I know just how serious it is. Yet, I have a sudden urge to tell him I’m starting to feel it, right now. My heart is beating 100 miles a minute. Get me out of here, I think. Just get me out of here.

“We’re going to give you a form now,” the doctor said. “And you will go away and fill it out and bring it back to us. It’ll tell us how you’ve been feeling over the last two weeks.”

“But—”

“You will go away and fill it out.”

“And then, do I just drop it off at the reception?”

“No. You will make another appointment and we’ll discuss it.”

It had taken me over a week to make an appointment last time. I looked down at the form – it was nothing different from what I’d been filling out on the first meeting with my university counselors. I could fill it out right then and there. Surely…

“No,” he said. “You need to be on your own when you do it. You will go away and fill it out and then bring it back, okay?”

I murmured okay, but all I was hearing is “go away”. And, under that, my own inner voice, screaming at me to get out of this place. I said ‘thank you’ and ‘have a good day’ because I was raised to have manners, and then I made a beeline to the patient bathrooms where I cried with shame and misery.

That was three weeks ago.

*

Anybody who’s ever been on the receiving end of bullying – be it on the playground or the office – knows what kind of advice they’ll get when they complain. Kiss and makeup. Play nice. Get along. Be a team player. Sometimes this is genuinely the right thing to do and adults can find ways to make it work between themselves, but more often than not, what you hear is that you can be a shitty human being and you will get away with it because punishing you is just more inconvenient than telling the victim to manage their own behaviour.

I mean, God help you if you expect your parents or your teacher or your friends to step up and defend you. You should be fighting your own battles, you pussy, and by fighting, of course, I mean nicely telling the jackass who’s shitting on you to kindly stop, pretty please, if it’s not too much trouble.

If that sounds sarcastic and bitter, it’s because it is. Bullies love it when you use your words, it’s like you’re handing them ammo on a silver platter. I can’t count the times I tried to settle a matter peacefully only to have it turn into a screaming match because someone just knew which buttons to push. And then it’s my fault all over again because I lost my cool.

*

Hence the war paint.

You can ask 100 women why they wear or don’t wear make-up, and you will likely get 100 different answers, and those answers will change depending on the time of day and time of life each woman finds herself at in the moment of asking. The past three weeks, I’ve been so busy with work and being sick, I could barely be arsed to wash my face in the morning, or comb my hair. Then yesterday, my nose started to clear, I put some effort into my eyeshadow, went to the store and bought some roses to spruce up my desk. I don’t need a reason to do any of these things. I just feel like them.

Today, I’m slicking on my rebellious lipstick and layering on my eyeliner, a la Amy Winehouse. I’m thinking of singing “Rehab”, or maybe I should go with “Tennis Court” by the way of Lorde, or even “Break the Rules” by Charli XCX, because I feel like I need that extra bit of courage. My doctor’s surgery keeps leaving me on hold on the phone. I might have to go in person to make the appointment.

I offer up a prayer to Emily Dickinson as I dial.

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