Is this a dagger which I see before me,
The handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee,
I have thee not, and yet I see thee still.
Art though not, fatal vision, sensible
To feeling as to sight? Or art thou but
A dagger of the mind, a false creation
Proceeding from the heat-oppressed brain?
I liked Sally. She was pretty hardcore. Her parents were both psychologists, so obviously she was a complete fuckup. I hated English. The teacher would make us read out loud and I was rubbish at that. I'd somehow managed to slide my way into the top set at school, but I was always bottom. It's crap being the worst at everything. When you're a kid you don't see the wider picture. You don't think in terms of being thirty second out of a group of 120. All you know is that you're forever coming last. Bastards. I hate that streaming shit anyway. It's all academic.
So we're going round, each of us reading a section of Macbeth, and Sally gets to 'Is this a dagger?', but she says it in a dead brummie accent and we all fall about laughing. Of course, Mrs Whoever was thoroughly displeased. We were shouted back into order and forced to continue our bored drones. I understood none of it. Stupid teacher. They just tried to batter stuff out of you so they could drill stuff into you. Didn't work.
Seven years later and I'm living on a shitty council estate. My husband's in prison and I'm pregnant. I didn't know Eileen very well. She'd parked up her live-in vehicle in the car park and used to pop in for the occasional cup of tea or bath. One day she brought a cassette tape with her, perhaps the alternating thrash punk and 60s soul was doing her head in. I instantly liked the music. A twenty minute track by Thatcher on Acid, the main refrain being “The only thing we have in common is the illusion of being together”. Tagged onto the end of this marathon, but to the same choon, was Macbeth's speech. I didn't pay it much mind. When she pulled off she left the tape. It went into the box with all the others, then we got a CD player and we didn't use tapes any more, so it disappeared into a bin bag in the loft.
Seven years later (things tend to have a pattern) and I'm not doing too well. I was just lying down in bed one night, stoned out of my head, when I realised I couldn't swallow. And then I couldn't breathe. And then I couldn't speak. I'd never had a panic attack before, and this one lasted three weeks. I ended up in the local mental hospital, cos I've got a season ticket or something. I wasn't there long. When they let me go I still wasn't 'fixed'. The panic wouldn't leave me. God it was awful. All day, every day, stuck in a fight or flight limbo, like being on a roller coaster, at that top bit, just before you go hurtling down. That feeling, your heart in your throat. It's fucking unpleasant man, and completely exhausting.
Adrenalin is a bugger. Once your body's flooded with the damn stuff you can't stop its effects. It makes you shake, want to shit, move about, you're hyper aware, fuck, I could hear a man fart a mile away. Not only that, everything's threatening. Apparently, it's some base instinct, from when we were sitting in forests waiting to be gored to death by wild boars. Unfortunately, you don't actually need this level of self protection while you're trying to chill out in your lounge in Brighton. It twists your head.
Curiously, I found two things helped. Firstly, drawing pictures of peoples' faces. I have a whole sketch book of them. I could distract my brain by studying the minutiae of features and expressions. I mean, I'm totally shit at drawing, but I became fascinated. If you look at someone long enough and hard enough, it's like you can almost see through them. I loved watching thoughts flash across Matt's face. I sketched friends, strangers, anyone. I learned how to block out a picture and in the end they were pretty good. The other thing that helped was painting. It was all about the precision. Despite the fact I was using water colours, I was totally anal. I'd make these very fine lines, like a horizontal version of Aboriginal dot paintings. The colours didn't seem to have anything to do with the subject either, instead they were meticulous marks of what I tasted as I thought. I couldn't use red much, because that made my head feel all itchy inside. Greens, on the other hand, particularly of an olive hue, soothed me. I'd spend ages mixing up the colours in my little palette. As I worked my mood would change. Sometimes I'd even eat small bits of paint in an attempt to reverse the whole taste mechanism thing and take their condition into me.
One night, scared out of my mind, after taking 60mgs of Valium and realising that I just wasn't going to 'come down', I was sifting, very quickly, through my old cassette tapes. To be honest, I'd had enough. It felt as if I was never going to get away from this fear. I couldn't really imagine living the rest of my life like this, I mean what fucking life? By this point I was severely agoraphobic, almost entirely unable to talk to anyone, hallucinating constantly and facing another visit to the mental hospital. Bizarrely, I could almost handle the hallucinations, but these weren't like the normal ones (HA!). No. They'd become, along with everything else, threatening. I saw my own kids dead in their beds, my husband in a burning car, his charred corpse buffeted by a slight breeze, my fucking father … it doesn't matter what he was up to.
So yeah, I got this knife. I like my knife. Don't worry about the knife. Thing is, it's my subtle crucifixion. Does that make sense? But this time, I'm looking at it and thinking about how nice and easy it would be to slip under the pink water. Don't you ever just want to say 'STOP!'? Thatcher on Acid finished their marathon 'The only thing we've got in common is the illusion of being together' and then I heard the Shakespeare after. “Is this a dagger I see before me.” Yes it fucking was. “The handle toward my hand?” I was sitting on the floor. I flicked the knife open. It locked into position. I turned it. “I have thee not, and yet I see thee still.” Fuck, Macbeth was hallucinating. Ok, alright. My head tunes in. I never understood before, the whole Shakespeare thing. I thought I was stupid. I wasn't. I just didn't get the twat teacher, most probably cos I didn't even try. Now, Thatcher on Acid are some scuzzy punks man, and here they are learning me about Shakespeare. Suddenly I'm not so utterly alienated. Hell, I get the whole heat-oppressed brain thing. It was like some hand reached out of the fucking huge cosmos and went 'Ay up chuck (for some reason Hilda Ogden speaks to me), grab onto us, we'll pull you through'.
I mixed my paints different that night. Instead of trying to get away from it, the fear, the loneliness, the abject fucking pain (you ever noticed how paint and pain are kinda similar?) I tried to get onto paper how I felt. It came out of me, not as a comment, or an observation, rather as a thing, like when you vomit or take a really good shit – c'mon, we all do that, no-one's in rose petal territory. It ain't great, because I'm not a painter. I don't really think that matters. But it was a representation of the inside of my head, albeit in simplistic terms. I looked at it after and I could see where my peace could be. Do you know where your peace is?
Seven years later and I find myself thinking of that picture. Once again, Thatcher on Acid have been relegated, so I dig them out. Things aren't so bad this time. Sure, I'm not exactly a happy bunny, but I'm not hanging onto sanity by the skin of my teeth either (where the hell does that come from? I don't have skin on my teeth. Do you?). I'm all right, you know. I guess some folks would disagree. It would be so easy for me, right now, to fall apart, but I'm not going to. Ok, so I spent a couple of days last week needing medication. I've had to go gently, but I've learned to be kind to myself. I'm not the most stable person in the world, so fucking what? I mean it is a problem when I cause all sorts of trouble for the people around me. I know I can kick off big time. I got my reasons. I'm lucky I get forgiven. My friends are special people. These days I even understand what they see in me.
Anyways, I dug out the painting again. I can see all the red anger in it, my heat-oppressed brain, but now also the clear blue sky. I'm like that … a dreamer of dreams. The dagger isn't “a false creation”, it's still there. Sometimes I feel like clutching it, mostly though I recognise it for what it is, which is a choice. I don't have to grab it. I should keep telling myself that. Hardest thing in the world is when you go nuts and you don't think you can make choices. You can. Everyone can. And then sometimes, when you least expect it, you get to understand some shit that had always seemed impenetrable or irrelevant before. Suddenly something makes sense, although don't ask me what – 1,671 words and it ain't exactly clear, oh fuck.