I’m sat in the café reading a collection of essays by Zadie Smith, and I just cried. Out loud. In public. Actual tears. Down my face.x
I hit ‘send’ on the text to Calum. I don’t know what it was, but on that day I cried three times. I wasn’t even pre-menstrual or anything.
Hours later he emailed me:
I gave my number to a cute boy five minutes before you text me, and when I got your message I thought it was him- I was all like “Hmmm, it’s great that he is mad for Zadie and reads and stuff but crying in public at a book? And telling me about it?” I decided I didn’t want to sleep with him anymore. And then I realised it was you and so I changed my mind again so that is the end of my story.
And then I was all, Calum! Hi! Remember me! Your friend who is obviously unhinged since she cries over academic essays in front of old men she has adopted in her imagination as her grandparents?
And he was all, I saw a book yesterday called The Power of Yes and laughed at what a shit title is was and wondered who would buy a book like that. Then I thought of you and realised that you would buy it because it is aimed at the mentally unhinged as a whole. You are not alone.
To which I just said, THANKS, FRIEND.
The first time I cried was in the café at Zadie. Because I’m A Mental, when I read something about her creative practices and writing and oh I don’t know just BEING ZADIE SMITH it is so beautiful and magical to me that I shed tears without even wanting to, meaning to; totally helplessly I sob. I’ve done it four times at Changing My Mind, because I feel like she is talking directly to me, and it makes my heart do somersault-y leaps into my throat.
The second time I cried that day was when I arrived at work. There was a package waiting for me from home. Dad had sent me my iPod Shuffle, and slipped in a letter. As soon as I saw it- his heavy loopy scrawl on more than a post-it-sized piece of paper, I gasped out loud.
“Oh!” I said, and the receptionist said, “Is it from Calum?” I didn’t reply I just pulled it from amongst the iPod and the MaltEasters and the Chomp Bars and sat down with my back to the door and within seconds was letting out big galumphing sobs because DAD HAD WRITTEN ME A LETTER.
He has only ever written to me once before, when I spent the summer in France years ago. He did it because he really, really missed me, and I knew that because I haven’t been home since January and that because the only time I know he had really missed me was when he sent the last letter, he must miss me now. So I was crying before I had even opened the goddamn thing because I just knew and sometimes, the one thing worse than missing somebody is knowing you are missed because well. There is nothing you can do about that one.
After five minutes I became aware that somebody has closed the door behind me and I was breathing in cosmos-sized gulps of salty air and I had to go and teach a lesson. I stuffed a Chomp in my mouth to replace the sadness, swallowed hard, and wiped the mascara from under my eyes.
Two hours later I had a meeting with a parent. I had to explain to him that his son is obviously very creative, very gifted, but that every week we go through the same routine. He comes into the class, acts stupid, I ask him not to, he ignores me, and so he sits in the corner for the next twenty minutes to think about what respect means. Then he joins the class again, is as good as gold, reveals his genius, and when he leaves I think, “Now he understands, next week he’ll be like that for the entire lesson.”
And he never is; every week we go through the same routine.
I told his father this, and his father knew. And then he started to talk about his son, how special he is, how he doesn’t like football but theatre, doesn’t want to watch TV but pulls out the encyclopedia, won’t do Math but will sit for hours writing stories.
I thought about the letter from my own father, about how I love him and he loves me, and about Zadie Smith and her essays on creating things, and about the kid and his crazy way of making sense of his world, and I had to excuse myself before the father decided I wasn’t stable enough emotionally to take care of his kid because ISN’T LIFE BEAUTIFUL? And then I cried again.
That evening I wrote another email to Calum: thousands of words critiquing Bathes, and Nabokov, and Zadie Smith, and Kundra, and I did all of it just FOR FUN because life! Emotions! Philosophy! All the things!
I wrote a dissertation to pass a Tuesday evening because I had things to say and I needed somebody bound to me by the laws of best-friendship to listen and who would be forced to respond.
He asked if I was okay. Should I be worried?
And the answer is that yes, maybe he should be. Because I don’t have a bloody clue what’s happening. I’m so bored and tired of being here in Rome (BLAH BLAH BLAH) but at the same time I can’t even walk down the street without stopping and staring at a ladybird on the wall because LOOK. IT’S JUST SO BEAUTIFUL. WHAT IF I WERE A LADYBIRD? WHAT WOULD I BE THINKING? And basically what would I be thinking? I don’t even know what I’m thinking now. Except that everything is so beautiful and poetic and full of possibility that I might cry again.
Yup. Definitely crying now.
See how this is? Beautiful and mental. Mental and beautiful.
But mainly mental.