Summer Selections: Check Out
by Lorraine Sharpe
Your first trip starts when you’re really young, you start filling your empty basket with stuff. Some of it just ends up in there, you’re not sure if you like it and you have no idea where it came from, but it’s there anyway. And then when you get a bit older you get to make a few small choices about how much or how little crap you digest. And with the accumulation of stuff, comes an accumulation of the padding that seems to match the levels of crap you’ve consumed along the way.
Occasionally you take stock, influenced by the media, your friends, your parents, mostly your parents when you’re young and always when you go to visit them, because no matter how old you are, they still know what’s best for you right? And they still have an answer for everything too, often related in some way to the amount of crap they encouraged you to eat on your journey to the illusion of freedom.
This illusion is strengthened the day you get to do your own shopping, you get your very own basket, in fact you get a trolley the first time you’re let loose and you fill it with all the things that you’ve ever wanted to devour, things with names that had always had no attached to them before. You know you’ve gone wild, blown the entire month’s budget and rejected most of it the day after you’ve indulged to excess. But some of it stays and it adds to the padding and it helps you grow. You change, probably for the better in everything but the parents’ eyes, you have after just broken every Goddammed rule they ever made. You haven’t of course, because you would be wracked with guilt and besides, you think some of the examples they set must have been good, surely? You’re never going to tell them what you’re cooking up in that teaspoon though are you.
Then, at no particular age and often without warning, you start to question the accumulation of this padding. You shed a little and it’s hard, but it feels good. You do lots of shedding and a little re-padding when you go home for Christmas or Easter, but mostly you’re disposing of the excess. You meet someone, maybe lots of people, but usually one or two who bring with them a massive washing machine. They use it to shrink all your favourite clothes that you wear then tell you not to worry, you shouldn’t still be wearing the same old shit that your parents approved of and they take you shopping for new stuff. You occasionally get to choose something, but mostly you’re allowing this new person to do that for you because somehow or other you fell in love with them. And now you want to please them and do what they do because then it will fit and it will work and suddenly you’ll be safe again and not so alone in this massive supermarket.
But why? What did you go and do that for? Are you stupid? They liked you before, when you wore your own clothes and ate the stuff you chose and now they’re bored or freaked out because you can’t make a decision without them and you’ve become like the annoying puppy just wanting treats and attention because whilst you were busy trying new stuff out, you changed. They start shopping at a new supermarket. You go back to yours and this time, you’re more careful, you only chose a basket, make a few of your own choices but mostly the stuff that ends up in there is the comfort food. The food that reminds you of home. All this making choices stops being fun after a while because with it comes confusion and heartbreak and padding that changes you. You want to be you but who the fuck is that? You’re not your parents any more, but you’re not a you that you recognise, you’ve drunk and eaten and experimented with a load of stuff that has messed with your head and all those clothes that shrunk and you binned? You want them back; you know they won’t fit but you still want them back. And you know you’re used to the new shit that you bought with that significant other. The significance that now glares at you as you wander down every isle that they led you down.
You knew this was coming, but it shocks you when you wake up and the padding is so heavy, you can’t move. You knew but you ignore it as it piled up. The accumulation has reached critical mass and if you had a little pressure indicator on your forehead it would be right at the far end of red just now. What to do, how to off load it all quick before you burst at the seams like Winnie the Pooh did? Your Mum told you that would happen if you didn’t listen. But wasn’t it her who put the Golden Nuggets into that first basket on that first trip? Wasn’t it her who sent you to school with two Ryvita’s for lunch because you’d eaten too much dinner the night before. The dinner she cooked for you and laid out on the plate and demanded that you eat all of it? Wasn’t it her who always laughed and criticised when you tried on new things? Wasn’t it her who asked why you were so conceited to think that anyone cared enough to be looking at you when you asked the simple question, ‘Do I look ok?’
You finally find a way to lug this weight around, sometimes you shed a little again but it’s rare. You try to change your diet, do new things, develop new habits, but it all just layers itself on top of the padding. You ask for help. Not properly, because it’s embarrassing, people don’t like to see you like this and they don’t know what to say. You feel fat, full of it, fit to bursting as my Nana always said and that pressure gauge is screaming at you every single goddammed day. You can’t sleep. Food is the enemy. You don’t trust new people because they just bring their washing machines with them. The price you must pay for new clothes is just too painful. But there is no comfort zone anymore. Everywhere you look just messes with the padding, just increases the pressure. You ask for help, a little more seriously this time. Then you feel guilty for wasting the time it took from the paramedics and the hours that counsellors spent trying to unravel the spaghetti mess you presented them with. They’re good, but the padding is still there and the pressure is too much.
In a sudden surge of what? Rage, fear, despair, desperation? You have a light bulb moment. It sure as hell will stop that blood from rising. That pressure will be instantly released. And after all, Winnie the pooh got sewn back together once all his padding had been taken away.
It doesn’t work the first time. In fact, the pain is so bad that you just have to stop, even though you know this is the answer. Numbing cream, like they used on the tattoos you have on your back. The ones you can’t see but know that they are permanently scaring your skin. On days like today they’re alive and you remember every single little wound they inflicted as you buy the numbing cream of eBay. Two days you’ll have to wait. Not long.
You read the instructions whilst you sharpen the bread knife. Last time you did this you were drinking Brandy, but it had no effect, so this time it’s. That usually wipes you out, numbs everything on the inside. Easy though, you need to be thinking straight to get this right, not ready to pass out in the gutter. Cream applied, gin consumed, house is dark and quiet except for the TV talking itself to death. At least this time the paramedics won’t need to get their needles out ready for Winnie the Pooh stitches, they won’t have to waste any time other than to check for a pulse.
Summer Selections is a FalWriting series bringing you a variety of writing produced this academic year by Falmouth students. It's a vibrant and diverse selection of work covering text forms from experimental poetry to forensic literary analysis, from gothic short stories to critical dissertations. This year the selection is guest edited by third year student Jess Hawes.