by Colin Garrow
Setting: A therapy group session for people living with mental illness.
Character: NICK, 39 years old
NICK is trying to come to terms with his dread of crowds, public places, people in general.
A friend of mine once asked me what it was like to be mental.
So I nutted him.
That’s a joke.
Doctor Roberts said I should…
To explain how it feels to not be physically able to lift your head high enough
To look someone in the face…
To not be able to speak, or eat or brush your teeth without crying your eyes out.
To not be able to function like everybody else.
And I know that it’s not particularly interesting like those folks that have schizophrenia,
Or ADHD or any of those fancy things that get a lot of attention.
I didn’t hear voices.
I wasn’t suicidal.
I was just…
I was just…depressed
I can tell you the story.
Cos it is a story.
And since I’ve been taking the tablets, it’s a lot easier to get to the punch line.
That’s another joke.
Maybe it’s only me that thinks it’s funny.
I was working in a residential hostel.
Rehabilitation of the recovering mentally ill.
In the days when charitable organisations employed married couples
To come and live in their not-so-fancy establishments and run them for a pittance of pay.
Don’t get me wrong—it was an okay job. I enjoyed it.
Most evenings off, every other weekend free, it was fine.
My wife—I’ll call her Daphne. Only cos I hate the name Daphne.
She was lovely.
We enjoyed each other’s company.
We were happy.
The job meant we were together all the time and I couldn’t imagine a better way to spend my days.
And then she started shagging someone else.
Have you any idea what that does to a man?
To find out you’re not her preferred option anymore?
To learn that someone else is…
Well, I didn’t.
I didn’t know what it does to a man.
I didn’t know what I was supposed to feel, how I was meant to react.
Should I go round there and smash his face in?
Tell his wife what a dirty bastard her husband is?
Or explain in once-upon-a-time language to his five-year-old daughter that her daddy…
No. Of course not.
And she told me she loved him.
That he was amazing in bed.
That she wanted to be with him. Always.
And it’s weird—how your whole life just flips—changes direction.
Less than that—a matter of seconds—in the space of one sentence,
A very short sentence,
And not even the one that tells you what’s going on, cos all you need is the preamble,
The plant, the lead-in:
The “I’ve got something to tell you” bit.
And then you know.
Of course you know, cos even if you’d never suspected a bloody thing,
It’s what they always say, isn’t it?
In books, on telly, it’s all in that line.
So I hardly heard the pained explanation that she hoped I’d understand,
How she’d barely even been aware that she was falling in love,
That it had crept up on her slowly, that she was smitten, besotted, love-struck,
Head over heels etc, etc, etc.
And I thought I was fine.
I got on with my work.
I was pleasant and courteous to the arsehole who was banging her.
I’ll call him Derek. Cos he was called Derek.
And best of all, he was our boss.
So I had the privilege of seeing him every day.
But I thought I could deal with it.
I felt fine.
You know how when something’s happened and absolutely everybody knows about it?
And you don’t really know how it is that everybody knows about it,
They just know and they give you that look.
That pitying look, like they’re thinking Aw, poor soul.
And you just want to say hey, just fuck off, will you?
And then of course they start whispering behind your back
And when you go into a room, it all goes quiet,
Like you’ve just walked into the Slaughtered Lamb on Werewolf Night.
And everybody pretends they’re not looking at you.
And after a while you realise that nobody, but nobody is talking to you.
Won’t even say good morning.
So I’m at work and nobody’s talking to me
I’m drinking a lot of coffee,
And her—Daphne—she’s just keeps saying stupid things like
I’m not leaving but you can if you want to
Or You’ve brought this on yourself.
I’m starting to feel like a bloody leper or something
And it gets to the point where I can’t do my work and then suddenly. Suddenly…
There she was.
Black and beautiful. So beautiful.
She was called…
Well, her real name sounds dead ordinary and boring and she wasn’t at all
So I’ll call her Cheyenne.
She was new, just started. Didn’t know anyone.
Didn’t know that nobody else was speaking to me.
Didn’t know the boss was banging my wife.
Didn’t know I was already on the downward spiral.
We started hanging out together.
Having a few drinks and that.
She was into poetry, so one night we went to the Caribbean Club
To hear this old black guy
Perform his poems about oppression, racism and life in the old country.
It was great; I felt a part of something, I was excited, enthused, and horny.
Then we go back to hers and of course we end up in bed
And it’s fantastic and she’s so loving and affectionate and sensuous
And best of all, she’s actually interested in me
And I feel like somebody cares and I’m important.
And I write something for her—
Pile of shite, but she totally melts like it’s the greatest love poem ever.
Naturally, she’s got a boyfriend.
Turns out he’s away on a course –
And when he comes back a couple of weeks later,
During which time we’ve been shagging like there’s no tomorrow,
Everything turns to shit.
Derek and Daphne find out what’s been going on
Cheyenne suddenly finds herself, rather conveniently at the end of her short contract
And is unceremoniously given the push.
And Daphne’s like—what d’you think you’re doing
And how d’you think I feel and all this other bollocks,
And the whole thing just gets too much and I just—crumble.
The psychiatrist was okay.
Asked a lot of daft questions.
Put me on anti-depressants and told me to go away for a few weeks.
So I did.
Went home, to my parents.
Funny how that kinda puts things into perspective—going home to your mam.
When I went back to work, back to Daphne, everything had changed.
She’d stopped banging Derek,
Wanted to start again
Try and work out our differences…
And for a while it was alright.
Until she started shagging someone else.
Second-hand car dealer from Felixstowe.
Bit of a cliche.
But by then, by then, I was okay.
And I still am.
Most of the time.
copyright © 2009 Colin Garrow. All rights reserved. ___________________________________________
Colin Garrow was born in Newcastle and studied Drama at Northumbria University. He recently completed a post-graduate diploma in Community Education at the University of Dundee. He has experience of working with many styles of theatre including puppetry and multimedia work, and has created theatre with young people, adults with learning disabilities and those with low literacy skills. He currently lives in Scotland and is artistic director of WACtheatre.