I have to face a demon today.
A demon of petit build, with big brown eyes and a warm smile. Someone, if asked, I would describe as a friend. I think.
In fairness, M may not be a demon but she works for them and I worked with her, and she was my unofficial in-house support during the hell that was my last year at Tosspots R Us. The problem was that I was never sure whether she was feeding stuff back to them and only pretending to be my confidante. I don’t think she hated me or was out to deliberately harm me but I had this constant nagging doubt that she was colluding with them in order to make me walk out ‘for my own good’. We would have conversations in her office, she would suddenly break eye contact, ask me something that didn’t seem to flow or be part of the conversation, and my antenna would go ape shit. I know paranoia is part and parcel of my condition, but my instincts are second to none, have never let me down, and you know what they (as opposed to they) say, just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean they aren’t after you. So whilst I wanted and needed to confide in someone as my own office was a war zone where I couldn’t show the whites of my eyes, I was careful to always hold certain things back and only tell her things that I would have them know. There were times that she would discourage me from doing certain things, and that would make me certain she was acting as their mouthpiece, and that part of her objectives had always been to ease me out of business with the least possible impact on all concerned. Except for moi of course.
We met for lunch not long after I left, where, again, it felt like I was being interviewed by HR, and at one stage I almost had a panic attack as I thought she was recording our conversation on her Blackberry. And then, seemingly satisfied, she left rather abruptly.
I could be completely wrong about her, but…….
Over the last six months or so we’ve exchanged one or two of those, oh we must catch up emails, and somewhere down the line she suggested a date, I said yes and now we have a brunch planned for today, and, quite frankly, I’m horrified.
I’ve been awake for 2 hours 40 minutes now and have yet to move, thoughts whirring around in my head like a rat on a wheel. What does she want? Are they checking up on me, covering themselves, making sure I’m not broken, destitute, and/or haven’t slit my wrists yet? Well, I’m not giving them ANY reassurances, because they don’t deserve peace of mind after what they did to me, the unscrupulous, manipulative, bully-enabling bastards……
On the other hand, I need M for a reference seeing as my ex boss would sooner swallow his own young whole than vouch for me, indeed he’ll do anything he can to hurt my reputation, so I can’t stand her up. Not only that but I have to appear the picture of mental, emotional and spiritual health otherwise she won’t feel confident enough to recommend me, as she’s as corporate as they come, and to be fair, has her own reputation to think about…..
But THEN if she reports back that I’m OK, it will add weight to their supposed belief that I was faking it and then they could come after me again, and then I’ll break down and allow them to access my medical records in order to prove them wrong…..
And THEN they’ll confiscate my cats, boot me out of my home, have me sectioned, make them give me electric shock therapy, and I’ll break my crowns when I bite down on that rubber ring and some rancid old orderly will come and finger my bum when I’m comatose in my wheelchair in the common room, and no one will ever know……
You get the picture? Round and round, yadda, yadda, fret, fret, from what I can see there is no solution, no positive outcome, no happy ending, and whilst I may not end up sectioned (durr, even I’m not mad enough to believe that), I am lying here, heart pounding, wishing fervently and wholeheartedly that I had not arranged this lunch, and that if there was really a God, he will cause M to sleep in, get a better offer, catch norovirus, anything that will postpone this close encounter of the no win kind.
OHH! Charlie launches himself in the air, as if aided by a trampoline, and lands directly on my chest, causing me to gasp involuntarily as he peers anxiously into my face. He hates it when I drift off into a depressive and/or anxious state, I think he worries that one day I won’t come back and will stay, grooving on the astral plane, leaving my body to rot and die. To be fair, it’s not an unappealing idea. I pet him absently, tip him off me, go to the bathroom and catch sight of myself in the mirror. I literally look grey with fear and exhaustion.
I hear my phone ping, and rush to pick it up. There’s a text message on it from M. Maybe she wants to cancel? But no:
‘Hi, just want to check that you are still on for lunch and to check that you booked Bentleys? It sounds like an amazing place, so wouldn’t want to get turned away, especially as I’ve set my heart on trying your favourite! Mx’
Great. Well done me for bigging up Bentleys so effectively. There was no turning back. I can’t even load up on drugs, as she won’t be my referee if she thinks I wander around stoned to the eyeballs 24/7. With a heavy heart, I turn on the bath taps and prepare to meet my doom.
As I soak, I can feel the panic starting to accelerate again, so I close my eyes and ask God, Jesus, Buddha, anyone who might be listening to give me the strength to get out the bath, get out of the door and face this head on. I know I’m being ridiculous and any God worth his/her salt will probably have better things to do on a Sunday than to listen to my ravings, but…..
Then it happens. The aroma of a fried breakfast curls its way from the flat below, up the drain pipe, turns sharp right and creeps in through the bathroom window. My stomach contracts with hunger, and then, as if by magic, a vision of almost supernatural beauty appears before my eyes. There it is, sitting plumply in a well worn, cast iron skillet, all puffed up and tempting, golden brown around the edges, speckled with parsley, a thick crust of parmesan barely concealing the creamy, eggy, centre, tender flakes of smoked haddock just poking through the surface. That Holy Grail of the light lunch, the Omelette Arnold Bennett. One of my favourite things to eat in the entire world. Especially when accompanied by a side order of buttered spinach and a few thick cut, golden chips. A little moan escapes my lips.
I left my mug of tea and didn’t make toast, so that every time that twist of dread rose to the surface, a bigger, more insistent twist of hunger bitch slapped it around the face and I would think of my fluffy temptation just 10 miles away, waiting patiently for me to arrive.
And that is what got me out of the door, onto the bus and en route for my date with destiny. That, and the telling off from my old friend Defiance, who was seriously disgusted that I’d let a bunch of monochrome, soulless corporate drones frighten the bejesus out of me again after all this time. And given that it is probably the only thing that has kept me alive to date, I listened, chastened and more than a little ashamed.
I had one tiny little setback in the form of another bout of Try-Stuff-On-Itis, but after my fourth ensemble, I distinctly heard a gruff, very firm voice say ‘Stop that at once!’.
The ghost of AB? I guess we’ll never know. Reluctantly, the debilitating disorder beat a hasty retreat, unless you count the three coat shuffle at the front door seconds before the bus arrived.
As the bus pulls into my stop, I disembark and walk to the venue, heels clicking on the pavement, Sunday smart, face made up au naturale, hair groomed. A picture of health, composure and serenity.
That said, if Omelette Arnold B is not on that menu, I’ll have a fucking meltdown, and they’ll have to scrape me off the floor with a spatula.