Going to take it easy today, no doubt about that! Going to have a lovely day today, yessirree!
I sit up in bed. Stretching my legs, I point, flex and rotate my ankles so they crack gently. Satisfied, I reach over for my phone and check my morning Twitter feed. I scour it for jokes and memes, and other stupid titbits of trivia I can relay to R at dinner.
“@NYTMinusContext: Women are flawless and men are reprehensible at the core.”
Hahaha. I press the little heart button at the bottom of my screen. Too good! Too good, I tell myself. I keep on scrolling. I dole out a dozen more ‘likes’. The day is going well.
At 8.15 I get a message from M, who I haven’t heard from in days. “OMG, have you seen this?!!” it says, exclamation marks flashing. Interest piqued, I open it and enlarge the attached image, or screenshot, rather, so I can see it more clearly. Another message comes through: “Don’t let it get to you!” Worried face emoji.
It is a picture of me and H (my ex), one of the happy ones from his graduation day just a few months ago. There I am, standing by his side looking lovingly into his face, like an idiot. Although it sickens me now, the photo itself wouldn’t bother me much except for the fact that I can see he’s been using it for his Tinder profile, and he’s captioned it “10cm taller than average.”
“Oh,” I say, incurious, flat. But eventually, slowly, a small, derisive “huh” escapes me. I am shocked by the audacity of it, the ignorance, the next to no regard for my feelings. So I put my phone down and reach for a pen and a piece of paper.
On an empty page, I scribble down some notes, writing a list of things I have to do today. And I draw some flowers, miscellaneous swirly shapes, dogs and cats, all in an effort to keep myself from boiling over. I visualise myself getting coffee down the road, ordering those raspberry pancakes I love, reading the rest of I Love Dick (only a couple of chapters left!), taking my parents’ dog for a walk. Having a productive afternoon. Not thinking about H. Not thinking about that photo. How I feel that I’ve just been used as sexual currency in that photo. How I used to really love that photo. How I’m just really, really fucking mad.
I snap my diary shut and grab my phone. “Such a dickhead,” I type to M. I fire it off. And: Fuck you, I think. Fuck you.
I get out of bed and walk into the bathroom. In the mirror, I stare at my face. I am still angry, feeling that it must be a deep lack of imagination that holds H back from fully understanding how shallow this is. And I am sick of being so “Oh okay!” and “Oh, don’t worry!” again and again, so that I always end up going along with things I don’t like, not saying what I really want to say. I grab my hairbrush and begin combing my hair, perhaps more roughly than I’d like.
“Why is this such a big deal?” he’d say. “Aren’t you being just a little bit too sensitive?” (I mimic the glacial speed of his voice.) Then I think about his various “That’s not true”s and “You’re just saying that”s and snort.
I don’t want to be nice anymore, I think. I don’t have to be that way. I take a deep breath of fresh air and exhale. And as I do this, the line on my forehead disappears, the thin line that starts near my left eyebrow and creeps upwards towards my scalp. I run a finger along it, smoothing my skin.
Hand to forehead, I sigh like someone with a deep world-weariness.
At 7pm, R arrives smoking a cigarette and carrying a bottle of white wine in his backpack. He hands it to me and smiles. “Soo, how’s your day been?” he asks. I put my coat on and recount the morning’s drama.
We walk across the park, and down the road, passing a group of twenty-somethings congregated near the petrol station car park. One of them calls out “Hey, sexy!” as we walk past, and R thanks them for me, raising his middle finger.
Soon, we arrive at the restaurant. Once inside, I look around but R is no longer there – I realise he’s still outside and is talking to someone I assume is a friend of his. So I go back outside and join the two-man crew. “Oh. Yeah, sure,” I hear R say.
He holds out his orange lighter. The guy he’s talking to takes a cigarette out of his pocket and dips his head to light it out of R’s hand. Then he straightens, blowing a plume of smoke to his side.
“Thanks,” he says. He takes another drag. “You with her?” he asks, tilting his head towards me.
“Um, yeah, but we’re not together,” says R.
“Friendzoned, huh? I feel you, man. Haha.” He winks at me. R raises his eyebrows. The guy makes his second mistake of the evening, thinking we don’t actually just want to go inside and eat our dinner. “Yeah, I’m on a date with this South-East Asian chick inside,” he says.
“Super hot,” he adds, as if this will impress us.
But I just think: For fuck’s sake. Who is this guy? I roll my eyes and imagine swiftly raising my hand and slapping that smug look off his face, but instead I draw R aside and say quietly, “Look, this is killing me,” and open the door to go inside.
R catches up with me at the table a few seconds later.
“Why are guys such fucking arseholes?” I ask.
“Who’s an arsehole? Me?”
“No, not you. That guy out there with his ‘South-East Asian chick inside’. Also, hello! I was standing right there!”
“Yeah, but he’s just ignorant. He didn’t mean anything by it.”
Then, referencing this ‘South-East Asian chick’ business, I launch back into the same old story about how H had this fetish for Asian women. And that one time, sitting on that couch at that party, like Chinese dolls. But R only laughs a little and says, “Ok.”
“Your friend’s a fucking arsehole!” I say.
“Ok,” he says, humouring me.
All the way home, I think about this, this fetish thing, replaying parts of the evening over and over again in my head. “Is it asking for too much to want to be treated as an actual human being?” I’d asked R, leaning over the table.
“Yeah, but it’s just about sexual preference,” he’d said.
“Whatever, maybe. But that’s not the point. Like, white men, Asian women. You’ve heard it – the stereotype, right? Meek yet sexually confident; subservient but really fucking hot. ‘Yellow fever’? Huh.” I stare into my glass, my distorted features beaming back at me.
“It’s the old Madonna/whore complex in a nutshell, but with a dash of racism thrown in,” I say. I take swig of my third glass of wine. “Men just can’t accept it. It would mean having to reassess their whole self-image as decent human beings. No one – no one wants to do that,” I say. R laughs. I laugh. We finish our wine.
But then R eats his dessert and I just sit there. I really want him to understand what I’m saying, all jokes aside. I would be more than willing to enter into a discussion about this with him, but he just wants to talk about how hard done by he feels, not having got the promotion he thought was his at work this week. So I let it rest, and I lean forward and say, “Yeah, that just sucks. You worked so hard for it as well.” There, there, I think.
I shiver and wrap my coat tighter around my body. It’s chilly for November. I am walking across the park now, poorly lit and lined with tall, dark pine trees. As I walk, I feel them coming at me rather than me going through them; my vision shifts in and out of focus.
My thoughts drift back to this morning, and then other fragments, too, come back. An image of Philip warehouse in the corner of that dark cul-de-sac, a warehouse rave we all went to about a month ago, H, V, G and I, about eighty others. Some memory of sitting on the couches there, in the designated ‘chill-out zone,’ an uncomfortable feeling swirling in my gut.
Some memory of hearing how some girl had her boob grabbed and was rightly upset. How the safer spaces team was going to “kick that guy out”. How some argument between G and her housemate was when they all moved in. How A was engaged to her boyfriend.
Some memory of how I wanted that night to feel, but of things not going quite as planned.
Some memory of seeing H’s hand on V’s arse, and his fingers running through G’s hair, on the dancefloor, on the couch. Did she want it? Did he have permission?
Everyone acting like they were fifteen. My boyfriend acting like he was fifteen and not fucking twenty-five.
I have arrived at my front door. I feel my body going limp, draining of its energy. I stop and say “Ugh, anyway,” out loud. Then I laugh, realising I’m drunk. I rummage in my bag, looking for the key. I find it, but stab aimlessly into the dark, missing the keyhole again and again. Fucking H, I think. And the feeling I’ve been suppressing all day, the feeling of rage inside me, is now so profound I almost start laughing. And then that’s what I do – I screech and laugh like a maniac. And then I remember that fucking photo and I say, “Oh, well that’s just LOVELY!” out loud, to no one.
Canberra-based writer, Masters student and editor. Tweet her at @camillapatini.
Camilla was the recipient of a Scissors Paper Pen mentorship with mentor Jessica Friedmann. This piece was developed as a part of the mentorship, which was supported by artsACT. For updates on future mentorships, follow Scissors Paper Pen on Facebook.