I wake from a nap with an unpleasant yet familiar clenching in my chest. There’s a vague trembling in my hands. I interlace my fingers and clasp them together, tight. I lay still under my covers. Various memories of H and his “That’s not true”s and “You’re just saying that”s float into my mind, unwelcome. I think about earlier, getting a message from M, who’d sent me an old (once deeply cherished) picture of me and H (my ex) that he’d been using for his tinder profile. The caption had read, “10cm taller than average”.
I feel a twinge of pain in my right temple, so I massage my head, moving my fingers around in circles on my forehead. I try to relax but still I think about texting H and asking him to take that photo down. I feel that is exactly the sort of sick satisfaction he’d take pleasure in, however, (plus, I’m not sure I can deal with that right now), so I get up, take a shower, and put some fresh clothes on.
Afterwards, I am standing in my bedroom, just thinking about what I should eat for dinner when I see it in my mind’s eye: H standing tall, his degree and girlfriend (i.e. a former version of me) positioned either side of him. I get my phone out and I stare at it for the hundredth time. We, his degree and me, are like trophies, I think. The expression on my face is at first one of disinterest, incurious, flat. But then fuck you, I think. Fuck you.
I’d called M earlier. “Are you going to say something?” she’d asked.
I’d told her it had made me feel uncomfortable, but that even if I did say something, he’d probably dismiss it. He’d say, “Why is this such a big deal? Aren’t you being just a little bit too sensitive?” in that whiny, nasal voice of his. Or he’d just say he didn’t mean it and then not apologise. “He’s just using me as sexual currency, you know, like bait,” I’d said to M.
She’d assured me that he’d take it down if he wasn’t a complete dickhead. “Don’t let it get to you!” she’d said. Oh, but it had, it had.
(I’ve always been good at fermenting rage, just letting it simmer.)
I sigh and sit on my bed. I am angry for a second, feeling that it must be a deep lack of imagination that holds H back from fully understanding how much of a dick move this is, but then I give up – I am, after all, glad I don’t need to be around this kind of thing anymore, this boring, inflexible immaturity. I sigh again, this time like someone with deep world-weariness.
I go into the bathroom and stand in front of the mirror. I look at my face; a small but healthy face, but my brows are furrowed, whether consciously or unconsciously, in anger. There’s a thin line that starts near my left eyebrow and creeps upwards towards my scalp. I puff my cheeks out like a monkey and let the air out slowly so that the line disappears, but still I run a finger along where the wrinkle was. I smooth it out.
As I am doing this, an image of that disused warehouse in the corner of that dark cul-de-sac comes to mind, that warehouse rave we went to about a month ago, H, V, G and I, and about eighty others. A memory of sitting on the couches there, in the designated ‘chill-out zone’, an uncomfortable feeling swirling in my gut. I reach for my toothbrush. I brush back and forth and side to side. More fragments come back.
Some memory of 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 other stupid titbits of gossip. There’s a distinct memory though of how I wanted that night to feel, and of things not going quite as planned because of H’s hand on V’s arse and his fingers running through G’s hair, on the dancefloor, on the couch. It’s not a big deal, he’d said. Not a big deal. Huh.
I rinse my mouth out, get rid of the excess toothpaste on my face and go back into my bedroom. I put all my rubbish into a plastic bag and go downstairs. And I put it near the door, to be taken out in the morning when I’m feeling less angry.
It is 7pm. R and I put our coats on – it’s chilly outside. I am wearing a long red dress with a low-cut neck and tassels at the bottom. As I walk, they swish softly against my legs. We enjoy a lazy walk down the road to Italian and Sons and on the way R lights one of his fancy cigarettes and chats to me about his job.
When we arrive I open the door to go inside but someone has intercepted R at the entrance and is asking if he can borrow R’s lighter. “Oh. Yeah, sure,” R says. I join them. R holds out his orange lighter. The guy takes out a cigarette and dips his head to light it out of R’s hand and then straightens, blowing a plume of smoke to his side.
“Thanks. You with her?” he asks, tilting his head towards me.
“Um, yeah, but we’re not together.”
“Friendzoned, huh? I feel you, man. Haha.” R raises his eyebrows. “Yeah, I’m on a date with this South-East Asian chick inside. Super hot.”
For fuck’s sake.
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.”
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.”
“He’s a fucking arsehole!” I shout.
“Ok,” he says.
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, right?” he’d said.
“Yeah, whatever, maybe. But, like. Asian women. You’ve heard the stereotype: meek yet sexually confident. Subservient but really, really fucking hot. ‘Yellow fever,’ right? Huh.” I stare into my glass. ‘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 wants to do that.” R had laughed.
I am home now. I stumble up the path to my front door. I am hysterical. I feel giddy. I could swoon. The feeling of rage inside me is so profound I almost start laughing. And then I remember that fucking photo and I say, “Oh, well that’s just LOVELY!” out loud, to no one.
When I get home, it is very late. There is a pounding in my head like something wants out. I take some Panadol from my bedside table and fill a glass of water from the kitchen sink. But I drink it too quickly, and some of it dribbles down my chin. There is water on my front. Never mind. I try not to think about it. I go back into my bedroom and get into bed. I spread out, taking up every goddamn delicious inch of my queen-sized mattress. I turn towards the window. There’s some light rain outside, sweet little droplets running down my windowpane. I shut my eyes. I take a deep breath, letting it fill me up like a balloon or maybe like one of those inflatable sex toys (haha). I imagine parts of my body growing larger, first my chest, then my stomach, then my legs, and finally, my feet. For a second, I am perfect, I am plastic, and I am not myself. I deflate.
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.