Touching the file as lightly as I could, to avoid contamination from its powdery green dust, I opened it on the ground. It was filled with densely written papers, interspersed with printed ones, encased in a loose card cover entitled ‘GF’. This time, my intrusion into her personal things was justified by her disappearance, the last time by Becky’s overdose. I did need some justification to allow me to read them, though I was uncomfortably aware that these events were convenient for me in this respect, however devastating in other ways.
The transformation in Elly after Becky overdosed was clear to me at the time, but I had no idea what was going through her mind. I could only extrapolate from her diaries, from earlier years. I soon realised, looking through these papers, just how much that diary was an anachronism (like the watch broken at the crime scene that had lost its function definitively and completely at that moment). For Elly it had been consigned it to the past. But it had been, until now, the only candid insight of her that I’d had available, so even unintentionally I’d clung to it, creating a rift in my perceptions between the child I knew and the emerging adult who I didn’t. As I’d continued to seek answers in that relic, Elly had grown away from me and beyond my recognition.
I began from the end, since the papers were shabbier there (clearly the oldest ones), starting with some email printouts.
‘I’ve been reading the Ancient Mariner over and over’
the first line stated, followed by a singular quotation, typed in green:
‘And ice, mast high, came floating by, as green as emerald.’
“So simple isn’t it? I even think, you know, that I could write something as good as that. But it is so damn good. Exquisite. The whole poem seems to come out of me as much as out of the book when I read it.
Did you want to borrow my copy of the Ancient Mariner? I’m going to buy a new one anyhow, coz reading the family one makes me a bit queazy.”
Why queazy, I wondered irritatedly. Our copy belonged to my mother, and in effect passed directly to Elly since she took it straight from the shelf. Her confident voice, confident in its judgements, made me feel fumbling; it always had. Was that what turned her stomach? Unsure whether to stop or continue, my eyes were already scanning the return message:
“I read the AM, like you said, and it gave me the creeps – don’t get me wrong, loved it too, ‘A hundred thousand slimy things lived on, and so did I. But d’you know what? when I read that bit out in class I had absolutely NO sense of the words at all. It was horrible. It was all technical, I was just making the right noises. I was scared as hell actually. Miss H is scary, don’t you think so? I can only think of what to say when she’s not asking questions, and she asks a hell of a lot of questions!”
This sounded like Rose to me, always and ever troubled.
“Try reading outside, in the woods or on top of the hill. Even at night! Shall we go together and read to each other?”
The page stopped there. The next one was altogether different and, in honesty, shocking.
“I went and did it last weekend. I slept with that guy from the bar. Had to lose my virginity before my birthday. I’d set myself that. It was grubby and bloody and really hurt – didn’t expect that. Had to clean it all up afterwards. But at least it’s done now and nobody’s going to own me. I was thinking about how they say ‘lost’ virginity don’t they? Well I didn’t exactly lose mine, I got rid of it!
Shall we go to the Crown from now on instead? Or I might face it out in the Bull and make like I don’t know him. Whatever the plan, I probably need to get out.
Yeah, you must do. Not so sure myself, though. Could you come round here instead? I’ve been wondering about whether I really want to go to university. I’m not sure about philosophy anymore. I’m not feeling all that great to be honest. It’s all about making our minds up isn’t it? Commitment. The more I believe in something, though, the less I believe in it. I’m not sure there’s anything I wholly believe in.
I binged again today…and puked… Blaaaah”
The shocking thing, apart from what they were up to, was how insular it all was. They were on a trajectory of their own, and I daresay impervious to any kind of adult influence. And I don’t think that’s just self-justification either. It really does seem to me that after Becky overdosed, we, their parents, were living in different universes from the girls. I tried to make some comparisons in my mind with myself at their age but I didn’t find much to go on. All I found myself concluding was that it was a different time, and I’m not sure whether that conclusion was to understand the differences, or to qualify apparent similarities as having different meanings.
I’d inadvertently folded the page in my hand over, and as I flattened it again, saw something hand-written on the back. I scanned it over and over, trying to decide whose anguish was depicted there:
“The paradox of belief for someone like her is that the more she is convinced of the truth of any belief, the more easily she overturns it. All thoughts transform themselves into their opposites. The challenge to any would-be critic is to find anything consistent – anything about her which does not find its contradiction in her. So, is there anything that she unequivocally believes? In certain circumstances a truth can become indispensable. When fragmentation of the self sets in one must choose ones truth with all the urgency of a stay of execution, yet in the recognition that the evidence will never amount to an acquittal, it can only ever postpone the end on a string of technicalities.
The problem is, how much is she a person, an identity, without her beliefs? Since she doesn’t have beliefs which don’t contradict one another, or themselves, over time, can she make her identity out of contradictions?
To live life as a philosophy, or out of a philosophy, is probably the most consistent way of being, even if the beliefs held and actions taken are contradictory or transitory. Can inconsistency be a manifestation of the most deeply characteristic stance of this individual? – that meaning is superfluity, and doubting this statement does nothing to diminish its truth.
Can I say this? Well, I can SAY ANYTHING!”
I was irritated again now, and passed over this sophistry, wanting the facts (what happened next) rather than ominous mind games. After all, a girl had died, another was clearly disturbed, and Elly had disappeared without trace. The emails took up their pseudo-cerebral debate, though, once more:
“I know what you mean about philosophy. But for me it was like liberation – justification! Not saying, though, that I have faith in it. You can’t create faith though can you? You have it, then it’s gone.
“I saw Phil out at the pub last night – at the Crown. He said philosophy is head-fucking! All I could think of was that I couldn’t say ‘fuck’ like that – with conviction, from my guts. I see his point though. It twists you up and spits you out over and over.”
Was this Elly? Mixing with Phil? I couldn’t believe she could be so reckless with herself. Phil of all people. Just goes to reinforce my point! Would she have listened to me if I’d warned her off Phil. Absolutely not. Rose wouldn’t have been so confident, would she? She’d have kept clear of him, for Elly’s sake as much as anything.
“I’d stay away from Phil, I really would!
Feeling crap today. Had a stupid debate at school about relationships and sex, and I’d said that I could see how casual sex might be okay. Well I actually said it might, in some circumstances, actually be a good thing. Becky and her crowd laid into me. Blah blah blah. Okay they believe it’s wrong…BUT…to have absolutely NO imagination. They can’t even have one single small thought that contradicts their views. And to top it all they thought I was being callous to Becky – actually, they thought I was defending you! It was an invitation to an idea, that’s all. Their certainty damns us all.
“Yes I do see what you’re saying – absolutely. I’ve been wanting to catch up with you – have a chat – but I can’t really talk to you when we’re out anymore coz of the music, drink and stuff. I saw you at the bus stop yesterday but couldn’t manage to catch up before you’d got on the bus. I hardly recognised you y’know. Are you okay? I don’t think so…”
I searched for a reply but couldn’t find one. The exchanges I found looked much later. There were also some more prose pieces, and some poems. I took out something on heavier writing paper:
“The amount of self consciousness in her life had always been inversely proportional to the amount of self. But is this a description or an admonition? So many of the afflictions of her gender emanate from this self-perpetuating diminishment, leading to contradictions so extreme as to threaten physical and mental viability. I’m thinking here of food. Anorexia makes itself true. So does bulimia, but it is less intellectually rigorous. That’s why she fell in love with anorexia. Isn’t it strange that truth can be found, even made, in starvation? Philosophy is no remedy. It is a symptom. Radical scepticism (her ability to doubt everything) is a description of her emotions – her psychology.”
I followed the words over the page, and on the back was another short passage:
“Do psychological theories explain our feelings? Or do our feelings explain the theories? I find nothing glaringly and obviously untrue in any theory, but most of them objectionable. Why so? For one thing, interpretation is art. We choose what is most beautiful to us, and a presentation of choices as brute facts is disingenuous – more, it is ugly! A theory might very well be true, but that is not to call it concrete – inert. Truth lives!”
My own thoughts were so redundant in this world of Elly’s that I had trouble thinking anything. The most I could do was wonder at the existence of the file at all. What was it for? I couldn’t understand the purpose. It was part Philosophical tract, part dossier, part diary. It seemed such an antiquated form too – the email, and printed out! – in this age of social media. These were not the kind of things that I could use to satisfy my own questions. They were mostly alienating.
I was gazing at the sky. Now that my immersion in it was broken, the file took on a more forbidding character. I wasn’t sure that I really wanted to be presented with any more new information, but it was just as difficult to stop as keep going.
“I’m sorry Ellz, but I had to apologise to them in the end, didn’t I. You know that. I’m still not sure what we really did to Becky. Anyhow, as you told me, it went further than just saying it – saying sorry. Being sorry came with a load of baggage. I’ve even had to let mum send me for ‘treatment’. Got a whole team trying to sort me out!”
I knew that Rose had been quite ill with an eating disorder, and it was probably not long after that that Elly stopped seeing her. I wasn’t sure whether they’d had a rift (whether they’d split up, as it were) or whether it was less deliberate than that. Rose became quite hard to manage, I do know that, almost drinking herself to death a few times, and constantly being caught in possession of recreational drugs. I don’t know if she was unreachable at home, to her folks, but she never acknowledged me, nor even seemed to recognise me, in the street.
I lifted out another sheet. It went like this:
“Godfather counts out the little red pills. It is fortunate that we have in front of us a complete packet of tablets. They are small and crimson like little drops of blood; a simile I use to give these pellets some legitimacy in their role; to give their power some credence. Otherwise this might as well be done by accident. We sit and look at the packet for a while, sometimes moving as if to pick it up and handle the contents, but transforming each movement to a gesture, like the high jumper who sweeps away from the bar at the last moment. Eventually I take the box and push out each pellet from its bubble onto the table. Neither of us know the powers that these pills actually have. It’s odd; as if all of the scenarios we deliberated over were in the end irrelevant. They were mental training. It was here and now: intention becomes action. There are forty pills, twenty each; enough, we think. He makes two piles, his right hand slowly drawing one pile towards himself then pushing the other over to me, as his left rests gently on my shoulder, maintaining my engagement with this…, well one could only call it a ceremony. My eyes follow his movements, but see only the tablets, pushed and pulled before coming to an ominous rest. I try to connect with the validity of it, this proposal, and draw courage from that. Most of all I have to believe in it.
A scrappy sheet was stapled to the back:
“Godfather said to me “I see you sitting there, every molecule resonating to the music, expanding with the warmth of the fire, contracting with the chill. That iridescence you once had has degraded. No longer a source, now sometimes you reflect the light, but more often you just take it in”. He spoke out of love, the objective observations that only love can make.
“Godfather is a man I admire. He doesn’t say much, but I sense a great history behind him – one of action rather than articulation. His unflinching engagement in the world, as though another way of being has never even presented itself as a possibility, as though there is no question of his fittedness for his life, is unfathomable to me. He has sailed around, climbed up, walked all over, surveyed from the skies and mined the depths of this world, without ever worrying about his place in that adventure, his right to it. I have often wondered whether I will still understand myself in the future. I’m sure that change can come upon a person so stealthily that the aggression is hardly felt. But Christ, what aggression!
Jason came close, about to speak, so I scraped the stack of papers carefully from the ground and got them back into the file, then passed it through the open window onto the sill, tucked away into the corner, under the curtain. I would need to come back to it.