How Not to Survive

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10

The next week I mostly spend standing around holding a spear behind Clive, this weedier than weedy James McAvoy wannabe, trying to not to giggle when he declares his ardent love for busty Jessica’s simpering Cleopatra, or else attempting to look fantastically excited at being ordered to leave the stage by fairy queen Tania, which is about as demeaning as it gets, let me tell you. It’s so neuron-depletingly tedious I can’t stop myself from yawning, which pisses Jerk Jackson off no end.

Jarold, you’re a disgrace! he keeps screaming, Do you think Helen Mirren would have got where she is today by yawning through Antony and Cleopatra? Do you think Derek Jacobi would have been anything other than completely absorbed in his master’s words if he was playing Mustardseed?

But he might as well be talking to himself, which he basically is anyway. It’s like, giving me a spear to hold was a big mistake, and it’s only because I’ve got amazing self control that my splint-faced tutor hasn’t been like, gored multiple times. I just zone out whenever he loses it and think about this meeting with Bob Phillips that Barbie’s setting up for me. She called me the previous night to tell me in this loaded voice that she’s In Talks with him, whatever the hell that means, and there’re definitely a couple of small parts he’ll consider me putting me up for if I seem suitable. I’m having these fantasies of Jackson’s face when he hears I’m blowing college for a real job, all crimson and bloated from fury, a bit like a semi-squished tomato.

I get home on Friday night totally like, flattened from my week of trying not to like, fall on my own spear out of boredom and tiptoe up to my room holding my breath in case Sour Face is waiting behind the cupboard door ready to ambush me with a power drill or something. There’s no sign of her, which means she’s probably in her room staring at pictures of me she’s secretly taken and like, stroking off over them whilst imagining cutting my head off.

I shut the door and lock it (like, just in case), and slump down on my bed ready to sink into a coma. Eli is staying late at college, working on some electronic sculpture, which sounds like a total oxymoron to me. I’m meant to be meeting him later for a drink in town, but the very idea of doing anything other than sparking up in front of Gossip Girl is way too taxing to handle, especially since all he’s done since I caved and agreed to go and meet his parents is ad nauseate about all the positive things I need to tell them, as well as the stuff I mustn’t say Under Any Circumstances – like how I could just murder a hunk of pork etc. We’re having dinner with them on Friday, and I’m looking forward to it about as much as my own crucifixion.

I realise my phone’s winking at me with three missed calls, and for a nasty second I think they’re all going to be from Andrew, that he’ll have like, flipped again and decided life’s too cruel for someone so beautiful. I’ve been feeling a mite bit guilty, since his gay hand-holding meeting was supposed to be last night and I didn’t go. I ended up texting him Really sorry, something’s come up. Hope it goes well! J. which I was hoping conveyed sincere sorriness without sounding too much like I knew what a cunt I was being. He didn’t reply, which had me briefly worried that maybe he’d gone and topped himself for real, but then I figured I was only doing what Kate had told me to and staying away, so it wouldn’t really be my fault if he had, would it? That actually sounds pretty fucking unfeeling now that I review it, but sometimes you’ve got to be unfeeling in order to be logical in life.

Anyway, happily it’s not Andrew calling from the bridge he’s about to dive off, but not so happily it turns out to be Des, whose number I’ve only even got in my phone because of this one time when Mum fell down in the street and got rushed to hospital because they thought she’d had a severe allergic reaction to something. It soon transpired that she was just stinking drunk, but at the time it was pretty alarming let me tell you. Steeling myself for some nightmare scenario about how Mum’s boozed up and taken down a bank, I listen to his voicemail:

Hi Jaz, it’s Des. Just calling on behalf of your ma, ’cos she’s not allowed to make calls where she is. Thought it would be real sweet if you could pay her a little visit. She’s been real brave and gone through a hell of a lot of stuff, as you know. After the funeral me and her had a long chat and both thought it’d be best if she booked herself into this clinic while she gets her head together, to keep her away from the Devil’s vice. Anyway, give me a bell back, mate. Cheers!

It’s not every day your find your mum has gone and checked herself into rehab. I call Des back, but there’s no answer, no doubt because the big tattoo-suited softy has already had his glass of milk and gone to bed for the night. Sighing because it’s always a total assignment, I call my sister.

She’s like, Jaz can I call you back?

I’m like, Did you know about Mum?

She’s like, Jaz – no no no stop it!

Teresa starts giggling, this totally freaky sound she also makes when she’s flirting, which is about as traumatic as listening to someone being slowly hacked to death. This guy’s voice says something about me at the other end that sounds vaguely derogatory – though I can’t hear him properly.

I’m like, Who’s that?

Teresa’s like, No one. Look, Mum checking into the clinic is a good thing!

I’m like, You knew?

Joan of Arc is like, She didn’t want to worry you with it.

I’m like, totally bowled over by this, since usually Teresa and Dad are the ones Mum’s worried about worrying. It’s also kind of surprising Teresa hasn’t taken upon herself to let me know, since there’s nothing she enjoys more than laying a guilt trip on me.

I’m like, I can’t believe no one said anything.

This guy who’s with my sister says something to her again, and she lets out another epilepsy-causingly annoying burst of giggling.

I’m like, What’s going on?

Teresa’s like, Nothing – I’ve got to go Jaz! Speak later OK?

She hangs up. And as she does it suddenly twigs who the guy’s voice belongs to. Paul. I’m like, beyond shocked. It’s like I’ve just found out Teresa’s boning a fascist dictator. I sit there trying to like, resist the twin urges to be sick and make myself sick. Of all the gross unions possible on this planet, this one is like, up there.

My phone bleeps. It’s Eli, saying Almost done. Wot time we meeting? x I reply Not 2nite baby. Shits hit the fan. Sister screwing Hitler and mums gone AWOL. Need to chill. J. I lean back on the bed and spark up, that rehab song by Amy Wino going through my head on repeat. Eventually I jerk off to thoughts of Danny’s pecs. He’s basically been avoiding me and Eli like we’re walking viruses ever since I told him Eli wasn’t interested, and whenever I text him to see if he wants to meet up he takes ages to reply and is then really vague about where he’s gonna be – though I’ve noticed he’s not too busy to update his status on Facebook every hour. It’s totally depressing, especially since I’m still having like, Thoughts about him. In fact the whole scenario of my life right now is pretty fucking bleak. It gets bleaker when I somehow manage to fall asleep and wake up a couple of hours later to find I’ve dropped the spliff and gone and burnt a big fat hole right through the mattress.

The next morning finds me heading on out towards Wimbledon to this so-called clinic where Mum’s been tee-totalling it for the past week and a half. I feel kind of bad that in all this time I haven’t called up to check on her, having been distracted with the school plays and my like, production-defining job of blending in with the scenery.

Des meets me at the station. He’s all suited up in his Sunday best, his tats hidden under this navy blazer like he’s going to a wedding. His nose, ear and eyebrow piercings are still visible though, plus there’s no hiding it when you’ve mug like Mickey Rourke in Sin City, so he looks a bit like a violent criminal masquerading as a primary school teacher. It’s like, almost unbelievable that this person should actually have a connection to someone like my Mum, a bit like Mick Jagger going to tea with the Queen.

Alright Jaz, goes Des, towering over me and stretching out a fist with the word Love etched across the knuckles for me to shake.

I’m like, What’s the deal with my mum?

He’s like, It’s all good, mate, it’s all good. She just needed some downtime to

dry out. She’s halfway through her programme and is doing real well. You should be proud.

I’m like, Yeah, I’m just budding with pride right now.

Des nods all gravely. He’s one of those types who’s immune to sarcasm, which is probably just as well since I wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of someone who closely resembles the Rockies. But seriously – how are you meant to be proud of your mother for booking herself into a bin? I mean, does it really take that much self control not to get tanked up every time something goes wrong in your life? It’s not that I don’t appreciate the necessity for hard liquor sometimes, because believe me I do, but what’s the point of making to the age of fifty and building yourself this nice stable middle class world with kids and everything, if as soon as a couple of shit things happen you have to take refuge in a bottle? And maybe that sounds a bit unsympathetic, but frankly I’m just about through being sympathetic with Mum. It’s like, once upon a time I used to be afraid of her – and not because she beat me with the vacuum cleaner but because she was so together and I guess somewhere deep down I must have respected that. Now it’s like, How did I get landed with such a fuck up for a mother?

From the outside The Rose Evans Recovery Centre for Women looks just like luxury spa, all pristine and white with roses climbing the walls, pretty arched windows and a massive garden with a pond at the centre of it. It certainly doesn’t look like the sort of place to house a bunch of ratty addicts – more like the sort of place where you can get a pedicure at the same time swilling back a chilled glass of aloe vera. But looks can be deceiving, as the second we walk in the door we’re greeted by this piercing scream from somewhere within the recesses. Des goes pale and gives my shoulder a crushing squeeze which is obviously just to reassure himself.

He’s like, Remember Jaz –this is a good place.

It’s like, A good place for what? Illegal abortions?

The receptionist, this pert-looking old lady with a blonde beehive wig, gives us a humungous smile as we approach.

Ah yes, Lois, she goes when I ask for Mum, She’s one of our favourites. Always helping out and tidying up after herself. If you’d like to go through to the visiting room I’ll have someone fetch her.

She presses a little button and the door behind her opens up. Just as it does there’s yet another scream like someone’s being axe murdered, and me and Des give each other these twin looks like we’re about to enter into the vault of doom or something.

Don’t worry, the reception woman assures us, It’s just old Maggie refusing to take her meds, the old drama queen.

We go through to the so-called visiting room, which looks like a humungous lounge and already has several clusters of well dressed middle-aged women talking to husbands and family members. It’s kind of funny in fact, to see so many mothers and wives and know they must all be total die hards to have ended up in a joint like this. One of them is like, at least seventy and is actually knitting while she chats away to the slightly younger man beside her, who like, must be her son or something. It’s totally a scene out of Desperate Housewives.

We take a seat at one of the tables just as Mum is shown into the room by this proper fat mama who looks like she probably keeps these bitches in line by like, sitting on anyone who disobeys her. The warden leads Mum all the way over to us and even helps her sit down like she’s this invalid, pushing her chair in under her butt.

You just holler if you need anything, goes Mama Morton, giving me and Des a suspicious once over like she thinks maybe we’re going to sneak Mum a bottle of voddy under the table, before swaying back out of the room.

Mum’s like, Hello boys, with this sunny smile like everything’s completely right with the world.

She’s got this total serene air, a bit like she’s just come back from successful shopping expedition at Heals. Before either me or Des can say a word she leans over and taps the shoulder of the woman at the next table along, who’s talking to a couple of drained-looking younger women.

Oh Elaine – before I forget, goes Mum in a chatty voice, I was on pillowcase duty this morning but we ran out of fresh ones before I reached your room. I’ve had a word with laundry and there are more on the way after supper.

Oh thank you for telling me Lois! trills Elaine.

They give each other enormously bright smiles, which is a bit like watching two satellites communicate, and then Mum turns back to us. I’m like, beyond freaked out, and I catch Elaine’s daughters giving each other these looks like life has nothing left in store that can scare them from here on in. I’ve got the same expression myself, but Mum ignores it and has a good look at Des like she’s suddenly noticed he’s got some talent.

Goodness, she goes, Don’t you look dashing, Des!

Kilimanjaro beside me blushes fuchsia pink. I decide it’s time to cut the crap.

I’m like, What is going on here?

Mum’s like, Oh Jarold – isn’t it the most marvellous place? I wish I’d known about Rose Evans before... well, you know, before my breakdown. Everyone is so friendly and considerate here. We’re just like one big family!

She starts going on about the wonderful rooms, and the wonderful food, and all the wonderful other ‘girls’, the wonderful staff and then Mary, her wonderful counsellor.

I’m like, So basically you’re in Wonderland.

You know, goes Mum, I haven’t even thought of drinking since I got here!

It’s like, yeah yeah – and those blood-freezing screams from earlier were just incidentals, right? But Des is beaming across at her like she’s finally seen The Way, and Mum is beaming right back at him like, yes she has. I’m tempted to run out screaming for directions to the nearest offy so I can buy a crate of spirits to force-feed everyone here, and like, save them from what’s rapidly seemingly like a fate worse death. I make this coughing sound at the back of my throat and look at Des meaningfully.

I’m like, Hey, didn’t you say you needed the toilet?

Des stares at me open-mouthed like he thinks I’ve just made a pass at him. Since subtly with this guy is like trying to put out a raging inferno by pissing on it, I put it bluntly.

Look, can you give us a minute alone?

Des continues to stare at me baffled for a few seconds, then it finally sinks in and he gives this big dramatic nod of understanding. It’s like watching a six year old at long last figure out how babies are made.

Des is like, Oh, of course. Excuse me Lois. Gotta use the gents’.

Once the Walking Mountain has left us I lean across and look Mum right in the eyes, a bit like a horse whisperer. I feel totally ridiculous doing it, but not nearly as ridiculous as what I’m surrounded by.

OK there’s no way this place can possibly be that great, I hiss, So would you please tell me what the fuck is going on?

Mum blinks at my use of the word fuck and instinctively opens her mouth to tell me off. But then something clicks and she looks down. As she does it’s like all the fake I’m-so-happy-I-could-just-orgasm cheer evaporates, and she gives a small shiver.

Mum’s like, Oh Jarold, please don’t spoil it for me...

She trails off and looks up at me. Her chin wobbles and her eyes grow massive, and it’s like at any second she’s going to have major fountains. I prepare myself for total carnage.

I’m like, It’s OK Mum.

She shakes her head.

She’s like, You don’t know, do you?

I’m like, Don’t know what?

Mum’s like, Your dad and Julia. They’ve decided to get married. He called to let me know.

Nothing can prepare me for this Hiroshima-shaped pellet of information. There’s this sound of something plopping against the carpet, which is like, my jaw.

I’m like, No – fucking – way!

Mum doesn’t reply, just continues staring at me, and sure enough the tears start leaking out of her eyes, almost invisible as they snake down her cheeks, like the massive head shot of Sinead O’Conner in that famous Nothing Compares 2 U video.

We sit there all awkwardly and then I reach over and put my hand on hers, which is the sort of thing I’d normally rather melt than do because it seems so fake and stupid, but now is the only thing I can think of. Mum puts her other hand on top of it like she appreciates it anyway, and we sit there in silence for a bit. I can’t help but notice that Mum’s the only one who seems to be experiencing any sort of real emotions in this room, like it’s really all some secret Stepford programme where they’re taking these drugged up wives and mums and replacing them with cyborgs. No doubt that’s what the earlier screaming was all about.

After a while Des returns looking all sheepish. It turns out he couldn’t find the loo and wandered around looking for it until he accidentally stumbled on the ‘relaxation room’, where all these women were lying on couches listening to like, whale sounds and touching themselves in weird places. Apparently they all went ballistic at the sight of him. I can’t help sniggering, and then Mum sniffs and has a bit of a smile about it as well, though she tells him not to worry as everyone’s very open-minded here – whatever the hell that’s supposed to mean. Des nods, but he obviously feels totally uncomfortable in this place full of the sort of women he’d never ordinarily so much as cross paths with, unless it was to like, mug them.

Just then there’s this tinkling of a little bell and suddenly everyone is rising to their feet and the women are all saying goodbye to their visitors like they can’t wait to be rid of them.

Mum’s like, Time for afternoon dozies.

It’s like, are you kidding me? She ignores my face and kisses me quickly on both cheeks and then Des, who’s so overwhelmed by the contact he almost blacks out. Then Top Dog reappears and lays a hand on Mum’s shoulder, guiding her away from us towards the other inmates. As we leave I look back and Mum gives me this little wave, and suddenly I think of Grandma and of when we went to put her in the home for geries a few years back, and how happy she was because it was like this refuge away from the rest of world (ie Mum). I can’t help but feel it’s a bit like that now, and that Mum’s just hiding out here and not facing up to shit. Then I have this realisation that one day Mum’s going be as old as Grandma was, and I’m going to be visiting her in a place like this, and it’ll be the last place she lives in before she dies. It’s like, the saddest thought I’ve ever had.

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