How Not to Survive

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1

OK so first of all, the broad strokes: I’m twenty-one, I live in London with my best friend Eli along with this scary neurotic mess Sue who we both secretly call Sour Face. I pissed around for the last few years after school trying to decide what I wanted to do with my life, and meanwhile my family totally like, fell apart. My mum still lives in our old house in Shepherd’s Bush and basically drinks for a living, and my dad’s shacked up with this fitness therapy empress Barbie who like, has multiple conniptions if you so much as whisper the word Carbs. After my third gap year, which incidentally is around when I first met my dear pal Dealer Danny, I decided I was born to be an actor (ie realised I had no chance of ever doing anything useful) and now I’m in my forth term at drama school and my coach, Jerk Jackson, hates me like I’m his wife’s bastard child. Also I’ve just woken up to the first day of this amazing series of total disasters.

The morning’s off to a rocky start, since I have the sort of come down that’s best endured in a twenty four hour coma – only I can’t do that because Jerk Jackson’s putting the class into groups today, and if you don’t want to end up with the retards you need to get there early. Obviously I shouldn’t have taken that pill, which was the decision between going home for some beauty or staying out and ravaging it till dawn. It’s all Danny’s fault of course for putting it in my hand, a bit like in the first Matrix movie, and insisting it’d help me chill, instead of decently explaining the options like Lawrence Fishbourne.

Halfway to the station I realise I’ve forgotten my phone, which makes me let out this involuntary screech, seriously startling a group of mums trundling their prams along towards me – but it’s already nine fifteen so I plough on like Braveheart and throw myself onto the over-crowded platform. After the daily journey from hell, shoved into a crevice with some dude’s briefcase practically mating with my backside, I finally get in to college sweating like I’ve come from Vikram yoga in rubber only to find Jackson’s already put me with Sammy, this personality-free zone who’s like, destined to be an extra, and Tania, this thoroughbred daddy’s girl who only got in to drama school because her family owns half of the building. Darling, goes Jerk Jackson with his unctuous smirk when I try to suggest I should swap groups, I don’t think you’re big enough a star yet to make that sort of demand!

After a surreal eight hours spent wobbling around with Sammy and Tania as limbless alien blobs, whilst getting simultaneously barked at by our cunt of coach for not giving our extra terrestrials believable depth, I race across town to get to my ushering job at the Old Vic, where I’m on my penultimate warning for repeated lateness. By this time my brains are on meltdown from the devastating combo of last night’s MDMA fallout and Jerk Jackson’s intergalactic acting seminar. Matters aren’t helped that the duty manager is Twiggy, this stick-thin ex-model who’s always making snide comments – Oh dear oh dear Jaz, she goes when I throw myself through the doors, pretty much ready for a coronary after having run all the way from school, Not only are you five minutes late but you look like micro-waved dog poo to boot! Not the sort of impression we want to give our audiences, is it? The anorexic A-hole then presents me with my final warning and puts me on confectionary duty, which is the worst job because it’s like, totally demeaning and involves walking round with a box of ice cream strapped to your tits. And of course who should I run into that very night but Jerk Jackson himself, who’s come to see Waiting For Godot and gives me a smug look as if he reckons this is as close to the stage as I’m ever gonna get.

Basically you know those days you sometimes have where everything’s like, a parody of bad? Where in order to have deserved it you must have been like, a baby massacrer in your past life? Well that’s the sort of day I’m having. And it’s about to get worse.

So I’m riding back on the train towards East India – like, the area, not the country. That’s where me and my dufus mate Eli chose to live, seduced by the concept of a nice flat with cheap rent, forgetting that an hour and a half to college and back every day mashed in to someone’s armpit is about as much fun as having your face sat on. The train’s mostly empty, which I think is a good thing because I’m feeling kind of fragile here. My ipod’s run out of power, which makes me want to throw it out the window, or stomp on it, or maybe just weep, and so I end up listening to this couple in the opposite seats to me, who’re talking in quiet voices about their day at the office, which sounds so like, the opposite of orgasmic that I eventually decide it’s got to be code and they’re really spies or terrorists or Satanists or something. Here’s a quick sample:

Woman: I had three coffees today!

Man: I had a can of Pepsi at lunchtime.

Woman: Ooh, I do love Pepsi!

Man: Diet Pepsi mind.

Woman: Oh yes – of course.

Riveting stuff. Anyway, Satanist bomber agents eventually get off at Shadwell to go lead their nonstop lives elsewhere and then it’s just me for a bit, and I lean back and appreciate the sensation of having a carriage all to myself. Then the doors open and the gang gets on.

Normally it wouldn’t phase me when a group of tough-looking skinheads all whooping and wearing wife beaters and hoodies and holding cans of Stella sit down opposite me, except that a) I’m the only other person on the train and b) I’ve elected this precise moment to have a bash a reading the handout Jackson gave us at the end of our seminar, an photocopy entitled PLAYING GAY in big letters. I immediately try to cover this part with my hand, but whoever’s watching over me at this point is having far too good a time, probably playing with himself while he fucks me over, and the paper flies right out of my hand and lands practically in the lap of the biggest hoodie, whose got several tear tattoos coming out of his left eye, no doubt for each queer he’s killed.

Oi mate, goes this mountain as I snatch the paper back, Got a spare fag?

I shake my head and do my best to look like if I did I’d offer him one.

Got a fag? goes the guy beside him, He is a fag, more like!

And he laughs at his own wit so hard it’s like he’s gonna crack a rib.

That true? booms the first guy, You a fudge-packer?

Normally I’d just turn away, but my bad day’s obviously upset my sense of self-preservation, because instead the words, Fuck off vagina mouth! come hissing from my lips before I can clamp them shut.

It’s obviously like, the stupidest thing I’ve ever done and probably as a result I totally deserve what comes next, because of course the guy is immediately all up in my face and waving his fists around going, Oh yeah you wanna make something of it? like, the definition of a re-offender.

I try to turn my head away but that’s no longer an option, and next thing I know this schizoid is slapping me on the side of the face while the rest of his buddies cheer him on, grunting at me, Queer! Arse bandit! Faggot! and other such cockle-warmers. There’s only so much of that you can take and so I try to stand up in order to move, only Mr Prison Destiny interprets this RSVPing to his kind invitation to have my brains kicked in, and promptly gives me a fist full in the mouth.

I’m like, EYUH!

His blow knocks me totally flying, like, Katherine Heigle style. Only unlike her instead of kookily bouncing off something with a giggle, my head connects with the rail with this sickening crunch and then I like, trickle down to the floor in a pool of limbs. I taste blood and see stars.

Bum fucker! shouts Charlie Bronson., raising his foot over my face.

I close my eyes and wait for the inevitable, which by this time is practically a mercy killing. Only at this point whoever controls the universe abruptly decides that no one’s karma is quite that bad and we pull up at Surrey Quays, where there’re quite a few people waiting to get on. The Hulk launches a gobshell of spit that splatters the floor beside me and gets off with his mates yelling Faggot die and go to hell! I just lie there, until I hear some woman bending over me going, Oh my god I think he might be unconscious! in a thick Australian accent, at which point I groan and sit up, making the woman scream like she thinks I’ve come back from the dead to eat her. I tell her I’m fine, not very convincingly with blood like, spewing out my nostrils, and she reluctantly unhands the emergency brake.

Did those hooligans beat up on you? demands this old guy who’s peering down at me as if the answer wasn’t obvious from my semi-exploded face, You want to call the police! Shouldn’t be allowed to get away with that sort of thing in this day and age.

I bet they’re on CCTV! adds the Aussie woman excitedly.

I nod and try to smile but it comes out as this sob and the next thing I know I’m crying all over the shop, spraying blood and tears like this proper factory of gore. The old guy and the Aussie woman suddenly look all embarrassed and distract themselves by playing with their phones, but even though I’m making a total tit of myself I can’t seem to stop chugging away. Fortunately my stop is next and I hurl myself off the train and sit there on the platform wiping my face off with my T shirt until I’m calm again, which takes ages and gets me all these suspicious looks from other commuters like I’m some homeless addict on a bad trip.

I finally get back exhausted and ready to like, lie down and peacefully die. At least I’m looking forward to some good old fashioned tea and sympathy from Eli, only he’s nowhere to be seen and instead I’m greeted by Sour Face, who’s sitting bolt upright at the kitchen table, a bowl of untouched wholemeal wheat-free pasta before her, staring at me as I come in like I’m the origin of all that’s wrong with the world.

Hello Jaz, how are you? she goes, totally ignoring my swollen face and the patch of blood down the front of my T-shirt, like maybe she thinks I’ve just got back from Extreme Paintballing.

I’m like, Hey Sue, you seen Eli?

Sour Face is like, He’s gone out with again with Danny, whispering this name because she can’t stand Danny, not since he offered her a cookie and neglected to tell her it was jampacked full of gangja, But I’m glad to catch you alone because there’s something I want to talk about.

I give her this look I’ve been patenting at drama school, which is supposed to be all little boy lost and evoke like, feelings of protectiveness.

I’m like, Can’t it wait? I just got totally homophobically assaulted.

Actually no it can’t, replies Sour Face with all the compassion of a Nazi vampire, I live in this house too and frankly things cannot continue the way they are. I have rights too!

The reason we let Sour Face move in was because we needed a third person to pay the rent, and when she came to look round she did a brilliant impression of someone who was cool, alternative and fun-loving. But within a day of getting the room she revealed herself to be like, Single White Female’s even crazier twin, manically obsessed with cleaning, noise, bills, eating organic and pointing out all the things everyone else does wrong. It’s like, run yourself a bath and have a wank already. We’ve tried to ask her to leave on several occasions, but each time you raise the subject she suddenly morphs into this hysterical victim who only ever wanted to be everybody’s best friend and can’t understand why the whole world is against her. Last time Eli got up his courage to ask Sour Face point blank to find a new place she started screaming and shaking like she was having a full on out of body experience, going on about how nobody’s ever loved her or understood her, both of which are pretty plausible, and since then neither of us have had the guts to try again.

First of all there’s the rota, continues Sour Face, It’s your turn to put out the recycling and the rubbish and you haven’t done it and now it’s going to overflow which I think is not acceptable. Then there’s the music problem. I’ve told you I can still hear it and I don’t think eleven o clock is an unreasonable time to ask you to turn it off. There is reason they invented headphones, you know! And that brings me to the food situation –

She starts ad nauseating about how she’s labelled all her stuff and like, drawn lines to measure the levels of the milk etc, and then she gets out one her disgusting soya protein drinks and shows me how it’s gone down by three millimetres or something and that as a result she doesn’t feel safe because it’s like living with thieves, which according to Sour Face are in the same league as rapists, and suddenly it’s too much, I can’t listen to it anymore.

I’m like, You’re never going to have sex, you do realise that, right?

At this Sour Face is like, silenced with shock.

It’s true, I say, No one is ever going to fuck you. You’re going to die alone.

I head off up to my room with the not unsatisfying sound of Sour Face shrieking behind me and slam my door. On my bed my mobile’s blinking with like, a gazillion missed calls and a gazillion messages, and I know straight away with like, a plummeting heart, who they’re going to be from.

I consider calling the police to report being attacked and then figure there’s not much point since they’d only tell me to come down the station which there’s no way I’m planning to do, and probably I should take some pics of my mashed-in face so they’ve got some evidence, and then I begin to wonder if I can actually be arsed. I start listening to the first message on my phone, where sure enough, Andrew’s voice whines, Jaz – I need you to call me back now, this isn’t funny. You can’t treat a person like this. You’ve got to act like an adult and pick up the bloody phone! – sorry, I didn’t mean to get angry but I’m just so... Look Jaz, just please call me back, OK? –

I press Delete. Me and Andrew is a Long Story. The gist is that Andrew is this accountant I kind of got it on with. It’s like, the lowest rung of uncool, but I didn’t know what he did for a living when we met and besides, he’s still kind of cute. He’s also kind of a lot older than me. But he seemed like a decent guy and he was certainly pretty enthusiastic, if you know what I mean, only cut to a couple of weeks later and I’m kind of over the whole old-enough-to-be-my-father thing and also of having nothing in common other than both of us being human beings. Plus he’s like, totally married to a woman, which was a turn on at first, but pretty soon became totally weird. I did try to let him down gently and all that, telling him that we should go our separate ways and like, try to suggest that maybe his way should be towards therapy and divorce, and at the time he seemed fine with it. Except that he obviously wasn’t because now he seems to have decided we’re soul mates and destined to merge lives or something, and for the past week he’s been like, stalking me with technology. OK, so I went with a breeder and yeah, it probably is an authority/straight/fatherhood thing. Judge me if you want to.

Anyway, I can’t be dealing with Andrew and his legion neediness right now so I throw my mobile on the pillow, put on some Imelda May and start skinning up a fat one to try and take the edge of my day from the innermost regions of hell. I’ve just taken a few blessed tokes when the phone goes again. I give it a few seconds then realise Andrew’s not going to stop unless I either switch it off or else answer and explain to the fixated idiot that obsessively hounding someone who’d blatantly prefer to ignore you is about as attractive as offering them a gift-wrapped sample of herpes.

I’m like, Andrew – this has got to stop! in this voice like I’m dying, which I know is kind of melodramatic but then I am sitting here caked in dried blood.

Jaz, it’s Teresa, goes my sister.

I’m like, Oh. Hi there.

Me and my little sis get on about as well as the Pope and John Waters. It’s partly because she’s this preppy do-gooder who always gets her own way, whereas I’m like, the family black sheep. Here’s me hoovering up my parents’ savings on a useless drama degree so I can likely move on to a career of begging student filmmakers for walk-on parts in their college shorts, and meanwhile she’s at UEA studying History of Art and like, how to be an prize-winning kiss arse. Our relationship hasn’t been exactly helped by the fact that she went to convent school and has always been kind of religious, whereas I’m like, the meaning of godlessness.

She’s like, Listen, I’ve got something to tell you.

She’s speaking in this super nice gentle tone, like how a doctor might talk to you when you’ve got incurably advanced cancer and three weeks left to live. It’s obviously not something pleasant.

Try not to get upset OK?

Well what is it? I snap.

It’s Grandma. She passed away last night.

I like, try to process this, but on top of everything else that’s happened today it just feels like information about a distant event, like when you hear something awful but obscure on the news, such as a Penguin genocide.

I’m like, Oh.

Teresa’s obviously disappointed I haven’t immediately launched into a passionate fit of keening.

She’s like, Is that all you have to say?

I’m like, What do you want? “Good?”

She’s like, Sometimes I just can’t believe you. You have no heart.

I’m like, Gimme a break. I’ve been –

Listen, she cuts me off, apparently deciding there’s not point since I’m such a lost cause, I spoke to Mum and she sounded really upset. I think she might be drinking again. You better get over there asap.

Mum’s a lawyer, and according to some of her stories alcohol is like, standard breakfast for these types. She’s always been a total control freak, the sort of person who only ever touched a drop at Christmas and New Year’s, but after her marriage to Dad fell apart she got into boozing big time. She’s never been like, Amy Wino style bad, but sometimes it was a bit scary, especially when you checked out the recycling bin. She used to drag us along to AA meetings, which Teresa absolutely loved because they were crammed full of people for her to preach to, though if the ones I went to were anything to go by I’d say there’s like, nothing more guaranteed to drive someone to drink. After she became teetotal, alcohol along with anything remotely fun got banned from the house, and cleaning became like, her favourite pastime, which is one of the reasons I decided it was time to move on out.

I’m like, Now’s not really a great time... I’ll go over in the morning, OK?

But Teresa’s like, She needs you right away! I’m in Norwich so I can’t go! like there’s no such thing as a train, You know Jaz, life isn’t just all about you!

I consider trying to explain that I’m sitting there having trouble breathing because I’ve got clots of blood blocking my airways, but Mother Teresa’s the sort of saint who’d probably tell me it’s divine providence. I should introduce her to Sour Face some day, they’d probably get on like a pair of super villains.

I’m like, OK whatever.

Teresa starts to lecture me on what I should say to Mum when I get there and how I should like, throw all the alcohol and mouthwash down the sink, until finally I tell her she’s breaking up and end the call. I figure she’s being her usual drama queen self and that I’ll just go round tomorrow with some alcoselzer, but when I try to call Mum she’s doesn’t answer, which immediately gives me this guilty image of her sunk into a stupor and drowning in a puddle of her own vomit. So with this sigh that’d like, blow a house down, I splash some water on my bloody nose, which is now swelling out like it’s trying to grow a second face, and head out the door.

And that’s how I find myself back on the train heading for sodding Shepherd’s Bush at 11.45 pm, like, beyond exhausted, still suffering from raging come down and looking like a botched-cosmetic surgery victim.

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