Once, when I was about 14 months old, I was sitting at the kitchen bench and managed to pull a bowl of boiling hot soup down all over me. I have no recollection of this, of course, and have gotten so used to the scarring across my chest that I don’t even notice it anymore. Plastic surgery has always been an option, I suppose, but I never felt the need. Most of it is covered by whatever top I’m wearing, it doesn’t bother me and I never even think about it.
I suppose I’d feel a little differently if I had a memory to associate to the scarring. Then I’d look at it and think, “Oh yeah, that really hurt. I remember crying. I remember screaming in pain. I remember my parents rushing me to hospital.” But I don’t remember any of that and so the scars are meaningless. To me, anyway.
Before being diagnosed with PTSD, I had a mental health assessment at the request of my GP. I spent over an hour with a psychiatrist, summarising my difficulties and my life in general. He asked me lots of questions and I did my best to answer them calmly and coherently.
By that stage I was getting used to crying in a clinical setting. No matter how hard I tried to keep it together, it always happened once certain topics were touched upon. Things like work; the train suicides and the guy who bought the gun into the cells. My future. Life, generally. These were the typically the most painful topics and any time I tried to talk about them, I literally crumbled. This always made me feel embarrassed, even distressed. But most times, I was easily soothed with a kind smile and a few encouraging words. I was getting used to being handed tissues by people I had just met.
But this psychiatrist, he seemed oblivious to my tears and my discomfort, concentrating instead on jotting down notes and pausing only long enough to peer at me curiously as if I were a human Sudoku puzzle. It seemed my numbers weren’t quite in order. I needed figuring out. I was an enigma. A riddle that had to be solved. This just went on and on and on. I couldn’t wait to get out of there.
He later sent a report of his findings to my doctor and a copy to me, which I read and mostly understood. But it was the last paragraph that got to me. In it, he said that there were two things about me that were rather curious and needed to be explained.
Firstly, the scarring across my chest. Secondly, that I was 40 years of age and still unmarried. What the fuck? Did he think that these two things were at the root of all my problems? Did he think they were linked? That one was somehow an explanation for the other? And so what if I was unmarried? Is it so incomprehensible that a woman could be single at 40? And, if these things so badly needed to be explained, why the hell didn’t he just ask me?
Granted, the unmarried-at-40 thing probably does need explaining and to do so properly, I really have to go back to my childhood again.
Things were tracking rather normally for me until the second half of high school, when I realised I had absolutely no interest in dating. All my friends started chasing boys at about the same time, but I was more interested in playing sports, listening to music and reading good books. At the time I put it down to being shy and a late bloomer.
My first big crush did eventually come, and it hit hard. His name was Chris and he lived on my street. I think I was around 16 or 17 when I started to hold regular Saturday night gatherings at my house that quickly gained legendary status. They were nothing crazy – just a bunch of us getting together in my parents’ garage to listen to music and have a good time. It was at one-such gathering that I had decided I would declare my affection for Chris by presenting him with a single long-stemmed rose.
That fucking rose went straight into the bin about an hour into the party, moments after I saw Chris indulging in a drunken pash with one of my friends from school. I was heartbroken and it was many, many weeks before I was able to face either one of them again. Even then I wasn’t able to completely forgive them and I told myself, rather dramatically, that I was through with love.
There was no single moment of crisis for me, just a growing sense of awareness that was fully realised by the time I was 20; I had no interest in sex, absolutely none. Back then, I had never heard of asexuality. There was no Google, so I couldn’t research it. There were no instructions and no role models. These were choppy, uncharted, hazardous waters and I was just going to have to navigate them on my own.
But even then, even at that tender, malleable and inquisitive age, I knew that I was firmly, fundamentally and irreversibly different. My attitude towards sex was not normal and I had no choice but to keep it to myself.
I felt like a freak. An alien. How would I ever explain it and what would people think? Would they think there was something wrong with me? That I was defective? This was terrifying to me, so the few relationships I had over the years were all short-lived. The aim was always to get out before things got awkward.
At work, I was periodically reminded just how single I was and even received a proposal. Of sorts. One of my colleagues became quite friendly towards me and suggested that if neither one of us were married by 30, he’d be at my front doorstep with an engagement ring and a slab of beer. Somehow, I managed to outlast him.
I also remember receiving this little nugget of advice while speaking with one of my sergeants after a particularly shitty day at work –
“Cath,” he said. “Why don’t you just go home with one of the boys? You probably just need a good root.”
“Oh.” I eventually replied. “I’ll keep that in mind. Thanks, I guess.”
What I should’ve said was, “Actually, I’m looking for something more meaningful.” It would have completely broken his brain. Or maybe, “Get the fuck away from me, you sour, washed-up fucking dinosaur!”
This same sergeant once threw a lingerie catalogue at me. “Do me a favour, order something out of that,” he told me. Another time, he instructed me in front of a room full of colleagues to “drape” myself across his desk.
Suffice it to say, I soon stopped seeking his counsel.
To be continued…