She’s Trying

“Have you packed yet?”

“You’re so lucky — it’ll be the trip of a lifetime!”

“I’m so pumped for you. Share everything on the gram.”

*

On the morning of your flight to Barcelona you have no remnants of sleep in your eye or recollection of dreams. You’ve been awake the whole time. You worry over your arrival, the commute to the hostel, meeting the rest of the group, whether or not your bag is packed appropriately — you’d hate to be the only loser who overpacked.

The sounds of visitors get you out of bed: they’re early; no they’re not – you’re tired. Your auntie and uncle rush over to you and overwhelm you with exuberant displays of excitement; they slip you some cash for the trip. Your grandparents are next: they swoop in and talk your ear off about the second leg of your trip when you plan on visiting Malta. They also stash two $50 notes into your hand.

Money.

You’ve concerned yourself over the money you haven’t spent yet for the last two weeks. It’s a grand off of what you had originally budgeted but nevertheless, totally doable. Your brain doesn’t think so. It’s catastrophised every little sum of predetermined spending as if you were doomed. And so what if you spent it all, if you’re desperate, Mum and Dad can throw you a line. No. You don’t want their help even if you needed it. This trip was meant to be the beginning of your independence, it literally all falls on you.

The guilt is absolutely suffocating you. You think about what your parents have already voluntarily done for you in light of this trip. Every time you think about it, it makes you equally insulted and flattered.

You’re an A-grade daughter, a smart kid, a good girl but you don’t deserve them. Dad likes bringing up your privilege when you fight; you dread the next opportunity he’ll take to revel in his latest spur of generosity.

Everyone is running around you asking you questions about your trip and forcing you to swallow food before the drive to the airport. You keep opening your suitcase. 151. You remove two pairs of pants and some T-shirts. Too heavy, it’s still too heavy.

Mum manages to drag you over to the kitchen. She wants you to eat because you haven’t been. She looks at you while you slurp and her lips turn up into an I-love-you smile. Seeing it makes you think of the other night.

You were hunched over on the floor of the bathroom with your hands around your knees heaving small spurts of air as if you were being choked. You couldn’t speak and she needed you to tell her what to say but you couldn’t.

“I can’t speak. I don’t know how to speak.”

She cradled you and looked at you as if she’d failed you. She didn’t know that therapy wasn’t a cure; she didn’t know that you’d been triggered by an acne flare up or the fact that your ex followed you on Instagram. She felt powerless, responsible and indifferent.

Up until that point, she hadn’t realised how much you hated yourself. She couldn’t fathom that in the slightest because she still loved you. She loves you.

She spent 13 years dreaming of you, grieving your lost brothers and sisters — finally she conceived you. You were perfect. As you grew up you showed signs of perfectionism, but it was a quality credited to both of your parents, an advantage.

You aimed for the best ATAR in the family, impressed your employers, studied abroad and always strived for more opportunities, anything to reach the pinnacle of doing it – absolute stability. To you, that concept exists, it has to. Stability.

When you lose stability or the ability to see the future, you fall. You’ve fallen before but you caught yourself after your high school and tertiary studies completed, that was a clear cause, academic pressure. But now you keep falling and there’s no graduation or enter score looming. You’re going overseas. What the fuck. You’re so ungrateful.

Now you’re worrying about your skin. You’re not dressed properly and you haven’t put on any of the new mineral makeup you bought. They said it’ll help with the flare up. Don’t wear that shit you usually do, let it breathe. You try hard not to look at yourself in the mirror and get dressed in darkness.

Dad hugs you goodbye before he leaves for work, he gives you more money.

Mum drives you to the airport. She talks to you about your trip. She tells you not to worry. Money, commute, skin, money, commute, skin. You don’t pay attention to the conversation.

After checking in the two of you eat some noodles, she says she’s going to miss you but that she’s excited for you. Maybe you’ll be excited soon too.

She says goodbye. You don’t know if you can do it, but you make it look like you can, for her. You want her to think you’re okay. She thinks that all the stressors are gone, you try to believe that.

The first haul of the flight is comfortable. You spent most of it watching new Hollywood films, occasionally laughing at the back of your headrest, an inanimate object that couldn’t appreciate the reemergence of your smile.

Dry. Your face is dry. You can’t see it but you’re convinced it’s rough and peeling and that everyone’s looking. Your flare up will get worse if it isn’t washed and moisturised. You didn’t pack any skincare in your carry-on. Complimentary hand cream is something at least.

Still dry. Absorbed in less than five minutes.

They see it, they see your dry, acne-covered face.

The nice man sitting next to you makes conversation and talks about his wife who recently passed away. He’s happy and smiling; you haven’t lost anyone and you’re not.

You finally arrive, sleep deprived and restless. You need to clean your face. Your luggage is almost first off the belt and you lunge for it. 151.

You secure your toiletries bag and lock up your case. You decide that it’s smarter to put some items from your backpack into the suitcase to lighten the load on your back.

151. It doesn’t work.

152. Nothing.

153…

You start to panic. You call Mum.

“Hi sweetie have you arrived, how are you feeling?”

“My bag, my suitcase isn’t opening. Your stupid suitcase is broken, it’s locked me out and I can’t believe this.”

“Slow down, hold on sweetie. It’s okay, you can unlock it. There’ll be a way. Did you get the code wrong?”

“No.”

“Can someone help you?”

“No Mum. I’m in fucking Barcelona. I’m alone. I have to get the case cut. FUCK!”

“Peta, I’m sorry just relax. Is anyone else from the group there, can anyone help?”

“No Mum. Fuck. I must have reset it without realising, fuck this shit is so fucking stupid. WHY?!”

“Well, do you remember what you left it on before you tried opening it again? How about you try mixing numbers until you find the code?”

“Mum, that’s fucking ridiculous. Like that would work.”

You’re frantic. She’s defeated. She knows she can’t help you.

“I don’t know what to say to you Peta. I’m sorry. Just meet with someone from the group and take it by ear, they can help you back at the hostel.”

You hang up the phone infuriated, stressed and isolated.

You’ve been messaging a girl from the group you’re meeting up with; she’s at the airport. When you meet, you dilute your stress with the veneer of a smile and nervous laugh. She’s empathetic to your situation and tries to help by getting you to remember a digit from the new combination before you moved it.

Zero. At the end. But it’s still so unlikely.

She very casually suggests messing around with the numbers leaving the 0 on the end.

“It might work,” she offers.

You place a 0 in the final bracket. You swipe the remaining dials and then…

090. It opens.

Mum was right.

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