Nobody's Fault But My Own
Photograph by Laura Pannack, Story by S J Watson
I made them myself. All my life. If I do this thing and get it right, then that will happen. As a child it was, If I do well, if I’m a good boy, if I get top marks in the spelling test or get all the answers right in maths, then…
Then what? That was the problem back then. I didn’t know what I wanted. To not be picked last for the football team maybe, to not have them laughing and jeering when I was put in goal and they discovered I was no good there either, to avoid them noticing me for long enough that I could get home, back to the quiet stillness of my room, just me and my headphones and my books. Cocooned. Safe.
Promises, promises. Fat lot of good any of them did. That’s not how life works, I know that now. It never was. One day Miss Enright gave us a physics test, mechanics, force equals mass times acceleration, work equals force times distance moved. I got some wrong on purpose, I wanted a mark that was high enough but not so high that they’d wait for me after class to steal my bag and chuck it into the canal. Not so high that they ‘d follow me home, calling me names every step of the way. Swot, teacher’s pet. Pansy, gaylord, homo.
I thought I’d judged it right, but when Miss Enright read out the right answers I found I’d scored thirty-two out of forty. When she went round the class asking each of us our score I considered lying, but couldn’t. I squeaked my mark like a confession, something to apologise for. I thought I’d got away with it. There was sniggering, a whisper I didn’t quite catch, quickly silenced even by doughy Miss Enright. But then Suzanne Wilson scored twenty-six and Miss Enright told her loudly that she was disappointed. ‘I’d expected you to be up there with Kevin,’ she said, pointing to me before scanning the rest of the room. ‘If he can do it, then I’ve no idea why the rest of you can’t.’
I knew it was over, then. And I was right. They waited for me along the canal. They laughed, then shoved me down the embankment. I lost my footing, went over. The world blurred. At the bottom I heard my wrist snap. When I looked up they’d gone.
I tried to tell mum I’d slipped and fallen. ‘Were you fighting?’ she said, and it was easier to say yes than tell her the truth. She blinked slowly, I thought she might hit me, but she didn’t. She sighed, which was somehow worse
‘I thought you were better than that,’ she said, and I wanted to tell her I was, tell her the truth. I was just trying to impress, though I’m not sure whom. But all I could do was shake my head.
‘I won’t do it again,’ I said, but even as I did I knew it was just another empty promise. I had no control. Not over that, not over anything.
The clock ticks. She picks up her pen. She never uses it. Not while I’m speaking. She just nods.
‘That’s a sad story,’ she says, and I look up. My mouth opens, but I have nothing to say. I feel numb. Sad? I suppose so. But it doesn’t even feel like it happened to me so I just shake my head.
‘I only remembered it just now.’
Lying again. But it’s true that it’s been years since that particular incident bubbled up. I’m a different person now.
‘I’m over it,’ I tell her.
‘Yet you’ve brought it here.’
I force myself to smile. That’s usually my line. It doesn’t bother me, yet I’ve brought it to therapy, so… It’s a sign I’m internalising her, she says, becoming my own healer. Soon I won’t need her at all.
‘I suppose so,’ I say.
A pause. She’s waiting for me to carry on, to make the link myself. It’s not difficult, I know that. But still I don’t want to.
‘Tell me what it was that made you remember it?’
I shift in the seat. The fabric is cheap, stiff and scratchy, I can feel it even through my trousers. The noise it makes is too loud, like a plaster being ripped off skin.
I close my eyes. I’m back there. The gym. Melina had suggested I go, it’ll be good for you she said. Get rid of some of the tension. Do some exercise. Have a massage, go for a dip. It’s time I got fit, she says, for her and the kids if not for myself. So I did. I tried. Squash I thought, the guys at work swear by it, they’re always asking if I fancy a game. I bought the gear, packed a towel. Left work half-an-hour earlier than normal, which is still two-and-a-half later than I ought.
But then I couldn’t. He was there, like he always is whenever I try anything I’ve never tried before, do anything I’ve never attempted. Waiting to laugh the first time I lunge for the ball and miss, waiting to trip me up as I walk off the court, or hide my trousers while I’m in the shower. Waiting to tell me I’m shit, I’ll never be good enough, no matter what job I do, who I marry, what watch I wear or car I drive or house I own. I’ll always be me. Swot, teacher’s pet. Pansy, gaylord, homo.
So I went to the pool. He was there, too. He was there in the sauna. He was there on the way home. He was there when I got home and kissed my wife, and told her it’d been great, lots of fun, I’ll definitely go again next week. But I won’t.
‘Nothing in particular,’ I say as she puts down her pen. ‘Like I say. I’m over it now.’
S J Watson’s first novel, Before I Go To Sleep, is a phenomenal international success. A bestseller around the world, it won The Crime Writers’ Association Award for Best Debut Novel and The Galaxy National Book Award for Crime Thriller of the Year. The film of the book, starring Nicole Kidman, Colin Firth and Mark Strong, and directed by Rowan Joffe, was released in September 2014. His next book, Second Life, was published in 2015 and was a critical and commercial success. Find him here @sj_watson
Laura Pannack is a London-based, award-winning photographer. Renowned for her portraiture and social documentary artwork, she seeks to explore the complex relationship between subject and photographer. Her work has received much acclaim and won numerous awards, among which are the John Kobal Award ,Juliet Margaret Cameron award, Prix de la photographie, World Press Photo and the Vic Odden award. See more of her work here - @laurapannack