There is an elephant in my house. It lives in my bedroom, watching me as I sleep, crushed between sweaty fingers and screaming silently into the night. It is a craftwork of felt and colour, a vague representation of many things. It is a shadow cast by a girl I once knew, one that should send me reeling, like so many of our memories do these days. Yet it stays with me, night after night, week after week, month after month. I didn’t know why, for such a long time. But I think I do now. I think I finally understand the power of the elephant.
It was a gift, to begin with, meant for fiddling with. I always used to pick at my hands, bite my nails, rip loose skin free from my meaty paws. She didn’t like me doing it, and so arrived the elephant, a distraction from my restless brain. When things got tricky, I could pull and squeeze at its tiny little trunk, poke its empty, pitch dark eyes, flap its ears up and down, as if it were about to take flight.
It brought to the surface a lot of why she mattered to me so much, even then. It was an idol to just how brilliant she made me feel. We like liked each other, sure, but even before that her friendship was a gust of fresh air to my life. This isn’t about pining for her love, something I do much too often anyway. The elephant is about more than that. It’s about how she changed me, and how grateful I am for that, how impossibly better I am, thanks to her.
What made her so special was that, throughout everything, she made me feel loved. She encouraged my writing, asking about it and seeming to genuinely enjoy reading it every now and then. She listened to my frustrations around friends and how to divide my time between them when I sometimes just wanted to be on my own, helping me feel like I was allowed to make a decision that didn’t please everybody. She convinced me to put myself into uncomfortable situations, meeting her mum and eating in public, something that me and my extremely fussy diet find absolutely horrible. She even made me feel alright about my face, a mutated thing painted with great swathes of spots and scars. The fact I can even mention my face here without shrivelling up with embarrassment is thanks to her. She made me like me, or at least feel like I wasn’t absolutely insufferable to the world. She made me a better person, and the effects she left on me remain, even today. I’m not always confident or happy or okay, but sometimes, every now and then, I can feel the encouragement she gave me, and I can make my day brighter because of it.
That’s the thing about her, the thing I loved the most. As a friend, she was behind me every step of the way, pushing me higher and higher until I could see the stars. I felt like the world wasn’t impossible with her encouraging me. I felt like I could do it, just about, this whole adult thing. I have always been infested with doubt about my ability to socialise, to work, to function like a vaguely normal person. That’s certainly not an exclusive feeling, but even so, it was a consuming one, and she made it less so. I could experience my days more because I didn’t have to worry about whether other people thought I was weird, because I would go home and tell her, good or bad, everything that had gone on. She’d laugh in all the right places and give sympathetic shrugs when things were just too awkward to laugh at. I learnt that I didn’t need to have a good day to have a good week, and I didn’t need to have a good week to have a good life. Existence was all one tightly woven story, something that could be shared with someone and made worthwhile in the mere act of telling.
In the end, of course, things didn’t work out with that incorporeal girl, and these days I’m stuck often feeling rubbish about the whole thing. I somehow decided to be a dick, and go and fall out of love with her. I did it in the slowest way possible, as well, just the make the suffering worse. Of course, it was more complicated than that. I wasn’t sure if I was out of love, I wasn’t sure that she was in it. I wasn’t sure about a lot of things, and that confidence in everything being worthwhile no matter what began to crumble.
She didn’t want to go back to how we were, and she didn’t want to be there as often as she once was. I can accept that logically, and I think she’s happier now, which I feel good about. There’s a duality to it, though, because I can think that things are probably better now than they were, and feel the complete opposite. I feel as though that support, that encouragement, that care she had for me, was all a lie, a ruse, my own desperate invention. I feel like our friendship couldn’t have been that strong when it’s been ruined so fast. So, she obviously didn’t care about me the way I thought she did.
I struggle because I want to be thought about the way I think about her. I want to be in her mind, and I want to be in her worries, and I want to be in her contact list on skype. I want to talk and to keep on talking, because I see so many things I want to tell her about. I want her to want me around, the way I want her around, the way she used to be around. I just want her friendship again, the way it used to be. To have her here would make me feel like I could survive this world I’m in.
I can’t even have the memory, because here I am, worrying that even when we spent hours talking all the way through the night her mind was on other things, that she messaged me when she remembered me, rather than when she couldn’t stop herself from holding back any longer, that she let me help with her mental health because I was there, rather than because I was important to her. I feel bad for wanting so much from one person, but it’s something I felt for her, and something I was convinced she felt for me.
Tha elephant still sits with me, even though I feel bad about so much. That elephant still finds itself crushed between my fingers when I want something to hold.
And it’s not been ruined. It’s not been ruined by my stupid brain, or my excellent talent at messing up memories. I’m not sure why, but the elephant has the power to transcend the hurt. I think it’s because in some improbable way it’s proof. It’s proof that she understood me enough to help, and it’s proof that she wanted to help. It remains a symbol that at one point in my life, someone really, honestly cared. When I hold it, I can’t help but feel just a little bit good about that girl and her life, once entangled with mine. It’s the one thing I can’t argue against.
I learnt things from her. I learnt things that made me a better person, that made me happier, that made me want life. I think I finally realise those lessons don’t have to go just because she’s gone. She might not be a part of my world anymore, but she left an impact, and I don’t have to forget that. I don’t have to burn down the whole weird thing we had. I loved her, back then, but more than that I loved myself. I really wanted to exist, and I’ve spent so long lately chasing that idea, that dream of being content. But the elephant exists, and so did she, and the past isn’t nothing. She isn’t nothing. She was, and is, and I am too. And I’m better off because of it.
Thanks for the elephant, M. And thank you for everything else.
END OF ACT ONE