In brace position
On the carpet where I crashed
There’s no oxygen
I’m in the process of taking things out of my suitcase; for a six night stay with the family I used to au-pair for I’ve exceeded my luggage allowance by 2kg (it’s years before I’ll learn to pack light). I’m kneeling down, trying not to hear the fireworks outside and not to think about Coin Eyes or plane crashes or the knives I used to hide, with a half-folded t-shirt in my hands when, with a bang, it happens.
“Stab the children.”
Wait… what? “Stab the children.” I shake my head fiercely, in horror, but it’s too late; I’ve thought it. My heart-rate quickens, vomit surges in my oesophagus, I grip the t-shirt and it becomes damp with sweat from my palms. Like a fire, the idea is spreading through my mind, destroying the rational thoughts which, moments ago, were its pillars. I try to put it out with “I don’t want to”; but this only has the effect of throwing oil over the thought and it explodes with more force than before. Now I can see myself stabbing them, over and over again. I double over and start chanting “no, no, no” in an attempt to erase the image from my imagination, but it’s no good. I’ve killed them.
I never really believed it was possible to be possessed by evil spirits, but this – surely – is the only explanation for what I’m experiencing. That or I’ve gone insane. Yes, maybe that’s it. I’m very, very ill and I don’t want to be. I bury my face into the t-shirt and start to sob. Crying feels wonderful and for a while it’s all I’m focused on. I even wonder, if I cry hard enough, if I can force the demonic ideas out through by eyes.
Eventually I am sufficiently calmed that I can start thinking rationally about this problem. “I won’t be their nanny this time, so I won’t be asked to look after them” I reason and relief washes over me. But the imp is still there – I haven’t cried it out after all: “I might sleep walk and do it.” Now that the initial shock is over, I’m ready with my answers: “I have never sleepwalked in my life” I think back to myself, triumphant. Finally I convince myself that I’ll be able to stop myself killing anyone in the night by drinking so much wine at dinner that I sleep too heavily to sleepwalk. I’ll also move the chair in front of the door, just in case, so that if I do try to leave my room it makes a noise which wakes everyone else up and then they’ll stop me. It might be ok after all.
By now I’m locked in a terrible dialogue with myself. I can stop myself from acting on this idea, but that doesn’t explain why I had it in the first place. I’m still curled up in a ball when the next thought comes: “I must be thinking this because I want to.” But I really don’t. Ever since I had the first thought I’ve been paralysed with fear. I start to chew the t-shirt as the awful truth about me unfolds. I always knew I wasn’t normal, that there was something wrong with me. What did those other kids say? – Freak, loony, weirdo. They were right. This is it. I’m a psychopath. I start to pray, “Please God, not this, not me, don’t let me hurt those children. I’m so sorry, I’m so so sorry for whatever I’ve done to deserve these thoughts; don’t punish them for my badness, or my family. Please.”
For a second I try to imagine actually really hurting someone, to see if I like the idea. I gag. This isn’t me. I can’t stand violence; I’m a vegan, I’m a pacifist, I can’t even bear to watch gory movies... And yet, for the last hour I’ve been thinking about stabbing children with kitchen knives and no matter how hard I try to make the thoughts go away, they won’t. It’s as if my mind wants them there. That must mean something. I can hardly breathe I’m so afraid. “Who am I?” I whisper.
I sit up. Around me, all is as it was an hour ago – the suitcase open; the bed roughly made; the pictures and ornaments in their places; the t-shirt in my hands, now crumpled and snotty. Only the fireworks outside have stopped and the unanswered question echoes in the silence.