Content warning: This post contains themes of domestic violence some readers may find triggering.
‘Do you have kids? Two? Wow. That must be hard. Is it hard? I’m thinking about having a baby, but I suffer severe anxiety. PTSD. I can’t even drive a car, a vehicle, because I’m worried someone will hit me’, she says, and makes a startled motion with her arms, to demonstrate what it would be like to be hit by someone.
It isn’t until much later that I realise she meant she was scared of someone hitting her car, not her body. I had assumed she had been hurt by someone, that someone had hurt her body. Maybe they had, and now everything seemed dangerous, even driving to the shops.
‘I’m swimming to try and help the anxiety, and doing yoga, meditation, all sorts of stuff. I really want to go back to my industry, hospitality, but it’s cheffing, you know? It’s full on. The PTSD, man, I can’t do anything.’
‘I’ve had PTSD. I get it’, I say quietly, much quieter than my usual speaking voice, which is not quiet.
I’ve never said it aloud before. After I say it, I think, ‘had it? If you’d had it, would you be marinating in the hydro pool now, staring glassily out to sea, trying to sweat out all the mucky memories?’
She doesn’t really hear me say it, anyway, the words are tumbling out of her so fast, all the things she needs to say, over and over, to try and find a way of living with whatever nasty show reel is on a loop in her head.
‘Did you know that Australia has more pedophiles than anywhere else? They say it’s caused by loneliness. And that kids are friendly and open, so they’re drawn to them. I know one, a pedophile: he says it’s a sickness. I think so, do you? I’d be so worried about all the things that could happen to my kid if I had one! Do you worry a lot?’
‘Well, yeah’ I say. She keeps talking, and I listen, but not fully. I want to look interested, I don’t want to be someone who smiles politely and thinks ‘how do I get away from this mad girl,’ but it’s hard to sustain a conversation with someone who is so floridly unhinged and verbose, almost exuberant in her own madness.
‘Don’t have a baby until you get on top of your PTSD’ I say. ‘I have to go in the cold pool now, I’m too hot. Keep swimming. It clears your head’. I wade out, smiling, and she smiles broadly and waves me off.
I jump into the packed medium lane. There is no slow lane today, which means the mid-life learners and the strong swimmers who don’t want to battle it out in the fast lane, full of aggressively free-styling men, must try and find a way to swim together.
I’m a good swimmer, but today I just want to watch my hands parting the water as I breast stroke, without being tailgated or held up by tentative learners. I want to part the water over and over until that thing happens, when you’re swimming, where all of a sudden your mind is clean. The things that you brought into the pool are suddenly tolerable, sometimes even forgotten; that fight , this frustration, the guilt about bloody everything; whatever The Thing is that day.
Today, The Thing is that I finished watching Big Little Lies two nights ago, and now the last decade of my life is crashing all over me, just like the waves crash into the enormous black rocks on the show. Enough people know what happened to me; it’s not really a secret anymore. Not a Big Little Lie.