Forty years is a long time. The memories come back to me as fragments.
I’m standing at the school gates with my mum. I don’t want to go in. I cling to her arm, desperate not to be separated. The tears pour down my face and drip off the end of my nose. “Don’t make me,” I sob. “Don’t make me.” The teacher comes and pulls me away.
When I step through a doorway, if I’m thinking the wrong thing, I must step back through it again. Stepping back will wipe away the thought, like I never had it. I step over and back, over and back, over and back. People look at me as though I’m strange. I am strange.
I write a story in my exercise book. It’s hard to write because the thoughts are crowding up my mind. I write a word, then I trace over it again. And again. And again. If only I could trace it without the thoughts coming, then I could move on. My ink pen scratches through the paper. The teacher says that my story is weird. And messy. But I can’t tell anyone why. I can’t let them know what it’s really like inside my head.
The whistle goes for the end of playtime. All around me children stand rigid and silent. I’m still talking to my friend. The teacher screams. My stomach lurches. My mind races.
I’m in the medical room. It smells of disinfectant. They let me hide in here. They sense that I am too fragile to be let out. Someone or something might break me.
I’m lying on a couch, covered with a blanket. They don’t make me go to school anymore. Numb. I am numb. Numb is better. Numb is good. Please don’t let me think.
I wash my hands. Over and over again. There are germs on them. You do know that, don’t you? You have to get rid of the germs, or they will hurt you, like the thoughts.
I’m walking towards a hospital in the dark hours of the night. The streets are wet and slippery from the rain. The lights of the hospital shine, as though they are beckoning me. My mum holds my arm; tenderly she guides me forwards. They take me into the ward and give me a pill. I swallow it down. The world fades to grey.
I wake up and wonder where I am. Then I remember. I’m in the place where they take children when they break apart. I don’t want to remember. I don’t want the thoughts to come back again. They give me another pill. I swallow it down.
I’m lying on a different couch. The afternoon light throws dappled shadows into the room. “Do you want to tell me what’s on your mind?” a kind lady says.
Years pass. I visit once a week. The kind lady rebuilds me. It takes a long time. I am broken into many pieces.
“I think you’re ready to do this without me,” the kind lady says. I nod. We have pieced me back together again, bit by bit. I am ready to face the world. I live in fragments no longer.