At ten minutes to seven I was staring at my log-in. My first evening facing live crisis clients. I decided to turn off my desk lamp and sit in the dark, which only got as dark as a green neon apothecary sign beside my window. In the glass, the slim corona of my face filled with a weave of lights along the avenue. I reminded myself of the fragile lives stored in the pale margins of the apartment blocks.
It was just after seven when I heard a familiar ping, and my fingertips reached for the screen momentarily and instinctively. I exhaled slowly as I set them onto the keyboard.
good evening. how can I be of support?
hello it feels like everyone around me has an identity and i don’t have one
thank you for getting in touch. are you at school?
well, maybe identity is just a kind of dressing up. maybe we are the sum of everything we love, and everything we do. and its good that there is an oasis in the middle of that. because we have space to explore
The client never returned after this.
I sat back and took my self-assessment notebook out, but I didn’t know where to begin. My training didn’t feel like it had happened at all. I was trying to fix people. I re-read the conversation several times looking for the exact point it went wrong, and the barrel of my pen wavered in my fingers. Perhaps they were seven years old.
The passing cars and green neon swept phantom silhouettes around the walls of my room. I watched my shadows rise to the ceiling, and along the hot, sloshing pipe taking something somewhere — I never worked out what. The kitchen contained the only sink and it also contained the wardrobe, and the shower was in the toilet, which was so small one placed both knees through a curtain when using it, and passed through the shower to leave. The kitchen once had a dwarf bath for use under the countertop, and still boasted a proud history of disused wall switches no-one could understand, including an electric toggle to redirect the hot water between the shower and the kitchen. No-one ever found a boiler. The ceilings in every room varied in height, and footfall on the floorboards caused them to rise in objection, which I did not mind, but the uncomplaining middle-aged lady in the apartment below looked permanently exhausted and unable to speak, and I worried this was due to my gravity.
good evening. how can i be of support?
have i had you before, darling?
i dont know
i’m csilla and you?
makes it chummy
how can i be of support right now?
its on again. the battle driving me back to mummy and daddy
describe what is happening
i cant get them out of my head
mummy and daddy?
sighs out loud. haters. sneakspeak scientists. bleeding heart majors. primadonna midwives clucking in corners
could you give me the context?
every clique in my oinkface college
are they excluding you?
they throw parties just to exclude me. i doubt that a soul goes. the whole thing is laid on to taunt me
five groups on groupme and every piglet has their class group naturally. some are in two because projects or roommates. one or two boffs were three star because dulls whatever
there are hierarchies?
hierarchies of hierarchies. the war broke out in second year. if wing commander bitchchops is now our five star its to push me off the bridge. my work suffers because they want me out
what about lunch?
can do 1pm tomorrow at the onyx
i mean do they exclude you in the cafeteria?
shameboats a sturgeon sausage to die for. not so my sutures boastface
are you attending medical college?
and the immediate problem is your mental health and work suffering?
and killing my workouts
what has helped you cope until now?
aloof but open hearted. something glam in a bag. parental shoulder time
have you spoken to your student union?
“no evidence of bullying” BMC society of chops. i want to slip on tears and sue rings
describe wing commander bitchchops
lol average student vlogger and her minions see me a threat. ask “are you on medication?” im the only one who isn’t, buns. run health tourist. run to ghana
you are doing the right thing. stay friendly but focussed on your studies
you have no idea. tomorrow is a battlefield its effecting my sleep
think about the patient depending on you one day. what are the thoughts at night?
groupme stitch and botch no chance to defend my skin from the trampwaffle. tell me im human, ducks they hurt
each success in your grades will make you feel less trapped and more secure. csilla are you there?
sweets, im scared ill kill someone. im on the wrong effball course. fearvom city
ask for a 121 with your tutor and write out what you will say and bring honesty. don’t bring cliques into it
theyre pushing for that, you know, puds all of them
promise me your plan for the week includes talking to your tutor
The client seemed to drop off and I checked if the system could confirm it. Eventually I closed the call, setting myself back to ‘Available’. A lack of closure would be part of this.
I took up the notebook. I risk rated her at the lower end but tried to problem solve more than simply steer from a hot place to a cool. The forward planning seemed to tank. I write ‘Lack of closure is a part of this’ and put a box around it, meaning that I need to journal the subject.
I worked out how to see the log history of habitual numbers. I reread the conversation and feel that something shifted when I used the word ‘trapped’.
Nothing for a while and then a number which the service hadn’t seen before.
good evening. how can i be of support?
hello. not sure really. thank you for the chance to speak to someone
youre welcome. take your time
fear of time?
an old man’s joke!
please tell me what is troubling you
where to start? life has become meaningless. i never felt this before
i have to ask but do you consider harming yourself
harm is not the word. the idea repeat idea occurs to me. ive had a full life
you have no active plans at this stage?
i read articles. iwant to be honest. if it was gentle and dignified maybe
you said ‘life has become’. are you able to suggest when the feelings changed?
my wife passed. 68 is no age
im sorry to hear that. was it sudden?
still happening now for me. the grief never goes. i have no direction and don’t want one. ive had a full life.
how have you been keeping yourself safe?
we are not the kind of family who hugs if that’s what you mean. we share an anecdote over dinner. I want my children to move on
and they want you alive. how would your wife want you living?
i was seven when my father died. they found me in his wardrobe clinging to his suits and crying. i do the same now. lie in her wardrobe
that’s a beautiful response. can I be direct? are there things you did or didn’t do, or say or didn’t say which might be causing you remorse?
mostly day to day things
would you describe the clothes for me? as if you are lying with them
its dark and i slip a dress off the hanger
i breathe through the fabric. gradually it gets warmer. every inhale takes me further. conditioner perfume skin cream. goosebumps. picnics. sun cream on her back
i lay it on my skin and run a nail along the stitching. she was an amateur dressmaker
what are you thinking?
remember days and details. i talk to myself like my father. call myself son. its babble. then i sleep
nothing wrong with this if it helps
ive seen love and seen life
take a lonely friend on a picnic. show life to them. make some plans for that
i should let you go. i’m not really a crisis
please set a date to help others
thank you for listening
thank you for letting me listen
i thought youd tell me to give her things away gradually
it never occurred to me
my name is józsef. would you like to have her watch? its one thing i don’t need
no, thank you for the offer
im going to leave it in downtown st michaels. i hate mass but i’ll go on thursday. 4pm theres a big fern on the stairs
i cant do that
thats the plan you said it
if it is the start of the plan and not the end
its yours. good night
good night józsef
I needed a break and set myself ‘Away’. I sat on the toilet in the dark rubbing my eyes and then I put on the kettle. I went to my window and opened it wide and took deep breaths of cold air.
My green shadows flexed around on the ceiling as the water began to bubble. By the time the button flicked up I was pointing a pair of pistol fingers at it, and the button was the sound of a thumb trigger falling through the sweep of traffic.
‘Boundaries’, I wrote, and I put a box around it.
The familiar ping came again, but no-one said anything. I urged a few times. The number was a known. I flipped back to ‘Available’.
It was time to light the candle, being just a candle. I stared at the minor sway of the flame, even in the still of the room, wondering what flame is made of. As nomads, the Royal Scythians regarded fire as the origin of the universe, I read. Before binaries, before earth mothers and sky fathers everything was one, and it was called Tabiti. The closer I looked the more she swayed. Even the proximity of a gentle palm seemed to draw her back and forth.
Ping. A known number came in. One previous contact, two days ago.
this is not my phone
good evening, how can i be of support to you?
they take them off us
who are they?
what can i do to be of support right now?
this is not rehab this is hell
do you have substance issues?
i have a soul no one leaves here with those
is there danger to yourself from others?
what is your geographical location?
who are you?
we are a crisis text line
we are very good at it
thank you. where are you located?
the police know. cold turkey karma farm
lets starts with your name. mine is erzsébet
im quite a public person. don’t want to brag
we should talk about your substance use but first I need to know youre safe
im healing. soon I will be whole
who are you?
in safe hands with you
yes you are
where does it come from erzsébet? youre young and not from the city, tell me im wrong
a lot of history made there. so beautiful everyone burnt it down. habsburgs left you a single column. which was generous of them
you avoid telling me about yourself, why is that?
don’t go please. attention seeking part of my poor function stage iknow. charm people they don’t want the real you
tell me your circumstances. as much honesty as you can. even if it feels performative
youre a mind cracker. not sure if i am trapped or free. like the cute boyfriend but he has moods
if I said ‘pick one and learn to live with it’ would that be a problem?
this is actual prison. spirit guards. ego death. running circles ive had more resonance in a text message. a single column left standing
walk out the door
leaving is ego”. everything I did was for the people
what do you mean?
a salesman for the nation no government dared condemn”
what are proximae?
And that was where that one ended. I made a note that the client disappeared. I checked the timestamps. The notable pause just before ‘leaving is ego’. I left a mirroring delay. The elapsed time of the last lines was two minutes. And neither of us asked if the other was still there.
In terms of personal details, I gave the client a town fifty miles from where I grew up. And to be honest, I regretted using my real name. An action point to confirm that I will use a pseudonym going forward.
I was bored and playing with Tabiti, bringing my palm gently towards her, so that she trusted me, and did not sway away. To be honest, there wasn’t much of her left.
good evening. how can i be of support?
im going to kill myself. i know you guys work this out up front
have you the means to do it?
paid in crypto ordered encrypted mail came in rewrapped bottles as nail polish remover. mexican nembutal, antiemetics, brandy and chocolate help it go down. puppy even made a will
please take them into another room and talk to me
the worst part about a failed attempt is the morning after lol
this time you want to do it right?
nothing sucks like having to log on for work. ever had a zoom call covered in puke?
not recently. the body will fight it. only self-talk wants death
don’t run a trace on my number. don’t ask me where i am
youre the one who wanted to speak to me
i’m another number in eight billion. a mere statistic and my brain is losing function
eight billion is a beautiful fabric. when were the glory days? eight million? eight hundred and a unicorn?
long-term loneliness is as damaging to your health as smoking
you think I feel lonely?
my guess is unseen and dirty but meticulous, and these have fed one another your whole life. youre a closed system
youre a comedian. wrong number
there are plenty of us. eight billion
who are you?
who are you?
says the man with a tijuana veterinary wallbanger in his hand. stick it in the toilet where it belongs
it cost time and research. and savings
time money and your head. round and round a gurgling crypt
you didn’t buy it to drink it. admit that. you bought it to show me a slow motion u-bend universe on a recent smart phone
attachments accepted. it’s up to you, closed system. you bought it to see yourself
you bought it to see your self in it
and you are going to wake up tomorrow covered in kiflik and biscuits and trust a specialist, puppy <attachment>
And that was all that one needed. I logged off my account for the evening, from what was proving to be an exercise in a lack of closure. I brushed my teeth in the green dark of the kitchen sink, looking somewhat taller in the swing of the wardrobe mirror.