I’ve bought some new shoes. I bought them while I was wandering aimlessly around after the end of my last therapy appointment. I was feeling very empty and unsettled, and it was a miserable day, but I didn’t want to just come home and stare out through dirty windows at a grey and desolate sky. I could have taken myself for a cup of tea somewhere, but unfortunately I’m still convinced that anything I eat or drink outside the flat will kill me. So I decided to go and look in clothes shops instead.
I started off by looking at winter coats. After freezing my knackers off at my mum’s funeral last January because I didn’t have a decent coat to wear with my suit, I’ve been looking for something that’s reasonably smart, but not so smart that I couldn’t wear it with my usual jeans and shirt. There was one ok one, it was a nice charcoal grey, knee-length, and the price was reasonable – £55, reduced from £125. I’d have had to eat very cheaply for a few weeks if I’d bought it, but it wasn’t absolutely beyond the realm of the possible.
I tried it on. It was a good fit across my shoulders, and I could button it up without looking too much like the Michelin man, but the sleeves were long enough to completely cover my hands when I held my arms by my sides. So, like the price, not ideal, but not entirely impossible either. I spent the next god knows how long in Indecision Mode – was £55 too much to pay for something that wasn’t perfect? As always, this inability to just decide made me incredibly frustrated with myself – I used to be good at deciding things, goddammit. Eventually I put it back, using the fact that there was a microscopically small amount of red flecked through the charcoal grey as an excuse not to buy it.
I wandered on, still feeling empty and unsettled, but now with an extra little frisson of self-disgust added into the mix. It was still a miserable day, and there were clouds of people pushing past me from behind, and towards me from in front. No-one tried to avoid me. I started to feel like I was invisible, or like I was only partly there – real enough to be in the way, not real enough to avoid.
I ducked into a discount shop as a way of getting out of the crowds. You know the kind of place – racks and racks of designer clothing being sold at 70% reductions on the label price, and still massively over-priced. I mooched round the shelves, watching people get sucked into the discount store mentality – “It’s 2/3 off, so it must be a bargain, even though I have no idea when I’ll ever wear it. I have to have it NOW!” This started to make me feel slightly better about having not bought the coat – at least I hadn’t fallen victim to some retail psychologist’s attempt to trick me.
And then I saw a pair of boots. Black leather, steel toecap, ankle height. I have a bit of a thing for boots. Not a sexual thing (he said, hurriedly…), but a thing, nonetheless. I don’t like them when they’re obviously fetishised, or fashion-ised – no patent leather or yellow stitching for me, thank you very much. Oh, and suede or brown leather boots are the work of the devil. But a good, solidly made, sturdy, matt finish, black leather boot is a wonderful thing to me.
Partly it’s a height thing – they tend to have good, thick soles, so I gain an extra inch when I’m wearing them. I’m not exactly short, but I’m not tall either, so that’s good. And I think they appeal to my practical side too – this is a pair of shoes I can wear neatly-polished when I (rarely) want to be smart, or I can use them to scramble up a muddy path with, and they’re equally good for both jobs. They have decent, non-slip soles too, which is a definite plus, given that all you have to do is show me a frosty pavement and I’ll spontaneously fall over. But I also just like them, for reasons I can’t really explain. I feel about them a bit like I feel about a bowl of homemade vegetable soup – they’re wholesome and virtuous, but also pleasurable.
This being me, or rather new, dis-improved, mentalist me, I still had to go into Indecision Mode about them. On the one hand: can I afford them (£25 – still a major purchase for a scum-of-the-earth dole-scrounger like me); am I just buying them to make myself feel better, and, if so, wouldn’t a bar of chocolate be cheaper? On the other hand: I only have one pair of shoes that don’t let in water, and those are on their last legs, and the soles seem to be made of polished glass, so that when I go out in the rain I have to choose between damp toes or sliding all over the place. Really this was a no-brainer, but I still managed to feel guilty as I joined the mile-long queue for the checkouts. Somewhere or other I seem to have picked up a puritan streak that tells me that if buying something (even something I need) gives me pleasure, then buying it must be wrong.
I had my now-customary panic as I got near the front of the queue: what if I didn’t hear the till assistant call out when it was my turn? What if I heard them, but couldn’t see which one of them had called out? If that happened, people would notice that something had gone wrong, and I would be Looked At By Strangers. This is, despite my whingeing about being semi-invisible a few minutes before, one of my recurrent nightmares. Don’t you just love the way I can switch from listless apathy to blind panic (and back again) in a couple of minutes?
Anyway, I got to the front of the queue, and I saw a till come free, and I was looking right at the assistant when he called out, so it was fine. He gave me a nice cheery hello as I got up to him, so I mumbled hello back, and tried to remember which muscles you have to tighten to make the smile thing happen. As he was packing my shoes up, which he seemed to be doing very slowly, he was chattering away in what seemed like a slightly odd way. He kept saying things that didn’t need a response, but which he was obviously hoping I’d reply to anyway. He kept pausing in what he was doing to look straight at me and smile. I floundered my way through as best as I could, even though I felt like I was adrift in an ocean of conversational non-sequiturs.
As we were getting to the end of things (we were waiting for the till to decide that, yes, I actually did have enough money in my bank account for the transaction to go though), he said, “Oh, well, it’s been a busy one. I get off at four.” It was about five to at the time, and I suddenly realised he was behaving exactly like he was trying to pick me up. Well, you could have knocked me down with a feather. It’s been a long time (we’re talking years here), but as far as I could tell a lot of the signals were there. He even made a point of running his fingers up my forearm while he was checking I’d pushed my electron card all the way home in it’s socket. Even so, I wasn’t sure. He was a lot younger than me. Plus, I haven’t had a haircut in months. Plus, of course, I’m convinced I’m the scum of the earth – how could anyone in their right mind possibly be interested in me?
Of course, now, when I’m sitting calmly in front of my computer screen, I can tell you exactly what I should have done. I should have asked him if he was going for a drink at the end of his shift. If he said yes, then I should have casually mentioned the fact that I was going to [insert name of nearby gay pub here] to fill in time before I got my train home. Then I should have gone to [insert name of nearby gay pub here], and had a drink, and waited for half an hour or so. If he came in, great, if not, no harm done – if I’d been misreading the signals, and he was just being friendly, the odds are he wouldn’t even have realised the significance of me mentioning the name of the pub I was going to.
What I actually did was exactly what you would expect an anxiety prone depressive with social-isolationist tendencies to do. I panicked. I mumbled something truly unthrilling along the lines of it being good to get to the end of a busy shift, snatched my card out of the machine, and ran away. I wasn’t actually that bad – I managed to smile, and say thanks and goodbye – but that was pretty much the gist of it.
Now, I’m determined to try and hold on to the positives here. I managed to go and buy something in an unfamiliar shop – there are plenty of days when just doing something that simple would have been impossible for me. And I managed to have a friendly chat with the guy behind the till, and obviously didn’t just come across as rude, or weirdly panic-stricken, or needlessly aggressive. Given how rare it is for me to speak to anyone, that’s a real achievement, too. Best of all, I got my new boots. I’m going to go out in them now to buy something to eat, and I’ll be able to splash through the puddles like a six year old in his favourite wellies, and I won’t have to worry about slipping over or getting wet. I know that’ll bring me some genuine, infantile, pleasure.
I’ll try not to think about the fact that there was a chance – just a chance – that I could have spent part of yesterday afternoon talking to an actual, real person. I’ll try not to think about the fact that there was a chance – a very slim chance – that we might even have liked each other, and that something might have come of it. I’ll try not to think about the fact that it was only my own, stupid, fucked-up, infuriating head that stopped me having the chance to find out how much of it might actually have happened.
I’ll try not to think about how lonely I am.