I guess it might seem like Eddie did all the writing to me and I did none of the writing to him.
That’s not true. It’s just that my letters to him felt (feel?) so boring. I was wrapped up in selling the house in Wales and in figuring out what to do with Judith’s house and in trying to establish who I was going to be in the next phase of my life and all of that made anything I tried to put in a letter seem offensively self-centred and, well, boring.
I had read somewhere (Twitter?) that when you write to incarcerated people you should just write, just write whatever comes to mind, just converse on the page. So I tried that. But I’m not brilliant at conversing in person (this is a lie, an out and out lie, I am brilliant at conversing in person, that’s why I got paid lots of money for a long time to do exactly that; the truth is that I hate conversing in person, conversing in person fills me with dread, saps every ounce of my confidence, and leaves me completely depleted of energy or verve), ane conversing on the page felt not much better. . .forced, unnatural, fake, insincere. . . . And Eddie’s and my relationship, all those years ago, had not been one of lots of chit chat or conversation, our communication was almost telepathic, half-spoken sentences, one word exchanges, eye contact.
So, I did write. But I worried that what I wrote was not enough – or, worse, a nuisance.
Now, I don’t know if you know this, maybe you do, probably you don’t. If you don’t communicate regularly with someone who’s been imprisoned, you’re unlikely to need to know. There’s a limit to how much you can write to someone who’s in prison — an actual limit, laid out in the guidelines of the state. In some states, the person you write to won’t even be given your actual letter, they’ll get a photocopy instead. (Not even a good photocopy and rarely a colour photocopy – even if it’s hand drawn pictures from their kids.) I’m pretty sure Eddie gets the actual letters I send him, but he’s not allowed more than four pieces of paper per letter and there’s a limit to how many letters he can receive in a week. I wanted to make sure he got his full allocation, and I wanted to make it worth his time, if you know what I mean. Eventually, I decided I couldn’t torment him anymore with the mundane details of conveyancing law in the UK, so I started sending him little snippets of short stories I had written over the years. They weren’t very good and none of them were actually completed, but I hoped it would give him a bit of variety.
I’m sure I read a short story once about a woman who murdered her husband because she couldn’t stand the sound of his eating anymore.
Maybe I imagined it. I imagine a lot of stuff.
But I remember this story so clearly. It feels like something Patricia Highsmith would have written. I’ve tried to Google it: ‘story about woman who kills husband because he eats too loudly’, things like that. But I just find true stories about women who have murdered their husbands.
They usually had a reason.
I don’t know if the sound has always bothered me.
Just thinking about the sound of my mother having her evening ‘cocktail’ (there was never just one) sets my teeth on edge. Click. Clack. Glug. Gulp.
It all went into high gear though my first year at boarding school. I was not quite thirteen. I had a late birthday, so I was twelve going to be thirteen.
There weren’t many of us – eighth graders that is – who were boarding and we all had to sit together at meals with Mrs Peavey. We didn’t have ‘dorm mothers’ or ‘house parents’ or anything like that, but I guess Mrs Peavey was as close as it got to that. I think she was supposed to keep an eye on us and make sure we were okay and probably she was supposed to make sure we didn’t get bullied and I suppose we were all supposed to sit together at meals so she could ensure we were being properly socialised or something like that. In loco parentis, eh.
I didn’t notice it – the sounds – immediately.
No. At first I was really focused on Doing Well. I wasn’t a natural kid in any way. I wasn’t easy. I know this because my mother always tells me this. But I know it too. I wasn’t easy. Nothing came easy. I mean, school came easy. But nothing else. I was awkward. And nerdy. And geeky. And fat. And just not very likeable. I don’t know why. But it was true. So when I first found out I got the scholarship, I dedicated a great deal of my energy to Social Development and Key Social Skills. I practiced introducing myself, clearly and in a friendly tone: “Hello. I’m Katie. How are you doing today?”. I read all about asking people what their interests and hobbies were, what they had done on their summer holidays, what they thought about the weather. I read that it was best to steer clear of topics like religion or politics in most settings. I studied diligently.
Of course, that was stupid.
No one talks like that. Now I know that even successful professionals don’t talk like that.
And, of course, I didn’t talk like most of them anyway. I didn’t know that either. I didn’t know that there was a whole scale of acceptable accents and dialects. I didn’t know that the way my mouth formed around words placed me at what they liked to call the trailer trash end of the scale.
I figured it out soon enough.
And when I finally figured it out completely, I stopped talking. It wasn’t a decision I made. It wasn’t like I thought to myself ‘okay, Katie, you’ll show them, you just won’t open your mouth again’. It wasn’t like that. I just realised there wasn’t any point in trying. No one was listening to the words.
So I quit.
And when I quit talking, I started listening. Which was good in some ways. But it also meant I could hear every single mouth noise Mrs Peavey made at every single meal I had to suffer through.
So, then, I stopped eating too.
Which wasn’t all that bad because at least I stopped being fat.