Saturday, August 24, 2013

a cat

The hall light keeps clicking off. But if the setting is too quick, at least the button glows orange so it’s easy to find.

Sarah takes a long time coming to the door. We can hear her talking on the phone to ambulance control. I knock with increasing loudness; when eventually she lets us in it’s with a friendly nod, more like a young woman greeting a couple of heating engineers, rather than an ambulance crew at four o’clock in the morning.

‘Excuse the mess,’ she says.

‘Oh – don’t worry about that,’ I say. An automatic reply, but she’s right, it is a mess. Empty Special Brew cans amongst piles of letters, discarded clothes, food cartons, tossed shoes. It’s an effort to pick our way through.

I make a show of the introduction, casually putting my bag down, resting the clipboard on my knees, leaning forward on it, but no matter how I try to normalise the situation, there’s no getting round the fact that we’ve been called to a young woman who’s tried to kill herself by throwing herself down the stairs.

‘How can we help?’ I ask.

She sits on the sofa facing us. Pleasantly square face, muss of blond hair, cool t-shirt, dance pants. All it would take is a rack of studio lights, a little make-up, a film to promote, and we could be journos come to interview some up-and-coming actress about the next big thing.
‘I wish you could,’ she says. And then: ‘Dad’ll be so angry.’
‘What’s happened tonight?’
‘I don’t know. I had friends round. We had some drinks. I got a bit down. And when they left, I tried to kill myself by throwing myself down the stairs.’
‘Did you hurt yourself?’
‘No. Nothing. Just bruised my arm a little.’ She touches the corner of her eye, a shaky, hesitant gesture, like she’s trying to arrest an imminent breakdown by tidying her mascara. ‘I can’t even do that.’
We talk about it, her history, her father, a famous actor who never once told her he loved her. ‘He’ll be so furious,’ she says. But she seems detached, something dark behind the buffer of alcohol. She describes her suicide attempt like she’s telling a banal but funny story about someone who had a series of humdrum problems putting out the trash.
‘I can’t even do that,’ she says. ‘It’s probably a sign. And dad’ll be so mad when he hears about it. He’s found me unconscious before. Stretched out on the floor. I promised I wouldn’t do it again.’

She touches the corner of her eye again, then drops her hand, and smiles. ‘I should probably just get myself a cat,’ she says. ‘If I had a cat, it’d be all right.’


saffy said...

i would have wanted to hug her. To not hear, or to feel that a parent (the one person that is meant to love you unconditionally) say they love you must have damaged her so much.
You do such a hard job Spence, and yet meet so many interesting people.

Lynda Halliger Otvos (Lynda M O) said...

Cats are indeed magical; perhaps the act of having a sentient being need her will help pull her out of the funk she's in. I know that my sister did much better psychologically when she had a small dog to take care of after her husband died.

Spence Kennedy said...

Hi Saffy

It was a pretty tragic set-up, and you have to wonder what on earth had gone on to bring her to that place. She was a young, smart & capable woman; it was difficult to resist the idea that we could just roll our sleeves, tidy up the flat & tidy up her life at the same time. But as always we just get the briefest of snapshots, make what referrals we can and move on.

Spence Kennedy said...

Hey Lynda (sorry for the delay in replying - for some reason your comment didn't appear the same time as Saffy's and I've been out all day!)

Well I'm a big fan of pets, as you know. My cat Kasha died this year, but she was 19 and good up until the end. It's amazing to think back on all the changes - and some of the troubles - I went through during that time. It is good to have animals around you, for sure. My only worry would be the extent to which Sarah could look after a cat (and esp a dog), when she was so patently not looking after herself. But like you say, maybe it would be the very thing she needs.