But she started it…

December 3, 2011

A number of years ago (nine, in fact, is the number in question), I lived in a shared house with four other girls. Take five girls who haven’t yet lost the adolescent appetite for drama, and put them in a house share. Shake vigorously, open lid with caution, contents may be explosive. It was a fucking nightmare.

I did actually like a couple of the girls and although we’ve drifted apart over the years, we got on well enough at the time. Had we not lived together, and so not associated each other with the horrendous house-share from hell, we might have stayed in touch. The other thing I’ll point out is that all of these girls were, in fact, drama students. I hate to generalise (but I’m going to anyway so I guess we’ll all have to live with that) but drama students do seem to have a higher than average collection of neuroses, and feel a compulsion to draw attention to these neuroses in a variety of ‘interesting’ ways. Of course we all have our issues but in my experience, there is certainly a correlation between obtaining a BA in Theatre Studies and a propensity to see the world as a play in which you are the fatally flawed heroine and other people are mere bit-part players, who wander in and out of your scenes. Every time the action flags and your lines aren’t showing off your talents, you rewrite a little and ramp up the melodrama. Either studying Brecht and Artaud is enough to put you in therapy, or UCAS recruits drama applicants directly from the books of therapists.  If this stereotype seems a little cruel that’s because it is. But a lesser-known fact about me is that for two years, I was one of these students of drama. For two years I ‘externalized the internal’ for dramatic effect, indulged in ‘invisible theatre (which meant standing in the middle of Covent Garden in a bra and sandwich board). I ran around with no shoes on, cultivated an image of a tortured soul, and cried late into the night, raking through every corner of my cushy middle-class life for more ‘material’. The thing is, I wasn’t very good at all that self-loathing combined with self-adoration and after two years I realised that a 2.2 in BA Exhibitionism  was not what I wanted out of my university career. So I switched to English where the pretensions were just as pronounced but of a slightly more tolerable flavour. But my point is, that I speak, if not with authority, then at least with some first-hand experience. I am sure there are lots and lots of talented and well-balanced students of drama the world over. Perhaps I’ll meet one of them one day.

Anyhow, in this shared house, we were all a bit like this – total emotional fuck-ups, mostly by design. But there was this one girl who was possibly the best example of all of these things that I have ever come across, and consequently the most irritating person in the world.  And maybe also a little bit evil. We’ll call her Tit. This wasn’t her name but it’s not wholly dissimilar to her name and is certainly apt. She was competitive, manipulative, and totally self-absorbed. Anyway, the point of this is that after two years of living together, a sort of vague generalised dislike intensified into white-hot burning anger. I think this is the only time I’ve ever hated anybody. Day after day was ruined by her very existence and any interaction we ever had became a tense, point-scoring dialogue of thinly veiled fury. My mum would tell me to avoid her and stay out of her way. The thing is, when you live with somebody, you can’t stay out of their way. It’s impossible. I remember sitting in my room, crying angry tears of frustration because I could hear her on the phone outside my room and every time she spoke it was like somebody stabbing me in the eye with a fork.

I despised Tit so much that it became almost an obsession. It was all I could think about and therefore all I talked about. Conversations with friends and family became a monologue  – me just listing the things she’d done or said, going over them from every angle: her audacity, my outrage, how she started it, how justified I was. People listened sympathetically at first but (understandably) began to get bored and even a little disturbed. What I wanted, I guess, was for them to feel what I felt, for me to somehow bypass words entirely and just plant the picture I saw in their heads, transplant the ball of rage and hatred in my stomach directly into theirs.

Eventually I moved out, took stock, and the anger faded and with it the hatred. From this vantage, I looked back at myself with more distance and was thoroughly ashamed of what I saw. I let her turn me into somebody I didn’t want to be, somebody who was fuelled by bitterness and anger, somebody who had no room for anything else in her life, somebody who was petty and childish and who had become every bit as despicable as Tit herself.  I resolved never to let that happen to me again.

The reason I’m writing all of this is because I need to remind myself just now that in the face of provocation, I can walk away. If somebody attacks me, then it doesn’t matter who starts it, who’s right or who’s wrong. It doesn’t matter who was to blame originally. If I react with anger and enmity, it will eat away at me, not the other person. It will damage me, not her. If she throws acid at me, it might burn me. If I throw it back, it will ricochet and still burn me, gradually corroding everything until I’m just the skeleton of the person I would have been.

So, Tit, and all those who come after you…do your worst. You can’t touch me.

P.S. Well done if you’ve read this far. I think we’ve all learned something here today. Mostly, that I am a little bit insane.

P.P.S. Just re-read this and can’t help thinking I might have belonged on that drama degree after all. As a wise man (my dad, I think) once said to me, you can take the student out of Drama, but you can’t take drama out of the student.

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9 Responses to “But she started it…”

  1. jeg700 said

    Intense, you are intense, not insane LMAO

  2. Shiny said

    Yeah. You’re describing a passion, one way or another, there. Thing is, apart from being a bit narcissistic and talking on the phone outside your room, you don’t say what it was she did to be so much worse than the others. Just that somehow, you felt really bad about her.

    That undefinable chemistry that sometimes takes us over at a visceral level. We just tend not to think about it when it’s a negative passion. But it’s all the same thing, though, isn’t it?

    • The talking on the phone thing only bothered me because I was already incensed by her by that point. It wouldn’t have mattered if she’d have given me a million pounds and her last rolo by that point, I’d still have annoyed by it. I didn’t go into what she did, it was an accumulation of things, all of them would make a very boring story now and I suppose I just needed to analyse why I get like that at all. But you’re right that it’s all part of the same thing. I get kinda obsessive about things and can’t see anything but that thing for a while. It’s sort of what we’ve spoken about before, just not being able to keep perspective on things the way some people can. And yeah, negative passion is a good way of putting it. Destructive it most certainly is.

      • Shiny said

        I guess that’s my point, although I’m not sure it’s a particularly valid one. For some reason we see the negative version of passion for the irrational, all-consuming, blinding fever that it is – but when it’s the ‘positive’ version, we think it’s ‘grand amour’. Are the behaviours any different – and any less destructive?

      • No, I don’t think they are. Right now I don’t anyway. Sometimes I might defend a distinction between the two, but not these days.

  3. Dave said

    That’s quite the story indeed (but I love the name Tit)!

  4. I used to be in musical theatre and experienced similar things from people. All the people talked about was gossip and more gossip. It wasn’t the intellectually stimulating environment that I wanted to be in.

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