The Dangers of Internet Stalking

Written while listening to ‘Bad Liar’, by Selena Gomez. Because reasons.
There is a lot of sarcasm in this piece. I have marked it using / for those who struggle to identify it.

I didn’t plan any of it. I didn’t even want it. And yet, there I was, sending him a friend request, like a twit. /Of course it was because he probably posted interesting things, that I would be interested in, and not because I was being a creepy stalker. Of course./ I was angry with myself, even as I clicked on his name. For Hades’ sake, I barely knew the man. One semester in the same tutorial did not a friendship make, and yet here I was, apparently reverting to teenage behaviour. Thirty years apparently hadn’t taught me as much self-control as I would have hoped.

I’d been single for a while, and I liked it that way. Dating was a nightmare, people were generally awful, and I already had too many things to fill my time without having to worry about spending time with another human being. I wasn’t exactly swamped with offers—to be more accurate, I had precisely zero—but even if I had been, I would have been single by choice. /Which was, of course, why I was scrolling down his Timeline at 3pm on a Thursday afternoon, wondering if he was involved with any of the people in his profile picture./

“Oh for fuck’s sake,” I muttered to myself, turning off my phone with unwonted force. “Stop it.” The person sitting next to me on the bus looked at me strangely. I ran my hand through my hair, wincing as my fingers caught on the tangles, and nodded sharply to myself. That was it, I would let it drop. I was a mature adult.

I was not a mature adult. /When he accepted my friend request two minutes after I’d sent it, my stomach definitely hadn’t flipped itself over three times, and I definitely hadn’t smiled so broadly I felt like the top of my head would fall off. Definitely not. And I hadn’t dressed more carefully than usual the next day on the off chance that I’d see him on campus somewhere. Of course I hadn’t./

It’s situations like this that make self-awareness a thorough-going pain in the arse.

I firmly refused to scroll through his Timeline and see what he’d posted, or to check his relationship status. Instead, I pulled out my reader and forced myself to concentrate on Foucault’s thoughts on power all the way into uni, my highlighter squeaking in protest when I marked the important passages with more violence than was strictly necessary. I stubbornly opened the Action Music playlist on my phone as I walked to campus from the bus stop, not even looking at the Luuuurve playlist. I kept my eyes on the ground as I navigated my way through the people heading to work and school and shops, determined not to see him even if he did happen to walk by. /Which wasn’t why I kept my eyes down, of course, I wasn’t thinking about him at all, I was concentrating firmly on the panopticon and the ways in which it applied to feminist theory. Of course./

I couldn’t maintain that level of determined detachment forever, unfortunately, and I forgot myself so far as to start listening to Ed Sheeran on my way to lunch. I was feeling so good that I forgot I was supposed to be keeping my eyes down, and instead I strode along with my head up, observing the people flowing around me with a writer’s interest (although still avoiding eye contact at all costs).
The first time I saw him, I actually flinched. A second later, I realised it wasn’t him at all, just another tall guy with a neat beard. (/Curse him for having a currently popular hair-style./) I swore at myself under my breath, scaring the poor woman walking towards me as my usual /Resting Murder Face descended into Actual Murder Face/ due to my momentary irritation with myself. The second time I saw him, I managed not to react outwardly, and settled for being astonished that I could have mistaken someone with such bland eyes for him. By the fifth time, I had to physically restrain myself from slapping myself in the face. Fortunately for me, Resting Murder Face is a very good cover for this kind of nonsense.

I was definitely not a mature adult. But, by the time we were four weeks into semester, I got very good at faking it.

Well, I thought I was good at faking it.

I was wrong. All my friends noticed and laughed at me for it. I treated them to a dignified silence and determined not to look at his Timeline again. I reminded myself why I liked being single and wrote a blog post about why modern concepts of heteronormative romance were problematic.

At the beginning of week four, I found myself fighting temptation once again, seconded in a quiet corner of the library and trying to bully my brain into finishing an essay. It wasn’t a particularly scintillating topic, and 500 words in, I found myself searching for any distraction. As always, Facebook was attempting to come to my aid, and I was getting annoyed with myself about it. I managed to write two more sentences, both of which I immediately deleted, before I caved and opened my News Feed. I absolutely did not open his page. No, really! I scrolled down my News Feed, looking for his picture.

The moment I realised what I was doing I swore out loud and closed my browser.

“That bad, huh?”

I looked up into brown eyes and almost cursed again. This him was actually him.

“Maybe not that bad,” I said. By some miracle, I managed not to sound like I was being strangled.

“Mind if I join you?”

I really, really wasn’t a mature adult. It was okay, though. Turned out he wasn’t either.

Image and text: All Rights Reserved to Cambrey Payne 2017. Acknowledge sources when sharing and do not repost without original source.

Soulless Killer Series: Ch2 Conflict of Interest

The problem with having Christen as a roommate, I soon discovered, was that on paper, she was the perfect roommate, while in reality, she was a nightmare. Most days I would have preferred a roommate who left dirty socks hanging over the back of the couch and half-empty bowls of cereal in the sink. Christen, however, always kept her clothes clean (with the help of my darling mother), and washed her dishes, and even wiped out the shower when she was done. She also moved all the cutlery into the TV cabinet so she could keep her socks in the kitchen drawer.
“Are you just trying to piss me off?” I asked, staring at her extensive collection of multi-coloured foot coverings.
“I left the other half for you,” she said, sounding hurt. I stared at her for a second with my mouth open.
“Because of course I’d want to keep my socks in the kitchen.”
“You’ve got to admit, it’s far more sensible,” she said serenely, taking a pair of rainbow-striped knee socks that no one would ever see under her black jeans and heading for her bedroom. She would never put her socks on anywhere but in the bedroom. I threw up my arms and put the cutlery holder back in the drawer next to her socks. It was a big drawer, after all.
As well as the socks in the kitchen, she spent the first week hand-sewing little white curtains for the few photos I’d put up around the house – including the family shots I had in my bedroom. She would close them every night and open them every morning. I’m sure you can imagine how unnerving it would be to awaken at 8am on a Saturday to find your roommate looming over you, opening a tiny pair of curtains on the family picture next to your bed so they could get some light.
“You do know photos hold part of the soul, don’t you?” she said, apparently astonished at my ignorance. “You need to make sure you maintain a healthy circadian rhythm, or the soul’s owner could start feeling unwell. I wouldn’t want that to happen to your mother.”
I didn’t bother replying to that particular gem.
However, these might almost have been forgivable quirks if it weren’t for my aforementioned mother, who had now quite willingly adopted Christen into the family.
“It’s not her fault she grew up the way she did,” Mum said severely to me whenever I dared to hint at my disapproval.
“All the more reason not to encourage her,” I muttered in reply. But Mum seemed to think she was helping, rather than enabling, my completely interplanetary roommate. I considered asking Christen to move out, but I couldn’t face the dual guilt-trip of her puppy eyes and my mother’s disapproval. I figured I’d just have to grit my teeth and bear it, and hope Christen got bored.
Sadly, she got comfortable instead. About a month after she’d moved in, my boss offered me a commission interstate, which I would normally have thought twice about, since I had essays to write. However, having just that morning found Christen taking the labels off all the jars in the pantry and rewriting the contents on the bottom in calligraphy, I was in need of a break. I packed a small bag, caught the first flight out, and settled happily into my hotel room, anticipating an easy transaction and a relaxing evening. I should have known better.
Two hours after I’d settled into my chair by the window with my novel, I became aware of a faint metallic scratching sound coming from my door. It was an older hotel, and still used regular keys instead of keycards, and I instantly realised someone was trying to pick the lock. I silently closed my book and reached for the Smith & Wesson I’d tucked into the seat with me. The faint sound of my finger clicking the safety off went unheard as the lock gave a clunk and the door started to open.
I know you, dear reader, will be far less surprised by what happened next than I, but I hope you appreciate that hindsight comes with rather more clarity than was available to me at the time.
“What the bloody hell are you doing here?” I spluttered, clicking the safety back on and putting the pistol back on the small table next to me.
“Your room has a better shot than mine,” Christen said, as though this fact ought to have been obvious to me. I stared at her, still not quite caught up with events.
“Why did you have to pick the lock?” I said. “You could have just knocked.”
“I didn’t think you’d mind.” She closed the door and locked it behind her, stashing a small leather wallet of lock-picking wotsits in the inside pocket of her coat as she turned back to me. “Is he back yet?” I stared at her some more, mouth open like a gormless goldfish.
“Oh no,” I said, finally realising what was going on. “No, no, no. This is my commission, you can just stay out of it.”
The puppy dog eyes made an appearance and I cursed internally.
“I thought we could do it together,” she said.
“You don’t think our employers might have an issue with that?” I suggested pointedly. She looked surprised. Clearly the thought hadn’t occurred to her.
“I can’t see why they would,” she said. “As long as the job gets done.” I sighed. Soulless people in movies tended to be incredibly intelligent and ruthless. How was it I’d got stuck with the human version of a baby Labrador? I opened my mouth to explain the difficulties of dividing the fee between two opposing companies, imagined the ensuing conversation, and closed it again. There really was no point. She sensed victory and bounced happily over to the window, where my rifle was already set up.
“See?” she said, grinning at me. “It’ll be fun! I’ll order us some room service.”
I sighed and put my bookmark back into my book. Short of murdering her in order to protect my commission – which any sensible person would have at least considered – it looked like I was stuck with her. It seemed I wasn’t feeling very sensible.
“Make sure they send up honey with the tea,” I said, and turned my attention back to the window.

Text: All Rights Reserved to Cambrey Payne 2017.

Image from: http://www.wallpaperup.com/688806/pistol_gun_weapon_handgun_military_police_book.html

If

TW: frequent references to domestic violence

If he hadn’t been my gaoler
Maybe I’d still be a wife
With that photogenic life
At least between 9 and 5
Because you know what kids are like
Near 6 o’clock…

If he hadn’t tried to own me
Maybe I’d still wear that ring
Finger swelling round the thing
The symbol of my giving in
To the fight I couldn’t win
Against the world

If I’d got to keep my body
Maybe I’d still walk those halls
With their off-white painted walls
And their scratch-resistant floors
And their lever-handled doors
I chose myself

If he’d been somebody different
If he’d know-n how to love
I might not have… “given up”
I’d still have a smooth-shaved cunt
Not leave the house without makeup
Cos I’m a… woman…

If he hadn’t been a monster
I wouldn’t have to be so grateful
For escaping something dreadful
With three reminders of my downfall
Not their fault they bring back painful
Memories.

If I’d stayed…
If I’d surrendered…
If I’d died.

All Rights Reserved to Cambrey Payne 2017

Strong Female Protagonist

Dear Mr Producer
Mr Script Writer
Mr Hollywood Golden Boy
Mr Good Guy of the Year

Mr I See Women As People
Mr This Is What A Feminist Looks Like
Mr Women Can Be Heroes Too
I want to thank you.

Thank you for showing us
That we can kick arse
Just like the boys
Because I needed that
And so did my siblings
Who had the dubious honour of being
Assigned
Female
At
Birth

But I want to ask you
Why did it take you so long?
Why did we have to keep asking?
Why are we always thin?
Why are we always white?
Why are we always carrying around those…
Well, you know what I mean.

Why are we always straight?
Why are we always victimised?
Because of those thin, white bodies with those…
Well, you know what I mean.

Because last time I checked
I didn’t need to be desirable
To chop off a monster’s head
Or investigate a murder.

Last time I checked
I didn’t need to be straight
Or wear my long, thick, perfect hair
Swinging down to my waist
To take out bad guys.

See, you missed a vital point
In your process of Enlightenment
You see, you made us into heroes
So you could save us from ourselves
And what you missed in your campaign
To Make Women Great
Is that we’re not all women
And we’re not all pretty
And we’re not all white
But we Sure As Hell are already Great

We’ve been heroes all along
And while I am grateful
Forever
That you helped make that visible
(After decades of us telling you)
It’s not enough to hand a pretty girl a sword
And say she’s equal.

We will be equal when we see fat girls
And hairy girls
And girls with anxiety or PTSD
When we see black girls
And Asian girls
And girls whose first language isn’t English
When we see that Assigned Female At Birth
Doesn’t always mean woman
And Assigned Male At Birth
Can mean feminine.
When we see that feminine
That undesirable
That weak and strong
Are all just as Great as each other

We will be equal when we see ourselves
Through our own eyes
When we tell our own stories
When we see our own lives

We will be equal when we see ourselves
Not “as good as a man”
But as good as ourselves.

When girl is no longer an insult

So thank you,
Mr Feminist,
For your time
But we can take it from here.

You are not my Hero
Any
More.

All Rights Reserved (text and image) to Cambrey Payne 2016. Please acknowledge sources when sharing and do not repost without original source.

Labels

TW: This story contains metaphorical images of self harm that may trigger some people. They are fictional and very brief, but please proceed with care.

At six I was labelled, put in a little box with big black lettering that said ‘Strange. Handle With Care’. The box was taped shut over my small, pony-tailed head, and no matter what shape I contorted myself into, I couldn’t get out. There were other labels on the box, some smaller (scrawny, knobbly knees), some brightly-coloured (bright, excellent reader), some hastily scribbled and almost illegible, easily erased (Year One), and some branded into the side so they could never be removed, only papered over: GIRL.

At eight the bright colours were covered with an official stamp: INTELLIGENT. With it came others, scrawled over every surface in clumsy red letters: NERD. GEEK. LOSER. I scratched desperately at the red bleeding through the cardboard, but it was there, in permanent marker, indelible and invulnerable. I turned my back on them, and poked a hole in GIRL. For a moment, I felt hope. Until the brand came down again, burning the label over and over into every side of my little prison. I stopped poking. I feared that if I didn’t, the label would be branded right into my skin.

Each year the box changed, some labels rubbed away or written over, some refreshed with new lettering. I tried to decipher them, tried to discern where they came from, but no matter how hard I stared, no matter how hard I scratched at them or studied them, they remained insoluble, indecipherable. I looked at the labels on food packages, so clear and neat, telling buyers what was inside, and how much, and where it came from. Where were my ingredients? STRANGE was not an ingredient. Nor was FREAK or LOSER or GIRL. So why were they plastered over my packaging for everyone to see? I started to search for my Nutritional Information, but there was no Google then. I did the best I could.

At fifteen, I found a clue. Asperger’s. I couldn’t find a full list of ingredients, but what I did find looked like mine, looked like me. Asperger’s had the same labels slapped over its box as well, but underneath, there were other words, words that explained who I was. For the first time, I started to peel the tape off my box. I freed an arm, enough to start ripping at the labels on the side. I mentioned it to my parents. They said I couldn’t have those ingredients. I crawled back into my box and shut the lid behind me.

At sixteen, I read through all the labels I’d accrued. I read GIRL, NERD, WEAK, ATTENTION-SEEKER, PATHETIC, LOSER. I read CREATIVE, LAZY, INTELLIGENT, INTROVERT. I decided they must be true. I learned what they meant. I started to paint them onto my skin, until I was so covered in words I couldn’t see myself any more. The marker bled into my pores, the words leeching into my blood until I could no longer tell what was me and what was words. I let it happen. My ingredients were wrong. I needed new ones.

There was darkness, for a long time. My blood became ink, saturating me in the words of other people, telling me who I was, who I should be, until I was buried under the weight of the words. Yet there was still a Me, a tiny golden core that refused to absorb the words, that rejected the inky contagion. It cried in agony as I tried desperately to drown it. Its pain was my pain, and I couldn’t ignore it.

At twenty-seven, I took a knife and cut open my box. I burned the words from my skin with acid, I opened my veins and bled ink onto the floor until there was only blood left. I thought I would bleed to death. I thought the pain would burn me whole. But I didn’t care if it killed me, if I could be free.

At twenty-eight I said the word again. Autism. At twenty-eight I said the word for the first time. Transgender. At twenty-eight I embraced the truth. Pansexual. I was told, “You don’t need to label everything”. I roared in frustration. As if I hadn’t been tagged and labelled and categorised since the moment of my birth. As if I didn’t bear the scars of those labels on every inch of my skin, in my heart, in my mind. As if the world didn’t keep throwing them at me, trying to make them stick. I pasted on my own labels, and wore them as proudly as my scars. These are MY ingredients.

This is part of a selection of works for Autism Awareness Month. Please remember this is my experience only, and not intended to speak for all autistic people. Please also remember that this story relates the difficulties caused by ableism, and not autism. It is not intended to paint autism as a tragedy in any way. I love being autistic, and am proud of who I am. What has made my life difficult is people’s attitude toward autism, and that is what this story is intended to convey. Thank you for reading.

All Rights Reserved to Cambrey Payne 2017. Please acknowledge sources when sharing and do not repost without original source.

Image from: http://www.staples-3p.com/s7/is/image/Staples/s0537785_sc7?$splssku$

Blowbloop the Turquoise Badger

Apologies to Craig, who gave me this incredibly challenging prompt over two years ago. I finally got to it… The prompt was: “A turquoise badger named Blowbloop, on vacation in the West Indies, only to find it’s not cricket season. What adventures can he get up to?” The answer, as you’ll soon see, is ‘quite a lot’.

Blowbloop the Turquoise Badger

Blowbloop the Badger left on holiday
Only to find his great plan gone astray.
The West Indies were great, but with no cricket on,
He was quite at a loss as to how to have fun.

Poor Blowbloop was desolate, and a little bit glum,
Even though he still had two more weeks in the sun.
And despite the attention his turquoise fur got,
He had to admit it was rather too hot.

So he wandered on down to a bar by the shore,
Although drinking with strangers is rather a bore.
And here’s where his story did truly begin,
With a beautiful dancer, and a tonic and gin.

Celeste was her name, and she danced a mean waltz,
But her past was mysterious, because, well, of course.
(Please forgive me, dear reader, the odd liberty,
But not everything rhymes quite all that easily.)

Celeste and Blowbloop chatted into the night,
And emerged when the moon was well into its flight.
When suddenly out of the shadows there came,
A threatening voice calling poor Celeste’s name.

For it seemed her mysterious past had come back,
As it will when one thinks that one’s life is on track.
So Blowbloop and C found themselves on the run,
From the CIA, MI5, and the president’s son.

It seemed that Celeste had once been an assassin,
Who’d failed when her conscience had left her aim flapping.
Now her employers were out for revenge,
And would happily kill badgers to achieve those ends.

Blowbloop and C had no choice but to flee,
Although nowhere was safe, as we’ll very soon see.
They fled through Colombia, Paris, and Rome,
They knew they had no chance of going back home.

No matter what place the pair found themselves at,
Their enemy would always be right on their track.
With no choice but to run, or to turn and to fight,
They came up with a plan on one hot summer’s night.

Now Blowbloop was brave, and a little bit handy,
Especially for plots needing cricket and brandy.
Long story short, he and C made a plan,
Which succeeded, although blowing up much of Japan.

Good Blowbloop saw cricket, although not how he’d hoped,
As he smacked off the head of the CIA’s bloke.
And Celeste had her moment, not to be outdone,
When she bowled her best googlie and took out their guns.

Now at last they were free to go home if they liked,
But they’d got quite attached through those frightening nights.
So they settled in Spain and taught cricket to frogs,
And Blowbloop always remembered when cricket season was.

All Rights Reserved to Cambrey Payne 2017. Acknowledge sources when sharing and do not repost without original source.

Snapshot: Charger

The phone charger is humming again. I’ve given up mentioning it to Brian, since he never seems to hear it. Just like the toaster and the DVD player and the light in the laundry. Doc Green said not everyone notices things like that, which is why she can’t hear the clock in her office whining even though it feels like a needle digging into your tympanic membrane. At least she believes me when I tell her about it, and sticks it in her drawer so I don’t have to hear it so much.

If I pull Brian’s phone off the charger now, he’ll be pissed, so I have no choice but to go back to my room. Everyone says I spend too much time in there (well, not literally everyone, but most of the people I know), but if they didn’t insist on having every goddamn thing plugged in and playing all the goddamn time, I might spend more time out here. I mean, honestly, probably not, because they still all talk too loud and all at the same time, which makes it impossible to understand what anyone is saying, and Brian thinks dubstep is good music to play before 9am even though I think it was actually created by Satan. (Not really Satan, it’s a metaphor.) And Brian’s not so good at keeping up with the cleaning schedule, even though Katrina does her best to keep on top of things, so sometimes the kitchen smells kind of gross. I mostly just hold my breath and try to grab my food and get out before I have to take another breath. I’m getting pretty good at holding my breath, actually. Not in a creepy way, like Mum was worried about, because I used to hold my breath when I was two until I went blue, but just so I don’t have to smell the lentils that ended up going down the drain and are still festering in the bend in the pipe.

I wonder how long lentils take to stop smelling in a pipe. I wonder if I put vinegar and bicarb down there it would stop smelling. Monday is my turn for kitchen duty, so maybe I’ll try it.

As predicted, Brian has to knock on my door to ask if I’m going to spend all day in my room. I told him I’ll be out later. His phone only takes about two hours to fully charge, usually, so I should be safe to come out around lunch time. Doc Green says not everyone plans their day out like that, but I don’t really believe her. How does anyone ever get anything done, if they don’t plan it? I’m never quite sure how much I should believe of what Doc Green says. I know she means well, but some of the things she says don’t make sense at all. I can believe that not everyone hears the same noises. There are people who can’t hear at all, so logically, there should also be people who hear a lot more than others. But if nobody planned their days, they’d just be bumbling about, hoping for the best, completely at the mercy of circumstance. That sounds like a special brand of hell, like trying to walk across a crowded room with your eyes closed when you’re used to being able see, except there are bear traps on the floor (more metaphor, and maybe some simile). Although, having lived with Brian for a year, perhaps I should be more open to the idea. He seems to actually like ‘taking things as they come’, even though that means he never hands up his essays on time, and sometimes forgets to turn up to things, like parties and dates.

To be fair, I’d probably forget to turn up to a date if I could. Dating is terrible.

I’ve been trying to avoid thinking about the idea of dating all morning. Of course, I haven’t succeeded, even though I’m supposed to be writing an essay myself. Sometimes I can’t compartmentalise the way I like to, and this is one of those times. It’s very frustrating, because writing about the Industrial Revolution is in no way related to the various terrors of dating, and I’m finding it very hard to concentrate.

Maybe I should have said ‘no’, but Marie caught me by surprise, and if I’m honest, I had been thinking about maybe imagining dreaming about going on a date with her at some indeterminate point in the non-existent future where I’m not an actual human disaster. So instead of saying what I should have said if I’d thought about it for more than two seconds, which was “no thank you, I don’t date”, I mumbled something indecipherable that apparently meant “yes”, because now I’m supposed to be meeting her in five hours for coffee.

Why does everyone say coffee instead of beverage? I hate coffee, I never drink coffee, but even I say “we’re meeting for coffee”. Verbal conventions are very strange sometimes.

Rationally speaking, it’s quite ridiculous for me to be nervous about this at all. I’ve known Marie for six months, and we’ve sat in the same cafe and drunk beverages together quite comfortably before. Apparently labelling something a date assigns a significance to the event that warrants three days worth of obsessive worrying. This kind of illogical reasoning is precisely what I would change about my brain if I could. People always assume it’s the social awkwardness or the lack of eye contact (who would want to actually look other people in the eyes?!) or the sensory sensitivity, but I would be perfectly happy with all of these if they were accompanied by a more logical and rational thought process. Sadly, Doc Green tells me this isn’t possible, because I am still human. I think she thought I was half joking, which is why she didn’t take it very seriously. However, if I could find a way to rewire my brain to increase its logic circuitry (metaphor), I would do it in a heartbeat.

Why couldn’t we just keep having beverages in cafes without calling it a date? Ugh, human beings are infuriating. And I have an essay to write. I hope I can concentrate long enough to finish it.

All Rights Reserved to Cambrey Payne 2017. Acknowledge sources when sharing and do not repost without original source.

Image from: https://www.canterbury.su/opportunities/discounts-savings/mobile-phone-charging