I sat listening to these strangers reading their poems, their personal thoughts and feelings on show, expressing what was going on inside them. Some shook visibly. Others wore a mask of confidence which faltered slightly on their walk back off the stage. Some pretentiously assumed they were better than everyone else; nerves probably weren’t featured in their extensive, over-articulate vocabulary.
My mind wandered back to the course I took on creative writing and the poems I wrote then. Forgetting the fact that they were nowhere near as good as the standard before me, I wondered whether I’d ever have the courage to stand up and read something I’d written to a room full of strangers. What if I had stuck with my English degree? Would I be attending events like this poetry slam to participate, instead of sitting at the back with some friends and giggling at the various displays of awkward pretension?
Continuing this counterfactual exercise, during one particularly complicated philosophical poem I couldn’t quite follow, I considered what my life could have become.
What if I had followed my first plan to be a journalist? What if I followed the more serious and thought-out idea of becoming a teacher? Would I be here encouraging a student or looking for ideas for class on Monday?
What if I’d never got sick? Would my life be a blur of activity, eating pizza without a care, wearing jeans everyday, fitting into the size 12 clothes that now hang abandoned in my wardrobe? Would I know that my friends were true and would stand by me no matter what? Would I have found that inner strength being chronically ill has given me?
What if I never had to choose between different parts of my life? Would my education have suffered because my time was stretched between so many different pursuits? Would my relationships have failed if I had been perfectly healthy? Might I be sitting here with a proper grown up job, my hand entwined in someone else’s?
The room applauded the deep and no doubt tortured soul of the poet as he stepped down. The sound brought me out of my own soul-searching.
I looked down at my loose fitting size 16 dress smoothing it over my leggings and folded my legs under my chair, kicking over my handbag full of pills and my notebook full of scribbles lest I forget anything important. On my left sat a friend who had talked me into coming. She had her own on-going fight with depression but never failed to try to understand what everyday was like for me. I felt such warmth towards her and all my true friends who had accepted the different me that had come from being sick. I wouldn’t have appreciated these friends so much, my time would still be filled with superfluous people who didn’t care that much.
A breath came on my neck with whispered words of sarcasm in my ear. On my right sat a man I’d known for years but in recent weeks had gotten to know so well. As I smiled in response to his witty remark and our eyes met, I realised that the person I used to be might have flirted aggressively with him until I scared him off or, more probably, completely disregarded him as too shy or too…something else. I wouldn’t have gotten to know someone so lovely who seemed to get me so fully.
The next poet steps up to the microphone. I shift in my seat to find a more comfortable position. My hip bumps into my great friend on my left. I see the stage past the profile of the guy on my right, his long eyelashes bringing themselves to my attention; I’d never noticed them before.
Actually, I’m pretty content with how things have turned out, I think.