Fractured Characters · Short Stories

A Cup of Shame with Extra Cream

He sits at a corner table stirring his Americano. A big guy with broad shoulders, large hands engulfing his cup. The cafe is busy and the chair opposite vacant, but no one asks to sit with him.

Perhaps understandably.

His face has a past: possibly violent; definitely damaging. A line of gristle scars one side, running from above his eye and pulling the eyelid down in a kind of leer. His skin is pitted. When he does glance up from beneath overhanging brows, the words, “F*** off” don’t need to be said.

So he stirs his coffee in glowering isolation, a thick hairy wrist emerging from an equally thick hairy jumper, and mothers pull their children clear.

He’s glad of it. If no bugger sits with him then he won’t have to talk to them. And they won’t ask why he isn’t working like a man his age should be. Then he won’t have to tell them that he’s too ill to work, and they won’t ask what’s wrong with him and he won’t have that feeling of hands grasping his guts and screwing them into knots.

Because he doesn’t want to give them the answer – the answer they won’t believe, anyway, because, hey, he looks fine. If he’s healthy enough to go for a coffee, he’s healthy enough to work, right? Plus everyone knows mental illness is a crock of shit. I mean, he hardly looks like the target of bullying, so he can’t be. He ought to be ashamed of himself.

And that’s the trouble: he is ashamed of himself.

Which is why it’s taken three weeks to bring himself to leave the house and sit here among normal, happy people. His heart hammering and his hands shaking, but he’s here.

Holding on.

Just.

So long as no one cames up to him, he’ll be fine.

He can do this.

 


This was an exercise taking the old adage ‘write what you know,’ and mixing it up a little. The internal character here is, basically, myself. I’ve made the exterior as different from me as I could – a big, tough guy – to see what the effect would be. And strangely enough, those who’ve read it have felt moved by his depression and anxiety. Leaving me asking myself: are even my fictional characters taken more seriously because they’re male? Well, that question has nothing to do with writing, anyway… But it’s something to think about.

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16 thoughts on “A Cup of Shame with Extra Cream

    1. I agree!

      From my personal experiences of caring for a very manic depressive mother and someone very near and dear to me with bipolar / anxiety complex; the depressing, sometimes harrowing yet fascinating aspect of mental illness is that is multi-dimensional.
      Most of us are emotional ‘onions’ with layer upon layer of character, feeling, preferences, behaviour and emotion waiting to be peeled away. Not being a psycho-analyst I don’t profess to having that skill – I just had to cope like the rest of us…
      Reason being that those I cared for had the added dimensions of different poles, highs and lows, euphoria and catatonia, introversion and exaggeration which distended the shape of the ‘onion’ that was their mind.

      Sorry ‘powerofenduring’ and Amanda, I’m not explaining myself very well but I hope you catch my drift.

      Best Wishes

      Dennis

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Absolutley, yes, we all have layers. Some known to us, many unknown. After finally finding a good therapist (in my experience four out of five shouldn’t be anywhere near a “caring profession”), it’s taken me a year and a half to being to understand some of my layers. To accept them, and myself, and to begin learning the self-care my parents denied me.

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  1. HI Amanda,

    I was moved by your sad big guy, having cared for a mother who was physically altered by her severe manic depression when I was a teenager. The depression manifested itself in the ways you described – the loneliness, despondency, the fight to be accepted; but in other ways too – the changing personalities (my mother would occasionally ‘talk Texan’ when high) and what I call the ‘irreversible uglification’ of my mother- she changed appearance with her mood (especially facially) and, in the Seventies and Eighties, with medication and treatment; she was burnt once by ECT. I still loved her deeply as a son though. My role was to care for her but also to try to get her accepted back into society by neighbours and friends whose patients had been tried to the limit by her behaviour when euphoric…or catatonic.

    I’ve often thought how much harder depression must be for a man – the male stereotype so often being characterized by strength, mastery, action and even domination. When I retired at 61 to (try to) write abstract real life sci-fi short stories about disturbed beings I guess I experienced a time of withdrawal, loneliness – fortunately I had the inner determination to build a great new life – unlike your sad guy who really has a battle for acceptance on his hands.

    I think depression is mind deep, skin deep, but not soul deep – we shouldn’t forget that we’re all beautiful souls underneath.

    I hope he finds happiness and contentment and this story evolves to take on a happy ending.

    Keep up the great work reminding us about these beautiful souls, Amanda

    Best wishes

    Dennis

    PS Delighted to have just joined the forum!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for your kind and thoughtful comment, Dennis. That must have been so hard for you to deal with – being a carer for your mother you perhaps missed out on some of your childhood. I had a similar experience, as the eldest of three children it was my respsonsibility to keep an eye on my father and make sure he wasn’t going out to buy alcohol. It’s a heavy and awful responsibility for a child. I’m still trying to heal from an alcoholic father and narcissistic mother and writing is helping more than I could have thought possible. I’m glad you’ve also found healing.

      Yes, that’s true – that didn’t occur to me. I suppose, though females can be dismissed as the “overwrought little woman” (as I was once by my GP) – men face the flip side of that prejudice. They should be “strong and unemotional” at all times – so the shame of any kind of emotional illness must be harder to bear – and admit to. I think the statistics reflect this – men being more reluctant to ask for help. The prejudice serves neither sex, in fact.

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  2. Hi Amanda

    I am sorry to hear that you had that burden to carry; the load get’s pretty heavy to bear sometimes, doesn’t it? Delighted to hear that writing, about it, is healing you and it really sounds as though your website is healing us all too. I really hope you are healed now, or nearly so.
    So thank you so much for seizing the initiative! Its the only way to end the ‘Joe Public’ taboo that shies away from the darker areas of our psyche from self-abuse with drink, drugs, glues to mental disorders and I should add, physical deformity and severe disorder, too.

    I think a good start would be to ban the word ‘DISABLED’ and replace it with ‘ENABLED’. I have a character in one of my short stories born (as a result of a hideous scientific experiment at conception) with no arms or legs, just stumps – but when she wears her thought-controlled robotic limbs she can outrun and out jump us all. Food for thought?

    After the recent Future Learn course, I am ‘starting out’ on some short stories (real life sci -fi with real but flawed beings and humans featured in challenging situations as opposed to ‘Super – Men and Women’ bombing around the Universe in shiny helmets!). It’s not easy – I tend to get very deep with my writing but I’ll get there.But I agree with you – what it does do is heal!

    I have been very, very lucky indeed. Sadly my mother died before any medical advancement could begin to address her mania but my nearest and dearest is now a new, vibrant and fulfilled woman or should I say the lovely lady I married before her bipolar / disorder set in. This is because I risked all and retired to be her house husband, to be there for her; she changed
    medication and has changed, ending 15 years of heartache and stressful pain for me and the boys, who struggled to cope.

    I hope all the carers out there are healing well and battling through as we did, Amanda and long may we champion their cause as much as those they nurse and tend.

    Best Wishes

    Dennis

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m so glad your wife got some medication which helped her! I know without mine I’d be a sobbing mess every day – I used to be. There’s still a big taboo around emotional health meds as well. One of my best friends lives in Texas and she says that, while everyone has therapy, no one will admit to being on meds. Which is ridiculous. If you have an under-active thyroid, you need meds for the rest of your life. It’s no different with brain chemicals – not physically. But as far as society is concerned… we are dangerous axe murderers. Which reminds me, I must pop out to B&Q for a new axe 🙂

      I love “‘Super – Men and Women’ bombing around the Universe in shiny helmets!” Where is your blog, so I can read your short stories..?

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      1. Thanks Amanda, I agree 100% that the ridiculous taboo, so often caused by indifference. misunderstanding or even fear (the dreaded axe-man you refer to!) just HAS to be dispelled.

        One way to achieve this would be a requirement for balanced media reporting.

        By that I mean that if, and it did happen a while back, a singular incidence of violence (the unsuspecting chap attacked on the Tube by a schizophrenic) occurs then can the media not offer some counter perspective, some equilibrium through investigative features that educate the masses that ‘we’re all beautiful souls underneath’ IE in one of their many Health Features instead of rabbiting on about diet fads and the latest type of walnut to make us all immortal!?

        … rather than wait for Prince William, Kate & Harry to promote mental well-being and mental health awareness in Mental Health Year?

        I strongly feel the media has a huge responsibility to dispel taboos!

        On the subject of taboos! My blog is pretty much taboo at the moment as it doesn’t exist yet! I’m still at that difficult formative early stage of writing. Coincidentally I write very sensitive, provocative sci-fi about emotionally and psychologically / physically flawed characters – I admire what you are doing Amanda because it’s not easy! Some of the short stories are nearing completion now and only one chap (Michael Furl!) wears a space helmet…so far!

        Keep motivating us all Amanda

        Best Wishes

        Dennis

        Like

  3. PS Amanda,

    I hope that GP you mentioned has now been struck off!

    ‘Overwrought little woman!’

    How DARE HE ( I assume it was a He) say that!!!

    Dennis

    Liked by 1 person

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