I’ve buried this incident at the back of my mind for so long that it’s difficult to unearth. Periodically, it’s sent tremors through the waking brain, though. Confronting it, even now the memory shakes so my single state of man that function is smothered in surmise.
It’s difficult to find the right words to capture it. I keep resorting to quotation, partly to allow me to disown it, because it seems like such a self-pitying, self-important over-reaction to be troubled by it, to feel it’s even worth discussing.
And the memory is so fragmentary, yet so upsetting, still, that I sometimes wonder if I invented it. It so precisely embodies my worst fears for the reaction that my revelation might provoke: the cruellest, most accurate, most well-deserved response to my self-serving fabrications. Or maybe, in that encounter, those fears were formed.
There must have been a misunderstanding. Or did my medical notes set out, in pitiless detail, what an unmitigated, time and resource-wasting arse I was? Was he a medical student who’d seen my stupid behaviour in the student bar?
Or am I being unforgiving? Of myself? Of the doctor? In one way, I seem like the villain of the piece, but in another, he does. Maybe he didn’t realise I had an appointment. Maybe I didn’t say it right.
I was immature, still a teenager. Well, I work with teenagers, now. They’re good fun. They’re all idiots. It’s a necessary part of their development: brains awash with neurotransmitters, feverishly emotionally volatile, horribly self-conscious, refreshingly naïve, childishly shy and risk-averse, finding safety in numbers, in the tribe.
They try to secure their position as valued members of that tribe. They try out a sort of personality bravado, turning themselves into interesting caricatures so they’ll be recognised as individuals. They’re drunk and giddy on the whole perplexing riddle of self-hood, how it can be so present, such a powerful governing principle, making all their drives and impulses cohere, and yet so difficult to come to grips with, to pin down; how it evaporates like mist as you approach it.
They need to be like this. They’re learning about identities: how much of it is conscious, how much instinctual. They’re trying to author themselves. If they didn’t experiment with how to exist, how would they know?
I enjoy their vitality, their cheery idiocy, their open-hearted ego-centricity, their indignant absolutism. If they displayed a weary sobriety, at their age, I’d be disappointed. In fact, I’d be worried about them.
But I don’t extend that forgiveness to my childish self.