I hear a woman walking in the new heat say ‘and I was really upset’

When I think about the people I don’t know and never will I feel an overwhelming sadness, you know how it is. It’s October and the heat is still new, remember it, like this every year. I keep a cognitive list of what makes me happy, heavy red flowers, apiarists on a balcony – one in white one in yellow, the act of reading of the vague break-up of a man I used to feel I was in love with (in a stupid reckless way, good hair and eyes) walking on the hot side of the street, smelling the perfume of a girl I kissed and loved very hard in an unexpected place, finding hair of people I care about stuck in pages of books, muting a call, repeating the phrase long distance to myself for no reason, certain light, certain terror. I think about what people don’t know about me, think to turn myself out for this, say (to myself) let yourself feel that let yourself feel better. It’s the seventeenth now and I’ve just moved to an upstairs room in a new house, better light, makes me feel good, bad, complete ugly. I’m still shy in the right places for myself, know this makes for bad times too.

Last month I was really upset, even said those words, know a lot of us were. Heard it come from the mouths of my friends, housed three devastated women in my bedroom, changed the sheets to pink again. Is that the right colour for this, reflector of red raged anger, is that precise enough, someone hurt you but not your fault — I think it’s real love now — you’re doin’ so much, you’ve done all that by yourself, wish you could see it, plain sight — I know. I’ve never felt good at comforting someone, really I’m ashamed, something I’m still learning, want to work harder at. I imagine every woman I walk past saying ‘and I was really upset’, and how I’d love to know why, would make it ritualistic, would say tell it to someone new.

I’ve been upset because I didn’t get what I wanted (I usually do). And I’ve been shy about it, shy about circular sadness, ugly things I’ve done, my body, how I speak and hold my hands in conversation, ugly things I’ve repeated, the once red birthmark behind my ear and the one on my breast that are both now pink, flush. I was really upset dissolved fast this time but that’s not constant (can’t be that lucky), not forced to a pattern, predicted, can’t be examined in light. But, I have learned patience from men, I have learned good, directed anger from women, learned calm gestures, learned where to lay my head. I taught myself to be kind and then kinder still, I taught myself to wait up, I look women in the eye when I walk past them more than I used to.


Photograph reproduced courtesy of the author.


Laura Stortenbeker is a writer and editor. Her work has been published in Overland, Meanjin, Chart Collective and Kill Your Darlings. In 2016 she was the recipient of a Wheeler Centre Hot Desk Fellowship. In 2017 she was shortlisted for the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an Unpublished Manuscript.

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