It had been about two weeks and Trace called. She’d disappeared in the past when she went off-beam. She had other friends for those times. I was surprised she’d called, actually.
She didn’t know where she was. She sounded completely distracted, like she could just float away. She’d had a big night, then she’d been walking, and enjoying everything, and lost track of time, and where she’d wandered.
I offered to come pick her up. She didn’t seem to understand. She didn’t need any help, she said. She was just saying hello. Then it got weird. Suddenly, she had to tell me something urgently, she needed me to understand, I had to listen.
I said OK, but she insisted I get off the phone, so she could read it into my message bank. She wanted to be able to listen to it later, and for me to go over what she was going to say… OK.
I learnt to say OK a lot.
Each of these thousands of people I’m walking in the middle of is a wholesome drop and I need a deluge. I need to soak in their them-ness, their vitality, to feel restored and filled up, right? Every one of them has stories, and that’s what I need, pure stories, right, which can only be decoded with a kind mind, which is only a product of my good times, when I love everyone, even the impatient Angry Man driver who nearly ran into the jay-walking ADHD teen at Swanston and Flinders… Do you get what I’m saying?
Right, OK. Cool. I could roll with what she was saying. Just. Then she read something out, a poetry kind of thing.
‘It had been a while, but she could still glide amongst people and feel them around her, almost through her, they left such strong impressions. Each person was so much themselves, a unique flavour of gestures, a collection of scars and ways of staring, no matter how much they tried to fit in.
‘At times like this, with her bubble middled, she loved the foibles of every person blocking her way with their smartphone conversations and she saw every tiny kindness, every half-step of restraint, every roll of the eyes that could have been a curse, every compassionate smirk, and the personalities, the utterly unique essence of each person glowed satisfaction into her and she was infected with sentimentality and she couldn’t hate.
‘She sought peak hour when blessed this way. Yes, they were rude, self-absorbed, with their phones and wires and cars and bikes and houses, but these crowds were still carefree, confident, optimistic, fun-loving, and hopeful, as advertisers knew. Lucky, many of them. And the unlucky ones were often the most resilient and friendly. Crowded train? Home soon, what can you do?
‘Many had too little to have been sold so much, but their fall-back option was to laugh… and she was generalising too much and getting too mystical but fuck it… didn’t she have to indulge these ecstatic epiphanies to the fullest when they happened along? They restored strength and faith and hope and other gift shop notions needed to get the patient out of bed each day.
‘She tried to inoculate herself, to stockpile her love of humanity, fill up her camel humps. When she was down, the knowledge that she’d been up didn’t help. It mocked her, it was as unreachable as motivation. And down there, she fitted in – she was as satirical and caustic and bumping defensive as anyone. She was camouflaged. She put her headphones on.’
I told you she likes to speechify…
I don’t remember much of that. I sound like a bit of a twat…
We chatted a little after she recited her little thing… I felt a little sad that she felt she was only really alive when she was high… that was worrying to hear. But it felt good to hear it in another way. I’d never known if I could handle high Trace and felt less of a friend for not being there. It felt like this ‘detective thing’ had made us closer somehow. I don’t think she would have called me otherwise.
I had some story theory?
Trace kept coming back to how stories weren’t just things in books or on TV. All over the city there were people recounting their workdays on the phone, telling stories.
She said: ‘Nothing really exists until you talk about it, until it’s a story.’
She asked me if I got it that she had to be high sometimes. This was one of the biggest questions I’d ever been asked. What did I know about the ins and outs of mental health highs and lows? I’m meant to be Miss Level. Tossing out a ‘real world’ wouldn’t cut it now.
I just said: ‘Sure, Trace. Ok’
I just had to keep going on instinct. I said that most people feel some of the things she talked about a little bit. She just felt it more. I said: ‘You’re an exaggerated person.’
I still don’t know if I said the right things.
The exaggerated person… Yep.
At the end of all that, very emotional, you know, Trace says, like a parent to a kid, ‘I’m fine, partner. I’ll be fine.’