I was watching the tiger in Edinburgh Zoo.
He was all furred up with fury, pacing in his enclosure. Everyone was oohing at his square paws, his bony teeth, his flicking tail, but I was watching his eyes - the mad, flaming eyes of this restless tiger. Unbelievable that this raging animal is among us, with only wire and net holding us apart.
People walked past with buggies and panda rucksacks, chasing toddlers and sitting on benches to have a Coke and check Facebook. And in the midst of the ordinary Edinburgh day was this ferocious animal, breathing right beside their shoulder.
Staring into his cage was like remembering how crazy I used to be. I used to be thin with exhaustion and clawed pale with anxiety. I couldn't step out my front door as I thought the sky would sag and fall in. Everyone would damage me, and the only safe place was the rug on the living room floor, with the blinds shut and the phone switched off.
At the rotten heart of the madness was my obsession with the Clown. He, like the conductor of a crazy orchestra, could dictate my mood. He could lift it up and down, bring it to a crescendo, or have it wane and die. A text saying he'd love to see me next week would have me sleepless and bouncing round the flat in jumpy chaos, mopping the kitchen floor and re-arranging my books at 2.40am. But the next day he'd either change his mind, or go silent on me, and I'd tumble back into grey.
And yet, outside, everything was normal. The sun still came up and cars still went by and people still phoned each other and watched the news and got the bus to work. I'd see my friends put things on Facebook: a bunch of them went to Glencoe; there was a work night out in Lebowski's on Friday; these new military coats were out in Primark and everyone was going mad for them. The world was ticking along, bland and steady as ever, yet I was shivering on the floor with my blood whizzing the wrong way and my thoughts pinned to terrible things.
But that's over now. I can look back at myself from a safe distance and it's like looking into that tiger's cage. I can marvel at the strange and frightening animal, but he can't touch me. I can just turn away and make a cup of tea and indulge in normal things, but the cage is always just at the corner of my eye. I can still frighten myself by peering through the bars at what I used to be.
It's over now thanks to countless pink boxes of Citalopram. The terrible tiger is tight behind bars as long as the doctor keeps handing out the pills. No more fear of fresh open air, no more dread when the phone rings. And certainly no more unhealthy obsessions with laughably unworthy men.
So my madness has cooled and hardened. My psyche is smooth. My emotions are pale. I'm no longer rattled with obsession, and when I log on to the dating site and scroll through the pages of men I no longer have hope, either. I don't believe any one of them will save me and cure me and lift me up into being a better person. I just think I suppose I can see him for a drink on Friday. I am utterly cold and practical.
When my date brings a glass of wine to the table I don't romanticise him for he won't be magnificent. He'll just be a nice man. Or perhaps not a nice man. Whatever. I no longer look for anything brilliant. I just want, as Blanche du Bois said, 'a cleft in the rock of the world I can hide in'. I am so utterly tired of drama.
In this new and cold state of mind, I saw a man who looked nice. His profile contained no spelling mistakes. (Well, that puts him ahead of the pack already.) He had sandy curly hair and glasses. He had a sensible job in computers and it would seem he had never worked in a circus. He had lived in Nashville for a few years. The only negative I could see was that he was from Somerset (or Zoomerzett as I believe they pronounce it down there) so I wondered what on earth his accent would be like, having been raised in Somerset but then living in the Deep South. Well, let's find out…
I emailed him and there was no coyness or flirtation. There were no games. There was nothing to analyse and fret over. I just said something like 'Hi, you look like Michael Caine' and he said something like 'yeah, I know' and I said something like 'I love Michael Caine. Want to go for a drink?' and he said 'Wednesday?' and I said 'ok'.
No fuss, no drama, no madness. Just some girl emailing some guy.
I closed my laptop and looked up at the giant black and white Michael Caine poster on my wall and wondered if this was a sign. But no, that's something the old, mad, dreamy, hopeful Julie would think. There is no such thing as signs and omens and there is no great hope and there is no true love.
There is nothing but two people going for a drink, one of whom is recovering from a breakdown, the other of whom may talk like Worzel Gummidge.
Already I find myself thinking up jokes about our date. Did you hear the one about the scarecrow in a straitjacket?
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