So Much To Tell You (extract)
by John Marsden
I don’t know what I am doing here.
Well, I do really. It’s because I was getting nowhere at the hospital. I have been sent here to learn to talk again. Sent here because my mother can’t stand my silent presence at home. Sent here because of my face, I suppose. I don’t know.
This is my third day at this boarding school, Warrington, but today was the first day of classes. Mr Lindell, our English teacher, gave us these journals and told us we have to write in them every night, during homework (except that homework here is called Prep). We have Prep every weeknight, for two hours a night. For that time we have to sit at our desks and be silent. This would suit me were it true but of course it isn’t ... people whisper, talk, pass messages, exclaim out loud when they make a mistake. They do not whisper or pass messages to me, and the words break over my desk in soft waves, white foam washing around me.
I am in Prep now, writing this at my desk. On my left is a girl called Cathy Preshill. On the right is a girl called Sophie Smith. Cathy seems very thin to me and I wonder if she has anorexia, but she probably doesn’t. I do though — anorexia of speech.
This journal is starting to scare me already. When Mr Lindell gave them out in class I felt the fear and promised myself that I would not write in it, that it would stay a cold and empty book, with no secrets. Now here I am on the first page saying more than I wanted to, more than I should. What if he reads them? He said he wouldn’t; that we were free to write almost any thing and that he would glance through them once in a while to make sure we were using them, not just filling them with swear words. If he doesn’t keep his promise I am lost.
Today is Friday, tomorrow is Saturday.
Saturday and Sunday together make up the weekend.
I did not write in this journal yesterday. Will I get into trouble for that, I wonder?
Yesterday we had tennis practice. It is compulsory to go if tennis is your sport and, as tennis is my sport, I went. But I sat under a tree outside the court and watched. Watched all the tennis players laughing and hitting shots and missing shots. When they miss easy shots they giggle, turn to their partners, go red (the red of giggling more than the red of embarrassment), bend a little at the knees and drop their hands to around the level of their kneecaps. And they say things, words of little meaning.
A girl called Sarah Venville is a very strong player. She hits the ball hard, to win. Another girl, called Sarah Cassell, is a graceful player. She hits beautiful shots beautifully, picks the balls up, smiles, laughs, talks, bounces the ball, runs, changes ends ... and all of these things she does beautifully. How can that be?
In Primary School I played sport a lot and was quite good at it, I guess, although the standard wasn’t very high. But I even beat the boys at most things. I was an OK hurdler, but that’s another story. Well, it’s not really. It’s all part of the same story. I remember a teacher, Mrs Buckley, telling me I could make the State titles if I took it up seriously, although I thought I had already taken it up seriously. That was in Year Six. I remember my father watching me race on Saturdays. At that stage I was beating the other girls by miles, but he always looked so grim and intense about it that I wasn’t sure if I was doing the right thing. Then I crashed over a hurdle that had been left too high after a boys’ race and broke my ankle. Somehow it was all different after it mended ... I guess I wasn’t as confident and I’d put on too much weight and my father had stopped coming to watch me ... I don’t know. It just seemed like everything had changed.
Today we had classes again.
The weekend is over.
I think I wrote too much in this journal on Friday. All that stuff about the hurdling, and primary school. And my father has found his way into this journal already, when I was so determined that I wasn’t going to think about him ever again, much less write about him. It seems he’s too powerful still, like a radioactive cloud, finding his dark way into everything. I wonder what it’s like where he is? Kind of like here, maybe. Having to line up, always being ordered around, no privacy, no freedom, no flares lighting up the future, showing which way the curves bend, and where are the exits. Perhaps he doesn’t talk either ... I mean, I suppose he speaks to people and they speak to him, but it might be just empty, just mechanical words.
I’m in Prep again. The others seem to be doing so much work. Cathy, the thin one, seems so intense, her serious face absorbed in her work, or something, never looking up. Sophie is the opposite. She’s very funny and lively, can’t sit still, always getting in trouble because when the teacher comes round to check us she’s either talking or out of her seat or something worse. She’s pretty, chubby but not fat, looks like a boy a bit; she has a round face and short hair and red cheeks and a husky voice which makes her sound older when she talks ... like she’s twenty-five and sophisticated and sexy.
I wonder what I’d sound like if I talked again now ... like a plastic bottle burning in a fire, I imagine.
Here is a letter I received in today’s mail:
Darling, Am in a great hurry, so this is just a short note, hoping that you are happy in the new school. J.J. is well and sends his love. We are all very excited about the trip. What would you like us to bring you back? Do you have everything you need for school? I found your flute in the kitchen when I got home, so will send it. Don’t give up on your music, darling; you were so good at it.
Am I happy in the new school? No, but perhaps it is better than the hospital in some ways. Not so many weirdos, better food, no more group therapy. In the hospital I felt exposed, under the white light; here I feel like a black snail, crawling around with it on my back, living under it, hiding in it.