Stella loves people. When she asks a stranger, “How are you?” she actually wants to know, and I suspect that the worse that individual is doing, the better. A dead Aunt. A malignant cancer. An affair with a secretary buried in a closet opened just for her: JOY!
It’s not that I don’t like people, it is that I need quiet. My work in investment banking, on an acre trading floor, bank of 7 screens and two phones constantly by my ears; to simply be able to unplug, switch off and walk away from the world for a little bit is the survival skill I have learnt. So I scowl at strangers, I keep a book close by as much for defence as anything else. I leave it to Stell to be the “nice one” on our travels around the globe.
Stell likes to “see the sights”. I can do a “sight”, like a shower, in under a minute. I can stare at a tree for hours, or listen to the wind but show me a manmade gem and I’m bleh. But we have an agreement; I get to peace out on the world and scowl, she gets to see “sights” if she doesn’t make me walk passed each exhibit and cluck admiringly. We are in Turkey, it is 1995. We love Turkey.
Stella is my best friend. Sometimes I have to remind myself of that fact.
I do not love that I am on a tour bus.
Stell is yacking away merrily; by my estimation she has figured out the family trees of each and every person on the bus down to their third cousins’ once removed. I have my head buried in my book and am sending out “I will kill you… messily” vibes. I am gratefully being ignored other than the odd side glance. To which my lip edges up in a snarl. It’s a reflex. Thank you PTSD! Extra sensory gifts allow me to tell all present in a non-verbal language we who with PTSD know only too well, that I will end anybody who speaks to me.
“Oh, that’s interesting …” No it isn’t.
On and on it goes until gratefully we arrive at the ancient pile of stones. I run up the hill to a quiet spot under an olive tree where I can watch undisturbed. Down there in the dust and stone bowl the group sticks together listening to the guide’s explanation of the ruins, its history and what it represents for humanity. I wish now, I’d spent more time appreciating those stones now that ISIS is busily wiping that history from the face of the earth. Still. Didn’t know that ISIS was in our future at the time, so I sat on the root of the olive tree and contemplated the biblical stories I knew by heart, the histories I had read and wondered at the silliness of people as a whole.
I get thirsty. Wander down from my sanctuary: my hill.
“Why can’t you be friendly?” Stella is ticked.
I just shrug.
“You’re not being nice. Make an effort.” Stella is now ticking me off.
She’s seventeen years older than me and we have been best friends since she took me under her wing when I was 18 and very scared of the world I had landed in, working on the trading floor in Citibank (what used to be Scrimgeour Vickers, but as with so much of the venerable old London broking firms was a piece of history by 1988). She is shorter than me, pretty with bobbed blonde hair. She has a wicked sense of humour and for the most part, we laugh and laugh and laugh. But today I am annoying her with my obvious petulance and dislike of humanity in general.
She’s talking. I’m not listening.
Get on bus. Slump into my window seat and begin the process of creating a bubble of “I will mess you up badly if you talk to me” energy around me. Cocoon intact. I slip into my inner world; it’s a place I have developed since tiny. It’s a peaceful place that I can completely control. Photographic memory for the non-trauma stuff allows me to walk in pictures and think about the history of mankind, how it truly is remarkable. Only when you walk amongst these ancient ruins, can you….
I look up. Stella isn’t beside me. Apparently we had stopped for drinks and she’d left. Now a middle aged woman with a kindly fat face is in my space, saying “Excuse me…?”
“Stella is lovely! So how do you know her?”
“She’s my lover.”
There is silence. Stunned silence. Remember this is 1995 and I am clearly twenty years younger than Stell; I have a baby face and clearly, sulky teenage manners despite my 25 years. “Tut-tut-tut.” Was the response I got from the kindly faced lady.
Stella pops up the stairs of the coach. She’s holding a peace offering for me, ice cold bottle of water.
She smiles and starts up a conversation that had been interrupted apparently by the stop. But nobody is responding.
She is bemused and can’t figure out what happened. I smile happily into my book. Ah. The silence of the coach is pure bliss all the way back to the seaside town we are staying at.
The next morning sitting quietly on the beach I was a tad surprised to be hit on the back of the head with my book. Stella had met up with one of the people on the bus who had referenced our being a “couple”. I had to spend most of the day running from her. She may be little, but she is mighty.
And she was mighty pissed off with me.