Cardiff, United Kingdom 2015
Rhian practiced yoga and meditated twice daily. She had always had difficulty focusing. Trying to remember things was even more difficult. Remembering was harder. A’ Levels – where dates and times, learned by rote, mattered less than analysis and understanding – were easy. Straight A’s – not that it mattered. Rhian analysed and evaluated like the last Freudian disciple. She had never understood if she understood anything, but kept on searching. For what? She didn’t know. She knew that she knew nothing, but was never sure how much more there was to know, or if she could know any of it. St. Mungo’s High School had invested what little capital they could spare in their present and future hope. Rhian had failed all her GCSE’s at first attempt; they were supposedly the easy option. Her teachers could not look at her. They had put cold arms round her and dredged up platitudes, but they could not look at her. She had passed the three Ordinary Levels and one Advanced Ordinary Level that she had sat a year early.
Rhian got straight A’s at second sitting, having committed innumerable facts and formulae, dates and durations, to her short term memory and regurgitated them in the Sports Hall and the ill-stocked library’s annexe. Perspiration headlocked inspiration; the cerebral cauterised. Each set of exams mattered more, but mattered less as time drifted behind her. Rhian needed to remember, wanted to pinpoint what she had seen and heard and touched, mould it, and translate it all into what she knew, but the yawning gaps remained.
Rhian yawned a lot. She could remember the names of Henry VIII’s wives in order and their means of death – Divorced, Beheaded, Died, Divorced, Beheaded, Survived – what use were they to her? Rhian had learned nothing of slavery, nor of who she was, not that it mattered then. What use was a long-term memory or the formula for calculating a quadratic equation? The past ever there and gone, like a phantasm, ever tantalising. Rhian could adequately misremember quotes from Catcher in the Rye and To Kill a Mockingbird. Often together: ‘All morons hate you when you call them moronic, it’s just like when people say…[N]igger-lover is just one of those words that don’t mean nothing – like snotty face. Stupid people use them.’ Rhian quoted a lot. She thought that people thought she was interesting. Knowledge by osmosis. Rhian found everyone dull beyond, her over-quoted, misquoted, words. Being interesting – more importantly, not being boring – mattered to Rhian, much more than missed deadlines and accurately transcribed interviews. Rhian could take or leave being interested.
The present mattered to Rhian, but she couldn’t remember it, because she hardly lived it. She lived out of it. Rhian lived in moments, unlinked, standalone, solitary. There were always gaps between moments, moments between thoughts but no thoughts between actions. Rhian had first noticed the gaps, or the rule proving exception, when she had gone to review Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci at the Princess Charlotte for her column in the Union Newspaper, ‘Seen, Live, and Gigging (Slag).’ Rhian had seen the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy the previous evening and had taken her usual going out mix of a gramme of speed and three lines of coke. She could always rely on Swifty for Class A’s, if for little else. Rhian felt alive even though she had not slept. A day’s drinking in the Student Union (Mandela) Bar and she was ready for the interview. Two grammes of Base Speed that night and another three lines of Charlie to sort her out and she was ready.