It is the best day of the week. I wish every day was Friday. I think, probably, that lots of people think the same thing. I don’t think they need it the way I do though. I have ‘protected characteristics’, I am different.
I am 21. Sometimes I feel like I am withering away. Once I saw a picture of an old man sitting on a bench during the summer. The background was busy with people sitting on deck chairs or tartan rugs, skin the colour of ripe strawberries, gorging on the content of their cool boxes bought ‘on special offer’ from the hardware shop. The man’s face was like cow hide, lined deeply with crevices, catching excess moisture from the day’s heat. I often feel like I am withering, like this man’s face.
In school, they threw missiles at me; gloopy egg and squishy tomatoes, the sensation as they splattered onto my face cold, wet and slimy like seaweed. Sometimes the abuse involved more physical contact which plunged me into sheer agony. Being touched physically is a nightmare for me. The intensity of how it feels is overwhelming and I run the gamut of sensations most people know nothing of, nor will they ever.
At school, this meant that I had to find somewhere to escape to, I needed to curl my body up and make myself small so I could be inside the ‘den’ in my mind. That safe place where I could hear my breathing and use it to build a force field. I could zone out all of the madness and find some sort of calm to combat the jaggy pins and needles from the voices; the mass of people around me which I was certain would kill me. On a good day, they totally ignored me, I didn’t exist.
But then good stuff started to happen. Being different sometimes has its perks. I got to be an apprentice because it helped them all tick a box. It got me out of the bin though, because that is where they had put me up until now. When I started working there, I noticed the smell of the place first. Different from school. Not the tangy scent of teenage hormones, not the heady mixture of hairspray and chip grease, so no seasickness anymore. This smell was a flat line of heat, no breeze, no air conditioning. It was a bit like being down in the bowels of the London underground.
A sea of people greeted me as I entered the room and my instinct was to escape, escape, escape. However, these people were not like those at school. Here were busy little ants, not fussed that someone new was joining them. I thought this was a good sign and decided I would try to stay. It was hard. I needed a routine and couldn’t really get one organised because the others in my team did a different job and some of them needed me and some of them didn’t. It was so unpredictable.
After a few weeks, Kate was introduced to me and she was to be my ‘go to’ person for a while. Google helped me understand what that meant and, you know, google was right. Kate knows the answer to almost everything. She is an expert. She gets things done. She has a son very like me. I think her son is much older than me, which is probably why she knows so much about what I need, what I know, what I find difficult to deal with and what I am good at.
She has sorted a lot of people out when they haven’t treated me properly. She isn’t scared of anyone. At all. Ever. When I needed confidential help, we have met outside the office for coffee and she has given me good advice. I got a permanent role recently because they knew they would have to keep me. I work on the same floor as Kate now.
Every Friday we meet in the canteen, just like regular colleagues, and we swap stories about how we have been and what is going on in our lives. I bring my lunch box and she brings her giant mug. The mug has soup in it, which is very strange I think, because I eat soup out of a bowl. I have my ‘usual’: two cheese sandwiches with no crust, a Freddo bar and an apple. Just normal food.
Last week I showed her some of the latest photographs I have taken and she said they are amazing and that I have a real talent. She thinks I should join a photography club and meet people who share my special interest in taking pictures. I love to look at the world through a lens. I can make what I see sharp or blurry, I am in control.
I am going on holiday soon and Kate has asked me to take plenty of pictures because it is the closest she will ever get to Italy. She also is quite adamant that I should try ravioli that is not out of a tin. Apparently, when I bite into it, it will be like my teeth are sinking into candy floss. Kate also says I have never tasted ‘real’ ice-cream until I eat it in Italy. Italy is the capital of the ice-cream world. They call it gelato there. Kate’s favourite is coffee gelato. I’m not sure it will be mine. I might try it, but I definitely will steer clear of eggs and tomatoes. Kate is my friend. My sandwiches taste better somehow at The Friday Lunch, I savour a bite of cheese, then a bite of apple. I don’t feel like that man’s withered face on a Friday. On The Friday Lunch days, I think how I feel is like the way my flowers in the garden feel when I use the watering can to pour water over them.