When Rose cut open her hand to distract herself from her exams, her parents saw the wound and cried and took it and her to hospital. There the doctor peered down at it, patched it up, and sent Rose with a note to a nurse standing in a vault of pharma boxes, who gave her antiseptic and instructions and discharged her with the condition that she take home this form and fill it out. The first page had been easy. The form said “?” and Rose said “Rose, 17, Scotland, Etc.” The form looked kind of sceptical. But it carried on, and on page 2 in a rush it said “Q. Thinking of the last two weeks, how often have you been bothered by any of the following problems? . . . Trouble concentrating on things? . . . feeling nervous, anxious or on edge? . . . focusing on bad memories from your past? . . . feeling bad about yourself, or that you are a failure or have let yourself or your family down. Choose from the following four options: NEVER SOMETIMES OFTEN ALL THE TIME.” Rose checked her phone and got distracted. She made a three-tiered dinner to waste time. She watched two episodes of Prison Break. But all the while the form watched her from her bed where she left it. In her head it had a stern ghoul’s face, like a teacher staring at her in class through a pair of magnifying glasses.
The questions were worded funny, was her excuse. Rose couldn’t help noticing for instance that it wasn’t “how often do you focus on bad memories” but “how often are you bothered by the fact that you focus on bad memories,” which implied there were people in the world unlike her who this form wasn’t for, who have their bad memories but aren’t much bothered at all. Rose couldn’t imagine what it would be like to be like that. And the fact the form even thought to ask the question meant that if your answer to the question was yes then your answer wasn’t normal, since normal stuff wouldn’t be the kind of thing they’d ask you questions about on a form your doctor gives you, which whole problem Rose is really struggling with since she’d been pretty certain she was normal right until the moment she read this damn question. Rose had assumed everyone felt kind of like a cork bobbing on the ocean of their bad days, plunging into memories without consenting to fall. Like, oh, remember the time you tried to impress a boy by being the first to touch the school’s electric fence, as if that would be an impressive thing to do . . . though more impressive for sure than throwing up on his shoes, which the shock through your body made you do, which made the shock show up on his face too. Rose probably remembers that seven times a day. She felt mortified all over again, which according to the form that reminded her to remember in the first place, apparently wasn’t a good sign. Rose was bothered indeed by how on edge and anxious and in failure the form was making her feel.
And if with her favourite blue biro she circles ALL THE TIME for that question are they going to put her on some list, take her away from her room and her stuff, medicate all the time out of her? In the end Rose opts for OFTEN, feeling like SOMETIMES would be dishonest and NEVER suspicious but ALL THE TIME even worse. Feeling also, however, like this still wasn’t exactly clear, Rose did what the neat tight clean clarity of the form’s design told her she shouldn’t do: she drew a fat asterisk beside her answer, and squeezed a footnote on the bottom of the form to explain the ambiguity. Like, yes, “I am bothered a lot that I think about the past a lot but I haven’t had any trauma and I’m not an abuse victim or anything it’s just silly things even though I regret them, but I am NOT MAD, thanks. :).”
The form said “But, Q. Have you ever thought about harming yourself? Q. How often in the last year have you thought about harming yourself? Q. Have you ever harmed yourself? Q. How often in the last year have you harmed yourself?” Ok she can’t lie about this since they saw her hand but that doesn’t mean they understand. So, Rose footnoted each of her short answers (YES, ALL THE TIME, YES, OFTEN) to explain why there are different kinds of thinking about it and even though she’s done it and even though she thinks it it’s not like she WANTS it, she’s not mental, it’s not some self-pity BS like listening to My Chemical Whatever and making neat little rows of cuts like sheet music on the back of her hands, it’s DIFFERENT, it’s LOGICAL, it’s the only way that works to change the sound of the unsound feelings in her head which makes it nothing more than a SOLUTION that lets her still work still function still be still. These footnotes take some space, and while it’s true that by the fourth Q she’s crawling up the form’s walls to explain what she really means, true that the whole form by this point is top to bottom black and blue, this will surely prove to anyone reading it that Rose was, really, in her right mind after all.