The following is a piece of work that I wrote in a Journalism subject taster day at Leeds Trinity University. While an edited version was posted to the LT Journalism website, which you can read here, but I wanted to upload the unedited version as well:
Her naturally blonde roots showing through her dark hair, long due for a retouch, Madeleine Atkinson looks tired and frazzled. She’s eighteen years old. If she were like most people her age, she would be on the last few A Level exams but Madeleine is not like most people. Madeleine is a sixth form drop out, and the memory of walking home from college in the bitter January cold for what she thought was the last time sticks with her. ‘Not forever, I’m sure,’ she clarifies, catching herself on what she confesses is a habitual determinism. ‘But for now at least.’
Madeleine is animated, with almost comically exaggerated facial expressions and intonation patterns that resemble hills and valleys. She maintains eye contact slightly too long or not at all. She takes in the rooms she walks into, and after a short time of clarifying the impending self-aware weirdness of what she’s about to say, she admits a strange ability. She can remember every room she’s walked into for long enough for her to get a cautious, eagle-eyed look-around. ‘I can see the streets outside my house and walk down them in my head.’ She can walk for miles until she’s at the sea. She can’t hear the cars or taste the salt but can see it vividly enough. ‘I can walk around my primary school, going down every corridor I walked through before I was ten, when I had already left.’
When I ask if she meant she’d skipped a year group she laughs, ever so slightly too hard. Her eyes flicker away and widen, the sound of laughter continues from her but her well drawn smile falls. She tells me no, and a second of silence passes and she takes another bite of the vegan sweet chilli chicken wrap she brought with her. She tells me about how it’s the only wrap she can eat they sell at the college dinner hall we’re sat in, tells me about her allergies and gestures to her bag vaguely when she references her Epipen. After a second of very apparent deliberation she recalls that January day when she left college.
‘I was upset, obviously I was upset. I thought that’s why it was so hard to breathe, why my heart felt like it was going to explode out of my ribcage. I just wanted to get home. I thought everything would be better when I could just sit somewhere familiar and pretend the entire thing didn’t happen so I was walking as fast as I could. The fastest I had ever walked in my life, I thought, which was why I thought the world was spinning. Then I realised I genuinely couldn’t breathe anymore, and I stopped. And the world kept spinning.’
Compared with how she was when she recalled the fact that she left college, and the red flush of still hot embarrassment when she admitted she was upset after leaving, she’s almost theatrical as she recalls the symptoms. She moves her hands and pauses in all the right places, building to up what I, or the wider audience I wonder if she sees inside her head, know is the Chekov’s Gun – her Epipen.
‘Then, just as I realised the severity of what was happening my legs gave out. My face was on grass as I watched the cars go past and I just felt so separate from everything. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t breathe. I felt like I didn’t exist anymore.’
She recalls a woman’s face appearing above her head, asking if she was okay. ‘You can tell I really was out of it, that I wasn’t sarcastic’ she laughs. I can’t say I saw her sarcasm on the day I met her as much as I saw self-deprecation. Maybe if I got to know her better, I would. After taking the longest slug of water I’ve seen outside of an athletic event she confessed she imagined she’d be a weird person to get to know.
‘When I returned to college I was sat in classes where I didn’t know anyone,’ she says and her eyes go wide again as she looks me dead in the eye. I realised a little while after we parted ways that every time she had spoken about feeling bad it’d been accompanied by embarrassment, and I wonder if her wide eyed stare was some kind of appeal to me to understand the subtext of what she was saying, that she struggled in those classes.
‘But I have another weird thing I can do,’ she admits, laughing in again that strange disjointed way when I make a comment about how she seems to have a lot of these weird abilities. ‘When I’m in a room of people I don’t know, within about ten minutes I can tell who I have the likelihood of befriending and who I don’t.’ She clarifies, very quickly, that she’s not attaching a value judgement to those people. ‘Everyone is different, and people communicate in different ways and that’s okay. I feel like most people are good people, and just because I don’t think it’s likely we’d be friends it doesn’t mean I don’t think they’d be great friends to others.’
Another thing she clarifies is that it’s very much not that she doesn’t want to be friends with them, but more that she doesn’t imagine they’d want to be friends with her. She admits that between her radical politics (communism) and the degree to which they incense her (greatly), to the obscure interest she hopes will define her future career in academia (Jewish Studies) she admits she’s an unusual person. I reassure her that’s perfectly okay, and she fixates me with that wide eyed stare, as if no one had ever told her that before, and earnestly, she thanks me.