Her name was Lynette, and she was the dreamiest girl in grade six. She was blonde and otherworldly yet still somehow accessible, though I’m a little unsure how I knew that since she and I never just about never spoke, as far as I can remember. I think we may have touched hands once, clammy and warm and soft and fleeting, but I don’t know that that was her, exactly. I have only the briefest impression of her, less a small black a white photo in a box than a dim recollection of having once seen such a box, and seen her photo in that box. But I do remember her, and that was her name, and she was “my” girl, the first one who ever mattered to me, who made my heart all nervous-bird fluttery.

The key point here, I think, is that Lynette never knew, or even suspected, that she moved my world. That I lay awake at night thinking about her. That I sat in class between morning recess and lunchtime, wondering if I’d see her. Wondering if I’d have the nerve even to mumble an awkward hello.

Lynette was the first girl I ever had anything resembling “feelings” about. I knew nothing about her. I knew nothing about books she liked, TV shows she liked, music she liked, her favourite meals, where she lived, nothing. She was mysterious. Not only did I never even get to first base, I could not even find the change-room. Couldn’t locate my car-keys to go out that day.

I still think fondly of Lynette because I never learned anything about her to spoil the image I always had. She never became a real person. She was, in a way, the first celebrity I ever encountered, all surface image. I have no doubt that she was as lovely a person as she appeared, but I never found out. This was the hurly-burly world of grade six, after all. Life moved fast. Next thing it was grade seven, and while on one hand we had at last become kings of the school, we were too busy being preoccupied–and shit-scared–by the thought that next year we would all be first-years in high school. I don’t recall seeing Lynette anytime after grade six, and certainly not in high school.

High school, you may have gathered, was not good. My whole body, and the bodies of everyone else around me, was erupting and transforming. It was as if a werewolf needed several years each full moon to fully change from human to beastly monster. Only I felt like a beastly monster all the time. I felt loathsome, and everyone was only too happy to make sure, as I’ve previously said, to make sure I remembered my place. I felt revolting, dirty, filthy, and vile all the time, no matter what I did, what measures I took. I sweated buckets all the time, and was probably one of those teenage boys who smelled like goats, only really stinky goats.

And yet, high school was all about sex and desire and attraction. It was all about the throbbing undercurrent of hormones and what you could get away with, and who was seeing whom. It was subtext and often text as well. Everyone knew what was happening to their bodies, the point of the exercise, and some were quite pleased with the results so far. You could practically smell the hormones as you walked around. Teenagers, on heat like cats, and only too aware of it. Some couples at lunchtime would lie around on blankets on the lawns and make out as if all alone. When you heard through the school grapevine that there were kids having actual sex out by the back fence of the school grounds, and using recycled Glad lunch-wrap and rubber-bands as makeshift prophylactics, it seemed enormously interesting, but also fraught with extreme peril, and you wondered who on Earth would be so desperate, so crazy–but then you just thought about yourself, your own mind, the things you thought about all the time, especially alone at night in bed when you were supposed to be sleeping. You were a teenager.

And, a couple of years later, when you first got admitted to D20 after your breakdown, and the admitting doctor asked, in the midst of a big long list of questions he has to ask to take your history, “do you masturbate, and how often?” You felt as if you could have imploded like like a collapsing star with white-hot embarrassment. The thing that could never be discussed, and there it was. And you lied, you lied, you liar, pants on fire! You were radiating in the infra-red with shame, and shaking with adrenaline flushing through you, but you lied and said you didn’t, no, not you, you weren’t like that–when it was just about all you did when you weren’t bloody writing!

Because every day, all day, at school, the whole time, you were surrounded by girls. Girls everywhere. City girls, country girls, girls you liked, girls you didn’t like, girls who picked on you, girls who wouldn’t hold your hand in Ballroom Dancing class, but also a few girls who were perfectly fine. And a couple of girls you actually liked, who you fancied, and who didn’t even know you existed.

And maybe that was for the best. Because what if you’re a misfit or a freak? If you are a designated hate object, despite having those same throbbing hormones squirting through your body, the same changes happening everywhere?

Nothing. There’s nothing at all you can do. You keep your head down, lest you get it shot off, and go about your business. You try to blend in, and try to present as small a target as possible.

And there are those few girls who have not received the briefing about you, and who are quite happy to talk to you, but only up to a point. You talk to them, pathetically grateful inside, trying not to let on just how grateful, and it’s nice, even though it stings all the more, for reminding you of how terrible everyone else is treating you.

One day a girl you don’t know tells you she fancies you, and walks off. You’re astonished. You’re all messed up inside. You bump into things. Your guts are in knots. You don’t even know her name. Someone tells you she’s on the student council. It takes ages and days of turmoil but you eventually discover there is a gallery of headshots of student council people in the library. So you steam off there at flank speed, and you scan those photos–and there she is, with a name.

You set out to find her, a detective on a case. By this point you’re angry. You haven’t seen her again. It’s been days. You’ve barely slept. The voices in your head scream all night. You can only sometimes eat, when you eat everything, or not at all. You’re upset, prone to long showers, and your parents are No Help.

You finally track her down at school, laughing it up with her friends. She sees you, the look on your face. She says it was just a joke, and laughs, and her friends laugh. “Who’d fancy you?”

Hospital, D20, August 1979. Time Traveller Me standing in a ground floor corridor, leaning on a white-painted wall, when an office door opens, and a boy shuffles out, followed by a middle-aged female doctor with a bag and a bundle of documents. She looks concerned for the boy. The boy looks like a dead person, as if his living spirit has just been blasted right out of his body. He’s moving slowly. He believes his life is over. He’s been told he’s psychotic.

Early 1980s. I’m finished with hospital, and have yet to go to university. I’m trying to get a job, and it’s unbelievably hard. I have a two-year hole in my resumé, and it turns out that employers don’t like to hear that you spent that time caught up in the psychiatric system as both an inpatient and an outpatient. They don’t want to hear that you have this history, that you have “problems”, that you are a problem, walking around, looking haunted by the spirit that got blasted out of your body.

I’m still no closer to finding someone to be with. I came close while in hospital with a beautiful young woman whom I will call Kelly, but who had her own troubles. Still, she gave me my first kiss. It was as wondrous as it was unexpected. It wasn’t a perfect, slow, romantic moment. It was a spontaneous Christmas thing during a party, and I felt it for weeks afterwards.

The fundamental problem I faced during this time was that because of the circumstances of my life up to this point I knew nothing about girls and women. What were they like, what were they interested in, what did they want? I had no idea, but I wanted to know. I wanted to have a girlfriend, but also did not necessarily believe I deserved or was worthy of one. Ever since my diagnosis I’d believed I’d never be able to marry because of the illness–who would have me? It was a big problem. I had hoped that girl Kelly might be a possibility, but one day around this time she sent me a letter to tell me she was getting married, and there was a baby.

Well, bugger.

Then, one day, waiting at the doctor for an appointment, I had the brainwave that would save my life.

I picked up a copy of CLEO magazine and started reading it. From cover to cover it was articles about exactly the things I wondered about, written for and by women. It was startling. I made a point of reading every issue of CLEO I could get my hands on. I started reading COSMOPOLITAN, too. My brain was lighting up with powerful and helpful information.

Listen to women. Believe what they say. Don’t be a dick. Ten things women are looking for in a potential boyfriend. Don’t interrupt. Don’t leave the toilet seat up. And so much more besides, much of which I see reproduced these days on websites written by women for women. CLEO, I believe, has not survived, and that’s a shame, because it saved my life.

It made it possible, when I chanced into meeting Michelle when I was 23, to talk to her, to become friends, to build a relationship, to not be a dick. To be a decent guy with her. On our first proper date in the city, though, I did sit her down, first thing, and told her about what I called “my sinister secret”, the whole psychotic, bipolar thing. I told her because she needed to know. If it was going to be a deal-breaking thing, better it happen here at the beginning.

But it wasn’t, and it didn’t. She and my doctor at the time had a meeting, and talked all about it.

Meanwhile, for quite some time now the vast majority of my closest friends have been women. I treasure them, one and all. I feel as if I earned their friendship, in more ways than one. They are more interesting than men, have more to talk about, or at least I feel as if I have more in common with them. While I do have some good male friends, they are generally guys like me, who have been turned off by notions of traditional masculinity, of what blokes are supposed to be like. There are times I hate being male. There are times I’d love it if there was something like a Japanese onsen or health spa where you’d go in, for a fixed, limited time, and you’d take off your whole gender and sexual identity, your entire masculinity. Just take off the whole thing like a bathrobe and hang it on a hook. Because this would likely include your brain you’d hang that up, too. You’d be eyeballs on a stick. And for an hour or so you’d just take a break from all the bullshit tied up in being a man, the responsibilities, the obligations, the posing, the competition, the oneupmanship, the sexual anxieties, the worries about work and being a breadwinner, all of it. A break from being male. I think it would be lovely. Just eyes on a stick, and all the noise in your head simply gone.

This is why I like women. They’re not men. They’re more interesting. They’re funnier. More articulate. They’re allowed to have feelings. There’s no masculine bullshit. You can just relax. Women are marvellous.

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