There were Reasons she didn’t often visit people she knew. Reasons that mostly had to do with a persistent and relatively inexplicable sense of shame. It wasn’t the sort of shame one might expect from a person in her situation. No, the predictable shame of illness and dysfunction was felt only amongst strangers, people with stereotypical, general expectations of others’ lives, and by this point she’d become so used to it that it no longer registered on her scale of Emotions To Be Avoided. The shame with family, with friends, with long-ago acquaintances was different. The self that she had semi-consciously crafted in her formative years was the self they knew; the one where the outside matched the inside. Where the outside said, “I don’t need you; I don’t need anything,” in the tidy, clean, definitive way that she believed only sharp angles and stoic denial could do.

She didn’t want them to believe it was any different now, and therein lay the problem, the source of the shame. The outside often belied the ego. The outside had become messy, fragmented, complicated. Lost, even. She’d “let herself go”. Her body and her life conveyed very little truth anymore, and it horrified her to think that perhaps others assumed they symbolised anything whatsoever about her reality, as they once did. It would be a fair assumption — she knew that — and that’s why it frightened her. For all the inner physical deterioration, the parts one couldn’t see, her outward manifestation generally looked… okay. Just okay, mind you (‘okay’ being a very bland and non-descriptive word), but okay nonetheless.

It was an illusion, of course. There was nothing “okay” about her. A person might think an individual who looked “okay” had finally made peace with all the aspects of human existence that horrified her. With responsibility, with mistakes, with uncertainty and vulnerability, with love and sex and growth and loss and all the messy intricacies of being human. They’d be wrong, very wrong indeed. And that was the source of the shame she felt with those who knew her. Shame at the possibility that they thought she was Normal now, that she’d grown to accept all those things she hated so passionately.

It was also why she couldn’t let go. The yearning for the cohesion of her own past was a constant companion that reminded her how much of a fraud she’d become.

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