Jess takes a break. Yep, again!Support the show
Excuse the Jess is a fictional story told over each season.
Written & Performed by: Jacquie J Sarah
Produced by: Deliciously Bright Productions
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Hello and welcome to episode 9 of season 3 of Excuse the Jess. You left me last time in a bit of a state, as the old people say, like me. I found out that the guy who attacked me, Simon was living in my house instead of my friend of thirty years, his wife Ems during their separation. My other close friend Izzy knew about it and didn’t tell me. Then Niles thought that would be the perfect time to announce he was leaving me. Dear listener, there will be much swearing.
When Niles left me on day 169, I was stunned. I think I stood at the door for a good ten minutes before realising it wasn’t a temper tantrum.
He had left - for good.
It was over.
I waited to feel something, but I was numb and suddenly exhausted. I went back into the room, threw the food in the bin, stacked the dishwasher, finished my beer, and shut everything off for the night. I would just go to sleep and take a break from this insanely cruel world that I lived in.
I did my bedtime routine, turned my phone off because there was no one left to ring me and lay in bed. I asked Alexa to put on a podcast and it strangely only took me a little while to fall asleep.
I woke again at 2am. I went to the toilet, got back into bed and waited to go back to sleep, except I couldn’t because suddenly I wasn’t numb anymore. It came into my mind all at once.
I was angry.
I dare he?
How fucking dare he do that to me?
I always expected him to leave, always knew he would come to his senses but to do it like that, then fuck him. And honestly fuck me. I had bought his bullshit and look where it left me.
Just as I was beginning to see myself through his eyes.
Maybe I wasn’t a complete loser.
Maybe I did have it in me to be something more. I was kidding myself. That was it for me then with men. No more relationships. I was single now, I had been single most of my life, and I would be single ever more. More fucking fool me for believing the man who left me in the middle of an office without explanation wouldn’t do it to me again. Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me.
Sleep was out of the question at this point. I had all that running through my head on a loop for a good couple of hours and I was getting my own nerves in the end. I got a drink and dozed until 6am when I figured it was time to get up.
It was Thursday, I just needed to get through the next couple of days. It’s not like I wasn’t busy. It was the big presentation next week, and I needed to get through that.
No, it wasn’t the time to think about it. I was being paid to do a job, and I would do that job to the best of my abilities. I decided I wouldn’t tell Dawn about Niles. She knew he was going back to the States anyway, so why would I? I would be happy Jess in work. Nobody needed angry, sad, or fucking loser Jess. Dawn already had a glimpse of that with the Ems drama.
It occurred to me that nobody needed to know that Jess again. I could reinvent myself to be whatever I wanted to be. There was no one from my past left. Okay, the tiny flaw in my plan is that I am telling you this now but seriously, you are just going to listen and then switch on My Favourite Murder, and it will be Jess who. Again, that tiny bit of hope that I would be okay, more than okay.
I am sure it’s what humans live for.
Burying myself in work was a good plan. Then when I came home, I buried myself in a story I had been working on for ages but was now in the right frame of mind to write, the bottle of wine I consumed with it helped. The next day I did the same, and it meant that it was the weekend and I was going to London.
I met Lauren around midday in Covent Garden. Now just a short train trip and underground ride away. She greeted me like I was a long-lost sister and we decamped to a restaurant to catch up.
I didn’t lie to her, I just didn’t update her on the last ten days.
We were going to watch a film showing of a writer friend of hers so we headed to a little cinema in Soho. It was another premier.
I don’t know if it was me being in the wrong place or if the film wasn’t that good. It didn’t help that it was about betrayal. A woman finding out her husband was having an affair with her best friend. I mean there was more to it than that, but you get it. I tried to switch off. Then I just kept thinking about Niles, sweet, caring, lovely Niles and the complete fucking arsehole who ran out of my life.
After it finished, we headed over to a little bar that I had never heard of for drinks. It was dark and trendy like you would imagine in Soho and I am getting I sound a little old.
Trendy. Is that even a thing now?
On the way over, Lauren asked me what I thought, and I said it was interesting. She laughed.
‘You can tell me it’s shit. Just not them.’
‘It wasn’t shit exactly. I just thought the idea could have been executed more clearly.’
‘Yep, producers got in the way of this one. The writer was tearing his hair out. That’s why he’s bald now.’ She winked.
‘I will tell him it was excellent, and he can tell me what he likes.’ I told her.
There were canapes and champagne being served at the reception. As I had a personal invite, it was all free to me. I was getting to like this. Although a glimpse at how the other half lives may not be in my best interest’s long term.
It was good though. I spoke to some amazing, inspiring people, and it made me forget my situation for a couple of hours which was a miracle in itself. As people started to depart, I was ready to go home but Lauren said that she had booked a table for us at a bar. I felt I couldn’t say no, so off we went to this gorgeous place that had table service, hugely expensive drinks which I had to pretend I wasn’t without a job soon to even consume, and they also served bread and cheese. It was my kind of place - if my kind were affluent go-getters. Lauren and I chatted about our projects. Her movie was being premiered on Sky in a couple of months and that blew my mind. A large channel showing something she had written. I said I should get on to the screenwriting thing but she said everyone was keen on IP so write the ‘blow your socks off’ book and then get to the screenplay. I told her I’ll get on to that grinning. I was relaxing and enjoying myself but then Lauren asked me the question I wasn’t expecting.
‘How’s it going with Niles?’
My heart stopped, my stomach dropped, and I felt the cogs in my brain trying to whirl. Just tell her, I thought. Tell her it’s over. Tell her he left you. She wouldn’t judge. People get dumped all the time; that was normal.
‘Fine, he’s back in the States now. Don’t know when he’ll be back.’
Niles had told me numerous times; I couldn’t be normal.
She accepted this and we moved on but that was it. I was stuck in that funk now and I was struggling to mask my feelings.
‘Are you okay?’, she finally asked.
‘Yes. Just tired sorry. I was up early and I think it’s catching up with me.’
She admitted she was getting tired too, so it was time to say goodbye. I thanked for an amazing day. Told her she was amazing and she said the same to me.
Amazing? I’m not even normal.
The journey home was under an hour, but it was a long one. I wanted to be home. Alone! I’m not normal. Didn’t you know?
As soon as I was home, I went into the bedroom to change and saw Niles’s clothes still hanging there. I ripped them off the hangers to throw in the bin but realised how wasteful that would be. I would give them away. They probably cost way too much money, and someone who wasn’t an arsehole might need them. I put them in a bag and threw them at the bottom of my wardrobe. Then thought what would a normal person do in these circumstances?
They’d cry, I thought.
Because you’re allowed to when you’re upset. It wasn’t something I was brought up to do, but apparently, it’s healthy. I didn’t cry immediately. Instead, I got more wine. Then when the tears finally came, it took me a long time to stop them.
I had a fitful sleep. I think I was crying in my sleep. My weird dreams seem to attest to that, although I am not sure if that is even possible. That Sunday, I was the lowest I’d been in a long time. I mean decades. Much worse when Niles left the first time. Then I had Ems and Izzy although now I think, did I really? Early Sunday morning, I thought I should have a plan of action, but I didn’t have the energy or bandwidth to get out of bed.
So, I didn’t.
The most overwhelming desire was to finish the work I was doing for Niles’s organisation so I would never have to think about it again. I sat up in bed, barely able to see through the tears and finished the work I had. I then produced my final invoice for them. I decided not to email on a Sunday, though. It would just get lost in a million other emails, I would send them tomorrow. I switched off the laptop then I laid back down. Because I didn’t know how I got here. My time of life without no one. I felt like I had done everything right. I had been kind, shown kindness, wasn’t mean, and didn’t purposely offend people, although I know that had happened accidentally. I didn’t mess people around, didn’t play games, and didn’t leave people hanging. I had sympathy and empathy and hadn’t fucking murdered anyone but still, I was in a world, utterly alone. Yes, I knew people. But apparently, I was just an afterthought to the people who mattered to me the most. I was in a world unloved and unwanted, and I didn’t know why. I couldn’t work it out. Was it something innate?
Was it because I was ugly or stupid but I didn’t think I was stupid, but I must be because I ended up here and it just went on and on, and I still couldn’t work it out, and I still had no way of moving forward. And it wasn’t until I could barely swallow, my chest stung, and the voice in my head hit its millionth loop that I decided - I didn’t have to do anything.
A calmness dropped over me.
The months of this new job had been leading up to this week, and that’s all I needed to do, was concentrate on this week. I then had breathing space, and then I could just do nothing. I just had to get through the next week, actually just the next three days and after that, I would deal with that black hole when it happened. I was still for a while. I instinctively reached out to Niles’s side of the bed, but there was no Niles’s side now, it was all my bed. It was the first time I noticed the pillow wasn’t right though so I picked it up to place it down neatly and there they were. Niles’s bedclothes. T-shirt and PJ bottoms. I stared stupidly because my brain couldn’t compute that Niles had been here all this time. Bear with me because I know he hadn’t, but that didn’t matter. I smelt the pillowcase, and it was Niles. He was still in the room with me. Even now, it sounds weak because I became that person, but I put his pillow under my head so I could smell him and my pillow against my back so I could feel him. I took the t-shirt and hugged it, and because I have an incredible imagination, I just imagined he was there with me. The Niles who was lovely to me, not the arsehole who left me. I fell into a deep sleep and didn’t wake up until my alarm went off Monday morning.
It was easy to pretend at work. Nobody wanted to discuss anything but work, and it was super busy. No time to think. I didn’t stop all day. When I got home, I got the laptop out to send the work over to Niles with my final invoice. It would be a professional work email, and I was pleased because I didn’t want my final words to him would be me begging. Life is not that easy, though. What I had returned to me was an email from the person who worked under him. The actual person who is the OM’s manager and therefore was supposed to oversee the factory in Wales before I jumped ahead of him and went to Niles. He stated that Niles was away and wanted to check in with me. The bastard had delegated me again.
Was too gutless to get rid of me.
Except this time, it was a job offer instead of a severance notice. It stated that the person they offered the job to run the factory in Wales had declined and would I consider taking the role. There was a job description and the money, and it was good, better than what was previously being offered. Not as good as being a freelancer but still better money than I have ever earned in employment. I thought about it.
I could go back to Wales, maybe move closer to the factory. I would have security, well-ish because it was on its knees and only had a couple of years left unless someone made changes and that someone could be me. I wouldn’t have to worry about being unemployed now. These thoughts are lovely and articulate and didn’t happen at the time. At the time I was pissed. This was Niles stating once and for all that we were through. No manager-subordinate affairs were allowed, and I once had a black eye to prove it when an employee decided that was my rule. And he was too gutless again to tell me. No, he wasn’t only gutless, he was a complete and utter dick and why would I want to be reminded that he was in my life. For someone who told myself on a loop the day before, that I didn’t play games, I changed my mind pretty quickly. I knew this guy, had met him at Christmas, so I was super friendly while attaching my current work and final invoice. Then I asked if I could have a few days to consider it. I wouldn’t of course. The last thing I needed was a reminder of how ridiculous I had been about Niles. It would mean though, that they wouldn’t look for anyone for the role and the OM would still be going. This would present a problem, but honestly, just fuck them. Fuck them all. All I had for telling head office about the theft of the company was a black eye, a guilty conscience, a broken heart, and a P45. Fuck everyone! Then I remembered Niles’s stuff was still in my bedroom, so I went to bed, clutching that T-shirt again and pretending it all wasn’t happening.
Tuesday was a preparation day at work. Wednesday morning was the big presentation, and I wanted it to go well, so I could leave the organisation on a high. Unlike the last organisation, I left. There was even a chance that this could bring me more work. Not the hours like now, but even a few hours a week would keep me going, seeing as I was losing both my jobs in a week. Anything would help. The rent on that apartment was expensive, don’t even get me started on how much it was costing to just to have electricity. I was also now picking up the bills for my house in Cardiff. Tuesday night went the same as Monday, and once again, Niles was back in my life. The nice one, not that other arsehole.
Wednesday morning, I was on autopilot. I had taken a sleeping tablet so had some rest. I was ready to take on anyone. The presentation went so well. I honestly don’t think we could have done any better. I didn’t even stumble over any words. I may even turn into a salesperson in my ageing years. Dawn was thrilled, and now we just had to wait for an answer which was going to come pretty soon. Then that was that. I could stop pretending about Niles and start afresh. Things were finally going to turn.
It’s like those TV shows when a character says, well at least things can’t get worse, well, I know, I am so predictable.
We were sitting in the conference room when the call came through. Dawn played it really cool, but it was obvious almost immediately that Dawn had the contract. The £20 million pound contract over five years. Her business would thrive. I could leave on a high and I… then I remember nothing.
The next thing I knew was Dawn was next to me with water. My forehead felt sore and I didn’t have a clue what was happening.
‘Thank goodness Jess, you scared me. How are you feeling?’
I took the water but didn’t know why I needed it.
‘You passed out. One minute you were fine and the next slumped. Are you dehydrated? When did you last drink?’
I had coffee in the last half hour, of course I did. Water at the presentation.
‘I’m fine’, I told Dawn. ‘Excitement maybe.’
I went to stand but felt dizzy so sat back down.
‘You’re not fine. You’re pale and your eyes are sunk. I am going to call an ambulance.’
‘Give me five minutes, I am fine’, `I said reassuringly. Just for myself and not her.
She eyed me, not convinced.
‘When was the last time you ate?’
I hadn’t eaten today, and shit, this was not difficult.
She went into the cupboard and picked up a packet of biscuits.
‘Jess, when was the last time you ate?’ She was more adamant this time.
This was not mastermind, but why do I have no recollection of eating yesterday? Breakfast. Coffee. Lunch. More Coffee. Dinner, no early night. I couldn’t have not eaten for two days. Except had I eaten on Monday? I must have, I must have had a biscuit or apple or something. I could feel the dread because if I didn’t remember eating, then there was a chance I hadn’t eaten, and the last time I had a memory of eating was with Lauren.
I let out a little wailing sound, something I had never done before.
‘Jess? When was it?’
‘Saturday’, I slowly said, and she looked alarmed.
I started to have a panic attack. Another first for me, I had never had a panic attack, never fainted, and never forgotten to eat for nearly five days.
Dawn sat down, held my back, and breathed with me until my breathing returned to some kind of normality. Then she put the biscuit in my hand.
‘What’s happened?’ Dawn said so I decided to be normal and tell her about Niles and how he’d walked out on me.
At the end of my terrible tale, she gave me a hug and told me she was sorry. Especially after everything that happened in Cardiff.
‘You haven’t eaten the biscuit.’ She said.
I shook my head, staring at it as if my name was Bruce and I’d been told to eat a massive chocolate cake.
‘I want to help.’ She said, and I felt a rush of relief. ‘But I can’t.’ she finished, and that was that then.
‘I understand’, I said, and I did. I was a lost cause.
‘No, you don’t Jess. I just don’t think I can help. I think you need professional help.’
‘I don’t, I’ll be fine.’
She was so stern. ‘No Jess. I mean it. People who don’t eat for days are not fine. It’s a basic human need.’
And she was right. Of course, she was right. I just didn’t want her to be right.
Dawn started scrolling through her phone.
‘I have a friend who I think can help or at least point us in the direction of help.’
I didn’t say anything. Just stared at the biscuit which I should have been eating.
They had a conversation, and I only half listened. Dawn was very worried. Those were her words to the person on the other end of the phone.
When she finished. She told me to pack a bag because I was going to spend a few days with a friend.
It was like cold water to my face.
‘No, I’m not going anywhere. I’ve work to do here. I must find a new job.’
‘I’m incredibly grateful for the work you’ve done here, but you can finish another time. You need to get well.’
Dawn took me home and made me pack before frogmarching me to her car and away from everything. I was well and truly broken.
I was taken to a remote cottage about 20 minutes out of Reading. There was nothing around, but fields and trees, and I hated it. I preferred city life. I preferred being around people. Places like this give you too much time to… think. I made a joke about never finding my body, but Dawn ignored it. I guess I pissed her off too. It should have been an amazing day, but it wasn’t, all because I couldn’t get my act together.
When we got there, a woman who must have been in her late sixties came out of the door to greet us. She was so welcoming. Let’s call her Esther. Dawn had already told me how lucky I was that Esther had agreed to see me. Apparently, she was one of the foremost psychologists in the country when she was working. Now she only saw people occasionally. As I was taken to a bedroom and told to unpack, I could hear Dawn and Esther talking, but not what they were saying. I imagined Dawn was telling her what a complete waste of time I was, and Esther said, well give me a few days, and then I’ll agree. When I came out, Esther had put some soup in a mug and ordered me to drink it. That I could consume. Liquid was okay. Dawn gave me another hug and said she’d be back when I was ready. Then it was me and a complete stranger. Esther started by saying we’ll just chat, but she asked questions. I answered. Then after the soup went down, she said she’d make a hot drink, and we could get started. I knew we already had.
When she presented me with an herbal drink, I asked her if she had any coffee available. Not for me apparently. I was using coffee as a stimulant, and that had to stop. It was completely unfair because I liked coffee. It’s not like I ever took drugs or used alcohol other than to enjoy it. Now I was being punished for being a coffee drinker. Maybe if she slept as badly as me, she would be all over coffee too. But being Jess, I said none of that and took her smelly drink and only drank half to be polite. She told me this would only work if I was honest and asked why I thought I had stopped eating. I told her about Niles, Ems, Izzy, and Simon. What had happened? How it came to this. It was straightforward really. I thought Dawn had been way over the top with this and maybe I should ask to go home tomorrow.
Of course, I wasn’t mechanical telling her. It was upsetting to explain. Sometimes I got teary and sometimes I had to start a thought and then change it to phrase it better. When the session had finished, she asked me how I was feeling, and I said much better for talking about it.
I didn’t feel any different, but I didn’t want to offend her. Esther asked if I had tried meditation or mindfulness before. I had, but it didn’t work because I couldn’t switch my mind off, so she offered to take me through a guided meditation. She had a lovely soft speaking voice, and that helped because I was sure that for a few minutes after my beautiful beach walk, I felt that my brain had slowed down. Images kept popping up, but I was able to combat that relatively quickly. I even started to feel a little sleepy. Esther asked if I would like some food, even some fruit but I wasn’t ready yet.
Then she asked for my phone.
No, I told her. I needed it. What would happen if there was an emergency? She countered with according to me, there was no one left, and she did have a point. Before turning it off, she told me to put an automatic response on my emails too, because she didn’t want me suddenly saying I just needed to send an email. When I went into them, there was an email from the US telling me they needed an answer on the job now. I replied quickly that it was a no and did what I was told. Set up an automatic reply saying I was unavailable for a few days. You have no idea how uneasy that made me. How would I cope without my phone?
She suggested an early night, but first, a hot bath would probably do me good. I didn’t bathe. I showered every day but never took soaks in the bath. She said it was about time I tried. Esther actually ran the bath and filled it full of lavender oil, placed candles around it, left the sounds of an ocean playing, switched off the lights, and said good night.
I did as I was told. Got into the bath, thought this is nice and then thought what now? I was bored. No good could be done by leaving me with my own thoughts. I started the day ready for a big meeting and finished it in some stranger's bath in the middle of nowhere. How had this happened? How did I sink so low? I just had to get through the next couple of days before I could go home. Except home was connected with Dawn so I had to give up the flat because I was embarrassed right now. Where would I go? I couldn’t stay in Reading, but I didn’t want to go back to Cardiff either. I was like the littlest fucking hobo. Where did I want to go? I thought of New York and Niles and Amy and how I would never see them again. Niles had not only killed our relationship but also my friendship with his sister. My stepfather always said I would amount to nothing. I hated the fact that he was right. That set me off, and I silently wept because I didn’t want Esther to hear and have me committed.
I stayed in the bath longer than I wanted to. I had to make sure that my eyes were no longer red, but it made my skin shrivel up. I finally got up and wrapped a towel around me to go back into the bedroom. I put lotion on, my skin still smelt of lavender, but it wasn’t unpleasant. Then there was a knock on the door, and Esther presented me with another herbal tea.
‘Drink up’, she announced. I want you in the kitchen at 7am sharp.’
I sat up in a stranger’s bed that night, sipping a drink I didn’t want to drink, my stomach empty but unable to eat, Niles had gone, my friends had betrayed me, and I was practically jobless. All I could think was how the fuck had it gone so wrong so quickly?