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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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Episode 10 - Food
Welcome to episode 10 of season 3 of Excuse the Jess. Episode 10, now we are really going for it. If only because my life is a complete and utter mess. In the last episode, you left me in a stranger's house who I was paying to help me eat. Yes, me, Jessica J Garner, who loves food more than life itself sometimes. That’s how bad things had got. Let’s just take a deep breath and get on with it.
It had just started to get light when I met with Esther. Esther being the person who was letting me stay at her house while she counselled me just because I forgot to eat. Only because my life had fallen apart. It was 6.58am. I had been up from about 5.30 and wished I’d brought a book to read. My hand had automatically reached for my phone upon waking. If only I had worn my smartwatch to work instead of my gold one. Still, it gave me time to shower, wash my hair, do my make-up ,and show up on time.
‘Good’, she announced. ‘We’re going for a walk.’
Luckily, I had bought trainers, but I wish I had boots on because it was bitterly cold that morning. The snow had gone, but temperatures were still down.
‘I do this every day’, Esther announced. ‘It’s good for the body and the mind.’
I had to disagree. My body hated me.
‘I was getting unfit. There was no getting away from it. I had lost the use of my treadmill, and life had been so busy that I hadn’t thought about exercise. It was embarrassing how I huffed and puffed around while she could talk normally despite being older than me.
When we got back, she announced we should have breakfast. I froze, but she said I could have a fruit salad and I would be fine. It was delicious, but it took so long to eat because every bite felt like it was getting stuck in my throat. Esther pretended not to notice and carried on. Which part of Cardiff was I from? Where were my parents from? Where were my grandparents from? Where was my mother living? All general chitchat, I asked about her. I didn’t even know that was allowed. Could she talk about herself, but she did. She also had an Irish connection, her parents were born there, but they moved to Leeds when Esther was a baby. There were no probing questions.
After that, we went into a new room. This had a comfy office-type chair where she sat and a settee I was to sit, lay, or put my feet up. Whatever felt comfortable to me. Nothing felt comfortable to me so I sat as I would normally. There was a pot of herbal tea on the coffee table in front of me and a jug of water. I chose the water because I did not like that herbal tea. I thought, would it be rude to ask for something else?
She asked me if I had slept well ,and I told her that I had just slept okay. I’d had one of the worst nights. She wanted to know why I had trouble sleeping. She may as well have asked me why does the sun go on shining why does the sea rush to shore. If I knew, I would surely have done something about it by now, so I didn’t know. We started by going back to my childhood which was no big shock. Didn’t it always start there? What big moment happened in my childhood ensured that nearly fifty years later I had forgotten to eat. It wasn’t premeditated. I didn’t make a conscious decision. I just forgot, and this was overkill. I explained it all. Well tried to. She would stop me and ask me why I thought that or why did it happen like that or how did I feel about that. I carefully batted away the questions and carried on with my story. You know it if you listened to season one that my idyllic childhood was disrupted by a car crash that killed my father and brother. That’s it. That’s the story, but much worse has happened to others and I was okay. I always had a home. She asked how it affected me. In fact, it felt like I was on an infinite loop and the conversation was going around in a circle while she was trying to find out what happened even though it was out in public what had happened, but she wouldn’t let up about it. I was getting cross, and I couldn’t. This was her home, her profession. It just wasn’t working for me.
At Lunchtime she asked me to eat and asked what I would like. I said I wasn’t hungry, so she suggested soup again, and I said that would be lovely. I was getting a headache. I just wanted it to be over so I could go home and be on my own. I craved my own company. My own company and a large mug of coffee. Lunchtime was more general chit-chat. Nothing heavy, nothing revealing, and I learnt very little about Esther. Esther asked if I wanted some air before we started again, and I did. She said she would make tea and I asked if she had anything different. I was craving coffee, but she had already said no, so she suggested peppermint tea. A polo with hot water. It would be better than that other tea, so I accepted gratefully. I sat outside in my big coat, sipping peppermint tea and wondering when I became this person.
When I came back in we started again. This time we moved on through my teenage into my twenties years. I don’t remember a lot about my twenties. Not my early twenties anyway. It is a big blur of drugs, sex, and rock and roll. Except I never took drugs, and I was more of an indie fan. This was when I met Ems and Izzy and Esther latched on to that. Asking about them and our friendship. Our former friendship, anyway. It hadn’t worked out. We’d outgrown each other, and so it was the right time to go our separate ways now. Well, at least them from me; they would probably stay friends for life. I would have probably thought the same a few months ago, but here we were. She asked if I thought it was toxic, and I had to tell her that it wasn’t toxic, and they were lovely. Unfortunately, just not to me.
My head was killing me by the end of the session, and I asked if I could have painkillers. Esther advised that it would probably be better if I waited until I was going to bed. I told her the painkillers could cure it and it would be fine later, but she said apparently, I was going to be stuck with this headache for a while. It didn’t occur to me until later that it was a caffeine withdrawal. This wasn’t fair at all.
We baked bread. I know. Me making food from scratch but it wasn’t food. It was a distraction, so I did as I was told. I didn’t want to eat it though. Even though I usually love the smell of cooking bread, it made me feel sick. The headache was not helping even though I was drinking a lot of water. I excused myself to go outside again. I was freezing, but I imagined Esther was getting sick of me and needed a break. If it had been earlier in the day, I could have gone for a nap but now. I sat and looked at the landscape. Fields as far as the eye could see. It reminded me of my spot behind the factory in Wales, although, and it’s not just biased but the Welsh view was much better. It just led me back to thoughts of Niles though, the man who came to his senses after 169 days, and that infinite loop of thinking. When I could bear it no longer, I went back in, and Esther asked what I wanted to eat. The answer was nothing but that wasn’t getting me home, so I asked if there was more soup available. There was if we made it. There was more cooking from scratch, and we made a rather lovely vegetable soup. I refused the bread and watched Esther spread the butter over this still-warm bread. This was not me at all, but I couldn’t let her know that. I asked if I could have the painkillers and an early night. She acquiesced but said if I were up in the night, I could read a book. Finally, I thought, some distraction. Instead, it was a book about how the vagus nerve affects us. I thanked her and went to bed. I was exhausted. The digital clock radio read 8pm. I was up in the night, my headache back but the book was welcoming, and I got through it. In fact, I wished I had a pen and paper to make notes.
I was back in the kitchen by 7am, showered, freshly washed hair, and make-up ready for the walk I didn’t want to go on. I didn’t enjoy it. She asked if I wanted toast from the freshly baked bread and I said I didn’t so it was fruit for me again. It was also painful to eat, and now I had a banging headache to contend with. If I just told her what she wanted to hear today, then maybe I could go home I kept telling myself and dutifully did as I was told.
We were back in the room to work on the next part. I guessed that would work through my 30s and 40s and then that would be that. I could go home. It wasn’t Esther’s fault I didn’t feel any different. I just wasn’t the type who benefitted from counselling. We sat down, but Esther took me right back to after the crash, and that pissed me off because I wanted to go home, and this was costing me a fortune. Yes, it wasn’t being done out of the goodness of her heart. This was a paid-for service and worse than that, if I didn’t work, I didn’t get paid, so it was costing me wages too. I told her we’d been through it, but she asked whether it played a role in my life today, which of course, it did. I didn’t need anyone to tell me I had a fear of people leaving me. I admitted that straight away. It’s obvious, isn’t it? However, she carried on anyway. Mum being in hospital, living with my grandmother. My grandmother being the best person I’ve ever met since. It happened so long ago. She asked about when my mother met my stepfather. It had happened quickly. One minute she was a widow who cried a lot and the next she had fallen in love with someone. It was in a space of a couple of weeks and suddenly, he had moved into the house, and this was feeling somewhat familiar although I didn’t say that. They did love each other, but Sean was a control freak and didn’t want to share mum with me. Communication between us broke down almost immediately. It wasn’t just that I was the unaccepting stepchild, though. He was cruel. He would say to my mother that he loved me and all he wanted was for us to get on, and she would plead at me that is all he wanted. When I would tell her that as soon as she wasn’t in the room, he would say awful things almost in a whisper at me, she wouldn’t believe me or say I was over exaggerating and reiterate that he just wanted us to get on. For example, when I was twelve years old, my body was changing, and I was getting ridiculously self-conscious; he said to me when my mother wasn’t there that the only thing I will be good for when I grow up was a Page 3 model. Page 3 for the lucky was the page in the popular at the time daily newspaper, the Sun where they showed pictures of topless, mainly big-breasted women. I’d never told anyone that.
Why Esther was focussing on my mother and stepfather now was really annoying me. How were we going to get to now if we kept going back to then? I wanted to go home.
‘Tell me about your stepfather.’
‘Sean. An electronics engineer from Cardiff.’
‘I mean about him personally.’
‘He is a control freak and hated me but that’s okay, no one likes everyone.’
‘It’s not okay, tell me about Sean and your mother.’
‘Didn’t I tell you this? They met in a pub and then he moved in within a couple of weeks.’
‘Too quick then?’
‘I don’t know. I guess. They’re still together though so.’
‘How did it make you feel?’
‘I don’t know, I was eleven. Confused. Maybe.’
‘Your mother knew this?’
‘Why didn’t your mother act Jess?’
‘Because she was besotted with Sean.’
‘But why didn’t she intervene?’
‘You’d need to ask her.’
‘Why do you think she didn’t intervene?’
‘Because she didn’t want to upset Sean.’
‘What about you Jess?’
‘What about me?’
‘Why do you think she chose Sean over you?’
‘She liked him more’
‘You think your own mother liked her partner over you?’
‘Why is that Jess?’
‘Are you like your mother Jess?’
‘No, I don’t know. Maybe’
‘Would you choose your child over a partner?’
‘No, absolutely not.’
‘Are you sure?’
‘Why did she leave you Jess?’
‘I’m asking you. Why?’
‘I don’t know’.
‘Why do you think?’
‘I said I don’t know’.
‘Why did your mother leave you? Tell me Jess. Tell me right now!’
‘Because she doesn’t love me. No one does. Because I am completely fucking unloveable. Are you happy now?’
Esther leapt up and shouted come with me. I stared at Esther. What had I said?
She grabbed our coats and led me into her backyard.
‘Scream Jess’, she urged me.
I looked at her as if she was the one that needed help.
‘Trust me, scream. As loud as you want. No one can hear’.
I made a noise, it was pathetic.
‘No’ she shouted ‘scream’ and she did. She screamed loudly. I screamed a bit louder and she encouraged me to shout louder and then louder and then louder until I screamed as loud as my lungs could manage.
‘Your stepfather is a dick, Jess. Scream.’
‘Your mother chose that dick over you. Scream.’
‘Your grandmother died when you needed her the most. Scream’.
I did it every time and it was like a huge weight was being lifted from me. Then the cold air got stuck in my throat and I started to choke, which turned to tears and uncontrollable sobbing.
‘Now listen to me Jess, you can’t trust your mother’s judgement over you. She had her own issues. You are loveable. You are here because you are loveable.’
‘Now look at me.’
She held my hands and told me to repeat after her.
‘I’ve done the best I could and reject any voice that tells me otherwise.’
‘I have survived but now I’ll thrive’.
‘I am perfect and loveable, just the way I am.’
There was more repeating of the mantras and then she led me back inside. I was exhausted and tearful. She sat me down at the kitchen table and made me a eucalyptus tea which was good for the throat.
Placing the tea in front of me, she announced.
It is lovely to finally meet you, Jess’.
We started the session again, but I was broken. Whatever was going to happen will happen I thought, and so I talked, and I cried and talked some more. It felt good. Not the crying, not the talking as such but every time Esther reframed something, I felt like I could deal with it. It was more manageable. Another bath, another early night, another book for in the night, this time it was Eckart Toile who at least I knew a little about.
In the morning, I showered as usual. When it came time to do my make-up, I thought what was the point? It was just going to run when the inevitable tears came. I was about to style my hair and listened to the rain howling against the window pane and decided to just tie it back. I was down in the kitchen early for that walk and even surprised Esther. I still wanted fruit for breakfast, still wasn’t hungry, and still struggled to get it down me. It was amazing how quickly I had fallen into a routine. I felt safe from the world. No one could hurt me here. Even the phantom vibrations in my jeans pockets of phone messages that I didn’t have had subsided. I talked a lot about Ems and Izzy and what had happened. She listened and asked when I realised that they didn’t always have my best interests at heart, and I told her the thing. The one I desperately wanted to tell Niles but knew he would ridicule me or couldn’t tell Ems or Izzy because they would have called me stupid, and I couldn’t tell you, listener because you would have accused me of making it up.
I was hit hard with Covid. I spent three weeks on my settee, so I had quick access to a kitchen and the downstairs toilet. It was weird because I didn’t have the symptoms all at the same time. In the beginning, it was like a heavy cold and making trips upstairs was easy. After that subsided, I thought I was getting better, but then came the heartburn and sickness. Heartburn tablets weren’t touching it, so I took an old wife's recipe of bicarbonate soda with water. It made me so sick, but it eased the heartburn, and that was better. Except then, I couldn’t eat. Even the thought of it made me nauseous so I didn’t. I could hold down fluids though by sipping water. When I started to eat again, well soup, my body suddenly started to feel that I’d gone ten rounds with Tyson and I struggled to move. I felt like I was encased in concrete, and simple acts like going to the bathroom or getting water were difficult. Then came the difficult bit. I started to struggle to breathe. In my mind, the whole time of the sickness, I was thinking I might not get through this, but then I could rationalise it. This time I couldn’t. This time it felt like my body was giving up. It had been through too much and it couldn’t keep going. I am not stating this as a fact, I am just telling you how I felt. In all that time I barely heard from Ems and Izzy. I actually text to say I was feeling really rough, and they were like yeah, Covid is hard. I checked in on them when they had it. They knew though I was counted as extremely vulnerable. They knew I was told by the government not to leave the house for months. They knew I was alone in my house and had no help indoors. They knew all that, and they chose not to check in on me. That destroyed me. On the worst day, I was struggling to control my breathing, and I was thinking this was it, and I was going to die now on this settee. I thought about how long it would take to find my body. I was so upset that it was making my breathing worse and I couldn’t control it. I’d say it was a panic attack, but it could have just been the covid and fear. Just as I started to black out, I felt the warmth of a hand cupping mine and a voice telling me to slow down. Then the voice encouraged me to breathe in slowly and then breathe out through pursed lips, and I did as I was told, and I kept doing it until my breathing returned to the shallow but at least bearable level that I had been. Then the voice told me not to worry because the right people would be in my life soon, and it would all change. The warmth disappeared from my hand, and I was alone again. I didn’t look for the source of the voice, though because I already knew who it was. It was my grandmother.
I stared at Esther, waiting for her to say I had completely lost my mind. I even challenged her to tell me that. She said that either you were very ill and hallucinated or your grandmother came to you at the moment you needed her the most. That just tells me you have amazing coping strategies or there are people up there looking out for you. I am more interested in what happened when you got well with them. I told her how I felt. I had said in the podcast how I felt but I thought I was over it because they looked after me when Niles left, and Simon attacked.
‘But now?’ Esther asked.
‘Now I feel it was a knee-jerk reaction on their behalf because of what Simon did.’
This led on to the Simon conversation. Ems husband Simon had come to my house drunk and angry. He said the worst things to me, stuff he knew would deeply upset me, and heavily intimated he was going to attack me. It was like Sean all over again, and there I landed on the reason why I was probably never going to forgive him.
More soup for lunch, and then we talked about Niles and how he left. I said I wanted to scream, so outside we went, but this time I screamed at Niles for pretending he liked me and then fucking leaving me like that. Giving me no reason for leaving. He could have made it up. Fuck you Niles I screamed into the countryside. And fuck that factory, and fuck all those people there who were arseholes to me. Fuck Simon, and Fuck Izzy for not telling me about Simon and Fuck Ems for letting him move into my house after I said he wasn’t even allowed to visit. Fuck you all, I screamed. I was worth so much more, and for the first time, I started to believe it. This was their problem, not mine. I had effectively walked away. We went back inside and did some more exercises to build me back up, and then Esther asked if there was anything else I wanted. I said I did, I wanted a roast dinner, or steak and chips, or a spag bol, or a curry, or a pizza. I was starving. Esther took me into the kitchen to see what was there. We cooked a meal of vege sausages and mash complete with some veg. I wasn’t up to eating my usual portion but probably had eaten more in that meal than I had in a week. Then we chatted for a bit before my now-night routine.
I was back downstairs at 7am and on a Saturday. I was definitely changing, I had no idea yet into who, but that would come. We went out for a walk, and it was a little easier today. My headache had completely gone, and I was feeling healthier than I had in some time. As we came back to the house, I saw a car coming up, and I was excited to see it was Dawn. She was unloading shopping bags, and it occurred to me that she was getting food in because I had taken Esther’s. I started to feel guilty but then stopped. I chose to feel grateful that I had someone in my life who would be so kind. When we went in, and she dropped the shopping, I gave her a hug and she held me back tightly.
‘Thank you so much’, I whispered to her.
‘Right, what do we have here then?’, Esther said and unpacked.
She got the frying pan out.
‘Full English all round then?’
And that’s exactly what I needed.
When I wolfed down that huge plate of food, I was feeling a bit sick. I asked Dawn how long she was here for and she told me as long as it took to take me to pack.
‘I’m going home?’ I asked incredulously.
‘You’re eating again, of course.’ Esther said.
There were rules though and this couldn’t be the end. I would probably need help from elsewhere but for now, I was doing okay. More than okay, according to Esther.
I didn’t put on my phone straight away. I put it in my handbag and chatted to Dawn on the way back to Reading.
‘It helped then?’, she asked.
‘Definitely, she is brilliant’, I told Dawn.
‘Yeah, I am pretty sure she was struck off for her methods’.
I laughed. The first genuine laugh in over a week.
Dawn grinned mischievously.
‘You’re not joking?’, I asked.
‘I think people like us need people like her.’
‘Like us?’, I asked.
‘Yeah, intelligent, accomplished, funny, likeable people, who completely hide their raging anxiousness inside.’
Which was a lovely thing to say. Of course, I just picked up on the last part.
‘I’m obviously not hiding it very well’, I announced. ‘Especially after that’.
‘Now Jess, that that was a retreat. We all need a retreat from time to time. How do you think I know her.’
Dawn offered me to go home with her but I wanted to go back to the flat. I needed to start again. Whatever that life looked like. She hugged me again and left me alone in the flat. After unpacking I picked up my phone and knew I couldn’t hide from the world much longer. It would be fine; I doubt anyone missed me.
I watched it spring into life. There was nothing, and I breathed a sigh of relief. Then I started to have notifications, and the pinging noise was weirdly irritating. Within seconds my phone started to ring, and I jumped at first but answered it without thinking. I heard a voice say.
‘Jess, thank goodness. It’s Amy; where the hell have you been?’
I wasn’t expecting to hear from Amy again. I wasn’t expecting to hear from Niles, even though part of me wanted him to ring and apologise so I could tell him to do one.
‘Don’t start with me Amy. It’s all your brother’s fault we’re finished.’
‘I know.’, she said, and I realised her voice wasn’t being confrontational.
‘He only told me on Wednesday, and I’ve been desperately trying to speak to you since.’
‘I had my phone turned off. Why?’
‘Because I don’t like what he did to you. He can be such an asshole.’
I agreed because yes he can.
‘I need to see you, Jess. Can you come over?’
‘Is Niles okay?’
What was wrong with this family?
‘No then Amy. It’s over.’
‘So we can’t be friends because of my douchebag brother?’
Amy was smarter than this. What was her angle?
‘I would love to stay friends with you.’
But even as I was saying it, it didn’t ring true. I love her. I 100 per cent adore this woman, but we had only known each other for three months. And only through Niles.
‘Then you should come here and tell my brother what an asshole he is and spend some time with me.’
Now I could see what she was doing. Maybe she thought if I saw him, I would forgive him. Even if we stayed split up. I was besotted with him still, but not enough to forgive him.
‘My treat.’ She countered.
‘Amy, this is not happening. Did he tell you I pleaded?’
‘Yes, he said it broke his heart.’
I know that was said to make me feel sad, but it had the opposite effect.
‘He broke his own heart.’
‘So tell him. He deserves the last thing you ever say to him is that he fucked up, and he will regret it for the rest of his life.’
‘That’s not true.’
‘I’m telling you Jess it is. You are so perfect for him, but I don’t think he deserves you.’
Have I told you Amy is a former lawyer?
‘So get your ass on a plane, tell the asshole, he’s an asshole. We’ll go for cocktails and work out where to go from here.’
‘It’s not happening.’
She was riling me up, she knew she was riling me up. I looked over and I saw the Niles’s T-Shirt and pyjama bottoms still on my bed. He could have those back for a start. And the jewellery and anything else he bought me.
‘Did I say my treat?’, Amy persisted.
‘So you are saying you want to pay for a first class return flight and nice hotel just so I can stick it to your brother and we can have cocktails.’
I heard her stumbling on the phone. Maybe, I could have been a lawyer too.
I was going to see Niles again, but this time to decimate him.