The average body produces 1.5 litres of mucus everyday. It acts as a protective layer over the most delicate parts of the body. It stops the skin around the body’s openings from cracking, and traps harmful bacteria. When you cry, a tiny neurotransmitter called acetylcholine stimulates tear production in your limbic system. It’s the system in charge of emotions that is connected to our autonomic nervous system, the part we don’t have control over. When a tear forms, you blink, creating a film over your eyeball. The tear then disappears down your lacrimal drainage system, passing into your nose and out in the form of mucus. Or snot. When there are too many tears for the lacrimal drainage system to manage, the tears slip out over the eyelid and down your cheek, and you’re properly crying.
I used to have a far greater appetite for it. I suffered permanently from a condition inspired by that John Berger quote my mother had taught me: ‘A woman is not a woman crying at her father’s funeral. A woman is a woman watching herself crying at her father’s funeral.’ Well actually that’s the way I remember the quote, but that’s in fact inaccurate. And a little heavy. But the quote always did that thing for me of suddenly shining a bright light on things that hovered in the shadowy corners of my mind, that I couldn’t ever quite pull to the front and understand.
In part it was about a woman’s ability to be both spectator and spectacle, reduce herself to being the performer of some drama, watching herself in the various stagings of life. Obviously there were a lot of other issues going on in Jon Berger’s quote, but often when I applied it to myself it described a phase when I developed a taste for the dramatic. Prompted from an unchecked desire to observe myself from outside myself, my flair brought me to cast myself as a heroine in apocalyptic landscapes time and again. And the apocalyptic landscape soon took over most everything I did.
There was the time when high on MDMA and covered in mud after being pushed to the ground, I found that my boyfriend, who had come to the festival in Lissard with me, had left me there as punishment for a fight from earlier that day. He was nowhere to be seen and wasn’t answering his phone. My friend Kate, equally altered, was chatting up the 70-something year-old bus driver who was in charge of getting people out of the festival. She didn’t seem to hear me bleating about where we were going. Eventually we ended up getting off the bus and getting into a car that took us up a road that led into a lane that led to a house resembling something out of Lost Highway. It was shaped like a boat, incredibly modern, and made more mysterious by the fact that I couldn’t remember why we were there. A friendly woman let us in and showed us our room. There was a cot in the room. Into this I climbed, and began to translate for Fink what I had been saying all night – stronzo allucinante – which directly translated as ‘hallucinatory hard piece of shit’, which was the term I’d been using to refer to my boyfriend in an absent-minded way all night. We kept repeating the word to each other sobbing laughing until we fell asleep.
The next morning I put on my mud-covered clothes, hitch-hiked into town and tried to
get a lift back to Dublin. This proving unsuccessful, I swallowed humble pie and rang the hallucinatory-hard-piece-of-shit. Surprisingly, he was still in the area and gave us all a lift up, playing nice to my friends while I sat in sulky muddiness in the front seat of his vintage Mercedes. For the last part of the journey I could barely hold it together.
Episodes like these were commonplace. There were the times I didn’t show up to my own dinner-parties because I was too busy fighting him, the times I ended up living back with my aunt, the times I ended up being left on my own in a restaurant or at the side of the street, the hundreds of times I would call his number while he watched it ring out. One of my favourite episodes involved me ending up on a friend’s futon with her three Persian cats after yet another fight. The cats were so distressed by my alien presence that they would vomit on cue whenever they saw me in my dejected misery.
The heartbreak was consistent. And yet to a great degree I relished it. Apocalyptic storylines have a particular magnetism because there’s something stylish about hopelessness. You can turn a relationship into your own private apocalypse and turn yourself into the sinewy hero who battles on. So the more heartbreakingly awful the situation, the greater the hero I became. I imagine it’s similar to the adrenaline rush that someone like Bear Grylls gets, or people who are into survivalist outdoors stuff get - you discover that you can thrive on maggots and bark. The closer you are to peril, the more alive you feel.
I guess the other side of creating a private apocalypse is that it gives a momentousness and purpose to where your love is going. It lifts it from the every day and gives it a Hollywood hue – I’d be played by Jennifer Lawrence and he’d be played by Benedict Cumberbatch.
An ability to cry and snot freely is a requisite for the role. They’re supposed to indicate a shared humanity, a vulnerability, and even play a part in discouraging predators in the animal kingdom. Women cry 50 times a year, men only 10.
Half of what I did was driven by some perverse fantasy where I watched myself (ala John Berger) being the tragic heroine of a difficult relationship - disconnected, evaluating my worth and that of my apocalyptic playground. And only in the moments of real heartbreak and tears, where snot would be running down my nose and over my lips, would I feel it wasn’t a farce, that it was for real, and that maybe something was past salvaging. It was a sweet release, accepting defeat, realising that most heroines meet their end in either death or disaster.
Snot was my form of sweet surrender – a liberation from my own gaze, the studied destruction around me, my anger, my front, and the insurmountable expectations that went with loving someone so much.