There’s that moment when you’re lying in the water playing dead, when your head comes up just enough for your ears to fill with all the sound that the water has muted. From that deep liquid silence, the ears open like an uncorked bottle, filling with the sound of the cicadas and the lapping of waves, rhythmic and unstopping. It’s my favourite sensation.
I get out wearing my pink bikini, clocking the man in his 60s watching me, holding my gaze unabashed when I turn to look at him as I tread lake water and make my way back to my lilo. I’ve been reading The White Album, feeling like it was an act of some cosmic fate that placed it in my eye-line as I made my way out to the terrace the night before. It’s one of those old 1970s copies that I like finding in my parents’ house, the Penguin orange iconic, a forgotten currency printed on the price tag. I’ve been feeling very very sad, and Joan Didion’s Californian cool intelligence makes me feel like I can claim a kinship to something glamorous - I too write, I too need to see a doctor, I too can be pretty, I too like the heat, I too am a woman. It’s the only book for me right now.
But really what I can’t stop thinking about is my pink bikini. I turn onto my stomach attempting to even out my tan which never seems to work out on my rear-end, leaving me with a luminous orb poking out over two angry trunks. The pink bikini has lasted me since a fateful summer in 2010 when I was back home in Rome, interning with the BBC and getting stood up at an alarming rate every time I ‘put myself out there’. Encouraged by my boss Patti Partee to go on a diet of Greek yogurt and Marlboros, I’d been chain smoking inside the office and ingesting collated white guck to the point that the two things started to adopt each other’s flavours. After three days I decided my new figure deserved some recognition. And so the pink bikini came to pass. It would later emerge that the Greek Marlboro diet had added 4 kilos to my waistline and made me prone to tonsillitis for the rest of the year, whilst Patti would die of lung cancer 18 months later, Ray Bans, Vespa, silver hair, and Greek Marlboro diet till the end.
The sun’s fury intensifies, drops appearing between skin folds spreading a gratifying sense of burning that comes with a promise of tan, and I think about my pink bikini. Dana, the lady who cleans our house and has acted as friend and counselor to my mother for over 11 years, had washed the top and the bottom in two separate washes. The top half was still a brilliant pink, obviously washed in the light wash, whilst the bottom half had become the colour of old grey-pink underwear, and I found myself unable to stop feeling irritated. How could a person not notice that they were two different colours now? That they belonged to the light wash together? I looked forward to the moment when I would see my mother and be able to complain about Dana’s absentmindedness as if it were her personal responsibility.
From the time I was about 17 one of my most frequently used nicknames was Un Dos Tres - a break from the regular Pickle with which extended family and friends still refer to me. Un Dos Tres did not refer to any innate sense of rhythm I carried in my hips, nor had it anything to do with Ricky Martin’s superb banger. Un Dos Tres refers to a nervous tick Nicolas Cage has in a film called Matchstick Men. It’s a great movie - Sam Rockwell is in it, Roger Ebert gave it 4/4, and Cage is a saucer-eyed manic wonder throughout. For those who were out sick, here’s what you need to know: Matchstick Men follows Roy Waller (Cage), a neurotic con artist whose daily life is a nightmarish succession of rituals and ticks generated by his obsessive compulsive disorder. One of his most debilitating idiosyncrasies is a habit of having to open and shut doors three times whilst counting up to three in Spanish – un, dos, tres – before being able to go through the door happily. This of course becomes more and more tragic and ridiculous as the stakes heighten during the film, and Roy finds himself having to go through his rituals in a hurried fashion, lashing into the door, opening and closing it, breathlessly mumbling un, dos, tres, seeking out the soothing effect of repetition while suffering extreme emotional distress.
My parents christened me Un Dos Tres in a moment of exasperation caused by my obsessive compulsive behaviours. When I hit semi-adulthood I began to rack up little ceremonies with which I would carry out the most basic daily functions, most of which I still carry out today. They add ceremony to everything, as though I’m being secretly filmed or as though there’s something remarkable and noteworthy in my choices and way of living life.
I say I’m ocd in the way everyone says they’re ocd or gluten intolerant, using a specific word to turn a vague self-diagnosis into a reality, thereby stripping the poor bastards who actually suffer from these conditions of any sense of entitlement, the only solace you have when you suffer from such conditions.
My ocd-ness manifests itself in a few ways:
1 I once house-sat an amazing four-storey Georgian house off Fitzwilliam Square, but ended up covering everything in white sheets because I couldn’t bear to look at the mess, which was causing me to have an asthma attack. I don’t have asthma.
2 I missed the train to school everyday because I was doing my makeup. I refused to do my makeup in any of the school bathrooms because the lighting “wasn’t right”.
3 I won’t share desserts with my mum because she eats from crust-to-point instead of my preferred point-to-crust.
4 On weekends when I get home, no matter what time it is, my first activity is to get on my hands and knees and clean the tiled floor with a sponge or kitchen paper. This has become so normal that my boyfriend Steve will just take a seat unprompted and monologue about quantum physics, knowing that that’s what I’ll be doing silently for a while.
5 Once I’ve figured out the formation in which I like my objects on a tabletop, I will almost never move things again. My childhood bedroom is like a mausoleum to my adolescence, nothing has moved.
6 I’m very proud of my folding skills. If something doesn’t fit in with the dimensions of the of the folded mound, I will fold everything in the mound until it is an even pile.
7 I must brush my teeth in the shower and I must have breakfast before showering or else my day gets weird
8 I carry books in zip-lock bags and plastic folders so that they don’t get damaged in my handbag
9 I’ve bought the same exact grocery shop every week for the past three years
From the outside it’s hard to believe that I’m capable of any behaviour that requires discipline or organisation. I’m criminally late to everything, I was runner up as class clown every year in high school, I consider peanuts a meal, I never stick with any exercise plan for long, the price is always right for me so money just trickles through my fingers, and when we did a personality test in one of my jobs, I scored as an ‘Extreme Last Minute Racer’. I’ve had conversations with bosses about it over Wibbly-Wobbly Wonders and I once kept a first date waiting for me for an hour and half.
I’ve been getting the feeling of late that Dublin is a siren holding me captive on her island - I’ve seen the same shops, done the same loop, had the same conversations, drank the same drinks, worn the same styles. I’m used up, worn out, stale, and while I was doing all this I missed a boat that is never coming back for me. Getting down on my hands and knees at 6am after a night out, scrubbing the stains and picking up the crumbs from the cream tiled floor feels like the greatest assertion of my will power. Every coffee stain removed is a victory over some prophesied fate. Every sneaker I line up in a row, is a vote of confidence in myself. Here I am, Un Dos Tres - every placed object, colour-coded spreadsheet, washed Merry Christmas mug, and right-angled magazine-pile bows to my command! I am not a mess or a failure here, because I am in control. Nothing is past hope because I have the bravery and tenacity to arrange my pillows according to size! I can make my own happiness and decide what happens in my life because every morning I ceremoniously take two sips of coffee before eating a bite of my cereal! I triumph over sadness, over chaos, and over fear because I, like Roy Waller, see the importance of an ordered life. And in that there is some kind of beauty.
I estimate that the heat is over 40 degrees now. The drops are no more, I’m just sweating all over, streams running down my neck dropping onto the pages of my book. Joan Didion has lost me. There’s too much talk of political figures that defined the 1970s that I’m not entirely familiar with, and so I get up to go for another swim, my fifth this afternoon. I lift myself up from my belly and remember my bikini that’s now the colour of old underwear. I remember my revenge on my mother and on Dana. And as I begin to get annoyed again, I realise I’m in excruciating pain. My white orb is no more. In its place is a bright pink protuberance that looks like undercooked roast beef. It stings and I know that when I turn my back on the beach to walk into the water everyone will see my oiled up pink growth sprouting from the end of my back. And as I opt to run as fast as I can into the water so that a) nobody sees me and b) burny feely go way-way now, I decide to let my mum and Dana off the hook about the bikini and spare them my ‘how to wash my clothes’ lecture. As Un Dos Tres I yield great power and with it comes great responsibility. And today one of those responsibilities includes not being a shit-head for the whole of my life.