Yourself, at ease.

By Rachel O'Sullivan



I don’t really have time for hobbies anymore. Twenty-one, there is not much point in saying I have parents. The time is stolen. The commute, dishes in the sink, daylight savings time, all of this leaves me with empty pockets and the unshakable feeling of being used. Stillness is the closest thing to lifelong dedication. No need for money or equipment, only a mind and a few minutes. 

X-ray me, do it, there is a rich, heavy, ore-filled centre. Something right in the middle that stays still, no matter what. It is a sport, I keep it strong. No need for instruction. 

It is easy for me to become scared, but when it comes down to it, I’ve never really panicked, have I?  

I have always liked to meditate. At the start, it was a rough business.I am a meteorite crashing through life, pulled along by a brain that you could confuse for a heart—tireless, always beating, defined by its ability to make things move. The calm voices, instructions on how to breathe, and invitations toward stillness used to end with holes in the wall. Bi-monthly trips to the tech repair shop.  I had to wrangle the emptiness out of me like a toddler learning consequence. Like a teenager learning permanence. I learned to control the volume, the speed, the frequency.  There was a cavern in my mind. A cave almost tapped into. The capacity for control. That is it, right there—life, in third person. Farthest from the world, looking down on all the things that make you small. 


       In the Netherlands, no one has curtains. It’s a remnant of Calvinism. If you have nothing to hide, then why are you hiding? This world was not made for me. I go to the flea market, and everyone is a size 0. I learn again the things I learned at sixteen. There is a space for you, too. Among the heckling boys. Even in the throes of skinny girls. 

        I have a train pass that lets me go anywhere during off-peak hours. I learn the cities of the Netherlands from their train stations outwards. Here they are: Rotterdam makes you look up. Different scales for boats, rivers, buildings. It is a city of workers, purged streets between 9 and 5. You don’t find skyscrapers like that in Amsterdam. In Amsterdam, all moves steadily, persistent in pushing you down side streets. Pushing you through exhaustion.Utrecht is a play-city. It makes everything go still. Leiden is open space and homecoming. Benches, beer, and sundown. Haarlem begs you to take your time. A warm hand. I ride every train to the end of its line. Hoorn, Bloemendaal, Vlissingen, Uitgeest, Groningen. 

        I took my job because it’s easy. I get to practise the language, talk to people from Poland, Columbia, Portlaoise. It keeps my body busy. 10,000 steps logged on my phone at the end of each shift. Speak a language that’s notEnglish. Leave behind the dialect of your suburbs. Replace old words with new—stichting, niet toegestaan, paardebloem, doe normaal, gezellig. Keep your mind still. 

        In Amsterdam I told a girl I'm from Ireland and she asked What's that? I showed her on the map, and she said Oh, we call that England here. Three times Americans approached me in the street: You should be so proud of your English. I presented an argument in class about the ethics of international borders and they argued together about whether I was British or American. You get used to falling in and out of love with this corner of the continent, something to keep you occupied. 

       Some days I regret the day I said yes, let's give it a go. Mostly, I can't imagine leaving. There’s a third kind of day where I can’t tell the difference between here and there. I think I wake up in Ireland. Eyes unfocused, you could convince me I grew up on Spaarndamseweg. In the studio, with closed door, I will always be in West Dublin, oceans and borders be damned.

        I have spent more than half my time here sick. Am I wasting this opportunity, or taking myself seriously?  I’m starting to recognise people everywhere I go, I pronounce English words differently. My phone dies in the middle of Rokin and I don't panic. I bought a bike and you can't get me off it. I eat verse smoothies and couscous wraps to-go and vega kaasbroodjes and angel toast and marzipan in the shape of Noah's animals. Go to a gay bar and it's very different from the ones back home. English isn’t the same. I repeat myself a few times, but feel more understood, more heard. 


And, oh god, I’ll tell you once you ask. I got too high the first week I was here and I saw myself inside and out. I saw bugs crawling out of the walls, the wind moved like technicolour lasers, cut slices into my stomach. The worst was what I saw in the corner of my own eye. A fear that has never subsided. The muscle that won’t sit still, at the end of the day, is terror. There isn’t anything more me than my fear. You can think you know yourself, you really can, surrounded by psychological theory and friends majoring in philosophy and a mind that has always mixed work and play. But you haven’t read a book in months. All your writing is looking the same. You move country, where the drugs are legal and losing time is cheap, and you take it all a bit too far. 

There is a mind you think to be quiet. Then, there is a silent continental drift, dragging bones and silt, all landmarks lost in the landslide. Overdose enough to forget the script you spew and tell me, truthfully, that you have never panicked. 

Get high and tell me that this is not all true.

That you have never stopped fighting yourself.

Get high and see all the words you’ve denied scraped across the ceiling,incised with your own deficient blood.

Get high and watch a film about the reasons why you’ll never be fine.

You finally have a conversation with yourself, at ease. You see that moving country was never a choice. Leaving your family was what you were built to do. See how they named the smallest parts of you and made you forever theirs. Watch fluid thought flicker in the shadow of your tiniest memories, and know that your life stopped at five, teeth gnashing. 


There is a violence deep down inside of me, 
buried in my body from youth.             No matter how many times I shower I can never feel
clean.   I can’t stand being naked for that long anyway.            I don’t feel safe when I am in the
bathroom.       Someone will burst in.               Or when I am in the bed.         A room that has
me in it will never be clean. 

There was a grand distraction in a time before memory, and I have been displaced since.  
              Ghostly hands trace my shoulder,        firm on my waist,         working up my thighs,                        
                                          begging to come inside. 
A body screams when muscles contract,          trying to keep the world outside.       I ruin
myself,              shrine myself in blood,              wreck the pretty face.                 Maybe I will only
win once I stop fighting it.          
              There has been a thought caught in the wind around my growing body since the first
days of letter-writing and friend-making           -           that there is dirt inside me,            something
rotten between my legs. 

              I am now twenty-one,              barely grown,                  reliving the same feeling I have
known since five.         A wordless,     faceless thing,                 burning through emotion. 

It has been over a decade since I lay on the floor of my childhood bedroom,              playing
with hard PVC dolls.    Grown-up-girl dolls.                   Model horses and their riders.                        
              It was over a decade ago since I masturbated on the rough blue carpet,          micro-
abrasions on my face,    pressed into the fibres,          making sure I finished before the
footsteps reached the first floor.  
               I had a routine then,                    knew how long it would take,              what buttons to
press,     sometime in the chasm              after five,           and before ten. 

               By eleven,         I hated myself for it.       I did it obsessively,       trained to sensitivity,  
               pressing my thighs together for a few minutes would make it happen.               Was it
addiction,           self-soothing,  a grasp at agency? 

               At twelve,          I could do it discretely,            knew I shouldn't,           but did it anyway.        
                Hated myself more for it.  

               By thirteen I could make myself cum up to seven times in ten minutes.        I never
penetrated.        My body wanted to cum,         I only had to give the faintest idea of a green
light.      Pressing my legs,       humping a pillow.      

               At fourteen,                  it was the solution to every problem.                 Every mistake,            
               misstep,                         stutter,                            scolding,                           made the ghosts
creep back inside.          I welcomed them back,          cumming,            crying into the quilted
pillow,                I couldn't fight it off any longer. 

                At fifteen,         I was watching the porn to match.     Gang rape,         child rape,      
kidnappings,  tortures.             I tried to put a finger inside.     No matter how many times I
tried,    only one would fit,      uncomfortably.                             A second forced inside made me
panic,                flee the house in winter with no shoes on.  

                At sixteen,       I was sending the porn to the local boys.           There was one that I
really liked,        really wanted,              he wanted me too.         Would have taken in slowly.            
              I knew no matter how old I was,          how slowly we went,                  it would be
ripping blood from flesh.   
                            It would always end in screams and doctor’s appointments.

              I have always known this about myself,           the way I know new situations make me
shy        and that I have a knack for modern languages.            No matter how genuine and    
deep the want was,       my body would              scream             and kick             and fight          
and draw tears. 

              I only felt safe around a girl who had no interest in putting anything between my legs,
ripping my clothes off. 
              At seventeen,   we did eventually,       and with one slender,  slow-moving finger,      I
could feel the edge and pump of each knuckle.          I bit down the panic.    I came in minutes. 

              This is the story of the days before I met you,            the time before I came here,    the
days where stillness was a mystery.  

This is the confession on the day I stopped running. 


My biggest regret is that I didn’t know you sooner. How do I learn to mourn that I will never know all the ages of you?Why couldn’t I have been with you when we were toddlers, learning everything for the first time, balancing on unsteady feet? Wordless and brave? Why couldn’t we have held hands on the first day at school, bore the pain together? Learned to write, tough-fisted, sweat dripping, only to write to each other? Why couldn’t we have cycled to each other’s houses after school, holding hands and chattering while the wheels spun? The balance coming easy to us. I’d let you paint my nails, you’d let me show you how to climb trees. Tried on our first school uniforms together. Had water fights, week-long sleepovers, seen other friends come and go. We could have learned loss for the first time, but also love. Where are the long summer days gone? When first love came in slow-hanging drips?  How robbed we were, of spending seasons together, of being unhappy in other company.  Why has alone not always meant the two of us? We could have measured our heights side by side, seen who was growing faster. Combined our knowledge, been the other’s diary when everything felt precarious and taken for granted. Maybe I would have had to let you go fora while, maybe you would have to let me run free, too. Maybe it all would have hurt too much,  broken down in confession, snapped back to the other’s arms like elastic. Like two things that only know how to hold the other. Maybe we always would have known it would end with us, lying in the same bed every night, sharing keys, rings, dresses, shirts. The things we will never give up, now we have them. It is my biggest regret that I must learn you like a book from a different time. I regret that your history doesn’t come to me as naturally as my own. It hurts to imagine how much stronger I would be today, if I had always had you, as I was meant to. This is what keeps me still on the loudest of days.

About the author

Rachel O’Sullivan is a 21-year-old writer, photographer and freelancer based in Dublin, currently studying English with Creative Writing at University College Dublin. Their work embodies the liminal, the uncanny and the uncomfortable - as well as divulging into all that is golden and glimmers. They have featured in a variety of outlets such as Full House Lit, The OutPostÉire, Bloom Magazine and Creature Mag. They are upcoming in Iamb, and recently published a feature article with Shado Mag.

next up...

Second home

By Annie Williams