The next activity was the memory game, a pastime I remember very fondly from my childhood. Vere and I used to play it all the time; we’d cut up cards and draw pictures; then lay them out in rows on the floor and play till the cards were all scuffed and misshapen and we could tell the pairs apart without turning them over. I’d like to see those cards we made again…someday.
This game was different. As one of the boys two grades below me flipped the first card to reveal the red-swollen visage of someone who was ‘ANGRY’, my affectionate visions of the past were cruelly shattered.
I, being the last person to try, and knowing my strategies from ages past, was the first to get a pair. The two creatures on the cards had blue hair and green skin, and, eyes dilated, they seemed to be shaking.
“As you’re the first to get a card,” said Ms Avery, “how often do you feel this emotion?”
My lips pulled in tightly like a drawstring bag. Psychology interests me, eh? I’m okay when it comes to looking at other people. But the moment they turn on me, I start to majorly freak out. I can’t do this. You can’t make me do this.
“Not much,” I lied.
Ms Avery beamed at me; “Now you have another go, Den.”
I turned over two random cards; they did not match.
Ms Avery let her gaze fall on the first boy, who was two years younger than I. “Your turn, Elliott.”
‘SCARED’ was the only pair I allowed myself to win. Elliott was the victor of that game.
But it didn’t end there. As we dropped our cards back onto the table, one of the girls chanced to say, “Aren’t sorry and guilty the same thing?”
We looked; there was a pair for sorry and another for guilty. And the faces didn’t look all that different.
“What do you think?” Mrs Sallis asked us all.
“I think they’re the same, but guilty is more extreme,” said another girl.
“Yeah,” the others agreed.
I said nothing. I was thinking of Vere: was I guilty or sorry about her death? Guilt implied that it was my fault, whereas sorry didn’t. They were different feelings; not levels of the same. So why did I feel so guilty?
“Then aren’t anger and rage the same too?” someone else queried.
“I think rage is less controlled,” reasoned the boy Elliott. “Anger is just something you feel, but when you’re raging you just go mad. It’s like you’re blind; you don’t know what you’re doing.”
“That’s interesting,” said Ms Avery, as if it had never occurred to her before.
“Anyone here who actually experiences rage?” Mrs Sallis asked.
A few shame-facedly raised their hands. I stepped back from the circle and inclined my palm towards the ceiling. Were they really telling me that this huge sack swelling chokingly inside my body and up my throat was not rage, but anger? Were they really telling me what I was feeling, or what I could feel?
Defining things that can’t be defined…
Nor was it over then.
Because then the project leaders were sorting the cards, laying the pairs on one or the other side of the table.
I couldn’t look; but nor could I tear my eyes away.
They were cataloguing the cards—the emotions—into positive and negative. They dared to tell me what my emotion was; then they dared to tell me whether it was a good emotion or a bad emotion.
The twofold insult. I could scarcely believe it.
Did my judgement, my perception, my knowledge of my own self, count for nothing? Well, of course. I’m Den. Shani doesn’t take me seriously. Why should I?
I did not speak.
Whatever they had in store for me that afternoon, I was dreading it. I was utterly dreading it.