MARY SHELLEY DIED FOR OUR SINS24 October 2018
I was seventeen and I was living it the fuck up but of course everybody’s trying to bring you down when you’re seventeen— everybody’s trying to bring you down no matter what age you are, really—so I guess my peak teenage moment never came because it was always being suppressed by some larger, older, force that was adamant on breaking the wild dream of teenage romanticism.
I truly am a Romantic but not in the lowercase ‘r’ sense, not in an I love you can’t you see how much I love you from the amount of candles I’ve lit this evening and the wine and the roses and the hot bath I have just run for you in our large, extravagant house although we are only working-class starving artists in our youth and I don’t know how we could have afforded this really but this is ROMANTIC, honey, and nothing makes any logical sense when YOU’RE IN LOVE, darling way.
No what I really mean is that I’m Romantic in the gothic, early 19th-century sense, when the only thing that matters is Nature but the Industrial Revolution is suffocating your livelihood. My psychologist said that it was a lurid sense of egotism that made me feel so detached from other people, that I was self-centred, selfish, whatever you want to call it. I call it individualism, a defining feature of the Romantic movement. I also called bullshit on my psychologist (doubted that she even had the correct qualifications anyway) and stopped seeing her without informing my mother—just because you know what allostatic overload is doesn’t mean you should be counselling teenagers.
And at this pivotal age of seventeen I was studying English Romantic literature in high school and I loved the idea. Maybe it was because I thought Lord Byron sounded hot and wanted to fuck him. Charlotte Brontё obviously wanted to fuck him too, otherwise Mr. “Byronic Hero” Rochester wouldn’t have been such a dick. One night I stood in the rain for hours. I wasn’t sure what I was waiting for, but I figured that something would eventually happen. I was trying to evoke the Romantic era and maybe I hoped that I’d manifest. Being the middle of winter, though, I just contracted pneumonia and had to spend a week in the hospital. I tried to turn this into a positive by considering that Keats was sick an awful lot when he was alive. Being weak and sickly was just part of the Romantic experience.
My parents never visited me when I was in hospital but I wasn’t resentful—they were busy, they had their own lives, I have five siblings so maybe they just didn’t notice my absence. My friend Stephanie saw me every day though. In hindsight I’m pretty certain she had a crush on me throughout VCE, but I wasn’t aware of it at the time. I called her every Saturday morning, though, and played ‘Wuthering Heights’ by Kate Bush into the phone. I wouldn’t say anything, just play the song as soon as she answered and then hang up when it finished. I never did explain why and I think she hated it, but it became such a habit that she just answered every week without fail.
I was probably pretty awful—she always got really offended when I didn’t text her back within 48 hours, and I would constantly bail on our plans because something else would occur to me.
“Sorry, Steph, I can’t go out this afternoon because I’m performing at the Frankenstein poetry grand slam.”
That wasn’t a lie. I read a poem called MARY SHELLEY DIED FOR OUR SINS as I performed an interpretative dance to ‘Spellbound’ by Siouxsie and the Banshees. I didn’t win the cash prize of $20 but I’m pretty sure the slam was rigged anyway. That the judge must have been fucking the winner because how else could you win Brunswick’s most sophisticated Mary Shelley–themed poetry slam with a two-line blank verse ‘Ode to Geneva’???
Mary Shelley kept her husband’s dead heart in a drawer of her writing desk and if that isn’t both romantic and Romantic I’m not quite sure what is. I think it was the realisation that I would never be this emotionally intense that brought upon the end of my own personal Romantic era (as well as my not winning the poetry grand slam, because what kind of fascist corruption is that?). But if I wasn’t prepared to keep the remains of my deceased lover in the drawer of my writing desk could I ever truly manifest? Could I ever convince my parents to fund a year-long solo trip to the Swiss Alps if I wasn’t going to follow Shelley’s instruction entirely? My instinct and lungs, which were terrified by the concept of getting bronchitis, cried NO, and so I became an 1880s Realist instead. Though I do still find myself oddly drawn to the ocean, and press flowers in old European books found in second-hand bookshops each spring.