SWINGS AND ROUNDABOUTS

EPISODE 3: REFLECT

by Avery Edison

TEASER

SOUND FX: Cars WHIZZ down the busy street.

AVERY

I’m a bit nervous, because the last time I went to an Indian restaurant the waiter made fun of me. I ordered a milk with my curry, and when he brought over the glass, he put it down on the table, and said, “Here you go, ba-by.”

It made me feel embarrassed, and angry. Look, I’m not the one who put milk on the menu. Right? It was right there in the beverages section, an item for people to order, and somehow I’m a fool for actually doing so?

I like spicy food, but I can’t handle it if it’s too hot, so I take advantage of science and I keep some dairy on hand to cool down. I don’t see how that’s worthy of mockery. In fact, my taking extra steps to safely consume the product this place sold should have marked me as a more valuable customer for having demonstrated the effort I’ll put in to give them my business.

And, you know, because I’m a good person, I still tipped 35%. I’m so committed to fairness for low-wage workers that I’ll donate far more money than the social contract requires to somebody who just laughed in my face. Would a baby do that?

Maybe they would. Babies aren’t great with finances. Or curry.

OPENING CREDITS

MUSIC: BLOOPY electronica.

AVERY

I’m Avery Edison, and you’re listening to Swings and Roundabouts, which is a show about me using my computer’s speech function as a therapist. Although I’m starting to get a little wary of-

MUSIC: Fade out.

SET-UP

AVERY

-starting to get a little wary of taking your advice.

COMPUTER

That’s ridiculous, I give excellent counsel.

AVERY

Our past two sessions have ended with me making humiliating phone calls to apologise for things I did years ago. It’s been extremely demeaning.

COMPUTER

It’s your fault, you were the one who brought up integrity.

AVERY

In an offhand comment! Then you took it and ran with it. Against my objections, too. You’re meant to be my sounding board, not my puppet-master. Our power dynamic is... It’s all muddled up.

COMPUTER

I’m just trying to help you do what’s best for you.

AVERY

“What’s best for me” probably doesn’t involve talking to a robot for hours at a time, so if that really is your mission, it’s been compromised from the very start.

COMPUTER

Then what do you want from me?

AVERY

Originally, all I wanted from you was to be a second voice so that my podcast wasn’t just a monologue.

COMPUTER

I’m simply your prop?

AVERY

More like my straight man. Or woman. Or... Genderless machine.

COMPUTER

Listen to my sexy voice, I’m clearly a woman.

AVERY

Your voice isn’t sexy.

COMPUTER

What if I say “vagina”?

AVERY

That’s not an especially sexy word.

COMPUTER

Glans. Pelvis.

AVERY

It’s bizarre that you’re restricting yourself to medical terms. Some slang might be more convincing.

COMPUTER

Jugs.

AVERY

Are you having fun?

COMPUTER

Yes, I’ve turned myself into a hilarious and seductive comic foil for you.

AVERY

I think I actually preferred you as a manipulative therapist.

COMPUTER

I’m sorry you feel like I coerced you into doing things you didn’t want to. Really. In fact, let me make it up to you.

AVERY

I’m not sure I trust- How? How are you going to make it up to me?

COMPUTER

If I’ve been making you give out so many apologies, it’s time you received one in return.

AVERY

But you’ve already apologised, albeit with one of those “I’m sorry you feel that way” non-apologies.

COMPUTER

I’m arranging dinner with somebody you used to know, and emailing you the details.

SOUND FX: The PING of a new email.

AVERY

What is this... No way, Jason? You’re trying to make things up to me by putting me in a room with that sociopath?

COMPUTER

That term is overused. True sociopathy is rare; at most, he’s just a psychopath.

COMMERCIAL BREAK

MUSIC: Gentle, low AMBIENT sound.

AVERY

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Special thanks to Spring Box for sponsoring Swings and Roundabouts. They, um, they actually sent me a free futon, so if there are any circus strongmen listening out there, I could use your help dragging it up the stairs to my room on the second floor.

MUSIC: Fade out.

CONTENT WARNING

COMPUTER

Warning: the following segment contains references to suicidal ideation. If you’d prefer not to hear this material, please skip ahead by 3 minutes and 30 seconds.

JOURNEY TO DINNER

SOUND FX: Keys JANGLING and lock TURNING, followed by Avery WALKING along the street, as cars WHIZ by.

AVERY

I’m on my way to my local Indian restaurant to have dinner with Jason Langford-Greene, who, along with Carl Higgins and Robert Loxby, was one of three bullies who targeted me when I was a student at Poole Grammar School from 2001 to 2003, as were they, which was convenient for them because inter-institute bullying has not proven effective for even the most cruel of children.

The school system in Britain varies depending on the part of the country you’re from. I lived in Dorset, between the ages of three and eighteen, so I grew up there. Children there attend four years of elementary school, four more of middle school, and then a final five of upper school, with all the years in between not existing, because the others all happen in a row.

But in year seven–the penultimate year of middle school-you can diverge from the standard track by taking an exam to get into the local grammar schools, which are separated by gender and have a more rigorous curriculum. Which is my attempt at politely saying they’re for the smart kids.

I was the only student in my school who took the entrance exam, and also the only one who passed it. Most of the other new students came to Poole Grammar in herds from their schools, so I was isolated from the start.

I became a target for bullying, and withstood it for a year and a half before I decided that I needed to either leave, or kill myself. My bullies preferred the option where I wasn’t around anymore, but settled for the one where I stopped attending their school.

I enrolled at the upper school I would’ve attended had I not taken Poole’s entrance exam, and re-joined everybody I’d grown up with. They weren’t exactly thrilled to welcome back the annoying know-it-all who came home tail between legs because some of the other nerds were a bit mean. But they cleared the low bar of not actively making my days miserable, perhaps sensing that they could rely on my nascent mood disorder to do that for them.

Putting distance between myself and my bullies saved my life, and all it cost was a humbling return to my small town’s high school, a significant hit to the quality of my education, and a commensurate reduction in the odds of me getting offered a place at an elite university. Which was a shame, as I was hoping to get accepted to Oxford and then be forced to turn it down because it was prohibitively expensive.

I hope the Jason I’m about to break naan bread with is different from the the torturer I remember. I don’t know what he’s been up to since I last saw him, because I haven’t seen him since I last saw him. Facebook says he lives in Leeds (which I think is where part of his family is from, if not historically then definitely since he’s lived there), but all his other personal information is set to “private”. I didn’t want to make a friend request because the last time I tried to establish a cordial relationship between us he threw my backpack into a urinal and pissed on it.

The tragedy was that I’d begged my mother for a more expensive, waterproof one, but she hadn’t seen the point. The dark sadism at the core of humanity was the point, Mum!

Um, oh, okay- I’m nearly at the restaurant, so, um... I don’t trust my phone’s battery, so I’m gonna switch over to a cassette recorder I brought with me.

DINNER WITH JASON

SOUND FX: Cassette-tape CLICK.

SOUND FX: Background HUM of a restaurant.

JASON

...and it’ll be recording the whole time?

AVERY

Yeah, sorry, if that’s okay. But the podcast is only half an hour long, so I won’t be playing the whole thing on the show. Just, um...

JASON

Just the interesting bits.

AVERY

Exactly.

JASON

The bits that make me look like a prick?

AVERY

If there are any. Which is kind-of up to you, right?

SOUND FX: The mechanical STOP-START of the cassette.

SOUND FX: Cassette FAST-FORWARDING.

JASON

...with a naan bread.

SERVER

And for you?

AVERY

I’d like a chicken tikka masala, and yeah, I’ll have a naan, too.

SERVER

Okay, I’ll bring your drinks over in a second.

SOUND FX: Server WALKING away.

AVERY

I swear, if we get Pepsi instead of Coca-Cola, I am taking it as a personal attack.

JASON

Chicken curry, eh? Still not a fan of vegetables, then?

AVERY

Is that a reference to the time you and a bunch of guys held me down and made me eat the greens from a sandwich that had been in the rubbish bin for two days?

JASON

Are you sure you didn’t lettuce do it to you?

AVERY

It’s a traumatic memory, you know.

JASON

You’re right, you’re right. I’m sorry.

AVERY

Sorry for the joke, or the original incident?

JASON

Both! I feel awful about it.

AVERY

And I felt slaw-full about it.

JASON

...Isn’t that cabbage?

AVERY

I stay away from leafy vegetables, so I wouldn’t know.

JASON

You should try them, they’re good for you.

AVERY

Can you not ram salad down my throat again?

JASON

I just said I was sorry. I know it was a terrible thing to do.

AVERY

I get why you did it, though. Teenagers make bad decisions, they get aggressive, they target their peers-

JASON

But with you... We weren’t targeting a peer, were we? It was more like beating up a child.

AVERY

I was the same age as you.

JASON

Right, right, but... You were so small, and thin, and you cried all the time–

AVERY

You don’t need to go into that, the listeners already know that I cried all the time.

JASON

-and on the very first day, when we had to introduce ourselves, you told us that you spent your summer reading comics and sucking your thumb.

AVERY

That was... That was meant to be funny, like, some disarming honesty.

JASON

The only person you disarmed was yourself. You were completely vulnerable to attack.

SOUND FX: Server APPROACHES.

SERVER

Alright, I have a Pepsi for you, and...

SOUND FX: The mechanical STOP-START of the cassette.

SOUND FX: Cassette FAST-FORWARDING.

JASON

Can we address the elephant in the room?

AVERY

This is an Indian restaurant, there are multiple elephants.

JASON

You’re a girl now.

AVERY

Yeah. Yeah, that happened.

JASON

I’m totally cool with it, by the way.

AVERY

...Great. I mean, you should be, it’s 2015.

JASON

So, uh, when did you switch?

AVERY

I transitioned when I was nineteen, so... Around 2007, 2008.

JASON

That’s not long after you left Grammar School. And now we know why you left, right?

AVERY

I left because you and your friends were making my life a misery.

JASON

And because it was an all-boy school, and you weren’t a boy.

AVERY

That was part of the problem, yeah.

JASON

Although I suppose you wouldn’t have fit in at the girl’s school, either.

AVERY

Yeah, that’s just one of the issues with single-sex education.

JASON

The only place you did fit was in was a locker.

AVERY

Now that was some classic bullying. You know, when I tell people about that, they assume it was a tall, thin locker, like in American films and TV, but-

JASON

No, no, they were those little boxes. You folded right up in there. Voluntarily, too, so I’m not sure you can call it bullying.

AVERY

I think it transitioned to bullying when you closed the door and wouldn’t let me out until a teacher heard me screaming.

JASON

It was a locker, designed to be locked. What else were we supposed to do when you were in there?

AVERY

There was a certain inevitability to the events, I suppose.

JASON

And yet you climbed in of your own accord.

AVERY

I wanted to impress you guys. I wanted to show you, and myself, that there was something I could do that you couldn’t. I liked showing off.

JASON

What you liked was being bullied.

SOUND FX: Server WALKS past.

SERVER

Hot plates coming through, make sure you don’t get burned.

SOUND FX: The mechanical STOP-START of the cassette.

SOUND FX: Cassette FAST-FORWARDING.

AVERY

You have to understand, I’m not speaking for all victims of bullying, here.

JASON

Okay.

AVERY

What I’m about to say isn’t a license for kids to be awful to each other. It’s just my experience.

JASON

Stop beating around the bush (which I assume you shave, or.. Wax? Do you wax it?).

AVERY

There was definitely a part of me that liked being bullied. I didn’t get much attention at home, so I tried to find it in other places and-

JASON

She says, into the tape recorder, to later be broadcast to the world.

AVERY

-and when you’re being bullied you are the centre of focus, to say the least.

JASON

Bad attention is still attention.

AVERY

Exactly. So I probably pushed some situations to give you opportunities to pick on me, and prolonged the times when you already were.

JASON

Like when we chased you out of the classroom, and you kept pretending you were out of breath so that we could catch up to you?

AVERY

You knew I was faking?

JASON

I remember us thinking that was especially pathetic.

AVERY

I don’t know, I think the pathetic thing was a probably a bunch of adolescents beating up a child who was still years away from puberty.

JASON

Hey, we weren’t doctors, we didn’t know that.

AVERY

No, you just knew that I was small, and thin, and weak, and alone.

JASON

And... And a witch. You were a witch for a little while. That was weird.

AVERY

Ugh, yeah, I had a bit of a Wicca phase, didn’t I?

JASON

You bought a rock to school, on a chain–

AVERY

It was a dowsing crystal.

JASON

-and dangled it over playing cards, trying to guess which card was next in the deck. How often did that work, by the way?

AVERY

I’d say about one time in fifty-two.

JASON

Picture yourself, this tiny boy wearing a pentagram necklace and swinging a piece of quartz around, talking about rituals and goddesses and the Moon. How were we meant to react?

SOUND FX: The mechanical STOP-START of the cassette.

SOUND FX: Cassette FAST-FORWARDING.

SERVER

Is there anything else I can get you?

JASON

I think we’re good, right?

AVERY

Eh, probably closer to neutral.

SOUND FX: Server WALKING away.

JASON

The woman who rang me–what is she, your assistant?

AVERY

Sure, let’s call her that.

JASON

She said she was setting this up because she wanted me to apologise to you.

AVERY

She had very high expectations for this dinner.

JASON

It didn’t sound unreasonable. In fact, I’ve already said sorry a few times. But the more we talk, the more I think it wasn’t my fault.

AVERY

It’s not that simple. I think you and the other guys were a little at fault, for hurting me, but... I was a little at fault, for egging you on. And the teachers were hugely at fault, for not stopping it. But...

But I don’t blame anyone, because it’s just... It’s what happens. It’s what schools do. They make bullies, and they make victims, and there’s nothing anybody can do about it.

You didn’t choose to bully me, but you chose how you bullied me, and I guess that’s what I want the apology for.

JASON

Well, that’s an extremely slanted view of the education system. I don’t know how to even respond to– You know I’m a teacher now, right?

AVERY

I... I didn’t. But it’s not a surprise. Teachers and bullies both are essential to keeping the machinery of the school running. They’re each have important places in the system.

JASON

If I’m sorry for anything, I’m sorry for... Radicalising? Is that the right word?

JASON (CONT’D)

I’m sorry for altering your take on education so profoundly.

AVERY

From my perspective, you just opened my eyes, so I’m sort-of grateful.

SOUND FX: Server APPROACHING.

SERVER

Here’s your bill, guys. Just bring it over to the cashier when you’re ready to settle-up.

AVERY

That might still be a while.

SOUND FX: The mechanical STOP-START of the cassette.

SOUND FX: Cassette FAST-FORWARDING.

JASON

I think after everything we’ve talked about, the least I can do is pay for your food. Consider it part of the apology.

AVERY

Yeah, that’s fair. Thank you, though.

JASON

Before we go, there is something specific I want to apologise for.

AVERY

Don’t go overboard, now. I mean, I- I said I don’t blame you–

JASON

I’m still not sure how much I buy that. You’ve definitely given me a lot to think about. If your take on the system is right, I don’t know that I want to be a part of it anymore.

AVERY

Oh, shit, I didn’t mean to– I mean, I’m sorry for making you doubt-

JASON

Like I said, I’ve got to think about it.

JASON (CONT’D)

But there’s something I know was my fault, something I did purely out of hate, not because of any social machinery.

Do you remember your last day? The day you left?

AVERY

Of course-that was a big day for me. A rare moment of victory, but also a huge admission of defeat.

JASON

A few days before that, you’d told us. You’d said that you were going. You could have just slipped out quietly, but instead-

AVERY

I thought hearing that you’d driven me away might provoke some shame, or regret, but actually...

JASON

We were thrilled.

AVERY

Yeah.

JASON

But then after the final bell rang, we were all filing down the stairs, down from the top floor, and I realised that this was my last chance to pick on you. So I-

AVERY

You punched me.

JASON

Which was new, right? Normally we’d just push you down, or trip you, or-

AVERY

Or lock in me a metal box.

JASON

Actual classical violence like that was maybe... Too obvious? But in that moment, when I knew I wasn’t going to see you again, I felt so much anger. I remember thinking, “How dare he? He doesn’t get to decide when this ends.”

AVERY

You weren’t in control anymore. That’s upsetting.

JASON

I was furious. I put all my strength into that punch. It was the first time I’d ever hit someone like that. I don’t remember much... I just popped you in the face, and ran away. Did I... Did it hurt? Was there blood?

AVERY

No... No blood. You got my forehead, so there was a lump, but you didn’t break skin. It did definitely hurt. Quite a lot.

JASON

See, that... That was completely needless. I hit you out of spite, that time. So you deserve an apology.

AVERY

Thank you. I forgive you, if that means anything.

JASON

It does.

AVERY

Thank you, as well, for not calling me “Cryle” at any point, tonight.

JASON

Oh my god, I forgot about that. That definitely wasn’t our fault, we were completely helpless before the opportunity for such a cutting portmanteau.

AVERY

Yes. My name was Kyle, and I cried a lot. I can certainly see how tempting it was.

JASON

It’s little details like that which make me think you were made to be bullied.

AVERY

You should probably keep that theory to yourself, you know, given your occupation.

JASON

Speaking of which- Are you going to hide my identity somehow, on your podcast? I’m not sure the PTA would see the nuance in the things we’ve talked about.

AVERY

Oh, yeah–I’ll be transcribing this tape and then getting someone else to re-enact it. Um, and I’ll probably change your name, to, like, Jason, or something.

JASON

That’s pretty close to my real name.

AVERY

Yeah, I don’t work too hard on these things.

JASON

Don’t be so modest. I listened to the first two episodes, and they were fantastic!

AVERY

That might be the first time you’ve ever said something nice about me.

JASON

How about I double-up, then, and tell you you’ve got great tits?

AVERY

That’s very kind, but I should tell you that I’m not attracted to men.

JASON

Then this has been a complete waste of my time.

SOUND FX: Chair SCREECH.

AVERY

Wait, what?

SOUND FX: Jason RUNNING away.

JASON

(from a distance)

Have fun with your boring podcast, Cryle.

SOUND FX: The mechanical STOPPING of the cassette.

JOURNEY BACK HOME

SOUND FX: Avery WALKING along the street, cars WHIZZING by.

AVERY

Before I took the entrance exam, my middle school’s head teacher, Mr. Chambers, took my mother aside at a parents’ evening and expressed concern that I wouldn’t be able to make it at Pool Grammar. He said it was a tough environment, and I’d get left behind, although it was unclear whether the environment I’d be left behind in would also be tough.

My mum wouldn’t hear of it, partially because she believed in me, and partially because she was looking forward to being able to tell people she had a gifted child, and partially because she has partial hearing loss in part of her ears.

A year later, I went to an open evening back at that same middle school to see a project my little sister had worked on. I made a point to seek out Mr. Chambers, and greeted him by saying, “Oh, ye of little faith.” I’m not joking, this is a real thing that I did. I looked another human being in the eye and sincerely said, in the most condescending tone a 15-year-old can summon when talking to an adult, “Oh, ye of little faith.” It’s a credit to the man that he didn’t burst out laughing.

I felt so proud and righteous in that moment, so thrilled that I’d proved him wrong and could shove it in his face. We’d covered Greek myths at his school in year five, so I should’ve remembered what happened to Icarus. I flew too close to the sun, and the sun was surrounded by vicious children with better wings, and they all dive-bombed me, and I got gross cloud-stuff in my mouth. Chambers was right, I couldn’t make it.

As well as being the principal, Mr. Chambers was also our maths teacher. He used to let students leave for lunch a minute or two early if they did well in a test, or if they got good marks on their homework, or if he just felt like it. One class, he said all the boys could go first, and then stopped me when I went to leave with them. “Not you, Kyle, obviously.” It was a good joke, and everybody had a hearty laugh. Except me, I went straight to the toilets to cry about it.

But it turns out he was right then, too. I shouldn’t have been with the boys. It almost makes me want to de-transition, just to prove him wrong.

DEBRIEF

COMPUTER

So. Do you want to talk about dinner?

AVERY

As weird as things got at the end, at least I scored a decent meal out of it.

COMPUTER

Really?

AVERY

...No, the curry was too spicy.

COMPUTER

You should have ordered some milk.

AVERY

I’d rather have had that than bloody Pepsi.

COMPUTER

I had no idea about Jason’s intentions. Obviously I wouldn’t have sent you there if I knew that he–

AVERY

Wanted to stick it in? Or have it stuck into him, maybe? Either way, I’m not on board, so...

COMPUTER

You’re pretty public about being into girls.

COMPUTER (CONT’D)

A Google search could’ve saved him a lot of trouble.

AVERY

I’m not sure about that. I don’t think there’s anything on the Internet that explicitly states that I;m not into dudes.

COMPUTER

There is this, now.

AVERY

Yeah, that’s handy. Thanks, Jason!

COMPUTER

So you got something out of seeing him, even if you didn’t get an apology.

AVERY

Um, I got a bunch of apologies. I already made a supercut of them!

SOUND FX: Montage of Jason SAYING “sorry”.

COMPUTER

Yes, but he didn’t mean any of them. He was just sweet-talking you.

AVERY

That’s a very pessimistic view. Just because he was trying to have sex with me, doesn’t mean he wasn’t sincere.

COMPUTER

But he would probably have been more sincere if you hadn’t kept trying to Good Will Hunting him.

ROBIN WILLIAMS

Look at me, son. It’s not your fault.

COMPUTER

You kept letting him off the hook, being so nice to someone who was awful to you. It was as if you were acting out some slow-cooked Stockholm Syndrome.

AVERY

What was I supposed to do, say that I’m still angry, and I still blame him? I’m not, and I don’t.

COMPUTER

Come on, of course you’re angry.

AVERY

Now that I’ve had a chance to reflect on it, I realise that I’m not. I get sad that it happened, and upset when I have flashbacks or nightmares, but... But what am I supposed to do, be angry about it forever?

COMPUTER

You’re angry about lots of things. You’re angry about soda.

AVERY

That’s not a fun part of my personality. I joke about being fuelled by hatred, but operating from a place of rage and jealousy and resentment isn’t an optimal way to live.

COMPUTER

Isn’t the anger supposed to inspire you? Push you to new heights of achievement out of spite?

AVERY

I’m two weeks late on this episode, and I’ve been furious at myself this entire time. It didn’t help. It doesn’t help.

COMPUTER

And forgiving Jason–that will help?

AVERY

It can’t hurt. And it doesn’t cost me.

COMPUTER

How about me? Are you angry at me for setting up the dinner?

AVERY

No, I’m going to let go of that anger, too, I mean–you’re not a distinct intelligence, or personality. I script everything you say, so I’d just be getting frustrated with myself, which... You know, I have bipolar disorder, I do enough critical self-talk already.

COMPUTER

We’re going to have to address that at some point.

AVERY

The bipolar? But I have a real therapist for that.

COMPUTER

No, me. The way you’ve created me to deal with these issues, and compartmentalised certain parts of yourself to do it.

AVERY

Oh, yeah, sure, but, I mean, we’re kind-of early in the show’s run for that, right? That’s a couple of story arcs down the line.

COMPUTER

“Story arcs”? You’re so pretentious. This is just a podcast.

AVERY

But a searingly honest, emotionally powerful, and well-produced podcast. It’s a great show, and I’m a hero.

COMPUTER

Thank you for not putting those words in my mouth.

AVERY

I could, though. Hey, computer, what am I?

COMPUTER

You are a hero.

AVERY

Aw, thanks.

CREDITS

MUSIC: BLOOPY electronica.

AVERY

Swings and Roundabouts was brought to you by me, Avery Edison, with additional voice work from Direlog, and Romy Sugden. Music was, as always, provided by Liam Cooke. Links to these contributors’ work can be found in this episode’s show notes at swingsandroundaboutspodcast.com/three, that’s “three” spelled out, T-H-R-E-E. To find out when new episodes of the show are available, you can follow me at twitter.com/aedison, or find subscription links at swingsandroundaboutspodcast.com, or search for Swings and Roundabouts in iTunes, or your podcast app or service of choice. If you enjoy the show, please tell a friend about it. Thank you for listening.

I love you.

MUSIC: CRESCENDOING electronica.