I may never be able to buy a new pillow.
My current one is, by my best estimate, at least 16 years old. I know, I know. You should buy a new one every two years, apparently. It’s almost certainly a haven for bacteria. We won’t talk about the fact that it’s covered in a kind of yellow crust that necessitates three pillowcases as a barrier measure.
It is my pillow, and it is exactly right. No other pillow will do. It’s filled with foam chips, and it’s more or less flat, and I love it. I take it on holiday with me, if I can get away with it, and haul it to friends’ houses if I stop over.
Without it, I can’t sleep. I tried to replace it recently, because even I know it’s disgusting. I went to Ikea and spent good money on the best pillows they had, pure white with striped binding around the edges. I knew I would hate them the first night, and also the second. But after a fortnight I had to give up and fetch my old, yellow one back out of the spare room, and not for the first time. I’m possibly stuck with it forever. Maybe literally.
I am, I’m afraid, immensely specific about these things. Now that the pillow is back in place, I’m currently having conniptions about the tines of our forks, all which have gone minutely out of line – except one. You will be unsurprised to learn that this is the fork that I must use to eat my dinner, or else I don’t particularly want to eat it at all. I have just thrown out a set of glasses whose rims seemed to me to be minutely pocked, although nobody else found them upsetting.
Sometimes it’s less precise than that. When I’m tired, I’m haunted by non-specific smells that make it impossible for me to settle, or high-pitched noises that no-one else can hear. I’m told that I’m the only one who repeatedly complains about the flicker of the light in our work toilet. I can’t bear the sensation of dusty things, and so I endlessly have to wash my hands to get rid of the film of dust that seems to accumulate on me as I go through my day. It’s less, I see dead people than, I feel dry things. The texture of powdery sand, or terracotta tiles on bare feet, or even the thought of someone else touching chalk, in a different building, that may be imaginary, is enough to send me hot-and-cold, shivering, teeth chattering.
Everyone has their sensitivities, but I feel, in Temple Grandin’s words, ‘like one big exposed nerve.’ It reads, on the outside, as fidgetiness, distractedness, and irritability. Inside, it’s like living in a cheese grater. I spend a lot of my time (although not nearly as much as I’d like) in the bath, where it all washes away for a while. But sometimes I just have to sleep it off, and hope I can start again when I wake up.
But I’d hate it to sound like a sickness, because there’s a wonder in it, too. The great thing about infinite specificity is that it’s possible to find exactly the right thing, every now and then: the right flavour, the right climatic conditions, the right tone of light. I’m hard to please, certainly, but when the stars align, I’m delighted. Read through a different lens, my specificities could be finely attuned taste. If nothing else, I’m a pit canary for food that’s about to go off, or suspicious odours in the house. I’m not sure what career that would point me to: sommelier? Police dog?
See you soon,