Sunday night, my freezing and tiny flat, West London. I switch on my laptop to watch a movie before going to bed: a fairly regular routine for me to welcome the working week. Netflix announces a specific “recommendation for you, Simone” and I glimpse at it without too much thought. I take these recommendations with a pinch of salt. They’re usually popular movies and often not worth a second glance, but today I’ve been recommended a documentary which is rare. I decide to click on the information button to find out more. I read the summary with shock and a slight sinking feeling. “Dreams of a life” tells the “strange story of Joyce Vincent, a 38 year-old woman whose body was found in her tiny flat three years after she died.” I am 35. If I died now, my body could be that of a 38-year-old woman found in her tiny flat in three years*. With slight discomfort and anxiety, I press play.
I expect an American story so I’m startled by the opening close-up of a map of my area. I know every street staring at me. The map is replaced by shot-after-shot of Westfield Shopping Centre in Shepherd’s Bush. I’d been there just two hours ago. Ugh, this is making me feel very uncomfortable. But I’m sure that Joyce Vincent is an outcast or a misfit, she’ll have been weird and dysfunctional … not “normal” and nothing like me, that’s for sure. I keep watching.
Joyce Vincent was well-spoken, middle-class, very attractive, friendly, had a good career, people liked her. I cringe. Joyce Vincent was far better than me. Her death, and the reason she wasn’t discovered is a mystery. How she went from an engaging and social human being to an undiscovered missing person is inexplicable. Her skeleton was found on her sofa and the TV was still on after three years (I look guiltily at my TV glowing in the corner …). No one knows how she died and her family hasn’t commented on why they weren’t in contact.
I feel the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come is staring me in the face.
My friends and family are aware of my hermit tendencies. My workplace shuts down over the festive period and a few Christmases ago, when it came time to return to work in the New Year, I realised that I’d not seen or spoken to a real-life person in thirteen days. It hadn’t even dawned on me that I’d not interacted with a flesh-and-blood human until I arrived at work. When I enter my cave I can be reluctant to emerge unless absolutely necessary.
This year I have a choice to make for Christmas; I can stay on my own in my flat, or I can visit my friend and her family in Ireland. For weeks I’ve been stalling on a decision, but the moment has come. I close netflix.com and open aerlingus.com. Ten minutes later my flights to Dublin are booked. I will NOT be Joyce Vincent.
And Netflix, you can keep your judgemental recommendations to yourself!
I really didn’t appreciate one woman in the programme vehemently saying “It’s bad enough reaching 40, let alone being forty and alone. Awful. Shocking.” Not all of us are lucky enough to be happily paired up and that doesn’t make us depressed lepers, thanks very much.
*I realise that I’d be a 35-year-old body in three years rather than 38, but you get my point.