Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Things That Happen (3)


My experiences of physical remoteness pretty much ended in my mid-teens. In a curious way, as an adult, I could deal with another spell; even understand better what physically and mentally happens a person when they occur. I do believe that many people experience this in their early lives, but like me, it eventually stops and later takes a different form, or a young person simply becomes less attuned, and naturally more distracted by what goes on around their world than inside it.

My later everyday teenage years appeared to take on the normality of anyone. In some ways they were. Thought, I did develop a fascination with the odd—that is, with things outside of my practical learning and sphere of knowledge as a teenager—the extreme and the unexplained. I read extensively and avidly from fifteen, right through to my early twenties. I was drawn to particular subjects like UFO’s, Alien abduction, Philosophy, Criminology, Pornography, Eroticism, Classic Art, Paranormal, Futurism and Technology. Whatever at a given time I was into became a dedication, a compulsion and a passion. I learned quickly, that in stages, one thing could become primary in your life for a significant period, and all else in it could be consigned to a perfunctory and secondary role. It is both a blessing and a curse I still live with today.

My childhood had at least thought me that we did not live on one linear plane. Things crossed over and somehow could get messed up in our lives. Our lives were not sealed containers and open to any physical, emotional and spiritual vagrancy. I knew there was something more—I just hadn’t figured out what it was back then. I was to learn. I was becoming a man, and though everything was new to me, I also understood I carried with me an innate perspective and awareness few others of my age seem to have.

In 1987, aged 19, I had two experiences, one could have ended my life, the other, had greater lasting effects on my life than I ever cared to imagine.

My father had got me a job in a milk distribution company. I worked on milk delivery trucks as a helper from the early hours of the morning. Depending on which route I was on, I could be up as early as 3.30am or as late as 5am. My father did an early morning shift in the company and would pick me up or organise a lift with one of the workmen as best he could. Often, I’d walk the hour journey from my home to the milk depot. I preferred the earlier start. These were the rural runs outside of the cities, a handful of delivery drops, a chance to admire the beauty of the sky and the advent of morning sunrise, and better still, you finished your day’s work just when everyone else was setting out on their morning journey to work.

One route took me to the wilds of County Wicklow, and Blessington, south of Dublin, the other, deep into the midlands of Ireland. On a very wet February afternoon, we were about to load a smaller truck from our articulated container. Each of the six drops usually meant a smaller truck would back up alongside us and we would off-load glass milk crates. Whatever happened that day, I lost my footing as I tried to climb up onto our container. The driver in the other truck was oblivious to me being sandwiched in between the two trucks as he reversed close up to the container. I remember my helper mate reaching down to pull me free, but he was off balance and was leaning too far down to keep hold of my hand and haul me up. I could feel both trucks wedging my hips as I looked forlornly up at my mate on the container, fearing he was about to see my body sliced in half. He managed to reach a hand out between the two trucks with just enough room and hammered on the side of the truck, screaming in a loud wail for ‘Dessie’ to stop reversing. Dessie, being a rural man, was used to load roars at him, and he slammed the brakes immediately. Like a snake, I slithered and contorted my body through the narrow gap between the trucks, pulled myself up onto the container, and both panted and fascinated at how I had cheated death. In the 1980’s, jobs were scarce—you said nothing, and reported nothing. I was happy enough just being alive.

I still cannot remember how long after Christmas it was. I would have been just nineteen that January. So, I know it was late January or early February. I had an extraordinary dream one night – what I believed was a dream, and yet, seemed to play out in the reality of my bedroom. I remember hearing very heavy rain most of the night on the roof of the house long after I went to bed. I did sleep and dream, but woke regularly. It was the dream which most disturbed me, not the fact that each time I awoke; I again found my door ajar and the light in the bedroom on again. Dutifully, I turned the light off and tried to get back to sleep.

In the dream, my friend and I were out in a nightclub, yet, it seemed more like a restaurant. Dimly lit, where you strained to see anyone beyond where you were seated. The wooden table and chairs were fixed and designed like old wooden carriage compartments with heavy curtains by the windows. Each table had a double pew on either side of the table and you felt enclosed. My friend sat on the inside near the window, and I, on the outside. A girl emerged from the shadows of the large room we were in. Music played, and she asked me to get up and dance with her. I was shy and nervous and shifted uneasily in my seat – half making an attempt to get up and half wanting her to return into the shadows and leave me. I looked at her dark brown hair and thin the features of her cheeks and nose. She turned abruptly to leave when I didn’t answer immediately. I saw the other side of her perfect face. I mumbled a defiant no and almost in response, she turned fully around to reveal the most hideous deformities on the other side of her face. My friend was appalled. ‘You didn’t have to do that. She must feel terrible.’ I protested to him that I had said no before I saw the other side of her face. The dream ended like a taunt to me – replaying the moment she turned her head and I saw the other side of her face.

I awoke with a dreadful feeling. Before I opened my eyes, I knew what was there for me to see. I knew the light would be back on again in the bedroom and she would be there. And she was with her head lying upon my pillow, and I, staring directly at her disfigured face. I sat bolt upright, jumped to the end of the bed and pulled the duvet with me, wrapping it around me as if it would provide some protection. I knew that feeling again. It was like the old woman in my sitting room, creeping through it – through my life as if they should belong there. I lay awake for an hour until about 4.30am. And though I could no longer see her – she never left me. Never could I have known until years later how much influence she would have on my life.

I walked the long journey to work. Like a stranger walking down a dark alleyway in the early hours of a cold winter morning, I kept looking back behind me. The road was empty and silent, but I knew she was with me. I felt her presence like she was still upon my shoulder. For all of that day at work, and for several days, it felt like someone was staring at me, but up so close, I swore I could feel her cool breath on my cheek sometimes. She did eventually draw back, and whether it was because, once again, I refused to acknowledge her presence in my physical world—just as I had done in my dream—she remained there for many, many years, like a back-seat driver in the journey of my life. Yes, the truth is, I too, distanced myself from that dream and her presence and influence on my life. I forgot her as if she really did become a casual one-night dancer with me—even my girlfriend—ultimately cast into my young history like a lover I never loved, nor could truly know or love in this earthly world. And like a spurned lover, who could not let go, she was not so carefree and benevolent in spirit. God rest her now, but I had no idea quite what had just entered my life. It would be a very long time before I knew and fully understood what had really happened to me and this wretched girl.

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