Monday, 9 November 2009

Things That Happen (1)

My life was as ordinary as any ordinary life could be up to the age of about seven. I had an experience I neither had the understanding nor concept of that would unknowingly change the entire direction, motivation and course of my life. It was late summer, 1975, and I was home alone on an overcast afternoon.

In 1975, the world was a very different place. Kids played for hours outside on the street. It was a playing field of innocence and adventure and the only thoughts of returning home was when you got hungry or you were looking for a few pence to go to the shop. My older sister was a thoroughly social child and she spent every waking hour on the streets with her gang of friends. I was a more introspective kid, and while I had my circle of friends, I was going through one of my I need to be on my own phases. They could last a couple of days, less often, entire weeks. I think I may have been in week two of one of those phases. My mother had headed out to the shop for a little while. It must have been about three o’clock in the afternoon. The TV was off and I was sitting on the couch in our living room. Back then, TV was black and white and we lived in a world of about five stations, BBC1, BBC2, UTV, HTV, and RTE. I had obviously checked to see if Michael Bentine’s Potty Time was on UTV. It might have been out of season because of the summer holidays, but clearly I was happy to sit there with the TV off and probably muse on my next Lego project with a thousand pieces scattered across the floor of the front parlour room. Each one, a building block in the life I was going to live.

I heard footsteps on the stairs in the hall. It wasn’t my sister. She had no front door key. My Dad was at work. I hadn’t heard the front door open, so I didn’t think it was my mother returning back from the shops. The footsteps were slow and deliberate and seemed to be descending the stairs. I wasn’t scared, just anxious and puzzled. Finally, a hand pressed down on the handle of the door into the living room where I sat. An elderly woman made her way into the living room, made sure to close the door behind her, as if she knew the house rules and it shouldn’t be left ajar, and walked slowly toward the door into the kitchen. She was dressed in a heavy, dark, long dress. She looked around the room, and although I looked at her, she never once seemed to acknowledge me there in the room with her, nor did she say a single word. It is always difficult for kids to judge an adult’s age – they always think adults are much older than they actually are. I’m not sure what age I thought her then, certainly old, but I’d say she was in her early seventies, maybe a little more. I know this woman wasn’t a city-dweller, not only did she not belong in my childhood home, but she did not belong in a city, or for that matter, the contemporary 1970’s. This was more like a rural Irish woman, with a reddened and hardened face exposed to the elements of country life. She was stern and not a woman I would have like to cross swords with in whatever life she lived. This was the first time I experienced the inner coldness that seizes your body when you are in the presence of something which is not meant to be there and has no physical sustainability in the world you are living in.

She opened the door into the kitchen, but this time, she chose to leave it ajar. I remember thinking that there was no way on this earth I was going to follow her into the kitchen. I sat rigid for a minute or two, and then tried to see if I could lean over from where I was sitting on the living room couch and catch sight of her through the double glass panes of the door. She remained out of view and I must have sat on the couch for about five to ten minutes before the cold feeling inside me passed. I got up, went to the kitchen door, and peered in. She was gone, but when I took a few steps into the kitchen, I could feel the temperature was unusually cold, as if something of the old woman still lingered.

My mother found me where she left me when she returned. The TV was still off, and as she rushed in her normal deliberate way through to the kitchen, she stopped and looked at me.

“Are you ok, Michael?”

“Yes. But someone called to see you while you were out.”

“One of the neighbours?”

“I’m not sure. I didn’t know them.”

“Doesn’t matter. They’ll call back.”

It wasn’t until my mid-twenties that I revealed the full details of the experience to my mother. By then, much had happened, and I could no longer confine this curious experience at age seven to being a simple childhood illusion of imagination and isolation. There were more than just physical doors which had opened of their own accord on that late, overcast, summer day in 1975.

Within weeks of the experience, I had my first moment of physical remoteness.

No comments:

Post a comment