63: Horizon – Narrowing

On distant days in distant years, before the illness and before we had to give up almost every­thing, we walked long paths through dry summer woods, and later spied distant towns from naked hilltops. And before that, on my own, in child­hood, I strode in wellingtons along shallow streams and marvelled at the hovering dragonflies. On our bicycles, I would set off with friends and take half the day to ride right across the Ordnance Survey map, and onto the next one. And when we got home again, we weren’t even exhausted. But then with illness, our horizon, in a moment it seems, drew right in close and fitted tight against the fences and little walls of our little house, here, at the centre of things. We were not unhappy with our new horizon, because we had our conversa­tions, and we had our books, and with the televi­sion especially, we could see to distant places and almost confront our confinement and join the ranks of the unimpeded for just a short while. We didn’t mind. The more confined we were, the more liberated became our thoughts, and that was exhilarating. So many, so many interesting things to wonder at. That we could not go to them, that we could not touch them, that we could not share them with others, but only with each other – well that did not matter in the slightest. We grew accustomed to it. We liked it like that. We did not hate the illness. It became a familiar presence, and that was all right.

But now, alone, nothing seems familiar any more. These old things here, and my new thoughts, seem like unwelcome strangers who come to disrupt the even flow of things, to destroy the steady rhythm that over the decades had set in, which bit by bit had settled to a familiar beat that so quietly, so quietly counted off the peaceful years and rolled out the fabric upon which we laid our conversations, and which the passing time rolled up again, and kept in safe-keeping, for a while, in our memories.

There is now nothing to keep me confined to this narrow horizon, except my terror of the world and the horror is threatens to induce. For alone, I feel so strangely unsafe, as unsafe as my dear wife felt because of the way her illness afflicted her, leaving her feeble and physically incapable of mov­ing without help, for whom the limit was lifting a pen or raising a spoon. But amidst the dismay of that disability there I stood, ready and eager to do all that must be done to carry on. So we carried on, and the world fed our craving for interesting things, for meaning and purpose. But now that has come crashing down, and now I keep breathing, and keep on breathing some more, and I look out beyond my fences and hope that something will come for me. I know not what it may be. And not knowing, I cannot set off to find it, and I cannot ask for help, for there is nothing to ask for, for there is no sense in asking for what I need, when I do not know what it is.

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60: Routine – Ending

Her illness and disability regulated a strict daily routine that ordered and structured every aspect of my life for all those years. And now that she has gone, I cannot recover even the merest shadow of a daily routine. You wouldn’t have thought it could be that difficult, to arrange one’s needs, one’s activities, one’s projects around the routines of waking and sleeping, eating and drink­ing, reading and writing, and the more basic requirements of visiting the lavatory at intervals. Yet each day takes on the aspect of a unique experi­ment in time and motion, pursued not with the objective of efficiency for maximum production, but its very opposite, as if seeking the most efficient ways to be inefficient, to get as little done as possible in the maximum time. Sometimes, I eat nothing at all. Sometimes I manage one small snack at 11 pm. Sometimes I get to bed at 3 am, sometimes at 7 am. Sometimes, because I have dozed off repeatedly throughout the day, I get out of bed at 8 am, after only three hours of rotten, nightmare-filled sleep. Sometimes I come across a book that I see I have started to read,[1] yet have neglected to open it again for maybe a week or more, because I have simply forgotten about it. And at this very moment, as I am writing this account, I try to marshal my projects, with the thought of maybe listing them here to add some appropriate detail to what otherwise must remain vague and general, and I find I cannot. I started to read Orwell’s 1984 last night[2] at about 2 am, and got to Chapter 5 before I fell asleep in my chair. My project on the mysticism of Julian of Norwich has come to a standstill because the new book that I wanted to read and that had been scheduled for release today has been rescheduled for the end of summer. That is a nuisance. But I think I am do­ing other things, only I cannot bring them to mind.

The worst of it, I would want to argue, is this overpowering sense of pointlessness that reduces each project to a silly waste of time. I have no pub­lisher for my Julian book, and I expect – if it is ever completed – I shall have to publish it via a print-on-demand service, and as before, no one will know it is there, and no one will order it – just like the handful of other projects that I have com­pleted in the last decade – but languish uselessly, undiscovered, unknown, and therefore pointless. Should I then have discarded these projects at the very beginning, abandoning or aborting them from the very start?

I have never been able to get inside, to be part of something, to be involved in any activity or project on a group or communal scale. I have re­mained always alone, on the outside, doing these things by myself, with only that teacher from my infants’ school standing at my shoulder, looking down at my efforts, waiting to catch me out and find fault. But I did like helping my wife with her projects. She would write her books directly into text editing programmes, and I would do the rest. I would track down and purchase the books she needed, many of them obscure and second-hand, because she never mastered that art. Her biggest project, the most important one, she could not complete, for she died leaving it half done, and there are no notes I might use to carry it on myself, and anyway, the topic is way beyond my ex­pertise to handle adequately, and this turn of events has brought me such sadness.

My education was pretty worthless. The short­hand and typing would have been useful, if they had let me do them, but apart from a little arithme­tic, nothing at all that I was taught at school has been of the slightest use to me. They did not teach me to read or write – I mean how to read, how to engage with a text, and how to write a text of one’s own. The whole debacle was a thirteen-year waste of time. I met my wife at school, so that must score some points, but everything else gets a useless zero. My grandfather taught me a little bit about woodworking – though not enough for making my lyres without having to experiment and waste so much time and expensive materials on failures. I mean to get back to that when the summer comes. I have no workshop, but must work in the garden when the weather is suitable. So the point­lessness that like quicksand threatens to suck down and obliterate all I might try to do is tem­pered with a profound disappointment, for I know, if things had gone a little differently, these troubles would be fewer and of less intensity, more easily taken in my stride, and in that sense perhaps not really noticed at all.

But as yet, the winter lingers on into what should really be spring by now, and I cannot yet get back to my woodworking. And Julian must wait until the autumn, it seems. So I muck about, as we used to call this way of life when we were children, muck about doing whatever takes my fancy, jumping from one unfinished and flounder­ing project to the next, with no structure to my efforts, and therefore with no proper sense of pur­pose, and certainly no sense of achievement.

Really, I would like my lost routine back again, and everything now assumes the role of distraction until that routine returns, yet it never can return, so all there will ever be is distraction, and perhaps not even that, but merely the hope of distraction. This does not seem to be a very good way to carry on, but I have no idea how to fix it. I cannot believe that anyone will ever read this, or want to read it, and therefore all I am doing is having a conversation with myself, but doing it in the most tedious and time-consuming way possible.

[1] I have begun to write the date on the pages each time I begin a reading session.

[2] I read this when I was a teenager, and I sense a familiarity to many of the passages, but I am pretty certain that all those years ago, I did not read it to the very end.

47: Shoes – Flapping

I have travelled in a wide circuit, taking al­most the whole of my life to do it. For, in a manner of speaking, I am back in that awful school, alone, friendless, buffeted by forces I cannot see, cannot understand, cannot prevail against in even the smallest measure. Then, I was wrenched from my old, familiar life in which I knew a certain contentment, and now the same thing happens again, for my wife has died, and all conversation has end­ed, and all purpose is shattered. Forsaken then, by friends who did not mean to forsake me, but simp­ly got left behind, so I am forsaken now it seems by my wife who brings no word to me. (She would know what to do.) So it seems I am forsaken by friends I never had, for sickness and disability take up a lot of time, you know, and there was not enough left over for friends or gatherings, none beyond those occasional visits to my grand­parents as they grew closer and closer to extreme old age and the inevitable sundering from our so­cial practice. So we stayed at home, and had conversations about everything. She was very keen on the afterlife, and believed, as much as a rational person could, that on death we travel to a new world and a new life, for the evidence, of various sorts, was abundant. She read books and watched out for television documentaries. And if anyone was going to come back with words of comfort or reassurance, it would be her. I had assumed with­out question that something would happen, that I would hear her voice, or see her sitting in her chair, or perhaps something stranger yet would occur, as others have attested, that she would talk to me through the telephone, or manipulate the speakers of my computer and make a gift to me, a gift I need so much, of some simple communica­tion … everything is all rightI am all right … but no…

I dream of her every night. There she is (mud­dled up with my nightmares), just as she was in life, talking, and telling me how to fix things. Though, the other night, her disability had van­ished away, and in no time at all, she had cleared away the clutter I have made on the landing… So every morning, I awake to a fresh realisation of what has happened. And as I did then, all those years ago, tortured in that terrible school, I panic under the weight of what I shall call being forsak­en … for no one comes, no one aids me, and all hope is gone. My broken heart is pounding, pounding, pounding, and has stopped working properly, for my feet suddenly started to swell, and I cannot get my shoes on properly, and that does make it so very difficult getting up and down the stairs, with my shoes half-on, hanging off the front of my fat feet…

It seems that some edict has been spoken somewhere very distant, no more for him. And on my wide circuit, all I can do, as I did then, is carry on in despair, wishing to be rescued from my des­olate shore. She came, all those years ago, not to rescue me from that awful school, for merely the passing of time took me away from that place, but she did come, and she took me to a whole new world. Its miseries descended soon enough, and sickness came full steam, and all hopes of careers were swept aside by its inexorable progress. But we managed, and we did go into the garden on sunny days … not as often as I would have liked, for the sheer physical effort involved placed our garden at a distance from us, and I fear no expla­nation – not one that takes up less than two pages – will properly explain that.

As I did then, when suffering the torments of that awful school, I retreat to my books, and I enter the worlds that their authors lived in or in­vented, but this amounts to mere distraction and must not be regarded as a solution, you under­stand. It is a way of passing the time until my grandfather comes in his white and blue boat, or my wife comes with smiles, and I hope I will know relief of such intensity it will be as if I have never tasted relief before.

Either that, or my ending here will be a final ending, and all misery will also end, and I will not know the truth of it, that the afterlife has all along been a fantasy. There, that is an account of why I feel so terribly forlorn today.