The string

What happened next was that, rather than go off and have a life like anyone else, I walked very carefully to the sign at the end of the town, and, to ensure I didn’t get lost, secured a piece of string to it (the other end was tied to a children’s toy which, for sentimental reasons, I kept in my pocket, though pretended not to acknowledge). Then I sat down on the stile there, and it must have made a very good seat, because I stayed there for fifteen years. During that time there was one question which kept coming back like a cat to sit on my lap, and, like a cat, I felt I had to keep shooing it away, namely: Why I was doing this? Was I unhappy? Had I decided to become unhappy? Did I want to be a failure? But no sooner had I accepted the questions than I felt a kind of panic at the world, as though something had got a hold of my meaning and was grinding it away between its teeth. By now I had realised that, secretly, the string stretched as far as my thoughts, and I was still free, if I chose to be so; but I did not want this freedom; I did not want to be brought face to face with the continents I had failed to cross; I saw that it was too late, already, and it had always been too late; it was too late even before I learned to walk, and everything I did later only compounded the problem. I was only a small person; I had neither the space nor the time for regret, and, more importantly, I had no idea how to govern a future based upon it — the continuing to live, whatever that might mean, with full recognition of the loss. And so, instead, I lived a life which cannot really be described. Or, if it can be described, it cannot really be explained. I was waiting, as I later put it, for all this to become unbearable, and realising, with growing disenchantment, that I was stronger than I knew; the world could not break me, and, because it could not break me, it could not relieve me of responsibility, either. And so, while the others went their separate ways, I found myself living without living, living nowhere in particular, but without the romance of wandering, or even the decisive stigma of being lost. Particular images from that time come back to me now, just as they did then — fragmented images that were never parts of greater things, but all of which seem rich with potential, nevertheless.

— From ‘Circewards’

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