L. and M. come from Cambridge to stay for a few days. Ping pong in the community centre. Much laughter as the resident cat lies against the net batting the ball away. The happiness of being with people.
When they’ve left life plods on as usual. S. does her remote work as a research assistant for a historical project involving different universities, and makes monthly trips to the libraries in Norwich or Cambridge. I translate to the tedious sound of pigeon coos from the eave that remind me of endless suburban afternoons in Denmark growing up, or waiting to grow up. The evenings stretch out like great clouds over the horizon. The last day, the day after the last day. Life isn’t short, it’s long, long…
Memories of last summer in Norwich, when it got bad, when I’d go weeks without talking to anyone except the Asian man in the off-licence. Before S. At first I tried to walk myself out of it. In the beginning I’d walk for an hour or two, around the outskirts of the city. I stopped in pubs: a pint here, a pint there. I sat half listening to tradesmen in paint-splattered trousers. Warm drafts, sun through the windows in the afternoon. Watch the drops running down the side of the glass into little puddles on the table. Make traces in it with your finger… Later, when I no longer had energy to walk, I’d lie in bed thinking of death. So this is what it comes to, I thought, you must be ill. Ill. I’d repeat the word in my head. This is what it comes to, I thought, something in me is ill and look, now I’m ill in a dark room. It was almost a relief, to have only one thought, one sincere wish. Almost easier to be cornered, really cornered and taken out of all fakery. The monologues I’d have in my sick mind! It’s an illness, you see, I’m ill. There’s the death drive and there’s the life force and the life force is dying, it’s turned into the death drive. This is what it comes down to, it’s logical. The illness has grown inside me, fed on me and now it’s ready. It’s grown in the dark and now it’s ready. It was almost a relief that it had taken me. Finally. Ill. Here’s something indisputable for once, I thought, just look at me, lying in bed thinking of ways to die. A hole was how I thought of it, like being in a hole and not being able to look up. It felt like a basic struggle between life and death. Something in me was trying to kill me, something else was trying to live. I couldn’t read, couldn’t sleep without pills. I’d lie in bed in the afternoon daydreaming of a fatal accident, a crash, a meteor. It was the first thought I woke up to at night, pulled out of deep sleep as if by the thought itself. Almost comforting. I narrowed it down to a train, though I hated the idea of implicating others. I’d sort out the practical things first: bank, bills, belongings, if I could muster the energy. I’d get off at one of the small request stops in the country, walk along the tracks with an eye on my watch, find a suitable place by some trees and wait. I’d bring what they’d need in my bag, which I’d leave by the tracks.
Underneath it all a voice said:
You’ve run out of options, so what’s holding you back? Just do it, do something real for the first time in your life. But you can’t, can you? You couldn’t make your life work and now you can’t even make this work.
In the days that followed the worst of it I felt as if I were floating above the hole but that I could drop back into it at the least disturbance, a hard word from a stranger (and yet words seemed to mean nothing).
But just as one has hidden weaknesses one has hidden strengths. One day I drew a line that meant this stops here and stepped across it. I moved the line every day. It was a simple question of life or death, a simple question for once. Going forward meant life, going back meant death. Sometimes a small shift of attention seemed to change everything, or rather illuminate what was already there, like a light turned on in a room. I started walking again, and now I could walk farther, out of the city, through woods, down lanes, out into the country. I found a church next to the ruin of an older church. On the gate a faded sign said Church Always Open. A chicken walked through the tall grass on the graveyard, which overlooked a rapeseed field. I walked down the path, opened the bird grill and the heavy wooden door and stepped into the cool musty church. It was empty. I sat for a long time on a pew where the light came in through the stained-glass window. I felt like a vanishing speck inside… what? I felt an overfacing power and felt it withdraw, and it gave me a strange hope.