Born without a clue. A lifetime later, situation largely unchanged. Nevertheless, one perseveres.....
Occasionally, hunger or thirst would force me to make my way downstairs to the kitchen. This was a whole new experience in humiliation and self-loathing. Like a man of ninety I tottered along a series of potential disasters, close brushes with vertigo combined with assaults from normally inanimate objects and furniture. Planned resting/meditation stations had to be worked out every few feet; places where a man could lean without fear of interruption or sudden unpredicted movement.
As it happens, my isolation was not complete anyway. I had lodgers and much of the planning also included the avoidance of other occupants of the house. A disturbed mother and her disturbed 13 year old second son had recently arrived and were in the throes of separating themselves from an allegedly even more disturbed husband/father and first son/elder brother. They came my way by word of mouth and, possibly, because nobody else would have them. Much of the time I managed to steer clear of them just by listening to and learning their cycles, but the occasional exchange of pleasantries in the shared kitchen were inevitable.
The mother’s disturbance could be very other-worldly at times, and, much as I might wish to avoid “normal” contact, she became attuned to my nocturnal wanderings and began to appear out of the silent darkness at the kitchen door and endeavour to engage me in conversation.
Initially, I resented these intrusions into my bitter solitude, but, over time, I became distracted by the weirdness. She occasionally worried that she might “upset” me with her ramblings. She actually asked me once if she was frightening me, but, quite to the contrary, I began to find the workings of her mind hugely diverting from my own shit – the petty but brutal hate relationship I had going with my own central nervous system.
For example, during one of my nocturnal 2 hour shifts I found myself in the kitchen, quietly cursing and wincing and muttering, only to look up to see her early hour wildly staring eyes fixing me from the kitchen door. She was clearly agitated and asked did I mind her sitting down and talking. I said, no not at all, and she began to explain about how she feared her own powers. The whites of her eyes stood out in the half light as she explained how she could control the wind. As she spoke the windows rattled and a wind I hadn’t noticed earlier suddenly sprang to life. “See.?” she said. I didn’t feel competent to pass judgement on either her state of mind or the extent of her powers, but I was certainly enthralled by the idea. I asked her to explain the origins of all this in some detail which she happily did – in considerable detail, in fact. She seemed to have no qualms about revealing the inner workings of her mind and seemed to appreciate my similar lack of qualm about hearing whatever she had to say.
Over time, as my private struggle with a useless and hatred-inducing back and the 1 hour down and 2 hours up sleeping / waking cycle and the regular flashes of searing pain punctuating the ongoing bouts of steady agony stretched into weeks and months, my only real contact with the outside world was through my lodger’s weirdness. Through our irregular nightly rendezvous we became regular rencontrants, regular confidantes as we each grappled with our own hellish misery. Her stories continued to enthral and distract me and she continued to see me as a sort of non-judgemental auditory receptacle.
As it turned out, her family really was pretty dysfunctional, and I became reasonably convinced that her state of mind was more a product of the mind-fucks of her husband and sons than any inherent madness she might have generated for herself. They really were quite piggish. Sort of thing you might expect from a nuclear husband in this day and age, but picked up happily by the sons, mirroring their father’s strange combination of meticulously calculated cutting indifference and overwhelmingly deliberate desperate helplessness. He sometimes dropped by and hovered in the middle distance, not sure whether I was a threat or competitor. Even after he’d received reassuring signals from me (plus the obvious fact that I was usually propped up against something for support and couldn’t move more than about a centimetre at a time) he still didn’t seem to know what to do with himself.
It seemed he was there primarily to induce guilt and occasionally whinge about the “destruction of the family”. The eldest son appeared once or twice, and seemed nice enough, but had that slightly foreboding air that apparent imbeciles can sometimes generate. He sort of wavered between peering shyly and glowering menacingly from under his tilted brows. I later discovered that he regularly threatened his mother with violence – throwing furniture and such like. Sometimes she would cower in her car outside the family home rather than go indoors and confront him.
These glimpses, plus the domestic presence of number two son, gave deep background and credence to the sometimes chilling tales I was hearing in the silence of the night.
Number two son, even out of the “proper home” scenario, seemed to be progressing down the same path as father and number one son and taking on many of the same characteristics with regard to treatment of the mother. Initially an apparently shy, retiring boy, his confidence grew in the light of the fullness of her attention, her desperate attempts to compensate for having “broken the family”, and his confrontations with and dismissals of her seemed to grow both in strength and in sheer effrontery.
One day, stooped over the kitchen counter, in between pain barriers, trying to gather the strength to achieve the next threshold, I was a prisoner to their argument. I was forced to listen as his cruel deliberation skewered her and I suddenly found a huge anger swelling in me and I turned my eyes to him sitting at the kitchen table and slowly began to lurch toward him. He sat like a bunny transfixed in the headlights, his mother hovering uncertainly by the door, as words began to spew from my mouth.
“If you HAVE to speak to your mother like that,” I began, “if it is absolutely essential to you that you treat her like a DOG,” and, concerned that I was losing his attention as he sensed that I was resorting to hyperbole, I raised my fist as I advanced, “Do NOT”, I said, and brought my fist down with such a crash hard on to the table just in front of him that everything on the table, including him, jumped about two inches, and, with my face centimetres from his, hollered, “EVER, do it, while I am within earshot. I can’t STAND it. It drives me CRAZY.”
By this time we were eyeball to eyeball and I was staring at him through the red mist and added, more softly, “You understand?” He nodded, and I tried to straighten with dignity and headed, hobbling, for the door, wordlessly passing the stifled, confused, distracted mother en route
One night, we got to talking about the difference between male and female love. She was talking about how she reckoned she’d failed her boys by not loving them enough. I said I thought that there was a profound difference between the love she was offering and the love she was ever likely to get in return. Hers was bottomless and unconditional; theirs was reflected. I said I reckoned that men are made stupid by woman’s love. Woman’s love is so strong and unwavering that men make the mistake of thinking they deserve it. They don’t realise that it is not a case of their attracting love by virtue of their own “unique” qualities. It is more a case of their happening to have had the good fortune to be in the right place at the right time just as a woman happens to be looking for a chance to beam her love.
I said I thought it is like the goslings which fix on Konrad Lorenz. He is the first living thing they see and they assume he is their mother and follow him around. Women seem to have times when their love is ready to switch on and at those times, they too assume that whatever they happen to choose to love deserves it. Men, standing in the beam, puff and swell as if in sunlight and begin to conclude that this is also how the rest of the world should see them and yet, strangely, as the rest of the world continues to demonstrate indifference, they begin to turn their rejective bitterness not on to the indifferent world (which wouldn’t notice) but on to the source of the beam.
Her wide eyes stared at me, and I could see she was probably deriving considerable comfort from the fact that
here was someone
clearly madder than her.
© 2021 Deacon Martin