Wednesday 13 July 2016

The Prince of Exiles, 31

The smell of flowers, of furniture polish, of shelved books, the sun through a double-glazed windows, dappled through green sycamore.

"And then what? What do you do? Do you do what he asks?"

You might be one of those people who lives on a baseline of low-level sadness, whose default is melancholy. And you might have found that you can tap it as a fuel.

It can be quite late in your life that you realise that not everyone lives with that gentle twisting of the diaphragm that you recognise as your constant companion. You leave home and travel as far as you can from the city you grew up in, with its smell of stale cigarettes, warm urine and poverty, its flickering indicator-light lampposts that mask the stars that turn the night sky a muddy brown; you say goodbye to the institutions that have so profoundly failed you that twenty years later will send you a grudging letter of apology, unasked for, and when you open and read it twice, three times, and feel the way your stomach has twisted into a knot, you will think, how dare you. You leave the place behind. It was never your home.

Dust shaken from your feet, you find yourself surrounded by people who'd grown up supported and nurtured, with memories of golden summers and promises of friendships renewed in joyful homecomings, and realise, these people exist, they exist. 

What do you do? You watch how people who had the chance to learn communicate; you learn empathy. You realise that your ineptness in the crowd isn't the way you are, and that social skills, are just that, skills, a thing to be learned. You learn them. In six, seven years, people at the church you never felt at home in, no matter how much you pretended, will come to you and ask you to talk to new people, because no one is charming like you. No one listens like you.

And you begin to understand that happy people aren't callous and shallow like you suspected, but that they are blessed, lucky. But at the same time you know that girl who had that beautiful childhood and that warm, accepting family, and watch her for all her cheerfulness crumble under the pressure of living away from home, and feel no surprise really when she never comes back for a second year. And you bite your tongue when the confident, privileged boy apologises to you for bullying kids back home as if you're a surrogate, a confessor, and you do not tell him that he is unforgiven, and you do not give in to the urge to knock him to the ground and kick him, over and over. That means a lot, you say. Thank you. 

Blessings are mixed. Happiness is a blessing. But sadness is too. It is all right to be sad. You tell yourself this. It becomes a mantra.

One day you realise you had everything you ever wanted as a teenager. A family, someone who loves you, a job you always wanted. And a home. You have a home. You come to terms with it, understand that we too often find reasons we can't be happy: this is not what I wanted; this would be perfect if someone came back, if someone was still alive, if the salary was higher, the mortgage lower.

But it doesn't stay; the truth of who you are, that clawing, grasping sadness, becomes unbearable. You find ways to stay out of the moment. You seek ways to evade yourself. You become increasingly absent. There's always a thing to read, a message to send, a place to go. And one day you are alone, with children who do not take your calls, and a mark on your finger where a ring was.

And you tell yourself how it is not your fault, and you abandon the moment more and more, and you walk through a dream, and one day the dream is all there is, and you are a shell, and you vanish from view entirely, having never fully appeared.