By far, the most enjoyable part of my travelling has not been what I’ve seen but who I’ve met along the way. If I had stayed in my hometown in England I’d never have shared a joint and a few cheeky lines with inmates in a cell during a prison visit in Ecuador, or had a conversation with a freight-hopping Brooklyn vagabond in the alleyways of New York City, or played a thousand hands of cards with an eccentric Panamanian who had drank Las Vegas dry and escaped the US owing thousands of dollars in medical bills. From drinks with a ’60s Slovenian pop star to a night in Thailand with a Hawaiian pot dealer, for sure, it’s all about the people.
It’s just a shame that I’ve either had to cut the meetings short, (I should have gone to the golf club in Ljubljana), or missed the bones of a conversation (what was the moral of the homeless man’s tale again?) If I hadn’t had the Crow flapping in my ears, maybe I’d have learned and experienced more than I have. But then again, if it wasn’t for the OCD, I probably wouldn’t have sold my home in England – I wouldn’t be here, house-sitting in Greece, watching the distant fishing boats idle on the calm blue sea.
I often lament those split conversations, the times when you find yourself talking to someone in the real world, but you’re also busy trying to talk sense to yourself somewhere in the chaotic disco in your head. Dissecting a thought you realise you’ve taken too long answering a question, there’s an awkward silence, maybe you didn’t quite catch what was said. You ask the person to repeat their query, just as another spiked cannonball roars from the Howitzer. You’ve missed the real world conversation AGAIN! You’re standing face to face with a man you met yesterday on the train, and you’re listening but struggling to hear a single word he’s spoken all morning. A third time, and yes, you hear what’s being said but it makes no sense because you missed the previous three minutes of dialogue. You smile apologetically, “Sorry Alejandro, I was miles away.” You blame a late night, say you’re a prolific daydreamer, or, “that joint has really hit me.” You certainly can’t mention the screeching bird in your cerebrum. “Sorry mate, I was talking to Crow,” is not an option.
The problem is not only missing the keywords but also, when you know precisely what’s being said, your stomach can feel so full of lead that you don’t have the mental strength to join in, or expand the question, or debate it, or anything at all because you’ve got the black feathered Prince of Doubt pecking holes in the side of your head. You can spill words from your mouth but it’s more of a ramble than a discussion. Chances are I’ve missed out on a fistful of profound revelations because of this. I could have had the answer to life explained to me in glorious detail but was too busy thinking about killing myself in front of my Nan to heed the advice. (Did he say forty-two or fifty-two?)
How I would love it to work the other way around. “Sorry Crow, I was talking to my friend, you’ll have to wait. Stand in line, or come back tomorrow.”
The greatest problem with OCD, for me, is that big fat O – Obsessional thoughts that fight for my absolute attention the moment I’m conscious. My alarm sounds, I open my eyes, and there’s my breakfast on the bedside table, six-inch nails on toast. Of course, most people experience dark thoughts every day, but for me, with the crow for company, and for the millions of other sufferers with imps, monkeys, and demons perched on their shoulders, it’s not just every day, but every second of every minute of every hour of every day. It’s not surprising that we miss things. We just have to make the most of the conversations we do have, and as Crow circles me a little higher these days, I have time to reflect on all the discussions that I know I’ve missed out on.
And believe me, I can talk. At school I tried to fill every silence with noise. I just didn’t absorb the crucial information, just the stuff that made me laugh. I messed around and talked nonsense and tried to laugh loudly because it was the only way to keep the crow off my shoulder. My mouth was the farmer’s gun but indiscriminate like an AK47. My sense of humour was a twisted scarecrow in a field.
I took these tactics into adulthood. I was quite loud when I was with friends because it was the only way not to dwell on the questions buzzing around my head. It was at home I was quiet, where I would lay upstairs ruminating for hours, pretending to be on my computer. One evening in my late teens, my parents came with me to the local pub. “I can’t believe how loud you are,” said mum. She hadn’t witnessed my coping methods while out socialising before. “You’re the loudest in here,” she noted. And it was a busy night.
I still talk a great deal. But it’s because I’m appreciating the moment. The difference is I listen these days – at least sometimes.