STUTTER

When I’m dealing with intrusive thoughts I often stare blankly at a space on the wall, like watching paint dry but without the exciting bit.  I’ve been looking at a lot of walls lately. I think it’s being back home but my nemesis, that blue/black bastard crow, has been busy these past two months. He has appeared in various forms and intensities, changing tactics like a desperate coach in a cup final. Some attacks have worked, they’ve knocked the wind out of my lungs, sat me down like I’ve got cramp in my legs, others I’ve swatted away as easily as a fly from a sandwich.

Crow has been an old man, sitting hunched over in a chair in the corner of the room, pointing to his throat, croaking out his words. “You’ve got the throat cancer,” he sneered.  He’s been a shadow on the wall, flickering in my peripheral, changing shapes like there were giant hands maneuvering in front of strobe lighting. Shadow puppets forming, a crow twisting into a seagull, a rabbit with myxomatosis, a limping horse, a snake with a leering, rubber mouth.  “You’re getting older, Yan. As is everyone around you, the ones you love, someone’s got to die soon.”

Last week he was a monkey on my shoulder, paranoid and devious, screeching fear into my ears, disguising them as urges and saying I was a dangerous man, “..and the people outside are watching you. They know your weaknesses, Yan. They can smell your skin; they’re concerned about you being here.”

So I’m still in the UK, telling friends I’m enjoying the summer, telling myself that tomorrow I’ll put the crow to sleep forever.

I have some ideas on where to go, and I’ll be OK when I get there. It’s just getting there that’s the problem right now.

CONFESSIONS OF A DOOR TO DOOR SALESMAN

I’m writing this on a plane.  Greece is a gently rolling landscape beneath the clouds.  The cat we were looking after was still purring when we clocked off, and the house was still standing – not even a broken plate to glue back together.  Mission success, but already it’s just a memory – another page of history flapping in my slipstream.  It felt like yesterday we landed here; I can still taste the first gyros. It was chicken. I wanted pork.

Funny how most of the things we did here will soon be forgotten, lost on the steaming, pulsating heap of other memories, scraps and old tins and strange bones sticking up from an ever distorting mountain of a lifetime of experiences.

Sometimes I stick my hand in the tottering jumble and pull out an old rag or rusted box – just to reminisce.  Sometimes a memory breaks free of its own accord, making a clatter and drawing my attention as it spills down the hill.  I often cringe at what I did, or said, or thought at the time. Like everyone else in the world I have a lot of regrets.

Regrets come in differing shapes and sizes.  On top of this, there’s regretting things that you’ve done, and there’s regretting things that you didn’t do, but also, and sometimes worse, there’s regretting things that you think you did, but you didn’t actually do at all. Punishing yourself for an action or conversation that you’ve convinced yourself happened but never did. The more you think, did I? The louder the crow, or the monkey, or the goblin begins to shout “Yes, yes of course you did this. Remember, it was so fucking bad but you did it and now people are suffering.”

Or did Little One do this? Or say that? Or….

“Yes, Yan. Yes she did, and much worse. Remember?” The more I try to remember if these memories are legitimate,  the more, over time, I am convinced that they are. Could I have done something so spiteful? Did that person really say those awful words?

“Yes, yes, yes!” squawks the crow, spitting his breakfast in my face.

A memory of something hurtful, or nasty, will introduce itself to me like a salesman at the door.  Some are familiar faces selling the genuine article – I remember their patter, and eventually, after a lot of pushing and shoving, I send them on their way.  Some however are new, memories from long ago that I have never thought worthy to dwell upon, or even remembered before.  At first I am dubious of their authenticity, and laugh them off, slamming the door in their smirking smug faces.

A little later the doorbell will ring again, and standing before me will be the same man, in the same cheap suit – perfect teeth, dazzling white, the smile cutting his face in half.

The salesman dangles the fake Rolex before my eyes.  This time my ninety nine per cent certainty of forgery has slipped to below seventy five.  I push the door closed.

‘Ding dong!’  I’ll ignore him until he goes away.

‘Ding dong!’  He’s a persistent little fucker.

‘Ding dong!  Ding dong!  Ding dong!’ the doorbell chiming like a church bell striking a hundred o’clock.

I know I have OCD, I know that this is how the OCDemon attacks.  But still I can’t walk away.

I throw open the door…”Listen friend.  I’m not interested, I…”

He opens a suitcase of gold watches…Is that a Rolex?

It took me a long time to realise that a good way to combat the rep at the door is to just buy everything that he is selling.  “Here’s my credit card, I’ll have it all, and more if you’ve got it – I agree with you Crow. I did do it; Little One did say that, and yes, probably much worse.  Yes,” I say, “and what the fuck are you going to do about it?”

It doesn’t always work but it’s better than hiding under the bedcovers, a quivering mess, hands covering my ears waiting for the doorbell battery to run out, or the salesman’s finger to fall off.

In years to come I wonder if the Crow will try and make me think something bad happened here in Greece.   I already have a backpack full of false memories to say that he will.

He will tell me something terrible occurred, or was said, maybe just hinted at, but it will be enough to spark a doubt.  I cannot say what memories I will depend on as true in the future.

That’s why it’s good to keep notes on this blog.  So Yan, if you’re reading this for confirmation, its ok, Greece was good for you, and you didn’t kill the cat.

 

Medusa in the Mirror

Our house-sitting assignment in Greece is coming to an end. The cat is still alive. I think we may have two more weeks but its time to decide where to head next, and there are plenty of options, a million corners of the world I haven’t seen. A part of me wants a country I’ve not set foot in, to see fresh things, experience different ways, and hopefully drink cold beers with new friends. But a big part feels I should go back somewhere I’ve already visited. A place where the crow ruined my experience the first time round, and there are plenty of those.

Although the majority of my compulsions are invisible to others, either fighting or appeasing them in my head, away from prying eyes, I did at one time suffer from an absurd relationship with shadows, particularly in a reflection. Today I can happily stare into a black pit, but in the bad old days, when the feathered one was a much stronger force, I spent hours standing in front of bathroom mirrors or lounge windows, glaring into my own face and battling to get that perfect ‘safe’ feeling. I dread to think of the accumulated time I’ve wasted imagining a blinding white light every-time I noticed a shadow in a mirror. I stamped this particular fire out as I got older, but when I first went travelling, for no other reason than the Crow is a vicious sociopath, I began to suffer a resurgence of these nonsensical attacks. I still continued to obsess over a thousand other fears, but this particular compulsion saw me miss countless buses in Thailand, insane sunsets in New Zealand, and endless days of adventure in the heart of Ecuador.

It would go a little like this…

I would walk past a mirror, head down or looking away because I wouldn’t want to trigger the spike. Maybe I’d glance up, or simply catch a reflection in the corner of my eye, either way I would notice the dark shade of my eye sockets, or possibly the long shadow of a lamp-lit shelf, cast across a wall. The crow would hop onto my shoulder.
“Just like a cancerous shadow on a lung,” he would say.
I’d become transfixed, stomach churning like a vat of old milk, legs as heavy as stone, searching the reflected world for unnessacery shadows. The dark shaded hollows in my cheeks symbolised cancer, so concentrate on that blinding fake white light and what? The cure?
“Yes” whispers the Crow. “The cure for the cancer in your bones.”
Will this be the last time?
“Of course,” says the Crow, sniggering no doubt, with rusty scissors on his mind.
Ok, I’ll wait, standing in front of my thin reflection, eyes fixed into my own eyes, imagining a flash of pure white. God’s light burning bright, except it’s not there, just like the cancer and the liver disease – but the crow has promised me this will be the last time, and although he’s lied a million times before, maybe this promise is genuine.
But never trust your OCDemon.
I would eventually capture that evasive white light and yes, he would let me walk away. However, as i passed a mirror in the next room, he would reappear as another shadow, another snake on Medusa’s head hissing threats of terrible disease and random ways to die. I’d turn to stone again. A family member will die of AIDS, unless…
“Concentrate Yan, the blinding light will prevent this tragedy, and scare me off for good, no doubt.”
Let me guess, this will be the very last time?
“Of course,” says the crow, a razor smile and the devil in his eye. “One for the road.”
So I missed the bus, left the amazing sunsets as they sank into the ground, remained in the ramshackle room, glaring into my reflection as my day pack sat useless on the bed. I spent a lot of time frozen in front of mirrors in foreign lands, apparently saving my own life and the lives of relatives as I pictured dazzling blasts of light, bright like atomic explosions, detonate across the image of the world behind me.

Its ironic that I travelled halfway across the world to stare at myself in an empty room. Yet I smiled as I wrote that last sentence, proving to myself that I’m leaps and bounds from where I was before. A few years ago the bitter frustration at the missed opportunities would have seen me launch a mug of coffee at the wall. Or my head.

I’m not sure where I’ll be next month but I know that someday I must return to a hundred and one places and look OUT of the window. Maybe this time catch that bus to Pattani or Rayong.