[Author’s note: I’m publishing this post almost simultaneously with a subsequent one because I had both stored up as drafts in my paper notebook, but hadn’t had sufficient “get-up-and-go” to publish them until now. This was written a few days ago, and it doesn’t quite fit my current mood – the accompanying post does. However, I felt that this one was sufficiently time-specific to need publishing pretty sharpish.
Trigger warning: mental illness, post-traumatic stress disorder.]
The copy of the song that I hear on my mental jukebox is the one on the secondhand vinyl LP copy of Parallel Lines that I bought during my second year of university. Scratched in parts, though not sufficiently damaged for the needle to jump. I can hear the particular qualities of my specific vinyl copy, with its fuzzy warmth and minor quirks, gently filtering the instrumentation and Debbie Harry’s vocals.
It’s in my mind because I had a documentary about the making of Parallel Lines running on the television as a soundtrack (preceded, no less, by a selection of 80s hip hop classics) to my reorganising of my CD collection following a redecoration.
But the documentary evoked so much more than simply the sound of the song.
I am at the opposite end of the visualisation abilities scale from someone with aphantasia. My visual imagination – nay, my three-dimensional, multisensory imagination – is piercingly acute, and at times seemingly all-encompassing. It can be as if I’m experiencing parallel worlds, alternate realities, or times long past, but not actually in parallel; one world is overlaid upon another. I experience both simultaneously.
I suppose it’s something like being a cyborg, a networked human, a ‘ghost in the shell‘. Simultaneously processing both what’s in front of me and also another, different but no less potent reality that exists, and is experienced, in a different portion of my mind.
Over a year ago, I was walking my daughter to preschool. It was late spring. Something about the quality of the crisp spring air, the golden glow of the sun still low and yet bright in the sky, the cold-warm piecing blue of the sky, led me back to an early-morning walk along the seafront of Thessaloniki, Greece at the start of February, 2011. I was both there, and walking my daughter to preschool. Both realities existed, there and in that moment.
Sometimes, the recollected worlds that overlay my present-day, real-time world are far less pleasant. For several years after breaking up with an emotionally and financially abusive previous partner, there were times when I really, honest-to-goodness, lived back in that council flat. The terracotta walls of the living room. The overly firm, overly shallow, institution-blue council issue sofa. The clunk of the door to the controls of the enormous floor-standing combi boiler. Clothes soaking in the bath for want of a washing machine. The cloying stink from the rubbish chute. The nightly whirr of the police helicopter in the sky above the estate, and the constant undercurrent of fear.
Those flashbacks often brought tears to my eyes. I felt like I was there. Again.
This evening, I went for a long walk. It grew dark as I paced the streets, ‘Picture This’ playing over and over. I bought Parallel Lines not long before the beginning of my biggest ever depressive episode. And it’s sad to think that so much of the music I love was purchased at a time when I was so sad. As I walked, I was back in my ground floor student bedroom, the living room of a terraced house poorly converted into sleeping and study space. The lime-green throw on my bed. Threadbare carpet.
I was so lost, back then.
Towards the end of my walk I passed through one of the local “student villages”. And although my own first-year flat was nothing like as luxurious, something about the landscaping, the carefully laid out paths and highly geometric medium-rise accommodation blocks, brought back the pleasant, sweet-sour smell of the glue on university prospectuses; the weight of each of those thick, wide, rectangular tomes, and the sheen of their covers.
It’s August, after all. All across the country, many will be preparing to leave home for the first time, with or without their anticipated A-level grades, whether or not to their original educational establishment of choice. I remember that feeling of anticipation. The anxious wait for something new. Something that just had to be better than what I’d experienced in life so far.
And I felt angry. I so often do these days. And desperately sad. Because whilst my life has, in many ways, been a good life, so much has not been the way it could, or should, have been. And whilst regrets are a waste of time and energy, I can’t help but grieve for lost opportunities, potential not reached, support neither given nor received.
Since my last post and the resulting comments, and after reading another author’s subsequent blog that references it, I’ve been thinking wistfully about my education. My years lacking in confidence. My years of self-doubt and shaky self-identity. And I think to myself: I wish it hadn’t always been so bloody hard.
I wish I’d known who I truly was far earlier in life. I wish I’d known far earlier in life that it was okay to be me, and to be the way I am.
My night-time walk, like so many before it, took me along streets lined with tall, mature trees. Occasional flashes of bright, vivid green leaves picked up by streetlights directly overhead. Noises from houses. My own footsteps, the sound of my breath, and the slight feeling of strain at my hip joints. My need to move my arms vigorously, coupled with a nervousness about doing so in a public place, no matter how late the hour or how empty the street.
Every time I must take myself out of the house for a walk, I am reminded of those countless other occasions just like this one. The worlds of those other space-catching, breath-catching walks layer and layer over my present world. Not all of them are distinct memories, of course, but the sense I get from each one is played out time and time again.
My walks sometimes clear my mind. Sometimes, they fill it. They may soothe my tingling, fizzing body’s need for “something” other than an indoor environment. And they may ease my pain in some ways, whilst also making more acute that other, remembered pain.
And as ‘Picture This’ plays over and over in my head, I’m reminded of just how often I’ve striven, and struggled, to find myself somewhere on those tree-lined streets.
[Featured image description: grainy, heavily filtered (blue end of colour spectrum) photo of a set of mostly-empty CD shelves, with piles of CDs stacked immediately in front of them, awaiting sorting and re-shelving.]