Chasing Not the Dragon but the Illusion
November 25, 2011 § 52 Comments
Of course, I know I am chasing an illusion but if there’s fuck all else? And I am not hurting anyone, except for possibly myself? There again, perhaps no harm done?
I remember when I was twelve, I was in love with Alexander who was kind and took me for a ride across a field in a clapped out Morris Minor spray-painted with graffiti and he was generous-spirited and attentive to me and I was so unused to it that I could only gasp for breath, for months. Then at fourteen, it was Gavin in a cheesy French nightclub who kissed me and I was a goner for a year or more, pining and swooning like an idiot and an oaf. At fifteen, it was an exotic undergraduate who took me for walks in the park of his Oxford college and out to drinks at the Zanzibar in Covent Garden, only I couldn’t drink anything because my hand shook so much there was no hope of any of it making it to my mouth. He never touched me, but the longing (on my part) went on for, oh, at least a couple of years. No wonder I lost my virginity to a brace of men at the same time because they happened to be there and asked and I thought it mightn’t be polite to say no; and anyway, I supposed, why not make up for time lost to illusions? One was a novelist, not a distinguished one, and quite funny and cruel; the other later had his cock stung by a wasp and made a fuss. That is all I can remember about him. The experience with the pair of them in some ruffled bed in France was mildly diverting, I suppose, but mediocre. More illusions followed, not about them, but about others. One was a brilliant man and a beauty with whom men and women alike were in love, and me his best friend, but he was gay. I lived for him and in hope of him making an exception. We worked in the West End and saw each other every day. He kissed me once I think, am nearly sure, though it may have been an illusion. If I had the courage – we are still close – I would ask him.
Several decades on, you might have thought I would have had the wit to dispense with such youthful nonsense but you would be wrong. I don’t think it is youthful nonsense. It may be nonsense but it is very necessary nonsense; instinctive in youth and more crucial than ever now in middle-age. How so?
Well, now, as then, when there is nothing going on, I think you have to make it up in your head because the alternative, really nothing, is too painful. It is why women can think and talk about the nothing for so long, spinning candy floss from a few grains of sugar – a look, a word, a text, whatever – whipping it up into something, for the sake of deflection from the precipice of reality. The illusion is beyond fragile, I know as well as you do, but it exists. It has to. The heart beats but, with nothing and no illusions, pointlessly. For me, illusions are about survival. My children are what make me get up in the morning and are who, along with other family and friends, make me live for the evenings and free time, but the desert of the day in between is traversed by the thread of illusion and thoughts of course of a romantic nature, of ideal scenarios and hopes. I do my work and my chores and my admin and my gossiping but all the while they are there in the background or to the fore, playing on in my head with gusto.
Sometimes you tell me or I tell myself I must put them aside, that they may be sweet but they are malign, and that I am many things apart from them. Indeed. A daughter, a mother, a friend, a working person and what have you, but I am wizened and withered and a husk without the plump, vivacious dandelion fluff of illusion.
So, perish age-inapproriate day-dreams and thoughts of Long Shot, and what am I left with? You know what springs to mind? A nursing home with a name like Shady Oaks. I am there already with my root-gingered hands, aubergine ankles, and an underside oozing meaningfully from various unattended crevices. A tartan blanket falls over my lap and my uneasy chair is pointed at CBBCs on a loop along with all the rest. I am supposed to be eating too-pale peas that are merging on the all-in-one plastic plate into a pus of custard but would rather die. All the windows are closed and the cracked radiators are pulsating with an air filled with the fug of warm urine and death but I am cold. I am terrified of the cold. My lolling chin shivers against the thin heave of my chest. We are sitting in a circle playing the adult, longer version of musical chairs, except there is no music and we don’t get up, we just head, one by one, directly past Go and into our own special box. Yesterday, it was Gordon who shot his bolt and is out of the game. Empty chair, to be filled by a new player, for a while. Who’s turn to be out tomorrow?
Don’t you see that the illusions act as ballast for a while, otherwise it might as well be directly past Go now, into Shady Oaks and beyond?
Can a plankton not perchance to dream even if the dream has fuck-all chance, by the looks of it, of ever coming true?