You know those days when you wake up and you kind of know where you are, but you kind of don’t? You know you’re not waking up in to some dangerous situation, but you don’t recognise any of your possessions around you. That happened to me today; I hadn’t even been drinking last night. Honest.
It took a while for the things I understood to come in to focus, and a lot longer for the things I take for granted to jump out as absent. I saw the big Pulp Fiction poster on the wall. Yes, that’s fine. I saw the shelves full of books I will never read. I see a pile of video cassettes of TV from the 1990s. I feel the memory of giving them away at a car boot sale, to clear space in our house. Our house. Ours.
Erm, where is the pregnant woman who should be sleeping next to me, and why am I in my mother’s house? More importantly where is my phone? My mind is just starting to focus in on the sounds I am hearing from downstairs. My mother is going about her usual morning routine. Except that I do not live with my mother, and I haven’t done for quite some years. I am a 37 year old man, who lives with his partner and their child. I have work to go to shortly, but I suspect that that’s no longer an option.
It was no longer an option. In fact, my entire life was no longer an option. I was a fourteen year old boy in the 1990s, and I was off to school. Remembering where everything was was the first hurdle.
I found the bus stop alright; it’s image burned on to my memory. Then I remember why I changed to a different bus stop, as the taunts of the younger children sunk in to my swirling mental soup. Now the name calling matters not compared to the thought of my own child and her mother, but back then they left only rivulets of pain across my burnished face. I shrugged; boarded the bus to school.
It was the next bit that I knew would be hardest: seeing people I hadn’t seen for years. Some had been friends, some had been acquaintances, some had been bullies. Which of them were which.
Rather than going to my form class I decided to sit on a wall and see what would happen. From one day being a rather large man with the authority of a parent to the next being a meek, mild, bright boy, scared of the world and everything in it. How on earth would I navigate that, and what would I seek to change. If I was stuck here, I’d need to build another adult life, albeit with the cheat codes.
And then reality broke through, as it was always destined to: a clip to the side of the head from a pile of ginger hair with a bald face. We’d been friends since pretty much the first day of school, but I had forgotten his very existence in the intervening years. While I had gone to sixth form, uni and the dole Dave had gone to work, become a boy racer, and had developed a successful career and happy life.
The rest of them – the friends who I would spend the next few decades forming, storming, norming (and discarding) with – were here now, and I had a decision to make. I had rejected them in my adult life; did I want to do the same in the retake of my teenage years. Had my life benefited from having friends, or would I be happier forging my own path. I looked at Dave and remembered seeing him leave the site for the final time. I knew I would miss him, but I knew he wouldn’t miss any of this.
I shrugged. Nodded my acknowledgement to a couple of faces, and then walked off, wordlessly. I could hear a few sounds of confusion behind me, before their previous conversations resumed, and I was but a memory once more. This time round, my life needed to be slightly different than the last.
And so it continued. I made my way through class after class, following the dog-eared timetable I found in the bottom of my bag, and I did so alone. I sat alone, I ate alone, and I read alone, feelings of self-consciousness which used to accompany such experiences a long lost memory. Some people came to see me, to check if I was alright, but my responses were as non-comital as they were vague.
Could I keep this up for the rest of my life? If so, what did I hope to achieve? I knew enough about the future to be able to try out any number of different plans in my mental laboratory. If I studied IT I could have a successful career in computers and the like. So far so dull. If I knuckled down to learn the guitar I could be in the right place at the right time to be involved in some superb metal bands.
That seemed better, but not exactly the best use of my lack of musical talent. What if I ruined any of my favourite bands? That wouldn’t do. If I went to culinary school I could become a world class chef: I had followed the careers of enough of them to know the coming trends, and capitalise on them. It would be fun for a while, but I carry the tiredness of a man who has lived past 35, and had children.
I undid my tie as I walked out of the school gates. I had been a model student, so no one would see this coming. I knew more or less where she was living at this point, and who with. Fortunately it wasn’t far away. I knew that the direct approach would take me past too many school offices, and that that would alert the authorities. I walked away from the school, and across in to a side street.
I knew this area well, due to my following of the local bus routes. There was a rough estate between school and her house, which I never would have walked down as a fourteen year old, but which held no fear to me as an adult. I just needed to keep my shoulders straight and my head up. I walked the long straight road with conviction, almost breaking in to a run. I could taste my future in my mouth.
As I turned in to the street my heart leapt: up ahead was the patch of grass our daughter played on; beyond that was my mother-in-law’s house. I knocked, and I waited. Breath the very definition of baited in my drying throat. I heard footsteps and familiar voices. The door opened, and a young version of a familiar face stood before me, beaming: “Where is she? Where is our bloody daughter?”