A Christmas Story
Dedicated to Naz; a very special friend.
“Dear reader”, I am no Currer Bell. I loved her Jane Eyre. Still, I could never write anything like it. The depth of feeling. The very passion. The intelligent story links – so well done that they are almost invisible. I wish that I could write like that. But I can’t. So, there you have it before we pen another word.
Still, despite my writing leaving a great deal to be desired, I do have a story to tell you. It is not mine. It was given me by my friend Michelle. She likes to collect real life stories. Indeed she seeks them out wherever she goes.
Of course, it was not her story. She had the narrative from a patient at our local psychiatric assessment centre. The patient concerned had kept a journal. For reasons that will become clear later on, the patient, let us call her Alice, gave Michelle the journal to do whatever she wished with it.
She, Michelle, passed it on to me. I have contacts in our local literary world. Michelle hoped that the work could be published to promote a better understanding of mental health issues.
Here are Alice’s journal entries over the week before Christmas.
Dr Müller has helped. She has been kind. Her faint German accent comforts me. It reminds me of the archetypal Hollywood psychiatrist. Without the beard of course.
Dr Müller says that I need to shed all the popular sentimental responses. She says that they relate to responding with pure feelings usually of sadness. Today she added nostalgia to sadness. I smiled when she said that. It took me back to my failed marriage. It also took me back to my horrible childhood.
I have no nostalgia for Robert’s abuse. His utter disregard for my feelings. His insistence on using me as some human object to demean. To sleep with. To push around.
I left our sixteen years of marriage after one violent incident too many. I had made the tea. I poured the water out. I had not previously turned the kettle on. The cup was cold. He threw the tea in my face. As I wiped my face he suddenly slapped me. Hard. I fell back and banged the back of my head. I lost consciousness. When I came to Robert had gone after tearing up several of my favourite books.
That was the last “sorry but you made me do it” that I was going to hear from him. I left that day with two black bin liners. Sixteen years of marriage and I carried out my whole life in two bin bags. Like the Credit Crunch of ten years ago, it looked like married life had left us all with very little return.
What on earth did I ever see in Robert? What?
He was handsome. Everyone said that. He had prospects. And he wrote poems for me. I thought that, at last, life was going to be really good. No more horrors from my home. Robert helped me to stop taking the blame for the abuse that I had received at home.
Then he took over.
I am not really responsible for being abused. I know that much. If that is so, why do I feel so bad about the abuse? As if I had done wrong.
I have often asked myself why it all happened.
My big eyes? Huge and brown? My small hands? He said that he liked the contrast…
I no longer want to think about these things. I have worked hard to leave them behind. Twice. First the family home and now the marital home.
Dr Müller said that I, and only I, controlled my life. I, and only I, ran my affairs. I, and only I, could make a difference to me.
My closest friend is an old man who was my teacher of English in the early 1980s and who always encouraged me to move on. He still tells me everything that Dr Müller has repeatedly said to me. He is there for me all the time without ever judging me.
My happiest day for a long long time was in the July before the last one, a year and half ago, when my old friend and I went for a long walk across a field. It was a timeless morning. There was no past. There was no future. Just the now. We walked for what seemed like an eternity. We chatted about every blade of grass. Every leaf on each tree passed. We laughed at nothing. And we dreamed of a world full of poetry in a small cottage hidden in the wood by the field. We stopped at a country pub and had lunch. He encouraged me to eat. I ate very little but he kept complementing me on my good appetite. We sat side by side and I felt the warmth of his body against mine and felt safe. For the first time in my life, I felt the close presence of a man without fear or alarm. We held hands as I cried for no reason. He just held my hand and we sat there. No questions asked. No answers given. Just being there amidst the golden field and susurrating trees.
I asked him why he seemed so contented. He stared out of the window by our table. I saw the reflection of our golden field in his large glasses. After a lengthy silence, he said, “Look at the field. The corn is dancing in the breeze. And beyond the corn field is my little cottage. You can’t see it because it is in here.” He put his hand to his heart. “In it I have all I want in the world: my wife, my books and my writings. Each line of poetry is a new birth and a new contentment. In my world there are no cruelties, no political shenanigans, no racists and people who hate. Contentment reigns. And the angel overseeing it all is my wonderful wife…”
I so wanted to join his world.
It was soon after that wonderful day that I sought the help of a counsellor. Over a year later, at my counsellor’s advice, I entered the psychiatric assessment centre in the West Country. I was so frightened. So desperate. So lost. So alone. All I brought with my suitcase was a long train of woes, sad memories, horrid horrid pictures of what was done to me – the old me whose innocence was never protection enough.
I also brought a voice with me. The voice of my old friend reciting his poems. I was amazed that I could remember so many lines only heard once or twice. For company, I had a pocket poetry collection that I read when I could not sleep.
Dr Müller agreed with me that long walks in the country and in the streets of Dorchester, the little adjoining town, would do me good. She said that depressed people often walked a lot. It helped.
And that is what I have been doing every day since I arrived. Every day, rain or shine, I walk through the two fields that separate our psychiatric assessment centre and the nearest little market town, Dorchester. It is a four mile walk of eternal silence and beautiful peace. I dream so much that I barely notice the time going. Soon, I arrive at the little river running by our local town. I walk by the gentle flow till the little bridge. I turn right across the bridge and walk up the little road where the local prison used to be. I walk into South Street and do my favourite pastime of people watching. But first, I go into Re-Loved: a beautiful little restaurant that serves real food and coffees made in heaven; the experience made perfect by prompt service with a smile. I like to go there early in the morning. I sit by the window near the wood fire, munch delicious crispy toast, sip life giving coffee and stare out of the window watching the world go by.
Sometimes, I laugh internally to think that I am the one receiving psychiatric treatment. There are so many people looking so depressed. So fed up. Loaded down with heavy shopping bags, they trudge up and down South Street, dive into shops with their deafening music blaring out and obstructing thought and emerge a few minutes later with more and heavier bags. I smile to think how grateful Father Christmas’s elves must be to those shoppers who appear to be buying everything that their children expect from Santa Claus. And I remember my little brother crying when I told him that Father Christmas did not exist. That the presents came from Uncle Harry. Till he went away for several years. And we never saw him again. I went back to my little brother’s room and said sorry. I gave him my pocket money for that week. All that Uncle Harry had given me for being such “a good little girl”. James asked over and over again if I really was joking when I had said that Father Christmas did not really exist. I kept reassuring him till he fell asleep clutching the three five pound notes that I had given him. He bought a chemistry set when Mum took us to town next. We played in the kitchen and made a mess on the ceiling when we mixed baking soda, vinegar, food colouring and other bright bits together. Mum was not impressed.
I carry on walking down South Street, avoiding any visits into shops because I had determined that my intense irritation at the maddening piped cretinous music was such that I would always shop on line. Sad for our declining high street but positively good for our impaired hearing.
After my visit to Re-Loved, I saunter down the street. At the bottom of South Street, I turn right and walk along the tree lined Bowling Alley Walk. Beautifully tree lined – yet all our local authority could think of is a bowling game analogy. How unimaginative. But then what would one expect of petty local politicians. At the end of the Alley, I turn right again into West Walks Road and head towards the Borough Gardens to my favourite bench by the music stand. I sit there for as long as I feel like doing so. I eat a leisurely lunch previously bought at a small sandwich shop in Trinity Street.
I love the peace and quiet on that special bench.
That was where I first met Bear. Dear little Bear. With his large innocent eyes and his fluffy huge paws waiting for the rest of his body to catch up with them. He always trotted up to me and sat in front of me staring up with those massive eyes. A beautiful growing Labradoodle puppy.
And we talked quite a lot. Well, I talked and he listened. He did me more good than poor Dr Müller ever could. My little fluffy happy Bear. Well, at least that was the name on the little disk worn on his collar. I never saw his human carer. But he always walked into the Gardens from Cornwall Road.
And we became such good friends. I have never had such a good listener for a friend – well, maybe apart from my little old man who had adopted me as his DC (Daughter of Choice). So, I called him my FC (Father of Choice). The only living creature who never judged me and who listened to me unconditionally – well one of two living creatures. The other being Bear. I told him about FC’s love of poetry. I even recited a few lines which I still remembered.
As the days got shorter, I packed my bits and pieces, said ‘au revoir’ to Bear and prepared myself for the four mile walk back to the clinic. I fancied as I walked away from Bear that I heard him reciting “Let me not to the marriage of true minds…” I looked back and saw Bear still sitting there staring at me with his huge puppy eyes. I walked on slowly and thought that I heard him continue “Admit impediments…” I turned around and waved. Bear flipped up one paw and waved back. “Love is not love…” And with the corner of my eye I saw the paw go down again. “Which alters when it alteration finds…”
I walked on listening to Shakespeare’s words and pretending that they came from Bear.
Having written my diary for today, I shall go to bed now. Tonight, I am reading some of FC’s poems. He suggested that I should try my hand at poetry. As if I could.
I couldn’t. Could I?
Michelle, my caring nurse, came with me to Re-Loved this morning. We enjoyed a good breakfast and laughed a lot as we scoured the tea rooms for a suitable boyfriend for Michelle. We decided that Charlie, who cooks such wonderful food, would make a perfect boyfriend for her. She mischievously made eyes at him but, being a culinary genius, his eyes were elsewhere – sad for poor Michelle but good for all his gratefully replete customers. If Charlie were a culinary genius, then his sister Aimée was a great artist. Grateful palates were matched by grateful eyes wide open in search of her latest decorative art. Re-Loved was our sanctuary from an uncertain and frightening world – its peace and quiet artfully developed by Terry and Sandra, parents to the two little geniuses.
I was keen, after Michelle and I parted company, to walk to my special bench by the music stand in the Borough Gardens. I walked down South Street at great speed to avoid the noisy music emanating from every other shop. Occasionally, I stopped and watched an interesting passer by loaded, as ever, with buy now pay later Christmas shopping and, infinitely heavier, with the endless load of uncertainty, depression and financial woes. I liked it when our Town Cryer, Alistair Chisholm, rang his bell and, having gained our begrudging attention, declaimed in his perfect voice some event or another. Alistair invariably filled us with a momentary sense of security as he so aptly upheld a tradition that went back to days gone by when, we always like to think, the world was just right. As if it ever was. But then nostalgia was a wonderful panacea in times of economic and political uncertainty.
I sat on the bench in my Gardens and enjoyed the absolute silence. Today that silence was even more welcome than usual after the awful racket in South Street as Dorchester shopped, did business, sang, played loud music much of it cacophonous, called out the latest deals, sold so much that buyers did not need and promised the earth in return for a few pennies… Christmas could be so loud. The noise always frightened me.
Sitting on my habitual bench, I kept looking towards the Cornwall Road entrance into the Borough Gardens. I so wanted to see Bear. In my difficult world, I needed his puppy innocence. If only all were as innocent as that. As I focused on the Cornwall Road entrance, I felt something warm brush against my leg. I looked down. And there, before me, stood Bear, his paw gently stroking my leg for attention. I asked him where he had come from and he tilted his little head this way and that. Then, suddenly, he turned to his right and lifted his paw.
“So, Bear, you came in from the West Walks Road entrance, did you? How delightfully unexpected of you little fellow.”
Bear looked up at me, stood up and walked under the bench and out behind. I looked around and saw him toddling off towards the music stand. He disappeared for a brief moment and re-emerged carrying a piece of paper in his mouth. He ran towards my bench, under it and emerged in front of me, sat on his haunches and pushed his face towards me with the paper gently held in his mouth. I took the paper and said thank you.
I opened that paper and read the beautifully written nine lines. The handwriting was almost calligraphic in dark black ink – almost reminiscent of the Japanese writing that I had seen in art work of the last century. The lines were familiar. Very familiar.
There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream,
The earth, and every common sight,
To me did seem
Apparelled in celestial light,
The glory and the freshness of a dream.
It is not now as it hath been of yore; -
Turn wheresoe’er I may,
By night or day,
The things which I have seen I now can see no more.
What beautiful lines. I could hear my FC’s distant voice reciting Wordsworth in that dreamy way that he had. I have always enjoyed poetry. My FC and I shared this enjoyment by exchanging poems that each of us had chosen. But my illness had got in the way of reading as much poetry as my FC suggested that I should do. He always felt that walks across fields and a life of poetry were all that one needed to feel contented, safe and secure.
I re-read the Wordsworth lines that Bear brought me. It never occurred to me to ask the obvious question: “How on earth did Bear bring me such a timely poetic extract?” That knowledge did not feel important. My Borough Gardens bench gave me a wide view of the whole green expanse around me. There was nowhere that a human being could possibly hide let alone hand a piece of paper to little Bear. And I knew that it could not be my FC sending me messages for the simple reason that he lived hundreds of miles away from Dorset – way over on the eastern coast.
Wordsworth was right: images from our childhood always seemed to be surrounded with bright lights, with the glory and freshness of an interminable dream that always felt as if it were a reality.
Wordsworth was also right that, as we grew, we invariably lost that dreamlike quality. I remembered the poem well.
I did not know what to make of the coincidence of Bear bringing me this little Wordsworth extract.
I looked up from the paper with the few lines on it to discuss its contents with Bear.
No Bear there was. All I had before me, beside me, behind me were the empty Borough Gardens.
I walked the four miles back to the assessment centre feeling oddly happy to have received this gift of a few bright lines written in black ink just for me.
I dreamt of walking through endless expanses of fields. I heard Wordsworth’s lines as from a great distance. But I could hear them clearly and I was filled with warmth. During the walk I met a little girl that I once was. She was standing on the edge of a small forest made up of November trees, their bare arms outstretched towards heaven as if in supplication. The little girl stood there staring at me. She did not move. I walked towards her and, as I got nearer, I could see that her cheeks glistened with cascading tears. I whispered to her to stop crying because – and my words were carried in the gentle breeze and the dreamer in me could not hear them. I stood in front of little me and put my arms out hoping that she would run into my increasingly sunnier world. She did run towards me but something strange happened. She seemed to run through me and when I turned to see her behind me, she was no longer there.
And I heard a gentle voice say, “Sleep on. Sleep deeply. Tomorrow will bring more of this special warmth…”
And I slept deeply without dreaming anymore. I woke up early feeling refreshed enough to complete my journal entry for today – actually it is the entry for yesterday now.
The walk was lovely despite the drizzling rain. I did not mind becoming wet. When I arrived at Re-Loved, the open fire was blazing and I sat at my table near it. I placed my wet coat and scarf near the wood fire and sat there watching the gentle steam rising and dispersing away.
Coffee and toast tasted particularly wonderful today. I had a strong feeling of anticipation. I looked out of the window and thought that I could see many children I recognised as myself of years ago. I turned around and stared into the fire and saw shapes and figures spring up, dance cheerfully and then, just as suddenly, disappear. At one point I thought that I saw words etched on the burning wood. I was sure that I could discern the words “celestial light” flicker across and disappear. I knew that I needed to get to my special bench quickly. I paid for my little breakfast, thanked Sandra who gave me a smile to carry with me for the rest of that day and, as always, beyond.
I walked down South Street very quickly and turned right at its end. I almost ran through Bowling Alley Walk and turned right into West Walks, entered the Gardens and ran towards my bench.
There was no one there.
The Gardens were engulfed with a funereal silence that alarmed me a little. The clouds had parted letting in some gently warm sunshine.
I looked in front, behind and to both sides of my position.
There was no person or non-human animal whatsoever. I felt a little silly. I wondered where Bear was. Had I said something that had upset him? Was that why he was not there today? I sat on my bench wondering, if Bear was going to come again, which way he would come.
And he came from nowhere whatsoever.
He simply seemed to materialise out of nowhere. There he was, sitting up; his head slightly tilted the way it did when he was waiting to be noticed. I was so excited that I picked him up. He did not seem to mind. He snuggled into my neck and promptly seemed to fall asleep with his head resting on my shoulder. I did not dare move for fear of waking him up.
And, from behind me, I heard a voice coming over very near the shoulder where Bear’s head lay asleep.
“But there’s a Tree, of many, one,
A single Field which I have looked upon,
Both of them speak of something that is gone:
The pansy at my feet
Doth the same tale repeat:
Whither is fled the visionary gleam?
Where is it now, the glory and the dream?”
I knew that I should turn around but somehow I could not do so. It all took but a few seconds. I started to turn and Bear seemed to shudder and jump off my lap. This gave me the chance to look behind me. There was no one there. I turned around and looked at Bear who was sat upright at my feet. He pushed his head back and seemed to whine in a puppy cry.
That was when I saw it: a piece of paper pushed under his small collar. I took it out and opened it. The same calligraphic black ink showed up the words of the seven Wordsworthian lines that I had heard being recited behind me a few minutes ago.
I read and re-read the lovely lines. I looked down at Bear’s upraised face. He did a little dance around my feet and ran off. I heard his sharp childlike bark as he exited the gate out to my right.
And I returned to my sanitised little room repeatedly asking myself “Whither is fled the visionary gleam? Where is it now, the glory and the dream?”
The dream of the previous night repeated itself. The little girl stood before me with her tears streaming down her pretty little cheeks. Her large brown eyes seemed to be throwing out an appeal for help. She turned and pointed towards the little wood made up of a few late autumn trees.
In this dream I decided not to put my arms out because I did not want the child that was me to run through me and disappear into nowhere. I stood there watching the little girl standing with her hand outstretched towards the little wood.
I walked towards her and put one hand out. She took it. She seemed to lead me into the wood. I did not resist although I was frightened. I decided that she was the child and that I, the adult, should be there for her.
We walked slowly stepping over wet and slippery leaves. We came to a large tree in the centre with a door in it standing ajar. The little girl pushed the door open and pulled me into my child’s old room with a small bed, a little bookcase, a few toys in the corner and a large chair in which sat Uncle Harry. He smiled at the little girl and held up a pretty little doll. The girl ran towards him as I did so many years ago.
I froze. I tried to move but could not do so. I tried to warn her but the scream emerging from my throat came out as a feeble distant moan. I tried over and over again but it was still a moan – getting louder and louder.
And I woke up to the soothing sound of Michelle whispering, “Shshsh! It is only a nasty dream. You are safe here. Safe. Honestly, little one, making such a racket on my night shift! Come on, what you need is a good cup of tea… Or one of Charlie’s perfect coffees…”
I smiled and feebly whispered that we had hours yet to go before we could have one of Re-Loved’s perfect and soothing drinks. Sufficient time for me to finish off today’s – by now, yesterday’s – diary entry.
I was given a prompt appointment with Dr Müller early this morning. I think that Michelle had had a word with her about my nightmare.
Dr Müller sat in her chair across the room and let me talk. She did not say anything. I remembered joking with Michelle that once I was better I was going to retrain as a psychiatrist so that I could be paid a huge salary for sitting back in a comfortable armchair listening to people’s endless stories.
I did not tell Dr Müller about my encounters with Bear or about the poetry papers. I thought that she might think that I was mad. That thought was funny because I probably was as mad as a balloon being in the psychiatric assessment centre. Anyhow, that was Bear’s and my secret, that was. Nobody was going to share it.
Dr Müller listened seemingly attentively although at times I thought that her eyelids looked heavy and that they were beginning to droop a little. I asked her if she was tired. She said that she had been on call last night and that she never slept well when on call just in case.
I suggested a few remedies for her inability to sleep and she thanked me.
We talked on for a very long time. I was a little annoyed because I wanted to go to Re-Loved and I wanted my seat by the window and in front of the fire. I wondered if I could excuse myself for a minute and phone Aimée to reserve my little place.
Later in the morning, as I walked across the fields towards Dorchester, I suddenly realised that Dr Müller had said virtually nothing all through our long session. Just a few polite responses followed by a deep silence which I then felt that I had to fill.
Yet, I walked into town with a lighter step. With a little tune humming deep in my consciousness. Obviously talking was good. Yes, there was no doubt about it, talking was always good. Maybe I should take up writing. But then, what would I write?
My memoirs? Readers are probably sick to death with reading other peoples’ ghastly experiences of war, abuse, cruelties, mental health and heaven knows what.
I determined that I should give this new idea very careful thought.
I arrived in South Street even more quickly than yesterday. I went straight to the British Heart Foundation shop in search of an anthology of Wordsworth’s poems. I found a small volume which had obviously been much loved and read. I checked through its pages and, to my delight, there was the poem that I sought; ‘Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood’.
As if Santa Claus did always listen, my little spot by the window and near the open fire was unoccupied. I sat in my habitual seat and read the poem over and over again.
I re-read it later in the Borough Gardens. I felt so warm despite the almost freezing weather. I looked up from my book and saw little Bear sitting before me as had become his habit. I felt his proximity comforting. And I read the poem in a quiet voice and Bear came forward and tried to jump up on to the bench. His little legs would not allow him to do so. I bent forward and lifted him. I placed him to my right and turned myself towards him and held my poetry book up. He sat comfortably and appeared ready to listen.
As I read the poem yet again, I was also able to understand much of what Wordsworth was trying to say. Childhood, being a time so near pre-childhood is a time of being close to heavenly existence. Special. Eternal. Beautiful. Imaginative where all is possible. Most of all being innocent meant that all was positive. Then in growth we lose much that was our childhood. Indeed, we forget a great deal of it – if not all. And then we learn to admire, appreciate and love much that is gifted to us despite our loss of memories of childhood.
Something like that anyhow. Except the heaven bit. The whole religious bit. If there had been a God, then why had those horrible things happened to me?
That was an impossible question that even Bear could not possibly answer.
When I finished reading the long poem, I turned to Bear and said, “So, little one, what do you think?” Bear looked up at me and wagged his tale frantically. I took that for a fairly positive answer that he liked the poem. I then asked him, “Which reminds me, Bear, where is today’s piece of paper? Had you forgotten?”
Bear’s answer was so eloquent that it could have been but an accidental event. A one in a million chance of happenstance. Bear lifted his paw and slammed it clumsily down on the book before him. It was but a momentary action and it made me laugh. I even forgave the little muddy paw mark left on my newly acquired book. At the height of my illness that would have been a very serious crime.
Bear stood up, frightened me by jumping off the bench and landing rather clumsily on his side. A little like a cat, up righting himself, he sauntered off towards the exit like a good dog that had successfully carried out the task allotted to him that day.
I walked the four miles back feeling strangely at peace.
It had been barely a few days, yet I have become accustomed to the regularity of each day’s happening. I had just woken up again as I did last night. I had another dream. But this time, I did not moan or cry. I simply got up, put my desk lamp on and decided to sit at my desk and relate my dream to my little journal. And then, in a few hours, I shall have one of Charlie’s superb breakfasts to sustain me through another episode with little Bear of Borough Gardens.
There she was before my sleeping eye; a little girl still standing by the woods, this time holding her hand out to me. There were no tears in her eyes. She put her hand out to me and I took it. I noticed that, in her other arm, she carried the beautiful little doll that Uncle Harry always made me hug when he visited my room.
We walked into the wood. The trees were full of leaves which struck me as odd when they were so denuded only the day before.
“It’s all right,” said the little girl. “This is a dream and so anything can happen.”
I agreed. Because in a dream I felt that anything was possible. I felt that if we met Bear, he would probably talk quite fluently – just as we did.
We walked deep into the wood. We pointed out various trees to each other. We picked a few bluebells. I remember thinking that it was illegal to pick these beautiful flowers. But this was a dream and the law was asleep too.
In the short distance we both discerned what looked like a picnic bench. We walked towards it and reached it very quickly as one could travel only in a dream. It was a lovely spread of delectable foods laid upon a gingham table cloth. To the side stood Aimée from Re-Loved. She welcomed us and asked us to sit down wherever we wished. I sat on one side and little me sat beside me. Aimée bent down and picked something up. She walked towards us and the little girl exclaimed, “Ah! Look! It’s Bear”.
I clapped my hands in delight. Bear looked vaguely older. He was still small. Like a lovable puppy – but something about his eyes made him look like a grown up and wise old puppy. I asked him if he was all right.
“I am fine. It is so lovely to see you in this dream. I have been dying to talk to you. But, as you know, in your conscious world, non-human animals are not allowed to talk.”
“Why can’t they?” asked the little girl that used to be me – she sounded quite outraged.
“Against the laws of man, you know. It all goes back to thousands of years ago when men and women discovered how stupid the majority of them could be. They decided that they needed a huge number of other creatures that could not do what they – the humans – could do… So, they had a big conference held in a nice place in Turkey called Iznik, and vested all the things that made life easy one way or another in men only. All other non-human animals were magicked into a state of utter helplessness and reliance. And in between, the men at the conference threw in women although I heard that some of them have now begun to make their views known… Who knows? Maybe they will stop men being cruel, warlike, greedy, nasty, selfish and so on. Maybe they will even give us our voice back. Maybe…”
I must admit that I had not heard Bear speak at such length before. It was absolutely magical. And little me and I could not stop smiling and clapping our hands. In fact, so much so, that Aimée suggested that perhaps we might want to respond to Bear and say something vaguely intelligent – perhaps.
But Bear had started eating the lovely food. Not wishing to be left behind, we also dived in and munched with great gusto.
Last thing that I heard as I began to wake up was Aimée’s slowly receding voice moaning, “I shall never understand humans. Given a chance to engage in an intelligent discussion with an intelligent puppy and all they can do is masticate like a pair of man controlled non-human animals!”
It is now time to shower, get dressed and go to Re-Loved for a good breakfast. Although, I must admit that, after the delicious picnic we have just had in my dream, I am not sure that I could eat anything today. Maybe I would nibble on a paw or two…
I wondered what made me write “paw” in the last sentence.
Ah, my dream world has befuddled the speech part of my little brain.
What a wonderful day. The breakfast was indeed absolutely divine. Aimée did not seem to have the foggiest idea about our lovely picnic. But I think that she was keeping it a secret because of what Bear had warned us about in a man’s world. The laws on animals not talking had been around for so long that people did not even know about them anymore.
And, to make the day even more perfect, when I arrived in the Gardens I could see Bear sitting right in front of where I would normally sit. He looked a little bored. As if he had been there for some time.
He had his paw up in a frozen cameo. I sat before him. His paw went up and down as in a gentle wave and then suddenly slammed itself down. He repeated this action over and over again. I even fancied that, at one point, he heaved a huge and noisy sigh of impatience at my stupidity in not working out his intent.
Paw waving? Paw slamming down? Paw waving again? Paw slamming down again? Paw for breakfast?
Of course! The paw landing on the open page of my poetry book. I opened the book and looked and there, on the gleaming white page, there it was. A muddy paw mark. Perfectly dried now into what looked like a little cartoon drawing. Little Bear was alerting me to a particular passage. Here it was:
What though the radiance which was once so bright
Be now for ever taken from my sight,
Though nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower;
We will grief not, rather find
Strength in what remains behind.
Of course. That was it. Bear did have it.
I needed not grief.
I needed to find strength in that which was and not that which never could be.
I looked down and saw Bear with his head tilted sideways as if he were smiling broadly at me. I jumped up, bent down, picked him and swirled him around with my laughter reverberating across the Gardens. Bear joined me with short sharp almost squeaky yelps.
He struggled a little and I put him down. As soon as his feet hit the ground he ran very fast towards the exit onto Cornwall Road. He was soon gone.
And I returned home on a lighter step – my whole body floating upon a cloud.
I knew that I needed a good night’s sleep in preparation for tomorrow’s final series of assessments before the committee of psychiatrists decided on the next step needed to help me recover fully and move on.
Today was strange indeed. I had a dream in the early morning just before I woke up refreshed and rearing to go. The dream was so pleasant. My FC and I were walking across our golden field. I told him about my dream of meeting with my younger self. I asked him if such vivid dreams meant that I was not quite right in the head. He laughed and said that if that were the case, then we were all doomed to a lifetime in a mental asylum. He said that he often dreamt of meeting his younger self. It was a dream much to be desired as far as he was concerned. For, he explained, when we were younger, everything seemed just perfect. What spoilt things for us was growing up and experiencing the adult world. For a few children, the adults caring for us helped us grow and develop. For many, the adults themselves had lost touch with their own child – consequently they were often unkind – almost sick. That was all. Events. Events imposed by others. Not by us. We were the innocents. The victims. And now we needed to take control. To take charge. He said that he often saw the child that he once was. Whenever he did, he smiled at the little one and told him that, one day, he would understand all and live happily side by side with his older self – somewhere deep in his ageing heart where he will be safe and sound.
“Let us go, hand in hand, to the forest over there. Let us meet our younger selves and tell them that they will be fine in time. Let us take them into our hearts, say goodbye to them for now and move forward with them inside our very being. For they were and are part of what we are. Come. Let us go. And on the way, I will recite you a few lines that I know you would really like just as dear Bear would too:
Thanks to the human heart by which we live,
Thanks to its tenderness, its joys, and fears,
To me the meanest flower that blows can give
Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.”
And I woke up with these words receding into the depths of my unconscious mind.
But only temporarily, for later that morning, when the first visiting psychiatrist asked me how I saw my future, I blurted out:
“Thanks to the human heart by which we live,
Thanks to its tenderness, its joys, and fears,
To me the meanest flower that blows can give
Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.”
Dr Athelton, for that was his name I think, smiled knowledgeably and asked me to explain myself. I did.
The next psychiatrist who saw me wanted to know how I felt about Uncle Harry.
Nothing. He was an abuser. A perpetrator. A past event best lived with and not allowed to control me.
She then asked me about my ex-husband.
Ditto. Well, I did not actually answer “ditto” because I felt that such a response would have sounded impatient. I explained that Robert was an abusive man. He lived in my past. He was a memory that I could now live with because I now felt good in my own skin.
In the afternoon, all three doctors, Michelle and two other people sat in a semi-circle surrounding me. I, having been a teacher, pretended that they were OfSTED inspectors, and, consequently, probably extremely unimaginative, addle headed and probably utterly ignorant. A little harsh perhaps because I remember once meeting an OfSTED inspector who actually liked poetry and often even wrote it. He did not last long and was soon kicked out. He then went on to write more poetry and got a new job as my dear FC. I had become a teacher because he had inspired me all those years ago. He was always calm, gentle and ambitious for us. His love of English literature was infectious. His passion for poetry left an indelible mark on our little souls.
The panel of six really gave me a hard time. A true grilling. It reminded me of my post graduate viva voce during which a Professor Kilham (a name of wonderfully delicious irony for a pedagogue) did everything that he could to demolish my precious thesis. To be fair to the intellectual homicidal maniac, he passed me and I happily crawled apace to our little home only to find my dear husband in a catatonic state of happy inebriation. But that was a long time ago. Before I found the answer: “find the inner child in you and, once found, make poetry together.”
My half circle of professionals seemed quite animated by my new discovery. They became very excited when I explained that I wished to carry out post-doctoral research on the exegesis of poetry – the poetics of composing. And they laughed when I said that I was going to find that “complex figure in a Persian carpet”…
One of the three psychiatrists, I think that it was Dr Athelton again, engaged me in a productive discussion of Henry James’s novella. But the others soon put an end to our “esoteric literary discussions”.
“Well, in that case, ‘revenons à nos moutons’…” I said cheerfully.
Of course, the literary psychiatrist could not resist another foray into the literary world of La Farce du Maître Pathelin and we engaged with a lengthy discussion of French comédie much to the impatience of his colleagues who appeared to have lost the joy of the child in them.
The long and the short of it all was that the panel decided that I was perfectly competent to look after myself. They suggested that I should return home, take up my teaching job again if I wished and keep going on the path I had already started. They suggested that I had the option of seeing a certain Dr Gessert if I felt the need. They spoke highly of her excellent work and one of them suggested that I might wish to dip into a title or two of her published works.
Today I return home at last. I cannot wait to have a quiet Christmas with Wordsworth and, maybe, a Dickens Christmas story or two.
I phoned FC and told him that I was pronounced “normal”. He laughed with great joy and hoped that “normal” only meant anything but what I was: “Not at all normal because of being utterly unique…” Once he had finished laughing at the term “normal”, he suggested that between now and when we meet next for one of our marathon walks and coffee shop crawl, I should immerse myself in “good old Wordsworth” and with a sprinkling of Dickens given the festive season.
I shall find Michelle, ask her to join me for coffee at Re-Loved and give her this journal to do whatever she wants with. I would like it published so that others can see that there was life after despair and that all you had to do was find the route that suited you and gave you control over your destiny. I found it in poetry through two lovely creatures: Bear and FC.
I write this in haste. I came into Dorchester with Michelle. We have had our coffee and chat. She was very happy to receive my journal. She said that she knew someone who had connections with the publishing world. I know that I can trust Michelle. Anyhow, my story is a cheerful one for it led me here. What’s more, that poor and lost soul is now part of my past – like my sad childhood – all three of us live together quite happily; accepting our little lot in life. “All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.”
My little story is almost over. But what is to come, written in haste as Michelle sits before me impatient to get back to duty on time, is the most exciting bit.
As Michelle and I sat there sipping our lovely Re-Loved coffee, Aimée came down from the family’s residence above. I heard a bark that I immediately recognised as Bear’s. I looked around and Sandra caught my eye. She laughed and said, “Aimée has a new baby…”
“Not Bear?” I exclaimed.
“Oh, you knew about him then, did you? Did you meet Aimée earlier this morning and got introduced to the new little puppy?”
By now, I had, of course, regained control of my precipitous response. I really should learn to keep quiet and let others tell the story.
“Yes, I met Bear earlier.” Well, there was an element of truth in this claim.
Aimée entered the restaurant with Bear in her arms. He looked a little sleepy. Everyone went up to him and made a huge fuss of him. I understood. He was absolutely adorable.
Aimée, not wishing me excluded, came over to me and introduced him.
“This is Bear,” she said by way of unnecessary explanation. “Our little bundle of fun… And he and I are looking forward to our first Christmas together… The first of many Christmases to come”
I agreed and stroked the little fellow. He pushed his little head forward and licked my hand. Then he turned around and climbed over Aimée’s shoulder and rested his head on it. Aimée laughed and turned around so that I could see his face over her shoulder.
And I must close my journal now. As I looked up at Bear, I could swear that he winked at me. I am positive. I was not imagining it. The “fluffy bundle of fun” actually winked at me because that was his way of talking to me from now onwards…
Of saying “au revoir” and “Merry Christmas to us all and to all the little children in our hearts…”