I’m going to begin with a metaphor that first came to me a decade or two ago when looking at autobiography as a project.
Looking upon my history is, for me, to climb a slope in the darkness, under an unillumined sky. From my vantage point what I survey is a battlefield, a pitted no-man’s land where, here and there, the smouldering remains of a wreck, a campfire, the fleeting luminescence of a descending star-shell, cast light and shadow on ground long fought and struggled over. Very rarely, too, a star blinks where the omnipresent smoke cloud briefly thins.
A dramatic image, perhaps, but a fair one. A lot of dead lie on this field and the struggle is not over yet, whilst the sporadic, piecemeal illumination illustrates the scattered fragments of my memory. I have no clear view with which to present you. I have forgotten – often have chosen to forget – too much to see my history as a whole landscape.
The dead I will come to in time – and the lost too – but they include my mother, my twice dead father, the daughter who was the love and purpose of my life, ‘George’ the low-rent paedophile who took his own life under persecution, ‘Hannah’, who died in my presence of a wasting disease, hallucinating little red men pursuing her, her husband gripping the foot-rail of her bed and torn between awe at the event and his eagerness to have her gone so that nothing would stand between him and his beloved bottle. Dead dreams too.
And I am war weary. Approaching my mid sixties it occurs to me that if I die tomorrow I shall scarcely have ‘lived’ at all, leaving me so weary that the thought of a keen Swann Morton blade and a final superheated bath flits into and out of my head like some kind of tormenting sprite. It is not a choice that I can make – I have too many obligations. And even in my embattled, embittered state it is my obligations to others which over-rule my choices. It is, I suppose, my choice to allow it.
I will begin, if I begin at all, with a fragment of my early past, with a boy-child born in 1951 in the army hospital at Catterick, North Yorkshire, England. My mother shared two memories of this event: the first that her ward was visited by an eminent female Personage and that my mother and the other women in their beds were ordered to ‘lie at attention’. The second was that my father had to be prevailed upon by a mutual friend before he would come and look at me. ‘Afraid of sex’, she too soon told me, he wasn’t terribly keen to see its living consequences.
More may follow.
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Based on a work at rvraiment.wordpress.com.