Wednesday, 26 December 2012

First Memories

Pain.  Pain is something you learn over time, it shocks you, it causes distress and misery, it grows inside you like a cancer, pain is life and life is pain.  Yet what is worse the physical pain, the agony of bodily harm, or the psychological pain, the long lingering, never-ending suffering, the sleepless nights, the cold sweats, the fear and the terror.  Festering inside your mind, it changes you, it breaks you, it tears you apart, leaving a lonely shell.  The more times you feel its grasp, the strangle hold of pain, the more it tightens its grip and forces you to recognise how small and irrelevant you are in the grand scheme of life.  I have felt the pain, it has been with me all my life, I have hidden from it, I have shunned existence to try to find some kind of reason for my pain.  Now as I reach the end of my life I can write about my life and the pain and sometimes the happiness that comes before the pain.

It all started when I was very young, barely old enough to realise I was alive, still an adolescent child, still innocent, unknowing of what was to unfold.  I remember the day as if was yesterday, as if I was there on that beach.  It was a cold winters day, sometime before Christmas, I believe I was four or five, perhaps I was older or younger, who knows now, it was so long ago.  I knew I was not at school, I think it was the Christmas holidays or perhaps a weekend.  The memory is full of the emotion of the experience, and not the specifics of time and place.  A brisk wind blew from the sea, the waves crashed like rolling avalanches of snow.  The sound, the smell, as I write I can feel how wonderful it all was.  That smell of the sea, the invigorating feeling of being alive, that freshness, as the breeze of the sea energises you.

I remember this day, my last day of innocence; the last time I can remember when I did not feel pain.  I was with my father and grandparents; I was running and laughing, throwing pebbles into the crashing waves to see if they would skim.  I drew pictures in the sand; I found magical shells and precious stones, as my young mind perceived them.  It was wonderful.  My brother Jack was less enthusiastic, he did not want to go to the beach, he wanted to stay home and play on his computer.  My sister Jane, she was my older sister, my guardian, my saviour, yet she did not know it yet.

Playing on the sand dunes, jumping down, seeing how far we could launch ourselves.  Slowly as always Jack began to enjoy himself he was the oldest by three years, he would jump the furthest, run the fastest, I loved my brother but I was closer to my sister, Jane was kind, gentle, and always willing to listen and to help.  However, on this day she was unable to help, unable to save me from my first trip inside the dark side of life.  I was very young to realise the agony of what life was truly going to be like.  Happiness, pleasure, joy, comes at a price, and for me it was a high price.

As we played, we moved further and further away from my father and grandparents, they plodded slowly with a cautious eye on where we were.  Yet, the long beach curved and we were nearing our favourite destination, the rocks that lead off to an old lighthouse.  We were now out of sight, and nearing the rocks.  I am not sure if they had a name or what the name of the lighthouse was but we called it Rapunzel’s castle, and when we reached the rocks, Jack would call out, mimicking the fairy tale “Rapunzel, Rapunzel let down your hair.”  When I was young, I was innocent enough to believe that she was inside and I always wanted to see her long golden hair.

The rocks to the lighthouse were very dangerous and even though I had clambered over them a million times, I was still very hesitant.  Jack was full of confidence; he glided over them as if they were not even there, as if he was a light as a feather.  Jane was always terrified of crossing, and would not leave the safety of the sand.  I was also scared but I loved my brother and if he could get across the rocks, then so could I, yet I had only ever crossed in the summer, when it was less windy, much warmer and with the guidance of my father or an adult friend.  This would be my first crossing by myself.  I could see Jack skipping merrily; he was laughing and singing his Rapunzel song over and over again, as if he was taunting me, as he was daring me to take the chance.

“Come on Chris,” he shouted.  Come on you want to see Rapunzel don’t you?”

“I’m trying.”

“Be careful,” shouted Jane from behind, I could sense the fear in her words.

I slowly made my way across the first part of the rocks, I could see small crabs and tiny fish in the rocks pools.  The wind was now getting stronger; I carefully took step after step, occasionally slipping my little heart was pumping fast, the wind increased, and my hat blew off my head.  I heard behind me my sister scream; as I turned, I slipped and fell into a rock pool.  For a second I was convinced I would drown or some horrid creature would come out from below a rock and take my leg, crabs might gang up and attack me snipping at my feet.  I could see my brother gliding over the rocks towards me.  I was breathing fast yet I was fine, the water was only a few inches deep, it did not even come over my bright blue Wellies.  Still I was small I was only four, how could I get out of the pool of water, the rocks were slippery, long strands of smelly seaweed, and a greenish moss covered most of the rocks.  I was still terrified; convinced something would attack me from beneath the tiny amount of water.  I could hear my sister calling to Jack to get me, then he was there smiling.

“You look like Rupert Bear,” he announced when he reached me laughing.

“I do not,” I proclaimed, ashamed at being in such a desperate situation, unable to climb out of the rock pool by myself. 

He now started singing, “Rupert, Rupert the bear everyone knows his name.”

I started to cry, and held my hands high pleading with him to get me out.  Finally, he pulled me to safety and I was so relieved when I was standing on a firm solid rock.

“Come on little Rupert Bear. Let’s see if Rapunzel is there.”

My tears had stopped, and I held my brother’s hand all the way to the lighthouse, fear and trepidation turned into excitement and when I reached the base, I turned and shouted to Jane.

“I’m here, I made it,” my hands waving, I was jumping up and down, in my white winter coat.

The door to the lighthouse was old and rotten, the lighthouse had not been in use for many years.  Jack had pulled the rotten door open ajar.

“Are you coming inside?” he asked trying to make his voice sound as creepy as possible.  “Rapunzel might be upstairs, but then again the evil wicked witch might be there also.”

Intense excitement and exhilaration masked my fear, I was with my brother he was strong and brave in my eyes, I would be safe from any wicked witch.  The smell of the sea was invigorating, but inside the lighthouse, the smell was stale and foetid, the putrid musty smell of decay overwhelmed me and I was reluctant to go further inside the lighthouse.  Jack gave me a look that calmed me and said without words come on let us explore and see what upstairs is like.  Slowly we walked up the solid stone steps, round and round the lighthouse.  This was not a manned lighthouse; it had no rooms, just endless stairs.  Being so small I was tired, the fresh air and the sea was catching up on me, as I walked I felt dizzy I did not want to look down.

Finally, we reached the top and Jack pushed his way into the light itself.  We could see for miles, I had to stand on my tiptoes to see properly but I could see my father and grandparents in the distance.  I could see my sister Jane she was waving.  I could see ships far away on the horizon.  Further along the shore, I could see a man playing with a very large dog that looked like a cow, it seemed huge.

We only stayed there a short while yet it seemed like a lifetime, I created a magical world and imagined going on a fantastic journey.  Jack chased me around the great light; I had never seen a bulb so large.  I wondered if the light still worked and if it would blind me; would it magically come to life, whilst we were still there.  Then we started back down the stairs and out back into the cold wind, it was strong and brisk, it was biting my face, and turning me cheeks red.  This time my brother held my hand as we negotiated the rocks.  It fascinated me how he would jump over large distances, distances that seemed beyond my reach.  Nothing scared him, he never slipped he was always sure of himself.  He helped me over them and finally we reached the shore and my sister Jane once more.  Jack was laughing, calling me a scaredy Rupert Bear.  Jane just smiled and hugged me and we immediately headed back up towards the sand dunes.  I ran out in front of my two siblings, the dunes were steep and I rushed as fast I could run up towards the thick needle like grass, I always hated that pointy thick dune grass.  As I reached the top, the dune descended down immediately and I ran head long into a great black beast.

My speed was such that I was lurching forward and my head hit the great beast in the stomach.  I fell to the ground and the huge black dog from hell turned and looked at me then growled, a growl so deep and menacing I will never forget it.  The next few moments, they could have been seconds they could have been minutes I was unaware of time or space.  The great beast attacked, it massive jaw and huge teeth grabbed my head, and wrestled me to the ground.  I started to scream, I screamed as loud as I had ever done or have ever done since.  I felt no pain, I just felt helpless, unable to free myself from jaws of death.  As the massive dog threw me around like a rag doll, I noticed my brother and sister standing frozen still and helpless at the top of the dunes looking on shocked, unable to comprehend what was happening to me.  My screams were so loud within moments my father arrived and smashed something large against the dog, but it would not let go of my head.  I knew in my young undeveloped mind that I was going to die; I could feel the teeth tearing into my skull.  Still I did not feel any pain; it was as if my body, my mind overwhelmed by shock, by the terrible situation, because of the inevitability of death, it had switched off my pain receptors.  After what seemed like an eternity, the dog, the great beast, finally let go and ran off.

My screaming did not desist, I now started to feel the pain, it surged through like an avalanche of agony, blood poured from my shredded skull.  My white coat was blood red.  I was lying in the sand dune looking up at the grey cloudy sky, blood in my eyes, tears pouring, screaming without any knowledge of whether I was alive or dead.  I could not sense anything around me; I was numb to all but the agonising pain of what had happened. 

I felt as if I left this world for a brief time and lived as a ghost or a spirit, perhaps my soul outside my broken body.  I was seeing the pain from a distance, trying to disassociate myself from the body, my broken body, my scared face.  It would haunt me all my life.

They rushed me to the nearest hospital but it was not capable of looking after a young child near death, my forehead ripped to pieces, the skull showing through my shredded head, the horrific bite marks from the hell beast.  My mother arrived and this caused me to cry more and she held me and comforted me but I was still in a state of shock.  As if a ghost, disconnected from my body, disassociated from the suffering, and the agony and pain, the physical and now soon the psychological.  I remember they rushed me to another hospital in an ambulance, my head rapped in a thick bandage as the blood still poured, it would not stop, the blood continued to gush like a river that had burst its banks.  I looked on from a distance as a ghost, staring numb, at myself disfigured face, knowing I would never be the same again.  I was now a deformed freak, I wondered if I was better dying.  Would it not be better if I died, so I could not feel the pain I would have for the rest of my life.

I arrived at the large hospital and they immediately rushed me to intensive care.  I remember the nurse, my mother was there trying to hold back the tears fear and dread that covered her face, she was holding my hand, as the nurse tried desperately to stitch my shredded head.  I felt every stitch one after the other, yet to me I did not feel anything, my mind was in extreme survival mode.  I still felt numb, still disassociated from my body and reality.  It was a strange sensation knowing it is you that is in this mess, the catastrophe, yet still feeling like you are a watcher looking on, not able to comprehend the disaster that has befallen you.

However now at four, I had felt the hand of life’s agonising trail, my young mind had felt pain, physical pain and soon over time psychological agony.  I do not remember much of what happened next, I was in hospital for some weeks.  I do not know for how long, I was lucky though, I was one of the first children ever to have plastic surgery in my country.  It meant the scars though bad were not as bad as they could have been.  I did not look like Frankenstein’s monster, but I felt I was.  Still over my life especially my younger life, it changed me, it robbed me of confidence, it took away my innocence I realise how cruel life can be.  I always felt I was a deformed freak.  In time the scars heeled, I had been lucky, the dog had missed my eyes by millimetres, had missed ripping my ears off by the same margin.  I now had two large curved scars across my forehead through my hairline; it looked like a weird smile from one side to the other.  Though others said they did not notice my scars, I noticed them, every day when I looked in the mirror I would see the scars and remember the day, the pain the agony, the change in my life.

This was my first taste of pain, real pain, deep never forgotten pain and it would affect me for the rest of my life.  Unfortunately, it would not be my last and I am sad to say it would not be the worst either.

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