A Single Skuller
The Final Whistle
My Dominant Characteristic
Life as a Serious Person
The Little Talker
LIFE AS A SERIOUS PERSON
from The Hard and Soft Landings Chronicle
I felt that I was getting away with something all the time. I didn’t know what. When my failings were pointed out, I had to laugh. My parents were no wiser. I committed misdemeanours in order to make the perceived errors of my ways worth punishing. This decoy eased anxieties that I was some sort of autist while allowing my hidden depths to remain secret, like buried talents. I was a silly boy. At least my family and me agreed on that.
I regarded myself in every thought, word and deed as the mock up of a real person. When I was handed over to the nuns they took me quite seriously. Absurd though it seemed. It would be more sensible if they accepted my life as a dummy run, taking me to task as I went along. I’d make judicious changes so they’d feel I’d been put on the right path. ‘One day you’ll thank me.’ That was music in my ears because I swore wouldn’t. I learned to make little jokes to myself to pass the time, and chuckled out loud. Sadie Curren said I was a retard.
Failings of my own making mounted. I had heard about original sin but I was damned if sense of uncertainty about myself was based on a hopeless idea, a preordained burden everybody shared. There was no evidence that my siblings suffered from it. They seemed to do very well at home and school. I thought it better to say as little as possible, stonewall questions with an ‘I don’t know’. This went down badly. Particularly when I was sent to the Christian Brothers to toughen me up. Sympathetic teachers thought me stupid. This suited me. But wily ones saw my near silence as a sign of stubborn revolt, refusing to take my lessons seriously.
Then Brother Meyers told my mother that I was cultivating a lazy mind. He has my number, I thought. And, as yet, has only glimpsed the tip of the iceberg. If I was not to become a one-boy Titanic I would have to change course, or disappear off the radar completely. But avoiding detection could only be achieved by falling into a coma, or a cataleptic state. And that was bound to be investigated. I’d be turned upside down and shaken. My hidden depths might fall out. Better to continue as I am, I thought, despite the moral torpedoes, and go down gloriously, singing ‘I am in the wrong’, while believing it wasn’t the wrong they thought. That’s what I said to myself. But I was sorry for my mother. She knew there was something wrong and could do nothing about it. I resolved to make an effort.
How I ever learned to read and write I will never know. Every other lesson showed up my hopelessness. The next time I did better, blurted something out. Only to revert again, but not completely. One step forward, three quarters back. The small gain came from being able to fool people. I was getting away with it. This gave me the confidence to occasionally accomplish something, and without stealth. Like in the Christmas Quiz, answering a question correctly because it sounded right, or playing my violin with a modicum of verve when I forgot myself. The surprise my little achievements created did not last long. The world lost interest, and I slumped back to being the silly boy they all thought they knew. In despair, I studied cats and their insinuating ways. But I hadn’t the looks or the nous of that superior species.
Time passed. I blew it away like a dandelion clock. My parents watched me idling in the meadow, and sighed. The possibility of being put in a home had passed, but the threat that I might be sent to work in a shop, or as a clerk in a bank, if they could wangle me in, concentrated the mind. The prospect was more real than going to hell. I had better become a proper person, at least in a small way. A solid little chap. It would be my ballast against falling into the long grass and being lost until harvest time. My day of reckoning would be at the end of a pitchfork.
The steadying hand of this new ambition helped me to paddle the shallows of seriousness. So I walled-in the meadow of my shiftless youth, and settled down to consolidating my camouflage. And, almost imperceptibly, I acquired some abilities that could be applied to everyday life. None was more useful than keeping from people that I was only practising, and on them. A time came when I held the keys of my own corral. I permitted myself brief periods of parole. But in the main I kept myself locked up. It was safer.
Thus my life progressed. Time passed and I subsequently made a living of sorts. Not that anyone would say it was a good or bad one. But it was enough for my mother to stop bothering about me. I had found a place of my own, and in demure lighting could pass for a person, if not a real one. I was a functionary who functioned. Indeed, my child and adulthood were not all that different. If I took up more room, it was all the better to hide things in my person, and defy the ‘deep heart core’ of mystery that dogged my lower depths. My so-called professional life went on for several decades. Eventually it and me got paid off.
My struggle to negotiate the surface of what passes for a serious life is over. It’s not a matter of getting away with it anymore. The world is at liberty to take me as I am, or not, as the fancy takes. And not having to try, so can I. I’m learning to rise above my doubts and ratiocinations, ruses and rondandamalays. A lightweight capable of levitating. Not a high-flier. But relaxed enough to flap around the room like Joseph of Cupertino.
Sometimes I play the violin to myself. I hear what I want. The music floats. 'The Spring Sonata', or Bach’s double concerto played by two hands. I don’t need to fool others anymore, but I can still fool myself. So be it.