Last night, home alone, I disliked the way my mind slipped into thoughts of danger as soon as darkness descended, rather like a small child afraid of the dark.
I lit up the backyard as if I was having a party and this way did not notice the black hole of darkness at the rear of the garden, the place most frightening to me.
Dangers lurk there, hidden from view in the back near the fence among the overgrown monstera and watsonias. There behind the bay tree that houses several families of possums with their incessant noises at night. The dogs hurtle out there when let out for a pee. They are not afraid of the dark, but the younger dog reacts to every unknown sound as if an intruder is about to burst in.
Last night was no exception. Only the younger dog was worse. Perhaps being at home alone with only one other human made her wary of the noises coming from the street outside. She also set her big sister dog off. And every time they barked I had to check the street for signs of the dark shadow of a man who was about to launch at me, though no such man materialised.
I do not suffer such fears when others from my family are at home. When I am not alone.
I met a woman once whose marriage was in trouble because she could not bear that her husband, who travelled for his job, went away on frequent overnight trips, and left her alone. They both considered this fear a function of some childhood trauma, but they were neither of them compassionate towards her distress. Both she and her husband thought she should get over it. As I would like to get over it, but it’s not so easy.
To begin there are the memories of night-time terrors when a peeping Tom’s face appeared at my bedroom window. I was ten and had just crawled into bed when my eyes tilted towards the uncovered window. The light was still on as I was waiting for my sister to come to bed when I picked up the pinkness of a round face of a man who stared into the room as if he was looking for something. I was frozen in terror. The face disappeared in seconds, and I ran to the lounge room to alert my brothers who ran out through the back lane behind our house. They chased someone up the street, but he never materialised.
I had imagined this time at home alone might be peaceful, but the dogs were restless and there was no one else to pick up the slack of their endless desire for interaction. They wanted to play, or walk, or cuddle up close and I wanted the alone time to wander into the recesses of my thoughts where new ideas might emerge.
And then there are my dreams. So many over the years, of intruders, men who break through the door. And always this sense I do not know their intentions, but they mean to harm me.
There is a German word nachträglich. Roughly translated, it means ‘afterwardsness’, or in French après coup. Academics of the psychoanalytic variety use it to refer to the way in which we refashion memories as we think back over them and can attribute sexual meaning to events from the past we once thought innocent.
Those delightfully long German words can be intimidating for those of us who can’t master much language beyond English. What must such words be like for German speakers who also employ slang and like to shorten their words to get into that human impulse towards ease of communication.
My mind is top heavy with random thoughts. A dream that left me breathless in the middle of the night when I stood outside a now retired colleague’s house and wanted desperately to see him again. He was busy at work with others and as I stood outside in the dark I became deranged, rather as the character Jed Parry in Ian McEwan’s Enduring Love, becomes obsessed with the idea that he has received a sign from God that an almost stranger, in the form of the book’s narrator Joe Rose, is in love with him. Joe who loves Clarissa with a passion fit to burst. Both intelligent people from Oxford.
The book reeks of the same atmosphere as books written by people like Margaret Drabble, all those years ago. A British sensibility. A style of writing riddled with complexity of meaning, interlaced with the meandering thoughts of central characters. AS Byatt’s women and men, and I feel inadequate to the task of writing, even as I have read so many books that have a different flavour.
In Enduring Love Ian McEwan even offers a potted view of history through his character’s perspective. This man Joe is a rationalist, in love with logic and science, as distinct from his beloved Clarissa who teaches literature and poets like John Keats. She reckons Joe’s rationality makes him an innocent.
Innocent of what? Of awareness that people are more complex than the dictates of science allow. At one point in his internal reverie, Joe laments the absence of storytelling from science today, and yet he harangues Freud and psychoanalysis for their unprovable ways of thinking.
Everything must be rational, Joe thinks as he watches – almost in slow motion – the drama of a small boy trapped in a run-away hot air balloon. His grandfather has lost control of the balloon and several men from around the countryside, including Joe, on a reunion picnic with Clarissa, rush to catch hold of the anchor ropes to try to pin it down. Even with the weight of four men holding it and a small boy in its basket, the balloon rises, caught on an air drift.
As the balloon continues to rise, one by one the men let go of their grip on the ropes just in time to fall safely, until the last man cannot hold any longer. Too late for him. The balloon is by then too far from the ground and when John Logan lets go, he plunges to his death. A hero, we are led to believe, until we meet his wife, Jean later. She reckons her husband is no hero. Instead, she believes he was hell bent proving himself to a be a strong man in front of his secret lover, who had stayed hidden in the trees below as the balloon floated away. John Logan and his lover were also out for a picnic.
The story is full of twists and turns. They centre on the accident and how a glance from our narrator becomes the point where Jed Parry’s delusion is sparked into his belief that Joe is secretly in love with him. Jed it turns out suffers from a delusional disorder called De Clerambault’s syndrome, named after a French psychiatrist in 1921.
I’m intrigued by the way McEwan plays around with someone else’s madness, albeit among fictional characters. But to me he underplays the complexity of what it means to be so overwhelmed by a fixed belief in mutual desire, even when not reciprocated.
I’ve yet to get to the end of this story, but I can see the ways in which the slightest decision , however seemingly innocent, can have far reaching consequences beyond our wildest dreams.
Especially, when it comes to the craziness of love. As complex as a cobweb.