a normal life

by Arran James

It’s 4a.m. I’m walking to a home I no longer belong to down streets I’ve walked too many times. It isn’t cold but the denizens here, such that crawl the darkness in staggers and moans, are wrapped up tight. I’m passing a school that has a new name since last I came here and noticing the other slight changes- this cafe has an outdoors, this bookshop a new shop front, these houses a fresh smear of paint where they used to be cracked and warped from greasy overuse. I ask myself- aloud in forgetfulness that I’m a psychiatric professional rather than a patient- how it is I got to be here; how did I get to be this man full of serious endeavour and laden with plans that stretch out to fill my notional years. As a boy I’d been lost in a featureless craving that left all possible futures Grampian landscapes in winter, peaks and troughs all white with a frozen snow rendering the agonised relief neutral, silent and flat- even if it retained an unsoiled beauty. As a young man, much the same. Dreams of revolution. Forays into anarchism and a head full of theory. The history of a history flecked with the heavy, jagged oils of turns toward and away from Marx. Ultra-left heroes and autonomists populating my every autistic interaction. The one constant being the panic attacks and the subaltern desire to cry that would surface, even now, in shop queues while I clutch the cereal box or loaf of seeded bread. So few constants in the story. I want to say I’ve lived a normal life. It’s probably true.

Yet there are discontinuous, even heterogeneous elements. A period spent in magical thinking recognisable now as the burgeoning of a prodromal psychotic breakthrough. It didn’t last long but it must have been that. I could feel my soul. I possessed utter resolution, utter self-certainty. Or the time spent with this woman or that. Who was I to them? What new materials did they inject into this story that I try to recount in the mild London winter?

The scaffolding of this narrative seems so slight. I walk down towards the highstreet where I have lived and in the morning I will make contact with an old school friend not seen for something like ten years. We’ll arrange to meet for a drink. I’ll wonder how it will play out. What we’ll talk about. Probably psychiatry. Probably art and writing. She is an artists while I am a sometimes writer, which is to say no writer at all. I’ll laugh when I think that I never edit my writing. But look at all this editing. Then I’ll get sick of thinking about narrative and recall the fictionalised Houellebecq’s statement that he has grown sick of narrative and can think only the world as juxtaposition, the world as framed by poetry and painting. How has this story, this representation of a life, not become ragged and fallen down like a stroke victim waiting for a bus suddenly unable to resist gravity’s charms? How can this I still be standing? The idea of biographical disruption appears absurdly arbitrary. I mouth the word resiliency and recognise the banality of the human miracle; the victory of crawling into bed and crying, the triumph of dragging oneself up in the morning and actually having the brave audacity to wash and eat and dress and leave. Even psychopaths desire such a normal life.

I have no idea how I got to this point. This meagre faith. This empty heart. This tiredness of living that goes on living, drinking, laughing, partying, working. It would all just be so much the worst without it. A true addict, I renounce what I cannot dispense with. I wish I were one of her painting, this friend. I wish I were the canvas of somewhere filled with water, I don’t know where- Venice maybe? The location hardly matters. It is vibrantly coloured with what look like generous brushstrokes. There is no anger or panic in the strokes and the techicolour of the houses bleeds onto the water’s surface. Everything buzzes with warm oranges, pinks and greens. I have no idea how I got to this point and I want to be this happy canvas. To be an image and nothing more. And, as I approach it, I remark to myself that my key no longer fits the door. I call the intercom and wait for someone to let me in. It is 5am and the house is sound asleep, all except for the new cat who prowls the corridor utterly unconscious to the approach of death.