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Jeremiah Savant’s Adventures in Mental Health

EIGHT: Is it Déjà Vu again?

one parallel timeline

Previously: …I met the Marrieds… had taken over…hammer up his sleeve… never again…

In my teens, my parents had denied my hopes. In my twenties, She had taken away my dreams. In my thirties, the World in general kicked the living daylights out of me; now, in my forties (“Forty is the new Thirty!” Yeah, right), I had triumphed outrageously only to become completely stalled. There was no more forward movement, and as my time in education ended, homelessness or crashing with my parents beckoned. Neither was acceptable – but exactly what is one supposed to do when all the adverts for places to rent state, “No smokers, no pets, no benefits claimants.” How is one supposed to put a roof over one’s head when one has never had enough money to save for that all-important month’s deposit, month in advance and key money…?

I had been good. I had played their games. I did the Job Thing. I did the Marriage Thing. What others called ‘real life’ was alien to me, unwelcoming and filled with constant brutal disappointment. Even the one thing I had thought I was any good at – being someone else (or creating other people) – had been gifted to me… but only as a loan. There was nothing left. All I had been through only gave me anguished sleepless nights, silently ranting at the Universe for promising so much – but clearly only for Other People. And my parents were still very much alive and hale and hearty and living and breathing and denying me the cold comfort of taking to my grave. A grave situation. I was referred to a charity helping we in the underclass find and keep rented homes. After a disastrous tenancy which we all considered ourselves lucky to walk away from with our reputations intact, an experiment was planned.

This charity had been introduced to a landlord who was investing in chalets on a holiday park in the middle of nowhere – yet, handily on a bus route… the landlord knew he could make money by housing people in need in these chalets, and also made an introduction to the park’s owner. The Grand Plan began. A combination of emergency shelter and long-term residency was proposed; the aim was to build a community on the park. We would help each other. Because it was out-of-the-way of everything, there would be no temptations of drink and drugs; it would be a tough respite for refugees from the ravages of the world. I was part of the first wave to move in, and during that Indian Summer, it was fine… despite some little niggles.

The chalets were badly maintained glorified sheds built in the 1970s and falling apart. Dampness lurked and threatened, and the walls were only an inch or so thick. There were no facilities like a laundry or a shop on the park, and so everything had to be hauled to and from the place – and ‘hauled’ was the best way to describe it. The park was near the top of a very steep hill, and the trek down to the road was bearable on a day when it was not raining sideways, but the trek back UP… I took to using two walking poles, as it kind of gave me four-wheel drive… One day, as I was checking my mailbox, a neighbour – one of the owner-occupiers on-site – came over for chat.

He expressed his concern at the way things were deteriorating with the “scroungers and junkies” passing through, and when I asked him what he meant, he sneered about “those charity cases on the social,” and made it clear where he thought they should go. I nodded sagely and explained gently that I was “one of those charity cases,” as he had put it.

“Should I pack up and leave, with nowhere else to go?” I asked. The neighbour did not know what expression to wear, and blustered,

“Oh, I didn’t mean you… you’re different.” I wanted to challenge him on that. Would it be because I was relatively well-spoken? Perhaps it was something to do with not being seen out and about wearing tracky bottoms and trainers? Maybe it was something to do with my comportment and middle-class demeanour? Instead, I simply told him that he was wrong; I just hide it better than the others, and went inside to start yet another empty lonely day.

Dates and timescales from this whole period – nearly five years – are almost meaningless to me. A vague and softly focused jumble of stilled images seem to be all I can recall – a distillation of days spent trying to play the guitar, trying to play computer games, trying to write, to read… just about managing to watch television without falling off the chair and the sheer grinding nothingness pressing around me from all sides – even the inside. The seasons seemed blurred and stagnant; the grass never greened up, the interminable days seemed the same length and the light never got beyond that grey washy unappealing look they use in ‘gritty’ films. Cold. So cold and damp – if not actually very wet – the entire time.

During this time, I was crying up the hill, hardly able to put one foot in front of the other when I heard a car toiling up behind me. This was nothing new, as I was frequently passed by other residents who would beep and wave cheerily… as they continued on their effortless way to their homes. This day, something new DID happen: the car stopped, and trillingly chirpy voice bade me sit in the back seat. It was August and felt like December. I got in and felt warmth wash over me in two ways – from the car’s heater and the small dog who climbed onto my lap and snuggled against me. Both were welcome relief from everything – the geographical and social isolation had got to me, and a near-constant exhaustion similar to the mid 1990's had set in.

“That’s ‘Dolly’,” piped the voice from the driver’s seat, and there seemed to be too many undulating tones in those two words. “Ooh, she likes you. And I’m ‘Hetty’.” I introduced myself and remember being chilled at the way ‘Hetty’ purr-growled, “I know who you are and where you live.” Once up at the top near my shack, I alighted, thanked the driver and thought no more of anything until the next afternoon, when there was a knock on the door and a vast Shape was visible through the frosted glass. I opened the door and there stood ‘Hetty’, with ‘Dolly’ on the lead. ‘Dolly’ wagged her tail hopefully at me while ‘Hetty’…

‘Hetty’ was wearing the kind of ‘warm topcoat’ offered in newspaper and magazine advertising catalogues which also sell plastic meerkats for the garden, portable armrest frames to fit most toilets and incontinence pants. Had she been of a normal size, she most likely would have had quite a lined face, but she was of a rotundity her features were puffed up and baby-like. Her voice trilled and purred, attempting to hide the original heavy accent, but the elocution training had not quite worked so the result was similar to an obscenely fat coarse woman from a British comedy of the 1950s or 60s pretending to be ‘dainty and refined…’ The kind of woman who would make cucumber sandwiches in neat triangles with the crusts cut off… but using half-inch thick slices of bread and salad cream. She wanted me to accompany her on my guitar while she sang a little concert in an old people’s home nearby, and despite my objections, she point-blank did not move. All the time, an expectant and childish grin hovered on her face. Finally, after long minutes, I gave in just to get rid of her. She did a ghastly little capering dance on my doorstep and my gorge – and heckles – both rose at this horror before me, but I kept it all in check.

During that month, we rehearsed in her chalet a lot, and nothing felt right. She kept turning up, ‘just to see how you are,’ or to offer to take me shopping. Although this attention was most unwelcome, I did allow myself to use the free transportation – that hill was a killer. I kept to the task in hand, and made it clear I did want to do another; yet just after the show, there was a knock on my door and she announced that we had a Christmas show to do. There was more: a few days afterwards, she would be going to visit a friend, could I look after ‘Dolly’ as it would only be a few days around Christmas and she does love me so… And I realised that I had been targeted again, and was well and truly trapped. Despite keeping my personal troubles quiet and not confiding in her at all, she had insinuated herself into my existence. However… I agreed, and began to plan my exit from this vile woman’s clutches… which I would make in the New Year. Until then, I would watch her carefully.

She would phone me to come to her chalet to change the gas bottle on her heater… she would have a problem with her internet connection or computer – and as I sat trying to work on it, she would loom behind me, leaning further forwards so that her monstrous bosom was pressing hard into me, despite my practically lying prone on the keyboard. She would hover near my back window and I suspect she had been going through my mail. The Christmas gig came and went, and the three days of looking after ‘Dolly’ had became a fortnight…

The New Year Turned, she returned and I made my exit as she collected ‘Dolly’. I told her I was volunteering at the charity and would need to do overnight stays at short notice. She objected but I told her that I had an obligation – plus it might turn into a job. Then I bundled her out through the door and felt free once more. The Gaslighters had put me wise to how I seemed to attract nutters… and ‘Hetty’ (in my opinion) was not merely barking mad but regularly howling at the moon. I lived for a while with my lights off, using headphones to listen to the TV and standing very still at any shadow on my door. Months later, she caught me leaving my chalet and she told me she had sold up and was leaving soon. I merely wished her good luck and promptly excused myself from her company without even patting the dog.

Soon afterwards, I returned to civilisation: my landlord had a place in a nearby town become free. I now had the luxury of a short walk to the shops – for five years, I had needed to plan absolutely everything. It all came down to planning. During the following year, I embarked upon my own Grand Plan to obtain a diagnosis. I had learned so much about myself, and so much about the system… all I had to do was to be aware and to plan ahead. By now, I knew the warning signs and how much time I had before I did the meltdown thing. Time. Time for that final push…

NINE: Circling the Drain

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