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Jeremiah Savant’s ‘Inside the Inside’

 

A Parallel Companion to ‘Adventures In Mental Health

TWO: The Carol Incident – and a prophecy?

The Rule Of Exclusion had followed me up into the Sixth Form – which was one of the reasons I had wanted to leave school… There was a particularly excruciating incident where one of my classmates was passing out tickets to his 18th Birthday Party one lunchtime in the common room. He handed one out to each person, and it was kind of funny watching ten years drop from these nearly adults, until he got to me.

“Ah,” he said, and withdrew the ticket when he noticed it was me in front of him. “Yeah, not you,” he said, then went on to the next person and continued handing out tickets. When he had finished, I drew him aside.

“So…” I said. “What’s up with that?” I asked. He squirmed a bit under my gaze.

“Yeah, sorry,” he replied. “Look,” he continued, “if it was up to me… well, you know. But… you just don’t get invited to these things. It’s just how it is. I don’t…”

“Yeah,” I said. “I get it. You can’t break ranks. Just never ask me for any favours, okay?”  I left it at that. This was one of the reasons I had wanted to go to College to study ‘A’ Levels; to begin again. To see if it was my fault or theirs, this social isolation of mine. After ten years of it, I thought I would have been used to it, but… well, it was rather blatant. The worst part is that no one thought anything of it. It was just how it was. As it happened, I did get invited to just two parties in those two years. The first of them was early in the Lower Sixth. Chrissie, Jane and Carol were having a joint 18th Birthday Bash, and invited me. By this time, I was beginning to suspect something about Carol, and how she felt about me…

Aaaah… Carol. I had never really known anyone like her. Usually, she wore simply sweatshirt and jeans, but her natural slenderness gave her an effortless elegance no one has any right to possess. Just thinking about her 18-year-old self now, my heart beats just little bit faster and happier: dark hair tumbling to her shoulders, her eyes of the most delicate and amazing colour of blue I have ever seen. She was trim and tidy, and while I was becoming more besotted with her, it took me weeks to realise that she might feel the same. I wanted to find out – but had no way to do so. How does one do this kind of thing? In the books I had read, there had been somewhat melodramatic announcements – even in contemporary films, although my tastes in fiction were for fantasy and horror, so probably not the best source material. I watched and plotted. Today, she said this which probably means that she does… but I was not thinking about mere infatuation for a ‘practice run’ which is what most ‘relationships’ are at that age – I, for some reason, was heading straight for the Big L. I was falling for her; her economy of movement, her small breasts, tiny waist and tight hips and legs… although I had only seen her fully clothed, she reminded me of the underwear models in my mother’s home shopping catalogue (I wondered, did she wear… matching..?).

At the Autumn Fair, the five of us got roped into running a stall for the afternoon, and as we were clearing up after the event, I heard a click. Turning quickly, I saw Carol lowering the camera from her face, and the smile she was wearing was full of… love? Intimacy? I did not have a clue, all I knew was that I desperately wanted to see that smile up close; very close. I returned that smile, then just continued with what I was doing and the moment was over, but I can still smell the earthy wet playing field which was slightly muddified from many people walking on it.

After one theatre trip – the play included scenes where a character experienced explosively violent drug withdrawal – we did in the next class an improvisation in a doctor’s waiting room… for some reason, I decided I was going to do the violent withdrawal thing. Mark was a huge chap, and he held me down… it was terrific, because I knew that I could struggle as much as I liked and not break free because he was so much stronger than I. After a couple of fits, I was ‘recovering’ with my head in my hands – also wondering why I was being compelled to portray this character this way – and Carol came over to me, sat next to me, put her hand on my thigh.

“Jer?” she asked, tremulously. “It’s me, Carol. Remember we were in the Sixth Form together?” I didn’t look at her.

“Yeah,” I croaked. “Look, I was shit back then and I still am now. Best go away, yeah?  Don’t get involved.”  Although it was ‘make believe’, I could feel her disappointment. It was clear to me that she was trying to get to say how she felt about me in a deniable way… but…

…years later, I was having a slow fugue – a type of twisty fit in slow motion – on my settee not long after I was signed off from work and on medication… and that memory came back to me. I wondered crazily if I had somehow seen the future, because I rarely went out in case I fitted and always had to work hard when in public to keep it all inside… if Carol really did turn up at the doctor’s one day as I was waiting for my next prescription… life would imitate that session. Trapped inside my soul, I screamed silently – a siren song which echoes to this present day… 

Could it be true? Could it be that She, Who Occupied My Last Thoughts Before Sleep, felt the same about me as I about her? Could this be… LOVE? I made up my mind to resolve this, and I rehearsed a little speech… now, things just had to fall into place…

It was the last night of the play, and while the just-after-tea hubbub was starting to begin in the auxiliary hall, I slipped outside. First into the cold darkness of the early December night. Sticking to the lit pathways, I made my way to the front entrance, in through the empty lobby with its familiar shapes and patterns, then on into the main hall, where the chairs were all laid out for performance tonight, and two-tier apron doubling the size of the stage itself. I went round to my left, to the usually-locked door to the stage, round past the instruments for the six-piece band, through the door and up the shallow stairs to the stage itself. A pause, then as if making a small silent entrance, I walked out onto the boards, and went centre front, stopped and looked straight out into the auditorium – off into the distance of time, space and imagination.

There was a small sound from behind one of the curtain flats in the wings to my right, and around the curtain came Carol. She smiled an intoxicating smile – a smile I could breathe in and live on for a lifetime – and somehow glided towards me.

“What are you up to?” she asked, with that smile somehow suffusing her words, turning her voice as sweet as syrup. I cocked my head to one side and shrugged nonchalantly.

“Oh, just claiming the stage one last time,” I said, turning to face her. I gently caressed her cheek, cradling her face, which she surrendered to without taking her amazingly blue eyes off mine… and I could feel her purr. Now was the time. This was it. I had to tell her. The moment spun and hung lazily in the now-elongated time which cocooned us in an envelope of near-total disconnection from everything else in the universe.

“Carol,” I almost-whispered, and she leaned forward. “I could never fancy you – ”

BANG!  The doors at the back of the hall burst open as a handful of boisterous second formers ran through, chasing, racing and shouting, causing us both to turn and look… the moment had been broken, shattered forever. I turned back to finish, my hand was in empty space. She had gone. Of course she had.

I had missed out one word. Just. I had meant to say, “I could never just fancy you, it’s more than that. I believe I could love you… and I think I do. Very much.”  But now… now, I was alone on an empty stage, my hand hovering in mid air and starting to realise that I had said that little speech the wrong way round. My hand dropped to my side, and, lowering my head, I said into the now empty hall,

“Idiot… you start with the love bit…”

I looked for her, but there was too much activity, and I did not meet her until the following Monday, by which time, she wanted very little to do with me – and I could not blame her, sitting in misery, mourning a love lost before it had been found, but… something tickled at the back of my mind.

A memory of month before, and her 18th. After an initial greeting when I arrived, I had not seen her at all that evening, except for the couple of occasions I had wandered outside to get some air; each time, she had been entwined in hot and heavy embraces; each time with different people. Some weeks later, Mark told me that despite being involved with Chrissie, he had found himself lip-locked with Carol more than once, and a couple of times nearly ‘went further’ before stopping himself. He told me I had had a narrow escape and that she would not have been any good for me. I nodded sagely and wondered if he was right.

From that disaster to the end of the term (around Xmas) was extremely awkward for all of us, and no one talked of it: I certainly did not know how to broach the subject, and in time, it all sort of faded. We continued with our drama, and part of the exam was to do a performance; a couple of excerpts. I did not understand these excerpts, they made no sense to me, but then, they were from ‘Theatre of the Absurd’ – or as I like to call such stuff, ‘plays and that wrote by people what got not much talent or skill and pretend to be imaginative, like and cover it up with a whole load of pretentious bollocks.’ Not a snappy title, I know, but accurate. In one of the pieces, I had to be completely unresponsive, just staring ahead: Mark had to lean in close at one point and ask rather brutishly, “Is that a glass eye you’re wearing?”

Needless to say, we could not do it at first. One or the other of us fell about laughing or I jumped out of the way as his face loomed towards mine. We devised a plan: at odd times when we were least expecting it, one or the other of us would lunge at the other and say the line. It worked both ways… within a few days, we were so bored with it that he could lean in close (audience laugh as I was unresponsive), then back out again, then in again quickly (gasps!) and pause (titters) then line. And I sat there like a statue. I had to maintain that through the play – and there was one potentially very awkward bit which proved that Carol and I had moved past… the Incident.

Her character had to start undressing me, and rummaging under the coats and jackets I was wearing. I was very ticklish, and still holding feelings for her. Yet I still sat motionless. One evening, she and I were on our own, rehearsing before our lifts home, and she bustled about me, touching and feeling, removing my coat and trying to get my character to respond with her character’s inane chatter. One several occasions, her small beautiful breasts made contact with the back of my head, my arm, etc to various degrees. Inside, I was beside myself. As she leaned forwards to remove the scarf from my neck, it was all I could do to stay still; the urge to lean forward myself and kiss her was almost overwhelming… until she sat back, and sighed, her hands falling onto my lap.

…and flash forward some years, to after my marriage ended; for some very strange reason – be it her body language at that time or the way she was dressed, a smart brown skirt combo – and I was very confused with this memory when it first resurfaced. For the life of me, I could not see Carol’s face; it was my ex wife’s…

“It’s really difficult,” she said, “you’re just not there at all, are you?” I broke character and winked, told her that I was only doing what I was supposed to – and before anything else could be said, there was a knock at the glass door as our respective lifts had been waiting for us to finish. What could have been part 2 and resolution had been scuppered.

The whole Carol Incident was something I took note of, though. There was so much of it, and it was so close in time that I realised that I could learn how it was to be fancied by someone – especially if I felt the same back. I burned it all into my memory, and decided to watch for it again. Repeating those mistakes was not something I cared to do; too emotionally draining on all sides. The following school year, Carol and Co were gone, and we were in the Upper Sixth.

My new acquired knowledge stood me in good stead because as the year began a girl, new to the area, started in the Lower Sixth and made a beeline for me for some reason… but it seemed… weird. Mary was pleasant enough, but… she seemed to be… well… about 12 instead of 17. It was almost as if she was a character from one of those coy 1950s musicals set in the 1850s about young people falling in love. She was very juvenile, and holding hands was a big thing for her somehow. There was very little by way of anything approaching the flirting with Carol, yet there were undertones of something… then one day she was looping herself around my neck and seemed to be making a big thing about ‘our first kiss’ which freaked me out completely. I disentangled myself from her by saying I might be gay. Not kind, but I was actually beginning to wonder… besides, I did not have a clue how else to back out of whatever was happening. From this, I learned that I did not have to agree to be with someone, and that it would be best to stop infatuations like this getting that far advanced.

Another girl, in the Lower Sixth, was Nell and we began to hang around together. She still seemed… a little young (despite only being a year younger than I), but certainly more mature than Mary. She was curvy, with dark hair and slightly feline features with an extremely enticing smile (ah! Smiles! Later in life, a certain smile would cause me so much trouble!)… and, I was spotting the signs I had noticed from Mary – but more importantly, Carol. This was getting somewhat interesting, as I had now successfully spotted three times when girls ‘might be interested in me’… but for what, exactly? I mean, sure, it was fun to hang around with them as friends; hormonally (of course), we were all off the charts and clearly getting ready to reproduce… except, actually making a baby was the last thing on my mind; it was for everyone of our generation.

There was a big difference in attitudes back then. If you were ‘seeing someone’ – no matter how seriously or not – and pregnancy happened, then you were pretty damned dim. We menboys did not want to get ‘trapped’, and girlywomen who got lumbered were… unlucky. Certainly, around my neck of the woods at that time, even if she said she was on the pill, you used a condom anyway. Belt and braces. I think we were the last generation to think like that… but then, we were the last generation who had or did a lot of things – Thatcher swept to power and started the process of turning the UK into what it is today.

However, at the time, I (like every man-boy of my age) had basically one thing on my mind – I want a girlfriend because I want sex. If you have had roadworks outside your house (or place of work) all day, then you understand the constant hormonal banging and drilling and subsonic shaking of the soul. You are trying to go through your day, just minding your own business, then she (in this case, Nell) walks by, smiles and touches your hand in passing… then those damned roadworks start up and somewhere inside a monster rages. Actually, it can be rather pleasant, in a way.

Nell and I were out for a walk at lunchtime – for the third or fourth day in a row – and I had allowed myself to put my arm around her shoulders. She settled right in there quite nicely, and I felt her arm slip around my waist. I had got it right; it also felt quite right, too. All the signs I had spotted in the last couple of weeks were not my imagination. Only… what next? Nell took care of that part. She stopped walking, and with a step and turn, she was in my arms – there was no option for me but to stop too. There, in the middle of the lane, she tilted her head up and forward; I remember feeling her nose sliding alongside mine – and as absurd as that sounds, it was not absurd in that moment – and pleasingly robbed me of my breath.

She kissed me for the first time.

Our embrace deepened and it felt like we were starting to fuse together… and, of course, there was a bit of drool and some breathlessness involved. As we drew back, I looked her in the eyes and asked,

“Does this mean we’re..?”

“If you want to..?”

“If you do.”

“Yeah.”

“You want to..? Or we are..?”

“Both?” “Okay.”

She nestled back under my arm and we returned to the common room, entering hand-in-hand. However, there have been certain circularities regarding those first relationships – the one that didn’t happen, the one that did, and the one that almost was.

THREE: Nell and Other Stories

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Jeremiah Savant’s ‘Inside the Inside’ is a parallel companion to ‘Adventures In Mental Health‘.

If you would like to connect with Jeremiah, or have any questions about this series, feel free to get in touch.