Recently the young man 3 doors down put out a small box of books and bits with a sign saying “Free”. I took Isabella Tree’s Wilding (fab).
Last week I saw a girl putting out some other things, thanked her for the book and asked if they were moving. “To Australia” she answered with Antipodean twang. We spoke for a minute or two and I wished them luck. Later that day I saw a copy of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Not my kind of a thing at all, but I was curious. And I was reminded of a friend’s recent comment about a current success “the story isn’t much but the evocation of character is terrific.” You can’t knock a book that sold 12 million copies, shrewdly touching all kinds of bases – though for me the most apposite is the outsider as heroine, who functions but doesn’t fit and will always be lonely.*
Because lonely can be disabling.
You never kind of learn how to mix or speak or even wear the clothes that would get you to first base. You may withdraw still more and manage alone because you can’t see how to do it any other way, or develop a false persona like a mask (defensive and protective) to enable yourself to function without explanation. It must help if, like Lisbeth Salander, you are really good at something.
But lonely hits you from time to time and you have to find your way through, aided by comfort food and wonky telly, long walks and bouts of maniacal housework. You can’t escape it. It is part of you, I used to say, like a birthmark. It’s there. Evasion is harder work than recognition and the development of coping strategies.
Occasionally, wonderfully, you meet other ghost ships
like you and you pass, flags waving, in the world. It seems a very long time ago that I moved across the Thames from north to south where first I met a woman, 20/25 years younger than me. I don’t know her diagnosis though I admired her forever when I once asked – a propos some comment she had made – how disturbed she was and she answered clearly – frequently unbalanced, occasionally psychotic and had to be hospitalised.
She went through several years of profound religious observance which gave her a focus though little more stability. And then about a year ago – these encounters are completely random – we met and I saw something changed in her face. She told me with excitement she had a new psychiatrist who really listened to her, that some of her pills had been changed
and she felt so much better. She looked it. I said so. She beamed.
There is an odd mixture of childishness and maturity alongside her innate personality, at least with me, and when we met last week, she was wearing a pale green
which particularly became her. When I remarked on it, she told me she had got down from an 18 to a 16 (“I got so fat, I got so fat but next time I shall get down to a 14 and then in spite of all the lovely nibbles and things at Christmas, I shall get down…” ) She had a vision of herself I had never heard before and it was the longest speech she had ever addressed to me, standing, holding my hand. And embarrassed, she wound up with Happy Christmas and I stopped her – “You can’t say Happy Christmas. It’s only October – we’re going to see each other before then… “
“We are ?” she said. “Look at your lovely smiling face …”
I said “You know fine if that’s what you give, that’s what you get …” She shook her head. “That’s not always true “ she said (and I bet she knows it isn’t true.)
“No” I admitted. “But it makes a great place to be coming from …”
“You’re always so kind to me …”
“Do you remember” I said ”when I was so unhappy and you stopped and taught me a prayer, and prayed with me in the street – you made me say it again to be sure I would remember it ?” She nodded and put her hand against my face.
We have done well with each other.