The observatory loomed high above me, at the crest of the hill in the distance. I could feel the surge of negativity sucking away at the hope in my breath, and with each fresh glance towards the tangible, milky hue of the dome, the panic and fear rose to greet me. The cast iron bars that surrounded the park gave me brief periods of intermittent relief by obscuring my view every few steps but I was kicking myself for suggesting going to this place. Yet, how could I have known that in this moment, walking past a park I’d walked past a thousand times before, a park where I’d shared wonderful memories with friends and family, a park that was part of my upbringing; how could I know that my life was about to change forever? And I really hate clichés but I can’t explain it any other way. One conversation, no, one name, dragged me into my past with a fervour and penchant for rack and ruin.
It was a sunny day if I can remember correctly. I think I remember because later, after the conversation in the car, I can see the sunbeams in my mind shimmering through the windscreen in an LSD haze (minus the actual presence of LSD sadly, as I’m sure I would’ve had a grand old time). One of those days where a walk in the park with my dad seemed so innocuous that I didn’t even give a second thought as to our destination.
“Let’s go to the park! Maybe the market will be on and we can see if the board game shop is open and they might have those really cool dice in stock again! I think I’ll get a red and white one this time” is probably what I said to my dad, using every trick of the trade I’d acquired throughout years of wangling things in my favour and seeking my own way. Of course, parking was always going to be an issue as it’s usually either tremendously busy or the prices in the car parks are too high for the short(ish) time that we usually spent there. But go there we did, so my persuasive argument must’ve worked its magic like always. And the next questions are ones I’ve pondered over in the years since the conversation; Would I go back and ask to go somewhere else? Should we have walked a different way back to the car? If we parked somewhere else, would it all have unfurled in the way it did? If dad never said that name, would I be in the position of recovery that I am now? Did the conversation need to happen spontaneously and in such a way where I couldn’t not confront the elephant in my mind?”
At the end of the day, none of the answers mean anything, because it happened, the path of my life changed and here I am today, writing this book. I didn’t promise it was going to be chipper and cheerful, and I daren’t say it’s going to be all doom and gloom either. But to know me, to understand my story; well, you must slog through the murky, muddy waters to reach the shore. And it’s not been easy going, far from it. There have been times when I’ve felt like my world is quite literally falling to pieces in front of my eyes and I can do nothing to stop it from turning to dust and ash no matter how hard I try and clutch on to reality and sanity. Yet, there have been moments where I’ve seen Shangri-La, I’ve touched the void to the other side and I’ve heard my words spool from my mouth as if they would go on to travel on the mist of time and change the world.
But most of all, above all else and the thing I dream of most often in my wildest dreams both awake and in slumber; I just wish it would all stop. The thoughts, the fears, the worries, the hand-washing, the showering, the buzzing, the flies, the shame, the guilt, the embarrassment, the hand gel, the excuses, the leaving early, the staying up late, the never sleeping, the wasted food, the wasted years, the friends I’ve misplaced, the family I’ve missed, the people I’ve loved and let go, the ambitions I’ve let fade away, the opportunities I’ve let slip, the time I’ve lost, the wiping down, the memories I’ve left to rot. There are days where it all becomes unbearably, impossibly hard to fake a smile, tell a lie and pretend that I’m fine. Days spent inside, shut away from everything and everyone in the hope that it’ll all just go away if I tell myself I’ll be okay. House-bound, bed-bound, a prisoner of my own creation and imagination.
But this changed when I opened my very own Pandora’s Box and had the conversation.