Sunday, January 16, 1983

Phantasms of the brain

Shelley's been strange for a while now, so when she vanished again last night at 3 a.m., saying she was “going to the lake,” I went after her, worried it wasn’t safe among all the dark trees and thinking that perhaps she wanted to talk. But perhaps she wanted to be alone too, although I never considered that. I caught up with her fairly quickly and we strode together to the dark, silent water to sit awhile beneath the stars and clouds. Then we headed up the road into the hills overlooking campus.

Shelley wanted to climb to the very top and watch the sun come up, but we didn’t get that far: instead, we sat at the side of the road in the blowy cold of the early hours, looking down towards the University, which was a sprinkle of white flickering lights buried amid a blanket of black hills, the orange street lamps of distant Watermouth and the motorway casting a glow into the sky.

We were quiet a long time until finally Shelley said: “All the people we know are down there, in those lights. I never want to leave: I want to stay here forever.” Later, Penny told me that it’s as though Shelley is trying to push herself so far that she’ll actually believe she really does want to end it all; this is what the incessant late nights and the drinking every night are designed to do. It as if she’s trying to prove something.

We decided we'd better go back so we walked back down the road. Occasionally the searing glare of passing car headlamps froze us for an instant in their light, the drivers no doubt wondering what we two were doing out there at this hour, who we were, etc.

Today I made Grant a birthday card and wrote a letter on the inside of the card, but other than this, a boring yawn of a day, a day so stiflingly ordinary that I started to feel I have no purpose or direction in my life. What am I doing? I wandered to and fro from room to room or to the kitchen and back, the heavy hand of confusion upon me, “moving in a mist.” It's depressing. Is this all there is to life?

At eight p.m., everyone was in Stu’s room having a big debate on the validity of poetry, Stu declaring all poetry pretentious--he argued that only if it’s put to music does it have any validity, although he faced united disagreement.

Suddenly there was a knock at the door. It was a tall gaunt hippy type wearing an embroidered smock, dirty red and white striped trousers, baseball boots,  a small green woolen skull cap perched on his head. He carried a huge white sack. He came in holding out a cigarette and nodding strangely with tiny birdlike movements and sat down. The atmosphere grew heavy with scarcely-stifled laughter. Gareth was red-faced and hilariously sarcastic in the corner, and a couple of people rushed from the room.

When the man spoke his voice was small, distant, and barely audible. He asked us if we had any biscuits and whether Stu had any Grateful Dead LPs. Who was he? Where had he come from? He said his name was Steven, but little else was forthcoming, and he was virtually impossible to talk to. He started to mutter something about Hobbes and Leviathan (which both Stu and Barry are reading), but soon progressed onto Jim Morrison, black crows, astrology, and something about a Chinese man. He’s been in Watermouth since Thursday he says, sleeping rough in the railway station: he’d come to the Uni. because he used to know someone here.

He vanished out to the kitchen where he pulled plastic carrier bags from his white sack that were filled with grubby tins, jars, odd boxes of teas, a piece of licorice honeycomb, and numerous crusts of heavy bread. Then he proceeded to tear the bread into stodgy lumps and tried to grill it, sitting with his back to us, facing the dark window, while we nervously paced the kitchen behind him, whispering various theories about his condition. Maybe he's a social psychology student conducting an experiment? Maybe he has amnesia? “No, he's an acid-head,” said Jamie. Gareth told Steven he could kip on his floor

Then, all of a sudden, three hulking uniformed security men appeared from nowhere, officious and all hard no-nonsense words. Did I know him: Was he my friend? Had I invited him here? Who was he? I had my name taken and Gareth was asked to show his Registration card; he was quiet and angry. We’d been all for leaving him be but Emily and Shelley had complained to Security.

For a few minutes I pretended I'd invited him to stay but the patience of the three security men was wearing increasingly thin and despite Steven's quiet protestations (they, half-smirking, cutting in, “yes yes, come on!”), they led him by the arms and out of the kitchen. “It’s been the same all along the line,” he said as they bundled him through the door, like a 'piece of shit on the pavement' as Marco might say.

I was upset. We were split into two camps: Gareth, Stu and I in one and everyone else in the other, and for a while I hated them for their practicality but this soon faded; I could see that Shelley was torn with remorse and upset that we'd fallen out. “Are we still friends,” she asked me, so I apologised and said I wasn’t upset with her, just at the whole shitty situation.

So Steven sat in the Taylor Hall security office shrilly trying to explain himself, the subject now of laughing phone calls to the police (“. . . yes, he’s gabbling on now . . .”) .

It's been a strange evening.

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