It's strange the things that come into your head. Or rather my head. Fantasies of a sexual nature. Fantasies of power and ego. Speculations about 'life, the universe and everything'. Fragments of dreams from the night before. Memories of events you thought you'd forgotten. Memories of events you wish you had forgotten. In fact it can be safe to say in my case that I think of everything except things that could be useful or beneficial to my life like how to make more money or how to make life easier and/or more fulfilling.
Yesterday was no different.
So, I was there at work and someone asked me about libraries. I gave them the answer I believed they wanted which is a strategy I increasingly use with age: tell people what they want to hear. And then I remembered going to the library in my home town all those years ago. I recalled the thrill of not just entering a building full of books but rather entering a marvellous world of knowledge and fantasy. And it was all free too. It was a wonderful place. I read science fiction and lost myself in fantastic worlds. I read about ancient history and travelled back to the past. Shared in the glory and heroism of great battles. Agincourt. Trafalgar. Battle of Britain. Thermopylae. I wanted to be a great hero who overcame the odds to prevail. Alexander the Great. Alfred the Great. Nelson. Wellington.
I also sometimes took out books of knowledge about science and technology. The future thrilled me as much as the past. Flying cars. Monorails. Laser guns. Eternal life. Space travel. Time travel. And all this was created by lines of black symbols printed onto white paper which triggered pictures in the brain. Incredible.
I don't think that now because rarely can I lose myself in a book like I used to. I did at one point believe that all you needed in life (apart from the basics like food, clothes and shelter) was a good book. Don't get me wrong, I still read with interest but not with real passion or enthusiasm anymore. And then speculating about this I recalled a woman who used to work in the library who did seem to live totally immersed in the world of books. She was a funny little creature and she kind of put me in mind of a mouse the way she scurried around the library. She was short and a little stooped with glasses with her grey hair was tied in a bun. She wore glasses too which were often just balanced on the end of her nose. Needless to say she was a spinster. But I never thought that was a problem to her because reading and books seemed to be her calling. She shared her passion with others too and would read to children who became mesmerized by the stories she'd recount to them. She also knew (or seemed to) where you could get a book on whatever subject it was that interested you. I remember her as basically being on the quiet side but very knowledgeable and helpful. I think also in a way I envied her because her life appeared to be full and she didn't rely on anyone. I imagined her cosily at home with her feet up on the sofa and a cup of tea by her side under the lamp-stand engrossed in a book...
But I was wrong. Totally wrong.
I guess it was over ten years ago, maybe longer than that, when I remember reading about her suicide in the local paper. I'd thought surely that couldn't be her. But it was. She'd taken an overdose. She had become slowly unconscious before the poisons had stopped her heart and then killed the cells of her brain, the cells that had contained so much knowledge, the brain that had held so many pictures, so many stories...
According to the coroner she had become depressed about the world, had begun to see it as a horrible place with horrible people and the only solution to her was to destroy that dark picture of the world, the ghastly picture that had inexorably grown and malevolently squeezed out all the other rich pictures she held in that wonderful mind of hers like a kind of tumour. Tragic.
Of course I never really knew her. And that said, do we really know anyone? Do we even truly know ourselves?
I also wonder whether that was for me a kind of a turning away from the inner world of fantasy, that too much introspection could be dangerous that too much reading of books could lead the mind not to the light but rather to the dark. Hmmm.
Okay, time to get dressed, time to get out...