Getting my glasses fixed in Carrick reminded me that melancholy never lasts
Michael Harding: even as a teenager, the sorrow of things was forcing me to speak, and the best grammar available was the exquisite innuendo of metaphor
I apologised for not recognising him and explained that I wasn’t wearing my glasses. ‘Why not?’ he wondered. ‘They’re broken,’ I said
A man on the street in Carrick-on-Shannon looked me in the eye and challenged me. “Do you not know me? I’m your neighbour.”
I apologised for not recognising him and explained that I wasn’t wearing my glasses.
“Why not?” he wondered.
“They’re broken,” I said. “I’m actually trying to find an optician to fix them.”
We were standing at the ATM near Giovanni’s restaurant.
“Well if you go under the arch there beside you,” he said, “you’ll find an optician just beyond the car park. It’s called Focal Point.”
So off I went and showed my glasses to the lady behind the counter.
“What do you call the sides of the frame?” I wondered. “Are they wings?”
“You can call them what you like,” she said. “Wings or sides, but the correct name is temples.”
“Okay. So the left temple is broken at the hinge,” I explained, “and I was wondering was there any chance you could fix it.”
She examined them and said she might be able to attach two new temples.
“Or wings,” says I.
“If you give me half an hour,” she said,”they should be ready.”
“Brilliant,” I exclaimed. And I walked around the town for half an hour, then called back to pick them up, and finally I dropped into the Landmark Hotel for a latte, as a sort of small celebration; a moment to savour the achievement of having got the glasses back on my nose.
It was Monday, and I had been struggling with melancholy since I got out of bed. But finding a quick fix to the glasses issue cheered me up.
I can never predict when melancholy will strike, or when unfocused depression might pull me down into it’s ferocious waves. Because that’s what depression feels like to me; ocean waves that swallow me as if I were a lump of dead meat.
When I was young, the butcher would wrap meat in a brown paper bag, and tie the bundle with twine, which he snapped apart with his fingers. I enjoyed watching him snap the string, but I was always uncomfortable with the parcels of meat. Chicken was safe enough and so were lamb’s hearts, because they didn’t bleed much. But liver, and lumps of roast beef dripped through the paper parcel all the way home in the back of the car.
I thought my mother was mad because she’d say – “Don’t let the meat drip!”
And I was too young and inarticulate to ask her how in the name of Divine Jesus could I stop the meat from dripping.
I suppose she just wanted to make sure it didn’t drip on the seat of Daddy’s Austin A40, and so the soggy parcel always remained on my lap, as if it were attached to me.
And it fastened itself to my psyche. Dead meat was the first metaphor to which I became tethered, as I constructed a poetic life in childhood. Dead meat became a metaphor for the listless energy of a sorrowful boy, and I would compose small poems with lines like,
Among the watchful eyes, I am dead meat,
I walk across the dancehall floor; a bag of old bones.
The bones I was thinking of were soup bones. Big knuckles of dead cow that the butcher sawed into smaller pieces before packing them in the usual manner.
But it wasn’t all bad. Because even as a teenager, the sorrow of things was forcing me to speak, and the best grammar available was the exquisite innuendo of metaphor. I was becoming a writer. Hunted into utterance by the darkness within.
I didn’t know much about being a writer, but I knew that when I went dark on the inside, I became useless on the outside. I stared at people as if from a prison. I couldn’t play football or laugh with others. I was a thing of dead flesh. Sorrow isolated and paralysed me and small tasks became enormous challenges.
They still are. Which is why I was so happy when I got new wings for my glasses. In the Landmark Hotel I drained the coffee glass and then crossed the road and strolled along the boardwalk, examining shoots of life in the clay, and watching swans feeding near the bank of the river, their long necks deep in the dark water and their happy arses in the air. Chinks of light in the clouds above reminded me once again that melancholy never lasts. Like winter it gives way to the abrupt arrival of spring. My glasses had been restored, and the world appeared fresh again, through the clean lenses.