I've been working on some book ideas, I had a book out previously simply about my sight loss but it made no reference to my faith, I am rewriting from a faith perspective and bringing things up to date, here is the first draft of the first two chapters, I'd really appreciate you getting back to me via Twitter to let me know if this is something I should carry on with before I commit too much more time to it.
Out Go The Lights.
You know that recurring dream, the one that comes back to you night after night, that plays on your worst fears, the one that you just know will ultimately come true? Well it’s that one, so I tug at the hair on the back of my hand and it hurts like hell which tells me I can’t possibly be asleep and this must be really happening. Bugger!
I’m in this old Victorian building, you know the ones, the ones designed to intimidate the little people, the ones designed to keep the plebs in their place.
Everything about this building makes me feel small and insignificant, I’ve been coming here regularly since childhood, the corridors are filled with memories, non of them good. They echo to the footsteps of the lost and bewildered, scaring me to the very core, filling me with panic, giving me the urge to run.
This is the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle. This is the place I spent the first two years of my life in.
There is a tangible atmosphere of fear and dread which hangs in the air like the smell of damp leaves on an autumn day. The pain of all who have suffered here permeates the very walls, oozing from the wood and the stone, drifting through it’s halls like mist on a November morning.
This is a cold place, a sad place, a place where too many dreams have been broken, too many hopes dashed. Like walking in to a moorland fog, before you know it you are completely lost, cut off, you can’t find the way back, you look to the ground for your footprints but they have vanished, you’re left with no idea how you got here and even worse no idea how to escape.
I realise there is no way back, I’m filled with feelings of panic and dread.
I approach the huge oak doors which lead to the ophthalmology department. I can see my own reflection in the brass doorplate, the face that stares back at me carries a look so familiar, it’s a look I know only too well, the look off a person that is desperate, frightened and and above all, angry, I know this look so well I have seen it every morning over the last twelve years as I’ve gazed in to the shaving mirror.
I enter a packed waiting room, a room full of people, people just like me, people who have spent years in denial, afraid that their sight loss would be used as a weapon against them, a thing to hold them back, a thing that would destroy all their hopes and dreams. Their faces all share that same haunted expression , the expression of those who have spent too long on the run.
After reporting to the receptionist, I sit down, comforting myself that I’d managed to put this moment off for years . I’d had a good run but now there was music to be faced. Sight loss has now become such a huge issue for me I can no longer hide it from other people or pretend to myself that it’s not really happening. Shit, I think to myself, I’m not properly dressed for this, I’ve got the wrong shoes on. I’m wearing my winter boots, I need my trainers on a day such as this, the impulse to run straight out of here is huge, I’m gripping the edge of my chair till my knuckles go white, forcing myself back in to the seat, forcing myself to stay put when every fibre of my being is screaming “ run Dave, just bloody run”!. I’ve been running away from this very moment for more than twelve years now and I know it must be faced but please don’t expect me to be happy about it because I’m not, I’m just bloody not and you can’t make me!
Running has been my coping mechanism for sight loss thus far. For years when ever blindness was broached I simply laced up my trainers and ran. I would jump on a train and head for some place where no one knew me, always without a by-your-leave to family, friends, employers or colleagues and I’d simply drink myself in to oblivion in the vain hope that this would dull the pain. It never did and anyway there’s always the morning after the night. I could go missing for days, sometimes not coming back until someone managed to track me down and drag me back.
Of course I knew this was wrong, I knew how much it was hurting others especially my wife Denise. I simply could not face that dreadful sightless alternative.
Brendan Foster and Steve Cram were not the only great runners from Jarrow I could give those buggers a run for their money any day of the week.
Meanwhile back in that waiting room I’m watching the seconds turn over on the digital clock on the wall. I’m here today not because I’ve finally seen sense, no I’m not that good, I’ve simply run out of options, my sight loss is now so bad it simply can no longer be hidden. I want to lash out at someone or something but there is no one to blame, not even the God I have followed since childhood, the God I knew was grieving with me, hurting for me, the God that was even with me in all the running, all the denial, all the hurt and shame. Deep inside somewhere I know this is simply a random event, a bit like a car crash, it could happen to anyone. It is nobodies fault. Even knowing all this I’m dammed if I’m going to give in graciously.
Here I am about to hand over control of my life do the doctors, social workers and various other do gooders, they will lead me in directions I don’t want to go, they will make decisions on my behalf, decisions which are quite simply not theirs to make. Fuck! How did I get myself in to this situation?
It feels totally hopeless, I watch the other poor lost souls in this waiting room. A room full of people just like me, people who know only too well they are about to lose their identity, we are no longer in control of our own destinies.
Suddenly a disembodied voice says You can go through now Mr Lucas”.
Obediently, I walk in to this tiny little consulting room and am instantly transported back to my childhood. In my mind’s eye I can picture my mother spitting on her handkerchief and rubbing the chocolate stains from my chin. (She would go on rubbing until the skin was red raw.) As I remember this I feel her hand on my back pushing me forward over the threshold and I can feel my feet slipping and sliding as I try in vain to resist.
I do a reality check in an attempt to pull myself together. My wife, Denise, used to be a sister at this hospital. For her it was simply a place of work, a building that held no terror. For me, though, it’s always been a place of fear. Just stepping across the threshold instantly transports me back to the most painful parts of my childhood. Here I am, a 40- year-old man with the mindset of a six-year-old. Damn this place! And damn the circumstances that have brought me here.
Really, this building should feel like a second home. As well as my sight impairment, I was also born with a heart defect. So between the Eye Department and the Children’s Cardiac Unit, I often spent long periods of my childhood in various parts of this hospital.
How is it that one building can rob me of all my adult faculties and return me instantly to my childhood? How come I suddenly feel I’m no longer in control? How come other people get to make all the decisions here? Why is it that my opinions are of no importance to anyone here?
Why is it that every time I walk through that huge oak door I feel like a midget in a world of giants? It’s like Lilliput in reverse. I’m dammed if they’re going to tie me down.
A phrase from my childhood echoes in my mind: ‘Shut up and do as you’re told.’ My neck begins to stiffen and I feel my shoulders hunch. Again I return to being a child with short trousers and little National Health glasses that leave deep grooves behind my ears. Here I am, a 15-stone six- year-old, about to face up to something I’ve spent more than 40 years trying to avoid.
I had been a premature baby, my gran always was quick to tell people “he weighed less than a bag of sugar you know”and as well as my sight issues I had heart problems and several other issues, I was twenty eight months old when I finally left this hospital for the first time and ever since had been back for frequent eye and cardiac checks, I hate the bloody place! It’s full of ghosts, a place that fills my nightmares.
A Bloody Guide Dog!
I’m still in childhood mode when I sit down in this woman’s office. I look at her and know at once she’s more than just a megalomaniac, she’s a witch. She reminds me of Morticia from The Addams Family, I can picture this woman sitting in that big wicker chair. I know I’m being unreasonable but at this point in time, no one could change my mind.
The woman smiles sweetly. The six-year-old me clenches his teeth and waits for her to ruffle my hair. I promise myself that when her hand comes towards me, I’ll bite her fingers. Nevertheless, I try really hard to force the six-year-old me back into the deep recesses of my mind. Making another big effort, I smile right back. Anything she can do, I can do better.
Morticia rolls her eyes at me. I roll them right back. I concentrate really hard and force my features into what I hope is my most withering look. I don’t know why really, because I’ve often used that look and to date no one has taken any notice of it. Why it should be any different today, I don’t know. Time seems to stand still, the silence is numbing. It seems to last an eternity. I’m waiting for her to speak but when she finally does, I’m totally unprepared for what she has to say.
“I think it’s time you thought about a guide dog.”
My world explodes. The ceiling seems to be falling in. She’s still speaking but nothing is getting through. All I can hear are the words ‘guide dog’ echoing in my head. Guide dog? A fucking guide dog?! They’re for blind people. What the hell is she trying to say? Is she crazy? Do I look like a blind man? A High Court judge inside my head suddenly booms out:
‘DAVID LUCAS! You shall be taken from here to a place not of your choosing and be given a guide dog. Henceforth you shall be known as ‘Blindy Lucas’. Children will laugh at you in the street. Middle-aged women in twin sets and pearls will coo over you. They will take you to the seaside and buy you candyfloss. You will be given a short-back-and-sides and a set of hand-me-down clothes.’
No bloody way is this going to happen. Every fibre of my being is screaming at me to run. Run, Dave! Just bloody run! But something is making me stay, although I have no idea what, maybe it was fear, maybe it was despair, more than likely it was Jesus, the number of people who had been praying for this moment unbeknown to me at the time was huge. Somewhere deep in my subconscious I know that this is right. Why, then in the days leading up to this meeting when I was imagining every possible scenario did I not hear the words ‘I think it’s time you thought about a guide dog’?
Someone’s made a mistake, that’s why. This bit is totally unscripted... and now is not a good time for ad-libbing. I feel so angry! I’ve never known anger like this. How dare she? This woman who’s never met me before, who knows nothing about me or my life. She’s trying to pin a label on me, a label that says ‘BLINDY’. Well, I know exactly where she can stick it and she’s damn lucky I don’t tell her. This will mark me out as disabled, the very term that started me running all those years ago.
I’m on the verge of telling her all this, when I realise how futile it is. Tonight, as usual, this woman will mount her broomstick and fly off over the rooftops of Newcastle, back to her home and family. She’s just doing her job. This is simply routine to her. But that one simple statement has blown my whole world apart. How can anything ever be the same again? Witch, I thought. You bloody witch.
I really need to get out of this office. I’ve successfully avoided this moment for over 40 years and now everything has turned to dust in a split second.
I stuff my hands in my pockets so that I can be sure not to punch anyone or anything and I stomp off down the corridor, right out of the hospital, half out of my mind. My philosophy has worked for me so far and it’ll just have to work for me again: when things get too uncomfortable, just run! But running is a young man’s game and I’m starting to feel my age. Even as I jog along in my “Kicker” boots, I have to admit there is one very big fly in the ointment: I’ve promised my wife, Denise, that I’m going to face up to whatever’s going on with my sight, stop running and stand and face it and what is worse I can already sense Jesus hand in this and I know ultimately he will have his way but I’m never one to give in easily.