I See Dead Blokes

Donald*, could you please tell me, what is this all about?  I’m pondering the same question now that I wondered about twenty-odd years ago, when I was in my 20’s, a graduate on a quest to find a decent job.  I never understood the nature of Donald’s interest in me, and all these years after the last time we met, I’m wondering why I’m being haunted by my memories of my ex-supervisor Donald, from one of the many casual, fill-in, temp, limited contract, weekend, job agency rip-off, part-time and half-arsed jobs that I suffered and bumbled through before I refused to continue playing the pointless game of jobs and careers.

People who have hyperthymestic syndrome (also known as hyperthymesia) sometimes report that they are haunted by old memories.  I’d never claim to have full hyperthymesia, but I do believe I have some elements of it.  Old memories sometimes cast a large shadow, and they can return uninvited and unexpected in amazing detail and freshness.  Sometimes these are memories of places, and sometime it is people that I recall, but they are often not the people that one might think one should remember in detail.  I’ll strain to recall much at all about some deceased relatives, while bit-players from long-ago scenes in my life who were more interesting to me as personalities, and people that I felt more empathy with, are sometimes recalled as if we met yesterday.  It’s creepy to think that some of these people are dead and others could also be dead for all I know, but their images and funny mannerisms and personalities and voices still exist somewhere in my brain.  It has always been the case that I’ve focused on some people with a sharp intensity, while the rest have been little more to me than human wallpaper.  Even knowing this, I’m not sure why Donald has popped up recently.  My attitude towards Don was always much more suspicion than empathy.

Donald was the one who hired me, and he made that clear to me right from day one on the job, for which I was qualified with my degree.  It wasn’t my first position as a graduate, but Don seemed to be fond of the idea that he had given me my first big break.  He gave me the tour.  He took care to show me where his desk was.  I can still see that desk now, in the antiquated building full of old and yellowed pine furniture that our operation moved out from during the time that I was there.  Don’s desk was a bit hidden away, next to a window and isolated behind some hideous fabric-covered office partitions in an open-plan office.  Pinned up on one of those fuzzy partitions was a print of an artwork in a Fauve style that featured lots of nude women who had fleshy thighs and full but feminine figures (like me at the time) and who just happened to have hair of the same style and colour as mine at the time.  I wondered about this.  I knew I just didn’t know enough about life or men to judge whether I should be disturbed by this.  Donald would have been thirty-odd years older than me.  Our relationship was clearly a very unequal one in terms of power, life experience and physical size.  Over the months (or was it years?) that I was there Donald spent a fair amount of time explaining things to me, but everything that he said was so general, so vague, that it seemed a waste of time to me.  It seemed to be a nothing job.  I felt that I was learning nothing new there, and doing nothing intelligent there, while at the same time I felt that I must have been misunderstanding some basic things about what I was supposed to be doing.  All the time Donald played the part of the kind mentor, with little effect.

What was I to you Donald?  Just a misjudgement?  Did you want to look after me?  Or was I just a young interest for a dirty old man?  A substitute for the daughter that you never had, or the daughter that you wished you had?  Was I a person that you felt was strange and a mystery to be figured out?  Why did you try to get me interested in learning the same foreign language that you were fluent in?  So that we could carry on intimate or secret conversations?  I still wonder, but one thing that I know for sure was that at that time I was starting to hate the way that I was expected to be a part of other people’s lives at work, when the only thing that I wanted to do was sit down, do some work that involved the firing of synapses, achieve something, be recognized for the work done, maybe even learn some new skills or master some new technology, get paid, maybe even progress to a better job, and then go home.  Was that too much to ask?  Evidently it was.

I never understood why I didn’t seem to be going anywhere in that job, which was all about dealing with people, and I didn’t understand why I hated being there so much.  I loathed the times when Donald made a fuss and a social spectacle of me in front of others, but in hindsight I think he expected I’d enjoy it.  I can only guess that Donald had no idea why I was failing to thrive.  Eventually Don’s boss started giving him a hard time for hiring an oddity such as myself, and one day I decided I’d had enough, and told Donald I was happy enough with the other part-time job that I had, and wouldn’t be coming back.  I have no idea what he felt or thought about that.  Maybe I should wonder, but it was so long ago.

There you are Donald.  For all I know you could be dead now, but I can see and feel you so clearly; your build, your hair, your gentle voice, your age, the way you moved and stood and the weird way that you would show me a piece of paper while holding it with only your index finger and thumb.  Was that gesture supposed to mean something to me, Don?  The thing that I sense the most now about you is the “feel” of your personality and the part that you once played, or tried to play, or pretended to play.  The feel of a mentor, the feeling of having someone in one’s life who is one’s intellectual superior, the feeling of being in the presence of educated and intellectually alive company.  It’s a feeling that I have recently started missing, and haven’t felt for such a long time.  Maybe that is Don’s message.

* Not his real name.

Lili Marlene blogs at Incorrect PleasuresI See Dead Blokes appears here with her permission.

on 11/1/10 in featured, The Unconscious | No Comments | Read More

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