ALL MY TRIALS
I didn’t shit yesterday and I haven’t been yet today. You notice these things at my age. It might be nothing but it might be a sign.I’ve been noticing things more and more. I’ve noticed I’ve been having anxiety dreams lately which is strange because I don’t feel under very much stress. Not these days. Not at work. Not like ten or twenty years ago when I was under plenty of stress. Nowadays it’s a stroll. I’ve been put out to grass; the old geezer in the corner waiting to retire; moved out of the way to let the young blood have their space.
I’m looking forward to my retirement now. I’ve got plans. Things I’ve been waiting to do when I had the time. I have time now but I’m usually so exhausted when I get home that I don’t have the energy. It’s an effort to stay awake. Apart from the aches and pains I feel when I try to do something moderately strenuous, my life is easy.
So I don’t understand why I’m having these dreams. Maybe they’re a flash-back to when I was under some stress for so long. Or maybe they’re a sign. They’re very similar even though I don’t remember the details too well. Occasionally though I lay there right after I wake up and try to make sense of them. The one last night was typical. I was stressing out because I hadn’t studied for my history exam which was coming up in a matter of days.
Why it should be history I don’t know because I love history and have always done well in exams except for the time I failed to take an exam because of illness. That was when I was sixteen. That’s a lie actually. I wasn’t ill, I just went through this inner turmoil and dropped out of everything to do with school: all my subjects. I came back though, from that personal little hell-pit, and went on to pass my exams and go on to University.
Yet it’s always history when I have variations on this particular stress dream. The one last night was an aspect of history that I haven’t ever studied so my ignorance in the dream was genuine. Strange thing, whatever this period was, and I didn’t recognise it atall from what I can remember, there was something so exotic about it within the dream that I want to bury myself in study. But the time just keeps slipping. I think I can somehow grab just the essential details in the time left, power-pack them into my mind, just enough to be able to bluff a pass. But I know too that this is a forlorn hope. History is too complex a subject, too full of competing evidence, of different interpretation, of political bias; too many tank-traps and minefields for a swift dash across open country.
So I have these conflicting emotions struggling for possession of me: hope and despair. And they’re so vivid, so strong that, when I do wake up, I have to reassure myself; tell myself that it’s ok; I’ve done it; I’ve passed all the exams I need to; there’s no more trials.
Anyway, the history exam is what usually sets the scene and then what happens against this background does vary. Last night I was struggling with child-minding duties which sort of fits in with being a granddad and looking after my grand-kids from time to time. But I’m not a granddad in the dream. I’m in my early twenties I think. And the weird thing is, I’m in my twenties but I’m back in school surrounded by adolescents. That visibility adds to the stress. I’m not naked or anything, just conspicuous: an ill-fit.
I have this plan. A long-shot. I need to get into the school after it’s closed and nobody’s around to distract me and get at the text book and cram like mad. Read and grab notes, like an aide-memoir which will be distilled into my mind long enough to get me through the exam. I keep trying to execute the plan but the child-minding gets in the way. Then I get my chance when some strange girl turns up to mind the kids. I break into the school but when I get into the classroom, it’s almost completely bare. The text books have all gone. I don’t know what to do but something tells me I’ve got to get back and see if I can use the internet to search for the information. When I walk in, the girl is there looking after them but she’s changed. She’s Linda.
In the dream I recognised her right away, she was so vivid, but now, awake, it’s difficult for me to visualise her. Isn’t that strange? It has been a long time. Over fifty years and I don’t have any photographs to refresh my memory of her. I remember her long, light-brown hair and a face that just enthralled me but it’s a vague, shifting vision. But the dream brought something back to me.
Linda moved into our street when I was around thirteen years old but I didn’t get to know her until two years later. I used to see her, watch her but she was always….. out of reach. She was so good looking, so popular that it intimidated me. I knew I wasn’t in the same league. I didn’t even talk to her until we met at my friend’s brother’s eighteenth birthday party. My friend, Gerry, had invited her and I was talking to Gerry when she came right up to us and spoke to me. She was wearing this cute little white dress.
“Two years I lived down the street from you and you’ve never even said ‘hello’.”
“Hello,” I said and we both laughed and started to talk and Gerry wandered off and we were left talking together. She was asking questions about me but I got the feeling she was actually trying to find out more about Gerry. Gerry had a girlfriend at the time, Sarah, and Linda asked about them and how long they’d been together. But I didn’t mind about that because she was talking to me and paying attention to me. And she was so easy to talk to and for once I was able to talk easily myself. Usually I was so shy. We must have talked and joked about things for about half an hour before we were interrupted and she melted back into the party melee. But we did have a dance together later and I was able to hold her.
Things were mixed up for me at the time. I was fifteen and my dad had died the year before and I had this on-off relationship with a girl called Sandra. Sandra and I just blundered into each other at vulnerable points in both our lives with hormones blazing in our veins. We fumbled around. I suppose that’s the best way to describe it. Petting. Nothing more. She wouldn’t let me do any more than stroke her breasts; her bare breasts. She had nice breasts. It wasn’t a relationship that fitted any romantic story I’ve ever seen. And it faded away. She knew what I was after it and it wasn’t enough.
Then Linda turns up again. Gerry had moved to Chester during the summer to go to college and Linda phones me and asks me to take her there one Saturday. This was about six months after the party, in the middle of September. I’d just started back at school and couldn’t settle. Gerry had invited Linda and given her my phone number. So I called round for her and we set off late in the afternoon. Took the train and met Gerry down by the river. He was with two friends I hadn’t met before so things were a bit awkward. He’d split up with Sandra by then and I’d assumed he wanted to see if he and Linda might get together. So I was puzzled why he’d brought his friends along.
We tried to make the most of the situation but it was embarrassing for everyone and I was glad when it was time to catch the train home. Funny how, just moving away and making new friends ends a relationship that had lasted about ten years.
It was growing dark on the train back and after about half an hour Linda dropped her head onto my shoulder and I put my arm around hers, very tentatively, and we sat like that for the rest of the journey. I was in turmoil. I didn’t know what it meant. I didn’t dare hope it could mean anything. I could smell her hair. I used to notice the musky smell of Sandra’s hair as I sat next to her, or rather practically on top of her, kissing her, pressing my erection against her thigh. Linda’s hair smelled different but no less arousing. We said goodnight at her door and that was it. I saw her the next week catching a bus somewhere with a boy and knew I was right not to hope.
So then Christmas comes and I get invited to a party. I’d started a Saturday job at a store in town and Dave, one of the full-time staff there, was throwing the party at his house. I didn’t know him all that well but he was friendly and two of the young girls who worked Saturdays were going too so I said yes. Just by chance I ran into Linda walking home from the bus-stop the day of the invite and I mentioned it to her. She said she’d like to go along. And so we went together
We didn’t stay together long once we arrived. She was asked to dance practically as soon as we walked in the door and was gone. Dave lived in a three bedroom semi-detached, his parents’ house, but they were away and the place was full of people and there was plenty of drink around when we first arrived. About an hour into the party we all threw some money into a kitty to buy some more. I walked around with Dave and one of the other lads from the store to help carry the beer. We waited outside the shop while Dave was being served then we shared out the bags.
Back at the house, I’d just taken the top off a bottle when Linda comes up behind me, takes the bottle out of my hand and drinks it down. She puts the bottle down and with a big smile on her face, asks me to dance with her. She has her arms around my neck, dancing close and then she kisses me. Her tongue goes into my mouth and I moved her to the side of the room and then out into the hallway and we carry on kissing, not saying anything, just burrowing into each other’s faces. She could feel me hard against her and she pressed her leg between mine. Ten, fifteen minutes of this goes by and I ask her to come upstairs with me. She smiles and says in a minute. Another ten minutes with me throbbing against her. I asked her again and she says yes.
We moved into one of the bedrooms and I shut the door then we lay on the bed. I lay on top of her and she says, without me even trying, that her dress didn’t open anymore. I looked down. The dress had three buttons, all open, showing off the top of her cleavage. Without thinking, I pulled her dress up, past her breasts, lifted her bra up and over and cupped her breasts with both my hands. I moved my tongue around her nipples Her breasts were smaller than Sandra’s, smaller than I’d expected, and it made me think about her age. She was a year younger than me, only just fifteen. I slipped my hand slowly down her side, feeling her panties and moving my fingers over the top of her thighs but then her hand grasped mine and pulled it away gently but firmly and she said not yet.
My initiation postponed, frustrated but partly relieved. I lay kissing, caressing her, but slid off her to ease the pressure on my dick. I looked into her eyes, and began to imagine that it was possible that we were at the beginning of something much more significant, more permanent than anything as ephemeral as a quick fuck. I think I was always in love with her from the time I first saw her and now, was it possible, did she love me too?
We talked for awhile and then she began fixing herself, pulling her bras back down and rolling down the dress and said we should go down now. I walked down the stairs holding her hand. When we reached the bottom of the stairs, suddenly she flung her arms around the neck of a boy who was just standing there on his own and she thrust her mouth into his. My heart dropped to the bottom of my stomach. I watched as they went upstairs together.
Oh Linda, I didn’t understand, you were just as lusting as I was, just as scared, but much more determined and needed someone to reassure you. It wasn’t love. I felt I’d failed. I felt I’d made a fool of myself with you.
We saw each other a few times after that, just passing, smiling, nodding to each other, pretending that nothing embarrassing had happened. You spiralled off from my world not long after, girl-friend to an older boy with a car, and I went into that dark winter of depression. I ducked school as much as I could and let the work pile up until it was too late to do anything about it. And I didn’t care.
I was lucky that I got talked back into resitting my exams by another friend. By that time I’d started to emerge from the pit I’d been imprisoned in for over a year.
So what was Linda doing minding my grand-kids while I was breaking in to my old school – a school that doesn’t even exist anymore? And why am I still worrying about passing exams?
Thank God, is all I can say: thank God we don’t have to go through all those trials again.