Thursday, 1 May 2014

Waiting to inhale?

I have been inspired by a thread on the web. One which has given hope to many, and given meaning to one. I don't want to mention the thread in question. Indeed, it isn't even just a thread, that's just a clever ruse on my part to throw you off the scent. The story to which I refer is a a touching and inspirational story which belongs to a very special young man and to go into too much detail would feel like I was piggy-backing his incredible story to promote my own puerile rambling here. Some of you know the story, some of you don't and some of you will think you know but you won't.

What good is a good life without a good death? None of us have the experience of our own death from our own perspective. Most of us think we know what awaits us, but none of us actually know. We believe. All of us. For the most part that's enough.

Now read on, and don't worry, it get's less dark from here on in...

It was the early 1980's, I would have been twelve or thirteen years of age, and it was a glorious summer. This was one of the frequent, transitional, periods of my existence. I was toward the tail end of my transformation from snotty nosed, scabby kneed, street urchin to hormone driven, moody, teenager and I would either be hidden away in my bedroom, tapping away on a Sinclair Spectrum and dreaming of hacking the FBI's computers, inadvertently starting WWIII, or ham-fistedly attempting to remix a hip-hop track using my ghetto-blaster and an old, 1970's, Decca turntable. Or, as on this day, in the park. Smoking and drinking cider.

We had a choice of two parks in the area that I grew up in. One was a big and picturesque expanse of greenery with a petting zoo, a pitch-and-putt golf course, a museum and a boating lake which was, by this time, just a very muddy hole in the ground. The other, the one my mates and I would frequent, was a little less grand. It had climbing frames, twisted and snapped from years of neglect and wanton vandalism, a derelict park keeper's cottage, boarded up and spooky, and an over-grown football pitch dotted with dandelions, daisies and dog shit. It also had a clear view of both gates wherever you were stood, which meant we could get on our toes whenever the local council parks and gardens warden came puttering through on his pedal-and-pop motorcycle to admonish us for whatever misdemeanor we were currently committing.

This particular morning I, along with two of my friends, had wandered up to our favourite park with a football. It was already a hot day even before nine a.m. and our arms and necks were burnt, red and freckly, from the previous day's shenanigans, pissing about in the big, water filled hole in the ground on what is now the Manchester bound carriageway of the M602 but was, at that time, nothing more than a trench dug alongside the railway. 

Once in the confines of the park, and having met up with two of our other friends that had arrived even earlier, four of us began kicking the ball about whilst the fifth went looking for an adult prepared to give him a light for one of the eight cigarettes he had stolen from his mother on his way out of the door. As was the norm, this being the only half-decent pitch not festooned with used rubber Johnnies, discarded "glue bags", hypodermic needles and sex criminals in a very populous area, other kids came along with other balls and other sun-burnt arms and we got a chance for a proper kick around with lads we'd never met. 

I can play football. But I'm shit at it. 

As shit at the beautiful game as I was, I was also a good deal bigger than my peers and, playing in defence, had mastered my own, relatively successful, unique technique. It comprised of dropping my shoulder, screwing my eyes shut and angling myself with my hip toward the oncoming striker, foot slightly off the ground and body braced for impact.

On this particularly sunny morning my tried and tested tactic was proving ineffectual against a tank of a boy. Easily as tall as me but with the body density of a chimpanzee he scored three times in as many minutes, putting me on my arse each time. Encumbered as I was by a distinct lack of any discernible talent and without an ounce of skill there was only one thing for it. Straight from the restart the ball was sent wide to the tank who began his thunderous advance down the left wing. This time I ran to meet him with a hurriedly adapted new move clear in my head. I screwed my eyes shut and launched myself into a career halting, two-footed, tackle. I opened my eyes to see the tank somersault over me and land, hard, on the ground. He wasn't happy, but halfheartedly accepted my apology and off we went again.

Two more ridiculously dangerous tackles later and he was no longer prepared to accept my increasingly incredible apologies, and I could tell by the snarl and the look in his eyes that he was harbouring a number of petty minded notions of retribution. The game was on.

Shins, elbows and knees became bruised and battered as the first half wore on and both of us had both our own and each others nose-blood spattered on our shirts as a result of one particularly spectacular aerial challenge. Both of us had our eyes screwed shut that time and my nose and teeth had collided with his corresponding facial features bringing my participation in the match to a temporary halt while I smoked a cigarette and had a glug of Olde English. Like a pro. 

I came back on just as the first half was about to end. We had a girl with us, "Spunky Fingers" Simone, and she was what passed for a referee. Sat on her coat on the touchline with someone else's Casio digital watch, cupping her hand over it to occasionally check the sunlight-unfriendly red LED display. She didn't possess a whistle, so half time was signalled by her shouting "Eee-yarr".

I began to gently jog over to the kid with the cigarettes and alcohol who couldn't play because he had Asthma and had forgotten his inhaler. He kept himself busy by chain smoking the cigarettes, lighting each new cigarette with the dying embers of the last since we didn't have any matches.

Suddenly, from behind, struck the tank. He clipped my heel as I walked, causing me to stumble forward, and to aid me on my way Earthward he pushed me hard in my back. I landed chest first on the ball I'd been lazily dribbling before me and every last puff of wind was knocked from my chest. 

The tank sat on me and wrapped his fat fingers around my throat from behind, squeezing and pulling backwards. I found myself lay on my own hands, no air in my lungs and no prospect of getting any whilst tank was holding my airways shut. I panicked, unable to make a sound, take a breath or move an inch my brain began to become starved of oxygen.

I couldn't even move my head, and my eyes bulged. From where I lay I could see the metal railing around the park, the gently wafting branches of a big, old, sycamore tree, the roof and apex of a house and a single cloud in a bright blue sky. Silently screaming inside my own head, I realised I was about to die and there wasn't a single thing I could do about it.

Then "POP".

Just that, a pop, and everything changed. 

I didn't need to breath, it didn't hurt anymore. I was so excited. I couldn't wait to tell everyone they were wasting their time. That it was some kind of conspiracy, the powers that be were tricking us into thinking we needed to breath. But we didn't. I was elated.

And the sky, so blue. A blue so bright and deep, a blue I'd never seen before or since, but that I can still picture. A new blue, I'd discovered a new COLOUR. People were going to be so excited when I showed it them.

I could see the leaves on the sycamore tree, a good fifty metres away, in exquisite detail. Each leaf it's own particular shade of green, the veins along their backs in fine, high-definition detail. A ladybird on one.

The dorma-window on the roof I could see had a spider's web in the corner. A woman stood in the room, only her head and shoulders, in profile, were visible from that angle. She was smiling, and very beautiful. I decided I'd tell her about the new blue first.

Then the grey speckles, moving in from the periphery of my vision, fizzling and crackling and causing the image before me to fade. Except for the blue. The blue remained. And now came the memory.

A nothing memory. Two years old, sat on the back of the horse that was my baby walker in the middle of the living room in the house my sister was born in. I was looking out of the big, bay window as a bus, in the old Mancunian orange livery, coughed and spluttered by. I was waiting for my dad, due home from another hard day at Parker Rosser's timber yard, duffle bag on shoulder and smelling of sawdust. We had no carpet down, so the hard, plastic wheels on my horse made a harsh noise against the uneven floorboards. The black and white television was in the corner, turned off, and in it's dark tube I could see the reflection of myself and, behind me, my mother, stood framed in the doorway to the kitchen and drying a bowl with a checkered towel.

I was happy. Happier than I'd ever been before. The world was awesome, really awesome. If I'd died at that moment I would have died happy. But it wasn't time. A sudden explosion of noise from all around, children playing, birds singing, air brakes on buses "pississsing" in the distance. Until then I'd not realised how silent the world had become, but now the noise came back. Tank had let go, and my face fell against the cool grass below. Along with the noise came the fire.

My chest filled with air. Hot, thick, air, burning my throat and chest as it reinflated my lungs. I coughed and coughed, small chunks of what looked like croutons spraying from my throat and onto the football pitch. I looked up.

No more new blue. The sky was still crystal clear and beautiful, but it was back to being the old blue. It had been, and remained, a glorious summer's day, but in comparison to the world I'd just seen fizzle out of existence this was just another, ordinary day. Also, every inch of me hurt.

I'm an Atheist, not in the least spiritual and suffer from no superstition. I believe my brain was starved of oxygen and was playing tricks on me. Nothing more. A more pious individual may have believed it was a little glimpse of Heaven. Maybe a spiritualist would see it as proof of life after death.

For me, it was my ebbing consciousness giving me a reward for having put me through the pain of existing in the first place. A life of struggle, fear, loss, love and hope, and of spells of happiness found in the face of it all, complete, now a brief moment of sheer bliss. But that moment would have been my last, and so for me would have stretched off into eternity. A violent and painful demise, but a pleasant and everlasting death.

So who cares who's right and who's wrong? This is one instance in which there can be no argument, no debate, it just doesn't matter. Whatever will be, will be. Whether it's pleasant because your God made it so or pleasant because our brain just works that way, it's still pleasant. A rose, by any other name.

No one need fear death, no matter how it rears it's hooded head. 

Remember, when the inevitable happens and it's time to say goodbye to a loved one, they've already lived an eternity of happiness while you've been stood sniffling at the grave side. At the point we change states we won't have a care in the world, no matter what we leave behind us. Everything will be beautiful, you can check out that new blue I told you about, and like I said... don't need to breathe.


1 comment:

  1. Beautiful post, captivating story. I'm glad you survived the 'tank' to tell us all about it. I hope you're right about a person's last moments.