Monday, April 07, 2003

Once upon a time, I was trapped for an entire winter in a world of no mountains and no ocean. The landscape was flat and soft, fields and forest, the only diversion was watching the train as it passed through. It went from the ruthless city of the tiger and down to the sinful dens of the city of the king.

In this place I lived with a hundred other souls my own age, caught as I was, in limbo. Our futures were undecided, we could be angels or demons, descend or ascend. Somehow the landscape was amazingly appropriate to convey this. There was the line of the railroad tracks which gave us the choice of temptations, while the bowl of the sky was a lid over the frozen crust which hid the dark, dirty soil below.

In this long winter, I met some of the people I have loved the most, and some who taught me that sometimes indifference is charity. I saw madness, abuse and weakness, as well as talent, strength and delight. I learned not to fear deviants, and to accept that the norm is only a statistical value.

Most painful of all my experiences was oddly enough not any of the interactions with other humans. What made me realise that I was truly lost, in limbo, and with no way to return to anything familiar, was when I went for a walk. It was winter, and I was sick of the landscape I was trapped in. I needed the sound of open water, the scent of salt and the light - even the cold winter light - reflected off the surface of the sea. We were three miles away from the fjord, and I had a whole day for the walk. I still remember the houses I passed by, the surface of the road frozen under my feet, the garden decorations creating an odd otherworldly variaty - a tiny windmill, a garden gnome, toy-like animals. I was passing through the layers of a peculiar suburban limbo, and should have seen the signs of warning right there. But I was blinded with my own needs and desire, and pressed on, tired, hungry and impatient.

I found the beach. I found the polished pebbles and the rough sand, frozen tufts of beach clove and hard, tangled lumps of seaweed. But the expanse of water itself was hidden, deep below a thick layer of ice. There was no hint of salt in the cold, clear air, only a hint of woodsmoke from the nearby farm-house. The sounds were those of wintery farmland, not even broken by the signs of life in the forest, and the light the same unkind white glare from frozen fields. I think that is when I realised that I was not just in a school for a year, I was in transition, and that I could not expect any solace from nature or culture in this place. I would have to rely on the landscape within, in order to find my path up or down.

This was more than 20 years ago. Even then I knew that some failed and fell. But I am still struggling to find the path up and out, terrified to be trapped and held again in a limbo where I cannot see the open water.

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