Wednesday, 10 February 2021

Light at the end of the tunnel

I’m writing this in the dark – not the dark inside a long tunnel (such as you might find in the place I’m leaving) – but in the dark before dawn. It’s a clean dark (as Robert Adamson proposed long ago) with the silence of the morning and the hope of a new day arriving.

Sometimes the dark has to become so complete that you cannot see the hands in front of your face before you change. 

Yesterday my brother wrote, upon looking at an image of me posted on Facebook wearing a colourful shirt – a shirt so outrageous only my mother could’ve bought it – “Holy cow, Matt, it makes you look like dad.” He was referring to the comment from a friend – two friends, in fact – about my weight. 

It was true. I’d lost 25kg in four months and I looked different. So different that my brother – bless his soul – compared me to a man both of us had feared. For his sharp words and for his dark eyes.


My eyes are hazel.

After mum died I wasn't smoking – not by that time – but I was drinking about one-and-a-half bottles of white wine per day. I weighed over 120kg. 

It was a dark time. I almost drank myself to death. I survived pulmonary arrhythmia due to ventricular tachycardia (in 2019) but then started to have panic attacks – this was what led me to quitting the booze. Then, last October, fed up with it all and encouraged by a change of regime, I started losing weight. I'm now weaning myself off antidepressants for the panic attacks and it's working; they're not returning.

This is a relief. It’s another thing I don’t have to worry about. 


I have to worry about so many things, and as I get older – my psychiatrist told me that stress accumulates over time, as you age, so that old people experience its effects more sharply than young people – there are more of them every year. Perhaps, I suggested to him, this is why old people are more conservative. “Yes, maybe,” he said.

The light is glimmering like a CGI effect at the end of a virtual tunnel. I see hands but they’re not my hands: they’re someone else’s hands. Someone I might become. 

A robot, perhaps.

Not a robot like we used to have in the old days before all the computing power in the world changed the cinematic experience. But something almost-lifelike, new, and real. Something pink and orange and navy blur and hazel.

Like my eyes They shoot out sparks when I turn to people. People look and turn away, ashamed at things they’ve done. I remind people, now in my slimmed-down state, of wrongs they’ve done and of small victories won in the face of adversity. I can see how this happens when I walk down the street. Before, I used to be the fat guy in unprepossessing clothes. People would wonder if I was homeless or mad or just needy. 

Not anymore. 

Now, they make space for me – I almost wrote “form” – and treat me as though I’m visible. They can actually see a person where before they’d seen something shameful. 

Now, it is they who are filled with shame.


My father’s ashes disappeared after mum and I moved back to Sydney from the little town she’d been living in since 1999, and to which, in 2009, I also moved so that I could look after her. I discovered the ashes had gone in 2015 and grieved again – but not as much as when, the next year, mum died. 

When she died I grieved hard. I hadn’t wanted to move to Maroochydore. I’d offered, in 2009, to move her to Sydney so that I could live something like a normal life, but she’d declined. “No,” she said, "I want to stay here." In a way it was a good thing. If I’d moved to Sydney I would’ve gotten some dead-end job – the kind of role in an organisation I’d been filling since I left uni for the first time in 1985 – but, as it turned out, I gave myself to writing. Mum celebrated each story with me as it was accepted by one magazine or another and slowly I became more proficient, earning my stripes, as it were, upon the treadmill of low rates and long hours spent transcribing routine interviews – the device driving the software on the floor under my desk and my feet tapping now this peddle, now that – as I made the material I needed to communicate the subject I’d been commissioned to live with for a time.

Eventually, after a few years, I stopped.

I didn’t stop writing. Now, it was poetry. Sonnet after sonnet, line after rhyming line. Words tumbling in bright cascades down the cliff of my dissatisfaction that stood at the edge of the glacier of perfection within which my body was immured like the Ice Man. 


Alcohol freezes at a lower temperature than life-giving water, and I bathed the frozen cascade in litres of chardonnay, the yellow liquid running in rivulets over the place where no earth could nurture a seed.

I was the seed. I was looking for earth, for a patch of ground, for a space. I got the suggestion to move house last year in winter – the time of frozen cascades, the time of hallucinations and paranoia, the time of death (mum died one July) – and the friend who gave it to me will move into the new house. She will paint. I will paint – or, no, I won’t paint; I’ll use knives to fashion images and then bend paper to the prepared surface as though I were making an imprint of my soul. 

This is the thing that has happened. It happened to me and though I still don't know what a soul is I know that so many things have happened and I don’t have the words to describe them. Do I even need the words, now? Perhaps the message will come out of the frozen cliff in a bottle launched a hundreds years since, like a blessing for the future by an unnamed relative whose face I can never see. I care about this person, but I’m leaving.


letmeout said...

This stirred my soul. Never stop writing, ever

Basia Sokolowska said...

So beautifully written, truly moving account of the past few years of your life. Not sure about stress accumlating with age, though. I find that for many old age is a time of freedom, as they are no longer burdened by their future. As Joseph Cambpell said "it is incredible how rich the present becomes, when there is no future.

Matthew da Silva said...

Thx both for your comments. This came to me in a rush v early in the morning -- well before dawn -- as I couldn't sleep and got up before my usual time.

marcellous said...

Poetic, moving. Congratulations. Explains a bit more that 1/2/21 post and all the shopping lists. How did you ever deal with so very many moves? All the best with your new cohabitant and the art.