“In the realm of the senses, I still feel nothing,” I tell my therapist in my best attempt at an “I’m going to kill myself” voice. Dr. Menlove, a 46-year-old woman, isn’t buying it. She’s grown accustomed to both my hideous face and my theatrics. I recall those sessions with great fondness, they were perhaps the most normal I ever felt. Looking back on it now anyway. Who knows? I might have gone crazier much sooner if not for her. She made me feel just a little bit less like I was going off the rails. That I might possibly be somewhat on track–or at least capable of getting back on it. Ah, but then came Reginald (who I never told that I used most of my allowance for these sessions at one point in the 90s), appropriately, a train conductor. She had met him while riding back from Liverpool to Manchester one day. When she poked her head into his window, as it were, to ensure that it was, indeed, going to Manchester, he insisted that she wouldn’t know for sure unless she gave him his number. That was in 1974, when you had to go on faith alone that a bird wasn’t going to give you a false digit. But I didn’t–she didn’t. I was a different person then, you understand? The kind of girl who thought she had to act right for a potential suitor lest she “lose her chance.” Looking back now, I wish I had. Lost my chance, and with it, having ever known Reginald.
My greatest oppressor. He acted differently than he truly was at first, of course. They all do. It’s a tactical measure among all blokes to reel one in this way, but most especially among blokes from fishing communities. The method of tantalizing with ultimately unsatisfying bait was in their blood. And I took it almost happily but with just a tinge of knowing that I would somehow begrudge my own acquiescence later on, when it was already too late to go back on it. Our first date was at the Tackle Down, a fish and chip shop on the Royal Albert Dock. We didn’t stand in there for very long (there were no seats), ended up walking around for most of it. He talked a lot about his ambitions, plans for the future–briefly finding time to ask me mine, as though to ascertain where I might fit in with his. It seemed that was his mission for the evening, to convince me that our futures were destined to intertwine. In that era of my life, I wasn’t opposed to swimming with someone else’s stream. Didn’t know any better, or that it might have been worthwhile to have had a bit more fight in me when it counted. Before I–she–got locked-in syndrome. That was forty years into the marriage, when I am of the belief that this was her last resort for escaping, her final and best attempt at freedom from imprisonment by opting into another prison. It began gradually. She would be doing something as mundane as peeling potatoes and forget herself all at once. But not in an ordinary “spaced out” sort of way, so much as an “I’ve completely checked out of reality” type of aura.
Reginald, so accustomed to their routine, took months to notice that something was slightly “off.” It happened when they were riding Merseyrail from Manchester to Liverpool–always back to Liverpool, where their story first began. He kept telling her to sit down, that they weren’t at their Lime Street stop yet–in fact, had quite a long way to go. She wouldn’t listen, kept trying to get up, only to be pushed back down by him, causing even more of a spectacle than her random endeavors to rise. Against the machine of her marriage. Maybe Reginald loved her. In that way that men love their dogs. The only way men can love–when they see and feel a consistent expression of loyalty, themselves never feeling fully inclined to return it. Well, Marcia was tired. Bored to tears of offering it, her only reward being an occasional pat on the head or a, “There’s a good girl.” It was sickening, so much so that one evening, after he had said it in praise of her dinner, she vomited right up onto the peas he had just so graciously complimented.
Their two children, Agatha and John, were in their teens at the time, and accordingly nonplussed. It wasn’t “kosher” to react to anything–least of all anything your parents did–in adolescence. John was the first to break the ice with, “May I be excused?” Agatha added, “May I be as well?” Reginald waved his hand in assent. Marcia wiped her mouth and stared defiantly at Reginald as though begging him to get angry at her over ruining a perfectly good meal. But he refused. It wouldn’t be the English thing to do. This was the instant Marcia could feel herself snapping, breaking off into another reality. But it was only for a split second. She then forced herself to return to the realm of the senses, unpleasant though it was. She still felt a sense of responsibility to the children at that time. A responsibility that faded as much as their interest in spending time with her as their own lives went on. So she let her mind wander, get away from her without any further effort to rein it in.
That wasn’t the nature of locked in syndrome, however. In truth, the whole point she changed track in surrendering her body to reclaim her mind was the appeal of this oh so rare condition, that apparently only Jean-Dominique Bauby could make chic. It wasn’t something that could be contrived, no, of course not. Unless, that is, one was willing to gamble on a little brain stem damage. That was one of the potential causes to the condition, after all. A little lesion on the brain stem, what could it hurt, Marcia reasoned. Trade my body for the return of my mind. Constant and perpetual privacy. Aloneness with my thoughts once more. Never having to speak to Reginald again.
Thus, it was that day, the one where her abnormal behavior was crescendoing throughout the Merseyrail that she decided to take a gamble–the only real gamble of her life–by deliberately falling into the water so that she would hit her head, either to the result of fatal ramifications or the desired one she sought. Floating there as a centerpiece to the timeless design of Philip Hardwick and Jesse Hartley, now, Marcia, too, would be timeless. Forever trapped in her body as a protective coating against Reginald. Who could never make demands of her again. Not now that she was locked in.