Do you know that feeling of dread when your skin crawls and your mind shouts NOooo? You shake with trepidation; your stomach reacts with bile but your moral compass is set and what has to be done forces your feet forward and propels your body in the right direction; you resist every taut, resistant hair in every screaming follicle, and you step into the fray, face the onslaught, the strangers, the danger, with heavy heart? Do you know that feeling?
I remember when I was three going to the beach for the first time, stepping down jagged, rocky steps of a rising cliff that towered into vast white cold skies, my legs being scratched on clumps of heather, my tiny flip flops flailing against the sharp stones. I remember the rocks that lay like a black wet dinosaur, its skin cracked with crevices, brimming with water, turgid, slippery, slimy, green seaweed floating in briny pools, scuttling crabs, barnacles clinging, cold winds wrapping themselves around my shivering body; reaching the cold expanse of damp, brown, solid grains of compacted sand; the noisy, grey tipped waves rolling closer and closer, rushing in to overwhelm me, swallow me up, stiffen me in its smell of salt, standing, terrified, on the shore, cold water frothing over my toes.
My first day of school, I remember standing in the door of the classroom; the hubbub of voices, the blue of the screams, yellow taunts flying through the air, the white dry smell of chalk and blackboard tickling my nose, the scraping of chairs, chaos clattering, the wriggling hands inching up through the air to answer questions, a mangle of colours leaking from the walls, and the safe quiet of day on the other side of the window.
Going to my first job interview, I remember the surprise of day light, the blur of buildings, the stretch of electricity poles, the houses, gardens, shops flashing past after the train emerged from the tunnel into a strange world of suburbia. I hear the roar of huge aircraft and watch them, with their wheels lowered, criss-cross above me on their way to the airport and I wonder about the inevitable.
I remember leaving my home in rural Cavan one night in brilliant moonshine, the shadows of myself and the bushes and trees looming bright black in the yard; turning and seeing my children silhouetted and laughing, their faces bright with pyjamas, TV and cheese strings and my reluctant heart getting into my car to drive miles and miles of dark country lanes, my headlights unraveling hawthorn, sycamores, snaking along the border roads, the moon now behind clouds, driving back and forth across yellow road markings (the Republic), across white road markings, (The North), driving in bandit country, deserted, passing dark shapes of houses with one light on until I see the two cathedral spires of my destination cast against the Milky Way far away from where my children are safe in their shrouds of dark under duvets.
I remember the Old People’s Home where I travelled to read poetry last summer, the room full of dirty grey denier stockings on the withered stumpy legs of un-remembered old ladies slumped in their high backed chairs wearing green stained olive and navy cotton cardigans, splashed with food from today’s dinner of cauliflower cheese, (it reminded me of semen stains), their twisted faces lolled useless on wrinkled necks and shoulders, their gnarled, vein exposed hands, lay brittle in their laps, their grey hair hanging in streaks of grease and my words poised reluctantly on the tip of my tongue about to be rendered meaningless, uncared for, but I release them all the same hoping they find resonance.
I made all these journeys with a dreadful sense of dread.
But now dread has disappeared and I miss it. This morning I woke up to find my head was shaved. I realise that without my hair I can do nothing, go nowhere and I now understand the significance of dread. In dread there is direction.