The Phantom of the opera
Dedicated to dad
I have spent most my life feeling a little bit “different” to other people. I think this was mostly due to over sensitivity on my part, which presumably originated from being molly coddled as a child. Either way often, I would be found anxiously wringing my hands, worrying about whether I had offended X, bothered Y, or whether Z liked my company or did he tolerate me out of politeness.
This lifestyle was completely exhausting for both myself, and those around me who had to endure my frantic blubbering. When I wasn’t panicking, I was deeply saddened by the supposed actions of others. How could X have acted in this way? Why are people so selfish? I was akin to an angry little quasi modo, trapped in his bell tower, staring at the ant like people down below, shaking a deformed fist in anger. Well l was like Quasi before he got laid by that rambunctious curly haired gypsy with the hoop earrings… So basically, a bitter quasi modo, minus the gypsy companion / friendly gargoyles.
My tired father was forced to tolerate my numerous tyrannical speeches about how X had stabbed me in the back, or Y was a faker, or that Z couldn’t be trusted. My life would appear to be akin to a Shakespearean drama, Julius Caesar eat your heart out! In fairness to me, he did slightly encourage the growing mistrust I had of people around me. I am not sure why he had become so hard hearted and cynical over the last few years of his life.. I guess life had, dealt him an unfair hand on occasions. Running your own business Couldn’t have been easy, and he shouldered a lot of these burdens on his own.
The two of us had sat down to our routine morning coffee before I voiced my concerns.
“Dad I’m worried about something, I always feel a bit different to other people, like I’m not quite fitting in or something.” Dad took a sip out of his coffee and looked up thoughtfully at me.
“Do you want to be like other people? A little sheep ? Hell is other people remember that”. The truth was I did want to be a sheep, especially if that sheep was highly intelligent, and competitive, with a massive training contract in a top firm. I could picture groups of affluent sheep together, in black suits and ties, polishing their Calvin Klein hooves, brandishing leather briefcases.
“I just feel a bit isolated or something, I think it’s because I haven’t a job yet.” I had tolerated taunting long before I ever embarked upon my college Journey. Poor dad knew of these stories, he knew too much.
“Other people don’t think like you, you probably won’t end up in one of those firms, not because you are incapable, but I can’t see you working in a little cubicle every day like that. I couldn’t stick that you know. It depends what you are like as a person. For example, your mother in the civil service will do her nine to five job, clock in clock out, have a regular pay package, nice little pension, some people like all that shit. BUT you must be ready to embrace change, because that’s the modern world now. Your Opportunities will come you just have to be ready for them”.
I reflected upon this for a while and felt a little bit better about the current situation, but the word vomit kept coming “I always feel like I’m out of my depth, like everyone else there is much smarter than me, but I’m unfortunately intelligent enough to be able to realize this, like I can’t avail of the blissful ignorance that comes with stupidity”. Dad sighed.
“You do know that everyone is playing a game, don’t you? It’s all a big game. So even if you feel that way inside, on the outside you must try and big yourself up. You’re in the big league now. The people you’re hanging about with will probably be running the country in the next few years, so now you gotta play ball.”
I reflected more upon this. I realized the error in my ways. I had dug my own grave with the people around me, in the sense that I had acted overtly honestly, but in a self-deprecating way. Handing those around me the jokes they could make at my expense, wearing my heart on my sleeve like an idiot.
“I think I’m probably too honest dad”. Dad smiled wearily. “I think you probably are too. Nobody is honest out there, everyone is wearing a mask, you got to do a bit of acting, why do you think I sent you to so many drama lessons as a kid?”
I thought about all the people around me. Confident, cool, bright and breezy. Distant and surface. Could they too possibly be thinking as I do? Everyone has problems, a lot of peoples worse than mine. If everyone were to be disconcertingly honest then the world would come to an abrupt halt. Our every interaction would be filled with raw visceral emotion and uncomfortable home truths. It would be disastrous. So rather than lamenting the loss of brevity, and pointing the finger, like a prepubescent Holden Caulfield, accusing those around me of being “Phonies”, I reflected inwardly. It was a fault in my own wiring that I was emotional as I was. I was hurt easily because of an inability to protect myself, and a childlike naivety. It was only after my father’s death, that I finally saw this clearly and placed the responsibility back on myself. I realised the affect my words had on other people. Words are an exceptionally powerful tool in building one’s own reputation, or could be utilised as a dangerous weapon of mass destruction in dismantling one’s integrity. As my father often told me your reputation and integrity are two of the most important things in life.
Unfortunately, not everyone can handle crude honesty, and it is of the utmost importance that the person you choose to share your most intimate thoughts with can A. handle them and B. has earned this privilege over time. There are very few people like this and my father was one of them. I was lucky to have had someone special like that for the twenty-four years that I did! You only meet people like him once in a life time.
I have come away from this as a reformed character, with the ability to assess situations with a greater sense of clarity. Becoming so emotionally invested and entangled in the opinions of others would do me no favours. You can’t be reliant on other people to build you up, or to be consistently understanding. It is not their duty, and it would not be healthy for your own sense of independence. The way I now view the world is through the eyes my father. Accepting of human nature, of my own disposition and those around me. Certain walls would have to be constructed, and certain barriers built. This does not mean withdrawing from the world and enduring the isolated life style of a monk, but it means acting with a distinct level of decorum, and showing certain self-restraint.
I thank god for the numbness that follows death, as I am no longer overcome by the overwhelming need to placate others, and I am no stranger to goodbyes. “You should never be afraid to walk”, dad had said, and there are many situations I should have departed from much sooner. Like the phantom of the Opera I shall put on a mask, and integrate into society, bound by a newly found Teflon coating.
My father is in my heart, his words reverberate in my being, his teachings I carry with me. I am surrounded by his memory. My siblings carry him with them too. With that in mind I know that we’ll be ok. I will advance up several levels in this game of life, till my day of reckoning comes. For the moment survival is key and the short-term goal of moving out of my aunties living room should be first and foremost in my mind 😃 .