Monday, September 14, 2009

A Kindness Remembered

I took a sleeping pill last night. Well, half a pill. I have a few on hand, in case, and I had slept so fitfully the previous night that I wanted to be sure to get a good night's sleep. Today, Monday, is a busy one, with the tree pruners arriving for the first of their two-day annual visit to trim the yard and the electrician arriving this morning to help clear up a problem with the lights. And then... I got back yesterday to find my desk-top computer on the fritz, so I have my part-time assistant coming in, unusually for a Monday, to see if he can help me get it fixed. But back to that sleeping pill...

I don't usually like to take these things, but in such circumstances, I figure I can use the help in getting off and sleeping soundly through the night, so I took a half of this tiny pill. It was in the state of slight wooziness that overcomes me before going to sleep that my mind dredged up this memory from my seventeenth year, the first time I ever took a sleeping pill...

It was the last term of my last year at boarding school. I had just returned from an exchange with a German student of my age, having spent a trimester at his school in Schleswig-Holstein, the very northernmost tip of Germany, whilst he had taken my place at the boys' school I attended in the South of England. I had experienced, for the first time, something what for normal boys of my age, I imagine, must be normal life: going off to school in the morning and coming home in the afternoon each day, and sitting in the class with... girls! I had fallen in love with one of them, of course. Her name was Annaliese. I would never have dared admit it, though I was teased about it a great deal.

Going back to school in England was like being sent back to prison. Though I had only one term left to endure, I fell into a bleak depression. The loneliness seemed unbearable. The daily bustle of life in the cloisters and the classrooms, the dining hall and the chapel was oppressive beyond description. Having escaped this darkness once for a short while, I found the prospect of a short while more to be unendurable.

My three-month stay in Northern Germany, at the tail end of winter, had culminated in a car crash. I had been invited by friends on a trip to a neighboring town, and we drove there in a DKW--a car that has since been known, I believe, as the Audi. In those days, the joke was that DKW stood for "Das Krankenhaus Wartet"--the hospital awaits. In my case, that proved literally true. I was lucky: I was sitting in what the Germans called the "Todesplatz"--the "death seat", next to the driver. On the way home, in total darkness on a country road, the driver lost control of the car and we skidded at high speed into a farm tractor. The impact split the tractor in two, and threw me through the windshield. I remember only trying to protect my brand new copy of Dylan Thomas's "Collected Poems" from the blood...

Back to the sleeping pill, then... After returning to school in the emotional state I have described, I began to suffer from a serious of severe headaches. Attributing them to the accident and worrying that they might be a symptom of something more serious, The school doctor sent me to the "San"--the sanatorium, our little school hospital, located a little way up the hill from the main school in an area shaded by trees and surrounded by nice green lawns. It looked like heaven. I wanted to stay there for the rest of my life. The school nurse seemed like an angel. To this day, I can still recall the kindness in her face...

I was alone in the "san". The rooms there had six or eight beds, for those times when an epidemic of measles or some other disease might strike, but at this time I had the whole, bright room to myself. Because she had no other patients to attend to, the nurse gave me her full attention--and I basked in it unashamedly. In part, I think now, as I look back on that moment in my life, it was that she brought the feminine energy that I had been deprived of, and yearning for, throughout my twelve years at boarding school, in the almost exclusive company of boys and men. I felt for her, and from her, an overwhelming sense of love.

It was she who brought me the sleeping pill, with a glass of hot chocolate, perhaps, or Horlicks--a wonderful, milky, malty late night drink. Here, she said, this will help you sleep. And I took the pill, and popped it into my mouth, and no sooner had I finished the last sips of my Horlicks than I fell into this state of glorious wooziness, a feeling of being sucked up irresistibly into the universe, surrendering consciousness in exchange for sleep. I can imagine no more beautiful way to die...

Such a small act of kindness, remembered so long, and with such absolute clarity. I wish I had some way to thank my compassionate benefactor, but alas, I imagine she must have left us long ago to enjoy the rewards of her good karma. I hope so.

2 comments:

Pete Hoge said...

It's just those moments of someone
else being kind to us that sustain
some of us through the tough times.

"Good" memories are hopefully stronger than "bad" ones.

Pete.

robin andrea said...

What a great memory to have just before slipping off into that nice, deep slumber. That's also quite a story about the car accident and your time as a student in northern Germany.