We are animal first and foremost, with a light topcoat of much more recent head-dominant humanity. But the instinctive part remains, very often to warn us of danger – if we bother to listen.
The problem is this: We have come to look down upon any stirrings which emanate from that mammalian side. We intellectualize everything – and, when facing toxicity head on, the thinking brain can actually get in the way of feral knowledge and speedy retreat. We can be too civilised in the face of clear and immediate danger.
There are times when the inner struggle to convince ourselves that we are mistaken, hearkening back to primitive times, superstitious and credulous results in damage both psychic and physical.
We all, at times, get that apparently illogical sense of bad vibrations, of something feeling obscurely wrong, of a person chiming a deeply ominous bell in our souls. My own view is that we sense the approach of a predator with relative ease, as most animals do: That something in the smell, the aura, of incoming toxicity announces itself with a clarion call.
And then, all too often, we use logic to argue ourselves out of that awareness.
I will give two very concrete example of this from my own life. I ignored both warnings, convinced myself that I was mistaken…
I was young, pretty, dressed in lovely new clothes; I was also unhappy, drunk, naive, an accident waiting to happen. Trusting unwisely, clinging to stony individuals (and mistaking their cold immovability for strength), I walked out from the back of my local pub, late one September night – and saw him, weaving towards me from higher up the path.
He never had an identity. The police did not catch him, then or later…
For a split second, I saw him in two different guises: One, a dark and twisting menace, snake-like, evil, rage made incarnate, fumes so toxic rising off him that I could almost smell them in the dank air; the other, an unknown young man, sharing the pavement with me, not a problem, no need to worry.
I walked on. I was, after all, a rational being, a grown-up. I had given up fairy tales, hadn’t I? No longer believed in wolves lurking in Granny’s bed or demons taking on human form.
He pounced, suddenly – wolf, demon, red rage given form, the truth does not now matter.
His sexual assault of me I have written about in previous posts – and will not go into again. Apart, that is, from these two observations: As I lay on the ground, head spinning, bruised all over, half a tooth missing, I knew, in my deep and cold centre, that I had placed myself in his path; that I had, with unconscious willingness or passivity, allowed his toxicity to overwhelm me – and that the man, who walked past with his dog and, hearing my screams, walked faster, would have seen only a man and a woman in some kind of mating ritual upon the ground.
That, although it came second in the sequence, was the first warning. The second actually occurred years earlier. I had, by then, met the man who would, eventually, become my husband. I did, I will admit, get a few jarring vibes and worrying moments – but, as with my physical attacker, walked on towards him anyway.
I was writing a scene in my novel ‘Heneghan’ – and, quite suddenly, I saw the character with a huge, dark and toxic sack hanging from his back. But I knew, deep deep down that the sack was part of his essence and that what I was seeing actually did not relate to Heneghan (or only peripherally), but was an instinctive understanding of the real man with whom I had fallen hopelessly in love.
This bulging membrane got bigger and bigger, more and more foetid and nasty, until it overwhelmed the man in my book completely, ate away at something private and unseen within him – and left him a toxic carcass.
I knew then that I was playing with fire; that, both in the literary and the romantic sense, I was allowing danger, exploring the lure of the toxic; embracing the jagged and bitter form of Heathcliff – and pretending that I had Cathy’s character.
That the sexual attack occurred two days after I finished writing ‘Heneghan‘ no longer strikes me as a coincidence; that it has taken the better part of thirty years for me to go back to the novel also makes complete sense.
But my appetite for others’ cruelty has waned; my need for toxic adrenaline has, finally, burned out. If I feel the hair rising on the back of my neck these days – and know that I am up against one of the barely human beings – I leave well alone.
I had to make those decisions, however: That a toxic beauty would never nourish me; that my instinct for wrongness was, if I gave it full rein, strong and good -and that laughing away uneasy vibes can be an act of arrogance that costs us our sanity and even our lives.