Margaret Lamb is afraid of light and has been living shut-off from the world in her house to avoid it. This is her story of finally leaving once again.
This is a first draft. Please forgive the spelling and grammatical mistakes. Criticism much appreciated!
The day I left things went wrong from the beginning, starting with the phone waking me up at six in the morning. I'm not someone who gets a lot of phone calls, so when my phone rings I make sure I answer it. When it rings at six in the morning, I assume it must be someone important with something important to say. Instead, I found a monotonously-toned woman named Glenda from the Canada Revenue Agency, requesting me to verify that I was in fact alive, and not deceased like what had been reported to the CRA.
I suppose you might consider that to be an important phone call, but the irony of having to convince Glenda that I was alive was lost on me. I tend to go to bed late and therefore sleep late in return, and having gone to bed at my usual four a.m. I was barely two hours under when I was forced to clarify my liveliness with absolute certainty for Glenda.
Apparently there was another Margaret Lamb in Canada. Who was almost the same age, just months apart. Who had died a week before, but somewhere along the way her paperwork had been misplaced or had never been filed at all. The CRA needed to know which Margaret Lamb I was or better yet, which Margaret Lamb was dead. My day began with the painstaking process of confirming my identification with obscure pieces of ID and portions of my tax returns, then in turn proving that in no uncertain terms that I am alive. I think convincing a stranger that I'm alive is a terrible way to begin a day.
Afterwards, I tried to go back to sleep but Glenda had planted a seed that was growing into an idea - that there was another Margaret, or there used to be. Glenda hadn't told me much, just little enough to keep me awake filling in the gaps. I was weighted down by two thoughts; the other Margaret had died only a few months older then me and the other Margaret had been doing a lot more. Glenda had only revealed three things about the other Margaret; she had been married, had been living in Nelson, BC and had died in a skiing accident. I've never been skiing. I've never even been on a date. I didn't even know where Nelson was, and a quick search on Google only made it more mysterious.
I didn't get any sleep before getting up at 11. I was busy being jealous of a dead woman with my name. I spent a long time considering whether or not to call back the CRA and tell them they'd made a mistake, that the Margaret from Nelson is me and the Margaret who hadn't left her apartment in a half-decade had died on that ski hill. I couldn't rationalize how that would actually help me step out the front door so I left that plotline for television shows, but because of Glenda and my imagination I was set to be short-tempered and half-asleep for the day. I sensed the other Margaret looming over me, she seemed disappointed.
Following this, my day was punctuated one-by-one by other such unpleasantries. I ran out of cereal for my breakfast. Lost my phone behind a bookcase. Bashed my head against a desk. Burnt my lips on a cup of tea. By the time five o'clock came around I was thinking of cancelling the little party I was having that night. Things hadn't been going my way so far that day, and they weren't looking to change. I thought about the fool I might make of myself with my guests. But the other Margaret, on a pair of skis, wearing a puffy down jacket and snow pants, warm breath clouding in the cool mountain air, was looking on in disgust.
I am afraid of light; afraid of fluorescent, incandescent, LED, artificial, cosmic rays of light and everything in between. I’m not saying it’s something for everybody to understand. I’m not expecting sympathy. I’m not entirely sure I understand, but that’s not the point. The point is that some time it’s got to change. I know now after the years I’ve spent living in the dim that the time to change does not come marked on a calendar, it isn’t something you wait to arrive or pack a bag and prepare for. It came to me that I would need to take steps, small ones, facing one obstacle at a time in a manner that I could control.
I would like to clarify that I am not irrationally afraid of all sources of light. I don’t live in the dark, I don’t have pasty skin, my fingernails are a reasonable length and I don’t urinate in milk bottles. That’s because I have a bathroom like a regular person. Mine happens to be blue and it reminds me of the sky. It makes taking a pee a levitating experience.
The difference between your house and mine is that yours is lit from corner to corner to corner while mine was lit in one small section at a time. If I was sitting at a desk then I would have the desk lamp on, but that’s it. Most people have the lights in the room and the next room on, plus light coming from their computer screen, the screen of their cell phone and their digital clocks.
The difference between you and me is that you tend to go outside, especially when the sun is up, whereas I wouldn't, or hadn't for five years. There were six steps I planned to my emergence:
Step 1 Bring the outside world in, one person at a time. First Mom. Then Dad. Then my friend Jerzy.
Step 2 Build my tolerance to the light, one bulb at a time, one minute at a time. Each day, an hour with one extra light and then each week add another. Once all the lights were being lit increase an hour per day each week.
Step 3 Bring the outside in, groups of people at a time. First my parents. Then Jerzy and my parents. Then the rest of my family.
Step 4 Confront crossing the threshold. Stand with the front door open and get to know the front porch and street beyond. First at night with only a few streetlamps, then during the day full of sunlight. Dangle my foot over the line between inside and out. Then place my foot down outside. Then step outside.
Step 5 Bring the outside in, groups of strangers at a time. I would introduce myself and get to know them.
Step 6 Leave; in the evening then the daytime and then all the time.
Step one and three proved to be the easiest to accomplish, being that I could still control most of what was going to happen. Step two made it to four hours of full lights before the day came that I left.
No matter what, until the day I left, I couldn't get past the part of step four where I stepped outside. I couldn't actually take that step forward. Almost as though my leg wouldn't take my weight, that it would buckle underneath me if I tried. Step five was why I was having people over the night I left. I was hoping to connect myself to other people outside, or maybe just assure myself that I might be accepted. Or figure out how to be accepted. This was to be my sixth party.
Party would be a strong word. At times they felt like a social experiment, but they had the glimmer of connection, at least. I would invite people I didn't know over for tea. There would be invitations that I would mail, which meant I needed these people's addresses. So they ended up being friends of friends, of my parents, of my family, and then friends of those people. People I found on Facebook. It started out with five people coming and I had about fifteen show up the day I left.
The evenings would each follow the same routine, the same details, only different strangers. I imagined at one point that my little parties might be become popular, that people would be asking for an invitation. I wondered if I would even have to leave if that were the case. I could just have the world come to me one tea party at a time.
In all honesty they were not glamorous, but people did tell me it was an opportunity to meet people they otherwise would never have met.
Everyone would arrive for seven o'clock in the evening. I was surprised how people would show up on time, all at once on one occasion. I would greet them one-by-one at the door as they arrived. Once inside I would introduce them to the rest of the party, which left me always knowing everybody's name. While it was theoretically a tea party, it was more so that in name because I offered everybody beer, wine and a basic array of cocktails that I taught myself. There were those people who expected tea, biscuits and cucumber sandwiches, for whom I provided for as well. Everyone can be happy at a tea party.
Once everyone had arrived, been introduced and supplied with their chosen libations, I would introduce myself properly and try to explain why I had invited them all there.
I practiced for weeks before I had the first party. I mean I planned for weeks figuring out each little detail for these parties, but it was telling these strangers about myself that was the lynchpin. I didn't know how. Sometimes, I don't know how to explain myself to me, let alone to a group of strangers I'd invited into my home.
The first attempt lasted three hours and was more in line with a rambling out-of-sequence autobiography then an introduction. The second attempt only lasted two minutes because I broke down sobbing from the anxiety. The third attempt I didn't even get started because I erupted in giggles thinking about myself crying on my previous attempt. Words were not cooperating I attempted a silent introduction, which resulted in a kind of sexually welcoming advance. Then eventually, some 39 tries later, I arrived at a simple but time honored method of communication - the overhead projector.
It was part 'Hello, my name is Margaret Lamb' and part first grade story time, when the teacher would make photocopy transparencies of picture books for the class to read together. It was ridiculous. I imagine being a stranger coming to that party, watching that light show of pictures and wondering who Margaret Lamb was and what were they doing here? I hoped people were more embracing than me. In the end it didn't matter so much because I had fun doing it, so whether or not anyone understood it faded, but I always harbored a want for it to be the highlight of some people's evenings, a reason they were excited to get to know me.