The Collector: Fragments Of A Life


Collecting amounts to being capable of living of one’s past. But he rejects regret, that other form of hope. He is incapable of looking at portraits.
Albert Camus

Where does a collector belong in society these days? The kind of person who stores experience, who is convulsed with every slight, racked by a solitude that can only come from being alone, really alone. Even at work.

I’ve had a few jobs in my time. A collection of hours stored up in the bank, because that’s all it ever was in the end. I have never achieved anything in any job I’ve ever had. I thought that’s what happened when you grew up, I thought you ‘found a career’ or ‘settled down’. It was only when I was older that I realised that things never happen in the way you were told they would. I was a late developer. Not any more though, I think I’ve developed too much now, people sense it and are frightened. I feel them shrink from me.

I don’t know if I’m dreaming. Maybe its me that shrinks from others. I can’t deny it, but I don’t know when it first happened, when people started to scare me. This is the crux of the matter: I realise that if there is anything important in human existence (and I’m just not sure that there is) then it will be human relationships. This is because there are only two realms in which we exist, the first is within our own subjectivity, the second is within the environment of the other, the ‘objective’. We see our own person through another, we project our own self onto the other and we see the reflection. It can be said that in looking at someone else you see only yourself.

That tree is the other, that brick house is the other, the man walking down the street before me projects his life forwards and mine follows. I have found recently that I am lost in the tail of life, or more often drowning in the face of it all. I cannot see myself in anyone else any more. And I am still no closer to the answer to my question: who is shrinking from whom? In a decent society the individual should be endowed with responsibility, this should be sovereign along with whatever ‘freedom’ circumstances dictate. Because this freedom we have no matter what. Without responsibility the freedom we do have is tainted. Wider society has failed but I must look to myself, to my own responsibility.

I can remember a time maybe seven or eight years ago when I wasn’t nervous in doing anything, especially talking to people. On reflection life drifted aimlessly past, and it wasn’t that I didn’t have any plans either. If they did come to fruition then it was slowly. And even as I write now I can see that that was the problem, it was a kind of inability to act. I always did what I had to in life but over the years it became harder and in the end I sometimes wouldn’t do the most basic of tasks. I would stay in bed all day. Still do sometimes. But before this I remember having a job on the phone all day, it wasn’t up to much but it didn’t bother me at the start. Back then it was still almost novel to work in a call centre and it wasn’t always that busy. I never intended to stay in the job and I didn’t when I left to go to college. I couldn’t finish college and eventually found myself back at another call centre taking clothes orders from customers. People are ‘customers’ now.

Things were different, life didn’t drift aimlessly past any more, time weighed me down, I had become increasingly shy and on top of all that the calls kept coming. I guess this was the time I started collecting, bringing together the scattered episodes of my life, collecting unseen moments out on the streets or in the pubs. I was collecting orders but it turns out I was also collecting bitter memories. I was caught in a vicious circle, becoming isolated and at the same time preempting my self-conscious attitude towards others. I would mumble hello looking at your forehead or I wouldn’t even look at you at all.

Why? I don’t know, I have to think about it.

A child needs confidence; but I think this comes from the innocence (ignorance?) of young life. I’m certainly not a child any more but I was once.

But all of this is tosh. I have a secret to divulge, I’m sitting on it now. It all started for real during my second foray into call centres. I realised that I’ve never talked to so many people before, everybody sounds the same. Call after call, people were phoning me, at least I liked to think so, but I was so impatient with them. I hid it well until I exploded. I mean people phoning up and not knowing what to do; god, who are these people? Who buys clothes over the phone anyway? How do you know if the fucking things fit? You know the colours aren’t the same as they are in the catalogue and the sizes are ‘generous’, not the sizes stated in the catalogue? Who’s fooling who?

One day I decided to ask a customer these questions. I got carried away with it all, I lost myself in my fury. I didn’t notice that she had hung up, I didn’t notice that everyone was looking at me (I was the centre of attention and I didn’t even know it). I walked out and never returned.

But I was stuck for something, I was also stuck for a job. What could I handle? That was when I became a collector for real and I was still with catalogues, dropping them off, picking them up, walking the streets, knocking on doors. Granted I am the butt of the capitalist joke but what the hell, I am now in the open air. I feel different now, maybe I got too much air but something happened up there, if you know what I mean. Solitude can do strange things to a person but when you mix that with insignificant meetings and failed interactions….well I’ve exploded. I haven’t got many sales, household goods don’t go far. “Earn so much an hour” the advert said; again I ask the question, who’s kidding who? Anyway I’ve had a small look into other people’s lives and it’s surprised me that I am even interested, after all I have cut myself off from social interaction. I explained all that at the start of this fragment. Or I explained that we all should have responsibility….well fuck it, I’m too weak, responsibility is a burden and I just don’t see anyone carrying it out any more.

What didn’t surprise me though, was that small glimpses were never enough. I began to plan scenarios where I could come into their lives and it became a frenzy in my head when I was ushered into someone’s kitchen while they looked for the catalogue. It was raining. On the kitchen table were the remains of a meal, a local paper, opened on a report about the death of a person who was on benefits until she was sanctioned, and some keys. I looked a long time at the keys until the man came back, a bitter looking old man, bald apart from a clump of white hair on both sides of his head, with pin-pricked blue eyes. He reminded me of someone, off the television or some politician maybe. His return with the catalogue, no order, woke me from my dream. I dreamed every night after that about those keys. It was the same every night, I would pick them up and slip them into my pocket and every time they would burn a hole in the pocket and fall onto the linoleum floor. The old man would stare at me and say nothing, just picked up the keys and threw them onto the table. I would wake up after that.

I can’t remember when this dream blurred into reality but it did because one day I did have the keys in my pocket, they didn’t burn a hole this time and the old man never saw me do it, he could never find his catalogue.

Here I am now in his house unburdening myself. I don’t remember getting here, it is late at night. But I must be here because I’m typing this on the old man’s black heavy typewriter, a Corona, it says. I know its heavy because I had to lift it when I dropped it onto the old man’s head while he was sleeping. I’m glad he was sleeping, I cannot guess at what I would have seen had I looked into his eyes. I don’t want to see nothing but the thought of seeing me chills me to the bone.

I think I’ll search his house, I need to collect new memories now, now that I’ve erased mine. God, some people can be so self-obsessed but at least I’ve done something now, at least I’ve finished the job.


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