Written by: June Sheedy (American Studies, 1982)
The moment when heavy black clouds
Marshal themselves to obscure the clear blue sky
And weep the slow pitter patter of mizzle rain….
Are those my words that I can claim?
What lovely words to describe an unpleasant out-side;
The sky that cried.
The English Professor at the varsity would stride with purpose
Into the hall, to the lectern,
Her black caped gown flowing behind
Missing her Broom, her Pointed hat
I didn’t learn anything.
I was too mesmerised
By the theatre of words
The velvet tones and structure;
A concert of building blocks,
And scaffolding platforms in her
Pure crystal voice;
And placement of words
Hypnotic silken syntax
Fast and slow
Loud and Low
A symphony just for me;
And a Choir that
That only I could see;
In context greets
Whole paragraphs of lovely words
That only I heard.
All too soon
The clash of cymbals
Signalling the end
A lone violin
A high and fading pitch
Played her out.
She would shuffle her papers together
And stride off with purpose
Her black robe billowing behind her
Without the Broom or the
Or the cat
As she answered the call
To another lecture hall.
Pause the poem – Begin the Prose.
Life is a series of opposites.
I was seventeen when I was groomed by the house teacher at my boarding school in Germany. If that were today, she would never teach again; or work with children. She would be on the sex register for life with a criminal record.
I learned, too late, that I was not the first school girl she had groomed.
I ran away with her to England, Nottingham. We shared a bed. For me, it was like having a girl-friend sleep over, or a sister or mother. If only. At night, I repelled the overtures. She said she would wait until I was ready to engage fully my role as her partner. Patience was not her virtue and I formed strategies to stay in my home study until she slept. I was almost permanently depressed. There were times when I physically could not speak. Having to earn money, as a qualified coach, I taught Trampoline and handed over my student grant.
I was offered an unconditional place at the University of Nottingham; even if I didn’t sit my A levels. My gruelling interview (strangely, not about books) was a series of mini debates on politics, history, social climate; morality, ethics, nature and nurture; and the Don played devil’s advocate each time. I accepted the offer on the spot. I loved this place with a passion. There were only 8 of us on the joint American Studies course; a lot more on our English course. The Head Professor told me, when I thought I couldn’t cope, that they found most top examinees at A Level, though intelligent, did not excel as intellectuals; but I was both - intelligent and intellectual; beyond regurgitating primary and second sources. I was combative in debate; insightful in tutorials and I manipulated information into individual thought. (I didn’t take all my A levels).
And, so I stayed.
The volume of work was crippling but challenging. I had an illness that I kept secret from every-body (until 2003, when it became critical). And, it did affect my studies. I couldn’t read two books or more each day for each course. The others could.
I watched, enviously, as my fellow scholars forged friendships, joined clubs, lived in digs; went to parties and gigs. But, I had to go home. After a while the invitations stopped. I was fattened up like a goose and given a wedding band to deter men. I grieved the loss of what should have been the happiest years of my life; too young to be shackled in fear and despair and control.
I got my Honours degree, one point off a First Class but I declined a Viva because I was exhausted by my illness. It was the proudest day of my life walking onto the platform in cloak and cap.
And then I escaped.
I stayed to do a PhD but a nervous breakdown dropped to a Masters. My own Post Graduate study room in the Library was not much used. I did everything I couldn’t do before. I drank in the Buttery at lunch time and evenings. I made friends. I joined the Drama Society and worked backstage in different roles; I even stage managed West Side Story; a production, with some professional actors for the whole of Nottingham. I smoked and tried other substances. We ate together, talked late and through the night; and went to the theatre and concerts.
My closest, dearest friend, was cursed by the ‘black dog’ too. So, we held hands together, hugged and cried together, but also laughed together. We were always together. He got a first class degree. But, as did I, he dropped a Phd for a Masters.
My second proudest experience was collecting the accolade wearing the robes and colours of a post graduate. They are still my proudest moments despite further degrees and success in advertising (cut short by my illness).
End the Prose – Finish the poem:
The moment when heavy dark clouds
Marshal themselves in shrouds
To obscure the dark blue sky
of moon and winking
to slowly weep
Of fairies twinkling
That, in colour, sings
heralds tomorrow’s blanket of pure white snow
Before the foot falls show………
It was that night
Without the moonlight
Down by the campus lakes
That I was raped.