Thursday, 12 October 2017
Open the door
Thankfully there are still some thing's that can't be understood; things that have nothing to do with science , which is still too narrow minded, and religion, which is illusory.
For me, life was always black and white, and when I first took this case on I had no idea where it would lead me. It looked like just another missing person case but it took me to my innermost core and showed me such wonders that I’m eternally grateful for.
The facts of the case are simple; they always are on the first glance.
Tom Holmes had gone missing three months ago; he'd left no note and there was no indication of foul play. On the surface he appeared to be a very chilled, mellow and affable person; who knew his own mind enough to keep himself to himself. Very few people had a bad word to say about him; those who did obviously bore a grudge against him, but nothing to suggest that they would act on it. No, everyone had the same view about him -aloof but very likeable.
Digging a little deeper led to a history of mental illness and a struggle with a sense of self (something that I could, unfortunately, empathise with), but nothing that extreme.
What did seem odd were the circumstances leading up to his disappearance; Tom had taken every Friday off in May as annual leave from his job working for a local charity. On the last Monday of the month he failed to turn up at work, which was unlike him. He was always an early riser, punctual and never ill.
No one answered at his flat, nor did anyone pick up the phone. His family, such as it was, seemed to display no alarm when questioned and could offer up no explanations when his car turned up outside a church in Loxcastle (almost 20 miles away); they simply nodded as if in understanding. There was no sign of a struggle and no clue to his whereabouts. There was never any suggestion that his family would gain from either his murder or his disappearance, or indeed anyone else. He wasn't rich and no one had any vendetta against him.
I was hired by his manager at work, bizarrely enough. She seemed to value Tom as an employee and wanted to get to the bottom of what had happened.
“He'd... Tom had been with us for over nine years and kept under the radar most of that time.” Susan told me. Susan Eastell , Training and Competency Manager for the charity and his line manager. “But for the last few years he'd come up in leaps and bounds. Our own fault really; we didn't see what kind of talent he had and now I just don't want to see it all go to waste.” She seemed quite genuine, even started to fill up whilst answering the questions.
“What about his family?”
“I don't know – I couldn't read them. They didn't seem to … care... they showed concern at first, but more for my own sake than theirs.”
“How do you mean?” I asked.
“They wouldn't answer any question that I put to them. I asked them where he was or what happened to him, but they didn't seem to know.”
“That's hardly surprising, if it's the truth.” I ventured.
“No... it was the way they answered – more of a passive acceptance. It didn't make sense. His mother just turned to me and said that she would know if something bad had happened to Tom. And I believed her.”
I got that same feeling when I visited Tom's mother, Helen.
“Are you religious?” was the first question she asked me when we sat down in her lounge. Everything was very neutral but not necessarily relaxing.
“No..” I answered. “I don't think so... I mean I used to be, once -but I'm not sure what I am now.” I was surprised by the frankness of the question and couldn't help but answer honestly.
“Well, that will hold you in good stead during your investigation.”
“So you know when Tom is then?”
“You don't seem to be very upset by his disappearance, don't you miss him?” I asked her, trying to get an emotional response.
“Of course. You've no doubt read up on him; he was well liked by most people and everyone misses him.”
“That doesn't exactly answer my question.”
“He was my son and I loved him more than you could possibly know, but I didn't always understand him.”
“How do you mean?”
“He was always closer to his father than me. They used to go for long walks together, just to talk. I don't know who was teaching who.”
“And where is your husband now?”
“Fishing, I expect. He does that a lot now, it affords him time to think.”
“You sound bitter.”
“Tom has found the peace he always wanted and my husband is at the door to understanding, as he puts it. It seems that no one gave a shit about me, or what I wanted.”
“I'm sorry.” I genuinely felt for her, life had robbed her of both men in her life and all she wanted to know was why.
“Why? Even you on the pathway, presumably, probably without you ever knowing it. It seems that everyone is on their path except for me.” I shrugged, unsure of what to say. It was obvious that she had no idea what had happened so I asked the only question that was left to me.
“Which pond does your husband fish at?”
“Furners Green at Slaughley.”
“Yes – I know that pond well.”
“Of course you do.”
I was perplexed by her outlook. It was as if she was torn in two. She was both in denial of the circumstances of her son’s disappearance but also accepted that he was gone.
I drove over to Furners Green, not wanting to waste any more time. I'd spent many happy memories with my father there and actually caught my first fish there; it'd taken four years of perseverance until I landed, what a that time seemed like a monster, but was only just a pound in weight.
Tom's father was at the third swim and almost seemed to be expecting me.
“Did your wife call ahead and warn you that I was coming?” I ventured.
“No – we're not on speaking terms at the moment. That will pass, though.” He seemed very amiable, completely at odds with the way his wife was.
“What caused the rift?” I asked.
“Oh.. It’s always been there, one way or another. Sit down, please; pull up a rod.” I did so; the first cast feeling magical.
“What can you tell me about Tom?”
“It's difficult to say; there were times when the dividing line between father and son became blurred.”
“In what way?”
“He was possessed with a wisdom beyond his years, and the older he became the more he allowed this to show. He didn't suffer fools gladly so spent most of his life alone. It was far from an easy life; although you'd be forgiven for missing the signs -he internalised everything. He paid for his knowledge though through much soul searching and he never rested until he found the answers.”
“You sound as if you admired him.”
“Yes, strange as it may seem. He was my son, but he belonged to nobody. I saw him grow, helped him where I could and soon I was learning from him.”
“Do you know where he is? What happened to him?”
“I don't know where he is, but I'm trying to understand what happened. I'm almost there, I think... at the doorway, as he put it once.”
“Your wife used the same phrase when describing you.” I ventured.
“Did she?.. Yes, I'm just trying to understand how to open it, I suppose.” He paused and cast the line out again. I followed suit and there was an immense sense of satisfaction and calm. Something I'd not felt for a long time. “What about yourself?” He asked.
I was taken aback by the question; it had been a while since anyone had asked me that. “Well, I guess I'm ok.”
“You guess... That's the problem these days – nobody knows for sure. People no longer ask with intent and no longer care about the answer. Tom cared... that was why he suffered for it. Are you religious at all?”
“Your wife asked the same question.”
“Yes... Tom and his mother rarely saw eye for eye. As he grew he saw the pitfalls inherent in religion, saw it for what it really was and loathed it. However, his mother was the religious type and was an enigma to him, but he couldn't bear to hurt her; so they barely talked. When they did, what started out as a reasoning debate would end in an emotional argument -neither side backing down.”
“Oh... yes, I suppose I can understand that. But, in answer to your question, no... I'm not religious in the slightest. I confess that I don't really know what I am – the closest I could pin it down to is Buddhism.”
“I would say that we're on a similar path then. I never knew that there was a path until Tom showed the way. Your path is the most important thing – it is your life. You can choose to ignore it, to fight it or to walk it. The first will lead to endless recursion; the second to pain and frustration but the third will lead to understanding and peace -or that is what Tom believed.”
“I ignored mine for many years and kept repeating the same mistakes... but under different guises, I guess. Now I'm becoming more aware of life happening around me.”
“What did happen to Tom?”
“I don't honestly know... but I've been expecting someone to come looking for him. Someone like you, actually. Someone that might actually understand.”
“So I could give them these.” He reached into his backpack and handed me three A5 notebooks. “The handwriting is pretty illegible, but if you can translate them they're his words... maybe then you'll find the door you're looking for.”
I took the books and thanked him. “If you want to talk, I put my mobile number on the inside cover.... by the way – I think you've caught a fish!”
I sat down and read Tom's words that night, cover to cover -no sleep until I finished all three and by the end I'd never felt so refreshed. The handwriting was terrible to start with but I was determined to understand. Slowly I began to recognise words out of the meaningless jumble and then pieced whole sentences together; pretty soon I was just reading it as if I had been the one who wrote it.
Tom's initial journey felt so much like my own -we had read similar books and almost drawn the same conclusions, I had read Colin Wilson's Outsider and understood the premise but felt alienated by its preponderance on figures from literature -I'm not well-read in the slightest and found it hard going. Tom took to it like the proverbial and even managed to draw conclusions to films such as “Five Easy Pieces” with Jack Nicholson.
But where I had given up reading at books like “The Celestine Prophecy” and the “History of Now”, Tom had delved even deeper.
Tom suffered from depression brought on from an underactive thyroid; I felt guilt over a friends suicide. I felt initially spurred by a wish to have been there to help which turned into helplessness due to the realisation that there was nothing I could've done to help. In the end I accepted her death in a way that I never could my life. There was a constant comparison to her life; the constant what-if scenario and ultimately living my life for her. None of this showed as no one ever got close enough to catch a glimmer. Life is tenuous enough as it is and very few people are strong enough for their own lives let alone two. I wanted to cast no ripples for others to find. I had accepted the way life was and did what I could to get from A-B with little residual presence.
Tom was different. He had no control over his depression and that forced him to find alternatives; not through drugs and escapism, but through coping mechanisms and understanding. He never gave up.
True, there were lulls and times when he was down and his journal became heart-rending. Life seemed to happen at once, no holds barred and constantly testing for the weaknesses to exploit -no matter how carefully constructed the armour it found that one chink and struck.
But Tom never saw it as an attack but as a way to move forward, to become stronger. He felt the pain and moved through it, allowing life to show him things. He was a deep believer in synchronicity and preferred Jung's views to Redfield.
To Tom, Redfield tried to sell a concept, cheapening the truth to fit a mystery caper; a race against time. Jung understood the hologram, the semiology. As above, so below; the world became a reflection of the individual.
It was frightening just how much I could relate to this. Tom’s writing style was direct and pulled no punches. At times it was so emotionally raw but that just made it all the more real.
In the last journal I began to see how he had been tying up loose threads; the small, inconsequential details that people just don't notice. He'd reached an understanding that few people ever attain, and upon finishing the last page I knew that there was only one place I had to go.
It was still dark when I reached Loxcastle Church but, strangely enough, the church was still open and unlocked. I half expected to find Tom's car parked outside. The church was cool inside and it took a while for my eyes to become accustomed to the dark.
The church smelt of misplaced hope and the ravages of time. I used to feel oppressed on the rare times I visited these places, now I just felt sad.
Somehow I knew where Tom had sat, on the front row, at the far right corner and I did the same. A sense of warmth and peace drifted over me and I knew that I'd chosen correctly. I closed my eyes.
My life had taken me down so many dead ends and blind alleys; and here I was in yet another. But I thought back to the initial decision to drive out here. There was no procrastination, no doubt: it had felt right and there seemed no reason to question it; despite the absurdity. Sitting in this seat flew in the face of logic, yet the feeling I was now experiencing was one I'd almost forgotten existed... Acceptance.
I don't know how many times Tom had visited this church, it didn’t matter: his total acceptance of life led to an understanding that is only just beginning to speak to me now.
I know he didn't commit suicide; that would have been abhorrent to him. No, he realised that he'd lived his life as best he could. He knew that he had a choice: to stay or move on. His decision was simple and came as a surprise only to his mother who could not understand due to her blinkered 'faith'. His father understood and, although it went against every instinct, gave his blessing.
I believe that Tom realised his truth, this true self. It's a concept that I can understand now, but only as a concept -I'm a long way to realising it in myself. I don't know whether I could make the same decision that Tom made, but I do know that he's given me more to live for. His journals, his journey has given me the keys to finding my very own door and I look forward to the day when I can finally walk through it.