A Safe House
Welcome to my Safe House. This small piece of utter tranquillity is where I can escape when I am overwhelmed by the world. Here, in this small corner of my mind, I have complete control, it is somewhere I can go that is truly safe. I developed my Safe House from a technique taught to me by my former therapist. This was to have in my mind somewhere I could go, when the anxiety and depression were suffocating, that would give me a sense of peace. It was about picturing vividly in your mind the sights, smells, sounds, tastes and feel of the world around you, building on every detail. It is a technique that has become invaluable to me when trying to navigate the many aspects of this world that I struggle with. It hasn’t just given me a place to go when I need a sense of calm, it has become a library for my thoughts, my fears and my desires.
I gazed up at the deep blue sky, noticing a hint of dusk on the east horizon. Wisps of cloud scurried across the sky, racing the birds that flew alongside them. I ran my hands over the silky grass, the gentle tickle of the blades against my palm sending a shiver up my arm. Nature’s peaceful symphony filled the warm summer air. The distant song of a blackbird rang through the air. The wind whistled through the leaves of swaying trees. In the distance you could just make out the soft babbling of a brook as it raced through the forest floor. A woodpecker’s distinct knocking reverberated through the air, disturbing a flock of starlings who rose in unison. In a magnificent show they danced through the air with instinctive synchronisation, coming to rest only when the performance was done. Their movement had disturbed the trees, whose leaves shuffled from the shifting of a million feathers. At the edge of the forest a young doe grazed. Her ears stood to attention when she heard the commotion, but she remained unperturbed by the events unfolding above her. She moved with a silent grace, searching for the most delectable patch of foliage to nibble on.
All around me sat plump bushes of English lavender, lined up in the fashion of well-behaved school children. The lavender’s sweet perfume invaded my every inhale, reaching each part of my body in a relaxing embrace. A neat grass path, inlaid with square paving slabs, led to a pair of magnificent arched French doors in a large house of aged Cotswold stone. Behind these French doors fell curtains of soft velvet, dyed an exquisite teal. Beyond these curtains lay a stone flag floor, worn with the memory of a million footsteps. On my left was a small open kitchen, decorated with duck egg tiles and blue speckled marble. I flicked on the copper kettle and listened to the gentle roar as the water started to warm. After a couple of minutes steam had coated the duck egg tiles and beads of condensation raced each other towards the marble counter. An earthy aroma filled my senses as the water tumbled into the mug and became consumed in the essence of the tea leaves. I wrapped my hands around the mug and made my way towards a plush blue sofa. Beneath my bare feet the bitter cold stone floor pinched at my toes, who rejoiced when I came to a thick sheepskin rug that lay in front of the sofa. I sunk into the thick cushions, sighing contently as I did so. I brought the mug to my lips, carefully testing whether the tea was at a drinkable temperature. Establishing that the tea needed a few minutes to cool, I placed the mug on a tarnished brass coffee table, inlaid with two thick slabs of glass, and buried myself further into the sofa. At the opposite end of the sofa sat a large pile of soft blankets, into which I submerged by frozen toes.
From underneath a blanket emerged the white head and liver brown ears of a Dalmatian. Florence, named after my father’s love of Italy, was a ten-year-old liver Dalmatian, whose age you could see in her grey flecked whiskers. She had been born the runt of the litter and, as such, she was much sleeker than others belonging to the stocky breed. She gazed sleepily around the room before readjusting herself, laying her head on my lap, and letting out a rather melodramatic sigh. I stroked the space between her eyes, tracing with my finger the contour of her head, before letting my hand rest lightly on her shoulder. From behind the sofa I heard the light patter of small paws on the stone floor and in a moment a large cat had landed, quite gracefully, on the back of the sofa. This majestic Bengal was Simba, a three-year-old with the heart of a dog and the stomach of a blue whale. He stepped delicately down from the sofa onto the dog, who sighed in annoyance and, after a curious sniff at the source of the sigh, he curled up into my lap and settled his head next to Florence’s. The two of them lay there, resting in perfect peace. I smiled. In the whole world I have yet to find something more wholesome, more life-affirming than lying next to a creature who is unquestionably loyal to you.
The light in the room had now changed and my eyes travelled to a large arched window, framed in a dark wood, through which I could see the sun setting over the rows of lavender. I watched the light of the day slowly fade away, and the occasional silhouette of a bird racing across the amber sky. I rose from the sofa and took my tea in my hand as I walked around the room to switch on a collection of lamps dotted about the furniture. The room became flooded with a soft artificial light that highlighted the objects in the room in a much gentler way than the piercing bright light of the sun. On the wall opposite the sofa, adjacent to the tiny kitchen, was a huge bookcase that stretched across the entire length of the wall. The bookcase, carved out of a light oak, showed its age in the faded sections of wood and chipped corners. My eyes travelled along the many rows of books. Among them were titles that inspired reminiscence or sadness, some that took me back to my childhood and others that brought to mind people or places long since forgotten. I ran my finger down the spine of a book that was heavily faded and worn with time. Pulling the book from the shelf I felt that same sense of joy I had always felt when holding a book I love. I turned the book over in my hands and gazed into the wide eyes of the rabbit on the front cover. Hazel had always been my favourite character in Watership Down. I placed the book back into the empty space on the shelf and continued scanning the rows of books, running my finger along the old wood as I did so. My eyes came to rest on a collective edition of Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials. The story of young Lyra had touched a chord in me when I was younger, as an honest coming of age series it is a tale we can all relate to, (I mean besides the magic dust). Due to Pullman’s raw and honest genius, I will forever class His Dark Materials as one of my all-time favourite novels.
At the end of the bookcase I came to a small table holding a speaker. I pressed a button on the top and let the heavy beats reverberate throughout the room. Simba and Florence looked up for a moment, but soon realised it wasn’t a disturbance they were remotely interested in and turned back to the sofa. My feet beat against the floor in time with the music and a smile crept into the corners of my mouth. Music was a refuge for me, I could let the notes drown out the worries on my mind and focus solely on the beat of the bass, the emotion in the lyrics and the freedom of allowing the music to enter your limbs. Tears swelled to the corner of my eye and I blinked back a tear. I am most certainly a crier, it is pretty much how I deal with everything in life, from tiredness, to happiness, to sadness, to anger. Music reaches deep into my soul and uncovers emotions I had forced myself to forget, that I had locked away deep in my mind. When I connect with a song I find myself engrossed by the lyrics and the emotion of the artist, how each note is carefully placed to achieve perfection. My feet had truly been captured by the music and they spun across the floor, coming to rest before a pair of tall wooden doors. With a great heave I used both my arms to push the doors open. The room before me was magnificently dressed in chandeliers of teardrop sculpted crystal and aged oak bookshelves. Twenty-six bookcases lined the walls of the library. Down the aisle ran a plush red carpet. A brass letter adorned each of the oak bookcases, each one a further step down the alphabet as you ventured further into the room. The air was filled with the scent of paper and ink. At the end of the room a writing desk, carved from a dark Cherry, was perched on a raised platform. In the daytime this room would be filled with sunlight from the stately arched window that was mounted in the far wall. Now, at dusk, the only light in the room came from the high chandeliers, whose chiselled crystal ornaments threw the artificial light across the room. I made my way towards the desk and sat down on a sturdy chair, made of the same dark Cherry wood. The surface of the desk was dressed in a deep red leather and had brass buttons placed neatly around the border. On this leather lay a gold fountain pen and a closed book that had written on the cover, ‘Grandma’. I picked up the book and walked back towards the bookshelves, placing the book where it belonged in the ‘G’ run. I meandered through the shelves of memories, some good, some bad, and some I would never revisit.
One technique I have developed is, when I am being pursued by a particular fear or anxiety, I write it down in a book, I picture the book closing and I put the book back on the shelf. The fear or anxiety hasn’t disappeared, I am aware it is still there, but I now have control. I can choose when I go to the shelf, open the book and deal with whatever demon is there.
I happened upon the run of ‘M’ bookshelves and glanced around the shelves until one book caught my eye, ‘Marmite’. Marmite was our first cat, a stocky Burmese with a coat of dark brown. The next book on the shelf was labelled ‘Maisie’. That fierce little Westie was our first dog. I had wanted to name her snowy, but I was overruled by my parents who thought it was too generic for a white dog. Further down the shelf was a book labelled ‘Simba’. This book was one of the hardest in my library to look at, causing a painful stab in my gut whenever I laid eyes on the cover. As if he knew Simba suddenly appeared at my side, mewing loudly and stretching his front paws towards my leg as an indication he wanted to be picked up. I crouched down and gathered him in my arms. He set his paws on my shoulder and nuzzled his head against my neck, purring loudly as he did so. I picked up the book from the shelf and stared, in agony, at the front cover. Simba looked up at me and I looked back into the vastness of his green eyes. He rubbed his head against my face and I buried myself in his fur, finding comfort in the deep purring that reverberated throughout his body. It breaks my heart that I can no longer hold him, hear his low purring and enjoy the love that he showed by kneading my stomach with his paws or rubbing his face against mine. I placed the book back on the shelf. I may not have him here with me, but he will always be in my Safe House.
I had spent enough time mulling over the past in my library and so, without glancing back, I made my way towards the heavy oak doors. As I left I flicked off the light switch and the room was instantly plunged into darkness. I closed the doors and left my library behind. I planted Simba next to Florence and stepped over to the arched windows that sat opposite the sofa. I drew closed the pair of curtains at each window, running my hand down the soft velvet as I did so.
I opened my eyes to the bare white of the ceiling, my mind palace now locked away deep in my thoughts. It is time I come back to the real world, until such a time when my eyes close and the doors to my palace of tranquillity open once again.