Three Hundred Miles

Angela Wright

© Copyright 2020 by Angela Wright

Photo by b a f o r e s t ↟ ↟ on Unsplash
                                                Photo by b a f o r e s t ↟ ↟ on Unsplash

February, 1987

My brother drowned at Lizard Point in Cornwall during a raging gale. He was thirty. One wild February day, a passing stranger found him face down on a small beach. Paramedics carried his body up the steep path. He was laid out on a slab in a police mortuary, three hundred miles from home. His red Vauxhall Cavalier, a tank of a car, was spread in pieces on the rocks; in the water.

Passion and rage pound the barricades, threatening to overwhelm me; overwhelm the world. Some internal mechanism fights to hold the centre, but my mind and heart shatter into acute psychosis. The first domino fells the next with the lightest of touches. Perception is accelerated; connections made unstoppable. Clarity and light fill my mind; I am swept away in a world of private meanings. People will look at me, and see madness.


It is dark, and raining. I am driving on a motorway like a demon. Cocooned in this white car, I am fearless. It weaves me in and out of these lanes like a matchbox toy. I cannot understand the numbers on the speedometer. My car pulls over momentarily to the hard shoulder, so I can rest.

My white car takes me back into the rushing traffic. Driving like a demon. I need to stop. After some time, I pull in at Hilton Park Services and go to the cafeteria. I order something. I sit motionless, for a long time, observing the people. Some of them are like those whom I know, and they are in urgent conversation. They do not see me. I get up and push through swing doors off limits to customers. A small group of workers huddles in discussion. I am brash, interrupting them. They are alarmed.

I am looking for someone. There is an exit, and I push hard on the bars. An unnerving bell sounds out, but I am already out on the tarmac, moving forward in the foggy air of this god-forsaken place. There’s a lone car with a beckoning light within. I feel afraid. I think it might explode, but I move intentionally towards it. I open the passenger door. A man in the driver’s seat looks at me, surprised. He has a magazine on his lap. Does he know me? No, but I could step in. Shut the door. Walk away.

There is a white sierra leading me. I follow it off the motorway – we are in the Midlands. Through the unknown streets of a built-up area, I lose my guide, and this distresses me. I park in a place, high up, looking over a lit-up city. Perhaps this is Birmingham. Relentless, pounding thoughts torment me. I have the radio on. The man talks of Valentine’s and reads Shakespeare: his voice grows familiar. Special songs play for me: Almaz. I Knew You Were Waiting. Diamonds on the Soles of her Shoes.

I am on a dual carriageway. Raining hard now. The car is accelerating. Thoughts raging faster, faster. Out of control. A screaming voice from within: Overtake! Overtake! Overtake! I pull out. Headlights dazzle me, and something changes. I turn the wheel and veer across the path of an oncoming car. I close my eyes and lay my arms down at my sides. My muscles relax, but inside I am frozen. Silence, but for a shatter of glass. I think I am dead. When I lift my head from my hands I see the door hangs lamely. I step outside. The roof of my white car is buckled with the force of impact. A couple stop to help. The woman leads me gently to the back seat of their vehicle, where she sits with me. I cry suddenly, feeling afraid.

A small cottage hospital. I am sitting on a bed and the nurse is talking softly to me. I ask for tea and toast which she fetches. A man comes. I think he is the hospital doctor. He tries to understand, but I am too far away, and he leaves. Another man arrives. He talks to me for a long time. I ask him his name. "Dermot," he says. He is still, and quiet, whilst I am agitated and over-confident. But he persists with his questioning. He wants me to acknowledge my risk-taking behaviour.
You could have killed yourself tonight,” he says.

"No,” I say, “I was protected.”
Dermot cannot reach me but he waits. He wants me to go with him to another place.

I resist. I challenge. I debate.
He waits. Then, quietly: "Angela, I think you are being very unreasonable.
I see steel and compassion in his eyes. Something changes, and I become compliant.

I am walking down a wide, chilly corridor, a few paces at Dermot's back. I notice he has a slight limp. He is carrying my guitar case, from my white car, and this touches me. He's like an angel. We enter a very large room, and I follow him up to a desk. Now Dermot has gone, I feel massively lost. A woman – she is probably a nurse – opens my red satin clutch bag. She makes an inventory of my belongings: a credit card, a comb, a set of keys. She takes them from me. I am taken to a darkened room where I see people are sleeping. There is a bed for me in a curtained corner. I lie down, but there is no sanctuary for me here.


These things happen," a consultant psychiatrist told me some months later. "You may never know why.” Another said: “You had an abnormal grief reaction.” I had expected a tad more reflexivity from these scholars of the psyche. Their offhand responses would have me accept that psychosis lurks in the mind, moving with stealth, rupturing in a breath, ripping through a person's wholeness with ferocious brutality. Just one of those things.

What am I to do? Tolerate this toxic presence in me? Allow it to bombard my being at will until I am irreparably broken? No. I will peer into the mirror. I will seek out and light up these disturbing and distressing parts of myself. I am reserved and loud; able and crippled; full of confidence and self-doubt. This mercurial mind. A crazed pendulum. But the centre will hold. I will build a coherent narrative, connecting my sanity and madness.


August, 1989

I drove to Cornwall from Manchester two and a half years later, needing answers. I stood on the beach where my brother had lain; threw flowers on the sparkling water. Walking along the cliff tops, I scanned the sea for him. Glorious sunlight tore through a big blue sky. On the rocky slopes extending far into the sea, I pictured scattered pieces of red, ripped metal. There was no meaning; no comfort. A numbing cold seeped into my bones.

In Helston I sought out the police station. The woman at the desk was disinterested, but she spoke to a male colleague on my behalf. In a quiet room, the detective sat with me - courteous, patient - as I tried to frame my unanswerable questions. Could a Force Eight storm lift a heavy car? Yes, it’s a possibility. Were you there? Yes, he did remember the case. The shutters came down, and I knew I was done. Go home, I told myself. Find another way. Accept that this letting go will be arduous.

As I drove north, unsettling thoughts flooded in. The shattered car. My brother's unravelling; his unbroken body. This vibrant man. I imagined the polished hearse ahead of me, taking Ged on his final journey back to Manchester. Three hundred heart-breaking miles. I thought I knew him, but he was a dark horse.


Writing is my safety zone; it helps me to make sense of the world. I write across genres - short fiction, memoir, poetry, spoof, songs, journals.  I love yoga, swimming and wild places. I hope to spend lots more time hanging around Lago di Garda, where I love to speak Italian and drink ridiculously strong coffee.

In 2016, I won First Prize in the Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival Writing Awards and in my local Village Crier writing competitions - 2014 and 2016. In recent years I have been short-listed for the Fresher Prize (creative non-fiction) and Tacchi-Morris Arts ‘The Page Is Printed’. Earlier this year, 2020, I was long-listed for the international Mogford Writing Prize. 

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