Ambushed by the Lost and Found
by Jake Block
You get to your destination after a long journey, unpack, and get ready to enjoy your stay. You’ve got everything stowed away and in order, when the bag that you lost years ago on Dysfunction Airlines finally lands at your doorstep. Now, you remember the bag, but for the life of you you don’t remember what the hell might even be in it. The years had, in you mind, dulled whatever importance that little bag might have had, but looking at it there on your doorstep, bulging and straining to be contained by stout straps and zippers you realize it was from “that trip.” The trip from HELL… and your mind shudders. You’re torn by conflicting emotions as to whether you should just toss the bag in the trash, or open it and see, when suddenly and without fanfare, the straps and zippers give way and the contents of the bag are now something you have to deal with. You were having fun, but now… No matter where you journey, you will always be carrying baggage. Some times, all you will have is a basic valise, just enough to get you through the night, and other times you will nee to take everything but the kitchen sink along with you. You will always think that you have exactly what you need, but that will seldom be the case, and you’ll wind up at the local 7-11 buying tooth paste at 3AM in some sleepy little town in Alabama, or Imodium to, well… you know what Imodium is for… when you can’t handle the spices in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. These are just the normal minor pitfalls of traveling from here to there in life.
When you think of life itself as a journey, the amount of baggage we end up with is emotionally staggering. Our baggage in life is emotional, rather than physical, but no less heavy to carry in our heart and soul. Our memories may be of blissfully happy times, and these are the pieces of emotional baggage that we enjoy carrying, however like that unwelcome lost bag from an unfortunate trip via Dysfunctional Airlines, there are times that baggage is recalling emotional strife, dystopian memories of past horrors in our lives, the fears and self doubts that plague us come to the fore.
I know that most of us have an incident in our past that, no matter how hard we try to block, and no matter how many years go by, can flare up in our memory just as sharp, clear and painful as they were when they happened in life. You close your eyes and try to sleep and the visions are as vivid as yesterday, even though years, decades and even more than half a century has passed. In my case, the incident that can plague me occurred when I was 12 years old, 59 years ago. All of that time cannot dull the pain of a violent sexual assault by a stranger, when I was a kid in E. St. Louis, IL.
The things that are packed within the baggage that we try to forget in a terminal some place deep within our minds can and will return to us at a time of their own choosing, when we think that we have succeeded in eluding them and their grip on our minds and psyches. Like “Room 101,” in George Orwell’s novel “1984,” they are “the worst things in the world.” Now, what is the worst thing in the world for me might be something that you can handle quite easily, as you’ve never been touched by them in a traumatic context that affects your life. But for you… the nightmares that can make you scream:
“At each stage of his imprisonment he had known, or seemed to know, whereabouts he was in the windowless building. Possibly there were slight differences in the air pressure. The cells where the guards had beaten him were below ground level. The room where he had been interrogated by O’Brien was high up near the roof. This place was many meters underground, as deep down as it was possible to go.
It was bigger than most of the cells he had been in. But he hardly noticed his surroundings. All he noticed was that there were two small tables straight in front of him, each covered with green baize. One was only a meter or two from him, the other was further away, near the door. He was strapped upright in a chair, so tightly that he could move nothing, not even his head. A sort of pad gripped his head from behind, forcing him to look straight in front of him.
For a moment he was alone, then the door opened and O’Brien came in.
‘You asked me once,’ said O’Brien, ‘what was in Room 101. I told you that you knew the answer already. Everyone knows it. The thing that is in Room 101 is the worst thing in the world.’
The door opened again. A guard came in, carrying something made of wire, a box or basket of some kind. He set it down on the further table. Because of the position in which O’Brien was standing. Winston could not see what the thing was.
‘The worst thing in the world,’ said O’Brien, ‘varies from individual to individual. It may be burial alive, or death by fire, or by drowning, or by impalement, or fifty other deaths. There are cases where it is some quite trivial thing, not even fatal.’
He had moved a little to one side, so that Winston had a better view of the thing on the table. It was an oblong wire cage with a handle on top for carrying it by. Fixed to the front of it was something that looked like a fencing mask, with the concave side outwards. Although it was three or four meters away from him, he could see that the cage was divided lengthways into two compartments, and that there was some kind of creature in each. They were rats.
‘In your case, said O’Brien, ‘the worst thing in the world happens to be rats.’
A sort of premonitory tremor, a fear of he was not certain what, had passed through Winston as soon as he caught his first glimpse of the cage. But at this moment the meaning of the mask-like attachment in front of it suddenly sank into him. His bowels seemed to turn to water.
‘You can’t do that!’ he cried out in a high cracked voice. ‘You couldn’t, you couldn’t! It’s impossible.’
‘Do you remember,’ said O’Brien, ‘the moment of panic that used to occur in your dreams? There was a wall of blackness in front of you, and a roaring sound in your ears. There was something terrible on the other side of the wall. You knew that you knew what it was, but you dared not drag it into the open. It was the rats that were on the other side of the wall.’
‘O’Brien!’ said Winston, making an effort to control his voice. ‘You know this is not necessary. What is it that you want me to do?’
O’Brien made no direct answer. When he spoke it was in the schoolmasterish manner that he sometimes affected. He looked thoughtfully into the distance, as though he were addressing an audience somewhere behind Winston’s back.
‘By itself,’ he said, ‘pain is not always enough. There are occasions when a human being will stand out against pain, even to the point of death. But for everyone there is something unendurable—something that cannot be contemplated. Courage and cowardice are not involved. If you are falling from a height it is not cowardly to clutch at a rope. If you have come up from deep water it is not cowardly to fill your lungs with air. It is merely an instinct which cannot be destroyed. It is the same with the rats. For you, they are unendurable. They are a form of pressure that you cannot withstand. even if you wished to. You will do what is required of you.
‘But what is it, what is it? How can I do it if I don’t know what it is?’
O’Brien picked up the cage and brought it across to the nearer table. He set it down carefully on the baize cloth. Winston could hear the blood singing in his ears. He had the feeling of sitting in utter loneliness. He was in the middle of a great empty plain, a flat desert drenched with sunlight, across which all sounds came to him out of immense distances. Yet the cage with the rats was not two meters away from him. They were enormous rats. They were at the age when a rat’s muzzle grows blunt and fierce and his fur brown instead of grey.
‘The rat,’ said O’Brien, still addressing his invisible audience, ‘although a rodent, is carnivorous. You are aware of that. You will have heard of the things that happen in the poor quarters of this town. In some streets a woman dare not leave her baby alone in the house, even for five minutes. The rats are certain to attack it. Within quite a small time they will strip it to the bones. They also attack sick or dying people. They show astonishing intelligence in knowing when a human being is helpless.’
There was an outburst of squeals from the cage. It seemed to reach Winston from far away. The rats were fighting; they were trying to get at each other through the partition. He heard also a deep groan of despair. That, too, seemed to come from outside himself.
O’Brien picked up the cage, and, as he did so, pressed something in it. There was a sharp click. Winston made a frantic effort to tear himself loose from the chair. It was hopeless; every part of him, even his head, was held immovably. O’Brien moved the cage nearer. It was less than a meter from Winston’s face.
‘I have pressed the first lever,’ said O’Brien. ‘You understand the construction of this cage. The mask will fit over your head, leaving no exit. When I press this other lever, the door of the cage will slide up. These starving brutes will shoot out of it like bullets. Have you ever seen a rat leap through the air? They will leap on to your face and bore straight into it. Sometimes they attack the eyes first. Sometimes they burrow through the cheeks and devour the tongue.’
The cage was nearer; it was closing in. Winston heard a succession of shrill cries which appeared to be occurring in the air above his head. But he fought furiously against his panic. To think, to think, even with a split second left—to think was the only hope. Suddenly the foul musty odor of the brutes struck his nostrils. There was a violent convulsion of nausea inside him, and he almost lost consciousness. Everything had gone black. For an instant he was insane, a screaming animal. Yet he came out of the blackness clutching an idea. There was one and only one way to save himself. He must interpose another human being, the body of another human being, between himself and the rats.
The circle of the mask was large enough now to shut out the vision of anything else. The wire door was a couple of hand-spans from his face. The rats knew what was coming now. One of them was leaping up and down, the other, an old scaly grandfather of the sewers, stood up, with his pink hands against the bars, and fiercely sniffed the air. Winston could see the whiskers and the yellow teeth. Again the black panic took hold of him. He was blind, helpless, mindless.
‘It was a common punishment in Imperial China,’ said O’Brien as didactically as ever.
The mask was closing on his face. The wire brushed his cheek. And then—no, it was not relief, only hope, a tiny fragment of hope. Too late, perhaps too late. But he had suddenly understood that in the whole world there was just one person to whom he could transfer his punishment—one body that he could thrust between himself and the rats. And he was shouting frantically, over and over.
‘Do it to Julia! Do it to Julia! Not me! Julia! I don’t care what you do to her. Tear her face off, strip her to the bones. Not me! Julia! Not me!’’
— Nineteen Eighty-Four (Part 3, Section 5) by George Orwell The “monsters of the Id” that are contained in that baggage we have worked so hard to lose and so hard to forget are the things that could take our carefully constructed worlds apart, showing us to be less in the eyes of those who have come to love and respect us. They can strip us of our self esteem and dignity, making us as vulnerable now as they did “then,” when they first wreaked havoc upon us. They are the stock in trade of psychologists and psychiatrists who spend years in auditing us to mitigate the trauma of the time when these things terrorized us and held us in their thrall, unable to escape their grasp on our minds.
It is in our baggage… the pieces that we leave behind, accidentally on purpose, to be stored for us in that psychic lost and found that we reclaim our freedom, our dignity and our humanity, at least for a time. But we all know, deep in our heart of hearts, that that baggage is likely to turn up at the most inopportune of times to plague us once again. We can only hope that when it does we will be strong enough to fight those battles anew and, hopefully, be fortified by those in our lives who truly love us and will stand by us, no matter what darkness in our past is revealed. It is then that we will understand that despite the “US” that we fear to be revealed, the “US” they see and love will be the light reflected upon us from their eyes.
Until that time, we hope that our baggage remains in that cosmic lost and found.