How to disappear completely
|April 6, 2012||Posted by Georgie Tindale under culture, lifestyle|
At midnight on the University of Nottingham’s campus a student goes missing. It is March, and the day has been colder than expected. She was last seen crossing a car park between two halls of residence, gesticulating wildly and moving with no sense of direction. The night grows darker, the shadows undercut the floodlights and she does not return.
On a Caribbean Island at midday, a crew of four take a trip out on a rented boat. They were last seen 30 miles off coast. One crew member was found drifting in a foot of water. His skin is clammy, and the marks of a violent struggle are clear. He is viciously sunburnt. It is four hours later, and the boat has not been found.
In the mid-19th century, a child is seen leaving his house late at night. He was last seen with a suspicious looking character in a cloak. His mother has put the kettle on, and anxiously awaits his return. It is a suspected faery abduction. The townspeople scour the river and surrounding hills but there is no sign of him.
The art of disappearing seems to be practised in our society all too frequently. The number of missing person cases in this country is staggering. In 2009-10, UK police forces received an estimated 350,000 reports, and we should also take into account the cases that are not reported. No one can deny that, for the families of these people especially, this can be a horrific experience, but is there ever justification for taking the step of disappearing completely from normal society?
A recent York Theatre production by Fin Kennedy, titled How To Disappear Completely And Never be Found, explored this concept. The protagonist, Charlie, faces a whirlwind of unfortunate events linked to the death of his mother and his cocaine addiction. His unstable mental condition fluctuates from worrying to life threatening as he battles his dead-end job, addictions, and painful social awkwardness. However, the urge to disappear completely and start his life again ultimately stems from his overwhelming feeling that life is like “cling film”, where there is nothing tangible underneath the surface. He visits a family friend, who has a dubious background in forgery, and attempts to remove himself from his old existence and start again as someone else.
In the above examples, four sets of people disappear but only one of them maintains this disappearance fully: the child. The first is a real example which happened in March of this year. The girl appeared early in the morning and claims to have had issues with midnight navigation around the campus. The boaters from the second example did return, but only half of them. Two had suffered shark attack, and one had saved the other’s life. Charlie is found at the end of the play, drowned. But the boy from the third story is never found.
Why would someone take the decision of vanishing from society? It is true that our world is filled with problems. Rapidly increasing unemployment and overpopulation are rife, with the increase in population corresponding worryingly with the reduction in acres of usable, free land. But for many people, such as Charlie, there are more personal reasons for wishing to abandon their old lives and not return, not least a sense of general despondency at their own lives and the monotony of modern life in general.
For William Butler Yeats the reasons for this were perfectly clear. In his poem The Stolen Child, which is the third example, he explores the idea of a country child being lured out of his town by mythical faery creatures to live in the world of magic, which Yeats sees as being far less troublesome than our own. He uses contrasting language to show the differences between the worlds, such as “where the wave of moonlight glosses” when describing the magical world and “the kettle on the hob” when describing reality.
A further description by Yeats, “the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand,” shows a sense of desperation for the child to be saved that can be seen to parallel the feelings of Charlie in the play. It is interesting to note that the child succeeds where Charlie fails in escaping fully from the normal world, as Charlie is found by people from his old life, drowned and foaming at the mouth from alcohol and cocaine abuse. Yeats’ feeling of despondency would only intensify later on with the events of the Easter Rising, his rejections from the love of his life, Maud Gonne, his huge negativity towards the concept of ageing, and his wish to remove himself from the process.
If disappearing is seen as the only alternative to a life of dissatisfaction, I can see truth in this. It is clear that humans often use escapism in a smaller sense as a way of forgetting about the troubles of reality. Whether this is through an exotic holiday or reading a Mills & Boon depends on the individual. Arguably, homeless people are living outside of normal conventions and could therefore be seen as having “escaped”. Without a house, or the obligations that follow from having a normal family lifestyle, couldn’t they be seen to be carrying out what Charlie aimed for but with more success? What is more freeing than living outside the conventions that bind the rest of us? Or does the lack of possessions and power restrict your ability to be free to an even greater degree?
For many people, the prospect of escaping completely seems an impossible task. With the typical ambitions of family and work in particular, this can be seen as a daunting and unattractive proposal. Even before birth we are physically attached to our mothers and completely reliant on them. But although family obligations can be seen as crucial for our development, why not try breaking the bond between yourself and society, even if just for an afternoon.