`I felt so guilty but I didn't know of what'
The time: 18 February 1989 The place: Aldwych, London The man: Paris Panther, IRA bomb victim
Tuesday 19 August 1997
There was suddenly a huge piercing noise and I felt I was being sucked into the earth. I had my ear phones on, which probably saved my ears. There was a complete black-out and I felt that I was going to lose consciousness. The world was spinning and I was at the centre of the storm.
Neither time nor space had any meaning, a million and one thoughts permeated my mind in a single moment. I knew that if I passed out I would be dragged down and never come back up again. I could quite easily have let go, slumped down and waited for a miracle. But I knew that if I didn't get out I would never wake up again - never be there anymore. My instincts were to stay alive, so I willed myself to pick myself off that seat; it took every resource and every cell of life in me.
All around me, everything was burnt or charred. It was like looking into an incinerator. As soon as I could see a space through the wreckage, I clambered to safety. It was only later that I understood how very, very afraid I had felt and how fear gave me the energy to survive. It was as if I had been transported into a different world. Broken glass, bits of the bus everywhere, all the cars' windscreens shattered - it was like Dresden in the blitz. When I looked down at my clothes and hands - how could I be the same colour when everything else was burnt? Just a few cinders from the seats and that was it. There I was in the middle of this chaos - untouched. That was a bizarre feeling. I found the driver slumped on the road, bleeding and damaged. Nothing made sense at all. The police were running around and there were sirens. People were shouting at us to stay back in case there was another bomb. I was just looking for my bag and my book! Finally I was taken to hospital for a checkover and told everything was fine except for a slight puncture to the ear. It was only later that I learnt how serious the driver's injuries were and that the bomber himself was dead. I went home and slept like a baby.
Next day, I returned to the scene and in daylight saw what I had walked out of. It was the first time it dawned on me just what had happened. Having slept so well, I'd imagined that everything happened to somebody else - just a dream. Looking at the bus - I was blown away again. The emotions didn't really hit me. I thought "I must be invincible. The world is my oyster, I can go out there and really live it up." For a few weeks I did, returned to work - I was a trainee solicitor - and just carried on regardless.
But a month after the bombing, I started dreaming of being imprisoned in a cold clinical room with bars at the window. I felt like a criminal - guilty of something, but I didn't know what. I started becoming obsessed with every thought, measuring ever act and every moment - working out how events fit together and calculating what would happen if I stepped out of the door. I started having panic attacks and, not surprisingly, avoiding buses.
A few friends were understanding, telling me it was delayed shock, while others thought I was mad. I booked in to see a psychiatrist but felt he wasn't helpful. I gave up my job, left my girlfriend and lived with my family. I did the teenage thing and locked myself in my bedroom. Not for the sake of getting angry with the world but because I didn't feel safe doing anything else. I felt I was bad luck and thought "People die around me but I emerge in one piece. If I'm in the same room as someone, terrible things happen". Maybe that is why I had the fear of being locked up.
Yet I still didn't give in and tried to go on by becoming a waiter. It's the busiest job you can do. Running around like a headless chicken, I couldn't think but grew more tired and angrier until I had no energy left. I was fighting myself and maybe I should have just let go. By October, I had stopped going out. I was torturing myself because I was afraid. I felt the person who had walked on the bus was still sitting there, I was living in fantasy world. Why not have a cocktail of anti-depressants and say goodbye to the last 29 years? I thought nobody cared or understood what to do with me.
But would running away solve my problem? I really wanted to reconnect with life and someone had suggested writing about the bombing. I had never written anything beyond a few poems. I started expressing my anger; trying to cast the blame on to the world - some conflict that had nothing to do with me, which I didn't invite, didn't understand and didn't want to be a part of. The hardest thing was to acknowledge my thoughts, the next hardest to let the world into that privacy.
Originally I wanted a song-and-dance extravaganza. I would have been quite happy to say "look at the showgirls". It didn't occur to me that I was still hiding from the world. The director Riggs O'Hara went to the core of the truth. It is not about dressing up the feelings. So my play became a series of monologues.
Performing Journey totally transformed me. I felt really clean again. I totally let go of my feelings - there is no pretence at all. It was the first time my family had seen the true pain because I shielded them. In fact, it's off stage that I really act; holding my feelings in, because if I were emotional all the time I would become mad. Existence is very fragile and every day I'm walking on the edge of a very sharp knife with an abyss on both sides
Interview by Andrew G Marshall
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