D’arby was used to being called a dreamer. It was usually said in a condescending tone, but it never really annoyed him. What did annoy D’arby was when someone told him that he was dreaming if he thought one person could change things. D’arby was disgusted with people who gave up without even trying and even more disgusted with those who thought that discouraging comments were wise advice. He considered these people to be free-riders. He knew that they must have benefited at one time or another because of the actions of someone who did try to do good things despite being only one person and despite knowing that almost everybody thought that what they were attempting couldn’t be done. D’arby thought that people who said that things couldn’t be done were just making excuses for their own reluctance to do anything. Carrying on as usual and letting other people do all the important things and make all the important decisions was the lazy way out.
Despite his belief that he should be trying to do something good, D’arby often found that he wasn’t doing much at all. To decide what he was going to do about his PhD D’arby had bought a train ticket home to his parent’s house. While he was there he did a lot of walking in the bush around the house. That gave him time to think and he realized that at uni he’d been made ashamed of his view that he could make a difference. People accused him of being arrogant. Perhaps this being ashamed was what had gone wrong. D’arby decided he wasn’t going to let himself be ashamed of it anymore.
This renewed belief, that everybody could do something and that it was their responsibility to do so, was what gave D’arby the strength to think about his PhD in a new light.
First, he went over the past few years and remembered everything he had thought and felt. He remembered how when his supervisor had first complained that D’arby’s work wasn’t progressing well he’d thought himself lazy and then as more time passed D’arby had thought himself stupid. D’arby now realized that his laziness and inability to achieve what his supervisor wanted weren’t the problems but symptoms of the problem.
The real problem was that D’arby didn’t think his research was worth doing. He’d chosen the project because it sounded interesting (his supervisor would have been equally good at a sales career). D’arby wanted to be able to understand this complicated chemical reaction, but he didn’t think it would make much difference whether the answers were known or not – the industry had existed for years by trial and error and would keep on going without knowing D’arby’s answers (and D’arby wasn’t even sure that he wanted the industry to keep going at all – why hadn’t he considered that before!).
It was not until now, nearly three years later, that D’arby realized what he had gotten himself into. D’arby looked up at the cold blue sky and asked why he hadn’t been able to work out what was wrong until now when it was so clear. Now that D’arby could finally see the problem, he knew what he had to do about it.
“Less worrying and more action” said D’arby to himself. He’d decided to just get on and finish his thesis. He’d do whatever he had to do to get out of that awful place. If he stopped thinking about how awful it was and just concentrated, surely that would help him! But to help him get through the awful stuff he needed something else. This something else was D’arby’s secret project. It was only a few months after he started his PhD that he became interested in other research. When he should have been looking up papers relating to his project he couldn’t help looking at publications on other topics. His secret project was the research that he really wanted to do. D’arby’s deal with himself was that for every week he was productive at uni he could spend the weekend on his secret project. If he made his supervisor smile he could work four days in the next week on his PhD project and three on his secret project.
However, D’arby found that the best way to make his supervisor smile was not to try to do what his supervisor wanted. Like so many problems that are difficult to solve, D’arby’s PhD problem had a solution that was the opposite of what you would think it would be. Instead of trying to make his supervisor happy, what D’arby had to do was to ignore his supervisor completely and do what he thought should be done. This was what got him results, and the results made his supervisor happy. Every week or so, when D’arby bothered to go to see his supervisor (there were no more regular meetings since D’arby had stopped going to them) he would show him new and exciting results and they both knew that they would soon have enough for a very good thesis.
D’arby’s only problem was that his scholarship had just run out and so he’d have to get a job soon, but he was too busy already! D’arby was very excited by both his projects, but became quite stressed when he looked at his bank balance. He was frustrated that as soon as he climbed over one barrier, a new one appeared. D’arby’s supervisor assumed that D’arby had saved money in anticipation of this, or that D’arby’s family could help him out.
Maybe D’arby was too good at hiding his distress and behaving “normally” because nobody noticed that something was wrong with D’arby – not even his friends, even though D’arby mentioned to them that he’d soon run out of money and didn’t know what to do. They found it easy to assume that he’d be ok since he still managed to smile and laugh. The truth was probably that D’arby’s friends were too absorbed in their own problems to be able to donate any thought to his. And what problems!
“Cate and Suzy hate each other but both of them are my friends (although I prefer Cate). Should I invite both of them to my party, or just Cate?”
“My computer monitor has broken and I want a flat one but my supervisor doesn’t agree and says I should use his old boxy one, but that will leave me no space on my desk.”
“I’m going to Nepal for six weeks. Should I go to India after Nepal, or should I go to Thailand and lie on the beach for two weeks?”
“I can’t afford the house I want. I want three bedrooms on a quiet street in a nice suburb, within walking distance to a train station and restaurants, but I don’t want a terrace house and there must be off-street parking for the car because of the insurance and a garden because what’s the point of a house if not to have a garden?”
And so on. D’arby noticed that the more a person thought they knew, the more they had to analyse the minor things – as if each decision they made was a competition – a chance to display their superior intelligence. But spending time analysing minor things took up so much time that there was none left for action. D’arby wondered if the most important thing he’d learnt at uni was that if you take long enough trying to make a decision you will find you no longer have to make a decision because your options will have all evaporated. Not that D’arby minded discussing things with his friends at uni. He had learnt a lot from them, but he just hadn’t done much.
D’arby hated applying for jobs, but it taught him another important lesson. It seemed that the longer you spent at uni, the less employable you became outside universities. To be fair, he’d been a bit fussy in the jobs he’d applied for and hadn’t spent much time looking, but after sending out applications for two months, he hadn’t been offered a single interview. He was lacking experience and there were no part time jobs where his qualifications were essential. He knew his approach to job seeking was wrong but he didn’t know what to do about it. As usual, D’arby would find that when what he was doing felt wrong, it was because it was the wrong thing to be doing.
Afternoon was turning into evening on a Friday in spring, and D’arby was walking up the street to get a Thai takeaway. The sunlight was amazing. It was so golden that it made everything it hit look beautiful. The street normally looked shabby and rundown, but in that light it was the perfect street – where perfect, smiley people lived their happy lives and never worried about anything.
John wasn’t happy though. He was standing in the lane way, waiting. He peeped around the corner saw D’arby coming along the street, not paying attention to anything but his own thoughts. D’arby was confused when he found himself being dragged by the neck into the lane way. He thought it must be some sort of joke until he realized that there was a knife against his throat. John was expertly going through D’arby’s pockets with his left hand, while keeping half an eye on D’arby and half an eye on the knife. John soon discovered that D’arby hadn’t brought his wallet (not that there was any money in it) and had just enough money in his pocket to pay for a Thai takeaway. John started swearing in frustration but continued to search D’arby’s other pockets. “Bingo” said John when he found a little snap-lock bag with some pills in it. He wasn’t sure what they were but they looked homemade and so were probably illegal. John let go of D’arby, dexterously opened the little bag and popped a pill into his mouth.
John felt the pill start fizzing as it got to his stomach. It reminded him of the time he’d swallowed the kind of aspirin tablets that are supposed to be dissolved in water before you take them. Then John realized that D’arby hadn’t run away – he was still there, watching John.
”Why is he watching me?” thought John. Then he began to panic. What had he just eaten? Was this man a murderer who had just poisoned him? John could imagine that there were plenty of people who thought it would be funny to kill a drug addict. The police would probably be grateful for a drop in theft. John fell to his knees and stuck his finger down his throat, but he was in too much of a panic to be able to vomit.
D’arby could see that John was panicking and began to panic too.
“Calm down” said D’arby. “It wasn’t poison” said D’arby, but his tone was more hopeful than convincing.
The fizzing had stopped. John sat down on the footpath and began to feel better. He was actually beginning to feel pretty good. He wasn’t experiencing anything euphoric, but he felt calmer than he had for a long time.
For years John had been racing through life, living from craving to craving. Now, for some strange reason, he felt like he didn’t have to do that anymore. No more rushing. He had plenty of time to change things.
John could have spent hours sitting there, reflecting on who he was and where he’d gone wrong. D’arby was getting bored and hungry though. He cautiously tweaked the $10 note from John’s hand (John paid no attention) and tried to decide what to do next. D’arby wanted to go and get his Thai takeaway, but he was scared that John would be gone by the time he got back so he encouraged John to stand up and come with him. John was so caught up in his own thoughts that, although he was aware of D’arby, he didn’t care where he was taking him.
John remembered how he and his father had seen an alcoholic sitting drunk in the gutter when John was about 6 years old. John had asked his father what the man was doing and his father had said “I’m sure that man was born without problems, so he made them for himself”. John hadn’t taken that warning from his father. As a teenager John had never appreciated how lucky he was to have a bright mind and everything he needed. Instead John had decided to make his own problems. He didn’t talk to his parents anymore – they didn’t want to talk to him.
D’arby and John sat in the park. D’arby had one takeaway meal and two forks. John was drawn out of his deep thoughts by the smell of food. Like D’arby, John was very hungry.
Now that it looked like John wasn’t going to die D’arby felt very excited. He would have got up and jumped up and down a few times if he didn’t think that John would take the opportunity to eat all the food. Perhaps it was too soon to tell, but it looked like his pills had cured a drug addict. He was amazed and how calm and normal John seemed now. He’d been so scary before.
“How do you feel?” asked D’arby
“What’s your name?” asked John. He had never been very comfortable talking about how he was feeling, and asked the question in an annoyed tone.
“D’arby” said D’arby. “So how do you feel?”
“Well, I’m John, thanks for asking” replied John, but D’arby didn’t care that John thought he was being rude. D’arby never paid much attention to names and he didn’t think that remembering a person’s name was very important. It was just something people did to trick you into thinking that they cared about you.
“I thought you were trying to kill me” said John
“Well, I could say the same about you” said D’arby,
“What did you give me then?” asked John. He still wasn’t sure he could trust D’arby, or that he was going to be alright.
“I didn’t give you anything. You stole my pills” complained D’arby.
“You know what I mean!” said John “What was it?”
“Something I came up with in the lab” said D’arby. “I’ve been trying to make something to cure addiction.”
“So you’re a doctor then?” asked John, feeling relieved
“No, an engineer” replied D’arby
John scratched his head, with a pained expression on his face. Everything had seemed to clear a few minutes ago, but now nothing was making sense.
“Have you tested the pills? What’s going to happen to me?” asked John.
“Not really, but I’ve eaten heaps of them and nothing’s happened to me” said D’arby.
Then John started laughing at himself for caring about what he’d taken. After everything else, what difference would it make? He was happy that he felt like caring again.