I remember one day many many years ago seeing a piece of graffiti in a railway tunnel: “Being undead isn’t being alive”.
It was the ’70s right after a turbulent ’60s where everything changed, where only the young, as I was at the time, didn’t recognise what had changed.
Of course, this is the problem down through the generations, where the older generation witness the changes, too fast, too sudden, too radical, and the young, they adopt them without thinking.
And that piece of graffiti, it was more than likely a cry for help that would never come.
After all, the older generation never knew what had happened, and there was no means of coping. Words were not enough, and it was the beginning of a breakdown in discipline, and a lot more that didn’t manifest itself for a generation.
But that sign lived on, through the ’80s and the ’90s. I first saw it as a child, it was still there when I was going to and from work on the train. It made me wonder often during those years what the graffitist was trying to tell the world.
Being undead? What sort of expression is that?
I think he or she was alluding to the fact that being alive was more than just drawing breath, eating and sleeping.
Those early years of youthful emancipation brought on all sorts of maladies, and drugs. We were never warned about them, not like they do now in schools, and it seemed everyone knew someone who knew where to get them.
I never tried them. Not for the usual reasons, it was just I never found myself in a situation where I could get them, or try them to see what all the fuss was about.
Perhaps I should be glad it worked out that way.
Of course, I would never find out what the graffitist meant, but I suspect it could have been one of those moments of rare clarity, in a drug-induced haze, or the depths of despair from not having had the next ‘fix’.
Or was it something simple, like he or she had just broken up with a long-term partner, that painful time when one or other calls it quits? Or that time after an argument with one of your parents, or a best friend, and it seemed there was no path back? Or is it like that feeling of being betrayed, that awful feeling when you discover your partner is cheating on you, and inevitably everyone else knew, but you’re the last to find out?
No, the message wasn’t that simple, especially because of the psychedelic manner in which it was presented on that wall, I doubt the perpetrator had an artistic talent they wanted to show off. That artistic bent was fuelled by something else, perhaps a dream or a vision.
Or, instead, there was no real reason, and it was the culmination of having the freedom you always wanted, and yet be left with an emptiness that cannot be filled no matter how many drugs you take. Was that why so many people back then died from an overdose?
I’ll never know who it was that put that sign on the wall, whether they lived or died, or whether they found what they were looking for. Nor will I ever know what it was like to be in their shoes.
Perhaps I was one of the lucky people, who knows?