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  • Gayle Certeza

Sherlock Saved My Life

I was nineteen years old when I met Sherlock Holmes, the world-famous detective character created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The events surrounding our meeting were not ideal. I was, at that time, suffering from a strange malady. I felt that my whole life was falling apart. I was exhausted just trying to keep up. Coming from a dysfunctional family, I was no stranger to my life falling apart. But that year was somewhat different, everything went woefully wrong.

I just moved from the province to Manila, a major adjustment. I discovered rebellion both actual and intellectual, which consequently caused trouble between me and my parents. I went all-out on my activism and buckled under the weight of trying to change the world. I had one major relationship breakup, and, what the heck, I immediately followed it with two more back-to-back.

Too much trouble in so little time left me dead tired. I could not even get out of bed.

This situation went on the whole summer without my parents noticing anything because I was alone in my boarding house. Problems came when it was time for enrollment and I was still marooned in my bed sleeping during the day and wide awake at night.

One sleepless night, I looked at the stack of books beside my bed and saw the two thick, light brown books which I got on sale weeks ago - Sherlock Holmes: The Complete Novels and Stories, Volumes 1 and 2. They were standard-sized pocketbooks but they were thick. Volume 1 was more than a thousand pages and Volume 2 was almost 800 pages.

I opened the first book and met Dr. Watson in the opening page. I liked him because, like me, he was sick, tired, and in trouble. He was wounded in the Afghan war. He too was alone in a dark and dreary city. Coming from the war front, he was thrown back to London, “the great cesspool into which all the loungers and idlers of the Empire are irresistibly drained.” I encountered Sherlock Holmes a few pages later. When he described himself as morose, “I get in the dumps at times, and don’t open my mouth for days on end” I suddenly found two friends and felt right at home in 221B Baker Street. I stayed there while a parade of royalty, high-ranking officials, damsels in distress, and bewildered men consulted Sherlock and Dr. Watson on various nefarious mysteries.

While I went AWOL from school and life, I was traipsing with Sherlock through the innards of London, rode trains to find hidden suburban villas and ran through desolate moors chasing after rascals, murderers and hounds from hell. I watched him whip his large magnifying glass to study decrepit gardens, plush drawing rooms and dark cupboards. By the time Sherlock was battling his archenemy, Moriarty, in Reichenbach Falls, my parents got wind that I did not enroll. I had a scolding to end all scoldings from my father. After that, I packed my stuff, left my boarding house and went home to our farm in Mindanao clutching my Sherlock books with me.

In the farm, I slept for weeks before I slowly came out and joined my family. After the lone scolding, my family resorted to the silent treatment as punishment for my leaving school.

To pass time while I was undecided on what to do with my life, I decided to start a poultry farm. For around six months, I was an out-of-school youth, tending to chickens by day while having adventures at night with my British gang - Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Watson, Mrs. Hudson, Inspector Lestrade from the Scotland Yard, the sinister Professor Moriarty and a wide assortment of crafty villains.

Maybe it was Sherlock. Maybe it was the silence on the farm. Maybe it was the sunlight and the trees. Maybe it was the smell of chicken shit in the morning. Maybe it was the grand scolding I finally got from my stepfather after months of the silent treatment. Maybe it was all of the above. Whatever it was, it worked its magic and I got better. Clutching my Sherlock books with me I flew back to Manila and resumed my studies in the university.

I still have bouts of deep sadnesses but none as debilitating as the one I had when I was nineteen. After years of living with it, studying it, meditating on it, attending workshops, and even going to therapy for it — my spells of melancholy had become a natural and even a wondrous part of my life.

Since Sherlock, I have made friends with detective characters from all over the world. Miss Marple, Hercule Poirot and Lord Peter Wimsey from England, Isabel Dalhousie, a philosopher-snoop from Edinburgh, Aimee Laduc, the Chanel-clad detective from Paris, Kurt Wallander, the brooding old policeman from Sweden, child psychologist Alex Delaware from California, Guido Brunetti, the Vaporetto-riding detective from Venice and more. The gang keeps growing.

Somerset Maugham in his book, The Vagrant Mood, examined his love for detective stories and concluded that it was for the pleasure of reading a good story. “I learned how pleasant it is to lie in bed, what delicious sense of liberation it affords from the responsibilities of life and how conducive it is to profitable reflection and aimless reverie.” Raymond Chandler, in his essay The Simple Art of Murder, wrote that we read detective stories for a sense of redemption. “The story is this man's adventure in search of a hidden truth, and it would be no adventure if it did not happen to a man fit for adventure. He has a range of awareness that startles you, but it belongs to him by right, because it belongs to the world he lives in. If there were enough like him, the world would be a very safe place to live in, without becoming too dull to be worth living in.”

For me, it was both. It was the chance for my mind to meander while my real-world was crashing around me. To hang out with fictional people because my moods made me disagreeable with my friends. To witness the whodunits cipher complicated motivations of complex human hearts, unearth the truth and right grave injustices all in one afternoon spent reading quietly. Now, who could not be cheered up by that?

When my husband and I visited London, I of course had to go to 221B Baker Street. It was kitschy, touristy, and unforgivably well-lit. But for a split second, between camera clicks and giggles from fellow tourists, I caught a glimpse of the parallel world I escaped to when I was nineteen.

In the scene, I imagined Sherlock and Dr. Watson conferring with each other in the dimly lit parlor. I was sitting in front of them recounting my tale of woe.

Dr. Watson asks, “How do we save this sad young woman?”

Sherlock, smiling enigmatically looks at me and says, “Elementary, my dear Watson. She will save herself.”


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