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Of course I would not mind her praying here while I read. I stopped myself from self-consciously adjusting my sprawling pose. Acting as if this were the most normal situation in the world, I kept my eyes glued to the book, carefuly avoiding looking at her as if she had a handicap. I desperately wanted to act normal, but what was normality here? I could hear the rustling of her clothes as she moved, and a barely audible murmur of her voice. We started putting our shoes on simultaneously, me getting off the couch, she getting off her knees.
He's found a perfect spot for observing the world, the side of the mattress wedged between the bed and the wall, and partly the window. From this vantage point he stoically supervises the city's waking, impartial and disinterested Sphinx that he is.
We've got to be careful and keep the windows shot as lately he's been desperate to flee, first floor or no first floor. A few weeks back he bolted through a half open door into the darkness, and down to the neighbour's garden; there he was running in circles on the lawn, unable to find his way back.
'Look at towards the lights. Which is the more distinct, the red or the green?' It is dark again, I can't see my reflection wearing the steam-punk glasses any more. She had just changed the lenses, the cuff of her suit jacket brushed my temple. A light appears in the line of my vision, her head an enormous palpable shadow behind this bright little sun. Her breath smells of sleep; not a bad breath, but heavy, as if she had just woken up. She peers closer, as if we were to kiss, and I am filled with relaxed arousal.
I keep thinking how excited the flickr crowd would be with the images of this industrial decay and rejuvenation, they are so into peeling paints, shards of glass, tidy angles and vanishing points. My body feels heavy and clumsy running this unfamiliar path. The incinerator's chimney is visible throughout, a tidy little cloud of exhaust glued on permanently a few metres down-wind. I get closer, and the stench of purified trash makes me gag. After having ran by the dual carriageway I feel black and grimy inside. The wildlife reserve is a pitiful bundle of trees strewn with trash.
People have such suffering. Unimaginable to me, so far from anything I've experienced or entertained as a possibility at all. Addiction to amphetamine since twelve. Twelve! "Before the synapses have even had a chance to connect." And the fantastic, painful, guilty life of beauty, energy, productive creativity which this genie granted, taking what in return - ah, a kidney, some self-respect, a coherent self-identity, a price to pay. But most remarkably, the detox, self-applied, self-supervised, her very own victory. "Life is not as exciting now, you know, or as happy. But I'm alive, and this is real."
"You are an amazing person. How did you ever manage?"
"I just survived it. My therapist once said living through my mum's Alzheimer's must have been like living through war. She was onto something. It brought out the survivor in me. And the associated guilt and remorse, you know. But I survived. I think everyone gets some trauma. I got mine in early, so hopefully from now it is smooth sailing."
"I think you're right. Everyone gets a trauma."
"You had your own private hell."
After a glass of wine there is not as much as air between us.
I remember a time when you were not expected to form a maningful relationship with a pot of yoghurt. But now all commodities assume I want to be their friend. The milk makes demands ('keep me in the fridge'). The smoothie brags: 'I'm innocent', it coos, 'with a dash of goodness!'. The sweets are enablers ('be good to yourself'). I fall for the chocolate suffles, who try so hard to be my budies they tell me to 'ove cook us for ten minutes, or however long we need; you know your oven best after all.' Sicknig suckups the whole lot.
My dad has been compiling the history of his father. He managed three paragraphs of misspelled and mis-punctuated short sentences, reflecting his problems with verbal communication in a written form. These three paragraphs are however bursting with history and drama in a way both him and I can only imagine; I never knew my grandfather, and my dad was too young to care to ask.
My grandfather was born in 1909 in what was, at the time, Germany. When he came of age he was drafted, and between 1912-1914 he served as a sapper in the German army.
His training was soon in demand during WWI, during which, I am told, 2 million Polish soldiers served in the armed forces of the battling occupying powers. My dad knows his father had fought in some of the most bloody, terrible battles of the Western front, at Verdun in 1915, and Metz in 1916. He was wounded in 1918, and returned home. Soon the Greater Poland Uprising, the only Polish uprising to suceed, broke out, and my grandfather took part in this military which led to the resurrection of Poland as an independent state on the map of the world.
When WWII erupted, my grandfather was forty nine, and living with his second wife back in his home town. He immediately left for Kowno(now Kaunas in Lithuania), where he was to join the army. By the time he got there, after having cycled over 660km, the Russian army had already advanced, and he was taken prisoner. However, and luckily, because he'd been born in Germany, and was therefore a German citizen, he was handed over to the German army at Brzesc (now Brest, in Belarus), and allowed to return home. He made that journey, of some 500km, on foot.
Having been born under German occupation saved my grandfather's life. Had he remained in the hands of the Russian army, he would have certainly been sent to a slave work camp in Siberia, where the mortality rate was tremendous, and from where hardly anyone returned. He was alive, at least, When he returned changes were already under way in the German occupied town. All the Jews had misteriously disappeared. House raids were common, and it was then that my grandfather hid his gun in a wall cavity, found only when the wall was knocked down years later by my cousin.
There is a strange smell. I bend down a bit lower, as if to better hear what he is saying. But in reality I am after this smell, very worrying smell of alcohol on his breath. He did come in late, and he seems to be blinking in slow motion, and his speach is the tiniest bit slurred. But I'm not sure. Having said that, I have smelled my share of drunk males, and I think I'm on to something. It may just be a bad hangover. But it's only Wednesday.
Students, they don't make them like they used to.
Her desk looked rather surreal by the end of the day. A pile of paper-wrapped goodies, a bottle of wine, and a huge cardboard box of flowers, via floral post no doubt, an order all the way from Australia.
"I don't know what's wrong with me, the last two weeks I've been coming home and crying every day."
I am worried about her, obviously, and so glad she has forgiven me for our misunderstanding. I've not been a good friend to many people lately, too caught up in my own stuff, but I am adamant to make more effort.
An innocuous A4 envlope waits for me on the dining room table when I get back home. I hate corporat mail so I only get round to opening it the next morning. My bank has been bought; my account is 'moving' (like it's changing homes), and the new bank's team are 'keen to support me throughout the process' (for a moment I wonder if I've developed cancer). MM looks over my shoulder at the 'meaningless corporate message 67'.
"They lent money to the Natzis well after it was all clear and Americans stepped in."
That's it. I'm investing into matterasses.
It's a shame he's not speaking in the tongue of his mother, but at least - he is speaking! He distinctly asked me if I were coming next weekend, and if I were bringing any toys. Now I have to find a yellow airplane.
As I was chatting with him, or rather having him chat at me, the cats were exploring the unknown. Perched on the wicker chest of drawers, and fully stretched, they can now reach the attic roof window, and gaze onto the street. I found cat paw prints on the other side of the glass the other day.
There is something quaint about the whole profession, optics being, after all, such a wonderfully antique branch of science. As he's scribbling, I let myself be enchanted by the lens holder. It reminds me of the deep wooden chests crowded with tiny, absurdly long drawers filled to the brim with neat, hand-written, and yellowing library cards. The lens holder too seems a child of a different age. Labels in ecru plastic imitate ivory at the bottom of long rows, in which each lens nestles firmly but delicately in its particular grove, presenting an arched back to the questing fingers.
Had thought this, or had someone had told me? For some time now I've been thinking about emotions differently, when I bother to remember my own (?) wisdom. Everything passes. Sadness, unhappiness, anxiety. They all pass. They are just moments in time. You are not their prisoner, not for long anyway.
We had watched a movie, nearly to the end, curled up under the duvet. For a long time his head shook gently with the beating of my heart. And now I'm full of sweetness and goodness and peace.
'You know what made it all bearable?', the actor said. I do.
My old self will not let me be happy.
It's a running commentary of negativity. A self-surveillance that keeps me at a distance, prevents me from just being in the moment.
A collection of prejudices that seek confirmation, a prophecy that seeks its own fulfillment. My pre-liberal self, deep rooted, poisoning from the inside.
I don't have to be the slave to my past. I can reinvent my own happiness. I can choose my pair of distorting glasses, and live by a version of the truth I chose to accept.
If only I let myself have that freedom.
"Yeah, just save as much money as you can, and go. I'd love to see Australia. A mate of mine, she's from Australia, not been back for five years. Came to England, worked for a bit, now she's working in Canada, and in two months she's leaving, she's got a job in Corfu, a hotel. She sends me emails and letters and it's like name a continent, and she's been there, name a country, and she's been, you know?"
"Yeah, I mean, it's fun being a student, but, you know."
"Yeah. I mean, I want to see what's out there."
Need to choose an image for the cover of the concluding chapter of my thesis. It was going to be a shot of an underground wine cellar, but I find it too dark and gloomy. All of the sudden I'm nervous, an anxiety grips my guts. I need something lighter, something happier, something that puts the examiners in a good, forgiving mood.
This is it, the final draft complete. The conslusion and intro need to be okayed, and then I finally get to write the acknowledgements, the title page, print it, bind it..
I'm feeling dizzy at the very thought.
She's flustered, and makes a beeline to my desk. She needs advice on something she's writing. I ask her to send me the documents, ponder, give advice. She comes and goes another two or three times, scuttling over from her desk, and whispering her concerns urgently. In the end, I have no more solutions to suggest, and say:
"I'm sorry, I can't help you any further. You'll have to do some more reading."
Two minutes later, a paragraph of profuse apologies lands in my inbox.
I am utterly confused.
Been here so long, yet still can't avoid the culture shocks!!
The smells have returned to the land. The sheep-y, green smell of the pastures, and the damp shroomy wafts of the forest floor. The wind was warm on my cheeks and bare arms as we walked down the moor. It is spring, and skin stretches tight over my body, and tingles. I brush my palms against prickly heather, rough bark, smooth wood of the bench, and I can't get enough of this world of sensations. My body feels like it's opening up, welcoming the air. The winter laziness makes me drowsy with effort, but spring is on the way.
Of course, he runs down the slope towards the grazing rabbits. Of course, the rabbits leg it and disappear under the hedge. He clambers back up the grassy bank to me, disappointed.
'Rabbits run away.'
'I know. You scared them.'
He is a bit upset. He wanted to play. So I tell him a story of a little boy who came to the park one day, and with whom the rabbits played, because he was quiet and gentle. He sits down next to me on the sunny bank, and I tell him more rabbit stories, and the world is better.
I am suffering from an ongoing disconnect of body and mind. I keep forgetting things. That is most unusual for me. Obligations have no grip, they just slip off my sleek, sleepy skin.
A part of me seems to be in a constant daze, withdrawn behind the glass bubbles of my eyes, watching the world unfold as if it were a movie. A friend is upset, but although I strain, I cannot reach her for the candy floss which is in my way. I just look and smile bemused and idiotic. I've been falling back on hugging as a substitute.
I want to protect us from all the world which is so confused, and I understand so little of it It excites me and scares me at the same time And I cannot pretend any mastery of its language So I nod and take in
I want to take time with you To learn how to be myself To let myself be myself The one you've chosen In spite of everything Of which there was a lot
I don't have grand ambitions Just to be good To you, and to others too
Float me down like you did that time
“I don't wanna be big.” “Well, I want you to be big. I want to have to go like that”, and he lifts his chin towards the ceiling, looking up “hello, Saul, hello!” “I don't wanna be big. I want be small, Saul always be small.”
I am amazed. He is young to know that it is better to be young. In this sunny, well furnished kitchen, with the parents who love him, with good food on the table and a play room out front, he knows he is happy. He is wonderful to know it.
I remember when I learnt that nothing in life was certain.
I had come back home from my first semester at university. My dad picked me up at the airport. We drove back home, but he did not stay on. He said he'd taken a flat in town, and was no longer living with mum and her carers.
I cried hard at my boyfriend's, knowing that I had lost my childhood. But even then I was mostly crying on the outside, because I knew I should, because it was right I would. Inside I knew he'd done the right thing.
The most wonderful day. Started with morning presents unpacked while still in bathrobe and slippers, like Christmas. The sun was out. The work was all right. Good mood prevailed, and MyMan got such promising news. If he could get funding for the PhD, it would make him so happy.
Another year, another victory. Still here, still kicking. Still happy, happier every year.
And if the funding works out, ah what a chance for me to grow and let go of my anxieties about the relationship, a chance to become less selfish and truly there for him, if he needs me.
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