Round about now I hit my iceberg and all the thoughts and plans and dreams tumble and slide across the deck. I realise everything was as it should have been and this is all wrong, so very wrong. And I remember their screams as we sat in the front row and we weren’t married and we made comparisons and you had something in your eye, remember? And we watched as the tar black night pulled in closer and felt the icy memories stroking away what we had. And I’ve been avoiding the posters and the news footage because it takes me back. Not just to them, in all their finery and the countless families living this life, but to us at the beginning. Organising ephemera in our new home and we just popped out for the evening, like you did when everything was new and you weren’t crawling through anxiety, breathing through the minutes that would get you away from the day and to bed.
It became part of our relationship folklore, that film, that moment, that life back then and occasionally we would remember it.
Last week I ventured out in to the real world and packed up my grief to take our son to London, and the trees were out in blossom in the walkway but they were only saplings when we visited before and our toddler played on the steps as we waited for my friend. And it was a birthday surprise for me, but the wheel wasn’t working so we did something else and nothing really mattered. But last week I bustled and shoved my way past the same spot, wondering if our son’s memories would crash into his day as they scraped alongside mine and I thought I’d negotiated my way through their waters, despite the waves picking up a swell when we moored home later.
I woke into whiteness, cold endless whiteness on the date I remembered the long distance wedding guests had started to book in and hang clothes. But they’re not here now and I wake to the screaming confusion, the disorientation as my gaily coloured life slides across the table in front of me, just like the glasses on that pure cotton table cloth on our extra special holiday, back then when I was worried about the captain’s message. But the seasoned travellers reassured us, like you tried to reassure me and our son over night as the heavy metal banging smashed and creaked at us and we held onto the sides of the bed as we touched the edge of the storm. And you wrote in your book on the page with the Ancient Mariner’s quote and wondered what horrors awaited you at work on our return. But there was no albatross for you, he was waiting, biding his time, before flying straight at me and I remember the frivolous sailing, the freedom of people away from real life, when just for an hour, or a smile or a week, they could forget, and pretend that this was their world, that the top ups were always free and the limitless buffet was as their life should be, all laid out on a platter, beautifully presently and sizzling at them, eager and plentiful. And they played and they laughed and they drank and there was no pain or anguish, no reality to scrape deep inside them and carve out a wound that changes them irrevocably.
And we waved and smiled and laughed as our hair was blown backwards and we put life on hold as we swayed out of port. And now it’s too late. My ears burn numb from screaming voices, my terror is stuck in my throat, the night has smashed into me. My tables are broken against walls. crashing, sliding into oblivion. They are all around me, every passenger a memory of a life bobbing along, steering through storms, learning to get my sea legs and becoming a competent sailor. But now it’s too late, the ice has torn into my stern, we jump with no hope, breathless from the icy impact. Black coldness grabbing at my legs, broken wailing, layers of consciousness pulling me down, clawing for wreckage, kicking, panicked through blackness, searching, reaching, finding slimy wood. Waiting to wake but I can’t. Splashing, thrashing, flailing at the reality, trying to hit out, smash down on the oozing denseness around me. This has not happened, this is not real. I want to scream until my jaw locks, until there’s no voice left, until I gag on all that’s around me and when I wake I’ll be on board, glinting into the sunlight. But I can’t stop the memories grasping at me, calling me further in and downward, swirling me round and around. The horror, the wood, the noise, make it stop, I want it back, I want this over, I want it all back. I can’t breathe. I can’t swim. They’re all around me, panicking into beyond.
Why do I bother to pull myself onto the wood, to lie crushed, drenched, empty, only breathing, just looking back at my life?
Day light brings no end to the misery, just fewer voices as I look around at the carnage, the bits of my world floating by, popping up covered in algae, unrecognisable for a moment. I pull the weed from them and study their form, I remember them when they were shiny and new, when they weren’t memories – just moments. I look back at her silhouetted, broken against the skyline, like some huge, snared, injured animal, too heavy and awkward to right itself. And I’m too exhausted to cry. I just lie and wait and think and feel for me and my world and their worlds back then. Ripped apart, sucked under like mine, surrounded by debris, to be picked through, to make sense of, to piece together. And I think of people I never knew from a life I can’t conceive of and I feel for them across the years and I ache with the pain that connects us, with an understanding that can only be experienced not taught.
And I see us walking out of the cinema on a cold February night, thousands of years before the month gained it’s meaning. And I sit here on my driftwood, floating in the dim mornings salvage. Alone but connected beyond all I know, clinging on despite splinters I can’t feel and shards buried deep in sinew that cause me no distraction.
I look out at the water - black, icy, laping its whispers towards me.
P.S – Monday, first thing
This is more like it. It’s cold rain and I’m not quite dressed for it. Can’t work out whether to hurry through and untangle this at home or let it take its course and drip back through it carefully. I never quite click into this world. I’m still on top, resting, with butterfly weight on its soft branches, just outside of it all, drifting through moments of clarity. My ripped, furred wings still stuck together with the gloop of the cocoon clumped onto my back. Fragile, perched, hanging on for the sun.
No familiar faces yet, no movement over my bridge, no one to check in with. Better go – hill calling.
And I glance at our road south where we turned so many revolutions before we knew it’s significance. And they’re coming late today. They arrive with their perfect quotes as the rain gets heavier and for a moments soaking I laugh through it all and I hear us together from a time before the clocks stopped. So I stay for a while at my wet table, the Tao bird muck’s washed away. It all looks varnished by the rain, glossed over like the things we choose to avoid. And I sit in it, through the remembering, the weekends memories and where they are about to take me. And I can’t really see through the mizzle but know I have to go home soon, to get everything out and look at it, to understand and revisit, because it’s calling me like you did back then, late at night while the house was silent and I got up to take the call.
I can hardly see the screen for raindrops, the tiny rainbowed spheres persisting, showing wavelengths of joy beyond the present tense.
And sometimes when it comes back it’s so welcome. I slip into it like battered worn out slippers that hug the contours of your feet, that know every inch of your soul as I flail around in familiar pain. And I curl into the cushion – and I’m waiting for the throb in my temples and it hurts and the pain is Good. And I scrabble around for images and moments, flashes of a life gone by and they dance around and tease me until one drops into place heavily, deep inside. And as it lands my shields fall willingly and the horror comes back, just for a moment, for a second or two and the panic pulls at my arm, spinning me out of control and I shout helpless protesting at reality. And if I shout loud enough the universe can’t take it and it shatters and gives up the game and everything crumbles around me until the dust settles and I find I’m back in my old life, in the old world, displaced and disoriented by the shift in consciousness.
But despite the force of my voice, the echoing depths from which I drag it, the surging energy of a lifetime with which I hurl it outwards, I still can’t break the illusion.
I crawl back out of the cushion, bewildered and spent,
And approach the day.
Another moment to experience in this illusion we call reality.