Monday, May 08, 2006

the unbearable lightness of being

Significances happen whether we notice or not. Passing incidences, light in weight, the meaning  of which could be taken up or tossed away like a rolled up piece of scrap paper. Yet today they are etched in my mind.
     Friday night I decided to spend the night alone, writing, watching a bit of TV, reading some of the books that have lain, forgotten, beside my bed for too long. That morning I'd left Tom's house with a pair of his pink striped socks, and a book. He had been getting ready to move out of his place that weekend, so I knew it was my last chance to borrow and finish this book before it was stored away in some dusty lock-up. I'd already read half of it on one of my long, sleepless nights  after my return from New York, a couple of weeks earlier. I'd read through the night until the sun came up, and then hovered my way towards bed. The book was Milan Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being. 
      I first read this book when I was seventeen.  Back then, as later, I couldn't put it down. As I read, I felt like I was finding myself again. Kundera wrote in a language I understood; showed me a world I was at home in. Shortly after, the film of it came out to bad reviews. But although I thought it didn't compare to the book it struck me deeply, and I loved it.      
     The motif of the beautiful mistress's bowler hat haunted me, her black stockings, her studio. However, I was also captured by the moment when Tereza kisses Tomas' head in bed, and smells the crotch of another woman in his hair. I even named my toy dog after the ill-fated, tender furry character of Karenin. Yet most of all, as I re-read it, on Tom's couch, I was struck by the power of Tereza's recurring dreams, how she wakes, night after night, from nightmares about her husband. In one dream, Tomas has a gun - she is lined up naked with other women beside a swimming pool - he is taking pot shots at the women. As he shoots them, each one falls into the pool. In the dream she knows she is the next to be shot. She wakes up and her husband holds her hands until her crying subsides, soothing her back to sleep. In the book, this scenario goes on for years, his affairs continue, her dreams continue, and he continues to hold her hands while she shakes until she falls back to sleep again.      

So that Friday I take the book from Tom's, and go home. Unearth my huge piano keyboard from behind my writing desk and sing along to a couple of songs I feel good about. Turn on the computer and write. At five-thirty my computer thumps off, the keyboard lights go out, my answer-phone dies. My electric's run out. My mobile phone rings - it's my friend, George. I tell her I'm not coming to a gig that night as I'm knackered. She tells me in passing how she ran into Tom that afternoon, walking along in town with our friend, Olivia. I half take in her information, and then I leave my flat to buy more electric. Usually my route is up my street to Church Road but today, for some reason, I decide to walk down by the sea. As I pass the patch of green at the bottom of my road I have an absolute conviction that I’m going to bump into Tom and Olivia. I walk three or four steps forward, and then a van honks its horn. I turn around – and there they are, on the other side of the road. I cross over. 
      "Get in" Tom cries, "I'll drive you to a shop near mine – you can get electric there. I’ll drive you back home again in a bit". I get in the back. I'm in 'being alone in my flat' mode: my jumper has a stain on it and I'm not wearing a bra. But what the hell. We drive off up the hill. 

Shortly after, Olivia and I are sitting on a bench in the back garden with cups of rooibosch tea. Tom stands over us in front of a tangle of shrubs. I'm sitting in the same place as that morning - it feels odd. 
     "You are both wearing very good jumpers," Tom exclaims, randomly. 
    I feel like I know exactly what Olivia is going to say next. She says it: I am correct. The garden feels like it's bristling with deja-vu. Olivia leaves for an art opening, and I go off for electricity. Tom picks me up again and we head for mine. As we pull over outside my house, he says he wants to go to the beach to watch the sunset. This sounds like a possible invitation. I feel pulled in two directions because I want an evening alone, and so I look at my watch - it is already a quarter to eight. 
     I announce, only half joking, " but it's almost time for Eastenders". I’m embarrassed that I’d put a soap opera before a sunset, and feel like I’m being unromantic. So I say, "Let's go." If I’d been true to myself, I'd have left the van then and gone home, I’d have put the TV on and enjoyed myself. Instead, we go to Shoreham beach, the evening starts to dim and Tom and I began to drift irrevocably apart.

The weekend before that Tom and I had gone to a wedding in Dinard, France. A bunch of us had driven over there by van, taking the ferry - a mammoth journey with musical instruments lugged inside or strapped precariously to the to the roof. But it had been worth it. Dinard was a sleepy Breton town by the sea, pretty and calm, and in the middle of it, our friends took their marriage vows in a big French church. Everybody looked dapper. After champagne and the six-course meal, the music began and some of the loveliest people I know paid homage to the couple by playing guitar, piano, double bass and drum. The wedding had been highly ritualized, all of us 'standing before God'. I knew I was witnessing one of the most important moments in my friend's life.   
    Two days before the wedding, I did a Tarot reading. I’ve been doing readings regularly over the last few months, and each one has been shockingly positive and accurate. This time, for the first time, the reading was terrible. It said sorrow, deep disappointment, loss, jealousy and hardship. I couldn't believe it because my life was feeling like a magic story-line of things coming together. The day before leaving for France, I did another, hoping for a better one. It was the same. I didn't understand, but I felt the weight.     
     But the wedding turns out to be a truly wonderful affair. A powerful one too. Tom and I stay in a smaller hotel away from the main throng of people. It is a weird place - the bedroom is dark and full of oddities. An old wooden screen stands in the corner, and a case of china cups on the wall next to the bed makes it impossible for me to get past without banging my knees on the bedpost. After the final drifting away of the wedding festivities, Tom and I crawl to bed at six thirty am.      

I am dreaming. I am on a ship, and I am running. Tom tells me there is someone else, he is leaving and we meant nothing.
     I say " What about the sex?" 
    He says, turning into someone else, "It was nothing, you are just a tongue. Just a tongue."   
    Alone on the deck I sink to my knees and begin weeping. 
    I wake up choking, fighting for breath. Tom puts his hands on me to calm me, but I don't want him to touch me. I start sobbing and can’t stop. In my mind I still see him on the deck. 
     I slip half back into dreams. I'm at a 'wedding' in a churchyard - it's my wedding to the last man I loved where I thought it could be forever. It is Maytime, and cherry blossoms are falling. Everyone is dressed in suits and dresses. I see my then best friend, my 'brides' maid', in a colour photograph and standing at my side. I see my wedding dress, how thin I am and how pretty. Then I see him and her now, living together, and holding a baby who shares his name with my middle one. 
     I see my father just before their divorce, telling my mother, "I stopped loving you after the first year". I see my mother in her wheelchair, the last time I was home, saying to me, when she'd heard that my Dad was in hospital again, "If he dies, I will die". Me begging her, making her swear that she wouldn't.
     I see my father bewildered by love, unable to comprehend his children who swarm about him like tiny bees, desperate for honey. I see him upset by TV programmes and discharging himself from a hospital ward too early, without any shoes on. I see him running up a hill after my sister, to make sure she is safe, Alzheimers addling his brain. I see him arrested for shoplifting. I see him eyeing the Oriental armchair in our hallway, the one he didn't manage to steal from the house before my mother finally wouldn't let him back in again. I feel his lips against mine, and how I want to love him, I feel how wrong his love is. He is an injured mole blinking in a world of red colour. He doesn't know the way back home. His fur is old, beaten. His feet are tangled.    
     Awake now, I don’t stop crying for a long time. When I re awaken, after finally falling back into a sleep filled with disturbing images, I get up, and go to the loo. My period has come, bright and clear on the tissue.

Shoreham beach. The graffiti on the back wall is repetitive and mysterious, speaking of EYES. So many weathered coke cans. Sussex Heights glints like copper foil; the birds are landing. I ask Tom how he is feeling. 

This morning I’m woken by drills outside my house. Two of them, twenty metres apart, churning up the road. I put Sufjan Stevens on my CD player at top volume, and eventually fall back to sleep.      
     Ten thirty. I’m awoken again; this time the postman is buzzing on the downstairs door. The buzzer won't let him in, and so I trail, sleepy and muddled, down to the front door. I sign, return to bed clutching an envelope, replay the CD. The men are still drilling.     
     I awake to my heart turning over in cold daylight. A sick feeling is back: it goes from just above my navel, to the dip below my Adam's apple. A certain song has filtered into my sleep, making me open to a feeling of beauty I don't want to feel. This beauty hurts.      
     I sit up, grab the thick brown envelope I'd taken from the postman and lift the flap. It is a late birthday present from my sister. I pull out a purple patterned paper bag, a delicate string at the top. It is a gorgeous bag, sumptuous and elegant, a present from Monsoon. Inside it will either be something like a silk scarf or a voucher, I prophesy.      
     I open the bag. It is empty.  She has forgotten to put the present in.
     The song caries on playing. I think again of Shoreham beach, that previous Friday night, a pink sun dropping behind the power station, tangles of seaweed and stone, the hands we'd held together, before what I might have called a relationship, but what could have been just a ghost of a chance, ended. Before he drove me back to mine and I closed the door of the van. The most romantic place he could have taken me, he said, as we wobbled our way up the shoreline. 
     I am not Tereza. Nor am I my mother. I won't fall face first into the swimming pool. Bad dreams can be over. I am no longer married. And yes, I still feel betrayed by the ease with which he walked away, by how quickly the sun fell behind the silhouetted buildings. 
     The Monsoon bag is weightless in my hands, a beautiful gesture. 
     Nothing in it.

What the water wants is hurricanes,
and sailboats to ride on its back.
What the water wants is sunkiss,
and land to run into and back.
I have a fish stone burning my elbow
reminding me to know that I'm glad
that I have a bottle filled with my own teeth.
They fell out like a tear in the bag.
And I have a sister somewhere in Detroit.
She has black hair and small hands.
And I have a kettledrum.
I'll hit the earth with you.
And I will crochet you a hat.
And I have a red kite;
I'll put you right in it.
I'll show you the sky.

Sufjan Stevens


Will said...


P'tit Boo said...

Stunningly beautiful.

And you and I pretty much have the same life story.
There is light and you're seeing it.

theseus said...

...thinking about you. Listened to Daniel Johnston today on the way to the grocery, remembered walking those rainy streets...