12 May 2019

Protection

Book clip

Mei's tenth birthday party went off without a hitch, Yoko busy in the kitchen for the day and me standing around awkwardly cleaning or proofreading a chapter or staring at my phone. The girls came in like a whirlwind and ate and laughed and shouted, and I, in a lapse in judgement, told this story of a time when we, my brother and father and I and some other men, drove out on a Friday night into the New Mexican desert, towards the Florida Mountains, on the edge of Mexico, and found a place to camp at the foot of one of them. The story was about how cold it gets at night, even in the desert, but when you were packed in together, you can be warm. We slept under the stars, I said, and one of the girls piped up to ask, what if it rained and the other one said, it's the desert.

I remember this story in the way you remember weird things floating inside of your library of memories. Things you are fairly sure actually happened, but who really knows. I'm sure it did and now, looking on the Internet, I can see the names of the mountains that I didn't know and road we must have taken. I can see, although I never thought of it, that our house faced west. But I don't remember who exactly had gone. It must have been the church and Dennis Powers, the scholar in our lives, the geologist that my dad respected even though Dr Powers knew the earth was not ten thousand years old, must have brought us there. This would have been around the time of Promise Keepers. It was all men, there were no women. We ate a lot of meat, I'm sure, and pancakes in the morning, the food all packed in thick plastic Igloo coolers. Again, I don't remember this exactly. I remember sleeping under the stars and feeling safe as you do as a child, surrounded by men to protect you. Something deep in our subconscious where all embodied metaphors come from. 

The girls listened to the story and then decided they wanted to sleep outside in the tent I'd pitched earlier, which hadn't been the plan. They started shuttling things out to the garden, and I was sent out back to the tent to dissuade them, although of course at this point I couldn't. They would wear coats, they said, it would be fine. When the night came though, I suddenly thought about the time we had been broken into, and the stabbing, but as they watched Britain's Got Talent on the flat screen TV, giggling and eating popcorn on the sofa and blankets on the floor, I fell asleep watching Goodfellas in my bed. The time came for them to camp out and they stomped through the house full of giddy energy, and I went out to tell them to be quiet and sleep. I said I would sleep on the sofa, but then Yoko took the blanket and did instead, like the mother bear, the tiger with the cubs, the light on in the living room. 

At 4, I woke for the day, my own giddy energy for marking and running and writing, and sent Yoko back to bed, waiting in the grey light, trying to meditate and thinking about care. That morning in the desert, we had packed up as it got warm and I took off my hoodie and was in shirt sleeves in the sun and we drove back east to El Paso. We must have, I don't remember it. I remember those mountains, always in the distance then, when the thunderstorms would come. In the night, I stir — my daughter in the other room is screaming in her sleep like I do sometimes. I think I might wake her, but I stay in bed, waiting, wondering if it will pass.

11 May 2019

Work until you die

Nana and Stephen in Christchurch

There was a stabbing in Harborne, just on Tennal Road over the hill from the house on Victoria Road. It was a Wednesday night, and Yoko had been out walking. A neighbour dropped off Mei and we heard the sounds of the police, but didn't know what had happened. They cordoned off the road and the Birmingham Mail published pictures of women standing in the street with their faces in their hands, crying. I ran up the street the next weekend and there were balloons and pictures and flowers and I thought, yes, this is the place you would knife someone — the pavement narrows here and there's nowhere to run. The boys must have known each other and we, the British middle class say all the things we can to avoid talking about race and class. We talk about the estate over the road. We talk about how old the kid was — they were just kids. I'm not really worried, of course not, but the girls should be careful walking to and from school.

Then there was a hit and run on our street, someone plowed into a neighbour and sped off, this on a bright Sunday afternoon. Everyone stands around in disbelief, this is a thing that happens apparently, and you wonder if you should add now to that point, am I that age, the age where I talk about how things have changed and gotten worse. I blame Brexit, of course, the lack attention of the government to the things that really matter. The rich are getting richer, but so am I, that's the thing, the house values have gone up, and we don't see them going down. We all stand outside, hands on hips, shaking our heads.

I'm still just thirty-six. I went to the doctor because I hadn't been in years and having given my obsessions over to the plant-based diet, I've worried that the liars who lie to you about meat and diary might secretly be right. The GP, a woman who must have been my age, asked why I was there and I sputtered through some things, about being vegan and obsessive and having this lump on my leg. She looked at it, have negotiating my consent to touch it and then came around to getting a blood test. I had blood drawn and walked back the next Monday, worried that my B12, the dreaded B12, would be down, but it wasn't. I was in perfect health, astonishingly good cholesterol. Liver and kidney, normal. No diabetes. Blood pressure was great, pulse outstanding. Just slightly low iron stores from giving blood, but I could top those up with iron pills for a month or two. I was fine, of course, no cause for any concern.

I thanked her and left disappointed in the way you are when you think you're missing something but you aren't. Being deficient would have been convenient, wouldn't it, I could then eat something and feel better. It turns out I'm eating whatever I'm supposed to, that death is still a long way off, and I have to keep up for everyone that depends on me. That boy who was confronted by the other one with the knife, thrown over into the luminous void without a second to reflect. I've lived twice as long as he did. What do I have to show for it. Yoko says cancer is not a bad way to die. It's like going into the bath, slowly letting yourself down into the water. I think, yes, I will put on my backpack now and head out like a child to Europe to search for whatever it is I'm missing. It's not B12, apparently.

The weather changed and then changed back and I woke up this morning to put up the tent for Mei's birthday party. I did it barefoot and came inside realising my feet had gone numb in the grass. The sun is up though and it will warm over the morning. Maybe I will go for a run before the party or maybe I won't, thinking that my body is so tired still and I'm not sleeping well with all the things on my mind — sure, the stabbing, but then there is everything else, the other raft of middle class white male problems. Existential ones, but only in a metaphorical way, stupid ones. My daughters barrelling towards adulthood. A marriage that is a diary filled with things the children need to do. Reflection on life like going through things for the recycling. It's unremarkable. It all ends up in the same place, doesn't it — you wheel the rubbish bin to be picked up the next morning. You shut off the lights and go to bed.
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