16 July 2019

The mother we share

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In the student accomodation at the University of Liverpool, you can pull a kind of sliding Ikea cabinet door over the window to block out the light. On the ceiling, there is what seems to be a pull-cord alarm marked 'Anxiety Alarm' without a cord. In the course of the conference, it came out that this was true of all the rooms, none of the anxiety alarms had cords. What sort of metaphor is this, I thought: they've installed an alarm, but it can't be used. When my Garmin Vivosmart+ buzzed me awake on the second day, I felt disoriented the way you do in a new place, inside this cabinet. I sweated all night because the window didn't open more than an inch, presumably so if you felt anxiety, you didn't jump. I took a piss and pulled on my trainers, and set out on a run towards Everton, where I had looked online and found a long park to run through with some stretch of road that seemed like you could go down without thinking.

The house my parents sold early this week is the house I grew up in, but that's a bit of a misnomer. I didn't grow up in any single place — we moved around a lot, I say, although that's only true in a small, un-American way. We moved a normal amount; this was the house I was a teenager in and where I went home for all of my twenties and twice now, in my thirties. The house was, by any standard, huge, much bigger than my family ever really needed. I stayed in the finished loft and had it full of guitars, and for most of high school treated like a museum to myself. I saved anything that meant anything: pictures, ticket stubs, receipts, the strings from the acoustic guitar that I had used when my band recorded our EP. I had all of my books from university for most of my twenties, but then when we were back the last time, I gave them all away in a fit of minimalism, even my Faulkner books which I regret now, though I would never read them if I had them. My grandmother died in one of the rooms. And then all the memories you can't say to anyone, the ones that you keep to yourself. I think now, if Jesus hadn't spoken to me there, if he hadn't called me to Japan that summer, what had.

After my legs warmed up and I came to the top of the hill at the park, I saw the Mersey and the port down below and suddenly I could see slave ships coming and going like a kind of tracing paper over the horizon. The past stacking up on itself. I ran past a Victorian building that had been boarded up, and in the blue light, everything was haunted. Then at the conference dinner, when I got away from the crowd for a moment and looked out, I had the same sense — who had fallen here, had been killed or beaten. How much blood was in the water, diluted after a hundred years or more now of everything circulating in and out.

It's a silly thought. Why this violence, why this memory. I was on the phone with a friend on Friday night, ecstatic to share some vague positive news. I had ordered an insufferable pizza without cheese — I clarified to the man several times I didn't want any cheese and he had to clarify it several more times to the man further back in the shop making it. I went outside and was talking and pacing and almost stumbled over what I thought was a pile of rubbish, but turned out to be a homeless man bent over and barely conscious. But this is not an emergency in Brexit Britain, not even something to note. You just think, I best not get involved, and walk away, because these tragedies are on every corner and what am I: I'm one person and I pay my taxes and this is what they, the British wanted, isn't it, and can feel marginally better about myself.

The metaphors continued: there wasn't enough vegan food and then too much. The girls are collecting toys to give to a girl they know about who's become homeless. I got back to the house on Victoria Road on Sunday and it was cool and empty — some of the children were gone, although I forget where and which ones. You eat sandwiches for eight days from conference tables and you feel disoriented and bloated. I'm not sure what to eat anymore. Am I high fat, or am I no longer thinking about calories — have I stopped making the protein cookies or do I need to start them up again. I drank more than I normally would in all that haunted darkness, but it was vegan wine and vegan ale. Local, of course, that ale. Ethically sourced. I eat an apple and sit at the dining table, waiting for the girls to start to wake up and thinking that I should meditate.
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