14 May 2016

Under the tree

London had touches of spring last week. The Megabus was late, but it didn't matter in the end. I woke up as I seem to always wake up when the driver swings past Marble Arch, and I look up and try to remember how this was ultimate success when I was 19. This was the dream; this is living one of the dreams. I got off, got on a bike and rode up towards UCL, towards Senate House library, through Hyde Park in the sun. Hyde Park, where I came when I first came to England, when I first had whatever insatiable sense that there was something here, something in this park that wasn't wherever I was. I parked the bike, I got coffee, I went to my meetings. At 8:30 that night, I stood in Euston Station looking up at the boards and fell asleep on the train going home.

The time keeps going and going and when I sit to say something, to write it out, it disappears. I thought I would write on the train and then, after the 15 hour day, I couldn't do it. Was it 15 hours, I thought? Was it more? I had gotten up at 2:30. Every day this year I've done something. Why can't I remember it now. The girls had their birthday party: I told the woman at St Martian's about it today, trying not to cry like you try not to cry sometimes because you've been told it makes you look weak. I'm not happy, I say: we were at the zoo and the girls were there with my wife and it was them and it was me, like there was some wall. She gestures, I gesture, this is what separation looks like when you make it with your hands. I am here, they are there. Another gesture, I'm stuck. I sit back, and she smiles and takes out forms we need to fill in.

Do you purge. What a miserable word: I mishear it first, 'What? Purge? Like vomit? No, of course not,' I say and then realise that is the wrong thing to say, 'I mean: no.' Okay, good: that's the real problem. If you just eat, if you just binge, you just gain weight. I want to stop the conversation there: no just. Just is the wrong hedge. I marked an essay about hedges, I'm thinking about hedges. No, no, I don't purge, I eat sometimes and I can't stop. It's a terrible experience. She nods. No, I don't want to hurt myself. I don't want to hurt others, no.

There's a pause and I make a point to stress that these are extraordinary circumstances. I'm okay, normally, if I was in a normal situation I would be okay, but it's not normal. My family isn't here, my parents or my brother or sister: we're alone, there's so much uncertainty. She nods and I realise I've gotten worked up. I've been waving my hands: I can see myself and I can see what she says, It sounds like you have a lot to be anxious about, which I do, but I wonder, Is she saying that because she actually thinks that, or because it's what she thinks I need to hear. I sit back. I do, I say, I feel like I do.

The girls just keep going and going, getting older and older. The birthday party, the one I held bags through, and played with my phone until the phone died, graciously, sacrificially — they ran around the zoo and I asked Naomi, What do you think you'll remember about being a little girl, about me and about your birthdays? She laughs: I don't know. We were all sitting under that tree that was blossoming, will she remember that? They all swapped toys that they had won in a game that Yoko made for them. Perhaps they will remember that. Perhaps they won't. 

I don't remember my father. I remember his shoes, his big shoes that I used to put my feet into. I remember him sleeping on the sofa after work. I remember that on my birthdays, he was always happy. He took me to breakfast at Pannekoeken Huis, a Dutch pancake house that we rode our bikes to. So. I took the girls to breakfast for their birthday, like my dad did. I tried to talk them into a nicer place to eat, a finer restaurant, but they weren't having it: We all sat on the high stools at McDonald's while Yoko slept at home. Everyone was so happy. Everyone chatted.

I'm going back to London again on Monday. And again on the twenty fifth, and again on the first, the sixth, the seventh, and then the tenth. The part-time work trickles in and now, after being told emphatically, No, you can't work part-time, I can. I have a contract. And I think I have enough money. Touch wood, fingers crossed, we're going to be okay. I can take today off and walk around in the sun. Have a cup of coffee, go with Yoko and the girls to dinner at a friend's house. Buy some pipe tobacco, maybe. Maybe have a drink. Go back to the woman at St Martian's, try to sort happiness next: gesture less, or more, or whatever amount of gesturing is normal for me, for my circumstances, for my illness. And work on my book some more.