06 November 2016

Time is ticking away

When I was an Evangelical, for most of my life until I was about 21, I was convinced the world was going to end imminently. I worried daily — it hummed in my subconscious like you imagine the drones in Afghanistan, just waiting to take you out. I would walk outside and project Jesus coming from the sky suddenly, and it being over like that. In everything, in the literature, the sermons, the audiobooks we listening to: a constant drumbeat of time running out; DC Talk rapped, 'Time is ticking away/ tick, tick, ticking away'. I worried that I would come up short when this happened, that I wouldn't actually have been a Christian. As I grew up, this was less of a concern, but instead I worried that Jesus would appear before I had a chance to have sex, this black hole of unknown pleasure that no one talked about. I remember seeing a naked picture of Pamela Anderson in a CD recycle shop and being burdened for months. Whom do I tell, what do I say.

The silence of the early morning brings up these thoughts. I stood twice in the cold at the bus stop this week, waiting to be taken away to work somewhere, feeling impotent and tired and fat. I wanted to smoke, like I had the week before on the back stoop of Yoko's friend's house, a guy whose kids she teaches Japanese and who is lovely. He's a psychotherapist and an immigrant like me, but older. We were smoking and listening to the M5 in the darkness and talking about how you get older and forget about everything — forget about the curiosity about doing acid, for example. It would be silly at 44, isn't it. We took long drags — the cigarettes were from Sri Lanka and we talked about vices and death and how we need to accept death. Indeed, no one wants to accept it anymore. The conversation kept falling into silence, the sound of the motorway. None of it makes sense, isn't it: how you buy a house and wonder how it was that you bought a house. You are still a kid with a backpack in some foreign country, just trying to get through the year.

I saw DC Talk in New Mexico, at the NMSU basketball arena, when I was 12 or 13, I don't remember. I saw them twice, once with my parents and sister on the Free at Last Tour, my parents insisting on sitting throughout the concert while my sister and I stood nervously. Then again, when they were touring Jesus Freak, their crossover album with the video directed by someone who had directed a Nine Inch Nails video. That time, I was with the youth group and awkward in a different way, but we jumped up and down while they played. We were close to the stage, and I remember that my calves hurt badly the next day.

I don't remember who I was worried I might not ever get a chance to have sex with, who I had a crush on then  — perhaps it was still Sarah Bush, who was several months older than me and studied Spanish with my brother at the homeschool co-op. I was in a class below them, having been born in 1982 rather than 1981 and was with my sister and some other kids I don't remember. Our teacher was a Mexican woman named Liz who would make us copy Spanish sentences into our notebooks, a mixture of a grammar-translation and audio-lingual method I can recognise now as a kind of expert in these things. There was rout memory of irregular verbs, but we never said much of anything, just repeated her for hours on end. I don't remember it now even when it might be useful like when running into our Spanish neighbour and thinking about saying good morning.

There was a mother at this homeschool co-op, a vivacious woman with two boys. She was intimidating and sexual in a way that at thirteen you can't put into words. She would hug you and speak to you directly and loudly. She was convinced suddenly one day that untucked shirts were a sign of disrespect, so we had to tuck our shirts in before we went in. I remember this so clearly, standing on the stairs of a Baptist church which was old and had a 'Fallout' Sign above it, looking back at the car as my mom watched me tuck my Looney Toons shirt into my cut-off jean shorts. The world is ending soon enough — with some luck, before it all falls apart, I will pass Sarah Bush in the corridor and perhaps she will say hello.

The things you remember when your calves hurt — I have been going to the gym again after taking the summer off and trying to be healthy but not crazy, which seems to be a kind of balance I can't manage. I can reject the existence of god, sure, but I'm still 13 and convinced that it will all come to an end. I still want to take communion. I'm 34 now, I think, looking at myself sweating in the gym mirrors and feeling 34. The world didn't end, did it. I sit back in a booth at a pub, drunk and tired, all the conversation spinning around me. The world didn't end, did it.

02 November 2016


There are Irish travellers on Selly Oak Park now — I saw them over the weekend when I took the kids to the park to play. I saw the caravans first and wasn't sure what to make of it and then it suddenly made sense. I took an Instagram photo like a tourist and the kids asked if they were camping, and I said, yes, sort of. We walked back up to the play area and the kids played on the zip line, and a white Ford Ranger with a twenty-something kid at the wheel rolled up on the grass past me. We leered at each other and I don't remember what I said, but he shouted, 'Why don't you mind your own business?' I said, This is my business, and he laughed and said something like, 'What are you going to do, four eyes?'

He started to pull out towards the main road, but he turned the car back to me, pointed it and reved the engine. I sent the kids running to the jungle gym, but then he did a donut on the grass, spinning around and around, before peeling off. The girls went back to playing and I called the police. A man was there on the playground, without any kids, in a track suit and I wondered if he was one of them too. People say you can just tell, that you just know, but I don't. The American is useless at the pub quiz, there are so many things he doesn't know.  Like the vicar at my church mentioning to me a philosopher I think I am supposed to recognise and have read. I don't. I haven't. I'm sorry.

The police operator sounded tired and bored and I suddenly had the sense we needed to run, to get away. I told the kids we had to go and they complained, but I got angry and hustled them off to the car: we'll go back up to the park by the house, where it's safer.

The Irish Travellers on Selly Oak Park are like a flash of colour in an otherwise grey autumn that's felt unseasonably warm. I watched YouTube videos of them boxing and some documentary about their history, while quizzing colleagues about them. What other things didn't I know.

My life is less interesting otherwise — we trudge up the hill on Sundays for the church service and Mei is singing in the choir, with the white collar and gown. I go when I feel like I can put my unbelief aside, but there are days that I can't and I retreat away to my work because there is always work to do. The pay slips come and now, the edge is off, like the whole plan might have worked. Now to time travel and go back to me some time in the past, the me that was riddled with anxiety and say it will be okay, yeah? You'll make it through. You're being melodramatic.

The girls have started to organise themselves. This was the promise of having three children in 2010, that September when we decided. I feel like it was something I heard while sitting on the edge of a bed. Yoko now tells me that Naomi has organised the Halloween candy they got so Mia won't eat it in the morning, which she had done even though she had promised she wouldn't. It was my fault: their father laden with an evil spirit about him, I took them out trick-or-treating. The last two Halloweens it's been foggy and brisk, and the girls were full of a kind of energy beyond them. They ran and laughed and Naomi said it was like a paradise for children. This, of course, is what makes it worthwhile. Whatever it is. People ask you how you are and you say the kids are happy. What else matters, anyway.