29 August 2018

The touch

I got off the train in Helsinki, and the air was undeniable — the summer had ended. I was primed for this ending in the carriage, listening to an American exchange student talk to someone from London about their first week studying in Finland, about the clear, slow English one of their lecturers used. Yes, classes would be starting up, wouldn't they, it was time for that, and when the carriage door opened, the narrative logic demanded a crisp bite that wouldn't have been there otherwise. I found my hostel and climbed up seven floors to my room overlooking a concrete courtyard, and beyond it, somewhere, a city I tried to imagine covered in snow, the sun never coming up. Of course, that potential reality, that future reality never materialised in my mind, though I wandered the streets alone in the autumn air, perfect, a perfect balance of Japan and Sweden and Britain as you imagine Britain.

I was alone and then I wasn't: that's all there is to say about this summer. I felt the loneliness like a wound, until I didn't feel alone anymore, like it had scabbed over. All the disjointed messenger conversations — are the kids sending these pictures to themselves, or to me. Am I just their memory now — would I know if I was already dead. I ran Woodgate Valley again this morning after running it yesterday and the day before, and I wondered if I was real. I passed someone on the trail, someone from the day before and I wondered if they saw me. I meant to stop them: am I real, do you see me? The American, the fat one in the baseball cap.

I took this week off with the intention of getting things done, but I got nothing done. I went out looking for some insufferable plant-based product at the supermarket and then came home with plans to read and immerse myself in a book or project. But I didn't — I laid on the sofa all Sunday and did nothing until I fell asleep. I tried to meditate and couldn't. I tried to read and couldn't. I shut off the light and went to sleep and woke up, alone. I gave blood on Monday afternoon and they were worried about my hemoglobin — your hemoglobin needs to be 13.5 grams per deciliter of blood and mine was 14.1. I'm sorry, but I'm above the minimum, right? How is this a problem? I asked. They called the sister over, the nurse who runs the whole show, and she looked stern and told me it wasn't a problem, but it could become a problem. I was coming in too often, she said, and I needed to come every six to eight weeks, not every month, and gave me a pamphlet. I apologised, as I have apologised for the last month — I became a vegan. I'll be more careful. 

There were no complications, of course: the bag filled with the thick yellow part of my blood that I never believe actually comes out of my arm. The machine played an upbeat series of notes, and they unplugged me, but not before pestering me for another appointment. I apologised again, I'm sorry, I can't do Mondays anymore because I need to teach and besides the sister told me just a moment ago that I can't give in a month anyway, didn't she, did I imagine this, am I really here, do you see me? Still, with the anticoagulant dissipating in my system, I was buzzing, and took an apple, feeling smug. This was my blood; I hadn't cannibalised it from some non-human animal, what we new converts to plant-based food call animals to show we are better than people who just say animals. Of course, we're all animals, and those platelets (and I say this to whomever will listen) that is my blood, made from soy and water. I peed and took cautious steps down the stairs, the autumn air meeting me again just outside the door.

Alone, with nothing to do, no kids or wife or work, I walked around the city centre, past a black man with the backpack preaching about Jesus and a man in thobe next to him, leaning against the wall, texting. Someone from some charity tried to stop me to talk, but then they realised that they couldn't see me, that I was invisible, and passed their hand through me like I was a ghost. I kept walking, the past and the present and the future all just a moment together. I picked up the kids, my wife. I spoke on the phone, some figment of my own imagination now. I'm in Helsinki, I wanted to say, but the person on the other end didn't ask where I was. I hung up. Shut the light off, the city out there. I'll wake up and run, try for negative splits.