Epiphanies #2

“Human nature will not flourish, any more than a potato, if it be planted and replanted, for too long a series of generations, in the same worn-out soil. My children have had other birthplaces, and, so far as their fortunes may be within my control, shall strike their roots into unaccustomed earth.”

Nathaniel Hawthorne

The first day we searched. The street, the apartment, the keys, the light switch – we had to look for them all, one at a time. We were perpetually hunting, but with no map that said – “Don’t worry, you are here, your destination lies there, your friends are all around you, your troubles lie behind you and only happiness lies ahead”. The sun, ascendant, refused to guide us with signs of East or West.

In the blinding heat, we shambled down cavernous streets looking for number 16. We clung to the narrow strip of shadow like a cliff edge. But the buildings had no numbers and no one was out in the midday sun. Everyone else knew where they belonged.

Eventually we found it, the landlady let us in, expressing both frustration and acceptance for our late arrival. When she closed the door behind her, we sat and listened for a moment to the silent air conditioner as it began to suck the heat out of the air. We had left our home of six years 24 hours before. We had a dozen bags with us and a rented car that could park itself, but there was nothing in the fridge.

The next day we found a house to rent, we moved in two weeks later.

At first the children knew that it was hot, and that heat meant ice cream. Later the weather receded in their minds and they noticed other things were different. Language washed over them and the change from one tongue to another had no apparent effect on them. While they blithely frolicked in sprinklers, we reverted to the childish state of petty frustrations. We knew what we wanted, but couldn’t make the adults around us understand; sometimes the gap between our desires and our words reduced us to pointing.

But gradually, daily living came easier. For the children, the present was all that mattered and our neighbourhood made them welcome – there were playgrounds at every corner, buses to cut long walks short and cafes to serve them juice and croissants. Tomorrow was forever away to them. But their tomorrows now had a parallax view – the expansion of possible futures meant their future lives looked different depending on our mood, our fancy. They had escaped a country where their lives were lived on a track, each station a fixed point on a straight line. Now, the track branched and gave way to the sea where everyone made their own way.

Epiphanies #1

The compression of memory means the 72 hours around the birth of my first daughter have been reduced to a dozen snapshots. The anxiety induced by hospitals, the boredom of institutionalised waiting, the sleeplessness – all that is gone and I’m left with intense, but still uncertain memories. Was I wearing a red or a green shirt? I don’t know, but I remember my raw eyes, my sickly gut, and my damp hands as I held her that first morning. Was my wife to my left or right? Wherever her bed lay, she was asleep.

I had notions before that day of cultural narratives I was meant to play out. A new baby, like a wedding, meant the loss of freedom. Bachelor parties had always confused and repelled me slightly. Was there a bachelor party equivalent for new babies that I could also skip without regret? The moment we checked in to the maternity ward, we stopped choosing. We stepped onto a conveyor belt that would decide our destination. It wasn’t a violent theft, we relaxed into it, responsibility was now with the nurses and midwives. I never felt the loss deeply, never saw the need to cast myself in the role of a victim, a prisoner, a slave. Anyway, after the nurse kicked me out of the hospital room, the extent of my rebellion was to pick up fast food on the way home. The grease and sugar didn’t help with the queasiness, but at least I was still a free man right?

When she and her mother came home, what I remember is a sense of hyper-vigilance. Like Berkeley’s god, I had to maintain constant awareness of my daughter for her continued existence. The puckering of her tiny mouth, the mews, the rustles of the maternity blanket. It was all so potent with meaning, what exactly I didn’t know, but I had to hold it all in my consciousness. What if some sign she gave escaped me, what if I turned away and missed some crucial message she was sending? Eventually, I fell asleep.

She was still there in the morning. My mind would flit from her to what to put on my toast, to an image of Maggie Simpson – my daughter continued to exist. She would be there tomorrow.

A new sense of expansiveness filled me. I hadn’t lost freedom, my scope for action in the universe had increased. I was now a father. The number of possible futures multiplied in my imagination, there were now infinite universes in which my love for my family took on effervescent shades I had never seen before. There were also universes where new varieties of suffering appeared, albeit with millions of poignant moments that brought sharp tears to my eyes as I pondered them. I left behind the small freedom of the contracted life I had led before and stepped into a new realm of freedom, the breadth of which I trembled to behold.