I watched my Dad laugh today. He laughed so hard he got hiccups, and red of face and crying with happiness, I saw something in him.
It’s a secret we keep from no one but ourselves. Defiant of numbers and arrows of time, he’s still young. He still is. There’s a little boy there. And I saw him rattling around just behind my dad’s eyes and I realise that the days are constantly making avatars of us and those versions never really disappear. They’re inside us, stored away, because, yes definitely, we’re bigger on the inside.
And it made me remember a few weeks ago when I was sad in that way I can get sometimes, where I feel like I’m trapped in a seam of coal, and I looked in the mirror and I looked myself straight in the eye, in the black spot of the iris, deeper and deeper and I imagined it was a tunnel and if I looked for long enough, if I searched, I might see the reflection of myself when I was nineteen or even nine.
I lost my virginity ten years ago this year one sweltering hot night in an artist’s studio in Stockport, with Nine Inch Nails playing as well as Damien Rice’s O. (I wish it had been Nine Crimes because it would have had a wonderful symmetry, but the world is linear and unaccommodating sometimes.) I’d like to claim this was a sexual awakening that would spark a grand love affair (Dawson’s Creek, you promised me!) but, for a late bloomer like myself, it really was more of an anecdotal heartbreak for somebody who really did need to just get on with it.
And when I was nine and I was a year away from losing my Mum but I didn’t know that. I try to remember what that was like because it seems like that should be something I remember, but I don’t. And I don’t really remember her anymore at all, if I’m honest. I remember remembering and somewhere, sometimes, I fall through a gap in my head and there she is, a stray fragment of glass shattered but still decipherable. I realised recently that I only know a handful of things about my mum. She used to be a ballet dancer, she liked whiskey and smoking, and she wore big fake-fur coats and massive glasses with plenty of purple or blue eye shadow. She was also a Christian in her final years. I do remember one other thing. She had a jewellery box with a ballerina who would spring up and turn while some twinkling music played. When I was nine or younger I would open the box and twist the ballerina so that I could make her music go faster. The irony isn’t lost on me now, but for some reason in my head, Mum is always a young girl dancing, and I realise I always see her when she was about nine-years-old.
So sat there, looking at Dad laughing while Antiques Roadshow played in the background and he told me a story about a woman who thought she had something special only to be told she’d be lucky to make twenty bob, I realised that all of the versions of me, nine and nineteen and all that’s in between, are there somehow still.
I go into 29 with a bird etched on my hand to make me remember, to force me to see, and this weekend I’ve laughed so hard that I’ve actually hurt my ribs–and I’m certainly not complaining. I also go into 29 with one resolve: to say hello to every single one of the people I have been, to honor them because I’ve treated them badly and run from them when, actually, they’ve served me fairly well, and to ask them to walk with me because I sort of feel like all this time, well, I thought I was alone but it turns out I’ve been building my own little army, and now we’re all about ready to make our move. And naturally, it should be something fabulous.
But before 29 arrives, 28 would like to say thank you to all you lovely people–in so many ways, you have made this year the best of my life. I value you all more than I can say.