I wrote this piece on 17 January this year. My life had imploded spectacularly and I was looking for control over my existence.
Now, I don’t believe for one second I’m in control of this life I’ve been gifted with.
I don’t know about you, but that’s how I stay sane.
I am becoming obsessed with time. Not seconds or minutes or hours. Not planning and organising events around a certain tick of the clock. Not watch checking and re-checking, anxious to get this done, get that done, get that seen to, get to there by then with him and her and not a minute later. I am fixated on moments in time – epic events (and, sometimes, not so epic events) that crossed the path of my fate. I’m distracted by pinpointing the precise moments these events came to pass in relation to my one, solitary life. I am feeling an overwhelming desire to draw myself a timeline, plotting the major incidents of my life on its one long arm and labeling them clearly and neatly. Time is very important. I want precise years. I want exact ages.
I want, inexplicably, to know that in 1994 when I was eleven years old, my familiar, a tiny brown tabby called Trixie whom I loved and adored (and who loved and adored me in equal measure, I might add) didn’t come home, and my heart was cleaved in two for the second time in my short life. I want to know that in 1994 I sat on the narrow windowsill of my bedroom and I sobbed while I prayed. I begged that my soul mate be returned to me, unaware that while I was praying she was probably already gone. I want to know that one day, when I was eleven years old, I stopped looking for Trixie to appear. The first thing I did when I got out of bed was not to go to the glass door and see her sitting there, expectantly, in my mind’s eye, only to be broken all over again by my cruel and heartless physical eyes.
I want to know that in 2003 when I was twenty years old, I stood in an elevator late at night and time stood still. I want to know that at twenty years old, a man I had just met, who made me uncomfortable and whose interest I had been trying to escape, walked me to the elevator in a dark and deserted street despite my assurances that I would be fine by myself. As I stepped into the small stuffy cube of that elevator expecting the stranger to take the hint and leave me to my own devices, I felt him step in behind me. The air compressed. His energy pushed up against my back. A vacuum was created in the atmosphere and all of my independence and strength and dignity tumbled violently into it. I knew that if I allowed the elevator doors to close with both of us trapped alone inside I would never get them back. I would never get myself back. In 2003, at twenty years old, I rushed out of an elevator and I was spared.
I want to know that in 2008 when I was twenty-five years old, I made a decision to leave my family behind and take a job on a remote island. This move made me in some ways (I discovered that I really was capable of surviving by myself) and broke me in others (I learned that being independent is all fun and games until someone you love dies and you’re trapped on an island in 2008, at twenty-five years old, with no exit after the 7pm ferry has already departed).
But that’s just the problem – I don’t know that it was 1994 or 2003 or 2008 and I don’t, therefore, know that I was eleven or twenty or twenty-five years old. I am desperate to put the moments of my life into a context of year and age. Memories are flooding back to me in a torrent, and I can’t put my finger on what year it was that these memories were made. How old was I? I am so frustrated by this inability to pinpoint time. It gathers in my chest and adds to a sense of urgency, unease, anxiety. I feel an irrational yearning to hold my memories down by their throats and cross-examine them, beat the facts out of them with fists and feet and barking commands. For what purpose? To what end? Part of me is extremely concerned that I’m going to die soon. Why else would I feel this compulsive need to plot my life on a timeline – a series of unfortunate, and not so unfortunate events? I should start thinking seriously about that last will and testament.
The other part of me is laughing and shaking her head at the first part. She is reminding her that we don’t die until we’re in our early nineties. Stop being so dramatic! But this other part of me, the sensible, practical one, is still confused. How will wrapping my life events up in pretty wrapping paper – labeling them neatly and lavishly with dates, ages and descriptions, sitting them down in a row in chronological order – how will this make me feel any better? How will it satisfy this pre-occupation with time that I’m battling against? Am I sidetracked by this because somehow, in the act of organising events in order of their manifestation in my life, I can capture their essence, contain their effects, bottle the emotion and keep it from seeping out into the rest of the timeline, indiscriminately poisoning, medicating, or intoxicating future events? Am I trying to take back control of a life that I feel is out of control? Am I harbouring a secret desire to write a memoir?
I don’t know. I foolishly hoped that in pouring all of this out of my head and onto paper the truth would miraculously reveal itself, glistening like Excalibur in the morning sun. I thought all of this ink would lead me to its origins, give me the wisdom and the power to heave it from the wet earth, hold it up in the air triumphantly, and watch the answer drip slowly from the pointed end of the steel blade. I was wrong. I have no truth for this, but that which is already written. No cute decorative bow to stick haphazardly to the top of the wrapped parcel. Instead, I’m left none the wiser. All I have is what’s here – the way I feel, the way I think, the way I exist.
Could that be it? Could that be the point? Could this obsession with plotting my life in the context of time be about the absolute, unquestionable, stupidly simple fact that time is of no importance in this life? In anyone’s life? Is the lesson here that it doesn’t matter when memories were made? That it doesn’t matter what year it was that x happened or how old I was when y came to pass? All that matters is how I felt, what I thought, and that I existed in spite of it all? What is more, I am blessed with the ability to bring all of those thoughts and feelings with me through the years, down the timeline, and integrate them now, here, today, and grow and stretch and flourish. Is that it?
There’s a secret about me in here too, though. The lesson has just dawned on me and I still want the timeline for posterity’s sake. I’m grateful for the lesson, but I’m also grateful for this –
I had enough self-awareness and foresight to stamp this piece of writing with today’s date.