Wednesday, 9 September 2009

irreplaceable moments

August burns bright. At seven months pregnant I lurch up the hill towards home with a sumo tread and a boiled beet face. My tote bag is full of drinks for the cooler. Lunchtime, but I’m not hungry. I haven’t enjoyed food or sleep in long days. The sun arrives every morning before anyone is awake, like a bright child at play. There hasn’t been a cloud to mask its perpetual yellow globe since July and people who were moaning then about the lack of summer are now moaning over heat rashes, eyestrain, having to wear flip flops to work and other people’s body odour. On the telly, they’re talking of the mother of all summers. I’m certainly having the pregnancy to end all pregnancies.

I drop the bag. Upstairs seems a long way. Is it worth the climb? Nothing keeps my bursting body cool, not fans, not showers not sticking my head in the freezer. But I long to strip. I drag myself and the baby inside me into the bedroom and peel off my cotton dress, already wet and smelly, my knickers and my big-girl bra. The effect is minimal because the room is as hot and airless as I am.

I flop onto the bed, a cross between a starfish and a whale. I can hear my heart and I’m wondering if the baby minds overheated amniotic fluid, when a miracle happens. The net curtains stir. A lightness trips into the room, a swirl of fresh air, and on it I can smell something wonderful…rain.

I feel as if I called the wind. I could believe it heard my plea for some relief and stirred into action because of my summons. The ancients had names for the four winds and it is Zephyr, the west wind from the Gulf, that has answered me. My skin responds to the ecstasy of chill. I don’t move a muscle for what seems hours, while clouds edge across the piercing sun. The smell of sulphur becomes overpowering in my nostrils. Fat drops are falling, hissing as they hit the pavement. Without raising my head I can watch as they shoot like stars, glistening with the sunlight that is still strong on the horizon. After a bit, I hear voices through the window. People are opening their front doors, stepping into the street, witnessing the marvel of wind and rain.

It is an experience like no other, a unique memory. I remember it with such clarity, and, as the years passed, longed to experience such a moment again. But I know I never will, because I’ll never again be pregnant during a century-beating hot summer or lie on a bed (defiantly never that bed in that room) to be cooled by the sudden onset of a surprise change in the weather front. I’ve given up hoping I will, although perhaps not absolutely.

I realize that I have a little cache of these reminiscences; things unrepeatable. At first, when I try to list them, I get stuck on the momentous occasions…a trip in a glider, the sight of the pyramids…that sort of thing. But when I hit on that moment on the bed, the culmination of coincidence…the swollen body, the tropical heat, the removal of every stitch of clothing just before the wind turns…I know I have found an exact definition of an exquisitely irreplaceable experience.

This feels like a new discovery, but I’ve actually known this all my life. I can remember being very tiny…tiny enough to fall flat if there wasn’t something in easy grabbing distance as I tottered from one point to the next. I can remember crying out, as toddlers do, yelling screams blended with hiccoughing sobs. My mother put cream on the scratch – Germaline probably, as she swore by it. I watched the salmon pink smear over my skin and said, ‘I love you Mummy.’ I’d had a recent falling out with my mother over what I was allowed to play with and her sudden tenderness had surprised me.

She said ‘We’re friends again, that’s wonderful,’ and kissed my head.

Wonderful, I remember thinking…friends again, Mummy and me. So the next time I cried, got Germaline on a scratch, I said, ‘I love you, Mummy.’

I can’t remember what she said, but it wasn’t, friends again, that’s wonderful. I was sorely disappointed. I could see she’d forgotten the earlier moment, which had remained so significant in my mind, and I’m sure I knew, even then, I’d never revisit that original format.

The really sad thing about these moments is that I didn’t know they’d be irreplaceable until I’d lost them, so I blew the first chance only half aware this was an experience at all, let alone one that would never be relived. So I’ve reached a decision. I’m compiling a list. The only way to return to these moments is to register each one for what it is and accept the only way to get back there is in one mind’s eye.

I needed a template – a rule that would show me which experiences should be on the list. It took me a while to hit on the exact solution, but I’m sure I’ve got it now. When you are in an unrepeatable moment, you don’t think about anything else. Your mind doesn’t wander. It’s absolutely present in the situation. For me, with my butterfly, airbrain mind, that happens so rarely, it’s almost a dead cert – if I’m ‘in the now’ I’ll want to drop down into the wonder of it again and again.

Maybe this is pitiable of me. Maybe I should turn my back on my remembrance and go out to search for newly minted moments. But the list is comforting, part of the bittersweet journey of life. When I cast my burning, swollen body onto that bed, and wait for the rise of the wind, the memory is unique to me.

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