An ice-cream truck drives by my house almost every single day.
I know this because I can hear it as it tinkles along. It plays a teeth-grindingly irritating melody that I could hum for you by heart if I were able to hold any semblance of a tune, and even when it’s raining out I still hear it, like I’m being haunted by a particularly obnoxious music box.
Since nobody in their right mind is buying ’99s* in the Irish autumn, I have a theory about this ice-cream man:
I think the ice-cream merchant is a drug dealer.
Granted I have never seen him (unless he’s the man that wolf-whistled at me from a van with ‘Mr. Softee’ written down the side, in which case… the jokes write themselves), so my theory is based solely on my auditory experience of his daily habits. There just doesn’t seem to be any other explanation for a musical jingle of that sort to be ringing out when the weather is decidedly chilly. Nobody can convince me that even when it’s raining and people are wearing parkas over polo necks, my area is in fact a hotbed of activity for frenzied ice-cream aficionados.
And so what are we left with? We’re left with a suspicious ice-cream van touring the city, suspiciously ringing out a suspicious Pied Piper tune every evening when it’s starting to get dark.
Obviously I need to do some undercover reporting to catch this absolute monster who is out there peddling ’99s and probably crystal meth. In my mind it’s a lot like when Walt and Jesse started up their enterprise in Breaking Bad, except that instead of a camper van it’s an ice-cream van, and instead of being inconspicuous in the middle of the desert he’s blasting that subliminal-messaging music up and down the streets of Dublin. I need to find this heinous human.
I don’t care about the ice-cream.
I don’t care about his potentially illegal side-gig.
I just want to rip the music-box out of his van so I no longer have to feel my blood pressure rise to the slow and disproportionately maddening rhythm of his ice-cream melody.
And then I might buy a ’99 with strawberry syrup off him.
Even if it’s raining.
*That’s a vanilla cone with a Cadbury’s flake stuck in it for any deprived souls out there who have yet to enjoy the simple pleasure of a ’99
You know what that means. It means damp, russet leaves underfoot and a chill in the air like a whisper telling you to make vegetable soup. It means zipping up jackets and debating whether or not you need to wear a beanie. It means gratefully pulling on your Uggs on the way out the door because they have once again become borderline acceptable, like they do every year around the time Starbucks brings out the pumpkin spice latte. It means cold fingers and early dusk and thick, knitted jumpers that feel like inanimate hugs.
I like Autumn, and I particularly like October. There is something magical about Halloween; I love that the tradition has lasted to the present day. I love the pumpkin-carving and the skeletons and the ghosts and the fireworks. I love the idea of a holiday that involves death in such a harmless way, a traditional, cultural celebration that’s a little macabre but ultimately unthreatening.
A couple of years ago, I visited family in Spain and brought with me some cartoon Halloween stickers for the kids. They were packs with the usual cast of characters – an arched cat, a laughing witch, a cheery pumpkin – and I gave them out to the younger children because it was about this same time of year, and in my experience all little kids love stickers.
Quick as a flash their dad was right there, taking them back from the children and shuffling them into a neat pile as if he were taking cards from gambling addicts about to play a game of poker. I stared at him, wondering if he intended to save them for later. Maybe he was afraid they would stick them on the dashboard of his car?
Instead, he turned, held them out to me, and stiffly said, “Thank you, but we don’t celebrate pagan holidays.”
I took them from him wordlessly and stared in disbelief as he got into the car and they drove away, a huddle of forlorn faces looking longingly out the back window at the contraband stickers in my hand.
I think about that quite a bit around this time of year, especially as the houses in my area start to get creative with their front garden decor. Some put motion-activated sensors at their gates so that anyone passing through hears rattling chains and ghoulish moans. Plastic ravens are twist-tied to trees, and small stuffed ghosties made from ping-pong balls and tissue paper dangle from invisible string. There are candles and cobwebs and paper decorations in the windows. It’s like a creepy Christmas. I LOVE it, and so do the kids. I would hate to see the tradition of trick-or-treating die away.
Last year in Spain there was a lot of controversy, because some of the traditional Three Wise Men parades that happen every January were… modified. They were adapted; secularised slightly in an professed attempt to make it more inclusive. The staunch Catholics were, of course, up in arms about it. They complained about there being a lack of respect for tradition and how it shouldn’t matter that it’s a Catholic tradition, because it’s part of the culture, and it’s for the children after all, and why can’t people just enjoy it?
Personally, I agree that traditions are important. They’re cultural touchstones. Even if the root of the tradition is something to give pause (I’m not sure American Thanksgiving is as wholesome as the name suggests, and Valentine’s Day celebrates the execution of a saint), the traditions themselves bring people together. I remember the magic of the Three Wise Men when I was a child. I remember them throwing fistfuls of sweets into the crowds, I remember the jeweled robes and the pageboys and the music and the sparkling lights. I LOVED it. I certainly didn’t stop to think about the religious undertones, in much the same way as I was largely oblivious to the pagan history of Samhain when I dressed up for Halloween.
As I listened to the Catholics on the television banging on about how people needed to think of the children and respect the beauty of tradition, I thought about the Halloween stickers. I thought about how intolerant that man had been with what amounted to a silly symbol of a strange and wonderful tradition. I wondered why people feel so threatened by beliefs other than their own, and why sometimes we can’t just allow ourselves to enjoy things that aren’t hurting anyone.
It would be nice for people to respect the beauty of tradition, but I would happily settle for people just learning to respect each other.
When I was a wee slip of a four year old, I remember visiting a friend and following him upstairs to a room that contained a giant cardboard box. It was long, and lay on its side, and easily took up at least half of all available floorspace in the small, book-lined room. In hindsight I suppose it had originally housed a fridge. My friend walked around to the back of the box and called for me to follow him.
I remember looking at it with all the healthy skepticism a four year old can muster. It didn’t look like anything special. In fact, it looked like it might have fallen victim to some sort of cardboard-consuming moth – it was riddled with tiny holes – but other than that it looked entirely unremarkable. I picked my way warily over stacks of books to find a small door that had been choppily cut out of the back of the box, just large enough for a small child to squeeze through without too much trouble. A flap of cardboard had been clumsily taped to the top, and this makeshift door was suddenly pushed up to reveal my friend’s face emerging from the darkness within.
“Come ON!” He said, in that urgent way children sometimes have of making the unimportant seem entirely time-sensitive. He crawled out and tried to pull me down to the floor. “Go IN!”
Dubiously I crouched and lifted up the cardboard flap. I crawled into the gloom and felt soft blankets give way beneath my palms and my knees.
“Lie down on your back!” I heard my friend’s muffled order from outside the box. “You’re in space now!”
I lay down on the blanket as instructed and looked up to find…
What had looked like a perforated box from the outside was utterly transformed on the inside. The holes were small, and numerous, and they let in just enough light to look like hundreds of stars. I felt safe in there with my gaze turned upward, my chubby child fingers roaming over the invisible blankets. It was a warm, muffled cocoon of cardboard. It was a magical box that had suddenly and efficiently transported me to deep space.
I love this memory, because for me there is so much childhood wrapped up in that instant; that abrupt suspension of disbelief, that willingness to go with the game, that ability to fully enjoy the moment no matter how small, and to make stars out of holes in a cardboard box.
The imagination of a child is so powerful. It carves adventures out of nothing and crafts stories out of nowhere. Everything makes sense; nothing is too fantastical. How can it be when they are learning so much about the world? They are being asked to learn and understand any number of mad-sounding things, what’s one more? There are giraffes, and aardvarks, and elephants… why not unicorns? Why not dragons?
As we grow, we lose a lot of our imagination. We get worried and stressed and bogged down in never-ending to-do lists. Sometimes it can be really hard to just submerge yourself in a moment and enjoy it for what it is. The word ‘fun’ has so many connotations attached; it’s supposed to be spontaneous and frivolous and silly and it drags with it a sort of blue-skies-and-primary-colours aura reminiscent of beach balls and bouncing castles. What adult has time for that on a daily basis? We’re busy people! We have work to do and people to take care of and events to plan and activities to take part in and coffee to consume!
Over time, for the most part, that aimless, pointless fun gets squeezed out of our day-to-day. It gets relegated to holidays or long weekends. It gets saved for boozy nights with friends. We get too self-conscious for silliness. Once we’ve learned to anticipate outcomes, it can be very hard to relax into the simple act of making a mess without worrying about the clean-up.
I think when you’re an adult, simple fun can get paradoxically difficult.
I also think that imagination and creativity is like a muscle. If you don’t use it, it wastes away.
When we’re small we make jelly, and scones, and chocolate rice-krispie buns topped with smarties. We marble Play-Doh until the many colours come together to form a single uniform shade of murky brown. We finger paint. We make sandcastles. We twist skinny horses out of pipe-cleaners, and make butterfly paintings by lobbing paint on a page and then folding it over and pressing it down. We make daisy chains, and dance in our living rooms and it doesn’t matter that the daisy chain isn’t perfect, and it doesn’t matter that our sandcastle will be washed away by the tide, and it doesn’t matter that our dancing looks ridiculous, and it certainly doesn’t matter that the Play-Doh is brown because that just means we can make a big Play-Doh bear out of it.
I’m not saying we should put aside life and responsibility and live as adult toddlers for a week, but I think there are lessons to be learned from our past selves. Children really understand how to live in the moment in a way that we forget as we grow into adults. They understand that things don’t need to be perfect to be beautiful, and that sometimes a big mess is a small price to pay for half an hour of laughter. When we were children, we didn’t always need reasons to do the things we did. We didn’t run around the playground because it made us healthier. We didn’t make each move carefully strategising five steps ahead. Our reasons could be as flimsy as “because I feel like it” or “because I want to.”
I know that as adults we are expected to put away our childish things. We have to be responsible, and practical. We have a lot of things cluttering up our heads and it feels like there’s barely time to do the things we have to do, much less the things we want to do.
I’m just not sure we should put away all our childish things. I think it does us good to channel our inner child sometimes.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m about to attend a solo dance party in my living room.
I was born in a city. I have always lived in a city. I grew up with a street lamp outside my window and the sound of a train passing by every twenty minutes. I’m used to light, and noise, and shops that are less than five minutes of a walk away. I’m used to lots of people going about their business with earphones in, purposely not making eye contact and completely ignoring the existence of anybody else on the road.
So when I take a trip to the countryside, I’m always reminded of the things country people take for granted that are – for me – hugely abnormal. Every so often something happens and I feel like I’m surrounded by Dothraki nodding and muttering “It is known” about something that is decidedly not known. At least, not to me!
Here are a few of the many things I don’t understand about life in the country:
People letting themselves into your home with absolutely no warning.
Not so much as a knock on the door! They just turn the handle and walk in. I once got out of the shower, wrapped myself in a towel and padded down the corridor to the kitchen to grab my hairbrush only to find the parish priest sitting at the table casually making himself a cup of tea. I reversed myself back into the corridor at the speed of light, believe me. I stood in the corridor frozen with horror before deciding that my best course of action would be to speedwalk back to the bathroom where I locked the door and listened for the sound of the door.
The lack of convenience stores.
I mean really, the clue is in the name. They’re convenient. Usually they are open all hours of the day and night and they sell everything you could possibly want at 2am when you’ve only just realised you’re in dire need of a pack of kitchen roll, a carton of milk, a bag of basmati rice and a tube of toothpaste. Here in the countryside there is only a single shop, it is the size of a large bathroom, and it stocks a wide variety of random items that you might – or might never in your life – require for any reason at all. It also closes at six and the walk there definitely takes more than five minutes.
It is unnaturally silent. The only time you hear real sound is if the rain is pounding against the window or the wind is making the house creak. The cars are too far away to be heard and so instead there are only inside-noises; the ticking of the clock, the hum of electricity, the sound of the pipes kicking into gear… It’s uncanny.
It is onyx outside once the lights go out. Unless the moon is working as God’s own spotlight, you can see absolutely nothing at all. Although I don’t mind this, it does have the peculiar effect of imposing a sort of natural curfew on me; at home I think nothing of leaving the house after dark, but here I suddenly feel like it’s so much later. As soon as the windows become opaque black rectangles, I am ready for my pyjamas. There’s no way I’m going anywhere. I am not afraid of the dark, but if I were I would be terrified because it is blackas pitch.
The country hello.
In Dublin, I can happily spend half a day surrounded by people without acknowledging even a single one of them. In the countryside, on the other hand, you can’t pass a single person without them nodding their head and saying “Hello there!” or “Fine weather we’re having!” or “How are you?” or making some other kindly, weather-related utterance. When they know you, this greeting is usually accompanied by a smile, but when they don’t it’s often delivered with a suspicious, gimlet-eyed stare. If you make the mistake of coming to a standstill in front of them for any reason, it’s even worse; they try to entangle you in a sideways game of twenty questions in an unsubtle attempt to find out who you are, where you came from and what you’re doing there. Any unfamiliar face is treated to the same gentle interrogation, as if they’re trying to make sure they have a full character profile to hand over to the police for when you, the suspicious stranger, start up some nefarious business and threaten to upset the quiet community vibe.
There are things I love about the countryside too, of course.
I love the animals.
There are lambs in all the fields now, springing around in a wobbly way as if they’ve been made from cheap pipe-cleaners. There are friendly little robins that don’t look as if they should be able to take flight at all, they’re so rotund. There’s Charlie, the cat, who sometimes greets me with a bloody mess of a breakfast outside my bedroom window (usually one of the aforementioned rotund robins). There are crows, watching carefully for leftovers, and wagtails bobbing across the patio. There’s even a hefty badger that trundles up the path at night to eat whatever Charlie’s left behind. He gobbles up anything in the bowl before trotting back into the darkness. As a city kid whose only exposure to wildlife was cats, dogs, red foxes rooting through wheelie bins, and roadkill… the badger in particular always delights me.
I love feeling ‘away.’
Although it’s inconvenient not being able to go anywhere or see anyone at a moment’s notice, it’s also nice to be here. It’s nice to feel removed from the normal. It’s nice to be out of my everyday timetable; it’s not hugely productive, mind you, but it is nice. It’s like hitting F5. I’m ready for the city again. I’ve had my break and now I’m ready to put back on the robes of routine.
I love how clean the air feels.
I mean, I think the air in Dublin is pretty clean too, but here it feels healthy. When I inhale, I feel like I’m doing my body good. It’s nice.
I’ve been doing a lot of inhaling and exhaling, thanks to your many suggestions on my last post. It’s helped! Thanks guys. Sometimes I just need the reminder to breathe.
If you also need the reminder, here it is: Breathe!
And now if you’ll excuse me, it’s starting to get dark, so I’m off to put on my pyjamas…!
Or rather, I have a single anger issue. It’s not an issue clouded in a dangerous red haze, that bursts from my forehead like the emotional descendant of Athena, explosively demanding TO SPEAK TO THE MANAGER!
It’s the other kind of issue. My anger issue is that I am not terribly good at expressing my anger. Either I am emotionally involved – in which case my eyes invariably leak in a way that looks suspiciously like crying but is, in fact, just a watery expression of intense frustration – or I am not emotionally involved, in which case I would just rather not, thankyouverymuch. Here is how my (unemotional) anger tends to develop:
The idiot does something idiotic.
I try to ignore it.
The idiot continues to do the idiotic thing.
I consider the fact that perhaps the idiot doesn’t know any better and is, in fact, doing what they think is right. I continue to try to ignore them.
The idiot starts involving me directly and pre-emptively defends their idiotic position out of a (valid) fear of being judged.
I feel a twinge of pity that the idiot finds this idiocy a productive use of their time. I think about the many things the idiot could be doing instead, like reading, or going to the zoo, or taking a long walk. I feel a sort of remote concern about the life circumstances that have brought them to this point. I wonder about their parents and whether or not they have any friends. I take a long, slow breath and calmly explain my point of view to the idiot, while accepting that they clearly have their own view of the matter at hand. I tell them they don’t need to agree, they just need to try to at least understand that others feel differently.
The idiot does not understand. The idiot does not even try. The idiot simply gets louder, more annoying and more aggressive about their idiocy.
I start to feel a stirring of annoyance. Not because they are an idiot – after all, I’ve already concluded that they probably can’t help it; who chooses to be an idiot, after all? – I just really dislike loudness. Can’t we keep it to regular decibels? Is the hysteria really necessary? I regret not having bought ear plugs with my last amazon order. I ask them to keep it down, please. I ask them not to scream in my ear, because it happens to be quite disagreeable. Also, I am not hard of hearing and would really prefer for this discussion to come to an end with this still being the case.
The idiot ignores me and continues to shout, but is now approaching a sort of feverish level of rage, and so the shouting is louder and more unpleasant. Their face has turned an unflattering shade of puce and their hands are trembling with indignation.
Now I can feel that strange, unfurling of anger deep in my stomach. A small part of me is stirring, galvanised by the grating sound of unrestrained agitation. The idiot cannot tell, of course, because this part of me is well concealed beneath layers of decorum. I cut in while they’re taking a wheezing breath. I speak the idiot’s position back to them, to make sure I’ve grasped their (idiotic) point, and then make my argument as clearly and concisely as possible. Again.
The idiot is INFLAMED that I might understand their position and still argue against it. They escalate into a mad frenzy of spit-flinging fury. At this stage they are so psychotically furious their words have devolved into incoherence, and I can only lean back and watch the spittle fly.
Now I am angry. Actually angry. I can feel my entire body stiffen with adrenaline and blaze with a rage that has been slowly brought the boil…
…And I’m out. I’m sorry, but I really don’t believe there’s anything to be gained once the idiot is foaming at the mouth. I say something like, “Okay, let’s just leave it. We’re not getting anywhere with this.” Then I walk away, my veins pulsating with unreleased anger. I go for a walk. I let the cool air bring my temperature back down until it’s no longer the same as that of an exploding star. I read. I go to the zoo.
Sometimes I enjoy a flicker of satisfaction in imagining how it would feel to yell “YOU RUDE, INSUFFERABLE GODDAMN IMBECILE! CAN YOU PLEASE RUB THE TWO LONELY BRAIN CELLS THAT ARE FLOATING AROUND IN THAT THICK SKULL TOGETHER AND GET THEM TO START A SMALL SPARK OF UNDERSTANDING! THERE’S NO REASON TO BE SUCH A HEINOUS TOOLBAG, FOR GOD’S SAKE!”
But it never makes its way to the surface. It stays stuck in my throat like a spiny hairball. I swallow it down while I’m on my long walk. It sinks to the bottom of my stomach where it joins the rest of them; the many words of anger that are left unspoken. My anger issues.
The other day, while out walking with a friend, we took a detour on our way home and found ourselves in an old cemetery.
It was, as she put it, the sort of place Tom Riddle might show up to challenge you to a wand duel. The ground, bulging with overgrown roots, was uneven and covered over with long blades of grass that soaked us to the ankles. Most of the engravings on the oldest headstones were illegible; the inscriptions had been gently buffed to smoothness by the passing of time. Speckled with lichen and pushed by either weather or slowly shifting soil, the stones leaned drunkenly at different angles. We wandered between them, calling out unusual names to each other or pointing out particularly old dates. Some went back to the 1800’s.
We found a few sad ones; children, siblings, husbands who died in their thirties with wives who died in their seventies. We found a few interesting ones; a headstone marked the passing of a man named Lemon Booth who had died in 1910 (I pictured him as a kindly eccentric with a penchant for wearing yellow). We also found a slab of what we assume is a family crypt dug into the foundations of what used to be a church.
Some people strongly dislike graveyards. They find them creepy, or depressing, or taboo in a way that makes their skin crawl. The thought of dead people underfoot gives them the heebiejeebies. Some people feel it’s almost sacrilegious to walk through a cemetery full of people you have no connection to, propelled by nothing but curiosity. Some think that cemeteries should only be for the broken-hearted. Some think that it should only ever be a private place for grieving and goodbyes.
I actually quite like them.
Not – obviously – during burials, when my heart feels like it’s being finely grated into ribbons of despair and deposited straight into the ground with the coffin… but after. Later. I find comfort in the fact that so it has been and so it will always be; humans losing loved ones and creating rituals to say goodbye, with something tangible to mark the passing of generally unremarkable people. That’s you, and me, and most people. We, the Wikipedia-entry-less. We, the people who live important lives but on a private scale. We, the remarkable unremarkable. We live full, busy lives of friendships, and stories, and memories. We have favourite activities, and things we are most proud of, and quirks that are unique to us. We laugh and cry and develop habits and grieve and love and then, at some point, we die and leave it all behind.
Honestly, I hate the idea as much as the next person. Saying goodbye to loved ones has always been so hard, and although my grief stems from not wanting them to ever leave my life, a small part of it also comes from the sadness that comes with the thought of leaving my life. I grieve for myself, but I also grieve on their behalf, for their having to say goodbye to everything. I love this world, the colours in it, the smell of petrichor, the taste of freshly baked bread, the feeling of a badly-needed hug, the sound of a loved one laughing. I love this world, even with the really rubbish bits. Even with the tragedies. Even with the dangers. Even with the Trumps.
I like my unremarkable life. I like being alive.
They say you die twice. Once when you stop breathing and a second time, a bit later on, when somebody says your name for the last time. I always think of this as I read the names on headstones, shaping the consonants beneath my breath, taking a moment to wonder about the person behind the name, and the life that person left behind.
It comforts me to think that over a hundred years from now, someone might find the marker of my unremarkable life and say my name aloud, wondering about me…
I always feel slightly unworthy on my birthday, like I didn’t do enough to deserve the ‘happy birthday!’s flung my way. I feel like I should have accomplished something great this past year and I just… haven’t. I feel like I didn’t do sufficient good this year, as a human. I didn’t contribute enough. I am lacking, somehow.
Still, as with every year, it’s just made me more determined to knuckle down this coming year. I will blaze through 2018! Hopefully!
….My resolutions start early.
To date, I think this might be my least organised Christmas yet! As things currently stand, some of the Christmas presents I ordered online won’t arrive until the new year, and all I want for Christmas (now that I’ve got my two front teeth) is a time turner or a portable black hole. I need some way to scrounge a couple of days in the midst of the madness to assemble an entire kitchen and do some heavy duty spray painting, so if any of you have time travel theories you need testing, let me know.
I am starting to wonder if I’ve bitten off more than I can chew, but my innate optimism in anything relating to matters outside of myself is really buoying me up and persuading me it’s possible. I suppose we’ll see, won’t we? I’ll either manage it, or I’ll be crushed by a falling floor-to-ceiling cabinet and leave a Quinn-shaped hole in the floor (in which case I grant you all permission to tut and say, “Typical!” in a disappointed-but-not-entirely-surprised tone of voice).
Since my home is now a building site, I am currently sitting in the lobby of a local hotel, vagrant-style, stealing warmth and wifi while I wait for a toilet to be delivered.
When you’re ten years old, you never think about the fact that your adult life will one day involve hours of waiting for a toilet bowl to be delivered. You think about the fact that you can have ice cream for breakfast if the fancy takes you, but you never imagine that one day, you too will need to buy a hoover. Someday you will need to iron your clothes*, and weigh up the merits of coyote oak over frappuccino oak, and think about things like triple-glazing**.
You won’t have a clue what you’re doing.
You will strongly suspect that the shop assistants don’t have a clue what they’re doing.
That’s fine too.
Unlike our parents, we have the internet at our fingertips. The world is smaller than it’s ever been. Just this past week I took in a delivery from Galway, and now I’m waiting on a delivery from Germany. I wish I had a bed to curl up in, but since the bedroom looks like a smaller and less organised version of IKEA’s warehouse I am sitting in this blue twill armchair in this hotel lobby instead.
The lobby is quite nice actually.
Unlike my home, this lobby has heating.
Unlike my home, this lobby has a bathroom.
Unlike my home, this lobby has a Christmas tree.
Unlike my home, this lobby has somewhere for me to sit that isn’t a precariously balanced assortment of wiring covered with black tarpaulin.
I have been here four hours.
I was told the toilet would arrive “in the morning.” There is an hour of morning left. My toes are numb and I have Christmas shopping to do. If I don’t leave here soon I am mildly concerned that I will become an inadvertent mascot like that cat, Billy, who wandered into the Algonquin Hotel in NYC back in the 1920’s and never left.***
Although… Now that I’ve been here for four hours I am curious as to how long I could stay here before being quizzed about my business. How long do hotels let you hang out if you have a laptop and a purposeful expression on your face?
If the toilet never arrives, I’ll let you know.
Happy Christmas, everybody. I’m sending you all the love, all the good wishes, all the hugs and twinkles and fairy lights and mistletoe kisses you could possibly want.
Have a great one!
PS: If anybody is feeling generous and feels the need to gift me a birthday coffee, there’s a link in the sidebar! I have a dream that one day I will go to Insomnia and order every different kind of hot chocolate, and I suppose if you were so inclined you could make this deranged chocolatey dream a reality! Thank you to those of you who have been kind enough to buy me one already; I REALLY appreciated both them and you!
*For the record this day has yet to come for me. I make a point of only buying clothes that don’t need ironing. Or if they do, I wear them crumpled and pretend they’re supposed to look like that. If I absolutely MUST get creases out of something, I use my hair straightener. This is not because I don’t own an iron (I do; a very intimidating hulk of a thing with a water reservoir and everything), but because life is too short to be faffing about with ironing boards and irons and those tiny plastic water jugs and all the rest of it.
**If you’re anything like me you will have conjured up a mental image of a donut positively dripping with three thick, smooth layers of sticky-finger glazing, but actually this is to do with windows and insulation. Adulting is an endless series of low-level disappointments…
***He kicked off a whole hotel cat tradition. Their current cat is a ginger tabby called Hamlet.
We had been sitting next to each other – awkwardly at first, then more comfortably – for about an hour. I could feel his thigh pressed against mine. When he moved his arm, I felt his sleeve brush against my sleeve. He made bad jokes and gave me lopsided smiles while I babbled non-stop in an effort to disguise my nerves. He took a phone call and unfolded himself from the couch to pace the room, so I moved to the window to look out over the river. Even from across the room I felt like there were delicate filaments of feeling tying us together, vibrating with the low sound of his voice and the shy uncertainty woven through my every action. I absent-mindedly flicked through a stack of DVDs as he wrapped up the call, and then he crossed the room until he was standing right in front of me, toe to toe.
“So?” I said.
He smiled down at me. “So.”
My gaze slid sideways to avoid meeting his eyes.
“Are we going into town?”
I looked up then to find him looking down at me with an intensity he hadn’t had earlier. I felt it; a strange, electric thickness that hung in the air between us.
Not longing after it, or wondering how it would be to be single now (although the thought of Tinder makes me deeply uncomfortable), but rather thinking about how I felt when I was single. I loved being single. I enjoyed myself immensely. If ‘love is… selfless‘ then ‘being single is… never having to compromise‘, and there is an unrestricted joy in that. You can do everything for yourself, by yourself, whenever you want, however you want. Your time is your own. There are a lot of things to love about it.
Still, if I were asked what I loved most about being single, it wouldn’t be that I had more me-time, or that I never had to compromise on holiday destinations.
It would have to be the microsecond before a first kiss.
I don’t mean casual first kisses. I don’t mean spin-the-bottle kisses, or truth-or-dare kisses, or seven-minutes-in-heaven kisses. I don’t mean prearranged kisses at teen discos, or kisses that are granted through friends of friends. I mean the few first kisses with people who matter. I mean the monumental first kisses; the kisses that feel like they might change everything and turn your world right on its head.
There is a strange magic about that sliver of time. That fraction of a second before your lips meet is loaded with possibility and hope and anticipation and excitement and sometimes a tiny flicker of fear. There are infinite lifetimes contained within that split moment. It’s like pulling hard on a lever to suddenly and irreversibly switch tracks. It sets you down a course that might lead anywhere. It might take you to a beautiful place, or on a short but scenic route on the way to somewhere else, or it might lead you through a dark tunnel… or it might just send you smack into the side of a mountain before burying you in a landslide of despair.
You have no way of knowing.
If you’re anything like me, all of these barely-thoughts and almost-feelings fuse into a single burst of energy that electrifies the air. Trepidation, lust, expectation, unease, desire and apprehension slam into the thrill of the unfamiliar to create an exhilarating mixture and, in all of its innocence, I honestly think it’s the most wholesome form of intoxication.
Now, my last first kiss is behind me* and instead, in the future, I’ll be experiencing subcategories of that kiss: first kiss as a wife**; maybe first kiss as a mother***. Who knows?
Here’s what I do know:
I pulled the lever and switched tracks that day without hesitation, and I have never regretted it. That’s pretty unusual for an overthinker such as myself, who goes back and forward over the same patch of memory with the fine-toothed comb of anxiety, worrying and wondering about all the other ways things might have gone and might still go.
So while I miss first kisses of that magnitude, I don’t regret having kissed them goodbye.
(And I don’t regret that pun, either.)
*Barring some awful tragedy. Touch wood.
**Typing that felt like an out-of-body experience. The word ‘wife’ sounds bizarre when you’ve been a girlfriend for so long. I already struggle with ‘fiancee.’
When I was a child, there were always things I had to do before I could go out to play with my friends; homework, tidying, dishes, extracurriculars… Whatever it was, I had to finish it perfectly before I was let loose to climb trees, or to run around in the undergrowth, or to make up terrible, terrible dance moves, or to collect earthworms and snails to “rescue” them from being stood on by careless pedestrians.
I was a weird kid.
Anyway, I would take care of my tasks, and then I was free to leave the house and find my friends*. My mind would empty of school worries or drama, and I would throw myself into whatever crazy fictional plot we had dreamed up that day. Elaborate scenarios were created during playtime only to dissolve at sunset, imaginary sandcastle worlds washed away by the tide of bedtime.
Today, if somebody were to ask me what it’s like to be an adult, I would say it’s like never getting to playtime.
As you grow older, the tasks and chores start to stack up on each other like LEGO. Not fun LEGO. Not here’s-a-bin-of-multicoloured-bricks-have-at-it LEGO. No. I’m talking Belville LEGO.** Once you’re officially An Adult™, this Belvillestack of tasks just grows and grows until it becomes a veritable wall of responsibilities; an insurmountable barrier between you and the blank-slate mindset of playtime. Now, at the age of thirty, I can honestly say I can’t remember the last time I had nothing pending. There’s always something hanging over my head.
For example, my immediate To Do List says I have to:
Finish this blog post.
Work on my course project.
Discover the (presumably revolting) reason why my uncarved pumpkin is leaking.
Go grocery shopping, because the fridge is empty and I can’t survive without a steady supply of milk.
Then, later, once those are done, I will have to:
Feed the kittens, because otherwise they will eat me in my sleep.
Make dinner, or I will be eating cereal for breakfast, lunch, and dinner***.
Make a few home decisions.
And, more generally, I have to:
Clean the windows (this one’s been on the list a while…)
Plan on planning a wedding at some stage.
Get my eyes tested.
Make life decisions.
….And countless other small, niggling things that have been waiting patiently for my attention.
There is never a moment when I’m just… done. I can be done for the day, sure, but I don’t think I will ever have a moment in my life again where I feel like every single one of my tasks have been checked off the list and I can devote myself wholeheartedly to the kind of mindless playtime I once enjoyed. It’s exhausting to even think about, but it’s true. When you’re young, you’re unaware of the people around you shouldering the burden of life’s responsibilities. Slowly, they sneak up on you, and before you know it the To Do List is several thousands of items long and you’re wondering where your abundant spare time went.
I think this is why people call childhood “carefree.” Of course children have worries and chores and struggles and lessons to learn, but somebody has already reached across the able and carved everything up into bite-size chunks. The worries and lessons are usually workable. Except for in tragic circumstances, children’s lives are carefully managed and engineered to ensure that not too many tasks fall on those tiny shoulders.
And then you grow, and your shoulders start to press against something unfamiliar, and then it starts to press down on you, and before you know it, you’ve become the Atlas of your life, with your world carefully balanced between your shoulderblades.
So here I am, the Atlas of my life, trying to fit things into my calendar like an actual old person. Ticking off boxes like An Adult™. Sighing heavily because I realise the To Do List isn’t just the twenty things I have written down, but the never-ending, scrolling list that whirrs through my brain at 3am, making that KRSSSH SHHH WHRRRR SHHHKSH sound that receipts make when they’re being printed.
Now I better go feed the kittens before they start chewing on my toes….
*ticks another item off the list*
*I know, I’m as surprised as you that I had any at all with my fists full of earthworms.
**Does anybody remember Belville LEGO sets? They were completely rubbish. They were just like regular LEGO, but everything was larger and lacking any sense of fun or accomplishment.
***Which – although this is something that I can (and do!) do as An Adult™ – is something that should be reserved solely for times of stress. Or lack of groceries. Or high sugar requirements.
Sometimes conversations don’t at all go in the direction you were expecting.
One moment you’re talking about balloons as cat toys and the fact that your wisdom tooth is digging into your cheek, and the next the conversation has taken a sharp left turn and you are hearing a sentence that doesn’t seem relevant in the slightest.
“Before you get pregnant, it’s vital you get any dental issues out of the way.”
This conversational clanger had been dropped in – apropos of nothing – by my mother. Just to be very clear, I have no plans to get pregnant. None at all. I am not a broody person. When I see babies* on the street I smile politely, that is all. As a general rule, babies hate me. They tend to respond to my touch with shrieking cries of instant unhappiness; I think they can sense my fear.
“Yes, teeth before you get married. It’s very important.”
I narrowed my eyes and squinted at the wall, hoping the paint markings might provide some insight regarding this sudden non sequitur.
“What- I mean, why- “
In my mind, question marks popped like bubbles. I stumbled over my words before deciding that ultimately, wherever this road was leading wasn’t worth it. The journey would be too painfully infuriating. I massaged my forehead with my fingertips.
“… Never mind…”
I needn’t have bothered. My mother simply continued as if I hadn’t interjected at all.
“You know, before my sisters and I got married, my father took us each to the dentist in turn to get our mouths fixed up.”
“… What now?”
“Yes, each of us in turn. Right before our weddings. It’s crucial to get it all done before you get pregnant.”
My head fell back and I eyed the ceiling as I imagined some faceless man pulling at lips and examining gums and checking teeth before slapping my mother and my aunts on the back and calling them “Fine fillies!”
… Or whatever the Spanish term is for good broodmares.
There was a long, yawning silence as I debated whether or not I wanted to continue this bizarre and mildly disturbing line of conversation.
Anyway-” I started over in an attempt to change the subject.
“I’m serious. Teeth are very important to get fixed before you get married.”
“Okay, but I mean-“
“It has to be before you get pregnant.”
“Okay but I never said-“
“So you should do it quickly now.”
“Well I mean there’s definitely no rush-“
“You should definitely do it next month.”
As somebody who has no plans, somebody please explain this logic to me. Is this some sort of strange common-but-unspoken thing that I have never heard of? Do people go to the dentist to get “their mouths fixed” before they marry? Is there any reason you wouldn’t get your mouth fixed before then?
There is nothing wrong with my wisdom teeth; they’re good teeth, Brent. They are, however, growing into a mouth where all the space is currently occupied, so I just feel like they may have to vacate the premises. It’s on the long list, you know? Riiiiiiiiight below growing my hair out and finding a dress to wear at Christmas and going to Dubai and getting a job that will pay for both the dentist and the dress.
So you know, on the list, but down a bit.
No, down further.
Further. Keep going. Yep, next page.
There it is!
*In comparison, when I see a dog on the street my eyes turn into lovehearts and I make a beeline for them so I can pet them and tell them they’re beautiful. Can you be dog broody?