There is really no way to write about the self. I am going to do it anyway.
Coming up from a nervy sleep that felt more like waking but via Dali, I think about the dreams I had, though think implies some decision that I’m not sure was made. The house is cold, I know, even though I am quite warm and a little sweaty under the covers: I know the bed will be limned with cold. Marcus Aurelius frowns at me. By this, a sort of composite of an Aurelius bust and Richard Harris in Gladiator floats in front of my field of internal vision (not really vision, not really seeing, I think / realise) and says (but doesn’t) a garbled version of
“At dawn, when you have trouble getting out of bed, tell yourself: “I have to go to work — as a human being. What do I have to complain of, if I’m going to do what I was born for — the things I was brought into the world to do? Or is this what I was created for? To huddle under the blankets and stay warm?”
So you were born to feel “nice”? Instead of doing things and experiencing them? Don’t you see the plants, the birds, the ants and spiders and bees going about their individual tasks, putting the world in order, as best they can? And you’re not willing to do your job as a human being? Why aren’t you running to do what your nature demands?
You don’t love yourself enough. Or you’d love your nature too, and what it demands of you.”
He does not say all this (in fact, he does not say it at all), but the judgement is there, nonetheless. But the judgement being the personification of MA is new. At least, I think. It’s still early.
Is it? Early is pretty relative; there’s a little bar of white glowering between the curtains. My partner is not here; I can hear her cooing encouragingly below, her soft voice all the softer for its distance. Raw maternity percolates up through the floorboards. I think, then, how her self is so securely bound up with the idea of motherhood and maternity in my head. She’s a natural. A pro. David Foster Wallace wrote about how the greatest athletes don’t have that self-doubt getting into the atomic space between thinking and acting. That’s what she’s like: a ball comes and she hits it dead on. Time acts differently around her. There is no doubt in her parenting. Only action. Only the love-act, and its pledge.
Now she’ll say (and has said) that this is simply not true, and I believe her, but that’s how it seems to me. If I can’t know what it’s like to be a bat, how can I ever know what it’s like to be her? In any case, I can’t help but compare my perception of her parenting with my perception of parenting. I don’t have the grace, the balletic speed, the split-second knowing in which time gets sliced one way or the other. My parenting is a series of soft, hesitant verbs, all fusty-brown, trying to stay out of the way, trying not to upset anyone: crumple, soften, pillowed …
I think about flipping the pillow to feel the cold side. My head is thick and hot. My sinuses are hesitant. I have not slept properly for weeks and I am now really feeling it. I know that I do this in waves. I know I’m like capitalism: boom and bust. And now I’m bust. I’m not sad, though, I think, as I flip the pillow and let myself feel its coldness as though it’s the centre of my universe: I’m just tired.
The sounds of play come from downstairs. My daughter giggles in that fizzing way only pre-school children can. I imagine a string, a very long and very thin string, that’s stitched through my ribcage and pinned into my heart. It trails from there, under the bedclothes, and slinks downstairs. I close my eyes and see its end. The loose end, the frayed end. It is an inch from my daughter’s fingers.
Still, I stay. A snatch of song – from Disney’s Tangled, plays, and I realise it’s in my head and not from downstairs. A few snagged syllables go round and around again. Then MA reappears, singing them, but his eyes do not match his mouth (they are absent of feature, circles of white marble) and when they look at me in their featurelessness he asks me psychically, ‘Why aren’t you running to do what your nature demands?’
I am waiting to feel the tug of the string.
Another voice (not a voice):
THERE IS NO NATURE ALEX DON’T YOU SEE THINGS JUST ARE THEY JUST ARE AND THAT’S IT
(That voice has no reverb and I do not like it.)
My nature. I am not a natural father. I have said this and I have thought this. When I kissed her head for the first time she was three days old, and the video of it plays back now, inside my skull. I did not know they were filming. I said to her, I love everything about you. Eight different wires trailed from her. The swishing of surgical blue. I love everything about you.
And I realise that a part of me is already downstairs.
And another part of me is in the future, kissing the air as her book bag bounces.
And I see her going away, and coming back.
She came back.
I find myself downstairs in a washing of morning light. My daughter kisses the string.