I remember being annoyed. You wanting to photograph me with ten minutes to go. Amongst the ugly clutter of the departure lounge. “Something to remember you by,” you insisted, already adjusting your lense – framing me up.
I ground my teeth, clamping down on my fury, preventing it from becoming petulant outburst – wondering if this was the cruel part of you. The vivisector. My pain for your gain. “Why would you want to remember me like this?” I protested, stopping just short of biting your head off.
You smiled, as if was obvious, “When you open yourself up to beauty all the colours come in.”
Perhaps the circumstances and my mood were against me – but I never really understood. Until recently. Now I see those colours everywhere. Lovely and otherwise. All of them beautiful. Because beauty is the universal equaliser. The liberator of everyone. The transformer of all that we see. She is our light; and we only need glimpse her to know. For she does not ask us to pray or obey – simply to bear witness to her eternal wonder. And if we can open our eyes we can see her all around us, in both the brightness and in its terrible shadow – and with this vision we can re-cast the entire world in her image. So that even our despair will be a river of joy.
“I know it sounds stupid,” you said, “but I like to think of her as my queen.”
I laughed at the ridiculous, boyish charm of it – and you took your photo.
“You see … she’s never far away.”
Now, whenever I take the time to I examine that photo, I see how right you were. In that snap frozen, excised moment I am a woman beaming, illuminated from within, shining with mad-hearted love. The tissue box drama of the day and the accumulated exhaustion of knowing that it would arrive; these weighty strains do not show on my face. Somewhere in the gap between dread and finality you found the space for the likeness of rapture.
In truth, that is what this book is about. Sneaking away from my mother’s decay, hiding from my daughter’s disapproval, turning my menopausal heartache into diamonds. I can’t help but think you would approve. Or at least recognise the sleight of hand. And there perhaps is the central contradiction of all this fevered typing.
Trick or truth?
Is this just a brilliant, gravity defying routine you taught me – a way to explain away the sacrifice my family and friends have been forced to make? Is this the latest incarnation of the hollow enlightenment craze? Didn’t I just fancy a boy and get screwed up by it? Wasn’t I just a desperate middle aged hag whose neediness and lack of self-worth led her to pursue another impossible white knight? Are you the elusive god of my unfulfilment? Is this a temple of unending sorrow? Are these words my shameful blood still flowing? Pretty little stand-ins.
Sometimes it seems like all the striving of philosophy and all of the achievements of culture are a form of cosmetic surgery, a way to disguise ourselves from ourselves. To sweep the dead skin from the floor. To flush the shit away. To pretend we are not destined for the dust.
Then I look up from the falseness of the page and I notice the pale, crisp loveliness of the autumn sunshine and without needing to think about it I am instantly – instinctively – cleansed by its freely given glory.
And I go outside and feel it on my skin.