I am eight years old, sitting quietly in a hotel in Cornwall. The room is musty, but cozy, with green furnishings and velvet cushions. There are busts of men with moustaches arranged on the windowsill, a hat rack placed beside a walnut piano, and the stained wood is bright against the white walls. The fire is lit, even though it’s the middle of summer. It crackles gently in the corner, flickering over the tiger-skin rug, shot by someone’s grandfather, years and years ago. It is 2007, maybe 2008, and life is so potent I might levitate.
Do memories always stay so rich, so pleasantly strong? The sense of surety rendered in Technicolour, anchoring me to happinesses formerly but powerfully felt? I lived things so deeply, then, so able to embody extremes of joy and sadness, to feel them without fear. Life can feel black and white, now, distant from me, like I’m watching it through a grainy television set. I can see myself in the little TV square, working hours in the endless dusk. I pay for smoke-alarm replacements out of threadbare savings. I comfort my mother as she moves through her grief for my uncle, who recently passed away. I fill my car with petrol with freezing cold hands. My little figure moves across that television screen, almost anonymous, hidden behind a soft-cloth mask, in the supermarket, the library, her daily walk around town. I see her listening to the news of more lockdown, more sacrifices, more failures. She is weary-eyed on the drive home.
I suppose it’s easy to suppress things into a manageable haze when life is numbing, to feel them happening to you in some distant place, without it ever connecting to what’s real or true. Life taken a day at a time, without consequence. Monday to Monday, then Monday again. But the feelings still live there, don’t they? The memories of nourishment, of things easily given and vibrantly held. The joy is not less joyful because it is over. It lives again, infinitely, in the past-present, so that we will recognise its value more clearly when we find ourselves sitting quietly, somewhere good, somewhere peaceful.
I am eight years old, sitting quietly in a hotel in Cornwall. Outside, the world is a glistening green, and I can see the sea through the window. I’m wearing towel shorts, a t-shirt, white velcro trainers, a strand of my hair wrapped in brightly coloured thread, the uniform of summer, bright in my memory. I sit for half an hour in the broad sun of a busy market-town, as a teenage girl paints my face with a pink butterfly. I buy a tiny ship in a bottle with my pocket money. I go sea swimming, and sailing around the little coves and inlets and fishing villages of Cornwall, and run through the fields and the lanes and my own heady imagination. That summer, I am always moving — I barely blink, absorbing as much as I can see, read, feel, know.
But in this remembered moment, I am still. The old clock in the sitting room is ticking, keeping its time. Each second slides past me, through me, but I remain even. I could wait here for an hour, perfectly present, and know exactly how long that hour had been, each second felt, weighed up, and released. In that Cornish hotel, I am watching the dust-motes as they float towards the floor, illuminated gold, cascading into that still sitting room. I am not waiting for anything, not living somewhere distant, but in myself, each atom carefully accounted for. That peaceful silence lives here, too.
That peaceful silence lives here, too.