Prologue - A Woman Out of Time
It’s hard being left behind. I wait for Jamie, not knowing where she is, wondering if she’s okay. It’s hard to be the one who stays.
I keep myself busy. Time goes faster that way.
I sleep, I wake, I walk. I work until I’m tired. I cook for one and save leftovers in the fridge for when Jamie returns. I go shopping. I read. Is this how the plants feel when Jamie isn’t there to tend to them? When she is home with me they’re lying in wait, cradled by the soil, bare beneath the heavens, waiting for their keeper to return. Do they wonder where she is? I am like the blossoms, reaching, stretching toward the sun that is Jamie, yearning for the warmth of her love. At home, I water our garden, watching over the plants that Jamie so lovingly tends, hoping I can keep them alive until she returns. Everything seems simple until you think about it. Why is love intensified by absence? Why is so much of our love story defined by it?
In ages past, men went to sea, into the unknown and women waited for them to return, standing on the edge of the water, watching the horizon for a sign of their tiny ships.
What did the women do, I wonder, when they looked for home in each other, instead?
Now I wait for Jamie. She vanishes unwillingly, without warning. I wait for her. Each minute feels like a year, an eternity. Each moment is as slow and transparent as glass. Through each moment I can see infinite moments lined up, waiting. Why does she always go where I cannot follow?
When I was younger, Jamie was an eventuality, as inevitable as rain after days of sunshine. She’s like the tide to the moon but then I realize I am the shores, waiting as she ebbs and flows from me. Waiting, waiting, waiting.
How does it feel? How does it bloody feel? Feels like shit, is what it feels like.
Imagine you’re in the middle of hammering a nail and you pull your arm back only to find that when you move to strike the nail the hammer is gone. It feels like your attention’s wandered for just a second. Then with a jolt, you realize the pot you’ve been stirring with the wooden spoon in your hand, the apron you were wearing, the kitchen, the about-to-whistle tea kettle in the kitchen: all of these have completely disappeared. ‘Cept now, you’re standing, naked as a goddamn bluebird, up to your ankles in cold November water in a ditch off a back-country road. You wait a minute to see if maybe you’ll just pop right back to your kitchen, your flat, your kettle, your life. But after about five minutes of swearing and shivering and wishing you could just disappear, you give up and start walking in any bloody direction, which might eventually bring you to a farm. There, you have the option of stealing or explaining. Stealing sometimes lands you in jail, but explaining is more tedious and time-consuming and involves lying, which also sometimes results in being hauled off to jail anyway, so you think ‘what the hell’ and usually end up stealing just to save everyone a lot of wasted energy. You feel bad, and you try to take as little as you possibly can, just enough to survive, because odds are you won’t be there very long anyway so why bother taking more than just the essentials?
Sometimes you feel like you stood up too quickly even if you’re sitting on the couch reading a book. Blood rushes in your head and you feel like you’re falling. Your stomach might feel like there’s a bucket of ice water in it. Nausea. Your hands and feet are tingling and then they aren’t there at all. You’ve displaced yourself again. It only takes a second, you’ve got just enough time to try to stop whatever you were doing before you leave it behind, and then you’re skidding onto someone’s porch in Lancashire at 1 a.m. on Friday, August 6, 1982 and you smacked your head on their door, causing a Ms. Julia Pelham from Blackpool, to open the door in her nightgown and curlers and start screaming because there’s a naked woman passed out on her welcome mat. You wake up in a hospital concussed with a policeman sitting by your door listening to the Manchester game on the radio. Mercifully, you pass out again only to wake up again, hours later in your own bed with your wife leaning over you with heavy eyes looking very worried.
Sometimes you feel blissfully intoxicated. Everything is brilliant and has an aura, but then you’re fiercely nauseated and then you’re gone. You’re throwing up on some country geraniums, or your father’s coal-soaked work boots, or your very own bathroom three days ago, or a wooden sidewalk circa 1923, or a zoo in the 1950s, or your own naked feet in a million different times and places.
How does it feel?
When I’m out there, in time, I’m inverted, changed into a desperate version of myself. A version of myself I hated, tried so hard to leave behind. Once again I become a thief, a vagrant, an animal who runs and hides. I hate it. I hate the way it makes me feel and yet, I have no choice but to become her.
Sometimes I wonder if there’s a logic, a rule to all the coming and going. I pray for a way to stay put, to grip the present with every cell in my body, the way I hold onto Dani. It never works. But, like any disease, there are patterns. Exhaustion, loud noises, stress, standing up too quickly, flashing light - any of these can trigger an episode. But: I can be skimming the morning paper, tea in hand with Dani napping next to me on the couch and suddenly I’m in 1973 watching my fourteen-year-old self crawl out of a foster window in the middle of the night. Sometimes they last only moments; it’s like listening to a radio that can’t hold onto a station. I find myself in crowds, concerts I used to go to, places I’d run away from. I pray to end up alone, in the woods somewhere, a house, car, on a field, in a grammar school in the middle of the night. I’m absolutely terrified of finding myself in a prison cell, a crowded shop, the middle of the motorway. I materialize from nowhere, naked. How could I possibly explain that kind of lunacy? Never been able to carry anything with me. No clothes, no money, no ID, no food. Most of the time I spend the trips stealing clothing and trying to hide. Thank fuck I don’t wear glasses.
Everything I love is still and intimate. After a lifetime of being displaced, whether by time or circumstance, all I long for are the few things in the world I can count as my own. A life I’ve built as my own - a life we’ve built together: couch splendor, the peaceful delights of domesticity. An old book in bed, the smell of Dani’s hair after the shower, a postcard from Owen in Paris, cream dispersing into tea, the softness of the skin under Dani’s breasts, the curve of her jaw, the symmetry of grocery bags sitting on the kitchen counter waiting to be unpacked. I love wandering through the Gardens before the grounds open to the public, lightly touching the pearls of each petal, the thick brush of foliage. They pierce me like thorns of longing when I’m displaced from them by Time’s fickle whims.
And Dani, always Dani. Dani in the morning, sleepy and crumple-faced with an imprint of the sheets on her cheek, squinting against the sun. Dani with her hair falling down like a waterfall over her shoulder, engrossed in a stack of papers, nibbling her thumb as she grades worksheets. Dani chopping vegetables at the counter, munching on errant pieces that fall off the cutting board. Dani’s low voice is in my ear often.
I hate to be where she isn’t, when she isn’t. And yet, I’m always going, and she can never follow.