Life writing: Rain not falling and three times everything changed

Close-up photograph of goldfish in a tank on a windowsill with buildings in the street visible through the tank

A chill in the air and an open window. Rain not falling but suspended in the tension of August.

– I –
Nine years ago, waking to similar weather in a house miles from everywhere with thick stone walls and a view of the sea, not being able to shake the feeling that someone had waited to die in that room. I had no connection to the previous inhabitant but there was a lingering melancholy that wrapped around my bones until I felt ice in my veins. Later that night, lying on the same bed with a friend who felt like a brother, having shared a bottle of vodka, and he said with aching sincerity, “I’ve never seen you drunk before”, like it was somehow significant. I talked about how I didn’t really do this so much any more but I didn’t talk about why. Five minutes later we fell down the stairs together, laughing, and no-one was hurt. I was wearing pyjamas and a dark red sweater. Somewhere, there is a photograph of us grinning on a threadbare couch before everything changed.

– II –
Fifteen years ago, waking to similar weather and the uncomfortable shadow of the weight of a knife in my hand. The echo in my head of my own calm, quiet voice issuing instructions to a man who had, until a few moments before, been in the process of forcing himself on my unconscious flatmate who was sprawled naked on her bed. The blade was not a threat but a promise and the man left as he was told to so it remained clean. There was no reconciling of perspectives beyond a distant acceptance of my own steady heartbeat and reinforcement of the sense that right and wrong are wholly dependent on circumstance. I was wearing a long black coat and boots with six inch heels. I rarely speak of that night but I embrace it as a meeting with another side of myself when everything changed.

– III –
Thirteen years ago, waking to similar weather and calm blue eyes opening opposite my own as a strong hand pressed against my back and held me close. A voice that had come to feel like home said “I woke up earlier and you were all I recognised. I didn’t know who I was, but I knew you and everything was alright”. I tilted my head down to smile an exhausted smile against a warm chest as my arms reached around broad shoulders. We hadn’t yet put words to what we were to each other but delicate threads had begun to wrap around us and vibrant colours flickered in our peripheral vision. I was wearing loose jeans and one of his old t-shirts. An unfamiliar feeling settled into my skin, that this is what unconditional means, and for the first time in memory I wasn’t scared of having anchors and everything changed.

A connection between these events as heralds of a shift in perception. Sometimes everything changes when you realise that separation must take the form of a vicious tearing rather than a gentle drifting apart. Sometimes change comes from choosing a course of action based on the unquestionable justification held in the defence of someone unable to defend themselves. Sometimes it comes from the realisation that forever is neither a furnace nor a flare of antimatter but a calm ocean in the moment when you realise you can breathe underwater.

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