Warm thanks to David and Stacey for inviting me to BLOG this week! I plan to write about a variety of issues, magazines, people, poems, musicians...but I thought to start on a personal note
I didn’t want to finish my degree at Oxford. It was nearly halfway through the year, and my mother and uncle travelled to Berlin for the Berlinale. I met them there.
Sitting in a dim restaurant in Mitte, I didn’t touch my sauerkraut until I finished explaining exactly how impossible it would be for me to finish my studies at Oxford. Consumed by rehearsals, I was spending all my time in the theater, writing, acting, and producing. I wanted to raise money to go to the Edinburgh Fringe that summer. As if that weren’t enough, I had developed a physical allergy to academic writing. Each time I mounted the stairs to the Rad Cam, I turned around again like someone performing a ritual dance. I just couldn’t do it anymore. I felt like a puppet hanging on divine strings; even if I wanted to finish my studies, I was being guided in another direction. The only valuable part of my engagement with the institution was my long talks, walks, lunches on Fridays with poet and professor Jon Stallworthy. This was the kind of thing I could learn from. Reading poems with Jon. The rest was dross. I knew I sounded ungrateful. I knew I sounded childish and stupid. But I also knew that we only get one chance at living, and that this year would make or break me. An indestructible fire was burning behind my eyes. I couldn’t let it be put out. Not now.
“Pass the class,” my uncle hissed, coldly, like a clerk.
Maybe they hadn’t been able to concentrate on what I was saying. Maybe the food was too good. I turned to my mother, she surely understood me.
“Pass the class!” She smiled that omnipotent smile that makes her my mother. That smile that means: I’m paying, you’re obeying.
I felt as though I’d been taken into a small detention room at an airport; no one spoke my language, no one cared about what happened to me.
“Eat your kraut,” my uncle suggested, kindly, moving onto desert.
I couldn’t eat. Going back to Oxford to continue enrolled as a masters student would be like- like having many abortions at once! All my plays would die inside me! I-
“Pass the class!” They said in unison. I must have given a little shout. People turned from other tables. “Just pass the class. Then you can do whatever you want.”
That weekend, stressed and depressed, I decided to go to London and try to relax at a tango festival. I had a paper to finish, and a new script to complete for a play we had already started rehearsing. I planned to spend all day writing and all night dancing. Forget all my troubles. I had a suitcase with me, packed with pajamas, tango shoes, and my computer. At nightfall, I made my escape: from the café to the tango hall.
I was meeting a friend at Finchley before heading over to the dancing. As soon as I got off the Tube it was obvious I was in the wrong place. I stood near a large bus station; it was very ill illumined, few people walked the streets. I called my friend and learned I was at the wrong Finchley. I walked, looking for someone to ask the best way to get to the other Finchley. Standing on one of those traffic islands where cars circle around in almost four directions, I looked in front of me and saw the blinding pink lights of a strip club. A voice growled in my ear:
“Hey baby, where are you trying to go?”
I’m taking a taxi, I told myself, stepping quickly away from the man and off of the island.
Glass broke at once, shattering loud and cold against my whole body. I turned my head, saw the shattered front of a red double decker bus, and realized I was still flying through the air. Move with it, I told myself. Yes, I had time to tell myself that. Yes, it was slow motion. When I landed, I didn’t move. I was squatting somehow, oddly balled up on the cement. I could see my suitcase swallowed under the front of the bus. My computer! I thought, as the bus driver ran to embrace me, crying.
“It’s not your fault,” I told him. “It’s not your fault, just please don’t touch me.”
I was afraid if I moved the wrong way I would dislocate something. Or break it, if it wasn’t already broken. Maybe it didn’t matter, maybe I was paralyzed anyway. He couldn’t control his impulse to hug me, he kept reaching out and grabbing me.
“Please, don’t cry, it’s not your fault! Just please don’t touch me. And can you please help me to get my bag! My bag is under your bus- please help me get my bag!”
The ambulance came fast. Someone called and said a fifteen year old girl had been hit by a bus. The paramedics told me not to move, lay me down, fastened a kind of brace that kept me from moving my neck and jaw. My suitcase was with me in the ambulance. I asked them to call my boyfriend and tell him where they were taking me. The paramedic wanted to know where I was a student, what I studied…she wanted to know all about me. I told her I was sorry but I didn’t want to talk. She kept asking questions. I told her I wanted to cry. I thought about dancing, I thought about being on stage- I wondered if I would be paralyzed, brain damaged, or what. I pictured my computer in many pieces. I saw dark lights on an empty stage.
When she realized I wasn’t interested in talking about my university or academic interests or boyfriend or anything else really, the paramedic started talking to me about herself. She was from Ireland, had just gotten married, loved her husband dearly, and thought she had a great job. Things couldn’t be better for her really. When we got to the hospital, she met a friend of hers that she hadn’t seen in a long time. He had also just gotten married. His wife was pregnant, he had a vacation coming up soon. So did she. We were queing to enter the ER, and the que wasn’t moving an inch.
“You guys are really enjoying your lives,” I observed, perking my lips and speaking in a strange accent inspired by the jaw brace.
They looked down at me and smiled.
Inside the ER, I was stationed a curtain away from someone who really sounded like they were about to die. The cries were so guttural, I couldn’t tell if it was a man or a woman. I got scared. Maybe they had placed me in the dying ward. I started screaming with her (or him), loud. Together we managed to attract one Brazilian nurse who petted our hands, first his (or hers,) then mine, and assured us that soon someone would come help us.
“Ress!” (Yes, pronounced with a jaw brace.)
It was my boyfriend. He stood over me, and started to cry.
“Please! Get my computer! I need to see my computer!”
He tried to hold my hand.
“Please! Can you let go of my hand and open the suitcase and get my computer?”
“You’re crazy,” I heard him say. “You just got hit by a bus, who cares about your computer?!”
“I want to see it. It’s probably destroyed,” I said, tears oozing out. “Everything is on there. My whole life. Please can you just take it out of the suitcase?”
Trembling, he went for the bag. I strained my eyes all the way to the right to be able to behold the computer as soon as it came out. It had been deep under the bus, I reminded myself. It must be shattered.
When I saw it lifted out intact, I couldn’t believe it. I smiled inside.
“Open it!” I begged. “Turn it on!”
He looked at me in disbelief. I threatened him with my squint. He gave up and opened the computer; I held my breath as he pressed the button. Then, like angels singing, I heard the “daaaAAAA” of the Apple coming to life. I closed my eyes and rested.