Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Ancient History

History is fluid. It changes as it passes from person to person, and sometimes some gets spilt along the way.

There’s the history that’s in history books, that seems to stay the same. But the history in them changes as the books are updated, and as the time moves further away.

There’s the history you can feel when you stand in a street in a strange city and look around – the tiniest traces of all the people who've stood there before.

 And there’s the history that forms us, and from which we can’t escape.

I felt the history in this building the first time I saw it, with its grand fa├žade hiding smaller, sadder rooms behind it. I felt it when we moved into the basement flat at the back, all bright and magnolia and smelling faintly of damp. Now it’s part of the history that forms me, and the history I share with you.

Disjointed memories arrive – memories which feel fresh, despite their lack of use. I remember how our lives filled that flat. But now it’s full of someone else’s life, with their furniture, their books and their pictures on the walls.

Yet traces of us remain. Traces of our laughter, and our delight when we first moved in, when we dizzily ran between the rooms marvelling at how big they were (though later they seemed small).  Of the happiness we felt when we fell into bed after a night spent dancing along the promenade until the first hint of daylight seeped across the sky. Of the peacefulness we shared, and the contentment I felt watching the back of your sleeping head.

All those traces of our perfect life, and of the emptiness, and the bitterness that took hold.
I remember the moment she told me: when I felt all the life draining away from me while my heart beat so hard that I thought it might burst.

 “I thought he’d told you,” she said, with a smile that was supposed to contain pity. And all that history that you and I shared changed in an instant. Memories realigned.

You understood me once. You understood me in ways that I didn't understand myself. You’d look at me sometimes, and know what I was thinking, or at least it seemed that way. But suddenly – or was it sudden? - you stopped understanding me. The thing we once were was gone, and when I looked at you, you’d look away.

How long did we exist in that state of non-being? Was it months, or was it just weeks? Those dark days, when I practised what I was going to say so much that I couldn't say it, and when I felt a cold dread at the sound of your key in the door. And when I couldn't think of you without thinking of her.

Then one day you said you were leaving, as I knew you would, and all I could say was, “OK.” The words I wanted to say were stolen by fear, jealousy, pride – all of them there, like knives in my throat. And you went one way and I went another, to other flats, and other lives in other towns.

The pain lasted a long time. I didn't think of it all the time, but it was there, in the background, waiting to engulf me when I was alone. And even when I wasn't alone, something in me was lost.

But although at the time it seemed like it would go on forever, the pain eventually started to subside. Slowly, gradually I thought of you less and less,  until I hardly thought of you at all. But I never did find the thing that was lost.

And then today I found the letter. Folded twice and tucked into the back of my favourite jewellery box (the one I barely use). And when I saw my name in the beautifully neat curls of your handwriting, a familiar feeling swept over me, and took me by surprise.

It’s there again as I stare at the building where we shared our lives all those years ago. Memories of our life together swirl around in my head as I read.

Kate
I wanted to talk to you. But there were too many things that I wanted to say and I couldn’t say them – pathetic, I know.

You didn’t try to speak. When did you try? You barely looked at me.

And now, when I look at you, you stare back, with hatred in your eyes.

Was it hatred? Bitterness maybe. I'm not sure it was hate.

What happened, Kate?

Like you don’t know.

Samantha said that she’d talked to you

Samantha is she now? She was just Sam before.

And that you told her you had someone else. And it broke me, Kate.

I tried so hard not to hate her. I made excuses for her in my head: she’s had a hard time; that’s just how she is. I wanted to trust her still.

I just wanted to say that I wish you well, with whoever it is. But you broke my heart, Kate and I’m sorry I couldn’t be what you wanted. Remember me.
All my love, P.

*

Do the memories of the end infect the memories of the beginning, or do the memories of the beginning infect the memories of the end?

History is fluid. It changes as it passes from person to person, and sometimes some gets spilt along the way.

There’s the history that’s in history books that changes as the time moves further away.

There’s the history you can feel when you stand in a street in a strange city.

And there’s the history that forms us: and the history of last week, last year and who said and did what and when and to whom. That kind of history changes the most, according to the disposition – or the spite - of the person recounting it.

And the history that forms you, can un-form you too. It can change you, and leave you wordlessly staring at a building where you once lived. 


© 2015 Lucy Peacock