A Clouded Sky
I've spoken before about looking in the mirror and seeing someone else look back. Wondering how I had possibly missed myself changing, growing up. Wondering where I had gone. I know now that almost everyone wonders something like that, sooner or later no matter what he or she is doing, but one of the mixed blessings of being young is still having the conviction that nothing like this, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding, has ever happened to anyone before.
When I think of about it, about missing that change in me, and not knowing when or where or how it happened without my realising it, I often think about the bigger picture: the act of growing up. There is no particular age for this to happen, but it doesn't seem like the gradual occurrence everyone claims it to be. So, when do we grow up? When does this process begin? And when on earth does it end?
Of course I might have grown up to become someone else, had circumstances been different and the time been different and my family been different. It might have been Paris or London or even New York, but because I am talking about myself, I am talking here about Glasgow. The first night in our new house I opened my window and tried to see the old house, but all I could see was my neighbours kitchen and the road behind it —was anyone ever so young? I am here to tell you that someone was. Is. I don't know what convinced me I would be able to see the old house, it seems silly now, but I held this belief. The world was a smaller place then. All I could do during those months was talk 'long-distance' to the girl I didn't know I would fall out with come the spring. I would stay in the house, I told her, just a little while, and I could see a Christmas tree from my window. As it turned out the tree wasn't a Christmas tree, and I've stayed seven years.
In retrospect it seems to me that those days before I knew the names of all the garden trees were happier than the ones that came later, but perhaps you will see that as we go along. Part of what I want to tell you is what it is like to be young in this city, how just a little while can become seven years with the deceptive ease of being happy, for that is how those years appear to me now. I entered a front door at eight and come out a good deal older, and on a changed street. But most particularly I want to explain to you, and in the process perhaps to myself, why I no longer believe in growing up.
When I was about eight years old, my local library hung postcard quotes on the wall, and you were able to take one, as a bookmark or whatever. I found one the other day:
“Most of the time, we fall in love but can’t remain there. The world then calls the state we were in a delusion or infatuation. But we merely lacked, or someone else lacked, the emotional skills to hold on to the magic when the morning came. In truth, we can go to the moon and retain its magic for a lifetime.” – Marianne Williamson
I didn't know it then, but it would be a long while before I would come to understand the particular moral of that story. It would be a long while because I was eight. Nothing was irrevocable; everything was within reach. Just around every corner lay something curious and interesting, something I had never before seen or done or known about. I could make promises to myself and to other people and there would be all the time in the world to keep them. I could stay up all night and make mistakes, and none of them would count.
Honestly, it was years before I realised that not all of the promises would be kept, that some things are in fact irrevocable and that it had counted after all, every evasion and every procrastination, every word, all of it. That is what growing up is all about, isn't it? Now when that moment comes back to me it comes in hallucinatory flashes, so clinically detailed that I sometimes wish that memory would effect the distortion with which it is commonly credited. For a lot of the time when I was younger I used a perfume called Harajuku, and then Lovestruck, and now the slightest trace of either can short-circuit my connections for the rest of the day. Nor can I smell lavender incense without falling back into the past.
It was a very long time indeed before I began to understand the lesson in that story, but I could not tell you when I began to understand that. Or even if I fully comprehend it now. Have I grown up? No, and I don't think I ever will. I don’t know what I’ll do. I don’t know what will happen. I do know I have a brilliant family and a place to rest and a goal to reach. I do know that I have more than many in this world can be thankful for.