Tromsø, Norway November 2018
For three months now, instead of studying for my exams, I have been sitting at my white desk, alternating between staring at the ghostly landscape outside and sifting through the words of a twelve year old me.
Now that the words are here, they fill the space and crowd my head as I look out of the window. The snow is black. It was pure and soft, and now it is hard, dirty and icy. I know that this grainy, black snow will line the streets outside for many months. Slowly, I will forget that warmth and sun and spring are possible. Every year, I forget. And then suddenly, as if out of nowhere, the ice will melt, the mud will stick to my shoes, and new life will be revealed. You should know this, as you grew up here as well. Or have you forgotten what it is like when the sun goes away for months on end, and the short glimmer of light at noon is too weak to carry the slightest hope of spring?
The words came in a parcel that arrived on my doorstep a while ago. A shoe-box filled with letters, poems, homework: snapshots of a girl I had forgotten, from a time when miracles could coexist with mashed potatoes, gray asphalt and science homework. It was mailed by an old friend, who kept it is his attic for ten years. It travelled across the ocean, all the way from Washington DC to Tromsø. I didn’t remember that I had given it to him, or even that it ever existed.
I look at the crumbled papers as I transform the wiry and scattered handwriting of my younger self into the orderly, black rows of signs on my computer. This is my attempt to create chronology, continuity and coherence out of a time I had wiped out of my memory. I don’t claim this is exactly what it was; this is me weaving a net of words, trying to catch this elusive, slippery voice from the past. I am following the thread back to a frozen girl buried deep inside my body; a twelve year old who disappeared the day the light went out. As I write I remember, and as I remember, I create.
Her words were meant for you.
You were her companion. You held her hand and saw the world through her eyes. There was something in her that always remembered you, felt a longing for your company, like a deep foghorn of a ship sounding in her chest, piercing through the gray, calling for you. She felt your presence and knew you were waiting for her. Then she lost you. Forgot. She almost became normal.
Thick, Golden Air
Washington DC, USA, July 2007
I swim in the air.
It’s thick like water.
I lean forward into it, and it carries me.
The air holds me and moves me.
It is in me and around me, and I swim-fly in it.
I used to do this a lot before we moved to America.
In the forest by the cottage, down by the beach, in Sigrid’s garden, in the park, and in the countryside where Grandma lived.
Here in DC there are not so many places to swim-fly. This makes me sad.
I used to be able to walk off by myself and find a spot by some trees, or on the beach, or anywhere there was a particularly good feeling, and then I would make myself merge with that, and do my swim-flying.
There isn’t much nature around our house here, apart from the trees in our little backyard, and I’m not supposed to wander off by myself. This is particularly annoying now during the summer vacation. My friend Geraldine has gone to visit her grandma in New Jersey, and I don’t want to do another summer camp without her. We did an art and writing camp together before she left. I have decided that it is good to use my time writing instead of being bored. It makes me think about things. Often it makes me think about you, Dad. And about Sigrid. I don’t know if that is good, but that’s what happens when I am stuck here with the baby sitters. It doesn’t seem right to call the people who watch me baby sitters, as I am not a baby, obviously. I would not be writing this if I were a baby. I will soon be a teen-ager, to be precise. But that’s what they call themselves, baby sitters. But Mr. Evans is different from the others. He is a school teacher. He doesn’t want to be called a baby sitter. He says it is a term associated with young girls, and that he wants to be called a tutor instead. He comes to my house three times a week. I have to study with him for three hours before we go to the swimming pool.
Adults seem strange to me. I can see what they are thinking and feeling, and I see that most of the time they do or say something completely different than what they really mean. If I point this out, by asking questions, they don’t like it, so I have learned not to say anything. I wonder if you are like that, too?
I told Mom that I could swim in the air.
She said I must have dreamt it at night, and then went on nagging me about focusing on my studies and spending more time with other kids, taking up cheer-leading or volunteering or something. Anything but being by myself so much. She says being alone takes me away from the real world, and then strange fantasies come.
I still wonder if the people I meet can swim-fly in the air.
Through the thick, golden air, I know everything that is going on, behind me, above me, in front of me. I feel like a fish who knows it is living in water. I can see and feel the waves created by other people. Those waves move me. I know who the others are, not what their names or what they like for dinner, but more the particular feeling there is in the light they have in them. Sometimes I meet someone who also knows they are being moved by the golden air. Then it is possible to swim-fly together. I think that must be what love is.
Some days I wonder if Mom is right, though. About my imagination being too strong, and that I should focus on being in the real world as I grow up. “One day you will need to pay rent and save for my retirement!” Mom says. “That day will come sooner than you think!” she says. I’m not sure if she means the rent or the retirement, but Mom says it’s very important to save for the retirement, so I have started putting some of my pocket money in a box. Just in case. When I start thinking like that it’s not so easy to swim-fly anymore. I get this heavy feeling, like a buffalo is sitting on my head.
I admit that it has become a secret project of mine to look for people who can swim-fly with me. Particularly adults, because maybe, if there are adults who know about this, and who still go to work, and make breakfast, and mow the lawn, and wash their cars, then I will have more proof that Mom is wrong, that she simply is blind to the possibility that swim-fly is as real as what she believes is real, like macaroni and cheese, or the bird poop on the windshield of the car every morning.
I wonder if there is a job I can do when I’m a grown up where I can swim-fly in the air. This is what I am trying to figure out, and it’s also one of the reasons why I am writing to you, because you know what I am talking about, don’t you?
When you read this you will feel the thick, golden air behind my words, and you will know me.
I shall continue writing to you until I find you. Because I need to meet you, and to have a long conversation with you about life and how to be in the real world and also be able to swim-fly in golden light. I would like you to show me that this is possible, before it is too late for me. And I would like you to tell Mom that this thick, golden air is real, and that she is in it, too.
It would be really good if you drove a car and had learned to do parallel parking and could also fill in forms and have a job, and still be able to swim-fly. You see, I get the impression from Mom that you couldn’t do any of those things when she knew you. She tells me you were a waste of space, a useless wanna-be artist and a crazy-maker, and that you avoided driving a car because you were no good at parallel parking.
I wonder if you still live in Greece, on that small island, or have you moved to London? Mom said she thought you might be in London, but then she also said you probably never managed to get your act together and leave.
I have seen a photo of you, and I must say that you looked rather golden, and I wouldn’t be surprised if you knew exactly what I am talking about. I am scared that I am a waste of space, too, so I am doing my best to figure all of this out before it is too late. And I am trying not to be a crazy-maker, but sometimes Mom calls me just that. Maybe that is what she calls the people she loves. She says she did love you a long time ago, before she found out just how useless you were.
Will you please write me a letter?
It is getting urgent. I will tell you more later. I will include an envelope with my address and a stamp on it and send it to the little island, hoping you are not in London. I don’t know what street you live on, but if I write your name on it, I’m sure the postman will find you. Your island must be very tiny. On the photo Mom showed me you stood next to a donkey.