Warm White

He shivers, hunched in the underground walkway between Berlin Schönefeld Airport and the train station, holding up a sign, an A4 sheet of paper that has been folded and unfolded one too many times. A lower corner is making a bid for escape, only held in place by frayed paper threads. Large block letters scribbled on it in blue biro read: I’M LIKING A TICKET PLEASE.

“Home,” I hear him whisper in English as I pass, “please, I need to get home.”

Me too, I sigh, I’m liking a ticket, too.

At his feet, a shoebox contains a handful of scattered coins in different currencies. There’s not enough change in there for a meal much less a ticket. He babbles in a language I cannot make out. His words catch in the whine and whir of the nearby jet engines and run away on the wind.

The icy air weaves its way into my bones. I pull my hat down to my ears and squeeze my gloveless hands into little fists deep inside my pockets, the crook of my elbow hauling the wheelie suitcase along behind me. My boots scuff the concrete as I drag my feet towards the terminal. I don’t stop to ask where’s home. I have no money to help. But his words continue to haunt.

Home. I’m liking a ticket, please. I need to get home.

Home, I scoff at the idea, what is that anyway? I’m more than 10,000 miles away from where I live but that isn’t home either. Not by any metric you’d normally use to gauge these things. ‘Home is where the heart is’ according to the adage but my heart is a restless wanderer. An aching nomad. Rootless.

My best friend from high school lived in the same house from the time she was born until after she graduated from university. If a house was supposed to be home, I had none. By the age of ten, I’d lived at seven different addresses. Mum and Dad renovated houses, doing almost all the work themselves to earn some extra money and just when one started to feel familiar, they’d sell it and buy another cheap dump in need of repair. At two in the morning, I’d find myself squinting into a dark kitchen with bleary eyes wondering where the toilet had gone before my sleepy head would register that we’d moved again. I’d bump into walls where there used to be doors. Do a double-take when I saw windows that used to be walls. Even after I moved out on my own, I couldn’t stop. Twenty-eight houses and three countries in thirty-one years. Each relocation a reorientation.

The first question you’re often asked when travelling is “where’s home?” My reply is always the same. “I don’t really have a one.” But always present, a feeling of searching, seeking, wanting, needing. The Germans have a word for it, the inconsolable longing for something unidentifiable; sehnsucht, they call it, the desire for a far familiar land one identifies as home. I’d felt it, sehnsucht, staring at the stars on a clear night.  But my heart is an itinerant with no fixed address.

***

It is a warm sticky evening at the end of summer when the nights are beginning to cool. I am seven and a half years old, sitting on the back steps of the latest house my parents are renovating, with my dad and a pair of binoculars. We are looking for Halley’s Comet. In my memory, I see it clearly, a soft warm-white incandescent blob with a fuzzy tail alone in the black void of space. Without binoculars, it looks almost the same as all the other warm-white blinking blobs that surround it. Dad has borrowed the binoculars from a friend. We don’t have enough money to purchase our own. But he wants me to see it. “You’ll probably still be alive when it comes back,” he says, “I won’t.” I can’t imagine what seventy-five years means, to live ten times longer than I already have. I can’t imagine being an adult in my own home because every time I look at the warm-white glow from other people’s windows all I feel is sensucht.

***

The thin concrete path that runs from the laundry of the house to the clothes line is warm. The heat it’s absorbed during the day seeps into my skin as I lie on my back staring at the sky. More stars appear as I watch it fade from a deep midnight blue to black. It is almost summer and I’m in yet another house in another part of the country. They’re catching me; thirty-two houses, thirty-four years. And none of them home. I’m waiting for the warm-white of the shooting stars; every year in October, Earth passes through a stream of particles that Halley’s Comet dumped into our inner solar system on its last orbit to give us the Orionids meteor shower. Every time I look at the stars, I am reminded of my father. He instilled my love of the sky, incited my curiosity of the cosmos. And every time I look at the stars, I feel more at home than I do on this planet.

***

I am thirty-six when I move into my thirty-fifth house with G. A few years later, we stand together in a friend’s driveway in Angwin, California staring at the sky. We are at her family farm for her wedding. Howell Mountain rises in front of us, the oaks and conifers silhouetted against the deep blue. Silver pinpricks appear above the treeline.

“I don’t know which one is the North Star,” I say, scanning the skies, “do you know what it’s called?”

“Really?” he replies, squeezing me as he wraps his arms around me from behind.

I can’t see his face in the dark but I know his expression from the tone of his voice. His eyebrows will be raised wrinkling his forehead, a half-smile spreading across his lips, a small curl in the top one. I know all the lines on his face.

The night sky is different here. I recognise Mars, bright and orange-red but I pull out my phone, hoping for cell service and Google ‘What is the North star called?’

Polaris.

“We need to find Polaris,” I say.

“Yeah, sure,” he chuckles, “that makes it easier.”

As it turns out, we are staring right at it. “That one.” I point to a group of trees, “the one above the third tree from the left. On the end of the little dipper.”

He squeezes me again pulling me tighter, burying his face into my neck and for the first time while looking at the stars, instead of feeling sensucht, I feel safe.

Six months later, when the electrician replaces all the lights in our home prior to our wedding and asks what type of bulbs I want, I don’t need to think before answering warm white.

Perhaps home is not the length of time in one place as much as it is knowing all the lines on someone’s face.

The stars belong in the deep night sky, and the moon belongs there too, and the winds belong in each place they blow by, and I belong here with you.

M H Clark

 

The Last Exhale

You breathed out slowly
longer
softer
than a sigh.

And as you did you wondered why
I don’t know why you like me, you said
But it wasn’t a question.
Instead
it was a statement. (A feeling of regret?
Did you think you were breaking my heart? You weren’t. I’d need to have one for that.)

Would you rather I didn’t? I replied, thinking you wanted to end that non-thing we had.
No. (You stop. Whisper, softer, again.)
I just know it will evaporate one day and I need to not rely on it.

You’ve said more since about friends and other lovers (not that I count myself as such)
who were there, then weren’t, or weren’t enough or, probably, just couldn’t be bothered
and left.

But it was all too late
I’d breathed you in
and haven’t breathed out since.

So now I pretend that we’re just friends
with nothing to convince
me otherwise
as we scramble round the edges of half-made thoughts and silent glances.

You’re complicated. You’ve said. I know. It doesn’t scare me.
But love does. Love hurts. (Apparently.) And you’re the first I’ve found who might, maybe be able to break me.

So I’ll hold this breath for as long as I can and you’ll have to leave me, not the other way around (but you’ll like that too, I know full well.)
I’m not going anywhere, no matter how hard you make it, too bad, so sad. (Ssshhhh. Don’t make a sound.)

And in the end when I finally breathe you out (turns out I do have a heart)
that last exhale
will be
my
last.

2 December 2011

White Male Rage and the Socialisation of Violence

Content note: sexual assault and sexual violence

Today, Jessica Valenti wrote:

A cruel irony of sexual assault and harassment is that the traumas which frequently determine the trajectory of women’s lives are just as often unremarkable to the men who have inflicted them.

This is why, I suspect, these men become so shocked and enraged when they’re asked to answer for their actions: When they say “nothing happened,” it’s not just a denial — it’s that they truly believe the incident was not a big deal.

You can read the rest of the article here.

Women understand this all too well.

“Men are shit,” she declared while gazing out of the kitchen window as she filled her water bottle at the sink. I gathered the recycling in my arms to take to the outside bin. At almost 17, she’s already witnessed and experienced too much sexism and misogyny. I wanted to reassure her. Tell her it gets better. That boys grow up as they become men and stop treating women like objects, or lesser. That men respect women as equals.

But they don’t. Not always.

A few months ago, I opened a message as I switched on the car engine.

“Don’t message and drive or I’ll have to come down there and kiss you.”

My stomach turned. Sour bile rose in the back of my throat. I put the phone down and swallowed, anger burning in my cheeks. I’d just sent a friend a car emoji in response to his hello, a signal I was about to drive and unable to talk, and this was his reply.

“Inappropriate.” I replied when I arrived at work, my fingers banging the phone so hard I thought I might crack the screen. “I’ve explained to you before why those sorts of comments are a) generally unacceptable to women everywhere, and b) particularly unacceptable to me. Please don’t speak to me that way. I don’t like it and it’s not ok.”

Later, I received a text rant reply about how his behaviour was all my fault.

I am tired of explaining why “jokes” about sexual assault are not funny.

Imagine if he’d said “don’t message and drive or I’ll have to come down there and punch you.”

Threatening to kiss someone against their will is no less violent or terrifying than the threat to physically harm them.

I had already explained my personal feelings of dislike of that type of ‘banter’.

I had already explained my boundaries. Which should have been enough.

I had already explained my history of assault. Which I had hoped might evoke the seriousness of why that type of behaviour was problematic when my initial boundaries were not respected the first time.

But he still didn’t care. What he wanted was more important than how I felt about anything. And I’m sure, if you were to ask him, the whole thing was “nothing, not a big deal.”

I had previously explained it all twice and refused to do it again, so I used the block function to eliminate him from my friendship circle. He wasn’t interested in respecting my boundaries and I wasn’t interested in a friendship with someone who had so little respect for me.

Women everywhere are tired of men whose mouths say they respect us but show us by their behaviour that they really don’t

I am too tired to keep explaining things, so here is a memoir about how men and women are socialised into perpetrating and accepting violence.

Boys Will Be Boys

Quantum Mechanics

1.

The First Law of Thermodynamics, also known as the Law of Conservation of Energy, states that energy cannot be created or destroyed, it can only be transformed or transferred from one form to another.

The light filters through the window earlier each day. Mornings are cold but spring is here and it hasn’t been a bad winter. Not like last year when we lit a fire every evening and the cat melted in front of it, becoming liquid. There has been little rain and very few frosts. The ground is hard. Dry. Bushfire season will be dangerous, according to the news.

I stand at the kitchen counter and pop a coffee pod into the Nespresso, slide my Tinker Bell mug under the spout and wait for the thick, black liquid to pour from the nozzle. Outside, the daffodils stand tall declaring winter is at its end. Buds are sprouting on the bare trees and some of the magnolias have dared to bloom. A kookaburra laughs in the gum tree at the front of the house. The whir of the machine stops and the pod clunk-clunks down into the receptacle, breaking my reverie on the garden. I grab my coffee and sit down at the table with my computer. It’s been months since I’ve written, months since I’ve thought about writing.

Years ago I blogged regularly, an almost daily habit of recording my life, of making meaning out of madness. But my storyline changed and I didn’t know how to segue into the next scene. I was leading a new life so divergent from the previous incarnation you’d suspect I wasn’t the same person. And I wasn’t. Which had kind of been the plan all along. ‘If I’m not different at the end of this,’ I wrote early on, ‘I won’t be better.’

We all have two lives, a dubiously attributed quote begins (really? Confucius? I think not), the second starts when we realise we only have one. (Tom Hiddleston? Perhaps.)

I’ve already lived more than twice in this current span of time. And yet, my handwritten journals would suggest that little has changed. Things look different now, sure; daily tasks and duties, responsibilities reshuffled and realigned. So much chaos from the past has settled out but my desires have not changed. My humanness – my energy, although transformed – is the same.

2.

Heat is a form of energy. It always flows from the hotter body to the colder body. Heat can be transferred via conduction, convection or radiation.

In bed, my partner snuggles behind me. Dialogue from my old Bikram hot yoga class pops into my head. ‘From the side you should look like a Japanese ham sandwich,’ the instructor shouts during Pada-Hasthasana, the forward fold, ‘no gap anywhere’.

‘I’m very tactile,’ I tell him when we first meet, ‘you’ll probably get sick of it after a while.’ He laughs, eyes sparkling. Every night, going on four years, our bodies touch from head to toe. His chest against my back, breath on my neck, legs pressed against mine, feet tangled. No gap anywhere. The heat radiates between us and eventually drives us to roll over and reverse the position. We dance like this for most of the night.

3.

Pauli’s Exclusion Principle says that every electron must be in its own unique state. In other words, no electrons in an atom are permitted to have an identical set of quantum numbers.

You might be reading this on your phone, holding it in your hand. Or on your computer. You pressed some keys to access it. You touched them.

Didn’t you?

Atoms are made up of three particles. A nucleus that contains most of the mass, protons, and electrons. Electrons are negatively charged and can exhibit characteristics of both particles and waves. Particles are attracted to particles with the opposite charge and repel similarly charged particles. So electrostatic repulsion prevents electrons coming into direct contact with each other in both an atomic and literal sense.

This, and Pauli’s Exclusion Principle, also prevents you, me, us…from touching anything. Instead, we hover above things at a microscopically small distance. Gaps everywhere. The sensation of touch is simply our brain’s interpretation of our electrons’ interaction with other electrons in the electromagnetic field, the medium through which electron waves propagate.

4.

Electromagnetic fields are physical fields produced by electrically charged objects. They affect the behaviour of charged objects within the vicinity of the field. Electromagnetic radiation refers to the waves of the electromagnetic field which radiate through space-time, carrying electromagnetic radiant energy.

The human heart is the first organ to function during fetal development at approximately 20 days. The brain doesn’t begin to function until about 90 days. First the heart, then the head.

The heart generates an electrical field of up to 60 times greater in amplitude than that created by the brain and the electromagnetic field of the heart can be measured up to several feet away from the body. When individuals are in close proximity, their electromagnetic fields interact.

5.

Perhaps, in the end, all we can touch is hearts.

Music Monday | Gasoline – Halsey

Once, I felt all of this.

I remember it.

Or, I think I do.

I remember it in a way that feels like waking up from a dream. In pieces. Squinting into snippets and glimpses of half-made pictures.

And I wonder.

Is it a memory or an illusion? Is it my imagination or a delusion?

I remember it.

Or, I think I do.

Because some of it, I don’t remember at all.